Before I'd left New York I had turned my brother Curtis on to a book titled The Knee of Listening and he'd written me recently with news that he'd joined the Dawn Horse Communion, the group established by the author. This was followed by a small package containing a few of Franklin Jones' latest publications. He was now called Bubba Free John. Upon reading them, I was left with the same impression I'd had while first reading The Knee; I felt that the man was spiritually brilliant, incomparably lucid and exhaustive in his communication of the Way. I wanted to ask Stephen what he thought of Bubba and his teaching.
One morning in the spring of 1975, I was hoeing out in the apple orchard by Stephen's house when I saw him walking up the road toward the print shop. This was rather rare as I would usually only find him outside of a moving vehicle on Sunday morning at services. Upon seeing me, we hailed each other and I began to head over to him as he left the road to meet me half way. When I asked my question, he said he'd recently looked at some of Bubba's books and found himself cruising along at a real high altitude when he'd suddenly feel such incredible blasts of ego come off of the guy that it was 'almost scary '. His eyes widened as he said that last part. He said he didn't know if he'd ever seen ego like that. He'd even torn the covers off of one of the books that quoted Alan Watts as saying, 'It looks like we have an Avatar here. I can't believe it, he is really here. I've been waiting for such a one all my life.' Stephen was of the opinion that it was really irresponsible of Watts to say that right before he died, implying that if he wasn't going to be around to confirm such a statement, he should have just shut up.
I told him that I'd been reading Bubba's works and that I felt his vibes were good and that according to my own understanding, I thought he had a great realization. Stephen shrugged, saying that he would have to have good vibes or nobody would even bother hanging around him. The implication here, at least the impression that I got, was that Bubba did not have Siddhi or an uncommon power and ability to transmit spiritual energy, but was playing a certain type of game that would attract people and thus energy toward himself. Stephen was often suspicious of other spiritual teachers and perhaps the role of 'guru' all together.
This idea is behind the statement in This Season's People, that -
Magicians studying will are learning to contain an immense amount of energy with their ego.
In the same vein, there is a talk called Guarding Your Gourd, in Mind at Play, wherein Stephen is attempting to account for some people's attraction to offbeat spiritual communities. He states:
...maybe somebody showed them a whole lot of energy and they copped to the energy without trying to find out what was behind it..
What could possibly be behind such energic displays? Drugs and magic I assume. One way or another we are led to believe that the people's life force is being misappropriated. Stephen's philosophy was populist rather than transcendental. He holds that the real source of the energy is 'the people:'
The thing that was really common to Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha is that whatever they had was the people's . Their consciousness was the people's.
The question might arise, 'Then what is the energy behind the people? Where did they get so much?' Both in print and in person, this view of the nature of spiritual energy came up again and again over the years in the context of explaining what a lot of Stephen's contemporaries were really up to: the collective energy of the masses is the ultimate booty.
The superstition is that anybody who can manifest up a little juice is a guru. But it's more a question of folk's astral mobility, their outfront ability to whomp a little magic on you once in a while. It bears no relationship to their spiritual coolness or integrity or purity, for there is a category we are told of called magicians ; and a magician can magish, or he isn't worthy of his name.
To call somebody a magician was to express uncertainty about the morality and intentions. Along these same lines, we may get an idea of how Stephen viewed his own entry into the 'guru game:'
Well, if you are in a situation and someone does a little magic in front of you and you see some magic happen, what you're supposed to do at that point is, do some magic, too. If there's enough ambient energy in the situation that anybody can do any magic, everybody in the situation can do some, too, if they have the courage to try it.
On the training grounds of the Haight-Ashbury Stephen acquired various psychological skills and a certain proficiency in the art of survival by boldly confronting the local principalities, who lacking any more refinement, would often compete for dominance, particularly regarding that electro-chemical piece of territory within your own head. As a result of initiation through this 'school', one would tend to imprint a particular style of relating with others which in Buddhist cosmology is characterized by the so-called asuric or titanic mentality, and view the world in terms of a power struggle between good and evil.
The following quote from Mind at Play lays it bare:
In the book of Revelations, it talks about the city of God,
outside of which live sorcerers and all those that love a lie.
In an effort to bring his criticism into a more objective sphere, Stephen proceeded to explain to me why he didn't think that what Bubba was trying to do was feasible. 'He'd like to melt down all the individual combs and have it become one big pot of honey,' he told me, '...and you might be able to do that here and there on a small scale, but I don't think you can do it with the whole hive. It doesn't seem practical.'
This was one of the most revealing conversations I would ever have with Stephen. From this distance, I understand this philosophy of the community as a honeycomb with the hexagonal cells intact as a reflection of his tendency to ignore the part that psychedelic and tantric fusion play in the reimprinting and spiritual bonding of the individual with the greater body. The fact that he and some of his friends had experienced what he believed was the highest wisdom was deemed sufficient grounds for the founding of a community in which nobody else would need to be guided or encouraged to duplicate this awakening by similar means. Overestimating the extent of his realization, Stephen surmised that the means which were made available by the physics of the Farm itself coupled with an occasional free-form monologue would be sufficient cause for the spiritual advancement of others. He had no teacher to confirm or advise against this.
Although he was not able to serve us as guru, neither did he indicate any one else who should be regarded in this light. Buckminister Fuller and Mother Teresa were about the only living people he considered to be genuine teachers of any higher understanding that were relevant. The wisdom of a few others was acknowledged in anecdotes and excerpts now and then, but the heart-teachings of spiritual masters at the highest stages of development were never presented to us in any detail.
In spite of a basically anti-guru stance, Stephen obviously felt it was necessary to re-define and occupy the space traditionally reserved for this function, if only for the sake of magnetizing and midwifing a growing community. This is a primary example of Stephen's 'equivalency principle;' substituting important elements of traditional spiritual practice with simpler, less developed forms. This can also be seen in the tendency to equate the effects of disciplines such as daily zazen with the fruits of our work-bloated yoga, or the generic teaching that everyday life itself in the community was an adequate substitute for a personal relationship and instruction from a genuine spiritual teacher.
Stephen claimed he was an enlightened being but in an effort to develop a unique way, he ostensibly took up an anti-guru stance. He said he felt it was immoral to let people put rose petals under his feet. In the talk entitled Guarding Your Gourd, Stephen tries to explain how it really works. He has been discussing why people get involved with various cults and eastern traditions:
And you say, 'How come people fall for such dumb stuff?'
There are various ways they fall for dumb stuff like that. One of them is bad religious educations, so they don't know any better. One of them is, maybe somebody showed them a whole lot of energy and they copped to the energy without trying to find out what was behind it...
Again, the implication here is as if it is actually the energy of the group that the teacher is riding on and wielding in a way that is deceitful and manipulative.
...Those are some ways people do that stuff. And also because there's something there - because if it was totally hollow, no one would stay. What is in there? What is in there is the community, which is the reflection of the true guru on the earth. And that's why those things have some validity to them. That's why people go back to them, and that's why people stand up for them and defend them: because they found something in them.
In the final analysis, the community itself is held out as the closest thing there is to 'the true guru on earth.'
In Buddhism one takes refuge in the Three Jewels; the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. The Sangha, or community of practitioners only comes together if there is a teacher or guru, one who is qualified by realization to teach the Dharma. If there is no enlightened master to begin with, there will be no transmission of Dharma and inevitably, no basis for sangha or community. Outside of a gathering consisting solely of enlightened beings, the community as guru is an untenable idea. Without enlightenment, there is no guru.
On the Farm, we were inculcated with the reductionist and Philistine-like belief which led us to view the Buddha as a social revolutionary, the Sangha as the long-haired proletariat, and the Dharma was that -
Although I didn't have any problem with this statement when I first heard it, today it rings like a useless cliche. Consider the effects of conditioning, emotional complexes, the limited availability of undistracted attention in the average human being and the fact that none of us were able to succeed at this 'Dharma-transcending practice' by just paying attention to the 'here-and-now.' Our nominal comprehension of Dharma made us vulnerable to common forms of bondage. Our understanding of the teachings did not relate to realization so much as it was concerned with bettering the conditions to be lived in this life.
There was never any acknowledgement that the wisdom consciousness and transcendental realization of the Buddha in the person of the spiritual master is the true Siddhi, the real metaphysical attraction as well as the principle means of transformation, as it is in the traditions of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. The guru is well aware of the true nature of what is referred to as 'the here and now' in that there is no self, no ego accompanying this appearance. To penetrate the inner meaning of Dharma requires attention beyond functional tasks and organic concerns. Instead, the human energy of the masses in co-operative social gatherings, is being presented to us as 'the reflection of the true guru on earth'. In contrast to the ancient traditions, Stephen's use of the term 'guru,' never indicates a human master. It is either a euphemism for the mysterious That which is Divine and unmanifest outside of community, or a nebulous concept indicating a phenomena of a nature somewhere between a transcendental ideal and a useful fairy tale.
Stephen would quite often refer to 'gurus,' or those claiming to serve this function, in the same breath as 'magicians.' He never talked about and was probably not even aware of the esoteric meaning of the guru-devotee relationship. In any case, he states that the definitive truth of this abstraction is most clearly embodied in the essence of community, the body of relations that collectively manifest the presence of the 'guru.'
Supposedly it was different in the early days, but as time went on the Stranger became more and more cautious to avoid committing himself to the role of spiritual teacher and began phrasing his communication in a manner that reflected a preference to serve as a social and political commentator, a shaker and mover and a popularizer of spiritual ideals. Towards the end of the seventies, the once-cherished talks on Sunday mornings drifted from inspired gatherings of telepathic reflectivity and became trivial, boring and political. Real sensitivity to our mis-alignment and the depths of psychedelic mysticism no longer had any audience. The impulse to spiritual ecstasy was strategically sublimated into a puritan work-ethic in hippy drag. As a result of this imbalance, our conscious orientation was increasingly externalized and the dialogue grew ever more superficial.
The lack of breakthrough teachings and esoteric wisdom was camouflaged by the suggestion that these were already present in the community, but that you had to develop some subtlety to pick up on them:
...you can't just go and flash your piece of knowledge in somebody's face like a firecracker, and expect to blow their mind so bad they're going to change. What you maybe ought to do, rather than pop it in their face, is to hint at it. Don't even say it out loud, just hint at it.
In the establishment and invocation of the community as guru, we were all regularly able to express whole-hearted devotion and receive the blessings that such a lifestyle offers, with the limitation inherent in this abstraction in that the community does not necessarily embody or articulate the wisdom that must be made available to the community of devotees through the person of the teacher.
Lack of detailed instruction was responsible for our failure to identify a common embodiment of truth to which we could turn for continuity and mutual direction when the seas got rough. That such a form or function was deemed unnecessary was due to the nature of Stephen's spiritual realization and vision of the Farm. By the early eighties, the community as guru idea had come upon its inherent limitations insofar as there was no embodiment of highly developed spiritual consciousness to compassionately respond to the needs of devoted yogis.
Communities, like corporations, are determined by the quality of the individuals comprising their ranks. To the extent that our capacity for self-transcendence was handicapped, the community did not even have a human face. As time went on, instead of a sagacious countenance, we were confronted with a hypocritical mask, a big, slow, dumb mockery of the individual's failure to communicate, sacrifice and transcend self-involvement and this is no guru at all.
Beyond the exoteric code that was designed to guarantee the physical survival of the gathering, there was no emphatic indication or living embodiment of the nature of the spiritual ideal outside of the nebulous cartoon images of historically distant personages such as Shakyamuni and Jesus and generalized abstractions like the 'Mahayana' or 'God' that hardly served to kindle the power of awakened devotion which was essential to inspire and guide the further development of our gathering.