'Kalika-Khenmetaten, The Supreme Egyptian Adept' by M.G. Hawking
From the Chapter: Revelations from Our Work on Translations
Light snow has been falling for a week, but today dawns crystal clear. Sari is snuggled against me, sleeping soundly. I leave her soft warmth and slip from the house to walk in muted morning light. The lake is turquoise glass—not a ripple mars its surface—the enormous Himalayan snow peaks and forest reflect with precision, a vast mirror of a vast panorama, an illusion of an illusion.
Through the rigid winter months we have been laboring diligently on the translations of Kalika’s manuscript, The Golden Crown, starting early and often working late into the night. Thanks to our talented group, it has gone well.
I have in my life undertaken many difficult tasks, but nothing that approaches this project. Every page of Kalika’s text invokes a dozen questions of translation and interpretation. Her manuscript was written 3300 years ago; as with any translation from the ancient language of an ancient culture, problems abound. When a violin repeats what a piano has just played, it cannot make the same sounds, it can only approximate the same chords. It can, however, make relatively recognizable the same pattern of notes, the same air. As language too is an instrument, the process of rendering from one language to another language is far better conceived as a transposition than a translation, for translation implies a word-for-word equivalency that absolutely does not exist across language boundaries any more than piano sounds exist in the violin.
Moreover, the concept of word-for-word equivalents is false to the nature of high philosophic expression, which consists not so much of words but of word-complexes, elaborate structures involving, among other things, symbolisms, analogies, denotations, connotations, relations, juxtapositions, and echoes of the tradition from which the speaker is relating. It is troublesome in common expressions and exceedingly difficult in philosophic elucidation to juggle such a complex across the barrier of the widely differing languages, one ancient, the other modern.
Despite the fact that precise meanings are veiled and every sentence is a hypothesis, we press on, deeply intrigued by Kalika and the emergence of brilliant passages. Her words have touched all of us somewhere, and some of us everywhere.
Sambhava’s commentary presents far fewer problems, thankfully, and reveals a rich and fascinating picture of Kalika. Her origin unfortunately eludes us; though she was clearly a child of high degree, we hear nothing of her apparently noble or perhaps even royal lineage, only that she was raised in the royal court. Though separated in time from Kalika by over two-thousand-one-hundred years, Sambhava writes as if he personally observed her from youth, so intimate is the portrait.
The young Kalika was utterly unpretentious, insisting on living as much as possible out of doors; she majored in running, romping, swimming, sailing; ate simple food, wore simple clothing and altogether eschewed shoes. She did not relish traditional education; she disliked writing and fled from the difficulties of formal hieroglyphs. She quickly recognized the charms of reading, and read all the volumes of Thoth (Egyptian god of magic) as her bible. The portrait that emerges is of a young woman who was, like Shelly’s wild-west wind, “tameless and swift and proud.”
Showing astonishing abilities by the age of twelve, the young Kalika was summoned to live in a remote sanctuary of the Egyptian high adepts. She convinced the Queen to refuse the bid. Instead, a succession of adepts came to the royal palace to tutor her. She readily absorbed their knowledge, but would have nothing to do with the Egyptian orthodox religion, priesthood, or their “zoological pantheon of absurdities,” as she called it. By the age of nineteen she had surpassed the capacity of her mentors, whom she often vexed by whimsically manifesting a variety of animals in their presence, a feat they found themselves unable to equal. A teacher of greater capacity was invited from “a land of grand mountains, due east a great distance from the palace.” (Interestingly, Thebes lies at about 28 degrees latitude, the Great Range of the Himalaya between 26 and 27 degrees, i.e., due east of Thebes.)
Although surrounded by one of the most opulent royal courts of all history, she disdained its luxuries, pomp and circumstance. She engaged an architect of the realm to construct a small dwelling on the grounds of the royal residence, and later another fronting a lake or harbor within the grounds of the Malkata compound. She was rarely seen at court. Sambhava tells us that she was granted, or usurped, freedom to travel as she wished. This, he feels, was a turning point in her development. She explored all Egypt, up and down the great expanse of the Nile, traveling with minimal escort and no outward indication of her status.
As the translation of Kalika’s text proceeded, what emerged was quite different than what we expected. The text can be roughly sectioned into three parts. The first consists of stories and insights on a wide range of themes; the second details the specific portions of higher knowledge she felt most relevant and valuable; the third tells of her experiences while endeavoring to introduce this knowledge to a selection of individuals.
Kalika's style is delightful; natural, intimate, vivid, confidential. It is a comfort to be spoken to so familiarly by a master. Jump in at any point in her narrative and you are caught by the arm and swept along, never knowing, and rarely caring, where you will go. In the early section she writes on an eclectic selection of topics; anything that strikes her fancy or mood flows from her pen, including scores of illuminating anecdotes that transform the abstract into the intelligible. The farther our work progressed, the greater our realization that this was no little brook that flowed from Egypt, but a mighty river.
The enkindling light of an exceptional intellect is everywhere apparent. “Consciousness,” she writes, “is the substance of the universe, that by which and in which all reality has its being and subsistence; it is the infinite energy of the universe. The principals are the basic means of understanding the operative relations which constitute the infinite complex of things, their entire essence and truth.”
Kalika asserts that “if the foundation of your understanding is lacking, your empirical observations are worthless; inquiry has no other aim than to identify principals; if this goal does not enter your course, your inquiries will progress into infinite irresolution. If perception from our sensory and intellectual faculties is received without understanding, it does nothing but float on illusions, and it is of no purpose to let our judgment be swayed by any part of its operation. Each mystery, when solved without understanding, will only reveal a deeper mystery, like an inscrutable maze of infinite extent.”
Here, philosophy becomes literature, not with the cool pithiness of Bacon, nor with the ingratiating intimacy of Descartes, nor with the high emotional tones of Pascal, but rather like Sextus and Voltaire, she writes philosophy so brilliantly that no one supposes she is writing philosophy.
"What you know to be true exists for you, and will manifest in your experience. The more your beliefs align with and so reflect true knowledge, the more powerful you become. To arrive at the place of knowing the truly unlimited power of your being, of your true self, requires the transcendence of the intellectual, logical, rational processes of your mind, which are based upon the vast input of indoctrination and conditioning imposed by our culture, religion and society. Such knowing is arrived at only by experience, and that experience can only manifest when you have managed to escape, to some extent, from your conditioning of limitation.”
Kalika reveals herself with candor and felicity; she has an artist's inevitable vanity, but so amenably that it hardly offends, and she often displays a disarming modesty. “I speak my mind clearly on all these principals, even those which may exceed my understanding, hence the opinion I give of them is a measure of my perception, not of the principals themselves.” (This reminds me of Diogenes, who, when reproached for meddling in philosophy, although ignorant of it, replied, “I meddle in it all the more appropriately.”)
Kalika is quite capable of sewing dragon's teeth. “Through our wondrous history the Egyptian people have been presented with a variety of gods; once their political utility was discovered, they became innumerable. Yet the oscillation of any god's fame is precarious, being subject to the wild vicissitudes of taste, and most are now too dead to mind anonymity. How clear can this be?—the ancient faith is false at the bottom and diseased at the top. The deification of powerful priests reveals not how much the priestly classes think of their leaders, but of how little they think of their gods.
“What then are all these gods? The creations of ignorance and fear and the seeking of power; absurd nothings that simple minds adore without knowing why: Gods whom the world of unaware man has made, and who never made the world. Egypt’s priesthood offers this mass of superstition, ritualism, and hypocrisy as religion. Should it not rather be that the body charged with dispensing wisdom begin by being its example?”
The adepts, Kalika tells us, look with “silent contempt” upon this religion of idols. “They tolerate it partly because they are concerned that superstition among the people is essential to their own influence; partly because they believe that superstition is indestructible, dying in one form only to be reborn in another. No man of sense, they feel, will quarrel with a force capable of so many reincarnations.”
Ever straining at the leash of caution, Kalika disdains the empire’s obsession with conquest and occupation of foreign lands. “For though there is drama in the details of strife and war, there is a dreary consistency in its causes and results; such history becomes a menial attendance upon the excesses of power, in which victories and defeats cancel one another into a resounding zero. The greed and desire for glory of a few levies a horrendous toll of death on the many, and the emptied hearts of the defeated weigh upon us all.”
Doubtless Kalika is right in her judgment that feeling, rather than thought or reason, is the lever of history, but her observations alienated many of the nobles and military commanders. Sambhava notes that Merimose (Viceroy of Kush) had a direct retort, delivered personally to Kalika, who had been summoned to the royal court: “You speak of death as if you know it. You know nothing, and death is nothing; but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily. The competition of individuals constitutes nature’s ultimate court, from which there is no appeal.”
Kalika reportedly responded: “If, in our Egypt, nothing exists except individual entities, then what is the state, the priesthood, the military, but conspiracies of privileged individuals, to frighten and control, to rule and tax, to heard to slaughter the indoctrinated rest? How will nature’s court weigh on that?” We are not told the Viceroy replied.
The bulk of the priesthood, some Viziers—Aperel and Ptahmose are cited—and other unnamed members of the royal court resisted Kalika’s work on what was to be The Golden Crown. She responded: “To object to this is to object to any attempt at a humanized synthesis of adeptic knowledge. I strongly believe that synthesis is needed; that the highly specialized adepts should welcome any sincere effort to bring portions of their traditions and results of their studies to light. In the solitude of their retreats and under the protection of their unintelligibility they are invisible to the people. We must labor together lest the higher knowledge remain the technical privilege and power of a few individuals isolated from the people of Egypt.”
In a royal burst of common sense, Kalika’s all-powerful patron Amenhotep III ordered the priesthood and nobility to refrain from any public mention of Kalika, and, in a personal audience, forced the priests to defend their resistance. They argued that such knowledge was meaningless to the common people, that the true nature of reality was incomprehensible to them, and that the orthodox religion was sufficient for their needs.
Kalika replied, “My intent is not to explain what ultimate reality is, for that would be to transform mortal imagination and speculation into doctrine and dogma, which already overwhelms our people. My task is rather to explain what can be said about the creation of the experience of reality, in every aspect from everyday life to the deepest meditations, and how that experience can be utterly transformed into one of peace and happiness.”
It is here that we come to her central motivation and essential reason for writing. Her travels exposed her to every niche and strata of Egyptian society, every common class from artesian to slave. Kalika was at once engrossed and appalled by the state of the people. “Faced with a reality they believe to be true, men have been what they have had to be. They seem capable of strength and honor, but most frequently manifest weakness and ignobility. I have observed an accumulative cruelty in groups of men, though none in particular are ill-natured. They gamble and cheat and lie with no hesitation; these are considered such mild vices as to verge on virtue. Can they not see that money and power are symbols of reality, not pieces of it?
“There is a code implied by their religion, yet honored only in the breach, it wins new praise with every violation. It is an empty religion, and teaches our people nothing of real value. Without knowledge of their true selves, there is no progress. That which is useless in governing one’s own self, or in comprehending truth, is meaningless. Learning must be active and living; learning must not be mere dead theory or speculation. If apart from the principals of consciousness one hopes to find the way, it is like trying to catch the wind. Those who know the way apply it in their daily life, with each and every thought they think. And what of those that live without that knowledge? At the end of each day they exhaust another empty cycle, and at the end of days exhaust an empty life. Yet I believe that man is as capable of all things as he is of any.”
Understanding that sympathy validates suffering, she offers none; she rather prefers the empathy that allows insight and gentle correction. "Now then, the aspiration for a life filled with happiness, joy, peace, fulfillment, harmony, love; happiness rather than sorrow, joy rather than pain, peace rather than chaos, fulfillment rather than frustration, harmony rather than conflict, love rather than fear.
“Happiness is your natural birthright. Why then are so many unhappy? Unhappiness is a disordered state of mind; happiness is an ordered state of mind; there are many more disordered states than ordered states. You dwell in a disordered state by default and conditioning; you achieve ordered states by process of mind; each condition, event, situation, form and person is brought into your life by your thoughts and the images in your mind’s eye, which in turn arise from your deepest beliefs. The secrets of happiness are awareness and action, the exercise of energy in a way suited to a man’s nature and circumstances.”
She expresses her thesis with brilliant fancy. “Each man is already a prince, each woman a princess; they need only to bring that recognition into awareness to realize their inherent ability. The absolute prerequisite for the acquisition and manifestation of intuitive knowledge and direct power is the awareness that such knowledge and power are available.”
In a particularly unctuous note, the nobles, who utilized portions of exactly that knowledge to create great wealth and comfort, objected to the “turbulent and quarrelsome rabble gaining any ability to understand the greater principals of life, for such knowledge would lead to excessive freedom. Faith in the perfectibility of mankind is a childish delusion. Individual freedom contains its own nemesis; it tends to increase until it overruns the restraints necessary for social order and group survival; freedom unlimited is chaos complete.”
Kalika held ground. “Your words, your beliefs, even your morals, are prejudices, and represent your conditioning and interests as a group. You cannot forever hide the truth; you cannot hide the reality that there is a common reason in all intelligent beings, one spirit that pervades all things, one substance, one law, one truth. If all men realize this unity, the strong will no longer make prey of the weak, the many will no longer plunder the few, the rich will no longer despoil the poor, the noble will no longer be insolent to the mean, and the deceitful will no longer impose upon the simple.”
Clearly, the priests and nobles found it easier to criticize her than equal her. Kalika’s courage brings to mind an observation from Aristippus, that the most impressive spectacle in life is the sight of a virtuous person steadily pursuing his or her course in the midst of vicious people.
There are some arid tracts, including a section that might be called "Ode to Cats," wherein she expounds rhapsodically on the grace and beauty of such creatures, and ascribes to them a host of mystical and magical powers. Cats, we are assured, have the capacity to see beyond the physical, and to read thoughts. (Puka the cat, a persistent, lounging fixture on our work table, seems to approve of this passage.)
And we are as capable of magic as cats. Kalika writes, “The world around us is a production of pure magic, a magnificent illusion. It appears to us as real because we are as much a part of the illusion as everything else. In fact, it is we who are the master magicians, as it is we who are the creators of the illusion.”
Magic may not have been enough for what Kalika wished to accomplish. Her chronicle of experiences in teaching higher knowledge is in equal parts riveting and heart-rending. She candidly reports that years of effort yielded only infrequent results. In brief, she found that the deeply ingrained beliefs and presuppositions present in those she taught constituted a formidable barrier to learning.
She explains: “Beliefs of the nature of life and the world give rise to repetitive patterns of thought and consistent pictures in the inner eye of the mind; because those patterns of thought and inner images create the nature of life and the world each person encounters, each person perceives endless proofs that their views of life and the world are accurate and so inalterable. Their beliefs created their life, yet they imagine that life created their beliefs. The horse pulling the chariot becomes to them the chariot pulling the horse. This inversion can be impenetrable.”
To overcome this barrier, Kalika utilizes techniques designed to expand awareness. She demands meditation, which she calls "breaking through the walls of the mind's room." She sees consciousness as space and mind as a room in that space; remove the walls and the enclosed space is still there, but joined to all the rest of space, or the “All.” She speaks of “power practices,” specifically affirmation and visualization, for which she gives concise instructions. The result of these practices, she insists, will be dramatic if properly done. Then, “the observation and analysis of positive results can be used in the building of a new belief structure.”
Though mysteries abound, Kalika’s writings reveal her character—refined and delicate, at once diffident and resolute, yielding and tenacious, a woman of thought learning to be a woman of action.
Kalika’s extraordinary genius, at a time before it was possible to write a full account of what was known, wrote one of what was necessary to learn. She labored to naturalize the supernatural, marking in mortal words immortal things, often with charming whimsicality. The final sentence of her text reads: “There are no secrets except the secrets that keep themselves—the world is in continuous creation, and the sources of that creation are the secrets.”
Viewed even through the prism of translation, Kalika’s observations clearly contrasted with the Egyptian nobles’ philosophical view of the realist’s subordination of the self to reality, and firmly adhered to the adeptic’s idealist subordination of reality to the self. Like all the profound wisdom traditions, I am certain that, in the Western world, a true understanding of Kalika’s philosophical meaning would be obscured by the preemption of the word ideal for excellence, and by the Western habit, in an age of science and industry, of thinking of things perceived, and not at all of the process of perception itself. The opposite attitudes competed in Greek philosophy, where Democritus took atoms as his starting point and Plato took ideas. In modern philosophy, Bacon stressed knowledge of the world, Descartes began with the thinking self, Hobbs reduced everything to matter, Berkeley to mind.
Kant began a revolution in thought by recognizing that we can never objectively know what objects are, since we know them only as changed by the processes of perception into our ideas. Philosophical “idealism” is thus the concept that nothing is known to us except ideas, and that therefore matter is a form of mind. What could be more idealistic in nature, more accurate, and more incomprehensible to the Western world?
In sum, although she contrived no formal structure in which to imprison a universe that seems to escape every formula, Kalika’s wisdom system devised a holistic view of man, brought philosophy to consciousness and order, and considered with intuitive reason all the problems of life; it stood to emancipate the educated classes from ecclesiasticism and superstition, and to establish a morality independent of supernatural aid. Kalika recognized that the intellect is not useless; it has its modest place, and serves us well when it deals with relations and things, but how greatly it falters before the eternal, the infinite, the ultimately real. Perhaps most importantly, Kalika conceived of man as a creative force in nature rather than a by-product; it gave him true liberty and an unparalleled measure of mental and creative freedoms.
In retrospect, Kalika mythologized herself before anyone else had the chance. It is not difficult to understand why Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV become history and Kalika became an arcane legend. She recognized that the noblest passion of any age is the betterment of life through the extension of knowledge. Yet, in the time of writing The Golden Crown, like Leonard and Augustus, she thought that she had failed. We know now that she did not.
This excerpt is protected under the laws of the United States of America, the Republic of Nepal, and the Tibet Autonomous Region. Copyright © 2014. Wisdom Masters Press. All rights reserved worldwide.