Welcome to DharmaCafé

William Stranger

Our global civilization is now facing a crisis so severe that few of us can even bear to take its full measure. While each of the various features of this crisis—ethnic and religious wars, terrorist violence, racism, an unchecked arms race, species depletion, global warming, pervasive environmental pollution, corporate malfeasance, domestic violence, adolescent anomie, epidemic disease, political manipulation, massive poverty, and so on—can and should be analyzed in its own terms, the sheer number and extent of these perils begs for an understanding that transcends their individual circumstances and features. Yet the educational and cultural institutions to which we turn for understanding (our universities, the mass media, and so on) are now almost entirely circumscribed by the dictates of scientific and technological reason.

While science has done much to improve the human estate, scientific rationality—at least as it is understood and practiced today—is not in itself an able vehicle of human wisdom. Contemporary science has allied itself with the perennial, and scientifically discredited, dogma of materialism, which in our time functions every bit as much a suppressive official church as the dominant ecclesiastical institutions did before science eclipsed their imperial authority. And while most of the dominant religions today have made their grudging rapprochement with the scientific and political authorities, their own fundamentalisms are always threatening to escape the containment vessel forged by the liberal European consensus of the past three centuries.  Consequently, humankind today is hemmed in on all sides by the two warring (but strangely similar) ideologies of scientific materialism and conventional or fundamentalist religions. This is why there is such a profound “wisdom gap” in contemporary world culture.

Neither conventional materialist science nor the religions of willful belief can truly address our personal predicament of mortality because neither is honestly in touch with That Which transcends biological death. That this cultural impasse has come about at the very moment that massive political, social, and technological disasters are bearing down upon us all perfectly fulfills the ancient prophetic warnings that mortal materialistic man would bring about the Kali Yuga, the “Dark Time” or “End Time” of universal self-destruction. With the survival of life on Earth hanging by a thread, who can doubt that this has indeed come to pass?

The ancients have also advised us that it is precisely in dangerous, tumultuous times such as our own, when the touch of Divinity appears to have all but vanished from human culture, the sacred itself will find new ways to make its salvatory appearance. The mission of DharmaCafe™ is to chronicle this desperately needed spiritual renaissance. If our planet is to avert impending catastrophe, humanity must be granted a vision of Man that is far greater than the $2.88 worth of chemicals at which our fleshly worth is currently appraised. And this greater and truer vision of Man—woman, man, child, and indeed all creatures—will become consequential only if substantial numbers of people are granted direct access to forms of collective experience and wisdom that fulfill our native, indelible yearning for spiritual transcendence. Indeed, until we are free to confess to the dazzling Mystery of Being, or Divine Unity, Itself—a confession which forever beggars all scientific and religious formulations, human culture will neither know any real Happiness nor grasp the ultimate Purpose of life.

DharmaCafe™ begins from two very simple premises: That there actually is a numinous, luminous, spiritual, transcendent, and irreducibly conscious Reality (what we shall here call “the sacred”) and that our own participation in this Reality is the most vital, passionate, interesting, and important aspect of our individual and collective lives. Instead of expending most of its energies “getting to church”—that is, attempting to prove that the sacred really exists—DharmaCafe™ will start out “in church” and go on to bring energy, clarity, depth of feeling, critical insight, and even great good humor to its most compelling and potent manifestations. Oddly enough, however, while some websites provide a commendably open and ecumenical forum to explore religious diversity, no journal today (online or otherwise) freely explores and vividly reports on the total spectrum of humanity’s sacred endeavors to the millions upon millions of literate, intelligent human beings who are interested in hearing about them.  Perhaps no journal could have done this anytime before. Only in the last few years has the astonishing revolution in information, communications, transportation, and trade refashioned a world of disparate and relatively isolated peoples, cultures, and regions into a single global village.

What is so extraordinary about this is that for the first time in history all traditions, all cultures, all arts and sciences, of all times and places, are simultaneously appearing before the human collective. All around the world Taekwondo, world music, homeopathy, Peruvian shamanism, and shiatzu massage stare down at us from the same magazine racks that bring us political discussion, portable computers, fashion secrets, and funny cars. Our entire species is being set free of the provincialism of neighborhood, of country, of religion, of race. Who has noticed this? What do they say about it? What is happening to humankind? What are the promises and the perils of this extraordinary new world? What is at risk? What are the pressures upon our native peoples, our animals, our oceans and forests and soils? How and why has humanity thus far failed to accept its spiritual calling, creating instead so many driven, distracted, and increasingly depressed human beings who are unaware that we are surrounded and pervaded by the Ocean of Divine Light? How can the great river of spirit that has produced the sacred life of man ever impact the great issues such as war, poverty, disease, environmental degradation, and injustice that so challenge our collective survival?

What is most hopeful and inspiring in our civilization today? What new developments in the natural and human sciences (from mathematics, biology, and medicine to semiotics, psychology, and anthropology) transcend the archaic views—whether so-called “religious” or “scientific”—that now bedevil and limit these disciplines? How are novel discoveries in the disparate academic disciplines converging upon a vision of Unity that might transform our culture? What is the actual state of the arts? Of the sciences? Of our intimate community life? Of the various faiths themselves?

Above all, who are the real geniuses of the race today? We will of course speak of the leading figures who have found and amplified a sacred thread within the various arts, letters, sciences, and practical endeavors of our species. But we will be most attentive to those most consequential Geniuses of all—the great Dharma-Bearers. These are the men and women of surpassing wisdom and spiritual power who bless us with not only their instructive wisdom but their presence as well. If there is to be any hope for the human collective, we must all be restored to a true appreciation of and genuinely mature relationship to the sacred. Therefore, DharmaCafe™ will, above all, unabashedly recall to public view, advocate, and celebrate these primary sources of serious spiritual practice and cultural renewal.

Although this is indeed the most dangerous and difficult moment in the history of our species, it is also filled with enormous promise. Can we not now begin to see the various manifestations of the sacred as an iridescent, shimmering, complex whole? Can we not now begin to divine common patterns and inner connections between apparently diverse psycho-social investigations, philosophical explorations, spiritual practices, sacred arts, esoteric sciences, and richly complex cultural expressions?  Can we not now begin to appreciate that the sacred has not only yielded us a glorious legacy from the past, but is also giving birth to profound new forms vitally relevant to the present?

DharmaCafe™ is here to give living proof that there is a way out of the nightmare of present history. DharmaCafe™ is here to fulfill the profound need of an intelligent and rapidly growing audience for an independent, authoritative, and reliable guide to the sacred as it manifests itself in all dimensions of life, past and present.  DharmaCafe™ is here to gather and empower the “cultural creatives” who are reaching beyond their inherited ethnic, religious, political, and cultural loyalties toward a means of understanding and engaging all of life in the light of spiritual truth. DharmaCafe™ is here to satisfy our thirst for the profundity of actual spiritual practice and the depths of lived experience rather than the surfaces of doctrines and the superficiality of egocentric personalities.  DharmaCafe™ is here to chronicle humanity’s efforts to embark upon the next stage of its cultural and spiritual evolution. DharmaCafe™ is here to reveal Dharma, the way in which the sacred is lived in all of life and culture.

Dharma comes from the Sanskrit verb-root dhri, meaning “to establish” or “to hold”. It is the form, the order, the logic, the meaning, the duty, the law of things. It is not mere morality or ethics. It comes from within things themselves, joining the sacred to all that appears, and all that appears to the sacred. Dharma is our life’s mirror and guide, the revelation of the way things are and the pathfinder in how to live. Dharma is not something we possess, an idol of self-sufficiency. Rather, Dharma is the Law of life unfolding through the actual process of the cosmos, of our very lives, and most fully revealed and demonstrated by the great men and women who have fulfilled its Law. Dharma is the midwife of our realization of the sacred Reality from which it springs. And Dharma is the realization itself. Dharma is Reality and Reality’s Way.

DharmaCafe™ is the home of the dharmas of man, the living expressions of the sacred in all times and places. DharmaCafe™ is the gathering place for those who must actually live their dharma, not merely talk about it. As such, DharmaCafe™ is necessarily the place where many will for the first time in their lives truly hear and respond to the perennial calling of the spirit itself.

DharmaCafe™ fulfills humankind’s craving for a new vision that is openly but playfully alchemical, if by “alchemy” we understand the crossing of established boundaries between the spiritual and the everyday. It will bring fresh intelligence to established categories of our often ritualized cultural discourse (whether it be the apparent split between East and West or the apparent war between men and women) and dare to issue challenges that a bland ecumenism would find far too risky. In other words, DharmaCafe™ will not be a “safe” magazine; that is, one that is afraid to offend one or another constituency—even its own! Nevertheless, we will always move beyond critique to feature the most benign and compelling forms of life and spiritual realization. We will be especially alert to the ways in which spiritual transcendence has been and can be expressed culturally, and so provide new visions of how our disorganized, entropic society can be calmed, healed, and uplifted by higher forms of life. Thus, DharmaCafe™ will show how the sacred has been and is even today being contacted and expressed in every dimension of life, whether it be in an ashram or a suburb, a bedroom or a boardroom, in the sacred wild or an over-heated metropolis. While such a vision must freely avail itself of a decidedly modern critical intelligence, it must also unabashedly celebrate the highest and most compelling expressions of the sacred in spirituality, the arts, sciences, politics, psychology, business, health, and so on.

In DharmaCafe™ Beethoven will live alongside John Coltrane, and they will both tip their hats to the great ragas of Indian classical music and the trance-dance music of today’s raving young. Here the new Einstein’s of zero-point energy physics will converse with ancient yogic seers like Patanjali. Here our faith in popular democracy will pay homage to the political genius of Confucian China and Moghul India. Here our magnetic resonant imaging machines will bow before the incredible perspicacity of the Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese doctor. Here artists and entertainers and politicians and healers and scientists and humanitarian activists will confess their actual experience of life and spirit. Here the childish taboos and adolescent ironies that continue to restrict our free, intelligent, and responsible investigation of the total spectrum of human life will be publicly unmasked. Here the towering spiritual giants who are our planet’s most enduring treasure—the great Dharma-Bearers themselves—will speak with crystal clarity. (They have always been waiting to speak to all of us. Now the time has come for them to speak to one another.)

DharmaCafe™ is that free, attentive space in which all areas of experience and knowledge are open to evaluation and discussion. It is a lively place of interaction and dissemination where humanity’s most striking and enduring revelations of essential truth are finally given their proper forum. In DharmaCafe™ the genuinely sacred life and wisdom of all cultures will enter into free and mutual dialogue in a manner that seeks not to fascinate or console but rather to enlarge and ennoble our vision of our great adventure in both life and spirit.

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