Like most people who meet Marc Gafni for the first time, we were both initially struck by his charisma. He has a gift for creating community wherever he happens to be, and an open-hearted friendliness that dispenses with formality and takes down the walls between people. His words are often funny and audacious, usually brilliant, and nearly always spoken with a passion and compelling clarity that make you want to listen. He’s a powerful visionary and gifted teacher of a trans-lineage World Spirituality. But there are other gifted teachers in the world, and Marc’s uniqueness goes far beyond these gifts. Knowing him over the years, through a full and dramatic range of life circumstances, we gradually became aware of his deeper qualities—his unfailing kindness, the wisdom of his insight into the human heart, the radical nature of his love, and his unwavering commitment to a life of evolutionary service.
What makes Gafni remarkable as a spiritual teacher, scholar, and friend is his unusual balance of mind and heart. We have rarely met anyone with such a capacity for seeing and bringing out the best in other people. We have watched him spend hours listening to someone in pain and confusion, teasing a friend out of a bad moment, offering love and support to people he barely knows as well as to old friends, and even people who have attacked him. He does these things as a matter of course, far from the public view, as part of his natural way of being. He consistently offers his ideas, his insights, and his time for other people’s use—willingly helping a friend prepare a presentation, or helping two people resolve a knotty interpersonal problem.
Marc lives from a profound sense of being responsible to love. In practice, that means that when he loves someone—and he has the gift for genuinely loving many people—he is willing to offer whatever he has. This willingness to love and give himself completely—sometimes against his own best interests—is one expression of Marc’s unique self. One aspect of this gift for loving is that people who spend time with him will often experience a natural opening of the heart, loving not only him, but loving themselves and their friends more deeply, which gets played out in their own relationships and work life.
Marc’s refusal to close his heart, his ability to stay open in love and clarity with whatever life presents, springs from a particular realization, and from his connection to a lineage of enlightened holy beings practicing what might be called radical kabbalah, and has been all but lost in modern times. This way of being—reflected in the teachings you are about to read—is based on a profound commitment to love and service, to helping others in whatever way is possible—personally, spiritually, and materially. The teachers of his tradition, like Marc himself, live from a sense of obligation to give love to a wide circle, and to make love actual in all encounters.
Marc’s teaching on Unique Self has been one of the major gifts that we have been privileged to receive from him. He has dedicated much of the last twenty-five years of his life to unfolding it. Early versions of Unique Self and the term itself first appear in his 1991 book Soul Prints, in the Sounds True CD set by the same name, and in the footnotes to the Hebrew edition of Soul Prints. More evolved versions appear in Marc’s forthcoming three-volume scholarly work, Unique Self and Non-Dual Humanism. The teaching was further evolved in Marc’s groundbreaking presentation of Unique Self at the Integral Spiritual Center in 2005, and then again at the Integral Spiritual Experience conferences in 2009 and 2010.
In the last few years, both of us, along with our colleague Diane Hamilton, have spent many hours helping Marc to evolve and deepen this teaching. We’ve discussed unique self from the point of view of Buddhism and Vedanta, of the modern recognition of perspective as which has been placed front and center in Integral theory, and from the old Kabbalistic teaching about post-egoic unique perspective being responsible to evolve the expression of what the Kabbalists call the word of God. We’ve danced with the non-dual teachings of Advaita Vedanta’s, with Charles Taylor’s work on “Source of Self and Ethics of Authenticity,” with the Buddhist teachings on Buddha nature and Hindu teachings on the oneness of Atman and Brahman, and heard from Marc’s own tradition of Luria, Lainer, and the Talmudic and Hassidic sages.
Yet the substantive core and profound elaboration of Unique Self teaching comes from Marc’s deep understanding of integral evolutionary realization, from his own conceptual rigor, as well as from the lineage of holy beings who inform his heart and mind. The Unique Self teaching has already begun to radically evolve the ways that many cutting-edge teachers think about enlightenment. Teachers around the country and world, from different spiritual traditions—including Buddhist masters, teachers of evolutionary spirituality and non-dual tantra, Jewish and Christian teachers, coaching schools and writers in the Integral world—have explicitly adopted the language that describes a post-egoic Unique Self realization. Many teachers and practitioners now use terms like “unique perspective,” “unique gift,” “unique shadow,” “unique obligation”—teachings that Marc has shared in many forums—and integrate them into their own teachings. The realization that enlightenment has an individual perspective, the higher integration of the personal and impersonal in Unique Self based on the enlightened realization that to be unique is not the same thing as being separate from the whole, and many other that groundbreaking ideas you’ll find in Marc’s books on Unique Self, have already proved to be, as human potential movement pioneer Michael Murphy says, “rare game-changing insights.”
For sure, glimmers of these insights are found in several of the great traditions, and in the writings of different spiritual teachers. Yet the full realization of the unique-self enlightenment is nothing less than an evolutionary emergent. This new chapter in Integral theory and spiritual-enlightenment thought is a stunning example of the work that has come through the Integral Spiritual Center, which provided the framework for many of the conversations that birthed the current iterations of Unique Self teaching. Unique Self offers what may arguably be the most significant contemporary evolution of an enlightenment teaching that brings together the Eastern understanding of non-duality and the Western understanding of individuation.
During the time this was being evolved, Marc went through a radical personal and professional injustice that took apart his life as he had known it. Facing the destruction of everything he had worked for became the occasion for a profound inner process and what can only be called fierce grace. He has reemerged paradoxically larger than before, with an even deeper commitment to love and a widening compassion. Marc is one of the most profoundly good and visionary human beings we have met in our long life of knowing great human beings. It is an honor and a privilege to call him our spiritual friend and colleague—and to recognize him as the kind of integral evolutionary leader and spiritual teacher that we deeply need to help us all evolve consciousness in future decades.