Listening to you, I get the music
Gazing at you, I get the heat
Following you, I climb the mountain
I get excitement at your feet.
Right behind you, I see the millions
On you, I see the glory
From you, I get opinions
from you, I get the story.
The Who, from "Tommy"
Dilbert, by Scott Adams
If you tell people what they want to hear, they'll listen to what you have to say.
Toronto stockbroker Louis Morgante
I know that many are Seeking, and I don't mean to ridicule them. I'm Seeking, too.
Indeed, I have experienced miraculous spiritual transformations. Well, one. It was on the rooftop of a small hotel in Kathmandu, Nepal, with exquisite Hindu temples all around me, and the Himalayas all around those, a place where everything seemed unnaturally sharp and distinct, that I decided - realized - that once I got back to North America I would resign my responsible, secure, and lucrative management position to become an irresponsible, insecure, and impoverished writer. It was a moment of powerful spiritual insight, powerful enough to give me the courage to follow through. It was the best decision I ever made, of course.
Reading The Celestine Prophecy rekindled none of those feelings. It disturbed me, and not just because it has a higher concentration of stereotypes, cliches, no-dimensional characters, and errors in fact than most books of its ilk; not just because it propagates an offensive depiction of Peru as Colorado South, a land of oak trees and mountain lodges where everyone speaks English and cloistered monks eat muffins for breakfast; and not just because there is nothing at its core but a buffet of recycled spiritualities: synchronicity, auras, Gaia hypothesis, old-growth forests, Age of Aquarius, quantum physics, codependency, Christianity, chi, and pseudo-Marxist utopianism.
Those shortcomings have only to do with the simple incompetence of the author, his lack of research and his naive idealism. What is worse is that unprecedented numbers of people have bought this bad book and its spinoffs, and have allowed their spiritual lives to be shaped by something that is the exact opposite of spirituality: Spirituality Made Easy.
And that was my Final Insight into this book, my appreciation for its astounding success: Redfield, ingenuously or otherwise, has found a way to Make It E-Z For The People with his Insight-a-Day, Nirvana-in-Nine plan for inner peace. The foundation of the system is a promise of simple magic, of movie-like special effects: mingling auras, mysterious energies, transformation into beams of light. The best part is that you don't have to do anything. The Celestine Life has been dispatched from Manuscript Central and will soon be delivered to the whole world. Your only job is not to worry so much - which, now that you know what's in store, won't be so hard, will it?
Nope, but it's not spirituality. Spirituality is the study of unanswerable questions; it offers ways to live with the unbearable fact that we cannot know the answers to our most important questions. All the great works in the field acknowledge this, from the paradoxes of the Tao Te Ching ("The Master acts without doing anything, and teaches without saying anything"), enigmatic Zen koans (Student: "How can I become one with the universe?"; Teacher: "What did you have for breakfast?"), and the circular imponderables at the core of Judeo-Christian faith ("And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM"). You can't get closer to Truth than that, and I think it is correct to be perturbed about a book which claims the opposite. "What is wanted," Bertrand Russell said, "is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite." Amen to that.
Of course, if Redfield understood Russell's verity, he would have had to put a disclaimer on his dust jacket:
"Caution: The values and lifestyle proposed herein take, on average, six to eight decades to adopt. They require self-denial, compassion, and punishingly hard physical, emotional, and intellectual labour. Few people, frankly, are up to the challenge; and those who are already know that $21.95 worth of Insights will not bring them any closer or make the task any easier."
But if Redfield had done that, he'd still be peddling copies out of the trunk of his Honda.
Robert Hercz, on reading "The Celestine Prophecy", by James
Believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it.
There's something subversive about you and me
Well there's a market value on love
And we're getting something for free
I don't know why but when we're apart
Something makes me want to start
Setting fires and kicking down doors
I hope we never have to resort to dividing what is mine and what is yours
There's something coercive about the way some people smile
Wide open as if to say "come on in and browse a while"
And sometimes when your resistance is low
Remember that I know who's your favourite Pogue
There's a place in my soul where
No one else can adore you
And like the poet-soldier says
I would spill my blood for you
There's nothing conclusive in this whole world
'Cause flags can change and martyrs die
And there's many towns left to burn
But somewhere between there and here
For one night hold me near
And sing my shallow tears
And we'll drink, but not to forget
But, to remember instead
All our happy years.
"Subversives", from the album "Shakespeare My Butt", The Lowest of the Low