Introduction: The Real Revolution
by Carolyn Lee
As I write, it is twenty-five years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, on November 9, 1989, the day that thousands of East Berliners poured through the checkpoints for the first time, a human tide that could not be stopped. While reading an article commemorating that event, I came upon a photograph taken at the Berlin Wall the day after it was breached. In the photo, the wall, as yet, is still standing but the people on both sides have climbed up and are reaching over it to shake hands, to embrace each other in celebration.
These dazed, excited people have never seen each other before, but there is a recognition happening that is deeper than any outward familiarity. One can feel that, in the joy of the moment, they are no longer East German or West German. They are not even German, first and foremost. With eyes, hands, and hearts caught up in this epiphany of unity and freedom, these men and women have forgotten themselves, and become, simply, human beings—a part of the one body of humanity, recognizing its natural state of relationship and non-separation.
The message of this book, Prior Unity: The Basis For A New Human Civilization, needs no better introduction than this iconic photograph. What this book is saying is that the impulse to peaceful, cooperative co-existence is humanity’s “true north”. This impulse comes from our root-intelligence as one single species, and, at the same time, reflects the inherent unity of all life. We cannot escape the implications. To satisfy what human beings truly want and to ensure a benign future for life on Earth, we have no choice but to transcend what separates us and to build on the deep foundation that we all share, which is our prior, or already-existing, unity.
The World-Friend Adi Da (1939–2008) spoke this message in one way or another throughout his life, seeing and feeling the deteriorating plight of humanity and the Earth. Having lived for many years in Adi Da’s Fijian hermitage, I can attest to the fact that he was visibly combined, at profound depth, with the unspeakable sufferings of living beings, while, at the same time, his spiritual state remained utterly untouched by whatever was happening, a perfect demonstration of prior freedom and radiance. This was an overwhelming paradox and a heart-breaking grace to witness.1
During his lifetime, Adi Da instructed that materials from the archive of his writings and recorded talks (both published and unpublished) should be fashioned into new books on many topics—in addition to the great number of books that he personally created. Prior Unity is such a book, compiled after his lifetime but entirely composed of pieces that were written or spoken by him during his lifetime. In considering the contents of this book, I and my colleagues, Jonathan Condit and Leo Burke, explored Adi Da’s statements about human culture given over three decades, with the intention of distilling in a small space his compelling argument about what truly human civilization requires. Most of the material comes from his final years, which were marked by an increasing urgency about the state of the world and the necessity for establishing human life on the basis of our inherent, or prior, unity. Virtually every day of 2008 Adi Da offered a torrent of such communication, much of it critical of the human failure to cooperate, but also always full of compassion, inspiration, and, above all, heart-blessing. Even on the last day of his life he gave a discourse calling human beings to rediscover the original human purpose for gathering together in collectives.2
Since Adi Da made this observation in 2008, about the then present state of global society, the evidence has become more stark. Vast numbers of people around the world feel that the bottom has fallen out of the social contract that was supposed to provide us with complete security and the opportunity for unlimited participation in our social, cultural, economic, and political life. Instead there is the sense of being indentured to, even threatened by, abstract powers—be they corporations, banks, governments, religious institutions, and so on—which are somehow in control of us and setting the rules with which we are supposed to fall unquestioningly into line. At the same time our deepest security, the planetary environment itself, is being exploited and degraded to an alarming, and unchecked, degree.
How did this happen, and what is the process of rightening? What kind of new, transformed civilization must emerge?
A great conversation, and even fierce debate, about all that is wrong with our society and what must necessarily change is already happening all over the world. Creative ideas and clashes of view are alive in every kind of media and forum, and all over the Internet every day. And so, what is the special contribution of this book?
To me, the uniqueness of this book lies in the purity and radical nature of Adi Da’s message (radical not in the sense of “left-wing”, but radical in the sense of “root”). This is not a book about politics as we know it. It is about uncovering the true basis for a new politics, a new social contract that is founded in, and expressive of, how things really are.
The prophetic calling running through the whole book is that if we want to find the real basis for a new human culture we must look beyond the outer world of separate objects, others, and events to the source, the root-condition in which all our experience is actually happening. This is not a religious matter, nor even a spiritual matter in any exclusive sense. It is about the source-reality that has no name, that is not a deity, but which is the being-essence in which we exist, the limitless conscious awareness to which every one of us has access, regardless of our beliefs or philosophy. We do not have to be told, even by scientists, that the quantum level of existence is only light. The human heart intuitively knows this, because it inheres in that light already.
Remarkably, though, this depth of inherent unity is not the place from which we tend to act and live. Something is getting in the way, something so habitual that it has become virtually unconscious. Our awareness of the source-unity of existence is being obstructed by what Adi Da once summarily described as the “myths of ego-culture”. Most simply stated, there is only one myth—the presumption of separateness. That myth manifests, firstly, as the presumption that “I” am a separate subjective consciousness, or self, and, secondly, as the presumption that there is a world “out there”, which is different from, or other than, the self.3
Of course, this way of perceiving self and world is a natural result of our experience as discrete bodies living in a world of other bodies and things. If we did not perceive the world and others in physically separate terms, we would not be able to operate in space. But the argument on which this book rests is that this perception is fundamentally misleading. At the level of consciousness, it is actually a lie. Consciousness is not divided. Consciousness is the indivisible “stuff” of existence. Consciousness is not separate from anything. The separating is an activity, something we are doing—mentally, emotionally, psychically, and, consequently, in all kinds of concrete physical ways.
This is the activity that Adi Da calls “ego”, and it is so deep in our conditioning that we normally never question it. Nevertheless, as he is urgently saying here, the time has come to question it for real.
It is not that waking up to our constant activity of separation will transform us overnight into perfectly enlightened beings. That is not even necessary. The value of such waking up is that we become sensitive to the illusory power of our separate point of view and are no longer bound by that automaticity. A new basis for listening to others and a new platform for action becomes possible—what Adi Da calls the “active disposition”, or the “working-presumption”, of prior unity.
Are we ready for this? Or does most of humanity have to be developmentally advanced in mental, emotional, psychological, and social terms in order to penetrate, and act beyond, the myth of separateness?
Let us not presume any limitation. There is a mysterious link between the individual and the collective. When a significant experiential change happens in the case of even a few members of a species, then the whole collective of that species may be simultaneously affected. This is the theory of morphic fields, pioneered by the biologist Rupert Sheldrake.4 It is a modern scientific indicator of what has been known for thousands of years—that a few can influence the whole (for good or ill), offering further evidence of our intrinsic non-separateness.
Before examining further what the working presumption of prior unity implies, it is worth noting that this presumption is not equivalent to what is generally called “the golden rule”, or “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. The golden rule is self-reflexive—it presumes a world of separate others with whom we can cultivate benign co-existence by relating to each and all simply with reference to our own needs and fears. At the global level the golden rule underpins the principle that separate groups, including nation-states, should not act aggressively toward other collectives, because chaos and suffering, to the detriment of everyone, will result.
The evidence of history and the present state of the world give ample proof that the golden rule is not sufficient to maintain peace. It does not get to the perennial root of conflict—the separative reflex. When this reflex takes hold in its collective form, when “I” becomes “we”, the deluding, destructive effects of presumed separateness are vastly magnified. Adi Da uses the term “tribalism” to describe this collective ego, or the separative “we”. When he refers to “tribalism”, he means the psychology of identifying with one’s own group first over against all other groups. He is not thereby criticizing the positive bonding between individuals in any human grouping, but pointing to the reflex of separativeness.
How does the working presumption of prior unity become animated in a world where the implacable forces of tribalism appear to rule? Clearly, such a transformation is not going to happen through any mere callings or virtuous admonitions.
The force that shapes human consciousness is our lived experience. And so the question arises: What is the context of life that most serves the awareness of our inherent unity? The answer this book proposes is an ancient one—cooperative human-scale community. The felt imperative to create a safe environment that enables people to feel and experience what is greater than mere survival, and to treasure that space in the midst of the fragility of human existence, has always been profound.
However, “community” can mean many different things. What it means in this book is not under-the-same-roof communalism, or anything commonly called “hippie”. Adi Da is speaking of the relational handling of fundamental needs by human beings functioning cooperatively in a particular locale. He sees community as the expression of an innate collective intelligence that “pre-solves” the environment in such a way that there is freedom and protection for the unlimited expression of human intimacy and creativity. Rightly established, cooperative community can become the participatory sphere in which unity is self-evident and naturally becomes the law of life, expressed as trust, tolerance, and accountability.
But there is also a built-in danger in the milieu of any community—the danger of tribalism. While a rightly functioning community can provide sanctuary and support for what human beings most deeply want and need, its virtue is betrayed if it becomes a xenophobic refuge against other communities and the wider world.
The challenge posed in this book is to discover how human-scale community can transcend this ancient pitfall and become the template for a global process, whereby the intuitive sense of unity experienced at the intimate scale can become the comprehension of prior unity as a universal truth.
Can we imagine a world whose DNA is the principle of inherent unity and whose cells are inter-connected, fully networked human-scale communities? This vision does not mean one size fits all. Just as the cells of the human body are differentiated according to their position and function, one can envision an integrated human world that would include an infinite variety of cooperative communities, as well as larger groupings of communities, all presuming themselves to be part of a greater regional and global whole.
Can we stand in the place where our primary identity is membership in the community of humanity? Making that real is an immense matter to contemplate. The jump from the local view to the global view seems so great. Our minds move quickly into abstraction when issues no longer touch us directly, but feel far away. Yet, that is exactly where we need to wake up. Feeling that anything not physically immediate to us is far away belongs to our human past, when it was really true. For aeons of time, distance was no small matter, but given modern communications and transport, this is no longer the case. And that is where the argument of this book moves with a relentless logic.
We have no choice now but to take responsibility for the whole planet, and all life within it. This Earth is one ecology existing in one atmosphere, embraced by one indivisible ocean. Every part is a microcosm of the whole and even the Earth itself is barely a speck in the “fractal tree of the universes”, as one contemporary physicist put it.5 Likewise with humanity. We are one species with superficial differences, but fundamentally genetically the same. As homo sapiens, whatever our presumptions of superiority, we are dependent upon the vast inter-connected pattern of life on Earth. This was always true, but now this truth is our only sane and safe basis for global decision-making.
How can such infinite complexity as the whole planet and global human society represent be managed as a totality?
In fact, complexity is not the problem, as human beings have demonstrated an astounding capacity for managing complexity when the will is there. The issue, rather, is about coming to a clarity that mandates action.
Global governance based on what works for the totality has never been done, and, in that sense, it represents a revolutionary shift. But that is what this book proposes. In the final essay, “No Enemies”, Adi Da introduces his vision of a “Global Cooperative Forum” that would address humanity’s common issues on the basis of the well-being of the totality. Based, as it would necessarily be, on the working presumption of prior unity, all the representatives in the Global Cooperative Forum would represent the same thing—humanity and the Earth!
This approach is completely different from that of our current global organizations, such as the United Nations, which start with the presumption of separation, and operate through negotiation between competing interests, hoping to reach agreement—ideally a “win-win” solution to any given problem. But there lies an illusion—the notion that solutions based on trying to reconcile the demands of separate parties can be stable and sustainable. Sooner or later the cracks begin to show, because the well-being of the total picture, which transcends the interests of the bargaining parties, has been ignored. In this paradigm there is no room for the one “win”, the win that truly benefits the whole.6
The profound reorientation to human issues that Adi Da is advocating depends on us, as humanity, facing the depth of our disillusionment with the old separative paradigm and waking up to a new collective self-awareness. Adi Da coins the term “everybody-all-at-once” to refer to humankind becoming conscious of itself as one species, one family, with inherent power to take responsibility for the Earth as a whole. Everybody-all-at-once is suggestive of a unique human coherence, a universal activism that is yet to manifest but is nevertheless already showing signs. As this universal activism gathers momentum, insisting on what humanity as a totality requires, this activism will necessarily manifest an instrument for its purpose—a Global Cooperative Forum. And it may well emerge in a manner that astonishes us with its inevitability, and even suddenness. Like the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The questions implicit in the vision set out in this book are, of course, huge. Identifying and dealing with those questions is the adventure that lies ahead in the real revolution that humanity is crying out for—a new human civilization founded not in the destructive politics of exclusion and opposition, but in the peace-enabling power of prior unity.
1. Fuller accounts of the extraordinary nature of Adi Da’s spiritual work of “coinciding” with the world can be found in many of his own essays in the final parts of The Aletheon (Middletown, CA: The Dawn Horse Press, 2009).
2. See Adi Da, “Something New Must Emerge”, Not-Two Is Peace, 3rd ed. (Middletown, CA: Is Peace 723, 2009), 303–8.
3. See Adi Da, “Right Life Transcends The Three Great Myths of Human ego-Culture”, Not-Two Is Peace, 3rd ed., 203–8. Note that the “third great myth” in the essay is that of separate God, which is not relevant to this discussion.
4. Sheldrake (1942–) is best known for his 1981 book A New Science of Life (reprinted in a new edition in 2009), presenting his theory of “morphic fields”, or “morphic resonance”.
5. Brian Cox, in “Master of Prime-Time Physics” by Tom Lamont, The Guardian Weekly 191, no. 21: 32.
6. Adi Da’s principal commentary on the Global Cooperative Forum is offered in an earlier book, Not-Two Is Peace. As he makes completely clear in Not-Two Is Peace, Adi Da is not describing a sudden sweeping away of the prevailing power structures, nor a centralized (and inevitably totalitarian) world-state.