BLACK ELK AND NEOHUMANISM

TALK BY RAVI LOGAN | MARCH 2019

Some of you may have read the book “When Black Elk Speaks.” It is a book that contains the transcriptions of conversations between anthropologist Joseph Meade with the great Sioux shaman Black Elk in the late 1930s. The book was one of the many influences on the emergence of new consciousness that came with the baby boomer generation. It gave many a deeper appreciation for the spirituality of the indigenous people on this continent.

 

Recounting the significant events of his life, Black Elk shared that he was a unique child because he started having powerful spiritual visions by the age of four. At the age of nine, he had a serious illness that came upon him, debilitating his arms and legs. The people around him thought he was dying, and they called the tribal shaman to come and heal him. In the deliriums of his sickness, Black Elk entered a state where he had powerful visions. He saw his place in the universe: the past, the present, the future, and these extended visions ended up with him seeing himself on a high hill, looking down into the great valley, and seeing, below him, the hoop of his tribe. A hoop is the Native Plain’s Indigenous image for the circle of people who comprised the tribe. And then he saw that the hoop of his tribe was linked with a great many other hoops of other tribes from other nations, a vast chain of hoops and that, in the middle, was a great Tree of Life, which he understood to be the “Mother-God.” And from the flowers of this tree, there exuded the scent of love, of the “Father-God,” that embraced all.

 

That was the culmination of his vision of the future. One in which all sentient beings lived together under the shelter of the “Mother-Father-God” in harmony. As Black Elk went on in his life, he was present at the Battle of the Little Big Horn, and was also present for the Massacre of Wounded Knee. At Wounded Knee, when Black Elk saw the soldiers slaughter the innocent people, his warrior spirit rose up and he decided for himself, that “today would be a good day to die.” He charged into battle, his spiritual energy was so great. Crazy Horse was a bit like this, too. And the bullets would seemingly not touch him; rather, they would go around him. At one point in his mind, he became doubtful, and he was overwhelmed by the grief and sense of destruction of what was happening. At that moment, a bullet penetrated his stomach. Someone had rescued him, and Black Elk went on to live a long life. Later on, he became a Catholic, which some Indigenous peoples found strange, given his background of all the powerful spiritual visions he had.

 

And I suspect that he may have found some wisdom that deeply resonated with him from Jesus’s teachings. Jesus’s core teachings were that we should “love the God within, with all the love of our heart, mind and soul…” then to “love our neighbors as ourselves…” and to “love others no matter who they may be, as we love ourselves.”

 

Jesus, at the end of his commandments to his disciples, acknowledged that this was not just a message for particular peoples; rather, it was to be a message of hope taken out to all the tribes and nations of the earth. Of course, as these teachings moved forward, they became institutionalized and morphed into a religion that played in dominance, of tribal dominance of others. In many ways, the antithesis of what Jesus taught. It was probably St. Francis as much as anyone who saw the depths of the deviation from the teachings of love that Jesus gave, and it was St. Francis who attempted to revive the tradition. And not only revive it, but to extend the message of inclusion when St. Francis talked about brother-sun, sister-moon. He gave away the wealth that was a part of his life, being a child of a powerful merchant family, and found riches and wealth within the flowers of the field and birds of the forest.

 

Of course, there came a time and era of material progress, despite the beneficial influence of the renaissance (which revived a sense of the importance of individual human life). It had much benefit, but the materialist focus overwhelmed the importance of spirituality in human life.

 

At the end of the 1900s, particularly in the west, Swami Vivekananda became the first of a number of Yogis and Sufis, and later Buddhists, who brought the teachings and practices of mysticism to the west. At first, the teachings took very slowly, until the baby boomer generation took to the teachings more quickly as consciousness began to shift, quickening with the teachings involved. With the baby boomer generation, and with many who came to have acquaintance with deeper sources of wisdom, there became an acquaintance with mythic images of beings who would come that would right the missed direction that had occurred in the world. The missed direction that had given rise to the loss of balance. The baby boomer generation came across terms, such as the Shambhala warriors, the Red Hats, the Warriors of the Rainbow… whatever mystic brotherhood that was a part of St. Germaine, there were images of high spiritual entities who would lead to a return of the Messiah, bringing with them a return of new light and harmony on the planet.

 

..we ourselves are the vehicles through which the change in consciousness and direction of social life will take place.

This was also seen in the Hopi prophecies. Prophecies of the Hopi peoples of the Southwest talked of warriors of the rainbow, and of red hats. But sometime in the late 1980s or 1990s, Thomas Banyacya and other Hopis who gave these prophecies sent out word that we are the ones that we have been waiting for. That we had to change this orientation from looking to outside saviors, a messiah, teachers from the East (even though they had roles in this message and played roles in this message), that we ourselves are the vehicles through which the change in consciousness and direction of social life will take place.

 

I remember thinking about when I saw a lot of teachers that came from the East, and had been greatly influenced by their teachings. And I also saw how what they took on (as their roles) were very hard. Coming from a rarified spirituality into the intense flitter of material culture of the west, while not being supported by their spiritual communities that supported their practice, was quite challenging. What these teachers were able to do was give some awakening, some practices to the west, but the real work that needed to be done, and still needs to be done, is to take that light down into the fabric of the society, which was not something they could [single-handedly] do. They were coming as outsiders, and it was up to those in the society to carry forward this work to a deeper level. It took a lot of hard work just to live in this society, this culture, and keep one’s spiritual center and focus of positivity, love, inclusion and acceptance strong.

 

We have discussions about the practice known as neohumanism. Neohumanism is just a word, but its essence is that of the greatest expression of human beings to open themselves up to becoming vehicles for the inclusive love of the Divine, that love that the Divine has for all of creation. For this great tree, with its emanation of love that stands in the middle of the great chain of being, and of all the hoops of all the tribes and nations to be mediums through which this love flows.

 

There is a perennial part of my life to struggle with this, and to not be weighed down by the delusions and glitter to the attractions of corruption of the culture around me. Many things, of course, I see clearly, but as of late, one thing I struggle with is the news. Such a drama of what is going on in society and in the heart of the political power of the nation! And just the focus of attention on that, and the way it gets reflected by the news media, is a focus and concentration upon events that are connected to fear, frustration, and hatred, which have implications of dragging down life on the planet. How do you maintain light and hope amidst all of that?

 

I know we all have our own struggles to keep our spirits bright. We have members of our families in crisis. We have those we care about who are caught up in dramas with us. We struggle to maintain our own physical vitality. There are many big and small things that we have in our own existence that must be overcome as a part of bringing forward a spirit of neohumanism.

 

This is a time where there is change in the northern hemisphere, from a growing of the night to a shift to the growing of the day. It has long had a deep symbolism that is celebrated by many people, and is also a symbolism that is “how do we move forward with this changing from a growing darkness to an emergence of life, of spiritual light?” An inclusive light in the world.

Ravi Logan

Ravi Logan is the Director of the PROUT Institute, and the Director of Transformation Education, the training and education department of Ananda Seva. He is the principal author of PROUT: A New Paradigm of Development.  His new books are A New Interpretation of Revolution and Transition to a New Era. He is also the co-founder and program director of Dharmalaya, which has as its mission, “to promote dharma holistically in personal, social and ecological spheres of life.” 

Ravi has dedicated his life for the past 50 years to the project of the liberation of human beings and society. Ravi has been teaching yoga and meditation since 1972, and brought yoga to Jamaica in 1974. In 1996 Ravi became a family acharya in Ananda Seva and has been involved with the organization since its inception, volunteering as publications secretary, retreat organizer, and developing training manuals for the mediation teacher training. His latest publication in that capacity is the Ananda Sutram Primer, an accessible format for understanding the philosophy of Shrii Shrii Anandamurti.

 

This article was transcribed from a talk by Ravi Logan given in March 2019. Transcription by Rene Tricou, editing by Michele Renee.

The transcription may vary slightly from the recording as it was edited to improve readability. 

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