Walking the Spiritual Path - An Interview with Jorge Waxemberg

by Carolyn Cooper and Patricia Colleran

This interview took place in the summer of 1997 in the Community of Yorktown, one of several communities of Cafh which Mr. Waxemberg helps to direct. The Community of Yorktown runs a school known as The Seed Day Care Center, in Yorktown, New York. While the children played happily, we began our conversation with Mr. Waxemberg, asking him about his work in Cafh which has evolved in so many ways since he first entered as a young man in Argentina.

Can you tell us how many years have you been active in spiritual life?

Although, as I understand it, the spiritual path does not have a beginning or an end, I first became conscious of it in 1947.

That was 50 years ago! How did it begin? Was it a kind of spiritual awakening?

Yes, you could say that, although for me, finding the spiritual path was not like a conversion. I did not exchange one set of dogmas for another since I have always felt that any assertion needs to be verifiable or confirmed by experience. For me, finding the spiritual path meant discovering the direction necessary for the expansion of my mind and heart, a process which still continues today.

My entrance into Cafh coincided with the beginning of my college studies. My first steps on the spiritual path produced not only an inner blossoming, but also a love for and dedication to study, an increasing sense of responsibility and a greater efficiency.

How did you hear about Cafh?

In those days Cafh was an exclusively esoteric order and no one knew of its name or existence. Two of my friends belonged to Cafh. They did not speak to me about Cafh, but through their conversations a wonderful universe opened before me; I was able to see that the yearnings I had up to that moment were not unique. I discovered new ideas and attitudes that produced a revolution in my life. I asked to have access to that vein of knowledge and realization, and I was admitted to Cafh.

Where there many people in Cafh at that time?

There were very few of us; the very nature of Cafh at that time led us to think that we would always be a small group of persons. I met Don Santiago Bovisio, the founder of Cafh, toward the end of 1947. I received spiritual direction from the spiritual director of my group, then from Don Santiago himself until his death in 1962.

What about your college studies, which you had just begun before entering Cafh?

I accelerated my studies in order to finish college as soon as possible; in this way I would be free to decide what to do with my life. I received a degree in architecture in 1952. Shortly after that, I entered a Community of Cafh.

Coming into contact with a group which, as you explained, was "exclusively esoteric in those days," sounds fascinating. What was the nature of the work you did, and continue to do, with that group?

We tend to describe the nature of the work we do as "vocation." By vocation, we mean that inner imperative which awakens when someone discovers his or her path, that yearning to fulfill one's spiritual possibilities and discover the meaning of life.

For some of us, this vocation is expressed through living a life of community, similar in some ways to the monastic traditions of many spiritual paths. But for most of the members of Cafh, this vocation is fulfilled through living "regular" lives within families, as single persons, as students, working in any number of professions and occupations.

You could say that the nature of the work of Cafh is fundamentally interior. It is the work that each person develops within him or herself, in one's own mind and heart; it is a mystical work, realized in silence. We have certain practices that help us in this work: meditation, spiritual reading, prayer, and some ascetic exercises.

This inner work can be done by anyone, anywhere, whatever one's exterior work or responsibilities may be. Everyone young and old, working people and students can benefit from this work on oneself, and contribute with one's own transformation to a better world. If you look around, you can see that many capable organizations and groups exist today to do the scientific, cultural and social work that society needs. There are members of Cafh who participate in this work, as professors, doctors, lawyers, social workers, teachers, office workers, manual laborers, and so on, and they fulfill their human contribution through this work. That is why, in Cafh, we value work so much, work of all kinds, because all work is necessary and therefore valuable. But the real contribution of Cafh is different from the exterior work that any of us may do. It is intrinsically and entirely spiritual. It is the perfecting of society and the spiritual transformation of the human being within one's own self. As Don Santiago said so well, it is "to live and to feel in oneself what one wants to do outside oneself."

It is hopeful to hear that there is a way of life that anyone can practice anywhere, and that the possibility of living a spiritual life is open to everyone. Can you tell us a little more about how you live this way of life? Specifically, can you tell us more about the vocation of community life? It is something we don't often hear about these days.

I think it is helpful to think of vocation as a calling. It is a yearning that in many ways is mysterious. Sometimes it happens that this yearning becomes so compelling that it is like an inner imperative, demanding from the depths of one's soul a renouncement to everything, especially renouncement to oneself.

Renouncement is an idea we work with a lot in Cafh. The idea of renouncement exists in all spiritual paths, but in Cafh we give it a special meaning. For us, to renounce is to go beyond our limits, to embrace reality as it is, totally, to unite with life and live every instant conscious and aware. For me, my vocation meant a vow of renouncement.

The founder of Cafh, Don Santiago, recognized the need for an environment where those who felt it as their vocation could dedicate themselves to this idea of renouncement as expansion and realization. In 1949 he founded a community to create a concrete, living way of realizing the vocation of renouncement for those of us who felt that this was our path. From that early experience, he came up with norms of community life which, in Cafh, are based exclusively on renouncement.

Around the middle of 1953, under the personal direction of Don Santiago, we founded another community, the one which I entered. Don Santiago guided us in transforming the idea of renouncement into a method of life-into a concrete and effective means of spiritual unfoldment. Many came, but few persevered. The ones who stayed were those whose only yearning was to fulfill their vocation.

We received an integral training. We studied well-known philosophies and religions as well as others that are forgotten now but have been preserved in the Teachings of Cafh. We also studied the history of humanity according to the esoteric tradition; we learned mental and physical exercises, some of which are common to other paths and others which belong to Cafh. Above all, Don Santiago transmitted the Teaching of Cafh to us.

It all sounds very interesting. But why did you feel the need to join a community to do that? Couldn't you study and learn about spiritual life remaining in a regular job and an ordinary life?

Yes, you are right, you can. But some people, some of us, feel the need to live an ideal fully, that an idea that is not fulfilled remains a theory, and nothing more. By living in community, we soon came to realize that study and spiritual practices were really only one aspect of spiritual life. We learned in so many ways: the intense work of building and maintaining a community, the voluntary restriction of needs, the application of the Teaching to ways of living and relating, and these aspects were, perhaps, the most important part of our training.

When did you become a spiritual director?

In 1954 Don Santiago entrusted me with the direction of the community where I was living, and then of other communities. Later on, he put me in charge of the direction of Cafh in Argentina. After Don Santiago's death, I was elected to succeed him in 1963.

Since that time, many communities of Cafh have been founded throughout the Americas, including this one where we sit today, which runs a successful, progressive school for young children. Obviously, the work one does in Cafh has a positive effect on the members of Cafh. What is it that you study, what ideas do you work with, that inspire your inner work?

In addition to studying philosophy, history and religion, all of us in Cafh work with a specific, particular teaching. In our weekly meetings we work with these ideas and, likewise, we try to live them in our daily lives. This teaching is something that is found in Cafh, its origins are in Cafh. Towards the end of his life, Don Santiago encouraged us to transmit the Teaching of Cafh publicly, to make it accessible through clear and simple language and, especially, through a path that would be practical for everyone. Cafh was no longer to be an exclusively esoteric order, like the ones in Europe which were its antecedents. For this reason, since 1962 a major part of my task has consisted in openly transmitting the Teaching of Cafh through conferences, books and the formation of groups of Cafh all around the world. Cafh can now be found throughout the Americas, in Europe, Australia and Israel.

What is the nature of these teachings? Where do they come from?

The Teaching of Cafh has basically three aspects. The first is the Universal Teaching. Cafh transmits the Universal Teaching which exists in its essence in all religions, spiritual movements and esoteric orders. It is this aspect of the Teaching of Cafh that people generally recognize first, and for this reason, they sometimes think that Cafh is a version of some spiritual path or traditional religion.

But Cafh has its own Teaching, a teaching which Don Santiago said was "revealed" to him for Cafh. He transmitted to us the foundations of that Teaching, and it continues to expand through the experience and realization of the members of Cafh.

In Cafh the Teaching is oral. Texts, when used, are only points of support to give the Teaching. Therefore, there is also a third aspect, which comes out in the very transmission of the Teaching-the breadth and richness with which each instructor expands the teaching through living it and transmitting it.

Having dedicated your life to spiritual work as you have, what do you think the future holds for humanity? This is such an age of contrasts: incredible human achievements and at the same time so much conflict and violence. What is the individual to do, in the face of such a world?

I think humanity has never found itself in a situation like the present one, which is so extra- ordinary for its achievements and possibilities. I also believe that we have never before encountered the risks which we face today.

We have to discover new alternatives. With regard to what we are, we need to free ourselves from the burdens that tie us to a past to which it makes no sense to return. With regard to what we could become, we also need a more profound freedom, which will give wings to our creative imagination and make possible a better relationship among all people. In order to achieve this freedom we need a method of life and an inner work.

This inner work begins by learning how to make the distinction between our acquired personality and who we really are. Ideologically speaking, every one of us is a child of our society, our culture and our times. Each of us identifies with a vision and an interpretation of life and the world that are not our own and which bring us into conflict with the interpretations of other people who are identified with other cultures and other times. In spite of the fact that all of these visions of the world and life are constantly revised and changed by the unfoldment of human knowledge, they succeed each other as definitive dogmas which give rise to wars, tragedy and destruction.

Thus very few people have genuine ideas of their own. Generally, each of us lives the ideas of our environment as if they were our own. This would not be bad if we were always aware of this fact; above all, if we remembered that the different interpretations of life and the world that succeed each other in the course of history cannot be considered definitive, because humanity is in a process of discovery.

It is true that we need to support ourselves on an interpretation of things in order to be able to investigate, experiment and somehow relate with reality, but we also need to maintain a clear distinction between such indispensable but transitory points of support and the ultimate truth. This requires a continuous work on oneself.

Does this continuous work on oneself imply a new kind of spirituality, what you sometimes refer to in your writings as "mysticism"?

Yes, I think so, especially when we consider what "mysticism" means. Mysticism is our relationship with ultimate reality, with the universe, with the divine. Surely rational knowledge has a limit in the face of the totality of reality. But, if you think about it, a limit is not really an end, but rather the beginning of a different domain. We need rational knowledge. We need intuition, too. Intuition begins where reason ends, and the domain of inner experience begins when the possibilities of exterior experience end. What all this means is that there are limitless possibilities for human unfoldment, for a new kind of spirituality, where there is as much room for science as for mysticism.

You mention science: what place does science have in your vision of mysticism?

Mystical experience really cannot be placed in opposition to scientific experience. On the contrary, the spiritual path constitutes, or needs to constitute, a true science of the soul. We need to transcend our system of pairs of opposites, not only in our vision of life, but in our relationship with life and the relationship among human beings as well. In other words, we need to transcend the opposition between the individual and collective society, between personal realization and humanity's realization as a whole, between science and mysticism, and the dualistic structure upon which we base our life and fulfillment.

The incredible scientific advances of today point toward a path which promises to give us the knowledge and means to become masters of our lives and destinies. But at the same time, wars, violence and injustice show us that no knowledge is very useful if our inner vision and our relationship with one another and with the environment do not follow a simultaneous road of unfoldment.

To this end, we will surely need to change the nature of our objectives. We also need to change the nature of the solutions we are seeking for our problems.

The idea that war, domination or any other kind of violence can be a solution for our problems is now intolerable. Likewise, any consideration of a spiritual idea has to include a path toward the solution of those evils. Otherwise it remains a theory and not a living idea.

The entire human past is condensed in what we are today. This experience gives us in the present a wonderful vision of the human being in the universe and of the extraordinary power that the human being has in the universe. But that same history is the obstacle which today prevents us from being universal as human beings. Perhaps this is the moment to recapitulate the human experiences that have already been lived in order to assimilate them, understand them, and after "shaking the dust off our feet," to free ourselves from the historical and emotional burden of our past. In that way, we can embark on the path toward a universal civilization, where true brotherhood, compassion and love are the elements of union among all human beings.