"Renaissance Thinking About the Issues of Our Day"
This is an excerpt from "The Prophet's Way," copyright 1997 by Thom Hartmann and Mythical Intelligence Inc.. All rights reserved. Please do not copy or redistribute this in any form.
If the cask is to hold the wine, its water must first be poured out.
— Meister Eckhart (1260–1327)
Around 1969 I went to hear a lecture given by a "Coptic Minister" named Lee who traveled from Detroit to give speeches every week in Lansing, Michigan. Lee taught about meditation, prayer, the subtle or etheric body, and the return of the Messiah. He was a fascinating man with extraordinary piercing brown eyes and a contagious laugh; I began to attend his speeches every week, often taking friends.
My spiritual seeking had moved out of the Hippie culture (although I still had shoulder-length hair) and into the subcultures of Christian mysticism. My experiences living at the anti-war center of the underground The Paper tabloid in East Lansing, and in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury area, and even briefly in the military culture, had convinced me that there was something we were all missing. It was right in front of us, and we weren’t seeing it.
Or perhaps it was within us.
Lee told us of his mentor and teacher, a man named Kurt Stanley (Lee referred to him as "Master Stanley"), who conducted a weekly service at the Coptic Temple in Detroit. Lee told amazing stories about Master Stanley healing people with his hands, reading minds, and showing his aura and seeing those of others.
As a person with a traditional Methodist upbringing, I thought this sounded both odd and heretical, but I was also constantly driven by an all-consuming curiosity. In my earlier years I’d visited enough extraordinary inner worlds to know that simply going through the motions of religion wasn’t where I personally would find Father G–d or Mother Holy Spirit or Son the Christ. I was on a Hunt.
So one afternoon I drove to Detroit to hear Master Stanley.
There was quite a crowd at the door of the building, a huge old house in downtown Detroit. A large three-story red-brick building in a disintegrating part of town, the Temple had once been the Governor’s Mansion for the state of Michigan during that brief period in the 19th century when the state capital was in Detroit. It had then passed through several hands and ended up with the Coptics in the 1950s.
A woman with an officious glare, graying hair, and what appeared to be a short temper guarded the door, letting in people she knew and examining the rest of us as if we were potential carriers of disease. I had hair down past my shoulders at the time, and was wearing jeans and a blue work shirt: typical garb for a college student in the late 1960s. Grace, it turned out her name was, eyed me harshly and said, "You can’t come in."
"Why?" I asked, perplexed.
"No drugs or hippies," she said.
"Is Lee here?" I asked.
Her eyes narrowed. "You know Lee?"
"I’m a student of his from Lansing."
She was still shaking her head, looking again at my hair and clothes, when Lee appeared in the door. "Let him in, Grace," he said.
She stepped back from the door without a word. I walked in.
Inside, the building smelled of old wood, wax, dust, and incense. To the right was a large staircase with a thick oak banister, and to my left was the entrance to the main room, which at one time was probably a formal ballroom.
I stepped into the main room, and saw perhaps two hundred people sitting on folding chairs. At the front of the room was a raised platform, a lectern with flowers and lit candles to either side, and behind the stage a large banner of an aunch, the Egyptian Christian cross with a circle at the top, and the symbol of an eye in the center of it. The eye looked familiar and Lee, who was standing beside me, noticed me staring at it. "Look on a dollar bill and you’ll see it," he whispered. I dug one out of my pocket: sure enough, there it was, on top of the Egyptian pyramid, a design handed down by our Christian-mystic founding fathers.
I sat down and waited for a half-hour or so until the room became dark and suddenly silent. An old man, the right half of his lower lip missing so you could see his gums and teeth, wearing a long white robe trimmed in gold, walked into the room and nodded at us. He held a white handkerchief over his mouth, but kept seeming to forget it, exposing his injury.
"That’s Master Stanley," Lee whispered.
Everybody stood up, and the old man led us in a prayer and song. Then he gave an hour’s lecture in thickly-accented English.
Master Stanley’s real name was Kurt Stanley, and he was from Switzerland; his mentor, the man who’d founded the Coptics in the United States, was Master Hamid Bey, a renegade Orthodox Coptic Christian priest from Egypt who started Coptic Temples in the western United States, in Los Angeles and other cities. Hamid Bey had ordained Kurt Stanley in 1937.
The lecture was interesting, but mostly stuff I’d heard before from Lee: the importance of not judging others, of giving selflessly, of having compassion for all living things even to the point of not eating meat, and of always striving to be conscious of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
"It is this Spirit which fills and animates the world," Master Stanley said. "It is the breath and voice of God. It interpenetrates each of us, and gives us life, separating a living person from a corpse, even though both are chemically identical." He paused for a moment, as if considering something, holding the white handkerchief over the lower part of his mouth. (I later learned he’d been a chemist in Switzerland and was injured in an explosion which included radioactive materials. Some became embedded in his lower jaw and ate away the tissues.)
Then he stepped around the front of the lectern and said, "Jesus said that it was when people saw that they believed. Watch."
He closed his eyes and seemed to stop breathing. A soft golden light began to surround his body. I looked up and around the room for the source of the light: there was none. Nor was there any shadow behind or around him, as you’d see if somebody was shining a spotlight on him. And the glow was perfectly even, surrounding his entire body, extending out perhaps an inch or two everywhere except his head, where it seemed to extend out several inches. It looked like a soft golden mist, yet was perfectly transparent.
I was stunned. Was I hallucinating? Perhaps a remnant experience from some drug I’d taken years earlier?
He took a breath and the glow shimmered. "What color do you see?" he said softly.
A hundred voices said, "Gold."
We can’t all be hallucinating identically, I thought. It was both reassuring and frightening: this was real.
Eyes still closed, he nodded, then stopped breathing again. A long minute passed and the glow slowly changed from gold to blue. My heart was racing: everybody in the room could see this transition, too. It had to be a trick! Yet nowhere could I see the light source.
If this was real, physically real, the implications were even harder to deny.
"What color do you see now?" he said.
"Blue," everybody said. Lee leaned over and whispered to me, "This is nothing. You should see how bright he gets when we’re meditating."
"How does he do it?" I whispered, but Lee shook his head as the man behind me poked me in the back. I said nothing more.
Master Stanley continued his aura demonstration for another few minutes, moving through red, yellow, and white. When he was finished, he seemed drained, but continued his speech. "That was not the Holy Spirit," he said. "It was merely the life force of a human. It’s within each of you: I am not special. Only you must learn to control and project your life force, as it is your gift, one of your many gifts, from the Holy Spirit, which the Bible refers to as the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the manifestation of God."
After the speech and a long chant of "Amen," Master Stanley left the room and climbed the stairs as the congregation sang a final song.
Lee nudged me. "Want to go meet him?"
"You bet!" I said.
Touched by the man with the aura
Lee led me up the stairs, to the end of a long line of people, most in their fifties and sixties. At least half the people who’d attended the service were lined up down the long hall on the second floor that led to Master Stanley’s office. Grace guarded his door, arms crossed over her chest and a skeptical look on her face as people told her why they wanted in. A few she turned away, but most she let in, one at a time. The people coming out seemed to stagger, as if the light in the dim hallway was startlingly bright.
Two people ahead of us in line was a man in his sixties, a crutch under one arm and a younger man who looked enough like him that I concluded it was his son holding up his other shoulder. The older man’s legs seemed withered and he dragged them as if they were dead branches.
When they got up to Grace, I heard the young man say to her in a choked voice, "My father was wounded in the war in Europe, and has been paralyzed from the waist down since 1944. Can Master Stanley do anything for him?"
"We’ll see," she said, opening the door to let them in.
Five minutes later the old man and his son walked out. The old man’s legs were wobbly, but he carried his crutch in his right hand and had a huge smile on his tear-streaked face, and his son was sobbing uncontrollably.
Having seen the light show downstairs, and now seeing this man walk out after he’d hobbled in, I was torn apart emotionally. The rational scientist in me was screaming "hoax!" while the part of me that had grown up reading these same types of stories about Jesus glowing as he walked on the water and healing lame people was staggered by the possibility that Jesus’ final words to his disciples, when he told them that the things he’d done they would do also, might be true.
And, whether or not it wanted to acknowledge it, the scientist in me knew I couldn’t deny what I’d seen. I could question it, but I couldn’t deny it.
Thus, as the old man and his son passed us, a huge lump welled up in my throat. I looked at the door and felt both afraid and excited. Lee, sensing my emotional turmoil, reached over and squeezed my arm. "It’s OK," he said in a whisper.
At last, Lee opened the door to Master Stanley’s office and led me in.
The room was dark other than a few candles on his large oak desk, and he sat in a straight-backed chair in the middle of the room, an identical empty chair facing him.
"Master Stanley, this is Thom Hartmann, one of my students from Lansing," Lee said.
Master Stanley looked at me with pale blue eyes but said nothing. I had the odd feeling that he was looking through me.
Lee motioned to the empty chair. "Sit down," he said to me.
I sat, my knees just touching Master Stanley’s. It was a culturally uncomfortable closeness, but I was afraid to move the chair back and Master Stanley seemed unconcerned by it.
Lee walked to the door, opened it, and left us alone.
Master Stanley looked at me for a long time: it must have been at least three or four minutes, staring directly into my eyes. It seemed that he didn’t blink or breathe, although I was so consumed with inner questions that he could have done both and I may have missed it. In my mind I was reciting the Lord’s Prayer, something I’d done since I was a child when I was frightened.
Finally he spoke, his voice thin and soft. "What do you want from me?"
"I don’t know," I said, thinking that to ask for a healing would be unnecessary, and to say that I wanted to know God would sound pretentious. He could create and read auras: I’d leave it to him to know what was best for me.
"Let’s meditate," he said. "Close your eyes, look to the center of your forehead, and recite the name of Jesus Christ."
I did that for a few minutes, and began to feel very hot, as if I had a fever.
His voice came out of the darkness in front of me, so soft it was almost a whisper, in his thick German accent. "People who approach spiritual work have an important destiny," he said. "They are members of Christ’s army of light."
I opened my eyes; he was staring at me again and I was whipping back and forth between thinking he was just a crazy old man playing a role and feeling, frankly, frightened by the situation. (Among other things, nobody had ever told me I had a destiny—much less a man who had just done things I never thought I’d see.)
He coughed several times, a deep rattling in his lungs, then stood up. I started to stand, but he put out his hand. "I have been told to do this for you. You would ultimately do it yourself, but time is short. You cannot wait sixty years, as I did, for it to open."
"Shhhhhh . . ." he whispered as he walked around beside my chair. "Close your eyes again, and look at the center of your forehead."
I did so, and felt him put a soft, dry, warm hand on my forehead. His other hand pressed against the base of my spine. "Take a deep breath in through your nose," he said. "And relax as you do it."
I took in the breath, and a third of the way into it suddenly felt a searing hot sensation, bright and yellow as if it were liquid steel, rush up my spine, along with a roaring sound in my ears. His hand burned my lower back, and the hand on my forehead was now ice cold.
As I finished the breath, the darkened screen of the inside of my forehead exploded in bright golden light, as if I had thrown open my eyes and looked directly into the sun. His hand on my forehead was now hot as well, and I felt like I might throw up.
The sensation was like nothing I’d ever experienced: the electric shock that ran up the inside of my spine was sharp and cutting, the light more startling than painful, and yet as the light exploded and then seemed to pour over the top of my head, I was left with an ecstatic feeling, an overwhelming sensation of love in my chest, and the breathless tingle of an orgasm that had gone through my mind rather than my genitals.
Master Stanley returned to his chair. "That light you now see in your forehead is your entry point into the world of the Holy Spirit. Always seek it out and one day you may even see there the throne of God Himself. Then you will find your destiny."
I tried to say something: I’d heard Lee talk about kundalini (the rising of the body’s most elemental energy up through the spine) and the spiritual eye and all that, but I’d never expected to experience it without years of tortuous yoga and pranayama practice.
Instead of being able to speak, though, I started sobbing. Tears of joy, grief, pain, happiness—it was all intermingled. A wall of some sort broke down. All through high school I was a self-proclaimed agnostic, having turned my back on the church of my parents as I studied science with a fierce fascination. During my hippie days I’d had many extraordinary out-of-body and other paranormal experiences, but could easily dismiss many of them as being drug-induced. Now I realized, deep down in my guts and for the first time since my childhood, that the world of spirit was real.
After a few moments, I caught my breath and got myself under control. The room was still dim, but Master Stanley was now glowing again, his body enveloped in a golden light, far brighter than it had been downstairs. "I am not the one who will give you your final work," he said softly. "You are far too young and inexperienced, and that man will come into your life later. But I have been ordered to open your eyes and to teach you. You may become one of my students, if you choose."
I nodded and said, "OK."
He smiled and his glow receded. "Now you must leave. There are others to see before this body turns to ash."
I walked unsteadily to the door and stepped out into the bright light of the hallway where Lee met me. As we left, Grace said to him in a stage whisper: "We don’t want hippies here." He glared at her, but I could only smile. My heart was so full, I wanted to hug and kiss her. And everybody else in the building! (Over the next years, I got a haircut, and Grace, who was Master Stanley’s assistant and driver, finally decided she liked me. I liked her, too—she was only trying to protect Master Stanley, and as I got to know her she turned out to be a kind and loving person who is one of the pillars of the Coptic church.)
During the drive back to Lansing, I kept reviewing my experiences. The empirical, rational, scientist part of me wanted to know if it was all some kind of trick. Maybe he had some kind of electric shock device? A Van de Graaff generator that whipped up a huge static field to make him glow?
But the part of me that had been fascinated since childhood with issues of consciousness and spirituality intuited that it was all real, that there were no tricks, and that Master Stanley had no hidden agenda and wasn’t trying to power-trip me. I was leaning heavily toward the conclusion that everything I’d assumed about reality up to that moment might, in fact, just be a thin shaving, peeled from the trunk of the tree of life.
The drive to discover what really matters
It was an issue I’d pondered for years, but my meeting with Master Stanley was the first time something outside of my own control had been entirely paranormal. What he had done was something I’d read about and heard about, but never really expected to experience firsthand.
As I drove home, I became even more certain: what most people call consciousness is really only a shadow, or a mechanistic manifestation of brain cells and stimulus-response. It’s only the brain’s interpretation of sensory inputs. And I saw and felt in that moment that "real" consciousness is something far deeper; that real consciousness is anchored in the very nature of reality and creation.
I made the firm decision during that drive home that I would devote the rest of my life to finding what was "real."
That night I awoke from a sound sleep and sat up in my bed. I was living in a small rented room over a storefront across the street from Michigan State University, and there were people coming and going at all hours. I figured a noise in the hall had awakened me, but I could hear nothing.
Then, in the air a few feet in front of me, a globe materialized, slowly spinning, the size of a beach ball. I immediately recognized it as the Earth, as seen from space. The blue oceans, green and brown land masses, and white patterns of clouds and storms. It was both real and not-real: like a hologram projected into the air.
As I watched, the land masses began to darken at various points. Small black pustules formed, like little blisters or cancers on the Earth. The blue of the oceans became brown and muddy around these areas. The cancers slowly expanded, blackening the Earth and cracking it in places, until they covered virtually all the land of the planet. The clouds turned a death-like yellow-gray, and the waters no longer sparkled blue but were a dull and putrid green-brown.
A thought came into my mind as if a voice were speaking to me: "The Earth is a living thing. It is infected."
Then the Earth shuddered as it spun. It jerked to one side, as if the spin were changing, and the blackened areas split open. The Earth shuddered again, and the black areas cracked and shattered into fragments, falling off into the air around the image and vanishing. The Earth was once again clear and clean, spinning gracefully, displaying oceans the color of lapis lazuli and land richly covered with green.
The voice in my mind said, "The Earth has healed itself."
The image vanished and I lay back in my bed, realizing that the infection in my vision was humankind; the Earth was as much a living organism as I was, a single and complete entity in its own right, perhaps even with its own unique consciousness, and it would respond to a toxic infection by throwing it off, as my body would shed a bacterial invasion or a scab.
I couldn’t sleep, so I pulled out a Bible from the stack of books next to my bed. I flipped it open to a random page toward the end, and my eyes looked down at the words of the Book of Revelation (11:18): ". . . and I shall destroy them which destroy the Earth."
Stunned, I closed the Bible and put it on the bookshelf as if it were hot. I slept fitfully the rest of that night, knowing intuitively that every major change—be it in the world or in individual human life—was preceded by signs and markers. There are always warnings, and I’d just seen, heard, and felt a vivid one.
The beginning of the new age
This vision, and then opening the Bible to that quote, upset me so much that the next week I brought it up with Master Stanley.
"What you have seen is not unique," he said. "We humans are an infection on the Earth. It shall heal itself. This will be the beginning of the new times, what some would call the new age."
"As in the biblical Revelation?" I said. "Wars, plagues, famines, earthquakes. . ."
"Perhaps," he said. "It depends on the choices we make in the next thirty years. But in either case, it will be a time of great renewal and spiritual energy.
"Dark and light are always in balance. There cannot be a shadow without a light, and the strongest light will create the darkest shadow.
"Everything will accelerate and intensify. People will feel this, they’ll know that the world is moving faster, that time is moving faster, that there is a spiritual pressure like a wind to their backs, but most won’t understand its nature. They’ll wonder why they have no time, why the world is moving so fast, why life is slipping through their fingers like dry sand. Those who don’t understand the meaning of this time will be swept away by it. That’s why we must teach them."
"But why all the disasters? Why all the deaths?"
He pushed his handkerchief to his mouth and said, "These are the mysteries. Perhaps one day you will unravel them. In any case, we all chose to be on the Earth at this time to experience them, and we therefore have an important work to do."
Why do we teach that mystics only live in places and times we can’t see?
Before meeting Master Stanley, I’d read books about remarkable spiritual persons: Yogananda, Gurjieff, Ramana Maharshi, Ram Dass, St. John of the Cross, St. Theresa of Avila, Therese Neumann, and, of course, the stories in the Bible. I’d read them with both skepticism and hope—skeptical that people with such powers and insights could even be real (much less alive in our world today), and yet hopeful that they were, and that someday I would have an opportunity to meet such a person.
Thus, meeting Master Stanley presented me with conflicting feelings, thoughts, and sights. I recognized in him a spiritual power that was positive and loving. But there were also parts of me that doubted what I’d seen with my own eyes and what I’d felt in my own body. I thought it may be simply an anomaly: one of those things you genuinely see, even though you know you’ll never understand how it could be so—like the work of a good stage magician—yet you know on a factual level it’s an illusion.
So, on one level, like most people raised in our culture, I was skeptical of the whole thing. The prevalent story of Western culture is that all those things happened "back then," but can’t happen "now."
But the skepticism didn’t make me disbelieving. Rather, it raised in me an old, subtle conflict that I’d never resolved, a conflict that perhaps I’d never even put my finger on:
Modern religion is an odd mixture of belief and non-belief.
We are told "Believe that this did happen, but don’t believe anybody who says they can do this kind of stuff today."
We are told "This is right; this is so; but this over here is wrong. Remember these answers we give you." In sharp contrast to this tradition, Master Stanley, who gave a more powerful demonstration of spirituality than I’d ever seen anywhere, never said "Behold!," never demanded that any of us believe everything he taught. "Take what is useful," he often said.
This spoke volumes to me.
Skepticism and doubt have always been both my strengths and my weaknesses. I was taught in school that they were strengths—the scientific method—and in my youth I believed totally in the religion of modern science. (I call it a religion because it’s a set of values that people accept and pursue, believing in them even though they can’t prove that their belief is correct.) Nuclear power would mean free electricity for everybody, we could feed the world’s population no matter what it became, doctors were priests who had the power of life and death because of their understanding of medical technology, and all problems had solutions if only we could know enough.
Ironically, decades later science itself would disprove the "religion" of "if only we could know enough." Chaos theory, born out of weather forecasting, put a rather heartless end to that belief. The scientists proved that no matter how much information you collect about most natural processes, an even tinier deviation can throw off your predictions.
That’s when the National Weather Service gave up trying for certainty: they stopped predicting "It’ll rain tomorrow" and switched to the now-familiar "probability of precipitation."
Their computers had proven that we can’t figure it all out.
But I didn’t know that at the time; nobody did. As far as we knew, science was the only true light in the darkness: as a child I worshipped knowledge, but didn’t yet understand wisdom.
So I tried to understand Master Stanley’s teachings, and to put them into perspective.
In search of explanations
I read the New Testament thoroughly for the first time, read books of prophecy concerning the return of the Messiah, and sought within myself the insights and knowledge that would answer my doubts.
But my strongest identification in the Bible was still with my namesake Thomas, the doubter. And even though Master Stanley had done "miracles" in front of me, they were also things that I thought I could explain with science, albeit the science of metaphysics, homeopathy, and the farthest reaches of Einstein’s and Bohm’s physics. They were all things that I discovered others had done or seen, and were all in the realm of phenomena—which must ultimately be explainable.
But the strongest parts of me wanted to learn more, to come to know spiritual reality in a positive and loving way, and I could see, feel, and hear that emanating from Master Stanley.
So, setting my doubts aside (but keeping them available for if/when they’d be necessary), and deciding not to argue about those things where I was truly skeptical, I chose to study with him.
I knew that the worst that could happen would be that I’d learn some interesting lessons, and the best may be that I’d achieve those spiritual states and insights I’d read and heard about for years.
To explain to you how I experienced this learning, I first have to back up and share with you the major questions I brought with me, and the thoughts I’d had in the preceding years.