Monday, March 2, 2009

The Celestine Prophecy, by James Redfield

This 1994 best seller and its sequels suposedly gained a huge global following among people inspired by its message for spiritual growth. Strangely, it chooses to present its message through a novel involving ancient manuscripts, gun toting soldiers, evil priests and a race to find precious documents.

The plot revolves around an American man who winds up in Peru, looking for translations of an ancient Mayan manuscript that promises to change the direction of human life forever. This Manuscript comprises nine Insights that will set people on a path to spiritual growth .Key to this growth is a realization that the Universe isn't matter but an enormous energy field, and human interaction is essentially a series of energy exchanges, with our energy fields waxing and waning and even mingling with those of others.

The plot line is really weak and entirely dependent on a steady stream of coincidences, intuitions and visions to take the story forward. The narrator bumps with increasing frequency into people in the know about the Manuscript.In between bouts of getting shot at, our hero also has stupendous visions where he witnesses the birth of the universe (rather like one of those TV series by Carl Sagan), falls in lust with a woman, meets a succession of mysterious strangers who are always expecting his arrival, and is thrown into possibly the most benign prison in the third world where the principal form of punishment is thelogical discussion. Meanwhile, in full accordance with their prophecies, the Insights practically land in the narrator's lap in sequential order and increasingly offer the promise not just of salvation but also the end of pollution, poverty and unemployment. (Apparently the future is flexitiming) .

Along the way, we learn other key lessons to reaching enlightenment - eat your vegetables,be calm, be positive. Be amiable in group discussions, be better parents, plant more trees, use birth control.Oh yeah, and give your money to the person telling you all this (I take cheques :D) Did I mention flexitiming?

I found nothing original or particularly exciting about these Insights - they read like variants on some pretty standard mantras in pop psychology. For all the fussing about their sequence, most of them could have been interchanged . And what, after all, was the need to thinly disguise this guide to saving mankind as a thriller, and such a poorly written one at that? And, despite all the hysterical dialogues involving enraged clerics, a certain silliness prevails in the premise that these Insights would have the Church up in arms - really? What next, Yoga instructors and vegans? For that matter, why would the Mayans write in Aramaic anyway?

It is also rather ironic that a book that talks about issues that are essentially to do with a person's internal growth and discovery - self awareness, positive energy, spiritual bonding - should use such a noisy and contrived vehicle to present its case. Surely if the author believes in his message, he should convey it as is, rather than couching it in racy fiction. But that would probably have meant a deeper examination of these Insights, which the author has for the most part avoided in this book - most Insights are hastily described in between fleeing from soldiers, eating vegetarian meals and passionate encounters with a fellow believer. Then again, why do now what could best be left to the sequel?

Also for a book structured as a thriller, the end is a damp squib, with little more to offer than the promise of that sequel (a tenth Insight, what do you know!). And the rather silly revelation of the Ninth Insight - people increasing their energy levels to the point where they can disappear from the earth and pass on into the spirit world - pretty much undermines any credibility the earlier eight Insights might have earned till then.That, apparently, is how the Mayans vanished enmasse. (Hey, maybe they have Elvis. And a lot of the socks from my drier.)

Finally, a book I found dull, flimsy and uninspiring - in the spiritual and literal sense.

Read it for comic relief. If you're looking to grow in any way, however, go eat your vegetables.

1 comment:

  1. First, I envy you guys reading so many books!

    I found this commentary interesting. I read this book when I was in a difficult phase of life, and coincidences and horoscopes were actually found important - ok, I admit I'd like coincidences to be important even now (isn't the idea kind of nice?), but horoscopes? Shudder! Anyway, even then, although I looked for, and read the sequel as well, it didn't hold any promise or hope or well, insight for me. You are so right about the use of a thriller plot to convey these 'insights' - both the story and the wisdom suffer here.