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Mysticism Guide

Mysticism is overtaking the West. Learn which disciplines fit your budget and your needs.

In the West, we choose between countless different brands and models of automobile and canned string bean; Now, with the blooming of eastern mysticism in our midst, we must shop among a vast proliferation of ways to heaven, a chaotic spiritual supermarket where no consumer commission sets guidelines. Mysticism, older than science or logic, offers umpteen intuitive and direct ways to happiness and wisdom. Don't be a careless shopper. Can you really afford the tens of thousands of dollars it might take to be saved by Scientology? Have you considered the hardships Mel Lyman's Karma Squad might impose on you? Are you aware, in short, of just what's cooking in your favored cult? In this article, the major cults and sects active today are outlined, along with a handy guide to costs, survival-potential, guru-biographies, and what to expect for your mind and body. Welcome to the wonderful world of mysticism.

Find Your Price Bracket

Our consumer report will first show you the most important aspect of shopping for joy—how it hits your pocket. Then look at the various disciplines. Find your preferred place and see if it would really suit your temperament by consulting the lowdown on what such a group means to do to your body and mind: muscle means they're orientated towards action, power, competition; brain means thought and meditation; gut means emotion and socializing. Caveat emptor the mindrot potential. 

Scientology: You go in for a free lecture, and you could come out having signed a contract which will lead you into a series of expensive courses. To get anywhere in the system you lay out a mint, at least $4,000 or $5,000 to become Clear, the only place worth getting, and sometimes $15,000 or more. If you're particularly brilliant they'll "process" you faster, but it won't cost any less, since you pay in advance. Little wonder they've grossed many millions already, or that the IRS has been trying to foil their tax-exempt status as a religion since 1963.

Human Potential Movement: The weekends and seminars may only cost in the hundreds of dollars, but once you're hooked on some kind of course or fancy type of therapy you'll be fleeced just as bad as if you were into nonmystical psychiatry. Get a friend to tickle you for free.

Synanon: The Process, Krishna Consciousness, Spirit in Flesh, Children of God, Mel Lyman's Family and the erstwhile Family of Charles Manson: Rated "too expensive" because they demand from adherents all their earthly possessions.

Astrology: Generally runs from $10 to $200 for a horoscope, depending on whether your astrologer is a computer or a human.

Bio-Feedback Research Society: Lots of flexibility in costs, depending on whether you want classes or your own alpha wave sensor or just to join the society and get mail. 

Yoga: Ubiquitous instruction available, usually about $10-20 at the door; paperbacks also useful.

I Ching: We recommend the $14 Bollingen edition, though you might want to peek into a friend's copy of a different one; necessary three coins easily acquired.

Taoism: Best translation of the Tao-te-ching is the Penguin edition, costing upwards of $3, depending on if you prefer paperback, Kindle, or hardcover.

Nichiren Shoshu: A few dollars will get you beads and a small inscribed paper scroll, all you need to chant at home.

Tarot: Decks cost a few dollars. Snazziest set available from the Builders Of The Adytum in Los Angeles.

Rosicrucians: Average member of the society pays a small monthly fee for correspondence course in esoterica. Which doesn't come to much, providing you quit before the 12 years necessary to complete the instruction.

Acid: A good 12-hour acid high doesn't run into too much money, especially in comparison to some of the other options. Not to be confused with a grass or hash habit, which can really eat up dough.

Books: Less than $15 will land you any of these mysticism classics: Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, Journey to the East, Steppenwolf, or even the thick and boring Magister Ludi, Aldous Huxley's Doors of Perception and Gates of Heaven and Hell, Alan Watts's, Paul Reps's, or D. T. Suzuki's writings on Zen, or even that old goody Annie Besant's Thought Forms.

Choose Your Discipline

Vedanta: (India, tough) 95% brain, 5% muscle

The first Eastern religion to catch on in the West (1893), and probably the highest class. Beside all those strenuous Yoga positions, you have to master a Sutra-full of other spiritual disciplines, like the three types of diet, meditation into cosmic consciousness, and being a good disciple. Famous scribes: Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood, Allen Ginsberg.

Hare Krishnas: (India, medium) 50% muscle, 50% gut

As George Harrison says, "Try chanting the name of the Lord and you'll be free." So several thousands of bald boys and saffron sari-sheeted girls are seeking freedom and ecstasy by bouncing up and down chanting "Hare Krishna" (hail, Lord Krishna) on the streets of dozens of cities, tireless as washing machines. They give up their names, their possessions, and the right to choose their own spouse; In return they get to live in a community of saints, to worship icons with incense, flowers, and polished brass, to eat communal meals of rice, fruit, and vegetables, and to study the Bhagavad Gita daily.

Tibetan Buddhism: (Tibet and Japan, tough) 55% muscle, 45% brain

The way to abandonment of the "I" (are you interested so far?) entails hundreds of thousands of prostrations to the evolved consciousness incarnate of your master. In return you discover the secrets of sex (Tantra), death, and magic. 

Zen Buddhism: (Tibet and Japan, medium) 80% brain

Zen came to Japan from China along with tea seeds in the 12th century, and has the same delicate power as tea. It is a streamlined, miniaturized version of heavy Asian Buddhism, and consists almost exclusively of superriddles (e.g. What was your original face before your parents were born?), especially the Rinzai sect, which is most popular in the West. Famous scribes: Alan Watts, Gary Snyder.

Pop Zen: (Tibet and Japan, easy) 25% brain

Suitable for the beginning mystic. Quite unstructured. Full of little stories and jokes. Famous scribes: Jack Kerouac and J. D. Salinger (whose Buddy Glass is probably the best Zen teacher in literature).

Nichiren Shoshu "True Sect", US branch of Japan's SOKAGAKKA, "Value Creation Society": (Tibet and Japan, easy) 30% muscle, 30% gut

Softer than the fat-gold-Buddha-type Buddhism, about as mystical as a Sony clock radio, this cult is the third largest political party in Japan, and claims 200,000 members in the US. Mostly they sing and chant and cheer each other. Its most positive effect reported to date is to make some kid clean up his room.

Acupuncture: (China, tough) 70% muscle, 30% brain

The Chinese even today practice a kind of medicine Western doctors call "black magic" and "barbarism,'' because it seems to them like palmistry spread all over the body. Through 700 points on the skin, the energy flowing through the internal organs can be contacted (with golden needles) and such diseases as impotence, obesity, and deafness cured. Нappy pricking.

I Ching: (China, medium) 50% brain

All you gotta do is forswear causality, toss some coins, and be able to read fortune cookies in dignified tones, and the wonders of Confucius will open up to you amazingly. Patron saint: C. G. Jung. Famous adherents: Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and the top cultural official in China before the 1960s purge.

Tao: (China, easy) 70% brain

Lao Tzu's neat philosophy of the power of emptiness, non-doing, and the all-encompassing nothingness of the Way. Try it, you'll like it. Or listen to the Beatles' "Inner Light," which is a direct steal.

Rosicrucians: (Egypt and Near East, tough) 80% brain.

This group just might be the prototype for Hesse's mysterious school in Journey to the East. They're secretive and old-worldly, and they issue several years worth of home-study courses on everything you ever wanted to know about mysticism: Kabala, Tarot, Alchemy, Astral and Etheric Planes, Masonry, Atlantis, Reincarnation, and God. They call themselves the Ancient Wisdom Religion, and have something to do with the Pyramids and Pythagoras. Hence a feud for precedence with the Sufis.

Theosophy: (Egypt and Near East, tough) 75% brain.

One of mysticism's great ladies, Annie Besant, founded this sect in the 19th century to try and link East (karma) and West (humanism). Now the only eloquent Theosophist around is Krishnamurti, Avatar of the Age, World Teacher, and incarnation of the Lord Maitreya (and cute as Nehru), who lectures mostly in Switzerland and England. An older clientele hangs around theosophy libraries.

Sufis: (Egypt and Near East, medium) 80% brain, 20% muscle

The cult that brought you whirling dervishes. Whether their origins are in 2000 B.C. as they claim, or 623 A.D. when the name first appeared (Sufis = People of the Wool, or Pious Ones), they now have millions of adherents. There's some dancing, chanting "Hoo!'', some investigation into Arabic linguistic roots, many anecdotes. The tone is lively and novel, very unpretentious as religions go. Was Shakespeare really Sheikh-Peer, the Ancient Sage? Were Cervantes, Goethe, and Dag Hammerskjold Sufis? Doris Lessing liked them. Chief Sufi author Idries Shah was a genius who runs a bunch of brainy businesses in England.

Astrology: (Egypt and Near East, medium) 50% gut, 40% brain

Surely this intricate system of relating fate and stars must be the most popular mysticism in the world. Its origins pervade ancient culture from Egypt and Babylonia to India, China, and the Americas. Today, it is the chief backbone of popular religion in India, and probably the meat of billions of flirtatious conversations daily in the cosmopolitan West. There are tens of thousands of full-time and hundreds of thousands of part-time astrologers in the US alone; and newspapers with astrology columns go into 30 million American homes daily. So prestigious an intellectual as Marshall McLuhan digs that he's a Moonchild; Norman Mailer endorses Jung's idea that synchronicity (time-coincidence) is more important than causality. On the other hand, Yale Chaplain William Sloane Coffin calls astrology "a beautiful example of lobotomized passivity.” Which side (sign) are you on?

Gurdjieff: (Egypt and Near East, medium): 60% brain, 20% muscle, 20% gut

"A man's whole life is inevitably an expression of his level of consciousness." In the Far East they aim for Enlightenment. In the West, with Gurdjieff on the borderline, they want Consciousness instead, and the two are somewhat at odds. Very smart artists and academics get together discreetly to develop said consciousness, release their imaginations, and perhaps dance, after the teachings of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, a beatnik Russian living and guru-ing in Paris around the time of the Russian Revolution. As a group, there's not much organization. Gurdjieff's writings grew popular among hippies: All and Everything, Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson, and Meetings with Remarkable Men, as well as disciple P. D. Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous.

Spiritism: (Egypt and Near East, easy) 50% gut, 50% mind-rot potential

About the best thing you can say about groups who meet to contact the dead is that they're probably having more fun than they used to in church or psychoanalysis. Edgar Cayce, the psychic healer, died in 1945, but his Association for Research 8; Enlightenment lives on. At Search for God gatherings, thousands of people meditate, talk about their dreams, and pray aloud. 

Scientology: (Electronics, muscle) 40% mind-rot potential

Scientology is illegal in parts of Australia, under investigation by various departments of the US government, and has been the subject of repeated investigations by British authorities. Why the fuss? Maybe what irks is the group's use of those little tin-can lie detectors they call E-meters and allow to preside over people's free associations. Maybe it's the cult's success—up to 5 million members in the US, maybe 15 million worldwide. And a reported weekly tax free gross revenue of well over 1 million—that's weekly. Maybe they're worried that the cult misleads. You may get only temporary relief but on the other hand you may completely Scientologize yourself and become a select member of a paramilitary clique circling the oceans as uniformed sailors in the private inter terrestrial armada of L. Ron Hubbard, operating the tan and demi-god of what is known as the "Ethics Squad." Let's face it, the forces are scared of Scientology because it's a mysticism that's fun to be a part of (consider the vocabulary "basic-basic," "gorilla goals," "boo-hoo!", "perceptic," "suppressive," "GE," “MEST," "Operating Thetan") and also has teeth. Before he started the snake-oil Smersh-like intergalactic medicine show of Scientology, Hubbard wrote science fiction under such pen-names as Winchester Remington Colt. Famous sometime adherents: The Incredible String Band, Leonard Cohen, William Burroughs, Mama Cass, and the late Jim Morrison. See you at Clear, Technocreeps.

Bio-Feedback: (Electronics, medium): 99% brain

Bio-Feedback is to Scientology as the Talmud is to horror comics. It has a machine that resembles the E-meter, called a Galvanic Skin Response Meter, which does indeed indicate something about your emotions. Something—the Bio-Feedback people don't say what. They're real scientists, with real PhDs, getting big federal grants, and poking around with electroencephalographs and electrocardiographs and dozens of other huge machines measuring brain waves and teaching you control over your heartbeat. They don't operate mystically. But for all their academic structure, they're undoubtedly going to validate a lot of far-out psychic stuff and maybe pop through into some new types of medicine. Barbara B. Brown, girl-genius who founded the BioFeedback Research Society, was also into Sai Baba, South American mushrooms, things like that, and Joe Kamiya specialized in EEG-ing Zen masters and yogis.

Peyote-Cult: (Chemistry, tough): 45% muscle

Disoriented by the sheep-overgrazing crisis of the 1930s, and despite the white men who were of course, the source of their problems, the Navajo Indians took up the peyote and psilocybin. Now there's the Native American Church, and 50 or more tribes, who have shaped a dignified and ritualistic approach to mind expansion that is of increasing interest to the psych experimentalists of the American southwest—most notably Taos, New Mexico, and Oaxaca, Mexico. Not many gringos have the nerve of Carlos Casteneda, though, a graduate student who apprenticed himself to a Yaqui Indian sorcerer for seven years and almost died in the process.

Witchcraft: (Chemistry, medium) 50% gut

Probably several thousands of people are now practicing "The Old Religion" that has plagued Christianity for centuries, though none has been publicly burned so far. Witchcraft is woven around nature's chemicals—herbs, oils, love potions, geometric figures made of salt—and such totems and rituals as have built up the pagan fabric from diverse sources— Tarot cards, astrology, and various other types of divination from aeromancy to xylomancy (cloud-reading to reading pieces of wood.) What goes on at witches gatherings, called covens, is a strict secret, but it involves bare flesh. Two and a half million readers have soaked up Rosemary's Baby, among whom are at least 500 witches thought to be residing in Manhattan. Witches are ambiguous on the question of "good" vs. "bad" magic (Anton Szandor Lavey's The Compleat Witch is about as harmful as Sex and the Single Girl), but their brother mystics, the Satanists, own up gleefully to being bad guys.

Acid: (The West, easy): 50% brain, 50% mindrot potential

When Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert were fired from Harvard in 1963 for doping undergrads, they proceeded to Berkeley where, it will be remembered, the Free Speech Controversy broke out shortly thereafter, possibly over some Leary-Alpert lectures. Tin went on to face extradition proceedings in Swiss courts, having been spotted by an undercover US narcotics agent in the Lucerne market. Richard became a yogi in his father's house, and tens of millions of American youth have lost their psychedelic virginity and taken one or more steps down the path to complete Acid Headdom. Tim modestly suggested "some possibility that my friends and have illuminated more people than anyone else in history." Opponents of the illumination include Christianity, Judaism, psychiatry, and most governments of the world. They accuse drugs of causing addiction, hepatitis, venereal disease, mind-rot, chromosome damage, and jumping out of windows. "And many here are lost in a palace of nine bardos not mentioned in the guidebooks." Famous spokesmen: the Beatles, Peter Fonda, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Princess Leda Amun-Ra.

Macrobiotics: (Nutrition, tough): 70% gut, 30% brain

Life is real, life is earnest, and the harmonization of Yin and Yang is its goal. Grains are the way—boiled grains, fried grains, grain pudding, grain-concept art. You might think it looks like "brown rice, seaweed, and a dirty hot dog," but those chewing their mouthfuls 50 times each know they're balancing their cold purple potassium and their hot red sodium better than you are. Famous adherents: Hog Farm, cooks to Woodstock Nation.

Natural Foods: (Nutrition, medium) 95% gut, 5% brain

Much jollier than Macrobiotics, natural foods (e.g. the whole chicken put through the blender) are generally pressed upon you by zaftig earth mothers. Your headaches, impotence, etc. are mere vitamin deficiencies, and you should hasten to apply carrot juice, granola, yogurt, yeast, rose hips, and the rest of the garden goodies. Best not eat more than a pound of raw liver a day, though, and watch out for Tiger's Milk addiction. It's true that J. I. Rodale, of Scientific Farming, dropped dead at 75 during the taping of a Dick Cavett show, just after boasting he was going to live till 100—but that was apparently because he had been given only a short time to live many years before, and it had been rabbit food that kept him going as long as he did. High priestess: Adelle Davis, author of the Let's— books. Famous adherents: Mae West and the New Haven branch of Black Panthers.

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