The Universal Life Church was founded by Rev. Kirby J. Hensley in 1962 and offered ministry credentials to anyone who applied and sent a small financial offering. Of course, Kurt became a member, and received Certificate No. 66343, date May 2, 1962 making him an ordained minister. Regrettably, his first name is misspelled “Kirt.” Included here is his certificate, a printed sheet with information about the Universal Life Church, and a panel from one of its newsletters. The church remains in operation.
A booklet written by cyberneticist Heinz von Foerster was tucked amid Kurt’s archives, a document Kurt concluded was worth retaining. Entitled “On Constructing a Reality,” the twelve-page excerpt from a von Foerster address of 1973 puts forth the following postulate: “The Environment As We Perceive It Is Our Invention.” Von Foerster then goes on to make his case in support of this postulate. Heinz’ inscription to ”Walter and friends” refers to Walter (Clifford) Barney and Kurt von Meier. The booklet, in its entirety, is reproduced here.
In 1972, Kurt’s later-to-be friend and Diamond Sufi Ranch resident, Walter (Clifford) Barney wrote a thesis about Gestalt Therapy while pursuing a Master’s Degree in Counseling. His collaboration with two friends became as much of the subject of his thesis as Gestalt Therapy itself—his documentation of their interaction a practical demonstration of the Gestalt process. Combining concepts with process documentation, this paper anticipated elements of what is conventionally referred to today as “mindfulness” training, bring attention to body-mind awareness.
Barney writes, “Most people read books in order to learn something from them. By writing a book, we collude with this expectation of the reader. We deal with this trap in two ways: by letting the reader watch our process as we write the book, and so become aware of our dilemma; and by playing verbal tricks on him, so that when he begins to think that he learns from us, rather than from himself, he suddenly finds himself in a blind alley, logically.”
For a while, Kurt von Meier and Walter (Clifford) Barney established an on-going relationship with James Keys, aka G. Spencer Brown, poet, mathematician and author of Laws of Form. They exchanged letters and corresponded after Brown’s attendance at the AUM Conference at Esalen in 1973. In these two letters from Brown in September of 1976, he makes special note of Kurt and Walter’s appreciation and understanding of his work. “Before enlightenment people deal only in opinions, afterwards there can be only an exchange of gifts, as in heaven. It is important how pretty the ribbons are. You and Kurt are the only members of the team with any clout who have realized this.”
In September of 1975, Benchen Radha Tulku, also known as Lama Chime Tulku Rinpoche, visited Kurt's Diamond Sufi Ranch for a week-long retreat. (Above left: Chime Rinpoche in the late 1970s; above right: Chime Rinpoche in 2010) The Ranch was often host to teachers and healers of various traditions. Born in 1941 in Kham, Tibet, Chime Rinpoche was one of the first of the Tibetan Lama's to begin teaching in the West, and as Lama in the Kagyu-pa school of Buddhism was associated with HH the 16th Karmapa. Here is a segment from one of his first talks--on the Four Noble Truths--and his conversation with retreat participants.
From today's perspective, this court transcript from 1968 seems rather quaint, but it represents a transitional moment in American culture. The publication Earth Rose, created by poet Steve Richmond, was declared obscene in Los Angeles County, California, and a trial on a misdemeanor charge was held. Here's background on the case. In addition to a written statement, Kurt testified in person on behalf of the defendant. In doing so, he had the opportunity educate the judge about literary criticism and the history of poetic styles. Ironically, the word "Fuck"--its use still a illegal in some settings--is liberally spoken and its meaning explored during the trial. From the transcript:
THE COURT: Well, what works, if any, would you consider to be obscene?
THE WITNESS: Okay. Let me talk about this publication for example. I would say if you had your choice between two words and one of them were obscene, it would be "Hate" that is obscene.
THE COURT: "Hate" is obscene?
THE WITNESS: And not "Fuck." I think there is a lot of hate and I am speaking very personally here. I am not for a minute suggesting that this was the intent of the poet, but if something morally offends me, it is to see human suffering that is permitted to continue knowingly, and I think that is working definition of hate.
I think that does happen in the world today. It is no new revelation. All of us know it. I think that some scenes of people dying in our living rooms on television in the war in Vietnam rightly or wrongly, I am not suggesting that, I am speaking as a veteran. I have served my time. I have no problem about that.
THE COURT: No.
THE WITNESS: I am saying that here our problem is when women and children are shown dying and somebody opens another can of beer, that gets much closer to the sense of what is obscene in the world.
Illustrations and hyperlinks have been added to this transcript that further illuminate the references made in the hearing.
In this essay, Kurt's longtime friend and Vajrayana Buddhist practitioner Joe Duane generously provides some background about the Shen Yantra (above) which occupied Kurt's devoted attention and appeared on the poster promoting the exhibition of his teaching collection. Joe explains the origination of the Yantra in Bon (pre-Buddhist) Tibetan ritual, and its underlying role in the construction of ritual sand mandalas.
Jene LaRue (pictured above), one of Kurt's partners in the Diamond Sutra Restaurant, was a fellow-Princetonian, and went on to become a professor of classics. This paper, The Meanings of Mythology, encapsulates Jene's view of mythology, its origins and its continuing influence on modern life. Filled with interesting and valuable insights, the paper's ideas can also be seen in Kurt's writings. Kurt authored some commentary on Jene's essay. Both Jene and Kurt looked through--not just at--society and human activity to the divine in action. The link below will open Jene's paper in a new window, and can be printed as a PDF.
Kurt was an avid collector, particularly fond of textiles and blankets. Having traveled to the southwest to visit the Hopi, he acquired a large number of antique Navajo blankets of extraordinary beauty and significance. He discussed their use and meaning in his lectures, and on chilly nights at the Diamond Sufi Ranch he'd sleep warmly beneath them. Read more to see some examples from his collection (images courtesy of Ishi von Meier, Kurt's grandson).
The Idea Institute was a presentation of the University of California Extension, and reflected how deeply new ideas about art and communication were overtaking modern society in the late 1960s. In addition to Kurt von Meier, the speakers included Mel Blanc (the voice of Bugs Bunny), Fordham University Communication Arts Professor Edmund Carpenter, Sociology Professor Lewis Yablonsky and others. As usual, Kurt made notes prior to his remarks; to see them, read more.
Kurt was a collector. He'd find objects and relics, then place them in containers and boxes which he'd squirrel away in closets, cabinets and hiding places known only to him. From time to time he'd pull one out and talk about each item so contained. Some treasure boxes were filled with Native American artifacts, others with bones and ivory. Every item had a story. This box held horns, mostly. For a closer look at the contents, read more.
Kurt clipped articles from newspapers and magazines like crazy, but rarely kept an entire page let alone a section of the local paper. The exception is this, the front section of the San Francisco Examiner from 1963. Of note is the slogan in the paper's masthead: "America First."
This discolored, rumpled sheet of paper fell out of one of Kurt's archived file folders. The chances are good that it was compiled while Kurt and his friend Carl Belz were working on their History of Rock and Roll book project in the early 60s; "Itsy-Bitsy"/"Teeny-Weenie" are the tip off. Or maybe not.
"The Ceremony of the Black Crown or Vajra Mukut, which His Holiness alone can perform, transmits the energy and intelligence of the awakened state of mind." So reads a sentence from the program booklet provided for attendees for an empowerment ritual performed by His Holiness, the XVI Gyalwa Karmapa. Kurt von Mieir would not have missed it for the world, and along with a retinue of Diamond Sufi Ranch family members joined the large crowd at Fort Mason on October 13, 1974.
The late sixties were a period of ferment in the arts, and the notion of intermedia--the mix of art, technology, kinetic environments, mixed-media, dance and more--became popular as conventional art boundaries began to dissolve. The idea of "happenings" was hot, and Kurt "dug the scene". Among his archives are materials related to various intermedia events and organizations, such as E.A.T. and USCO. Robert Rauschenberg was in the forefront of such movements, and embraced such collaborations. Below is a flyer about an event, Intermedia '68, held in New York, managed by John Brockman Associates, who later acted as a book agent for Kurt. (Photo: Carolee Schneemann performing an enviromental theatre piece).
In 1973 Kurt's friend and collaborator Cliff Barney penned this article which appeared in the Pacific Sun newspaper. As Barney tells it, "There really was a conference at Big Sur at which G. Spencer Brown discussed his calculus with a group of far-out scientists." By conference, he means the AUM Conference at Esalen, and by far-out he means an assortment remarkable individuals exploring the cutting edge of human consciousness and culture, like Alan Watts, Ram Dass, John Lilly, Heinz von Foerster, Kurt von Meier and more. The transcripts of the AUM Conference at Esalen can be found here.
Kurt thought Andy Warhol was masterful, and after visiting Andy's "factory" in New York had written a lengthy article about Andy and Warhol's "scene" for Art International magazine in 1966. He also invited Andy to present a guest lecture to Kurt's undergraduate art class, and this audio recording captured that event. Andy, typically, did not say anything, but poet Gerard Malanga plus Lou Reed and John Cale (of the Velvet Underground) read poetry to the class, which was then followed by a screening of a Warhol film. The audio runs close to an hour and takes a minute to load.
Folded into quarters and tucked inside one of Kurt's Manila folders, this creatively arresting document was found. A typewritten assemblage of news reports and graphics tell the story of the sheep wretchedly poisoned in Utah by U.S. government nerve gas tests. Signed by George Ashley and dated August, 1968, it meant enough to Kurt to preserve. And now all may read the tale.
Kurt respected Bertrand Russell (pictured), the British polymath who --philosopher, author, social activist, devoted pacifist--also had a passion for mathematics.
This typewritten sheet was found within what Kurt liked to call his half-vast archives.
In addition to being a visionary mathematician, G. Spencer Brown was a poet, and his small book Only Two Can Play This Game was as important to Kurt von Meier as Brown's book Laws of Form. Kurt regularly distributed this excerpt from the "notes" section of Brown's poetry book to his students, which Brown had published under his pseudonym James Keys. The excerpt neatly encapsulates a number of topics of particular interest to Kurt, including The Void, Eternity, Unity, and Brown's mathematical model, the key unlocking the mystery of being.