Gary Zukav - A Failure to Name Evil
On Christmas Eve of 1998, Oprah Winfrey featured Gary Zukav and his book, The Seat of the Soul, on her television talk show. Zukav has since become a regular guest on Oprah's program. Oprah had changed her show format in an attempt to promote a more spiritual life-style among her audience. While her intentions are good and some of her programming is enriching and beneficial, there is an alarming move toward a dishonesty that ignores individual sin and corporate wickedness. This is because her spiritual outlook, as well as that of many of her guests, is decidedly New Age. Gary Zukav is a prime example. He is the author of several books ,including The Dancing Wu Li Masters, which won the American Book Award for Science in 1979, and The Seat Of The Soul, published in1989. Zukav is also one of the founders of Genesis: The Foundation for the Universal Human. This organization promotes "Soul Circles," which are independent discussion groups that focus on the book The Seat Of The Soul. There are many circles across the United States. The book is,however, an example of a developing amoral philosophy among intellectual proponents of New Age philosophy. Tragically, the amorality easily slips into immorality.
Zukav, undoubtedly without intending to, has created an open door for evil. His philosophy has problems in three important areas. First, Zukav's philosophy destroys the right of those who suffer to name the evil that afflicts them, thus destroying both justice and/or redemption for those who suffer because of their own sin, and those who suffer innocently because of the sin of others and the tragedies of life. Secondly, Zukav uses his philosophy to interpret the realm of culture and race. His interpretation fails to properly speak to evil perpetrated by outsiders against ethnic, cultural or religious groups. Thirdly, the author widely opens the door to individual immorality.
Opening The Door For Evil
Zukav sees evil as a negation or absence of something. Many philosophers and theologians have understood evil in a similar way. Augustine is a casein point; for him it is the absence of love for God. Unlike Augustine's Christian orthodoxy, Zukav works out his concepts in a very Gnostic and Eastern manner. Zukav's sees a lack of light as the evil. According to Zukav, the soul and the personality are two different things. He believes the soul is attempting, with reincarnation, to grow into a "multisensory being," or a being whose personality is aligned with their soul.1 Within this duality of personality and soul is Zukav's division of good and evil.
According to Zukav, only the personality can know evil; the soul experiences good for both itself and the personality. He believes the soul is immortal and timeless, but not the personality.2 Zukav also believes the soul creates both the personality and the body in order to heal certain needs of the soul. The author writes, "The personality emerges as a natural force from the soul. It is an energy tool that the soul adapts within the physical world."3 Here Zukav brings into play the idea of karma. Karma, an Eastern concept, connects actions to their effects in such a way that working through the effects, with each occurring reincarnation, has some redeeming quality. In most Hindu views, negative karma causes the soul to be in bondage to illusion (the material world). The soul must continually incarnate because of karma. For Zukav, however, the soul must balance its energy in order to become whole. Working out the energy balance is the act of working through the karma of all the soul's various personalities!4
It is here that evil is given passageway in Zukav's philosophy; and yet,he seems unaware. He writes:
Since we cannot know what is being healed through each interaction-what Karmic debts are coming to conclusion-we cannot judge what we see. For example, when we see a person sleeping in the gutter in the winter, we do not know what is being completed for that soul. We do not know whether that soul has engaged in cruelty in another lifetime, and now has chosen to experience the same dynamic from an entirely different point of view,as, for example the target of charity. It is appropriate that we respond to his or her circumstance with compassion, but it is not appropriate that we perceive it as unfair, because it is not.5
Zukav goes on to say, "When we say of an action, 'This is right,' or,'That is wrong,' we create negative karma."6 While the author pleads for compassion he has torn away the possibilities of correcting social evil. Contrary to Zukav's view, the man may be lying in the gutter because he is an alcoholic, he may lie there because he is poor and ill and the foundations of society (i.e., the church, community and government) have failed in their duties. It may be the sin of the individual or the sin of many individuals, but there can be redemption because it is judged sin. The biblical understanding of sin and redemption is quite different than Zukav's of human action. Jesus in the Gospel of Luke tells the parable of the two men who went to the temple to pray. Only the tax collector was justified because he humbled himself and prayed, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner!" (Luke 18:9-14). In the book of Hosea, God pleads with a whole nation: "Return, O Israel to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him: 'Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips'" (Hos. 14:1, 2).
God's answer to this prayer rings with poetic beauty: "I will heal their waywardness and love them freely. I will be like the dew to Israel." And He promises not only blessings to them but also blessings to those who"dwell in his [Israel's] shade" (Hos. 14:4-7). With God's mercy and forgiveness the sinful individual and the sinful society begin a journey toward wholeness while extending mercy to others.
Karma, Race and CultureZukav interjects his philosophy into the realm of culture and race. He explains that the personality creates its own reality by its intentions,and that reality is multi-layered.7 (Zukav,like many Eastern religious teachers, believes the material world is an illusion.)8 The author explains that within families, nations, cultures and races, individuals contribute energy (their intentions), which define or create the reality of those groups. Zukav writes: "Consider the United States, for example, as simply one unit of energy that is evolving with a particular consciousness. The individual souls that pass through this collective consciousness expand it, create nations, create thought forms, create causes and effects, and how it accumulates karma."9
Zukav continues expanding his concepts into race. Referring to what he considers one layer of reality, he writes: "If you are black, you - your soul - has chosen to participate in the evolution of what it is to be a black human. Your experiences of exhilaration, anger, wisdom, or kindness help to shape this impersonal energy dynamic."10
Human souls, according to Zukav, are not all at the same level of evolution. "There are degrees of soul consciousness." A few are still just evolved from the animal kingdom and need to exist in "a limited sphere of human life." Zukav believes such a soul may desire "a remote region so that it can have a gentle life familiarizing itself with the human physical experience."11
According to the author, all of human history, the place that people live, the birth of a child, the excitement of invention, the horror of the Holocaust are scenarios created by the agreements between souls to heal themselves. The scenarios are created to provide a means to balance previous accumulated karma.
Pulling all of these various ideas together it can be seen that Zukav believes each cultural, racial and national group has a soul, which, according to him, is developed by the various individual souls that make up the group. The various individual souls are propelled into a great revolution by an intuitive awareness of their souls, the balancing of their karmic energy and an awareness of creating reality with their intentions. For Zukav, a culture, family, race or nation create collectively their reality. It would seem that in Zukav's philosophy whole groups of people over many generations are responsible for the illusory-reality in which they exist. This is the only answer Zukav gives to the plights of such people as the butchered peoples of Sierra Leone, the Christian and Animist slaves in the Sudan or the slave laborers of China? The world is full of tragedies that cry out for judgment as a precursor to solutions. Must we believe that souls, seeking to become whole, have collaborated together to create the reality of the Holocaust? Indeed, if the judgment of evil creates further negative karma there is no salvation for the victim of evil, and there is no redemption for the one who is evil! (And, we are all included in both categories!)
Furthermore, while Zukav is not suggesting a racist viewpoint, nor insisting that some groups, cultures or races are more morally advanced than others,he is offering concepts such as those that fed into the racism of Nazism. (That is, that various racial groups have souls developed and energized by its entire differing individual's past and present.)12 It only takes extreme Nationalism or an authoritarian ideology to use such concepts as a way of insisting that "others" are inferior in development or impeding the progress of humanity.
Morality as Spiritual Growth
Zukav's third open door to evil, individual immorality, is created by applying his understanding of energy and consciousness to marriage. According to the author, marriage is defined as a "collective human idea." The idea evolved as a means of "physical survival."13 Now, Zukav believes, there is a clearer understanding of pairing between individuals. He calls this spiritual or sacred marriage. The author defines such relationships as a commitment "to each other's spiritual growth."He writes:
Spiritual partners bond with an understanding that they are together because it is appropriate for their souls to grow together. They recognize that their growth may take them to the end of their days in this incarnation and beyond, or it may take them to six months. They cannot say that they will be together forever. The duration of their partnership is determined by how long it is appropriate for their evolution to be together. All of the vows that a human being can take cannot prevent the spiritual path from exploding through and breaking those vows if the spirit must move on.14
Morality based on "spiritual growth" as the absolute is extremely subjective. Although Zukav's idea of spiritual growth is focused on marriage, it easily bleeds into all of life breaking apart all relationships and commitments. In contrast, those who belong to Christ experience an unbreakable relationship with the absolute and eternal God. We sinners, constantly breaking our vows of commitment, are redeemed to live a new life by the blood of Christ(1 Pet. 1:18, 19; Tit. 3:3-8). The Christian experiences spiritual growth as the outcome of the renewing of the Holy Spirit who is given to us because of God's grace in Christ. In our calling as Christians, all good works,any spiritual growth, are based on an unbreakable relationship with Jesus Christ. We are called to be loved by God and to love Him in return. Our ethics are grounded in God's love not in our own spiritual growth. Since we cannot be separated from the love of Christ we will not easily or quickly separate ourselves from those to whom we are committed (Rom. 8:35-39).
A Philosophy of Evil
Listening to Zukav on Oprah's show I was reminded of Yeats' poem The Second Coming. The poem pictures the fragmenting of the social order and the slow careless rise of evil. In the poem the converse of Christianity grows because society disregards the enduring grace of Christ. As Yeats puts it, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." In place of such a monstrous philosophy believers must holdout the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
Viola Larson has a BA in Philosophy and in Religion Studies, and a MA in History with a concentration in the Humanities. She is an author and teacher on new religious movements, and is the founder of Naming The Grace Ministries (www.naminggrace.org).
1 Gary Zukav, The Seat of the Soul (New York:A Fireside Book, Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1989), 27-31.
2 Ibid., 29, 30.
3 Ibid., 37.
4 Ibid., 41, 42.
5 Ibid., 43.
8 Ibid., "Illusion," chap. 14. Although Zukav explains that, "Every physical form, as well as every non-physical form, is light that has been shaped by consciousness" (p. 111), he later devotes a whole chapter to our human experience as "illusion." He states, "The illusion for each soul is created by its intentions. Therefore, the illusion is alive at each moment with the most appropriate experiences that you can have in order for your soul to heal" (p. 207). This is, of course, inconsistent.
9 Ibid., 114.
10 Ibid., 115.
11 Ibid., 168.
12 George L. Mosse has documented the mixing of non-racial Spiritualism and Theosophy with extreme Nationalism and anti-Semitism inhis book, Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism(New York: Harper Colophon Books; Harper & Row, 1978).
13 Zukav, The Seat of the Soul, 124.
14 Ibid., 125, 126.