Planetary Judaism – Human Consciousness & The Evolution to Planetary Consciousness*
An Interview With Rabbi Miles Krassen
Amitai Zachary Malone: Shalom aleichem, Reb Miles. I’ve been looking forward to discussing with you your new project, “Planetary Judaism.” Perhaps we can begin with a simple question, “what is Planetary Judaism?”
Rabbi Miles Krassen: Aleichem shalom, my good friend.
Yes, let’s begin with an attempt to define what “Planetary Judaism” has come to mean for me:
First, “Planetary Judaism” is my way of connecting to Judaism from the perspective of what I call, “Planetary Consciousness.” In the earlier stages of my development, my approach was more Judeo-centric. My center, so to speak, was Judaism as a tradition and the Jewish path formed the center of my interests. During this time I tended to look out at the world and my experience from the perspective of Judaism, trying to understand and define my experiences from that central Judaic focal point. This period was extremely meaningful and valuable over several decades, at least. But, in the course of my experience, through my interest in so many other things and through exposure to so many other paths and disciplines that I’ve encountered and that have continually influenced and excited me — you could say I came to a different perspective than the traditional Judeo-centric belief that had inspired me initially.
AZM: How did your “traditional” Judeo-centric vantage point initially begin to shift?
RMK: Initially, I was influenced by some of Ken Wilber’s ideas which I had read for several decades at this point. That led me to what can be called “Multi-Perspectival Consciousness.” The fact that at a certain level of development, one realizes there isn’t any one single true perspective, but really human consciousness is multi-perspectival.
AZM: “Multi-perspectival,” that being…?
RMK: Basically, every person contributes a different perspective so that if one is really interested in very deep integration with Reality, in how to understand Reality — even if that may be more than what we can really, ultimately comprehend — anything less than a multi-perspectival approach would be severely limited, if not significantly misleading. The more I understood the multi-perspectival nature of human experience on the planet, the more I came to understand how our individual assumptions about reality (including those that are the basis of spiritual traditions) are like the ancient story of the “Elephant in the Dark.”
“Elephant in the Dark” **
Some Hindus have an elephant to show. No one here has ever seen an elephant. They bring it at night to a dark room.
One by one, we go in the dark and come out , saying how we experience the animal.
One of us happens to touch the trunk. “A water-pipe kind of creature.”
Another, the ear. “A very strong, always moving back and forth, fan-animal.”
Another, the leg. “I find it still, like a column on a temple.”
Another touches the curved back. “A leathery throne.”
Another, the cleverest, feels the tusk. “A rounded sword made of porcelain.” He’s proud of his description.
Each of us touches one place and understands the whole in that way.
The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark are how the senses explore the reality of the elephant.
If each of us held a candle there, and if we went in together, we could see it.
As this story aptly demonstrates, each person or each tradition may be trying to identify the same “thing,” the same experience, but they can only identify “it” from their own limited locus in space and time, from their particular vantage point. So, if we really want to know “The Elephant,” if that’s even possible, we’d have to listen to all the different perspectives and recognize they all may be validly contributing something towards solving the puzzle, none of them in and of themselves can provide a complete and adequate solution to the mystery of existence.
This is to say, there is no “right” vantage. There is no central perspective. The more I understood this and the more I thought about the implications, the more dissatisfied I became with the approach of engaging my life, reality and the world from the center of Judaism. I realized that Judaism is but one tradition that is on the earth, one of many. I came to the sense that there is a kind of transition or evolution of consciousness that is possible now, on the Earth, a shift to a multi-perspectival consciousness that I prefer to call “Planetary,” in the sense that it means the entire planet Earth is engaged in this evolutionary shift and the shift itself entails being conscious of the Whole Earth.
AZM: It sounds as if you’re positing a universal evolution, not simply biological or material, as our Darwinian models assume?
I’m starting from the view that there is a universe, one universe. But, we humans are all on the Earth together and we are part and parcel of this one planet. Basically, we are all involved in the fate and in the evolution of our planet Earth, including those of us who are Jews, and our collective efforts within what we define as Judaism are only one part of a planetary, ultimately Universal (cosmic) process.
So, from this perspective I began to reflect on the fundamental question, “what could Judaism now mean to me from this Planetary view?” When I look from the perspective of Planetary Consciousness, which seems to me a much more highly involved consciousness than tribal, ethnocentric forms of consciousness, I recognize that there are many assumptions and perspectives within earlier paradigms of Judaism that no longer have much validity for me. Again, this is from the vantage of an evolving Planetary perspective.
AZM: But, evolution, from a psychological standpoint, can be quite challenging as a process.
RMK: And this would prove to be so for me as, on the one hand, it entailed a kind of process of deconstruction of many things that I had been informed by and that had influenced me for many years. On the one hand, I was suffering the feelings of a loss — I don’t want to say despair — but there was this feeling of losing something that had been very precious to me. The reason I put it this way is because my initial response was that this view was not completely satisfying, as it didn’t leave me with much to hold onto. I mean that almost everything that I had been holding and gripping as tradition and dear to me, and that also had a grip on me up to this point, was let go of and released.
AZM: Where did this letting go and release lead you?
RMK: Finally, this led to a type of constructive process that revolved around the question, “Ok, so what do I believe in?” Now the answers are coming specifically from a new paradigm.
By the way, I want to clearly share that I don’t consider Planetary Consciousness to be the ultimate potential for human beings, but rather, an evolutionary leap that we can and now need to make, given the critical nature of human life on the planet. So, I’m not proposing this updated view of our Jewish tradition in any kind of linear, Messianic sense or that this is the ultimate answer to human life on the planet. But, rather, I’m proposing this approach in terms of a very pragmatic and, in a sense, visionary perspective and project for us.
In one sense I can admit this is my project, but I happen to believe there are others who also share this view with me. I don’t have the sense that I’m alone in this. In fact, one of the most important ideas in Planetary Consciousness is that it’s a collective, cooperative venture. Even though the majority may not be ready for it, I am certain that there are a significant number of people on the planet who are finding themselves in a very analogous position. I know there are others who have evolved through and, in some sense, transcended the entirety of the previous paradigm, the grip that “culture” or “tradition” had on them, but are also naturally coming to this Planetary perspective that we need now, to the extent that we always need inspiring and inspirational messages and teachings that are relevant. We now need teachings that are planetary in focus and not the old, outdated ethnocentric, nationalistic, tribal type of teachings that were relevant and important in the past.
AZM: How do you see us shifting from the historical, tribal ethnocentricities, to the Planetary perspective?
RMK: First of all, it’s important to understand that we are beneficiaries of the incredible leap forward in intelligence and information that has occurred in the twentieth century. There’s been an acceleration occurring for centuries, but especially through this past century, characterized by an unprecedented advance in knowledge and information.
A lot of knowledge and information that is available to us in the present wasn’t available to us earlier. So now an awake person cannot help but become cognizant of all kinds of things. One of the things that we get from all this information and refined ways of thinking is the understanding of the relative nature of just about everything, and this is a key aspect of multi-perspectival consciousness and, of course, planetary consciousness of any kind. One of the most relevant consequences is that the new information seriously calls into question the historicity of the tradition that one receives so that it almost disappears, in a way. This is a painful process for an individual to go through because there are so many deep visceral points of connection that we have with our traditions that inform us — they are so deeply imprinted in us that this transitional process is a painful one to undergo at first. Nevertheless, it is, in a sense, a necessary transition for someone who has, is and will be processing and receiving the information that supports and necessitates this evolutionary process.
The kind of information that is most relevant at this point is the knowledge of other cultures and traditions, which, once engaged, makes it impossible for a person who has this information to continue to think that their tradition is the only one that has certain kinds of knowledge, or certain kinds of aspirations. So, the one thing that clearly happens is that the core historical account shifts to myth, rather than “fact.” Let me be clear by stating that here we are dealing with archetypal myths and this is most relevant because we immediately see how this myth, or some version of it, is present in a number of other cultures and traditions all across the planet. So, this recognition of the archetypal mythic nature of the traditional “history,” is an aspect of Planetary Consciousness and that, in and of itself, supports and precipitates a major shift. Then the question becomes, “what does this shift look like in this particular tradition?”
AZM: That’s exactly what I wanted to ask you next: What does this look like for Judaism? How do you image this unfolding future in a Planetary Consciousness?
RMK: Well, it looks like we shift from whatever the existing representations of the God-forms are in a previous paradigm to an appreciation of a kind of unified power and intelligence that is expressing itself through the evolutionary process of the entire universe. This is a positive vision, on the one hand. But, the question quickly becomes much more relevant regarding what evolution means for the Planet Earth.
From the perspective of current models of the cosmos, we can explore new possible answers to the question, “what is spirituality?” In answering this question, I’m not that interested in a “hard” materialist view of the universe. It seems to me that we need some alternative cosmology that recognizes that evolution is an expression of some kind of Infinite Intelligence that is present within the universe itself and, more specifically, is present within the actual nature and energy fields of the Earth.
So, what else does it look like to me? You can see from the Planetary Consciousness perspective, it’s very dependent upon information that comes through various sciences that we need to understand and integrate in order to create a better, that is to say more relevant spiritual and cosmological model, than the models we’ve had in the past. So, one of the keys to the model that seems applicable to me, and that I try to connect with Judaism in the construction of Planetary Judaism, is a model that was prefigured by one of the individuals who influenced me, Mr. Gurdjieff.
Admittedly, Gurdjieff was a kind of materialist and that was a little upsetting to me initially because the old (“spiritual”) paradigms are mostly metaphysical. Most of the older traditions posit some kind of metaphysical model, stating entities exist in some “other realm” and “spiritual processes” occur in some other place that is “beyond” the physical. Who knows where these “truths” may be? But, we are supposed to be able to access them through certain mystical experiences or processes.
AZM: You’ve mentioned Gurdjieff as an important influence. How so?
RMK: When I started to study the teachings of Gurdjieff, I was shocked by what a materialist he was, that his conception of the universe is not really metaphysical. Gurdjieff is claiming, “It’s all One. There’s a uni-verse, one universe, and this uni-verse is inseparable from what we could consider to be the material realm.” But he’s saying our “All and Everything-iverse”is not merely the material, in contrast to the model that many cosmologists and physicists tend to take, their view of reality being that it’s merely material.
To paraphrase physicist Steven Weinberg, “the more we find out about the universe, the more meaningless it becomes.” That doesn’t satisfy me at all and, in fact, I think it’s a ridiculous position. There’s infinite meaning! The question for us is, “what’s the best meaning we can make out of all the best information that we have?”
So, what I saw in Gurdjieff is not the same kind of limited western scientific materialism, but the basis for a non-dual, integral view, according to which, spirit and matter, are inseparable. I don’t even think these terms, “spirit” and “matter” are all that relevant any longer. We need to get beyond these limiting terms because they imply too much of an antiquated dualistic metaphysic, It increasingly seems to me that what is making most sense now is a non-dual universe, meaning there is ultimately no difference between matter and energy, if you will. But, not only matter and energy, but matter and intelligence as well.
Now, here I don’t mean intelligent design, because that is just a somewhat disingenuous attempt to try and support a view that is too highly conditioned by the old Judaic-Christian paradigmatic perspective of a separate Creator with a plan in mind that is going to happen someday…to me it just seems too primitive. So, I don’t like intelligent design. I do, however, gravitate towards the non-dualist approach, in the sense that non-dualism claims there is one universe, an “All and Everything-iverse” and this universe is neither matter nor spirit, but a singularity that is mysteriously somehow more than even some imaginable combination of the two.
AZM: The combination of the two being one?
RMK: Well, it isn’t something that we can even really define but, yes, it is all one. It’s all of one kind of substance (or “information”), or whatever the term would be for this “One” that includes the capacity to appear as matter, but is also an inherent intelligence and consciousness that is present in any type of appearance that it might take as well.
In a sense, I support the efforts of some scientists, like Roger Penrose, for example, who is one of the most venerable, we could say, anti-Dawkins people to try to come up with a model that includes intelligence within the universe itself. Penrose’s model of the universe is like an updated Gurdjieffian model because Gurdjieff’s time on the planet was too early, so to speak. The science that informed his cosmology is now very out-of-date.
Now, however, we can posit that our universe is multi-dimensional. Since our universe is comprised of intelligence-consciousness-energy-matter information, we can think of it in vibrational terms, composed of frequencies vibrating at different rates and populated by different entities of different orders of scale, magnitude and power. Depending on what dimension one chooses to investigate, all of the various dimensions are being ultimately expressed as vibrating fields of energy-information with different corresponding degrees of materialization. There may be One Creative Source Field, some kind of Quantum Field, in which the principle influences on existence itself, what Penrose is calling the “qualia,” are embedded within the very structure of the deepest field in the universe itself. And, in that sense, this is a new way of approaching the question, “what is the root of the soul?” But, rather than positing that such a thing is located in a metaphysical world that is not empirical and which we can’t really know what or where it is, we are positing that everything that comes to us, in our experience, in our consciousness and through our feelings, every aspect of what we can experience has its root within the universe itself because our universe implies a unified field. This field, remember, is not just one unified field, but a field that is composed of other dimensions, each of which is a field and yet there is one “All and Everything-iverse” that unites all of these fields and dimensions together.
So, what I’m positing is that any intelligence we may have is actually the intelligence of the “All and Everything-iverse.” Our intelligence is not an individual human intelligence and it’s not just an epiphenomenon that emerges with the evolution of the particular type of brain that we as humans happen to have, but rather it is something that the universe itself is transmitting that we have the capacity to tune into and receive in various ways.
So, in this specific sense, for me, in Planetary Judaism, there is a God.
AZM: What is your concept of God like, from this perspective?
RMK: This God is the Intelligence of the “All and Everything-iverse,” which is also the Source of Evolution.
I don’t think of God as a monotheistic external being somewhere that has an independent mind, some sort of anthropoid mind, but much smarter and that is diligently pre-planning everything, et cetera. But, rather, God is embedded within the very fabric of this “All-and-Everything-iverse;” God is evolving Itself, as the universe itself evolves: the “two” are inseparable.
AZM: This concept may be quite radical for some.
RMK: The question is, then, “are we conscious enough now,” (which does, in fact, seem to be the case,) “to be participants, to consciously participate in God’s evolutionary efforts and God’s visionary aspirations?” Furthermore, I would ask, “can we even know what these things are?” To which I posit, yes, we can access and integrate the evolutionary intelligence and information that the “All-and-Everything-iverse” Itself is now making available. This is what Planetary Judaism is about: each of us attuning ourselves and Judaism to the evolving intelligence that is being expressed within the Earth’s magnetic field.
AZM: You just mentioned “participants.” Some who read this are davveners and meditators, individuals that are practicing and attempting to harness a particular level of consciousness. Relatedly, elsewhere you’ve talked about individuals becoming “meta-programmers,” individuals being beneficial aids to this evolution. Do you see such practices maintaining relevance and, if you do, or do not, how and why?
RMK: The question of practices is really, really important so I would like to offer several comments.
In view of the specific question you raise, first of all, as I said before, Planetary Judaism has simply two things to accomplish, two orientations; one is deconstructive and the other is constructive.
On the one hand, since we begin from the perspective of Planetary Consciousness — we have to take a look at Judaism from this perspective as well — I have to see what is most useful. We have to be able to distinguish what works and what may no longer be relevant for our present goals.
I’m very grateful, and by that I mean deeply indebted, particularly to Reb Zalman, who is one of the most influential teachers I’ve ever had in my life. But, at this point I feel that it is possible, and even necessary, to go beyond a model he introduced to us, called “backward compatibility.” It’s no longer so important to figure out how we can make something backward compatible. A lot of what is backwards is now just that: backwards and no longer relevant or helpful. Given the rate of acceleration that is occurring we have to move very quickly. So, we don’t have time to schlep everything that we had in the past with us and simply reformat it. Rather, we have to, from the deconstructive side, be very critical and discriminating.
So, when I look at the issue of practices with the benefit of certain information that’s now available that wasn’t available in the past, from such disciplines as sociology, anthropology and the like, we can see that many traditions and cultures were evolving “practices” in the past. However, when we say, “certain practices ‘worked’ in the past,” we then have to ask, not only how did they work but, also, “in what sense did they ‘work,’ and for what end did they work?”
Now, some ways in ways they worked were sociological. That’s to say, some of what we’re talking about was group-binding and they cemented an identity, created relationships and they were part of a collective communal experience. Additionally, there were many ways in which practices and traditions worked in terms of what it was like to be a Jew in the different centuries in times of the past. A lot of the ways in which we did things in the past are no longer relevant because the condition and nature of human life and the Earth itself is just too different and, thus, the nature of being Jewish is different.
AZM: Some of these themes are addressed by Shaul Maggid in his new book, “American Post-Judaism.”
RMK: Yes, in his book he deals with a lot of these points and I recommend his work because of this fact.
So, things have changed on the Earth, for us as humans and for us as Jews. One of my axioms of Planetary Judaism is that the current human condition is unprecedented. We’re in a completely new situation. Recognizing this, I want to ask, “what kind of practices do we need for a Planetary Judaism? What kind of things do we want to and really need to do now?”
One of the things we obviously want to do, and some of this was prefigured in the foresight of the Ba’al Shem Tov and other forward-looking rabbis, especially Rebbe Nachman of Breslov…remember, it’s the forward-looking Hasidic masters we want, not to go back and pretend or try to be like somebody in the 18th or 19th centuries. So, what Planetary Consciousness itself needs of us is to align ourselves not just with a specific community, but with the greater planetary effort. Yes, we still need these communities where we are connected by DNA and by certain social forms. I’m not saying we can just end all tradition and it no longer has any importance whatsoever, but it doesn’t have the same urgency. Now the urgency is less on the community of my tribal identity that is justified by a myth of exceptionalism, the emphasis now becomes planetary.
AZM: How do you see us using “forward-looking” practices?
RMK: We need to use our practices and our rituals now as a way of elevating consciousness and expanding it so that we are aware and constantly cognizant of the one Earth that we all share, the one Universe that we’re all a part of, in all it’s dimensions.
AZM: How would you approach prayer?
RMK: I would ask, “what is prayer really about now, given the conditions of the consciousness in which I want my practices to take place in and that I want my practices to support?”
Some of this can still connect very well with mythic images and tropes that come from the past. The beautiful thing is it’s not like schlepping everything along but, it’s finding those supports, the asmachtot that support the evolving consciousness from the perspective of Judaism, so that Judaism remains relevant and can contribute to the planetary goals. Through the practices of Jews doing such a type of forward-looking Judaism Jews can participate in and contribute to a Planetary effort that involves all kinds of other wise people from their multi-perspectival positions elsewhere on the earth. To be specific, there are so many practices here to talk about, but just to deal with davvening, as that has proven to be an essential Jewish practice, what do I want it to be about? How do I want to understand it?
For me, davvening means taking specific time at several points each day in order to reorient myself to the perspective of Planetary Consciousness and the non-dual intelligent “All-and-Everything-iverse.”
Something which is particularly important to do now is to make a great effort to overcome what Reb Nachman called meniyot, i.e. “obstacles.” We need to be aware of the obstacles that are in the way of our evolving consciousness. These obstacles are the programming, the kind of psychological programs that are imprinted within all of us. The spiritual work that is particularly important for us now can be called “meta-programming.” This is a kind of advanced self-transformation process that involves re-programming the very way we are, the way we think, the way we feel– taking responsibility for our own programming and for our self transformation. This is how I relate to tikkun ha-nefesh now, namely as a way we aspire to “fix” ourselves, so to speak.
So, we all need to fix ourselves and prayer is one of the principal ways in which to do just that. Prayer also occurs in a timely manner, namely that we make a commitment towards this teshuvah, this “returning” to a state of coherence, restoring ourselves to a coherent state with the understanding that much of the time we are not in such a coherent state. The state we are in much of the time — again to borrow from my mentor, Mr. Gurdjieff — is a kind of robotic state, driven by pre-programming that we had very little to do with yet are currently not liberated from.
We can see how Claudio Naranjo, for example, approached this with the enneagram system, like Jung does through his personality types model. Gurdjieff made the distinction between what he called “essence” and “personality.” For Gurdjieff, the personality is unconsciously constructed through DNA and further through the programming and imprinting that every individual and every human being goes through as they grow up. However, there’s also something which Gurdjieff says is what or who we really are. What that means is not really, in my opinion, some kind of essentialist doctrine of a self-standing soul or something like that, but rather precisely what happens when conscious beings understand the meta-programming process and are then consciously programming themselves. That’s what I believe he meant by essence — what is present when one is consciously doing one’s own reprogramming and fixing
AZM: And it’s through prayer or during periods of meditation when we can take the time and exert the effort to do just that, namely, engage the teshuvah-as-reprogramming-and-fixing.
That’s what prayer is about: the aspiration and intention to fix ourselves.
Now, regarding this fixing, on one level, in our tradition, we talk about tikkun olam and tikkun ha-nefesh (fixing the Universe and fixing ourselves). Tikkun ha-nefesh means reprogramming of ourselves in order to be more attuned to and capable of living in what, in terms of our iconography, we call Eretz Yisrael, “the land of Israel,” the place that God is always watching. In this manner of being, we are aware of being “watched” by God. I mean that the Intelligence in the universe is with you and you are aware of “It” as present and as a presence as if “It” is “watching” you. It’s like the Mishnah in Avot, know what is above you, that there is an “Eye That Sees You.” That is a mythic way of saying that the universe itself is aware and conscious and you can be aware of its being aware of you.
So, one of the first goals of prayer is to return myself to that Awareness and to align myself with it because when I do that, I can receive its deepest “hidden” influences. I call what is received in these prayerful modes of being “influences,” but if I follow Penrose, I would call them the “qualia.” These qualia are the very best qualities, which our tradition has called the midot or sefirot, all essentially qualities of love and compassion. Gurdjieff related these qualia to what he called the “higher emotional center.” These are not like the kind of emotions that robots or unconscious individuals have, i.e. the kinds of emotions that most of us become identified with. For example, if somebody cuts in front of us on the highway and we have road rage, that’s not an expression of the higher emotional center. That reaction is, unfortunately, default mode and that is the very reason we need to reprogram ourselves to be capable of evolving beyond the control of such reactivity. We need to learn to reprogram ourselves because of these destructive, base and habitual default behaviors.
So, we need practices that reprogram ourselves. We can’t just read through pages and pages of liturgy in a siddur, robotically and monotonously reciting everything that is in there. Nor can we accomplish the necessary meta-programing merely through making services more fun and “ecstatic.” Perhaps some people know how to make that meaningful for them, but from the perspective of Planetary Judaism, it doesn’t work for me.
I want my prayer life to be a meta-programming process, in a sense, that restores me to this consciousness of my unique but inseparable place within the Totality and Its Presence. And this involves attunement to the qualia of love (the sefirot) that are embedded in the deepest depths of the Universe itself and aspiring to become more harmonious: more conscious and better integrated. For me (following Reb Nachman) that is the meaning of locating myself within “the atmosphere of the land of Israel” where God is watching me, and I know God is watching me. What happens then is that my heart opens and the qualia flow from their source in the Universe to what I call the Mind of the Heart, which can then influence the mind of the brain. Then the incoherence of machshavot zarot, all these dysfunctional incongruences that are normal mentation for most of us, in our mechanical and robotic mind states, begin to shift and disperse.
Human consciousness in its present default mode is no longer working for us. Our planet Earth is close to maximum population and in many ways is already seriously over populated. Systems are breaking down and there’s increasing recognition that more and more of these systems are not sustainable. We need many of us to learn how to reprogram ourselves so that we can all live together on this planet and not continue killing each other.
AZM: I wonder if, for the seekers and potential meta-programmers reading this, is there anything you would like to add in conclusion?
RMK: I want to say: Reb Nachman taught, asur la-hitya’esh “the one thing one should never do is give up.”
I think to be an awake and alive person one can’t have one’s head in some abstraction of some supposed enlightenment-spirituality that takes us away from embodied human life on this planet and in this realm. When one is willing to be aware and awake you will see many, many things that are disheartening and discouraging. Nevertheless, Reb Nachman said, “asur la-hitya’esh it’s absolutely forbidden, it is not a possibility to give up.”
On the contrary, we need to encourage each other, form affinity groups and remind ourselves of the great potential we, in fact, do have and the urgency that exists. This urgency should just make us more committed to learning how we can realize and spread Planetary Consciousness on the Earth.
I want to bless all of us with hatzlachah: that we should be successful in this effort and totally devoted to it.
*This interview was conducted by Amitai Z. Malone and originally published on Geologists of the Soul.
** Barks, Coleman. The Essential Rumi. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1996.