The Tantra of Sacred Activism
The Tantra of Sacred Activism
by Andrew Harvey
There are two definitions of sacred activism that are helpful. The first is a rather low-key one, and that is that when, through a Tantric dance of opposites, the deepest spirituality is fused with the profoundest, loving pursuit of justice, resulting in the birth of a holy force that can transform intractable problems. If you look at the last 140 years, which I think have been some of the worst years in the whole history of humanity, you see that alongside the creation of concentration camps, of atom bombs, of genocide, of the orgy of materialism and consumerism that is now destroying everything, we’ve had the birth of sacred activism. We’ve seen this holy force that can change intractable problems.
Think of Gandhi working with this fusion for over 40 years and achieving the unseating of the British Empire in India. Think of Martin Luther King, Jr., who brought this same fusion of deep spirituality and radical action to bear upon the crisis of U.S. civil rights for African Americans. His sacred activism averted the violence that would have been the alternative. Lech Walesa roused up the whole of Poland under the banner of the Virgin of Czestochowa—the great Black Madonna of Czestochowa. He united a profound faith in the Virgin with a radical passion for nonviolent protest. We have seen how his Solidarność over time worked to bring about elections. We’ve seen what happens when two people infused with a vision that combines deep spirituality with radical commitment to justice come together: Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela helped bring South African apartheid to an end. They helped to institute the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, calling for forgiveness and modeling deep charity in their own actions. We’ve seen what Aung San Suu Kyi has been able to achieve in her country, Burma. She embodies again the same fusion of profound spirituality and commitment to just action. Over time, through the very force that was incarnated in her, she was able to mobilize her whole country to begin a very dangerous and still fragmentary exploration of democracy, even when reduced to house arrest. With all of this history, there is no excuse for us not to understand that it is this force of sacred activism that can transform even terrible conditions.
There is a second and more esoteric way of looking at sacred activism. To illustrate this definition, I’m going to describe the vision that I had about 15 years ago that birthed for me a visceral understanding of what is at stake in the Tantra of sacred activism. I had been meditating for a long time on the vision that was growing in me of sacred activism, and when I fell asleep I was erupted into a vast desert plain. I stood there, and suddenly from the different sides of the plain two rivers of fire started racing towards the horizon. These two rivers of fire met at the horizon, and there was an atomic explosion just like images of the Hiroshima or Nagasaki explosions, but it was not destructive. It was an explosion of radiant rainbow lights, swirling, dancing, burning, and radiating out and up. As I gazed, stupefied with wonder at this new force that I could see being born before my eyes, I heard a great voice say the following: “When the passion of the mystic for God is united and fused with the passion of the activist for justice—when these two noblest passions of the human soul dance fused together—what is created is a third fire, and this fire is the fire of love and wisdom in action.”
What that vision gave me was of a direct glimpse into the cauldron of the alchemy of the divinization of the human race through the Tantras and their culmination in this explosive new force of love in action that I call sacred activism. I’d love to now just share briefly the journey that I myself took to this Tantric vision of sacred activism so that you’ll be able to follow where you are in your own journey and see how it may truly harmonize with the vision that’s been given to me to give to you.
I was born in India. I was born into a sacred world that recognized that there was one Divine reflected through all of the different religions, and I’ve known that since I was able to speak. I then went through the concentration camp that is English education. I overachieved horribly to become an Oxford scholar only to abandon Oxford and go back to India. I had a series of mystical revelations and went on a very intense mystical journey that took me to Ladakh to be initiated by a Tibetan mystical teacher, Thuksey Rinpoche. My path then took me to Paris where I became a Sufi and studied Rumi with Eva De Vitray-Meyerovitch, who was the greatest translator of Rumi. While in Paris, I also continued to reflect upon a meeting that had happened in India with an Indian guru, Mother Meera, whom I worshipped as the Divine Mother. Over the next years, up until the age of 36, I plunged deeply into meditation, into mantra, and into the dedication of my whole being to transformation. And at 36, I had a vision of the entire world of Paris vanishing into the dazzling white light and of being re-awoken and reborn in the light, revealing everything as the crystallized creation of the light. This was a vision of the sacred marriage of transcendence and immanence.
I knew this vision was an awakening in the classic small “a” kind of awakening. And I also knew that it could not possibly be the end of the journey because a question kept rising in my soul: “For what have I been given this vision at this burning, terrible, chaotic time when I feel the whole future of humanity is threatened?” I received the first answer to that question from the Dalai Lama when I interviewed him in 1989 in Oslo. I interviewed him on the day of the Nobel Prize ceremony, and when I got up to leave the room, I couldn’t get out of my chair. I turned. He hoisted me out of the chair, and I found myself against his breast. There, I asked him, “What is the meaning of life?” He burst into laughter, and he said, “The meaning of life is to embody the transcendent.” That was my first answer.
While in the traditional systems of understanding what I’d received in Paris was enlightenment, I knew it wasn’t truly enlightenment and that there was another level I was not yet seeing. So, when the Dalai Lama said the word “embody,” everything in my body started to blaze. I realized that I had a long journey ahead before the light that I had become aware of would be radically integrated through Tantric discipline into the depths of my mind and into the depths of my heart and into the very cells of my body.
But the question still remained. Even if I do—through grace and effort and luck and karma—embody the transcendent, what is that for in a burning world like ours? What would it matter if one person gets this supreme grace if billions of others are going to die in misery and if the whole of nature herself is going to be wiped away by this tsunami of greed that is gathering on every horizon? What is it for?
And then in 1991, I met the man who gave me the next clue, Father Bede Griffiths. Bede was himself undergoing the great transfiguration process that was birthing him into divine humanity and experiencing the marriage of the Father-Mother within himself. I went to make a film about his life. On the last day of the filming, Bede gave me the map of our time, which becomes ever more clear and adamantine as the years progress.
I went to join Bede in the early morning before the Australian film crew came. I was sitting with him on his bed, and suddenly he—this amazing 85-year-old grand Christian mystic—reached out and held my hand. He said, “You know, Andrew, we are in the hour of God.” Being Oxford-trained, I asked him, “What do you mean by ‘the hour of God’?” And he said, “Andrew, we have come to the moment where the human race will have to choose between adoration or suicide, between radical transformation on every level or being destroyed by its own structures of hubris and madness.” And there was a tremendous silence because I heard the voice of truth.
And then he said, “I feel there are three possibilities now. The first possibility is that the human race will see exactly what it’s doing, fall on its knees, beg for transformation, be flooded with grace, and be transfigured. And this is highly unlikely because history shows us that people change only in extreme situations. The second possibility is that the human race will go on in its tragic addictions, shooting up with the heroin of greed and domination and exploitation and dissociation until it has created a death machine so devastating and so tragically brilliant that it will destroy the human race and take a great deal of nature with it.” He added, “and there are many days where I feel that this is going to happen.” Following this, he gave the most astounding smile, which I can see in my mind’s-heart’s eye right now. He gave this astounding smile and he said, “but this is not the God I know’s will, because the God I know is a God of infinite mercy, infinite compassion, and infinite passion to help us. And whatever we do, God will go on reaching out to us to inspire in us holy new possibilities whatever happens.” So, he said, “I believe there is a third possibility, and this is what I truly think is going to happen, because this is what has truly happened within me.”
Bede had been through a terrible, near-death experience that had led not to death but to the flooding of his whole being by the powerful energies of the Father-Mother that had led to a transfiguration process.
He said, “What has happened to me in these last years is I believe what is going to happen to or potentially could happen to hundreds of thousands of people. What is going to happen, Andrew, is that the whole world is going to be plunged into a global dark night. Humanity will find that all of its illusions and structures are going to be dissolved in the acid of reality, and this will look like extinction. This will look like the end. But just as in the life of the individual mystic, a dark night prepares the birth of a wholly new and far more spacious and far more peaceful and far more passionate divine self a phoenix that rises from the ashes of the old self. So, I know that the potential is here for a wholly new kind of embodied divine humanity to rise out of the ashes of the humanity so tragically dissociated from nature, from itself, and from the sacred law.”
Finally, he said something that I have never forgotten and will never forget. Every single day it becomes more of a challenge to believe it, but it becomes obvious that it is the only possibility for us to preserve our planet and inaugurate a new way of being and doing. It’s everything. He said, “Andrew, I know that the second coming will not be the return of some Star Wars avatar. What the second coming will be, I deeply believe, is the rising of a golden yeast of dynamic love consciousness in millions of human beings, a rising that will not only embody the divine in the human but will also give human beings the courage and the passion, the peace and the wisdom, the fire and the focus to come together and radically transform all existing structures, institutions, arts, and sciences. The real second coming will be the birth of this sublime, fiery, tender, peaceful, all-embracing love consciousness in millions of beings beyond religion.”
This is the tremendous map that Bede unveiled. I asked him at the end, “How long do you think this process will go on for?” He replied, “Andrew, it’s going to go very fast.” He died six months later, in May, 1993, but he suggested that this process would be unfolding over the next 20 to 25 years, which means that we’re towards the end of it right now.
And if you look at where we are today with the beginnings of a world war constellating in Syria, life in the sea potentially becoming extinct by 2048, and the forests burning at a horrific rate, the future looks extremely dark. But we must never forget that this force of Tantric fusion of deep spirituality and profound action is amongst us. There are hundreds of thousands of sacred activists all over the planet. Although this global movement now of sacred activism is still fragmented and chaotic and the results of it do not seem very encouraging at this moment, we still have no idea what could happen if we take the teachings of Tantra seriously and put them into living practice.
Miracles could flow. Miracles will have to flow. And the Divine specializes in miracles. Anyone who births the force of Tantric fusion—deep spirituality and sacred action—within themselves will be a source of miracle, a conduit for this dynamic, explosive new force that I saw erupting on the horizon.
So the question now is: how can you and I ground this wild, exalted, Tantric vision? The real truth came to me in the experience that happened after my conversation with Bede. I had an experience of the Christ when my father was dying in 1997 in Coimbatore, India—the place where I had been born. I choose to share the experience as I wrote about it in my book, The Hope. I share it as an excerpt because I spent 10 years writing the book, trying to get it clear, trying to make this map available for the world at this moment.
As you and I journey with this question of how to realize this Tantric vision, I also share a prayer practice that has been excerpted and adapted from The Hope. §
Andrew Harvey is Founder and Director of the Institute of Sacred Activism, an international organization that invites concerned people to take up the challenge of our contemporary global crises by becoming inspired and effective agents of change. Andrew has taught at Oxford and Cornell Universitys as well as at various colleges and spiritual centers throughout the world. He has written over 30 books. Read more at www.andrewharvey.net.