September 20, 2000
11:18 PM   Subscribe

We've heard of intelligence and emotional intelligence, but what about spiritual intelligence? Gary Zukav is spiritually brilliant. He frequently appears on Oprah, from which I assume (accepting all implicit risks) that his audience consists largely of women. Which is too bad, because men have quite a lot to learn from this man as well, and it would do a world of good (being, unjustly, a man's world) if every man did.
posted by sudama (39 comments total)
Um, "spiritual intelligence"? How is that different from "spiritual"? Was, say, Buddha or Muhammed spiritually intelligent? Or GWB's favourite political philosopher?

I'm sorry, but when I first caught one of those Oprah shows which talks about "soul" and "spirit" in such wishy-washy nonspecific terms, I wanted to puke. All of the worst excesses of the "self-help" and "mind, body and spirit" sections of the bookshop, compressed into into a quintessence of trite awfulness: "In order to change her karma, Kathy needed to reconnect to her spirit." Yeah, and in order to change my underwear, I need to reconnect to the laundry basket.

It's New Age piffle. It's inoffensive cheesecake philosophy. It has as much in common with the search for spiritual enlightenment as the WWF has in common with sport.

And what depresses me most is that this bloke is actually saying vaguely useful things: material gains are no guarantee of happiness; you shouldn't sacrifice the pleasures of living in search of an amorphous "better life; and so on. But these questions have been asked, and answered in similar, subtler terms throughout history, without resorting to such flummery as "your feelings are the force field of your soul."

It's not that I want Oprah to run daytime seminars on Kierkegaard; but she could do well by just repeating a couple of sentences from Henry James: "Live all you can; it's a mistake not to. It doesn't so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have your life. If you haven't had that what HAVE you had?"
posted by holgate at 1:02 AM on September 21, 2000

I just love these 'television personalities' - the ones that like to practise medicine without a license. Gary says, "I am not a therapist or psychologist.....", but he sure loves playing one on tv.
posted by kristin at 1:28 AM on September 21, 2000

New-agey tripe must be stopped. This is yet another reason why I should have supreme authority -- I promise to turn all new-agey bookstores into traps. Anyone entering will be immediately seized, dragged into a back room and savagely beaten by thugs.

...then they'll get to experience the manifold thrills of my detention and interrogation facilities. Zukav, Chopra, Oprah, this means *you*!
posted by aramaic at 6:10 AM on September 21, 2000

Before Zukav started marketing his utterly revolting "Zen Lite", he wrote a useful intro to physics for non-physicists. That does not, however, let him off the hook for this ridiculous "spiritual intelligence" crock - it just shows what he could do if he only had a brain (again)...
posted by m.polo at 6:32 AM on September 21, 2000

This guy says the world is "alive, wise, and compassionate." He should maybe pick up a newspaper sometime.
You're have to be a hardcore Nazi or a madman to actually think this world is compasionate.

posted by Doug at 6:47 AM on September 21, 2000

heh, quite a backlash against wisdom and compassion. i wonder why zukav & his ideas are so threatening to most who responded?
posted by sudama at 7:00 AM on September 21, 2000

I never understood how Deepak Chopra's Rumi book sold more copies than Rumi's own books.
posted by tamim at 7:07 AM on September 21, 2000

My comment wasn't intended as a "backlash against wisdom and compassion." It was intended as a backlash against what I consider the spiritually bankrupt idea that enlightenment can be gained from watching a television show or reading Zukav's Hallmark card distillation of some Buddhist concepts... If Zukav leads people to wanting to know more, that's great, as long as we remember that his books bear as little relation to Zen Buddhism as "Dick and Jane" primers do to the Talmud...

(And yes, I do agree that the world is "wise, alive and compassionate," because it cannot be otherwise. Humans, on the other hand, are a completely different story and part of Zukav's fundamental problem is that he'll make statements like this without being clear about what the word "world" means...)
posted by m.polo at 7:31 AM on September 21, 2000

"backlash against wisdom and compassion"

Oh lord, that's a laugh. If the definition of "wisdom" includes Zukav, then I don't want it. Same goes for compassion.

Zukav is the Ronald McDonald of philosophy.
posted by aramaic at 7:37 AM on September 21, 2000

i didn't realize he was supposed to be hawking zen buddhism... i just turned on oprah the other night and caught him talking, and noticed that he was right about a lot of things. who cares whether he's credentialed or rigorous in representing the specifics of any one tradition when he clearly knows what he's talking about? isn't that something we should see more of on tv rather than less?
posted by sudama at 7:51 AM on September 21, 2000

I'm about to sound unavoidably condescending, so bear with me:

We aren't Zukav's audience, and that's as it should be. Throwing classic philosophy at the vast majority of people is like throwing Shakespeare at a first-grader. That doesn't mean they don't have the native intelligence to handle it, rather, it probably means either they have a general lack of education or are merely focused elsewhere.

Authors that most of us loathe--Zukav, John Gray, etc., certainly are "psychology lite", but they speak to people at that level, and allow them to begin educating themselves. These ideas, if they are new to you, truly do expand perspective.

Oprah and the rest are doing a tremendous service to society by starting people on the path to self-improvement in a way that the general population can understand. Soon those minions will be posting in here.

I'm endlessly frustrated by the general ignorance of our society. Anyone who implements counter-measures has my respect and applause.
posted by frykitty at 8:10 AM on September 21, 2000

All I know if I won't give up my prescious bodily fluids to some ultra-leftist, pinko commie bastard!
posted by tiaka at 8:24 AM on September 21, 2000

I don't think that in any hour of TV you can really get beyond basic common sense. Maybe that's trite, but I'm with sudama and frykitty here -- there are worse things in the world than people learning a little bit about themselves.

What bugs me isn't nearly so much the new-age-iness of it all (that's such a broad catch-all term I don't know that anyone knows what it means anymore), but the marketing. It's not insprirational literature; it's Chicken Soup for the [INSERT DEMOGRAPHIC] Soul. It's not how to manage your money; it's Suze Orman and How to Manage Your Relationship with Money. See, nothing Orman says is wrong per se, and you can get it in many other more sober and reference-material-like forms, but some people need it packaged with the upbeat message. They'll learn something, and maybe next time they'll buy a real financial advice book, or Zen, or whatever.

It's kind of like the homily at the end of a church service. We may not all need it, in fact it may seem just a time-filler, but those that do get a lot out of it.
posted by dhartung at 8:28 AM on September 21, 2000

I don't think his ideas are threatening. They're silly. I knew someone would say that the universe is compassionate, but people aren't. That's insane. Children die every day of horrifyingly painful diseases. People get cancer and are eaten alive from the inside. I don't particularly see that as compassionate. I don't see the whole of biology being based on compassion.

The universe is wise? I mean, sure, if you believe in fairy tales and such you could see the universe as wise, but ultimately, a very wishy washy, and ultimately damaging thought.

Overall, the man isn't saying anything that other people haven't already said before. Be nice to people. Share. I mean, I've been through kindergarden, I don't particularly need those lessons from some conman on Oprah.

And I do mean conman. I think anyone preaching that we all have an eternal soul is passing along a lie.
posted by Doug at 8:43 AM on September 21, 2000

The thing that bugs me most about Gray, Zukav, Orman etc. is that they are so transparently manipulative, and people buy it anyway.

It's not How to Manage Your Relationship with Money, it's How Can My Publisher Extract More Money From You Morons?. Same goes for Gray, and Zukav, and pretty much everyone that ever goes on Oprah about "self-help" stuff. They're on Oprah because they wanna sell books and speaking engagements. That's all.

They're not doing it for the Good of Humanity. They're not doing it for Your Spiritual Self; they're doing it to get cash. I don't blame them for getting the cash -- I blame them for being hypocrites. If they said "hey, I wanna get rich" then I'd respect 'em.

Instead, they cloak themselves with touchy-feely newspeak. My Spirit Guardian told me I need to spend $49.95 on a self-help book about how to manage my relationship with Angels, so I gotta go. May your spiritual forcefields engage meaningfully with Gaia....
posted by aramaic at 8:45 AM on September 21, 2000

I watched about 40 minutes of oprah and i don't think it was even mentioned that zukav has a book. i didn't get the sense that he's a greedy man, and i don't begrudge him a comfortable living for the important work he's doing.
posted by sudama at 9:09 AM on September 21, 2000

Only semi-related to the discussion, but it does amaze me how many people show up on Oprah with absolutely no concept of living for themselves and not being the slave to their family, job, relationship etc.

Regardless of the motivations behind the authors mentioned above and Oprah herself, the idea that someone is trying to reach these lost people (unfortunately, it's usually women) and show them how to do the abovementioned Henry James thing and have your own life.
posted by stefnet at 9:16 AM on September 21, 2000

This reminds me of something my favorite gurus once said...

"Now don't feel alone here in the New Age, because there's a seeker born every minute."

Shoes for the dead!!!

posted by fpatrick at 9:19 AM on September 21, 2000

whoops . . .
Fixing a link from a previous post, my favorite gurus can really be found here.

Give me immortality or give me death!
posted by fpatrick at 9:24 AM on September 21, 2000

Why are all you people wasting your time watching television, Oprah or anything else?
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:42 AM on September 21, 2000

... when you could be wasting it arguing about television on the Internet? Surely a much more worthwhile pastime. :)
posted by webmutant at 10:04 AM on September 21, 2000

I don't think that in any hour of TV you can really get beyond basic common sense.

Oh, I dunno. But BBC2 and C4 are to blame for that.

Oprah's basically a cult leader. It's just that she doesn't have the compound yet, or the science fiction books.
posted by holgate at 10:17 AM on September 21, 2000

What is wrong with men as they are? I know more strong women than men these days, and they seem frustrated by their inability to find men who act like men. We pair off, the only woman I need to please is my wife, we do not need national sensitivity training.
posted by thirteen at 11:35 AM on September 21, 2000

Oprah is, I think, a billionaire. She could save us all the trouble of having to see Deepak Choprah and these other quakes and make life better by giving people some of her money. You know, rather than telling poor people, "Just be at harmony with your hunger pains, and lowered life expectancy, and rejoice in the wonderous compassion of a universe that has given you typhoid," and maybe give them a few thousand bucks for a house and some vaccinations. Just a thought.
posted by Doug at 11:49 AM on September 21, 2000

Looking through this madman's site, you'll also see he believes in "High Vibrational Food." Very scientific. A quote from that section: "Kindness is a high vibration food, too." Deep.

Another quote, "Consciousness does not originate in your brain.  Consciousness created your brain.   Your emotions do not originate in your brain.  They are currents of energy that flow through you.  Your brain is not the creator of your awareness, or even the focal point of your awareness." Great stuff.

And finally, for those of you who have seen Mystery Men, "What is behind your eyes is more important than what is in front of them.  You cannot change the reflection in a mirror without changing what the mirror reflects.  The mirror is the world that you live in, and it reflects you.  If you fear the future and doubt that it can be changed, you have chosen to learn wisdom through fear and doubt."

Sudama, the fact that you find this man brilliant in ANY way is troubling, except perhaps in a marketing sense.

posted by Doug at 12:17 PM on September 21, 2000

Well, you know, poor people are poor because they aren't at harmony with the universe. If they were truly at peace (the way Chopra is) then money would just fall right down out of the sky....

As it is, they should be glad that they haven't been crushed beneath the spiked wheels of our enlightened, at-harmony SUVs. Ungrateful, ill-harmonious bastards! How dare they insist on being poor, when the True Path to harmony and riches has been laid out before them on TV!
posted by aramaic at 12:19 PM on September 21, 2000

I don't know why I'm even bothering to chime in here, but what the heck. Gary Zukav is brilliant. He's managed to con millions of people into thinking that animals have a "group soul", and so -- if you consider the logical consequences of that little theory -- they can be killed with impunity as long as there's enough left to breed. And this is because, hey, you're not killing an animal like you would a human, with our individual souls1. Whee! And he's made a lot of money spewing this tripe without regard for logical consequences of his "theories", respect for the legitimate, living traditions from which he stole most of his "ideas", or sense. Sorry. Once you admit Zukav's sort of "thinking" into your head, you're totally screwed and will believe anything as long as it's properly packaged as somehow good for you.

He's brilliant, but not at thinking or even at being the sort of socially/ecologically responsible person he encourages us all to be. The first step in being socially conscious is to teach yourself how to reject rhetoric masquerading as truth.

1 cf. The Seat of the Soul, which I read in college, ten years ago, and which is still a bestseller, despite containing nothing of worth whatsoever.
posted by schampeo at 3:39 PM on September 21, 2000

again i ask, what is so threatening about this man that so many of you feel the need to try to rip him apart? i haven't read his books and barely glanced at the website, but the segment i saw revealed a man with deep insight into the nature of existence. who cares if he's pieced it together from a million places -- it's not as though there's only one right answer anywhere anyway.
posted by sudama at 8:58 PM on September 21, 2000

If you do not understand the message your soul is bringing to you, your next
dream the same night will repeat the message, and the next, throughout the
night. In other words, if you write your dreams during the night but do not
consider them until the morning, when you wake you will have a collection of dream
experiences, each conveying the same meaning. That meaning has to do with you
and your life.

You will receive more letters the next night, and the next for the duration of your
time in the Earth school. Each one brings you the latest-breaking, most up-to-date
news available in a special edition prepared just for you. How you use these special
edition communications from your soul is up to you.

Sudama, man, the guy is icky, snout to tail. I don't think anyone is threatened by a man too worried about a paperbag's feelings to fight his way out of one. I think he got a lot of his answers from yoda's wife, but if that's the path you wanna take, great. I am quite pleased to see so many people here who usually fight with each other united in rejecting this mush.
posted by thirteen at 9:27 PM on September 21, 2000

Sudama, let's make something clear: I can be contemptuous of someone without feeling threatened by him.

You are making an incorrect assumption that the responses you're seeing are inspired by a feeling of being threatened. That's not correct. There's no feeling of threat; just a feeling of contempt.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:46 PM on September 21, 2000

I don't have much to add to this discussion ... well, okay, I do, but this topic's about to scroll down the page and die so I'm not going to take the time to bang it out ... but as long as we're all uniting here, I want to toss in my agreement that this guy is either: a) nuts if he actually believes this stuff, or b) brilliant if he knows it's BS and just doing it to get rich.
posted by aaron at 10:08 PM on September 21, 2000

Steven, if it's contempt where does it come from? why does everybody feel it so deeply and react so vehemently? i'm truly curious...
posted by sudama at 11:02 PM on September 21, 2000

Sudama, I can't answer your question, because I myself know nothing about the man and don't care either, and have no intention whatever of finding out.

I'm just responding to your incorrect assumption that this kind of response must be inspired by people feeling threatened.

In generic terms which may or may not apply to this particular circumstances, I can be contemptuous for someone for acting like an idiot, or for mouthing meaningless platitudes, or for being a hypocrite, or for any of a number of other things none of which threaten me in the slightest.

But it seems to me that you can learn the answer to your question simply by reading what people are saying here. My own impression is that they're making very clear why they're contemptuous of the guy. No-one's being very subtle about it.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 11:09 PM on September 21, 2000

why does everybody feel it so deeply and react so vehemently? i'm truly curious...

I can only speak for myself sudama but here goes:-
He obviously knows a small amount of buddhist teaching and also knows that there are many people out there who desperately want to believe they have some kind of role or importance in the grand scheme. Look at the language he uses:- "I'm not who I thought I could be. I don't know who I am. How do I become happy? How do I obtain inner peace?"
Everyone questions their existence, some find the answers themselves and become better people, others are too ready to rely on someone else to supply answers, and if those answers have a shred of resonance then they take it as the truth. Hence the contempt I feel is because this guy (and others) preys on the people who are most vulnerable, and the ones who are most likely to contribut to the walth of Gary Zukav. People like this make those who listen question their existence so much and so often that they weaken them and make them so much more open to their influence - why ask such big questions of life at the expense of living that life?
A friend of mine once said:-
"The true spiritual master is the one who stays quiet until asked"
posted by Markb at 6:13 AM on September 22, 2000

Hi Sudema,

I think that your sentiments (not Zukav's) are right...however I have to challenge your comment :

"heh, quite a backlash against wisdom and compassion. i wonder why zukav & his ideas are so threatening
to most who responded?"

Wisdom is useless without experience.
His ideas - I doubt it !

The backlash is not about the compassion, but about this type of 'preacher' and 'false prophet', who, as Markb says, preys on the vulnerable.
posted by Mouse at 7:33 AM on September 22, 2000

This discussion is probably dead...

But, it's a very weak-minded argument to say that because someone is against a person's ideas they are threatened by them. That is, in fact, a "talking point" taught by cults. Which oddly relates to this Gary fella.

I'm against Nazism, and Adolf Hitler's world view. Am I threatened by it? Is it so mind blowingly accurate that my brain just has to repel it because of my indominable social mores?
posted by Doug at 7:58 AM on September 22, 2000

Frykitty: only one thing to take issue with.

You didn't sound condescending.

You sounded elitist.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

[I've been a Heinlein devotee for close to 3 decades now...]
posted by baylink at 8:04 AM on September 22, 2000

Baylink: I am elitist, so there's no issue.
posted by frykitty at 11:02 AM on September 22, 2000

I've always sort of interpreted Oprah Brand Inner Peace as the AOL of spirituality.

You know, "So easy to use, no wonder it's #1."
posted by Lirp at 8:58 PM on September 23, 2000

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