Halfway up the Mountain: The Error of Premature Claims to Enlightenment

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Halfway Up The Mountain: The Error of Premature Claims to Enlightment

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Caplan (Untouched) asserts that "the reality of the present condition of contemporary spirituality in the West is one of grave distortion, confusion, fraud, and a fundamental lack of education." She claims that, as positive as the tremendous rise in spirituality is, there is not any context for determining whether any particular teaching, or teacher, is truly enlightening. Caplan compiles interviews with such noted spiritual masters as Joan Halifax, Andrew Cohen, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi on the nature of enlightenment. In the first section, Caplan examines the motivations people have for seeking enlightenment and contends that very often they seek this state as a means of gratifying the ego. This "presumption of enlightenment," she says, often afflicts teachers masquerading as spiritual leaders. These teachers sometimes look down on their students and gloat over how far they have come and how far the students have to go. A second section focuses on "The Dangers of Mystical Experience," in which Caplan claims that many seekers mistake the mystical experience itself for enlightenment; she and the teachers she interviews all assert that enlightenment always involves gaining some knowledge about self and others. The third section, "Corruption and Consequence," focuses on the nature of power and corruption; the fourth section, "Navigating the Mine Field: Preventing Dangers on the Path," provides a survey of the ways in which practitioners can avoid the "pitfalls of false enlightenment." A final section, "Disillusionment, Humility and the Beginning of Spiritual Life," concludes that "the Real spiritual life [is] the life of total annihilation and the return to just what is." Caplan's illuminating book calls into question the motives of the spiritual snake handlers of the modern age and urges seekers to pay the price of traveling the hard road to true enlightenment. (July) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
To borrow an idea from the title, it is a sign of the maturity of a movement that it understands limit, and Caplan's thoughtful book should come as a ship to the rescue of practitioners of the broad New Age tradition. It shows how to avoid the dangers of ego inflation, transference, abuse of power, addiction to mystical states, and fraud in the long journey toward enlightenment and fulfillment. Caplan's warnings are substantiated by the witness of many seekers, and her counsel is well grounded. Highly recommended for all collections where New Age titles are popular. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Shaw
"You smile a lot, you're very benevolent--it's the holy man role.... I was going to be nobody special like the big boys," admits Dick Alpert in Halfway up the Mountain: The Error of Premature Claims to Enlightenment. This new study of contemporary spirituality by anthropologist Mariana Caplan explores in detail the dangers of self-deception and ego inflation that may befall seekers today.
Fleet Maull in his foreword calls the book "required reading for anyone taking on the profound responsibility of guiding others." What the book offers is a mirror to hold up to oneself. Most engaging are the frank, firsthand accounts included here from interviews with dedicated long-time practitioners. Reading about their struggles and concerns, we feel we are not alone; we are in a process together; we wish to be free from illusion no matter what; and perhaps, as Caplan says, "everything is a lesson," an inevitable and necessary step toward be-coming "responsible partners in our own awakening." The book's topics include the nature of enlightenment, ego's many disguises, power and corruption, finding one's way among teachers, disillusionment, and the beginning of spiritual life. The pages' wide margins highlight striking quotations from Buddhists, Sufis, Jewish mystics, Catholics, Hindus, psychologists, and writers of spiritual books (with only an occasional muddy pronouncement or dubious source). After reading hundreds of pages describing pitfalls along the path, however, one may feel that the title of the book is a misnomer: Are we halfway up the mountain or just glimpsing the foothills? Caplan points out that ego inflation, the tendency toward "a lopsided and subjective misperception of one's experience and spiritual progress," is a phenomenon "common to most serious spiritual students," and should be considered "always lurking nearby and ready to pounce." The ego easily puffs up to become, in Claudio Naranjo's words, "a professional of spiritual things." A bhakti practitioner reminds us that when one starts "relating to these experiences...as a goal," one loses "the surrender that is sourcing the experience. The background is surrender, the foreground is experience." The workings of ego often remain unseen behind much behavior. To paraphrase Caplan: I remain aloof in a group setting, quietly superior to others' dramas; or, while innocently relating an experience, I begin to feel important with everyone listening to me. Also, when I frequently correct others' statements, it may be more about asserting that I do indeed know a little something. Sometimes I believe I'm doing what's best while unaware that my entire strategy may be a way of remaining in control so as not to lose face or have to come to terms with an old wound. Caplan's litany of ways of "getting stuck" so that pure attentiveness to the moment becomes lost is extensive. Genuine openness to the unknown is difficult when the ego takes spirituality as its own, as an accomplishment, as a possession, or even as one's very identity. To this last scenario Caplan applies the term "bulletproof ego": "When the ego itself is comprised of the experiences and the teaching, nothing save a small miracle is going to be able to penetrate." How to be free of something that is not recognized? Caplan is quick to point out that the problem is not ego but a lack of seeing. In her view, ego is natural, a necessary mechanism, but rather than dominating, it could serve. Even while inflation occurs, she assures us, there is "another aspect of the individual...that is not inflated" and "can be accessed." Letting the ego show itself and "observing...without judgment" is the key, Caplan continues, although "few can catch the process at work in themselves." She quotes John Pentland:
When you awake, you have to awaken again. You try to understand this adversary. Make an effort, not to struggle with him...but see what he is made of, what lies he tells, what insincerity.... You have to understand and try to see he has power over you. You need more moments of seeing. Wish to see him more, how he is connected within you....
Fortunately, with inflation comes deflation, what Caplan aptly calls "bumping up against reality," difficulties in life that bring suffering, embarrassment, exposure. Such events may lead to a new sense of kinship with others facing their own challenges, or even to a moment of remorse, a powerful reminder to awaken. However, as Caplan points out,
It takes a very strong degree of self-honesty and conscience.... The more you are working with containing higher energies, the more dangerous it is for ego to identify with the process you're being put through, which at some point you realize is not your personal process. It is a universal process that is so much bigger than anything we are identified with....
If watchfulness with regard to ourselves is healthy, is wariness about teachers also useful, or not? Caplan includes many views on the subject of spiritual guides. Georg Feuerstein writes that what really matters is whether the person "works the miracle of spiritual transformation in others." Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee asserts that real spiritual authority has "no personal power dynamic" but "carries the stamp of freedom rather than...codependency." Arnaud Desjardins perceives an "essential kindness" in the presence of a master: "You cannot help but feel his love." But what if masters are few? Because of the great demand today, according to Caplan and others, we need guides, and even imperfect ones can transmit wakefulness. Lee Sanella warns, though, that "no amount of mystical fireworks in the synapses of the brain can help overcome the crunch at the heart." Andrew Cohen adds that "the line is drawn where suffering is caused to other people due to selfish actions that stem from ignorance." Jacob Needleman suggests that if one has had a bad experience with either a teacher or one's own inflation, "take responsibility for it and use it as a platform for further inquiry." Caplan agrees that instead of blindly criticizing (or worshipping) teachers, we could explore how the demand for integrity may be lost, what part the student plays in spiritual codependency, and what leads to the presumption of enlightenment, so that we "glean some understanding of how those same dynamics operate within ourselves." And we need not lose heart. In Needleman's words, "frequent inner failures of attention and discrimination are inevitable," but the capacity to feel the humbling, "corrective" power of such events is "crucial to...inner development." Can the fool who persists in his folly become wise? What is the price of awakening? One of the best quotations comes at the very end of the book and addresses this question of payment--paying with attention. Jeanne de Salzmann is quoted at length:
Your attitude toward the world and toward life is the attitude of one who has the right to make demands and to take, who has no need to pay or to earn. You believe that all things are due, simply because it is you! All your blindness is there!...You must pay dearly...pay a lot, and pay immediately, pay in advance. Pay with yourself. By sincere, conscientious, disinterested efforts. The more you are prepared to pay without economizing, without cheating, without any falsification, the more you will receive.... You will see that in life you receive exactly what you give.
On the subject of seekers who are halfway up the mountain, the blunt old dervish in Gurdjieff's Meetings with Remarkable Men has the last word: "Let God kill him who himself does not know and yet presumes to show others the way."
Parabola Magazine
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780934252911
  • Publisher: Hohm Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/1999
  • Pages: 600
  • Product dimensions: 7.30 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2014

    Amqzing

    Keep going!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2014

    Awesome!

    Great story starter, intantly hooked, keep going! ~Katie

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 2, 2014

    Awsome!

    Pretty good! Are you going to make another story?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2014

    Good!

    Very good!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2014

    Needs a follow up

    Write another!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2014

    Billy's Mountain

    Morning was just arriving, casting beams of light over New York City. I wiped whisps of dirt from my face, stlifling a small cough. The summer of 1941 was just dawning on me, and I felt a rush of excitment. No more freezing winter nights, no more frozen food. A jubilant feeling was welling up inside me as the sun bathed my skin. I took a deep breath, treasuring the sweet summer air. My name is Annie. I'm an orphan, who roams the streets and alleys of New York City, the Big Apple they call it. My whole life has really been a test of maturity, fending for myself, digging through dumpsters to find a decent meal! I've never had anyone to help me, so I guess I've passed the test. I gaze into the open air, as if every little fragment were interesting. The growl of my unpatient stomach interrupted my dreamy sensation, adressing that I really needed something to eat. I hadn't eaten a meal for the past three days, that is,if you call a left over turkey sandwhich a meal! Delicate water droplets dripped from the pipes, pitter pattering on the ground. The sound was ever so annoying, so I left the alley way. The streets were not yet crowded, only a few pedestrians here and there. My stomach growled again; I really needed to eat! I glanced around, searching for the nearest restaraunt. Charlie's Burger. I slyly crept towards the empty building, ever so cautiously. I tiptoed towards the back, looking for a dumpster. Ahha! There it was! A large, forest green, metal container. Not hesitating, I reached into the dumpster, my hand searching for a leftover burger, or maybe a few stray fries. I finally felt a piece of bread brush my fingers. I automaticallyeaned down and searched for the bread I had touched. A moment later, I saw the bread. I turned it over, examining it. A few fragments of meat were dotted here and there, but no bugs or mold. I strolled back to the sidewalk, satisfyed with my find. I suddenly heard something, sirens. The piece of bread fell from my hands as I froze on the spot. Cops HATED it when people stole from restaraunt dumpsters! I glanced over my houlder, seeing two burly men galavanting towards me. I had no choice, but to run. I bolted across the sidewalk, the tattered clothes I wore flapping in the wind. The cops'voices echoed in my head, booming through my mind. I shivered, looking back to make sure they hadn't followed my this far. Seeing they hadn't, I collapsed in relief. Once again, my stomach grumbled. I clenched my teeth. I needed something to eat! Thise darn cops made me lose my piece of bread, my one beacon of light for today! I sighed, rubbing my eyes. The sun had now risen, and New York City residents were spilling onto the streets. Great, I had to hide in the alley again,"Hey you, girly!" Called a man. My heart froze as I turned around,"M-me?" The man looked annoyed,"Yes you, who do ya think I was talkin' to lass, the sky?" He burst out laughing. It wasn't even funny. I stepped back,"What do you want?" I asked, my tone suspicious. The m stepped closer evertime I stepped back,"Who are you? I feel like I seen ya before," I stepped back yet again,"Annie, Annie Plithivous," The man snickered,"Plithivous, eh. Never heard o' ya!" The m went on his way, his ragged coat ruffling in the wind. I took a deep breath,"That was odd," I mumbled. ~Liv
    <p>
    [I know there are a few grammar errors the diolouge, but hey live in 1949, so they don't use the best grammar!]

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