Saturday, December 12, 2015


"Art loves chance and chance loves art." 
-Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics, VI) --see Classical Wisdom Weekly

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Drug Fueling Syria's Bloody War

Sometimes what seems an obscure subject for a novel turns out to be strangely prescient. 
Five years ago I began writing a thriller called The Assassin Lotus about a present-day search through central Asia for the legendary elixir, soma. In the ancient Vedic hymns of India and the ancient Zoroastrian texts of Persia, the plant-derived drug was praised as a god, and was used by armies of marauding Aryan warriors to prepare themselves for battle. Soma was found to dissipate fear and give fighting men great courage. 

At the time I wrote the story, ISIS was not even a blip on the radar. Now news stories are pouring in about "the drug that's fueling Syria's bloody war."
Called Captagon, it is taken by Syrian militants who say it eliminates fear and fatigue, and "gives you great courage and power." 

Is Captagon a contemporary version of soma? Effects described by the militants seem identical to those described in the ancient Vedic hymns. An amphetamine, Captagon "stimulates the central nervous system, increasing alertness, boosting concentration and physical performance, and providing a feeling of well-being." 

This last effect, often described as a "euphoria," may seem inimical to war-fighting. Yet this is the effect that is most elaborately praised in the ancient soma texts. A feeling of euphoria, of bliss and unity, of oneness with the Divine--these were the most treasured of the ancient elixir's gifts. 

The Assassin Lotus explores the idea that soma not only gave courage to warriors, but that it gave insight into the source of courage itself.

Making permanent that inner state of fearless transcendence became the Holy Grail of India's first mystics, the yogic researchers who eventually developed many of the meditation practices still in use today. 

As Lord Krishna explained to the warrior Arjuna on the battlefield in the Bhagavad GIta, the field of war is only a hair's breadth away from the field of the divine Absolute. We can only hope the Syrians will tire of the first and finally give themselves over to the latter. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Altered States

"To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see over-all patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or, at least, the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves, whether with telescopes and microscopes and our ever-burgeoning technology, or in states of mind that allow us to travel to other worlds, to rise above our immediate surroundings."
- the late Oliver Sacks on "ALTERED STATES"

Monday, November 23, 2015

Amazing tree sculpture by Kim Beaton. The 12-foot tall tree troll was inspired by her late father, a lumberjack from Montana. (via Pascal Mouawad.)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

I sometimes feel this way about non-fiction books...
(from the great Harry Bliss)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Labyrinth of Dreams

Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid by Johannes Vermeer
"For the most part...we pass our lives amid shadows and light, illusions and revelations, uncertain of what to believe or where to turn our gaze. Those who have entirely lost the ability to see the transcendent reality that shows itself in all things, and who refuse to seek it out or even to believe the search a meaningful one, have confined themselves for now within an illusory world, and wander in a labyrinth of dreams. Those others, however, who are still able to see the truth that shines in and through and beyond the world of ordinary experience, and who know that nature is in its every aspect the gift of the supernatural, and who understand that God is that absolute reality in whom, in every moment, they live and move and have their being--they are awake."
~from THE EXPERIENCE OF GOD - Being, Consciousness, Bliss by Eastern Orthodox theologian/philosopher David Bentley Hart

Friday, October 2, 2015

Oregon's Hero

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” 
~Ambrose Redmoon
30-year-old Chris Mintz, the student and Army vet who was shot at least five times during an effort to warn others.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response

“Although we read with our minds, the seat of artistic delight is between the shoulder blades. That little shiver behind is quite certainly the highest form of emotion that humanity has attained when evolving pure art and pure science. Let us worship the spine and its tingle.”

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Zen and the Art of Bravery

Rereading Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle MaintenanceI find it no longer has the hold on me that it did when I read it as a college student back in the mid-1970s (it was a huge bestseller). The story between the father and the son now seems even more of a bore than the first time out. But I noticed that the climax of Phaedrus's philosophical quest (for me the more interesting part of the novel) revealed a connection between the Hindus and the ancient Greeks that parallels the East-West connection in my book, The Assassin Lotus.

In Zen and the Art, Phaedrus comes across an interesting passage from Kitto's history, The Greeks:
"What moves the Greek warrior to deeds of not a sense of duty as we understand it--duty towards others: it is rather duty towards himself. He strives after that which we translate 'virtue' but is in Greek arete, 'excellence.'"
Excellence. To excel. To surpass. To reach beyond one's uttermost limits. Pirsig continues:
"Phaedrus is the description of the motive of "duty toward self" which is an almost exact translation of the Sanskrit word, dharma... Can the dharma of the Hindus and the "virtue" of the ancient Greeks be identical?"
This mirrors exactly what's in play for Jack Duran in a crucial chapter late in The Assassin Lotus ("What You Have To Do"). Jack is alone in the desert, heading toward a confrontation with a killer, wondering what is driving him to put his life at risk.
"Do what you have to do, resolutely..The path seemed to tug me like the current of a river. Before I was even aware of it I was trudging ahead on the trail. Why did it seem I had no choice? What was it kept me going? Honor? Pride? Ego? Or dharma, duty, selflessness. Submitting to the will of God. Acceptance of my fate. I was on that dharma road connecting East and West. Assert the self? Surrender the self? It seemed I must do both. My heart insisted on it."
Dharma. Arete. Duty toward self. Is this not the best answer to the question, What is courage? Is this not why we find acts of bravery so inspiring? Think of those three young Americans who stopped the train attack in France. Why did their action lift our hearts and bring a tear to our eyes? 
Here's why. Because they honored their duty as men. Because they embodied the noblest of virtues. Because they reached beyond themselves. Because they epitomize excellence.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Safety in Numbers

A man in a powdered wig explains the "modern" Middle East:

“If there were only one religion in England, one would have to fear despotism; if there were two, they would cut each other’s throats; but they have thirty, and they live happy and in peace.”
 Voltaire (1694-1778), Philosophical Letters

Thursday, July 30, 2015


"It's a great life, if you don't weaken." 
~John Buchan, Scottish novelist (1849-1940) 
Buchan called adventure thrillers ‘shockers’: “the romance where the incidents defy the probabilities, and march just inside the borders of the possible.”

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Camille Paglia on "Sneering" Atheists

"I’m speaking here as an atheist. I don’t believe there is a God, but I respect every religion deeply. All the great world religions contain a complex system of beliefs regarding the nature of the universe and human life that is far more profound than anything that liberalism has produced. We have a whole generation of young people who are clinging to politics and to politicized visions of sexuality for their belief system.  They see nothing but politics, but politics is tiny.  Politics applies only to society. There is a huge metaphysical realm out there that involves the eternal principles of life and death. The great tragic texts, including the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles, no longer have the central status they once had in education, because we have steadily moved away from the heritage of western civilization.
"The real problem is a lack of knowledge of religion as well as a lack of respect for religion. I find it completely hypocritical for people in academe or the media to demand understanding of Muslim beliefs and yet be so derisive and dismissive of the devout Christian beliefs of Southern conservatives.
"But yes, the sneering is ridiculous!  Exactly what are these people offering in place of religion? In my system, I offer art–and the whole history of spiritual commentary on the universe. There’s a tremendous body of nondenominational insight into human life that used to be called cosmic consciousness.  It has to be remembered that my generation in college during the 1960s was suffused with Buddhism, which came from the 1950s beatniks. Hinduism was in the air from every direction–you had the Beatles and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Ravi Shankar at Monterey, and there were sitars everywhere in rock music. So I really thought we were entering this great period of religious syncretism, where the religions of the world were going to merge. But all of a sudden, it disappeared!  The Asian religions vanished–and I really feel sorry for young people growing up in this very shallow environment where they’re peppered with images from mass media at a particularly debased stage."
Read the whole interview at Salon HERE.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Terrific new review of THE ASSASSIN LOTUS


In Angsten’s (Night of the Furies, 2008, etc.) latest thriller, an American living in Italy searches for his brother and the sacred, much-desired lotus before a team of assassins can find them.

Jack Duran’s relatively quiet life as a tour guide in Rome takes a drastic turn when someone tries to kill him. A few someones, actually, who want to know about the lotus flower Jack’s paleoethnobotanist brother, Dan, sent him. Jack doesn’t know why several factions, including the U.S. Diplomatic Security Service, are interested in the lotus, but they’re sure he knows where Dan is. He doesn’t, but with a group of Iranian assassins on his tail, he decides to hunt for his brother, beginning in Turkmenistan. Jack and his brother’s girlfriend, Dutch archaeologist Phoebe Auerbach (with whom Jack was once infatuated), reconnect to track down Dan and the lotus—if they can stay alive long enough. Angsten certainly knows how to kick-start his story: Jack is on a date with mysterious Maya, unaware he’s being followed by at least two unknown parties. Angsten further establishes suspense right away with one assassin in particular, Vanitar, who blames Jack for his brother’s death and is fueled by vengeance. The book is rife with nail-biting tension, as when Jack must duck into an airport restroom before even getting out of Rome, before his and Phoebe’s search takes them inside a dark crypt. The action rarely stops. Jack (and eventually Phoebe) bounces all over Central Asia while traveling by plane, train, boat, and car. He’s also chased by professional killers, hotel security, and police in a variety of places, from a hospital to the desert. Love connections—between Jack and Phoebe as well as Dan and Phoebe—are teased, but Dan, his fate uncertain, isn’t around to ignite potential melodrama. On occasion, Angsten threatens to saturate the plot with detail—the purpose of the lotus, for example, is fairly simple and explained a bit too often—but these discussions among Jack and others are never tedious, since it’s only a matter of time before they’re back to evading murderous baddies.
Angsten hits all the genre highlights—action, suspense, mystery—in this worthwhile thriller.

Sunday, July 5, 2015


“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.”  ~Carl Jung

Monday, June 29, 2015

Discovered: A Major Myth Miner

Just received this fabulous Buddha print from digital/mixed media artist Christopher Beikmann of Tijeras, New Mexico. Called "Rhythm of My Mind, it's a metal print image, incredibly luminous and vivid, exuding a peaceful calm amid a cascade of vibrant patterns.  
Beikmann's artworks focus on spirituality, mythology, and ancient cultural tradtions. He has an incredible eye and a playful touch, creating striking images simultaneously ancient and modern. 
Much of his work can be viewed online at Fusion Idol Studios, and his images can be found on everything from phone cases to throw pillows at Da Vinci

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

From the "Some Things Never Change" File

In The Assassin Lotus, the Muslim conquest of the Silk Road Buddhist kingdom of Khotan is recounted in a poem by the 11th century Turkish scholar Mahmud al-Kashgari:

"Like river torrents,
We flooded their cities,
We captured their monasteries,
And shat on their statues of the Buddha." 

A thousand years later they're at it again, most recently destroying Sufi and Shiite mausoleums in the ancient Silk Road city of Palmyra.

A photo released on Monday by a militant website shows the wreckage of one of two mausoleums that were destroyed by Islamic State militants in the historic town of Palmyra, Syria. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Friday, June 19, 2015

Desperately Seeking Soma

Soma was conceived to be a divine presence dwelling within a psychoactive substance of the same name, which was consumed by humans and deities before battle and at the end of ritual celebrations. Perhaps it was soma that inspired the early Hindu seers to probe deeper into the nature of reality.”  ~Todd T. Lewis,  Buddhism 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The True Drama

"The true drama, and especially the tragedy, calls for the hero to exercise will, to create, in front of us, on the stage, his or her own character, the strength to continue. It is her striving to understand, to correctly assess, to face her own character (in her choice of battles) that inspires us–and gives the drama power to cleanse and enrich our own character."  
~ David Mamet

Monday, June 15, 2015


"In the strict use of the mandala, there is a central point or focus within the symbol from which radiates a symmetrical design. This suggests there is a center within each one of us to which everything is related, by which everything is ordered, and which is itself a source of energy and power. Virtually every spiritual and religious system known to man asserts the reality of such an inner center. The Romans worshiped it as the genius within. The Greeks called it the inner daemon. Christian religions speak about the soul and the Christ within. In psychology we speak of the Higher Self." ~MIchael H. Brown (

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Truth Stands Invincible"

It seems the national motto of India applies to the famous Buddha statues of Bamiyan:
"The Taliban thought it had destroyed one of the world's wonders, the monumental Buddha statues of the Bamiyan Valley. But the Buddhas shine again in the towering cutouts in the mountainside where they stood for centuries. They are back, thanks to 3-D light projection. And they look great."
Read the whole story HERE.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Best and the Worst in Us

In his book, The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain, neurologist Kevin Nelson, M.D. describes the dual nature of the spiritual experience:
"It is sometimes impossible to tell where the healthy spirituality of the sage ends and spiritual psychosis begins. [...] We are all too aware today of the power of spiritual experience to do harm, as we watch people blow themselves--and others--up in the name of God. [...] The spiritual can be urgent and propulsive--spiritual truth has often come to be a matter of life and death. When we feel we connect with something larger than ourselves, we are willing to sacrifice our small selves to that something that we feel, that we know, is greater. This impulse can drive us to reach out to our fellow man in ways that are noble, inspiring, and even heroic. But it can also lead to intolerance and folly. In short, spiritual experiences bring out the best and worst in us."

Sunday, May 31, 2015


THE ASSASSIN LOTUS is an adventure thriller involving the rediscovery of a long-lost elixir called soma, much praised in the ancient sacred texts of both India and Persia. As Wikipedia explains:
"Soma (Sanskrit: सोम sóma), or Haoma (Avestan), from Proto-Indo-Iranian *sauma-, was a Vedic ritual drink[1] of importance among the early Indo-Iranians, and the subsequent greater Indian and greater Persian cultures. It is frequently mentioned in the Rigveda, whose Soma Mandala contains 114 hymns, many praising its energizing qualities. In the [Persian] Avesta, Haoma has the entire Yašt 20 and Yasna 9-11 dedicated to it.
"It is described as being prepared by extracting juice from the stalks of a certain plant. In both Hindu and Zoroastrian tradition, the name of the drink and the plant are the same, and also personified as a divinity, the three forming a religious or mythological unity.
Indra, god of war
"There has been much speculation concerning what is most likely to have been the identity of the original plantSoma is associated with the warrior-god Indra and appears to have been drunk before battle. For these reasons, there are stimulant (amphetamine-like) plants as well as entheogenic plants among the candidates that have been suggested. [However,] there is no consensus on the question..."
THE ASSASSIN LOTUS presents a possible theory of the soma plant's identity, and asserts that it played a central role in the origins of Hinduism and Buddhism. The insights soma offered into human consciousness may have been what triggered the ancient warriors' turning inward, eventually leading to the meditation and yoga practices still widely used today. Soma's hidden history would seem to suggest that warriors and mystics share a talent for transcendence, that courage in battle and peace of mind may share the same deep source.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Foundation

Acropolis by Leo von Klenze
"Make up your minds that happiness depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous."
~ Pericles, funeral oration, 431BC

Saturday, May 23, 2015


ISIS now controls this famous oasis city of the Silk Road. How long before they bulldoze the spectacular ancient ruins?

Monday, May 11, 2015


“Fear is a kind of pain, an anticipative pain, like the ‘ache’ of desire. It brings energy, intensity, strength. In a way, you might say it’s the source of courage.” ~Anand Pandava, the Indian intelligence agent in THE ASSASSIN LOTUS
"When we find ourselves under intense pressure, fear unleashes reserves of energy that normally remain inaccessible. With the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis fully activated, our bodies and brains can utilize their resources so fully that we become, in effect, superhuman."
~Jeff Wise, EXTREME FEAR, The Science of Your Mind in Danger

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Act Brave, Be Brave

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)
"There were all kinds of things of which I was afraid at first. But by acting as if I was not afraid, I gradually ceased to be afraid. Most men can have the same experience."  ~T.R.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Best Laughter

John Huston, Orson Welles, Peter Bogdanovich
"There is a laughter that goes so far as to lose touch with its motive and to exist only, grossly, in itself. This is laughter at its best."  
~Max Beerbohm