Reality, when it doesn't bite
By Alli Marshall on 03/09/2005 02:00 PM
"It's important to learn the principles Nathaniel teaches," explains a character in Dr. Michael Mamas' new book, The Golden Frog (1st World Publishing, 2004).
"But what's most important about Nathaniel's teachings can't be boiled down to a handful of facts or concepts," the rationale continues. "It's more about the effect those teachings have on you."
Which could also be said of Mamas' teachings -- and to some extent, that's the point.
Mamas is the founder of the Surya Program and the CEO of the Center of Rational Spirituality (created, as the center's Web site notes, "to facilitate the natural development of human consciousness ... through rational spiritual thought and practice, regardless of philosophical, religious, cultural, racial, political, or social identities").
The program is designed for spiritual seekers who want to discover their potential through meditation, retreats and lectures.
He also shares a good deal in common with Frog's teacher-figure, Nathaniel. Both grew up in Ohio. Both started their careers as physicists, then became veterinarians, then chucked it all to travel to exotic locales and study with gurus. Both practice Surya meditation, became spiritual teachers, and relocated to Asheville to set up a retreat center.
But, despite these autobiographical touches, Frog is a work of fiction.
"What appeals to us about sci-fi is when they have implications or takeoffs we assume could be true," Mamas said during an interview at his Asheville-area home. "I wrote [[i]Frog[/i]] thinking, 'What if we take all the world's religions and assume they all have a common thread?'"
Of course, this isn't readily apparent. The book starts out with a series of anecdotes about young boys growing up in a suburban neighborhood. They're relayed by Bruce, who attests to the sometimes strange behaviors of his best friend's brother, Nathaniel. As the story continues, Bruce and Nathaniel remain close, with Bruce witnessing -- albeit skeptically -- Nathaniel's deepening spirituality.
"You can read it on different levels," the author insists. "For some people, it's just a nice story. Other people read it for the story and realize there's something more. I wrote it that way intentionally."
He gazes out across his mountaintop view -- much the way Nathaniel often does in the book -- before continuing, "The readers can pull out multiple realities."
The truth will set you free ... dammit
Those multiple realities begin with Frog's characters. Though the story line revolves around Nathaniel, his personal journey and, later, his teachings, the book is told from Bruce's perspective. And, surprisingly, Bruce isn't one to jump on the bandwagon.
In fact, Bruce is a disbeliever. "Nathaniel was preaching in senseless riddles," he blusters at one point. Another time, he disturbs a lecture to demand, "What about when people interrupt your talks to ask you things I already understand?"
"[Bruce] gives the reader a way out," Mamas notes. "If they thought this was all too weird, they could side with Bruce."
According to the author, Bruce is the perfect example of the bumper sticker, "The truth will set you free ... but first it will piss you off."
"People don't want a new perspective," Mamas muses. "They want their own perspective to be fed."
But the teacher and lecturer sees hope -- sometimes in unlikely places. "I think we're at a great stage in humanity now," he points out. "Every time we change the channel on the remote, we see another reality. That's great. Right now we feel fear, but there's no reason to."
Applying this to religion, he goes on: "Anything that challenges our faith, we feel threatened by. We have a knee-jerk reaction. But the basis to any religion is truth."
It's difficult to talk about Frog without touching on Mamas' larger work, which now includes nationwide talks, retreats, an intentional community (Mount Soma) in Waynesville and the production of a six-part lecture series being filmed for TV. But, despite a growing number of students and elbow-rubbing with Hollywood stars, the author says he remains rooted -- as much as one can be -- in esoteric ideas.
"As Nathaniel says, deep within yourself you already know everything. The teacher's role is to help uncover that. That's a delicate process that can take a long time," he maintains.
Mamas has been speaking internationally for three decades and teaching Surya meditation for 15, but he doesn't consider himself the Western answer to a guru.
"The classic idea of a guru is that somebody goes and dedicates their life to what that [guru] says. Assuming that [guru] is really wise, that could work, but often we've seen that they're not. So, I don't think that's really appropriate anymore.
"The idea of a teacher is more like a college professor -- this person has been studying in this field and has something to teach. This is the rational age: This is not a time for blind devotion."
During a lecture, Nathaniel offers that kind of rational approach to his class: "At the depth of every individual lies a field of unity, the transcendental level of life. That is simply modern physics."
Which is not to say abandon your prayer beads and incense. But, if this is indeed an age of reason, Mamas offers his readers plenty to think about.