R.I.P. Robert Anton Wilson and Douglas Harding, 1/11/07
I was rather stunned to receive the news today that two of my most cherished philosophical and spiritual influences have just died.
Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007) was an American author, philosopher, wiseguy, and all-around mega-genius who co-wrote, along with Robert Shea, the legendary Illuminatus! trilogy that became an instant counterculture classic when it was published in the 1970s. He also wrote a huge number of additional books, both fiction and non-fiction (or perhaps they all fell somewhere in the gray area between those polar distinctions), dealing with consciousness, evolution, mysticism, occultism, conspiracy theories, linguistics, semiotics, self-programming, intelligence increase, life extension, quantum physics, the philosophy of science, space migration, human idiocy, religion, meditation, money, and more. He was one of a kind and will be sorely missed by pretty much everybody. Do a Google search is you’re not familiar with him, and revel in the wealth of material you’ll find. I myself came to him via Illuminatus! when I was in late high school, and I was never the same again. Bob’s been a constant companion ever since. I was pained to read in recent years of his agonizing struggle with post-polio syndrome (he suffered through the disease itself as a boy), but now he’s free of that.
Douglas Harding (1909-2007) was a British philosopher and spiritual teacher whose most famous books are the monumental The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth (1952) and On Having No Head: Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious (1961). He taught a practical, on-the-ground method of spiritual awakening based on the immediate first-person experience of headlessness. From one’s own first-person vantage point, as a matter of immediate personal experience aside from any speculation or abstraction, one manifestly has no head (look for yourself right now and see). From this central truth Douglas developed a philosophy, and just as importantly, a practical method of transmitting its primary experiential realization, that synthesizes and integrates elements of all the world’s great spiritual traditions. He was recognized early on as a genius of startling vision; when he sent the unpublished draft of The Hierarchy of Heaven and Earth to C.S. Lewis, who by that time was already a world celebrity, Lewis wrote back in a letter dated Easter 1950 and raved, “Hang it all, you’ve made me drunk, roaring drunk as I haven’t been on a book (I mean a book of doctrine; imaginative works are another matter) since I first read Bergson during World War I. Who or what are you? How have I lived forty years without my having heard of you before and my sensation is that you have written a book of the highest genius.”
Lewis went on to write the preface for the first published edition of the book. In it he said, “This book is, I believe, the first attempt to reverse a movement of thought which has been going on since the beginning of philosophy. . . . If [this book] should turn out to have been even the remote ancestor of some system which will give us again a credible universe inhabited by credible agents and observers, this will still have been a very important book indeed.”
Douglas’s influence grew in the 1960s and 70s when such prominent figures in the burgeoning countercultural spiritual movement as Alan Watts referred approvingly to his work. I myself encountered him for the first time in the late 1990s through some of his articles and interviews published on the web, and it was like meeting a lifelong friend for the first time.
So to repeat, today, January 11, 2007, saw the departure from this world of Robert Anton Wilson and Douglas Harding. Rest in peace, Bob and Doug. You will be missed.