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New Age Thinking about the Soul: the Postmodern Metaphysics of Gary Zukav

Ben M. Carter, Ph.D.



"My life is dedicated to the birth of a new humanity."
Gary Zukav

With the publication in 1979 of The Dancing Wu Li Masters, an attempt to explain the New Physics through the grid of Taoism rather than mathematics, Gary Zukav first came into national prominence. The book was a huge success and won the American Book Award for Science that same year. It has since been translated into sixteen languages. On his web site Gary Zukav calls The Dancing Wu Li Masters his "first gift to life."

Ten years later he published The Seat of the Soul (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1989). Overnight that book, too, became a national best seller. Indeed, Zukav on his web site maintains that together those volumes have sold over a million-and-a-half copies. Gary Zukav reports that The Seat of the Soul originally had the title Physics and Consciousness. He began it hoping to analyze what he saw as interesting parallels between quantum physics and depth psychology in an effort to illuminate the problem of consciousness. The project eventually expanded into three volumes which were never published. Zukav abandoned the enterprise because in the midst of it, "a very dramatic thing happened to me. I discovered non-physical truth." The phrase is an odd one and is unexplained, but whatever it suggests to the web site visitor, for Gary Zukav it resulted in a profound reorientation to the universe and transformed his research. Physics and Consciousness was abandoned in favor of The Seat of the Soul. Listening to the universe as he shared with others what he was learning, Zukav fashioned the ideas expressed within its pages.

For Gary Zukav evolution is the fundamental reality, but, he argues, our prevailing understanding of evolution is conditioned by our current limitations and hence is inadequate. It is too scientific, too dependent on empiricism, too materialistic.[1] Because we are emerging from the stage of human development dominated by those limitations, we must devise a new model[2] to make sense of what we are on the verge of experiencing. This will not be easy, he warns us. The vocabulary needed for the task has not yet been devised.[3] But it is a task we must begin for even now each of us is being drawn to the next stage of evolution by the same great vision,[4] a vision that will lift us from the level where we exercise only external power to the level where we can exercise authentic power.[5] Our next step in our particular evolutionary process is the realization of this vision. Taking this step is not something we have a choice about,[6] but we may chose which of the many offered paths (optimal[7] or otherwise) we want to take.[8] Much of Zukav's book is a discussion of how best to make such choices. Hence it is very much a "how to" book, a practical guide written for the believer, or at least the sympathetic reader, rather than an apologetic for the skeptic, and Zukav declares this in a fairly straightforward manner.[9] Nevertheless there is a metaphysic asserted, if not defended, in the book, and that metaphysic will be our primary concern in this paper. To grasp Zukav's metaphysic we need to ask the following questions: what powers the evolutionary process as interpreted by Zukav? What is its purpose? And what does Zukav say we are?

Section I: Metaphysics of The Seat of the Soul

First, what powers the evolutionary process as interpreted by Zukav? In a word, we power it ourselves through our choices, either conscious or unconscious.[10] Zukav writes that choice is "the center of the evolutionary process" and "the engine of our evolution." As Zukav understands it, the end of evolution is pre-ordained in the Universe's natural tendency toward harmony.[12] He writes, "Every soul will eventually become fully enlightened"[13] (which means it will become fully conscious life).[14] Authentic power is the power exercised by conscience life,[15] and it is toward authentic power each of us will eventually turn.[16] He tells us, "All roads lead to home."[17] Human evolution, he says, is "very specific evolution." It is not "haphazard" or "chaotic."[18] It was ordained long before we existed,[19] and it is something we must do. He writes:

You cannot not evolve. Everything in the Universe evolves. [20]

His evolutionary model then is teleological. This means of course that his is a religious vision of evolution rather than a scientific one. Zukav believes we ourselves actualize this teleological potential. We choose, either consciously or unconsciously, to evolve. If we make our choices in the full awareness of what we are doing, we evolve consciously. Thus Zukav sees evolution as a profoundly spiritual process.

Second, what is the purpose of evolution? Evolution, according to Zukav, is restorative. It has at its core our authentic empowerment.[21] As part of this process, the soul that incarnates chooses to do so voluntarily in order to heal.[22] We are beings whose psyches have been splintered by our perception that power is external, a perception that lies at the heart of all violence.[23] Violence is an expression of situations which shatter the spirit, circumstances involving brutality, "abundances of pain and irrationality," lies, non-forgiveness, jealousies, hatreds, and so on.[24] Shattered, a personality struggles with itself because its values, perceptions, and behaviors are not integrated. Such struggles result in severe stress and emotional pain and can cause mental and physical illness.[25] Worse, not every aspect of the splintered personality will want to become integrated with the other aspects. A personality's less responsible aspects will seek autonomy precisely because they are less responsible: they seek primarily that which satisfies them.[26] Because consciousness is the healing power at the center of each personality, becoming conscious of one's splinteredness is the essential first step in the healing process. [27]

However, we incarnate not only to heal, but also to balance our energies, pay our karmic debts, and contribute to the "Earth school" those special and specific things that are uniquely ours to give. Each soul prior to incarnation enters into a sacred agreement with the Universe to complete specific tasks. Success in accomplishing these tasks gives the life of a personality richness and specialness. [28]

Third, what does Zukav say we are? Zukav tells us that the individual unit of evolution is the soul.[29] Zukav distinguishes very clearly between personalities and the soul that lies behind them, and he argues that one of the weaknesses of psychology as currently conceived is its failure to recognize this difference.[30] The soul exists outside time and creates personalities, each with its own body, in the physical world. These incarnations are intended to help the soul in its evolution.[31] From the point of view of the soul, these incarnations are simultaneous.[32] After each the soul returns to its timeless state, a state in which, Zukav tells us, compassion, clarity, and boundless love are the natural order of things.[33] Hence, "the soul is energy of Universal love, wisdom and compassion."[34] Each soul is itself a manifestation of God. Even as the soul is manifest in myriad personalities, so God is manifest in myriad souls.[35] The earth herself is an example. Zukav states, "There is not one planet in the Universe that does not have an active level of consciousness, although it may not be what we recognize as consciousness."[36] Earth, of course, is no exception. She is conscious,[37] has rights,[38] and even invests nations [by which Zukav means geo-political entities] with aspects of her personality.[39] In the case of animals, the soul God has manifested has no specific individuality.[40] Instead animals have what Zukav calls "group souls."[41] Each individual animal is merely a manifestation of a huge macro system.[42] He writes that a group soul is

only one soul energy system wherein there is no individualhood. Instinctual behavior is

the way of the group soul.[43]

There are also individual souls (some angels or perhaps beings in other galaxies) who have never had the human experience.[44] Such souls, though ultimately manifestations of God, may be formed in a variety of ways. Each soul selects the evolutionary environment and path most appropriate to itself.[45] Like animal species, the entire human species has a soul. This human soul is further differentiated into a myriad of souls, each of which generates personalities specific to its needs. [46]

The soul's creation of individual personalities mirrors God's creation of individual souls. Even as God, to create a soul or assume an individual form, must be reduced,[47] so the soul to incarnate must also go through a massive reduction process.[48] Zukav writes, "Your personality is the energy of your soul converted to matter."[49] Of course since the soul's incarnations are simultaneous, not all of the soul incarnates in any particular person. Instead only those parts of itself which the soul desires to heal are incarnated in the particular environment deemed most appropriate for their healing.[50] Hence each personality expresses specific aspects of the soul reduced to physical form.[51] However, each incarnation has within it "the blueprint of holism" or "a generic spiritual pattern...of holism." Dysfunction results when the soul operates outside the pattern of holism.[52]

Section II: Peculiarities of The Seat of the Soul

One of the peculiarities of the book is the absence of any citations of authority. Thus one is left to wonder where Zukav got his ideas. Another peculiarity is Zukav's willingness to speak for the universe, to tell his readers what the universe is like and how things appear from a universal perspective. Together these two characteristics give the book a very odd quality for, despite Zukav's disclaimer at the beginning of the book that what he offers is only one of many windows through which a person might perceive life,[53] what one, in fact, reads is an account that is presented as being exclusively true. Zukav wants us to become enlightened. To this end he tells us how things are so that we can make conscious, reverent choices.[54] Let us look at both these peculiarities.

The absence of any citations of authority: There is not a footnote in the book. There is no specific reference to any philosophical or theological text. Indeed, the only historical figures Zukav refers to besides Jesus, Buddha, and Gandhi, are William James, Carl Jung, [Benjamin] Lee Whorf, Niels Bohr, and Albert Einstein. These five appear in the book's "Forward." We are told they were mystics,[55] motivated by the same great vision that draws Zukav and is drawing all of us.[56] Hitler, too, makes an appearance as an example of what can go wrong. And Copernicus, Ptolemy, and Newton are referred to insofar as their models are briefly discussed. Beyond this meager assemblage there is nothing, and certainly none of this handful is discussed in any depth. Most of them appear only as names. This absence of authority is as revealing as it is striking. It suggests either that Zukav is banking on the ignorance of his readers, or that he believes he is embarked on something that transcends all that has gone before, that he is attempting to do a new thing, to speak in a new and authoritative way for the Universe.

Speaking for the universe: Zukav has no hesitation in describing for his readers the universal perspective on events, particularly as such a perspective relates to ethics. The Universe, he says, does not judge.[57] This is because it is the source of authentic power, "a power that loves life in every form that it appears, a power that does not judge what it encounters, a power that perceives meaningfulness and purpose in the smallest details upon the Earth."[58] He says, "From the point of view of the Universe, all the ranks of creation are of equal value, all are precious."[59] Another reason that the Universe does not judge, is because success is preordained. Each soul will eventually come to authentic empowerment.[60] Each step we take, even if it appears to be a step backward, is in fact an opportunity for growth. Hence, the "compassionate Universe"[61] does not look at what we do from the perspective of right and wrong, or success and failure.[62]

Zukav clearly makes a distinction between two states of being, a distinction that seems to be based on the concept of hierarchy, reduction as the way of descending to lower levels in that hierarchy, and density. The universe, we are told, is a hierarchy that has no top and no bottom.[63] It is however a hierarchy based on scales of densities of Light. Zukav writes:

Physical matter is the densest, or heaviest, level of Light....Every physical form,

as well as every non-physical form, is Light that has been shaped by consciousness.

Physical reality [is comprised of] systems of Light within systems of Light.[64]

Strangely, however, this density expresses a loss of reality. He writes:

[T]he physical is not as the non-physical, it is...the lowest, densest

projection of spiritual matter...[65]

This lack of reality is expressed in terms of velocity. Physical light is to be distinguished from the light of the soul because physical light travels at a certain velocity while the light of the soul is instantaneous since the soul inhabits a timeless realm.[66] Thus lessons that we learn in the physical realm take longer to learn since they must travel through the density of matter.[67]

As we saw above, God, to create a soul, must reduce Godself, even as a soul to create an incarnate personality must reduce itself. Body and personality, we are told, are artificial aspects of the soul that are created as the soul reduces its power to a scale that is appropriate to a physical form,[68] but the soul's real home is nonphysical reality.[69] Recall that only aspects of the soul are incarnated during this reduction process. Given all this, a question immediately presents itself: how can Zukav, an incarnation of an aspect of a soul which is itself a reduction of God and here because it needs healing, presume to speak for the Universe? He gives two answers to this question. The first is intuition, the second is spirit guides. We will begin with intuition.

A soul when it incarnates is presented with a vertical and a horizontal path to knowledge. The vertical path is the path of awareness.[70] Zukav writes, "When a soul chooses the vertical path, chooses to evolve consciously through responsible choice..."[71] The personality that chooses the horizontal path generates negative karma which it must work through either in this incarnation or, as another personality, in another incarnation.[72] There are two types of personalities that make these choices. The first type is the five-sensory human, the second type is the multisensory human.[73] Intuition is one of the key distinguishing features between these two types of humans. Five-sensory humans learn primarily through their physical experiences.[74] During the five-sensory phase of our evolution we used our five senses to explore the material realm.[75] Hence science [by which Zukav means inductive reasoning guided by empiricism] "is the pinnacle achievement of the five-sensory personality."[76] Zukav tells us that the five sensory personality phase of our evolution is no longer appropriate, that for the first time as a species we are in the process of emerging from the five-sensory personality phase to the multisensory personality phase.[77] For the multisensory personality intuitions are a primary way of knowing.[78] Intuition is a way of knowing without data provided by the five senses.[79] As a system it is part of one's incarnation and serves one's survival, creativity, and inspiration.[80] Zukav describes it as "the presence of the Divine ... a walkie-talkie...between the personality and the soul."[81] God is not to be found in one's intellect but in one's heart, in one's feelings.[82] However, intuition is not only an in-house process, it can "also permit the receive information from other souls."[82] For these reasons Zukav calls intuition "the voice of the nonphysical world."[84] Not only does it allow your soul to contact your personality,[85] it is the connecting link between the personality and its guides.[86]

Who are these spirit guides? They are our nonphysical teachers who exist in advanced levels of Light. Because these advanced levels are not specific to human beings and not understandable in human categories, it is not appropriate to think of these teachers as personalities. Rather they should be thought of as impersonal consciousnesses.[87] We may, if we wish, term these advanced levels the Angelic Kingdom, but we should remember that it is itself multileveled and that evolution proceeds there.[88] Also, not all of the realms are Angelic.[89] Some of these spirits are human beings who have died but who, instead of returning to their higher selves (one assumes in this case Zukav means the souls that generated them), remain close to Earth. They are negative and encourage negativity, though Zukav is reluctant to call them evil.[90] The Angels themselves have will but cannot be understood in human terms. Zukav strongly suggests that they cannot will negativity.[91] In addition to disincarnate humans and Angels (some of whom may come from souls that had the human experience and some of them may not), there are also many nature souls, as well as multitudes of beings at other levels. Some of these are interested in us and communicate with us, but many are not and do not. Concluding his description of the Angelic realm Zukav writes, "Beyond the Angelic realm are realms upon realms of intelligence that we would think of as God."[92]

Those intelligences which are interested in us and seek to communicate with us, offer us Light, offer us encouragement,[93] challenge us to enter into partnership with them so that we may embrace fully authentic power and make responsible choices.[94] They want to assist us, they want us to depend upon them and trust them, but in the end we must make our own choices, they will never by themselves bring us to authentic power because they cannot. We must come into such power ourselves.[95]

Section III: Problems in The Seat of the Soul

Though Zukav never says so specifically, the authority with which he speaks, underlined by the absence of footnotes or other references, suggests one is justified in surmising that he believes (or wants us to believe) he has learned intuitively what he proclaims, that it is the message imparted to him by his soul and his spirit guides. Although the reality of the model is not the primary focus of the book (one can see by glancing at the footnotes in this paper that the particulars of the model are scattered throughout the book rather than presented in a single place and in an organized way),[96] everything in the book rests on the veracity of the metaphysical paradigm Zukav employs. We have spent some effort to mine the paradigm from the pages of the book in order to point out some striking problems with it, problems not immediately apparent when the particulars simply appear as props for Zukav's ethic.

Let us begin by examining two of Zukav's central theses: that the timeless soul needs healing and that it evolves. Zukav stresses that each one of us is here because our soul has voluntarily incarnated aspects of itself (us) in order to heal itself. This thesis informs much of his ethic and lies behind his insistence that we embrace authentic power. Yet it seems inconsistent. If, as he says, the soul exists outside of time where it naturally enjoys a state of compassion, clarity, and boundless love, why does it need healing? And, if it does need healing, why must it become temporal to heal? How does its incarnation of an aspect of itself affect its healing when the dominant - even urgent - purpose of a personality is to master the illusion created by that incarnation? According to Zukav, we know less as personalities in the material world than we knew as fully integrated aspects of a timeless soul. Learning in the material realm takes place more slowly than it does in the immaterial. Most of our evolution to this point has been as five-sensory beings whose grasp of knowledge is limited and whose understanding of power is distorted. These conditions are apparently inherent in the incarnated state, at least during the phase of evolution that has characterized our development up to this point. Yet for Zukav they comprise the problem from which we need to free ourselves. If we came here to heal, why was this evolutionary phase necessary? And how has incarnation served to heal us?

In this regard: what can the claim that a timeless being evolves possibly mean? Surely evolution at its most fundamental level means change, and surely change by its very nature involves sequence. Time, of course, is essentially an expression of sequential relatedness. Therefore to talk of evolution occurring in a timeless state is to talk of square circles. One can say the words but they convey no meaningful content. Furthermore, consider what is implied about the historical process if one asserts that a timeless being incarnates various aspects of itself simultaneously across history. For one thing, such timeless simultaneity voids choice of any creative potential since choices, to be meaningful, must impact events, but events, rather than being the effects of choice, are predetermined by the presence of incarnations related to one another timelessly rather than temporally. Because this is an old problem familiar to Calvinists, certain Islamic traditions, and Buddhists who affirm the doctrine of dependent origination, one might have thought Zukav would have made at least passing reference to it, but he says nothing at all about it. In other words, from whichever perspective one chooses to view the problem, the attempt to integrate the mutually exclusive ideas of timelessness and evolution end in incoherence, and Zukav does nothing to resolve the dilemma.

However, Zukav's incoherence is not limited to claims about evolving timeless beings in need of healing. A great deal of his incoherence is the consequence of his having borrowed so freely from disparate traditions without apparent regard for how these elements fit together as a whole. The following examples will serve to illustrate what I mean.

Example One: The hierarchical structure he employs to describe his metaphysic, his emphasis on intuition as superior to empiricism, his appeal to archetypes, his assigning eternal life not to individual personalities but to the collective from which the individual personalities emerge, and his dematerialization of evil, would seem to be derived from Neoplatonism, but it is a Neoplatonism without essences and with no ultimate ontology. Evolution posited as the fundamental reality voids concepts like "essence" and "ultimate ontology" of any meaning. Indeed, the god assumed by Zukav sounds much like the deity of process theologians: it is evolving, multileveled, and complex.[97] In this regard I remain unclear whether Zukav is a pantheist, a monotheist, or even (though he uses "God" as singular) a polytheist.

Example Two: He uses the idea of karma but assumes that we can aid one another in our mutual developments, a conceit totally alien to classical karmic formulations.[98]

Example three: He occasionally quotes Scripture (particularly the New Testament) and appropriates scriptural themes and phrases, but always gives them his distinct interpretation without regard for their textual or historical context.[99]

Example Four: He attempts to assert a teleology but deprives it of final cause.

Example Five: Zukav is very clear that we are the units of evolution and that the process is powered by the choices we make. He tells us we create reality with our intentions,[100] an idea he would seem to have borrowed from the existentialists. It is they who stress particularity and creative choice. The phrases "existence precedes essence" or the more alliterative and trendy "form follows function" are existential maxims. However, if Zukav has borrowed from the existentialists, he insists on structuring them teleologically, as I suggested in point four. The kind of choices one might in fact make tend to be predetermined, not by the problem of timelessness discussed above but by the assumption of an (elsewhere denied) essence. To whit, if one is a multisensory being, one will learn to choose wisely and responsibly by heeding ones feelings and intuitions. Multisensory beings are almost by definition beings who will do that naturally.[101] If one is a five-sensory being, one's choices will reflect one's misunderstandings consequent to one's five-sensory condition: one will interpret power externally, one will choose along the horizontal axis. Such is the nature of five-sensory beings. Thus the choices made are not really creative choices, in the sense that they transform us into something different from what we are, instead they express our essential natures.[102]

Furthermore, the point that all roads lead to home when coupled with the point that all actions have value[103] creates a dilemma. If all roads lead home and all actions have value, then surely foolish choices are as potentially restorative as wise choices. Zukav holds this possibility up when he says: "As the personality becomes whole and empowered, it becomes content to let the illusion play."[104] Indeed, Zukav insists that while from the outside a person may appear to be making foolish choices, the truth may be that the person is enlightened and "totally content to let the illusion play."[105] It seems to me there is a problem here. If my success is assured, if I make my choices against the background of a compassionate Universe that does not judge, if all choices, even choices that may appear foolish, have value, then what is the imperative for becoming a multisensory person who exercises authentic power and makes wise decisions? Why are we being called to this new level of evolution? Why is it important that we heed the call? And make no mistake about it, Zukav is urgent. He believes that we must change now, and he is anxious that we rise to the challenge.

What we have in the end is a metaphysical hodgepodge that borrows from evolution, classic Hellenism, and established religious traditions. It is poorly integrated and sometimes contradictory. A Zukav apologist could argue that Zukav's metaphysic is still under construction and that the problems I have pointed out are intrinsic to a work in progress, but I think something else is going on.

Zukav's model of the universe is open-ended in either direction. Plainly he is comfortable with the concepts of infinite regress and infinite progress. Unlike many philosophers, he does not find them absurdities. And here he is in good company. William of Ockham himself was quite at ease with the idea.[106] But we should consider the implications of such a model. If everything, including God, evolves (and Zukav is very clear that this is the case), what does an infinite evolutionary process imply? If God evolves, and evolution means that rocks can give rise to human beings, dinosaurs can become sparrows, and dog-like mammals can become sea-going whales, what was God and what will God be? The contemporary Universe may express non-judgmental compassion, but there is no guarantee that such qualities characterized it in the past or will characterize it in the future. At the risk of becoming tedious, I say again: an open-ended evolutionary process does away with essence and lacks ultimacy. Not only does the absence of such ultimacy subvert Zukav's urgency (we are going nowhere, we have an eternity to get there, and we are guaranteed success), it undermines his plea that we choose wisely. In an open-ended continuum characterized by change even at the highest metaphysical levels, there can be no certain standard, and hence no basis for wisdom, for what is wisdom but good judgment, and what place is there for judgment in a non-judgmental Universe where no final standards apply? Worse, since we cannot know what the soul that incarnated us is ultimately evolving into, we cannot know which choices are best for actualizing its potential or even for healing it. In fact, we could argue that the soul, lacking an ultimate goal and lacking an essential nature lacks any real potential, including the potential for illness. The open-endedness of Zukav's model overturns the teleological structure he wants to apply to it. Infinite progress is progress toward nothing. I have stressed that in such a universe there can be no final cause.

It is here that Zukav's metaphysics becomes most clearly postmodern.

Section IV: The postmodern metaphysics of The Seat of the Soul

In its classical formulation evolution is a metanarrative.[107] Postmodernism rejects metanarrative as dehumanizing and totalitarian. Instead postmodernism emphasizes discontinuous narration, the local, the idiosyncratic. In effect Zukav's assertion of evolution as an open-ended continuum forces him to do the same thing. This is evidenced by his confusing use of words like personality, soul, and higher self, a point to which we drew attention in footnote 26. Generally he distinguishes quite clearly between these three concepts. The soul is a distinct and fundamentally timeless entity that incarnates aspects of itself. These temporary incarnations Zukav identifies with personality. The higher self (this idea may be an adaptation of Freud's superego or the Parent of transactional analysis) is the connecting link between personality and soul. But, as we observed, Zukav will occasionally use the three interchangeably. Sometimes he writes of personality as though it were soul, or of soul as though it were a higher self, and I think he does this because his open-ended system, devoid of any ultimates, any essences, any urgency, forces him to ascribe supreme primacy to the immediate. At the immediate practical level (and remember, he understands The Seat of the Soul as a preeminently practical book) he can apply such concepts as essence, urgency, and wisdom. What matters in Zukav's system is not the ultimate end since there is none. What matters is immediate psychic healing, a healing that can be appropriated in many ways, all of them optimal. Thus for practical purposes the personality can be referred to as the soul since it is the instrument by which the soul is healed. Nor is there any real role for the higher self since there is no need for a mediator between the soul and the personality (the one being an aspect of the other). Were Zukav to jettison the higher self, nothing in his system would change. And in fact he does just that when he uses higher self and soul as synonyms.

The book's practical focus, its purpose and urgency, when seen against the background of its rather baroque metaphysic illustrates two dangers in postmodern thought: apathy and fanaticism. Of course any belief system might generate such antipodes. Claims that one is an agent for something greater than oneself, or that one's actions must inevitably be nullified by something greater than oneself, are often used to justified excess. But it seems that postmodernism, precisely because it focuses on the immediate as though the immediate were ultimate, is peculiarly susceptible to this danger. While belief systems that assume a metanarrative structure invite us to judge them and in this way show themselves open to moderating influences, it is not easy to see how postmodernism can, if only because its subversion of metanarrative puts it beyond universal themes on which judgments can be based. In the postmodernist universe each experience is ultimate and disconnected from the larger flow of human life except insofar as it illustrates the richness and variety inherent in humanity. In the postmodernist view the significant fact is precisely the absence of universal meaning.

Zukav on some level seems to be aware of this problem and seeks to resolve it by urging his readers to reverence. But recognizing the value of everything and reverencing each thing for what it is, especially when one is admonished not to judge, too easily ends by equating the value of everything, and of course to value all things equally is to value nothing. It is no doubt an easy thing to instill a sense of reverence in oneself if one isolates oneself in the wilderness of northern California or takes one's disciples to beautiful and exotic places (as Zukav on his web site advertises that he does). But the true theater of a workable faith is the holocaust, the cancer ward of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the soup kitchen of Thomas Merton, the slum of William Booth, the abortion clinic, the Sudanese famine, the child prostitute, the murder victim, the tortured, the exploited, the wretched of the earth. It is one thing to reverence the palm, the pristine beach, the crisping surf streaked with sunset, and another to reverence the human bodies left to rot on the killing fields of Cambodia. Yet we live in a world where the killing fields abound and the pristine beaches grow scarce.

I do not contend that Gary Zukav has not seen this side of life. He was a green beret officer in Vietnam. He has, as we all have, witnessed his share of outrage, degradation, and tragedy. But I do contend that reverence and enlightenment are insufficient remedies for such ills, and I fear that postmodernism, as it wrestles with such issues, will discover that it lacks the resources for dealing with them, and in that discovery will birth the fanatic or the apathetic.


[1] Zukav, Gary, The Seat of the Soul, Chapter 1 "Evolution," p. 21

[2] One suspects by the end of Zukav's book that, though he would probably object to the characterization, he considers his the ultimate model. After all, the "practical" guidance he gives makes sense only in light of the model he assumes.

[3] Zukav, The Seat of the soul, "Forward," p. 13. On his web site he says "The Seat of the Soul provides a vocabulary for the emerging perceptions of the soul... It provides a vocabulary, not a dogma..."

[4] Ibid. Of course we need not be aware of this vision. Its influence is conscious or preconscious depending on the sensitivity of the personality it attracts.

[5] Ibid., Chapter 1, pp. 23 - 26

[6] Ibid., Chapter 16 "Trust," p. 246

[7] Ibid., pp. 237 - 238. There are, Zukav tells us, many optimal paths.

[8] Ibid., Chapter 1, p. 29; Chapter 15 "Power," p. 228

[9] Ibid., "Forward," pp. 14 - 15. On his web site too he assures us that The Seat of the Soul is intended as a practical guide to assist us as we ascend to the next level of evolution.

[10] Ibid., Chapter 1, p. 29

[11] Ibid., Chapter 9 "Choice," p. 135

[12] Ibid., p. 23

[13] Ibid., Chapter 4 "Heart," p. 71

[14] Ibid., Chapter 10 "Addiction," p. 156

[15] Ibid., Chapter 1, p. 26

[16] Ibid., Chapter 14 "Illusion," p. 213

[17] Ibid., Chapter 16, p. 246

[18] Ibid., Chapter 13 "Psychology," p. 196

[19] Ibid., p. 204

[20] Ibid., Chapter 10, p. 159

[21] Ibid., p. 27

[22] Ibid., Chapter 2 "Karma," p. 36; Chapter 14, p. 214

[23] Ibid., Chapter 1, p. 25

[24] Ibid., Chapter 13, p. 201

[25] Ibid., Chapter 7 "Intention I," p. 108

[26] Ibid., Chapter 9, p. 136. Note that here Zukav substitutes personality for psyche, the word he used earlier. Psyche indicates soul or spirit. Personality as Zukav uses it does not. At one point Zukav identifies one's higher self with the connecting link between personality and soul (Chapter 5 "Intuition," p. 86). At another he calls it "the living template of the evolved human, the fully awakened personality" (Chapter 6 "Light," p. 91). In still another passage he identifies it with one's soul (Chapter 9, p. 138). Here is an area where Zukav's language becomes muddy. We will look at this in some detail below.

[27] Ibid., Chapter 13, p. 198

[28] Ibid., Chapter 16 "Trust," p. 234 - 235

[29] Ibid., Chapter 12 "Souls," p. 186

[30] Ibid., p. 187, Chapter 13 "Psychology," p. 193

[31] Ibid., Chapter 2, p. 34

[32] Ibid., p. 35

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid., Chapter 9, p. 140

[35] Ibid., Chapter 12, p. 186. In Chapter 10 "Addiction," p. 157, Zukav tells us there are billions of souls.

[36] Ibid., Chapter 7, p. 111. He makes the same point again in Chapter 12 on page 181.

[37] Ibid., Chapter 3, p. 51

[38] Ibid., p. 57

[39] Ibid., Chapter 7, p. 114

[40] Ibid., Chapter 12, p. 175

[41] Ibid., p. 176

[42] Ibid., pp. 177 - 178

[43] Ibid. However he claims that it is possible for a human soul to be produced from an animal soul through the accomplishments of an individual animal (p. 177). While animals are not capable of responsible choice, certain individual animals through group dynamics (and apparently through interaction with human beings) can achieve momentary epiphanies in which they realize they have willingly sacrificed their own lives for the sake of their masters (or, one supposes, for the sake of the group). Such animals can rise to the next higher level (a dog, for example, who has had such an epiphany, might be reincarnated as a dolphin) and can even make the jump to the human level (p. 178).

[44] Ibid., p. 180

[45] Ibid., p. 179

[46] Ibid., Chapter 7, pp. 116 - 117. Zukav maintains that all souls come directly from the Godhead though they do so through a variety of ways (Chapter 12, p. 185). It is not easy to see how he can affirm God's direct generation of each soul while also affirming this kind of hierarchy.

[47] Ibid., Chapter 12, p. 186

[48] Ibid., Chapter 2, p. 35; Chapter 8 "Intention II," p. 122

[49] Ibid., Chapter 8, p. 130

[50] Ibid., Chapter 5, pp. 86 - 87

[51] Ibid., Chapter 13, p. 195

[52] Ibid., p. 201

[53] Ibid., "Forward," pp. 14 - 15

[54] Reverence is a key element of Zukav's world view. Reverence is an appropriate response to life's meaning and purpose (Chapter 1, p. 22). When we contact life at its very essence in each of its particulars, we know reverence (Chapter 3 "Reverence," p. 50). Hence, it is a holy perspective (p. 52), and a perception of the soul (p. 55 - he states here, "Only the personality can perceive life without reverence." Hence he asserts that any activity done without reverence " soul preying upon another weaker soul" [chapter 10, p. 151. Note the soul's predatory quality. We would not expect that since Zukav has told us {Chapter 2, p. 35} that the natural state of a soul, the state to which it returns after incarnation, is compassion, clarity, and boundless love.]) Reverence is a decision we make and is tantamount to making a decision to become a spiritual person (p. 56). Though not an emotion, it is dependent on our awareness of our emotions (Chapter 4 "Heart," p. 61).

[55] Ibid., "Forward," p. 12

[56] Ibid., p. 13

[57] Ibid., Chapter 2, p. 41

[58] Ibid., Chapter 1, p. 25

[59] Ibid., Chapter 6, p. 99

[60] Ibid., Chapter 10, p. 159. Actually Zukav assures the reader, "Eventually, you will come to authentic empowerment." But of course the reader is only a personality doomed to die after completing a life whose success is in no way assured. Again we see a certain - and unnecessary - sloppiness in Zukav's distinction between soul and person.

[61] Ibid., p. 154

[62] Ibid., Chapter 14, p. 215

[63] Ibid., Chapter 6, p. 98

[64] Ibid., Chapter 7, p. 111. In Chapter 8 on page 127 and in Chapter 11 on page 162 he reaffirms that matter is the most dense level of Light.

[65] Ibid., Chapter 12, p. 189

[66] Ibid., Chapter 6, p. 96

[67] Ibid., Chapter 5, p. 78

[68] Ibid., Chapter 2, p. 35

[69] Ibid., Chapter 6, pp. 92 - 93

[70] Ibid., p. 99

[71] Ibid, Chapter 6, p. 99; Chapter 11, p. 171

[72] Ibid., Chapter 6, p. 100; Chapter 4, p. 70. Karma generated by one personality creates a debt that must be worked off even if by another personality.

[73] Ibid. "Forward," p. 14

[74] Ibid., Chapter 5, p. 78

[75] Ibid., Chapter 1, p. 21

[76] Ibid., Chapter 4, p. 62

[77] Ibid., "Forward," p. 14

[78] Ibid., Chapter 1, p. 30; Chapter 5, p. 80

[79] Ibid., Chapter 5, p. 85

[80] Ibid., pp. 85 - 86

[81] Ibid., p. 86

[82] Ibid. Chapter 16, p. 243

[83] Ibid., Chapter 5, p. 87

[84] Chapter 6, p. 91; Chapter 13, p. 199

[85] Ibid., p. 220

[86] Ibid., p. 199

[87] Ibid., Chapter 12, p. 180

[88] Ibid., p. 182

[89] Ibid., p. 184

[90] Ibid., pp. 183 - 184

[91] Ibid., p. 183

[92] Ibid., p. 185

[93] Ibid., Chapter 16, p. 237

[94] Ibid., p. 238

[95] Ibid., pp. 239 - 240

[96] I found it very difficult to discern Zukav's system. The book is written primarily to develop a vocabulary and as instruction for those embarked on a spiritual journey. The particulars of that journey are secondary to the vocabulary and the advice and at times seem almost to act as props for it. While certain themes recur across chapters, they often reappear in slightly modified ways, and it is largely up to the reader to determine the significance of such modifications.

[97] It would be interesting to know if Zukav has ever read Whitehead of Hartshorne, but he never tells us.

[98] Pure Land Buddhism makes the same assumption, but its karmic formulations are in no sense classical.

[99] In this way of course he can cloak his position in biblical authority while ignoring biblical meaning.

[100] Zukav, The Seat of the Soul, Chapter 7, p. 110; Chapter 8, p. 120

[101] Zukav might argue that one does not do this naturally, that it requires some effort. But what is natural often requires effort. To awaken from sleep is an example of something natural that also requires effort, and, given the differences between five-sensory and multisensory personalities, seems an appropriate one.

[102] Zukav himself seems aware of this problem. In Chapter 12 on page 183 he asks the question, "do all human beings have equal potential?" and answers it by saying "yes and no." He admits to an inequality but insists that it is temporary and suggests that it expresses the different ages of souls, older souls generally being more advanced than younger ones. The appeal to age (so typical of evolutionists) seems odd since in Zukav's system it is not age but sensitivity or intuition that really matters. Some personalities are sensitive to the call to advance to the next level while others are not, and Zukav never really explains this difference.

[103] Zukav, The Seat of the Soul, Chapter 16, p. 242. Zukav makes the all actions have value point (he says "it is impossible to create any action that does not have value") in tandem with the point that all life forms have value (he says "it is impossible to create any form of Life that does not have value"). These assertions are made after he has told us that the Universe does not operate in the same way humankind does and that just because we fail to see the value of a thing, it does not follow that value is not there.

[104] Ibid. Chapter 9, p. 140

[105] Ibid., p. 141

[106] For an interesting, if brief discussion of this aspect of Ockham, see Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition (400 - 1400) by Marcia L. Colish (Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1997), Part IV, Chapter 23 "Late Medieval Scholasticism: The Triumph of Terminism, Henry of Ghent, John Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham," p. 314

[107] Metanarrative is a compound word combining the Greek meta meaning "after," "along with," "beyond," "among," or "behind" with narrative meaning a story or narration. Thus metanarrative means "the story behind the story or stories" and expresses the idea that the unique tales we tell are variations on a single unifying theme. That Single theme is the metanarrative. The gospel, evolution, and Marxism's class struggle are examples of metanarrative. Metanarrative, because it assumes unifying elements in human existence, is viewed with suspicion by postmodernists who interpret such elements as limiting human potential and expression and hence as "totalitarian."


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