Da Vinci Decoded: : Discovering the Spiritual Secrets of Leonardo's Seven Principles
By Michael J. Gelb
Perhaps you saw the episode of Star Trek: Voyager in 1997 when Leonardo da Vinci debuted as the holographic adviser to the captain. Leonardo's sage advice was instrumental in guiding the ship and crew to fulfill their highest purpose, to boldly go where they'd never been before. In the following pages, I'm hoping that you'll discover Leonardo as your personal spiritual adviser, a guide who can help you to discover and fulfill your highest purpose-just as he has helped me.
I also hope you'll find inspiration from many of the other voices in this book, each of whom may be able to add to your understanding of your own life purpose. Not long ago at a conference in Venice to which we had both been invited, the renowned physicist Michio Kaku gave a speech that put a new spin on my concept of what a meaningful life would be. Dr. Kaku-who, as it happens, served as one of the scientific advisers to the writers of Star Trek-is the cofounder of string field theory, author of such international best-sellers as Hyperspace, Visions, and Beyond Einstein, and the Henry Semat Professor of Theoretical Physics at the City University of New York. Speaking before an audience of company presidents at that 2001 conference, Kaku enchanted those down-to-earth, no-nonsense executives with his theories about the existence of life on other planets. Not only does the best scientific thinking support the idea that there is such life, he explained, but it is likely that in the vastness of the universe there are civilizations that have evolved far beyond us. Unfortunately, he said, we are at the lowest level of civilization, insofar as we are in danger of destroying our environment and each other.
The next tier up, what Kaku calls Level One (our own tier not even meriting a number), are civilizations that have ensured their own survival by advancing their technology and consciousness to the point that they can feed, clothe, and educate all their members while protecting and nurturing their atmosphere and ecosystem.
The highest tier, Level Two, are those civilizations that have aligned themselves with pure consciousness and are able to travel through time and space powered solely by clarity of intention (like Q in Star Trek). Emphatic about the fact that this isn't science fiction but rather the best assessment of many of our greatest scientific minds, Kaku suggested that we on planet Earth have a window of less than one hundred years in which we can evolve to Level One-or else sink into the oblivion of self-destruction.
The core message of this speech resonated deeply with me. For whether we take Kaku literally or metaphorically, his story offers a powerful way of thinking about our destiny and focusing our attention on the bigger picture of our life's purpose: help the earth get to Level One! This we can do only if each of us makes a personal commitment to the process of conscious evolution.
In his acclaimed New York Times best-seller The Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav offers a guide to the kind of heightened consciousness that will get us to that next level, which he describes as the "territory of inspiration," the place where intuition accelerates, putting us in touch with something beyond ourselves, something beyond "the realm of time and space and matter . . . something of great vision that comes from beyond the personality." As he believes, "Each of us is now being drawn, in one way or another, to that same great vision. It is more than a vision. It is an emerging force. It is the next step in our evolutionary journey."
Zukav describes this evolutionarily more advanced consciousness as being more open to intuition, to subtleties in awareness and the promptings of the soul, because it is "multisensory," in contrast to the usual "five-sensory" mode of experience, which is oriented only to physical reality and personal survival.
According to Zukav, the five-sensory human operates as though:
Each of us is alone in a vast, empty, purely physical universe.
Our power of intention is ineffectual, and our actions have only their immediately apparent physical effects.
The physical environment must be dominated to ensure survival.
The multisensory human operates as though:
The universe is a living expression of divine intelligence, and we are all part of something much greater than our own ego/survival.
Our intentions are powerful determinants of our reality and have a profound effect on others.
Our world is designed for us to learn and serve our soul's true purpose.
Leonardo is an early but uniquely advanced embodiment of the kind of multisensory awareness Zukav describes. With his endless curiosity, his openness to all kinds of experiences, his gift for seeing God's intelligence in everything in the world around him, Leonardo provides us with a compelling map for the "territory of inspiration." If we look to him for inspiration in our own lives, he can guide us in taking our next evolutionary step-as the greatest souls always do.
As Zukav says, "With each of our individual advancements, the group soul of humanity-what we call our collective unconscious-evolves." No one in all of human history made "individual advancements" more extraordinary than Leonardo da Vinci. It is fitting that his influence is greater now than ever before. Still, it is surprising to realize how ubiquitous a figure he has become in recent years.
Although Leonardo's greatness might seem to be something almost supernatural, his accomplishments reflect his very human openness to intuition and inspiration-qualities that we can learn to incorporate into our own lives. As an avatar of multisensory awareness, Leonardo is a prophet of the divine potential inside every being. He can point all of us toward the path to our higher selves.
Indeed, every major spiritual tradition encourages the study of exemplars of the path. Hindus seek to emulate the apparent perfection of great teachers such as Ramana Maharshi or Ramakrishna. Christians ask, "What would Jesus do?" And Buddhists reflect, "How would the Buddha respond?" Recently, a number of books have cast light on the relevance of divine teaching in worldly contexts-for example, a manual for CEOs based on the teachings of Jesus, and a guide for singles inspired by the Buddha. This kind of contemplation helps us integrate great wisdom into our daily lives.
Unfortunately, models and images of wisdom, goodness, love, and beauty aren't easy to come by in popular culture and the mass media. Imagine watching the news and following the stream at the bottom of your screen as it moves along: "Leonardo's lost notebooks recovered . . . but first, more on the latest celebrity scandal." As a society, our priorities for the investment of attention are frequently out of alignment with our highest ideals.
There's actually a neurological explanation for this. One of the paradoxes and challenges of the human mind is that we are conditioned by the brain's reticular formation (a structure in the midbrain) to pay special attention to anything that seems new, different, or "sensational," while allowing more timeless, less topical material-such as universal spiritual wisdom-to be forgotten. But matters of the spirit always eventually resurface precisely because they are timeless and universal, as we can see from the fact that all of the diverse societies of the globe, at some point in their development, have arrived at fundamental insights that are remarkably similar. Author Aldous Huxley called it "the perennial philosophy." One research group found that at least eight of the ten commandments are common to all the world's cultures, constituting the equivalent of a global statement of human values. As my secretary, the venerable Mary Hogan, puts it: "We may root for different teams, but we all love baseball."
In the course of my spiritual search I've been fortunate to learn from many great teachers from different traditions. I've been blessed with darshan from gurus of pure lineage and experienced the searing brilliance of J. Krishnamurti's spiritual razor. I spent months learning meditation with the guidance of the abbot of a Cambodian Buddhist monastery, and I traveled to Turkey to dance with the dervishes and receive initiation from a Sufi sheikh. I was gifted with the opportunity to listen and learn every day for ten months as J. G. Bennett, the remarkable spiritual genius, shared the fruits of his lifetime of seeking. I've received Holy Communion in an ancient English church alive with spirit, and I've offered supplication while facing Mecca with my brothers who follow the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. And, of course, I was called to the Torah at thirteen and am bar mitzvah.