Interview with Raphael

Wisdom’s Goldenrod Center for Philosophic Studies

April 16, 2000

Interviewer:  Alan Berkowitz

Translator:  Carlo Frua


Also present were Massimo Antonaci and Avery Solomon



Raphael visited Wisdom’s Goldenrod from April 13-16, 2000.  In addition to his talks at the Center, he lectured at Cornell University. 


AB:  Raphael, you have spoken extensively about the importance of a non-dual perspective for spiritual seekers.  In the U.S. there are many people who are interested in different spiritual approaches, but less interest in Vedanta.  So I’m wondering how is this point of view especially important for seekers in the West?

R:  It is important in this Kaliyuga because both the Greater and Lesser Mysteries, the aparavidya and paravidya should be brought totally into manifestation. 

The second point, it is also understandable that a more psychological approach, such as Buddhism, and you can even mention some New Age approaches and so on, has a greater possibility of penetration since they are concerned more with the state, I would say, individuated, of the psychology, of the psychological state of the individual, it is therefore more in adherence, closer to the masses.  The other point is that Advaita Vedanta and also Plato and Plotinus himself, present a metaphysics which is not accessible by everybody.  Even if it is for everybody! 

Also it has to be said that both the Asparsavada of Gaudapada and the Advaita Vedanta of Shankara arrive at an extrema ratio, that the entire manifestation is an appearance.  It does not mean that this is an absolute non-reality.  This vision was already proposed by Parmenides, seen from a traditional perspective.

Furthermore several religions, have insisted very firmly on proselytism. With Advaita and Platonism it is very difficult that they can make proselytes.  All one can do is to propose the doctrine and see whether there is a response.

On the other hand it is necessary to present them because there are people who are actually waiting to receive these traditional metaphysical doctrines.  Not just as doctrine but also as a realizative way of these doctrines.   We have experienced it in Europe.  Undoubtedly on the work that we have done we have received responses.


AB:  So if for instance someone is a Buddhist practitioner or someone is following some other system of thought, is this approach something that could be added or included in the practice they are already doing to take it to another level?

R:   Yes. Well, this would depend on the instructor to make certain things understood and to direct in the right way.


AB:   Raphael mentioned Platonism, and many of us - I use myself as an example -  didn’t know there was any Western philosophic tradition but went to study Buddhism and Hinduism .  How important is it for us Westerners who are interested in Eastern thought to become familiar with our own esoteric tradition?

R:  This would be really very important, very important, because, first of all, one would be able to make understood that also the West has a spirituality of metaphysical order. Also, there are also certain people that in effect, at times, do not have a propensity towards the East, for particular reasons. Furthermore, it would be extremely necessary to get renewed life to the Western tradition, that of superior metaphysical order.

The last great Platonist was Plotinus, although in the 15th century in Italy the Florentine group of Marsilio Ficino gave strong revival to the Platonic tradition. He translated extensively

There is today in Germany in Tubingen a group of people who are proposing again Platonism under the perspective of the non-written doctrines .  Raphael makes a mention of some of these people in the book Initiation into the Philosophy of Plato.  Their merit is to have understood that Plato had also an oral teaching beyond his writings.  Following tradition, Plato had always claimed that the oral teaching is superior to the written one.  In The Seventh Epistle he states it very clearly. 

There is another aspect, that if we were able to bring this tradition from Orpheus to Plotinus and to the present with an interpretation which adheres more to our times, it could create a breakthrough. This is because many people feel the problem of the lack of a Western tradition.

There are two people, husband and wife, who came from France to have an interview with Raphael. And, as Raphael was talking also in Western tradition terms, they were surprised to find that the West had its own tradition, and they were very interested, naturally in this tradition. They want to come back go deeper into the Western tradition that for them is something new.

We have written the Initiation into the Philosophy of Plato, but we have also written a book called The Science of Love - from the sensory desires to the intellectual love.  It’s a road to realization via the Platonic discourse – The Symposium - always in realizative terms.  This is always in line with the endeavor to give new life to the tradition - which is a duty, a dharma pathway of Raphael in this space-time.

At times one does not find the people who are available to cooperate with the Western tradition or the metaphysical tradition generally.  While on the other hand I have the fortune to have met here people who have the predisposition for this.

The one thing I would like to say, if you will allow me, is that it would be important to bring these things into a realizative mode more so than in an intellectual mode.  Because a tradition can be revitalised only if certain things are lived.  Otherwise if it is just at a cultural or intellectual level it there is not the link with the tradition at other levels.  This is very important.  If this transmission is missing it cannot expand; the tradition cannot then come down.


AS:  Two things, to continue this idea of how the unitive tradition Raphael is talking about can be lived.  It seems there are two components.  One, he seems to be speaking of some genuine transmission of the teaching.  And the second is that the student or receiver must have ways or methods to actually bring it - the unitive tradition, non-duality - into their life.  So maybe Raphael could say something about each of those.

R:  The two aspects are in a way one thing. They are two aspects of a single possibility of a single reality.  A transmission takes place either through an initiatic organization because the group attracts this spiritual influence, and naturally then create an organization.  This is more typical in the West.  In the East you have self-realization, auto-realization.  Then that individual is the channel because he has elevated himself or herself to the universal dimension.  This is the true teacher-master.  It is inevitable that if this person elevates him or herself to those levels the tradition or the truth cannot but be pure.

In the West the emphasis is more on the organizational aspect.  We’ve had great initiatic organizations in the Middle Ages in Europe.  In the East an organization is a little more difficult.  It is more the realization of a Guru or Swami, who can then subsequently let the spiritual influence flow through.  Even if a Swami follows one line, for instance the ten lines of Swamis who were created by Shankara - Aranyaka, Puri and so on.  So the greatness of Shankara was not just because he commented the Upanishads, the Bagavadgita and so on but to restore to a new order that chaos that existed in those times. Furthermore at those times there was Mimansa, the Karma Mimansa, that as an aspect the priests had eliminated not only Brahman but also Isvara.  And it would be interesting to study those times and to notice Shankara’s greatness at various levels of organization and expression. He revolutionized a little bit the whole of India.


AB:  So, it seems that in the West there is a unique opportunity to have spiritual communities of seekers which are living the doctrine in such a way that it can bring about a descent or transmission.

R:  Yes.  Because it is missing.  I would say: they’re waiting.

AB:  The higher is waiting for the lower to get aligned with them, for things to get in the right arrangement.

R:  Yes.


AB:  So what are some practices or techniques or efforts that either an individual or a group could undertake to live the teaching in such a way that this descent could come about?

R:  This certainly cannot be said in two words! 

The constitution of each one of them should be first understood, what technique, techniques or the stimulus is best suited to the constitution of each person – as an example, we have mantras.  Though they have to be given, according to each person.  This at the individual level, and very certainly this can be done.  

At the group level the thing is a little different because the group has to have a great humility.  On the one hand it has to be receptive to what influence may be coming from the highest.  On the other hand the group has to be able to re-transmit this influence knowledge to the outside, through writings, in that these writings would have to be permeated by this influx influence.  And there lies the importance of the tradition, and of living the tradition.

The group at this level need not be as numerous as twenty or one hundred people.  Five, six, ten people would be sufficient, with extreme humility, to be these transmitters of the tradition.  And to comprehend which one of the say, ten people is the most direct channel,  that can distribute  this possibility of the influence.  So the various egos of the people would have to be hushed. 

In all these organizations in the East the Swamis the Ashrams and so on, as well as in the West it is inevitable that there should be one person that already has this possibility of the link, or the discussions should not even take place.  Because it is only a question of realizing, it is not a question of discussions of I, mine, yours and so on... 

No, as long as the tradition can emerge and manifest itself the group has to set itself aside.  Nobody should try and lead.  Not even that person that can have the possibility of  the influence.

It is very difficult, maybe, to grasp all of this.  Because undoubtedly it is not a group of social origins order.  It is not a group even spiritual, the way we interpret this word in the West.  It is a group that is setting for itself some very major things.  Very important.  And often it is said that the one who has the privilege of speaking in the name of a tradition has no idea of what can actually evolve.  With much humility Raphael can give some indications to show how the tradition is always living and it has to descend to this level, here where it is missing.

In Italy Raphael has always been alone, up till now.  Still we have sold books, since  from the time we were born as a publishing house, 130,000 books for the entire collection.  We have touched in Italy more than 50,000 people.  We have made understood who Shankara is, that the Advaita Vedanta exists, the Upanishads the ones of Shankara, that the Asparsavada exists, that a Plato that can be realised exists.

For some time we have been expanding in Germany and in Spain.  This is to show how the efforts of just one person with all humility - above all, humility - but that can have this capability of link, can do.


AS:  Are there people in Ashram Vidya or in places like Ashram Vidya who can continue this work when you’re gone?  Is there a core group?

R:  At this moment he has to answer unfortunately not.  Though Raphael has always been sort of secluded a little bit.  In the whole of Italy there are no more than maybe a hundred people that follow Raphael. 

AS:  Raphael is self-realized, while the students of Raphael have two things.  They have Raphael, but they hope to get their own realization too.  When you talk about bringing things to the West...

R:  Laughs.  This would be ideal, if the people around a teacher would become realized.

MA:  All of the work is about that!

R:  The true work of a teacher is always to bring the disciples to that condition.  He has no other goal.

AS:  That would be a good thing for folks to know in the West.  You know in the West the students are always below the teacher.  But in the East there is the idea that, the point of the thing is to bring the students to where the teacher is.

R:  The problem arises when the student maybe reaches a certain level and then in that specific incarnation is not able to progress any further.  For seven or eight years Raphael has been desperately searching for some people who could elevate themselves.  Yes, they follow, they are very active in the sense that they help, they are very wonderful people, but still...

AS:  We have the same problem here.

R:   This is why I find myself in the same family here! Laughs

AB:  And I remember how Ramakrishna would cry to the Divine Mother to send him some disciples.


AB:  One question I wanted to follow is, when a group is trying to serve this purpose, and let’s say people are very busy - they have a family, they have a job, they have activities - what are some practices that are suited to the modern temperament that they could use to help bring about this transformation?  And obviously, some practices are very individual to the person. But in general are there practices which are suited to the modern temperament that Raphael would recommend?

R:  This is very achievable.  It is important, the consciential position of the individual.  It is obvious that a minimal amount of realization is a premise. But certainly the two aspects can be reconciled.

Then there is also, this is to be said.  If a group of two to three people can elevate themselves to a certain level.  Something really extraordinary happens: that this influence comes down and it solves many problems. 

An example. We have a publishing group.  There are eight people, very few people.  They’ve left their jobs.  They have a modest pension.  They had karmic situations that were very difficult.  Gradually, the more they offered themselves to the tradition with much humility, all their problems got resolved.  This is a law.


AB:  What happened here is that many people who had a chance to go away and have a job and do many things elsewhere in the world, and they made a choice to stay here with Anthony.  And they didn’t have a job, didn’t have this, didn’t have that.  Then it became okay.  Somehow things became okay.

R:  This is why I say there is a sincronicity.


AB:  So I’m remembering how in the Neo-Platonic tradition, like Iamblicus, there’s a tremendous concern with theurgy - with the practices to bring about a divine descent of the Gods onto earth.  And it seems like we are talking about a modern form of such a practice.

R:  Right.  He (Iamblicus) utilized rites, rituals.  There are also rituals to make a descent happen.  Because a ritual is also a means through which stimuli are given to the upper part to make a certain influence descend.  For the rituals one has to have a certain type of inclination.  We, being conditioned by the various rituals of the various Western religions, we have actually forgotten the true rituality.  The true rituality is also theurgy.  Neo-Platonists utilized this means.  So also this can be prepared.  One has to be receptive to these.  Because a group that sits like this is not like when you are in a church or a shrine where people listen and there is a priest that talks, and so on.  Each one of the people would have to bring something, contribute something, to participate.

The true “Sacerdos” is exactly this, a true priest who was representing the center, the polarity, who was able to bring this influence down and to distribute it.  But the group also was creating this possibility.  So there was an osmosis between the priest and the people who were composing the group who were very active in this exchange.  In this way a field of tension would be generated and then the descent could happen.


AB:  PB said to me that the relationship between Anthony and the group was like between a rod and pistons.

R:  Si! (Yes!)

AB:  Because of the loss of a ritual practice in the West there’s a tremendous attraction to cultures which still have this, such as Native Americans or Tibetan Buddhists, or even African.  There are many teachers from those traditions sharing some of their understanding of ritual practice.  So the question is, what do we have to learn from those other traditions, while figuring out a way to adapt it to our own spirituality and our own mentality?

R:  You’re talking about rituals or are you talking about tradition in general?

AB:  No, rituals.  There’s a loss of ritual practice in the West.

R:  Are you talking about what can we learn from rituality, like from shamanic rituality, or…

AB:  Native Americans?

R:  It would be more useful to take from our own Western tradition.  For instance the Sephirothic Tree of the Kaballah.  It offers a lot of rituality.  The Sephira can be evoked or invoked to make the descent happen.  These rituals do exist.

AB:  There’s a danger of someone thinking they can become something else.  Some Native Americans and African-Americans call these persons “wannabees,” i.e. “You want to be like us.”  Also, it is actually dangerous for those traditions, to be taken up by others like this.

(Brief discussion of the amount of time left in the interview)

AS:  Let’s take Vedanta as an example.  It has a very traditional form.  The form is quite determined - the Vedas, the Upanishads.  To what degree is it accessible to the Neo-Vedantist?  Like for example does Raphael see the possibility for the essence of Vedanta to continue, but in some way with a new creative form for it?

R:  Being that Vedanta is a living tradition it is just a matter of transferring it into another space, so to speak.  To bring it over here into the West.  But it does exist.  Also, because we have has links with India, we have connections with two of Shankara’s Maths, Sringeri and Kanchi. 


MA: Anyhow the important issue is that this tradition is living, that it is already here.  We do not need a new one.

AB:  Because, for instance, the Traditionalists would say that you have to go back to the original form of the tradition and only there can you get it.  But we’re talking about something different.

R:   But in India it is living.  If we talk about Advaita Vedanta it is question of bringing over the Advaita Vedanta of the Upanishads, of Gaudapada and Shankara.  That is the Advaita Vedanta, then over time there have been deviations also in India.

Under this perspective he agrees with you, one has to go back to the origins.  He agrees with the Traditionalists.  This is why Raphael insists on Gaudapada and Shankara.

AS:  In Platonism, there was a tremendous shift with Plotinus.  That was 800 years later (after Plato).  But things changed.  On the one hand Plotinus always says he was just commenting on Plato.  And yet he really gives a very, very different kind of input.

R:  Yes, this can be point of view.  He has said the same things with different modalities. 

MA:  He has adapted.

CF:  He has actually adopted something with a different point of view, but he has not really changed the doctrine.

R:  Also because the doctrine at the time was not much living any longer.  This has been the trouble in the West. 


MA: This is really the key: Is it living or is it not living?

AS:  That is essentially what we have been trying to do here in terms of Platonists, to make it a living tradition again.

R:  Plotinus was a living tradition because Plotinus himself realized what he wrote about.  Or he wrote about what he realized!  In fact Plotinus was not able to write fluently in Greek or Latin.  It was all within him.  It was in fact his disciple Porfirius who systematized the Enneads and gave it also, in fact, its name.


AS:  So does Raphael feel that he has added anything to this?  He himself has this realization, and he himself also now is writing about the Vedanta; but he must also be adding something from his own realization.

R:  No.  Raphael has been a transmitter from this point of view.


MA:  Raphael has adapted to the West.

R: Raphael has adapted to the West the Vedanta doctrine, unifying it with Plato and also Plotinus and Plato for the Unity of Tradition.  Also because being a living tradition what is there to be added?  It would have been pretence on the part of Raphael to want to add something to the tradition.  Unless at the intellectual level the thing can be different.


AS:  But by comparing Vedanta to Platonism and to the Qaballah he has in fact added to it!

R:  Yes, certainly, under this perspective yes, but he has not added to or modified what are the pillars of the tradition.


AB:  Let me summarize.  The interview has been doing two things at the same time.  One is, there is a lot of good information for the article I’m writing.  Also, there is a lot of advice and good information for Wisdom’s Goldenrod.

So I think there are three topics we could discuss more.

First, is that since there are many teachers trying to teach and Raphael has commented that some are maybe more qualified than others, would he like to say anything about how to discern what to look for in a teacher?  That is the first question.

R:  It is both easy and difficult. On one side it is easy for someone who has already comprehended certain things he can understand by the way a person is living.  This is indispensable.  Because to say many things that aren’t very profound is not that difficult, especially for us Westerners who all went to University!  But to live by the content of a specific doctrine, this is something totally different.

R: We have also here in the west (But I do not think it is the case to publicize it) we have very many gurus who travel from the East all the way here, (who are not at the right level).  There was a time when Raphael met the Indian ambassador to Italy.  We met because he was following a spiritual path.  

R:  He was telling me that many gurus were coming from India and he would have to receive them being ambassador, but he would let me understand - you know the west is rich, there is a lack of spirituality.  And when the guru comes, there is a line to go and see him, but the level might not be the right level. 

For the orient it is easier to have a certain knowledge of certain things of traditional order, of bhakti and so on, because they live it after all. So coming here it is easy for them to say certain things.  At times they say even interesting things.  But naturally they become very rich.


AB:  We have two questions.  One relates to Eros, the other one to Maya. 

MA:  Two good questions.

AB:  When people are learning detachment or trying to take the position of the Witness, sometimes they think detachment means being “very cool” or removed, as opposed to living life.  They think they have to be removed from life.

R:  There’s a difference between psychological detachment and abandonment. Psychological detachment is Vairagya, which is something different.  Vairagya can be expressed in  the world and with the world. This is the true realization.  Not when somebody leaves the world because maybe is not confortable or because he thinks realization is only made abandoning the world. 

We have the four stages of life, we say: bramacharya, and so on.


CF: I think the question is truly directed to passion and how it is possible to make passion coexist with philosophical Eros

R: Passion is not philosophical Eros.


AB:  So what is it?  What is Eros and where should it be in the aspirant’s life?

R:  Eros according to Plato, what he really meant, Eros is that fire, that thirst for the Divine.  This fire, this love, is a driving force let’s say that takes off and leads to the realization of the Divine. Because the Platonic Eros is different from the affectionate and sexual energy love which is directed towards the individuated world.  Therefore the Eros transforms this energy from the lower chakras and gives it to the higher chakras, to talk in chakra terms. 

Without Eros we cannot become philosophers!

R:  To the question of Maya we can say this, when Avery was saying that Raphael could give something new to Tradition.  It is not really bringing something new.  Let’s take the concept of Maya.  Maya in different terms is Prakriti.  Prakriti moves and it creates forms.  This is at the scientific level. This movement slowly creates a form and the movement eliminates it. 

It is something really wonderful to be able to observe this possibility of creation the Prakriti possesses. 

All the elements at the physical level are in continuous movement and they naturally they create forms.  On the basis of the archetype at the principial level.  So Raphael in Italian has introduced this word relating to Maya:  “conforming movement,”  “movement that creates forms.” It is a new word that Raphael has presented. But I have not moved away from what is the actual action of Prakriti .  But on the other hand I refer to the reality of what science is today.

So also for Avidya.  Some people say avidya maybe is ignorance.  Well, maybe Raphael makes a distinction.  It is not the common ignorance that I do not know what this glass is.  It’s an ignorance that regards the metaphysicity of the Being, the reality of the Being. So the Avidya, we would say in the end, the opposite of which is Vidya, knowledge which eliminates the Avidya, is of a philosophical, metaphysical order.

So in Italy, I had for long time to fight against some people who when they were talking about Maya it was illusion, and naturally the Avidya was normal common ignorance.  So one has to straighten out the words that regard Tradition. 

Raphael is very much careful never to use the word “illusion” as referring to Maya, to give it this name here in the West, because for us Westerners illusion is a nothing.  Some people with great ease say, “Well Maya is an illusion, the universe is an illusion.”  But to bring this meaning in the West would be a mistake.  And you degrade the Advaita.  Some people say about the Advaitans that they are “illusionists.”


AB:  My problem is in talking about the world as a “dream.”  People say, “Oh, it’s just a dream.” but this can be misunderstood because we don’t understand the dream state that well. 

AS:  There seems to be a distinction between Avidya and Maya.

R:  Avidya is the individual level and Maya is the cosmic.

AS:  So my avidya is my not recognizing that this is appearance, taking this to be something that it isn’t.  This is a mistake.

AS:  So we can let it go at that.

AB:  I think we’ve accomplished our goal!