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Books

Review: “Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah”

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

A review by Daniel A. Brown
©2010 Daniel A. Brown

Published in 1977, “Illusions” never received the mass audience adulation that greeted Richard Bach’s initial offering “Jonathan Livingston Seagull”. In fact, it became more of a cult classic among the New Age circuit which was gaining some steam in the late 1970’s. Not a surprise, as this slight volume answers the question; “If a Christ figure showed up in contemporary America, what would he be like?”

A good question and a good guess that it wouldn’t be some guy dressed in a robe and sandals. Being an aviator himself, Bach imagines this latter-day avatar as a barn-storming biplane pilot, offering airplane rides for $3 as whack in his immaculate Travel Air which, for some odd reason, never needs gas or oil and flies through the Midwest summer skies with nary a squashed bug on his windshield. This alone signals that Bach’s new flying buddy, Donald Shimoda, is not your average stick jockey.

Or your average messiah as the title suggests because he hates crowds who are more intent on being wowed by miracles than understanding (and thus living) the spiritual wisdom he is aching to share. “When I stay around one place too long, things happen” he tells Bach cryptically who himself then considers the fate of most holy people who work their trade here on earth.

Shimoda might have given up on crowds but has chosen Bach as his disciple, handing him the “Messiah’s Handbook” which contains wisdom both rare and obvious. It is to the credit of Bach’s craft that he can weave a believable spiritual parable around a good flying story. Miracles occur between take-offs and landings while deep wisdom is transmitted in such mundane locales as movie theaters and burger joints. Few people could guess that “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” would be a venue to teach both the lessons of reincarnation and how karma really works. Bach pulls it off with a fair amount of wit and style.

And there are some tense moments as well that seems ripped from a modern sequel to the New Testament. One day, as Shimoda and Bach are giving rides to a gaggle of curiosity seekers, a man shows up in a wheelchair. Always solicitous to his customers, Shimoda is unusually harsh, demanding that if this fellow wants to fly, he damn well better get out of his seat and walk to the airplane. The man, who has been crippled for years, throws away his crutches and nearly flies out of the chair to the amazement of himself and the crowd around him. A crowd which then descends on the non-plussed miracle-worker while Bach, panicked, takes off in his own biplane for points unknown.

It isn’t the end of the tale, of course, just a passage in a narrative that has an ending that is either sad or uplifting according to one’s own perspective. “Illusions” imparts its wisdom in a strictly take-it-or-leave-it manner. And that wisdom is not only valid, but useful, thirty-odd years after its publication. That alone, is the mark of a good timeless story.


Dan Brown

Review: “Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions” by Richard Erdoes

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

A review by Daniel A. Brown
©2010 Daniel A. Brown

This book, published in 1972 about a contemporary Lakota elder and holy man was co-written by an unlikely source. Born in 1912 in Frankfort, Germany; Richard Erdoes was a shy, lonely kid, finding solace in nature and loving American Indians thanks to Karl May, who was famous in Europe for writing fantastically vivid Western epics.

Fleeing Hitler, Erdoes re-settled in New York City, but found himself traveling to the wide open prairies of South Dakota, which filled him with a sense of peace. It was only a matter of time before he came into the company of Lakota spiritual elders, one of whom, John Fire Lame Deer, decided that he wanted Erdoes to write a book about his life and Lakota traditions. And so they began, at a time when Native Americans were finally emerging from their own Dark Ages of having their culture suppressed. “Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions” is the result of this collaboration.

The story is narrated exclusively by its namesake and the old guy is a hoot. Profane, hilarious, sacred and profound, he destroys every stereotype about not only grim, unsmiling stoic Indians, but also grinning, antiseptic New Age “teachers”. Raised on the Rosebud reservation right after the turn of the century, he began life as an angry, if not, imaginative rebel who refused to accept his humiliating station in life. Early in his story, Lame Deer describes this mad car-stealing spree in which he hijacked several Model T’s in the middle of a South Dakota blizzard while “drunk as a boiled owl”, one of the colorful metaphors that Lame Deer peppers his language with.

Sent to a reformatory, he learned a trade and after a stint as a sign painter, rodeo clown,  peyote-church worshipper, tribal cop, and sheep herder; all described in nuances that suggest an indigenous Garrison Keillor, he finally settled down into what he decided was his true mission in life, namely, “Being an Indian”.

A major portion of the narrative concerns the explanation of Lakota rituals and spiritual world-view that are most likely well-known to any informed reader. But these sections are not what make this tale unique. It is more about Lame Deer observing how the secret threads of life operate differently from the linear pattern we have come to expect: Go to school, get a job, get married, move up the ladder of material success, and then retire.

Lame Deer looks at this differently, the result of his own erratic life. “The ‘find-out’”, he explains, “It has lasted my whole life. In a way I was always hopping back and forth across the boundary line of my mind.” He identifies with artists because they are the “Indians of the white world”. Meaning, they are the dreamers and visionaries who see the spirit realm and usually have trouble navigating the “Green Frog Skin World”, the colorful adjective referring to Lame Deer’s term for money. Lame Deer understands only too well what a corrupting influence the Green Frog Skin has had, not only on his own people, but on humanity at large.

“Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions” might seem dated in the present culture of Indian casinos and New Age megabucks but it is an excellent bridge between the current and the traditional as well as a shrewdly entertaining read. Both Lame Deer and Erdoes have passed away but their book is a fitting tribute to the integrity of both men and their unusual partnership.

Book: The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

This book is referenced in Paramahansa Yogananda’s book, God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita. It is extremely interesting to me to see that the teachings of the ancient rishis of India and the findings of modern quantum physicists are in perfect accord. Talbot makes the new science easy to understand and skillfully places it beside ancient philosophy in a way that I found enlightening.

From Library Journal

Author Talbot writes that “. . . there is evidence to suggest that our world and everything in it. . . are also only ghostly images, projections from a level of reality so beyond our own it is literally beyond both space and time.” Hence, the title of his book. Beginning with the work of physicist David Bohm and neurophysiologist Karl Pribram, both of whom independently arrived at holographic theories or models of the universe, Talbot explains in clear terms the theory and physics of holography and its application, both in science and in explanation of the paranormal and psychic. His theory of reality accommodates this latest thinking in physics as well as many unresolved mind-body questions. This well-written and fascinating study is recommended for science collections.
– Hilary D. Burton, Lawrence Livermore National Lab., Livermore, Cal

Book: God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita by Paramahansa Yogananda

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

This is the most powerful book I have ever read. I have read it cover to cover at least 5 times since its first publication and find each time that it sheds new light and wisdom upon the deepest mysteries of Self Realization. It is a book to be read slowly, to be pondered, to study and to ingest on the deepest level. In my view, this is Yogananda’s greatest work. It is more than a book, it is a transformative experience at the feet of a very great master.

Autobiography of a Yogi – Paramahansa Yogananda

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Autobiography of a Yogi is at once a beautifully written account of an exceptional life and a profound introduction to the ancient science of Yoga and its time-honored tradition of meditation. This acclaimed autobiography presents a fascinating portrait of one of the great spiritual figures of our time. With engaging candor, eloquence, and wit, Paramahansa Yogananda tells the inspiring chronicle of his life: the experiences of his remarkable childhood, encounter with many saints and sages during his youthful search throughout India for an illumined teacher, ten years of training in the hermitage of a revered yoga master, and the thirty years that he lived and taught in America.

Also recorded here are his meetings with Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Luther Burbank, the Catholic stigmatist Therese Neumann, and other celebrated spiritual personalities of East and West. The author clearly explains the subtle but definite laws behind both the ordinary events of everyday life and the extraordinary events commonly termed miracles. His absorbing life story becomes the background for a penetrating and unforgettable look at the ultimate mysteries of human existence.

Selected as “One of the 100 Best Spiritual Books of the Twentieth Century,” Autobiography of a Yogi has been translated into 20 languages, and is regarded worldwide as a classic of religious literature. Several million copies have been sold, and it continues to appear on best-seller lists after more than sixty consecutive years in print. Profoundly inspiring, it is at the same time vastly entertaining, warmly humorous and filled with extraordinary personages. Self-Realization Fellowship’s editions, and none others, include extensive material added by the author after the first edition was published, including a final chapter on the closing years of his life.

A bonus audio CD is included with print book, featuring the first four chapters of the full audio-book (also available from Self-Realization Fellowship), as narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Sir Ben Kingsley.

Click the cover to order the book from Amazon…

You may also download a Kindle version free from Ananda.org: http://www.ananda.org/autobiography/