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A New Outlook on Evolution and the Future of Man


Gerald Heard

Monkfish Book Publishing reissue now available

Marvin Barrett's review of

Pain, Sex and Time

from Parabola magazine


Gerald Heard is a name virtually unknown today. That was not always so. As Huston Smith indicates in his eloquent foreword to this volume, which has been out of print for sixty years, Heard's was once a voice to be listened to. Smith's first encounter with Pain, Sex and Time, six decades ago, kept him up all night, he recalls and converted him "from a scientific worldview to the vaster world of the mystics."


Other converts included Aldous Huxley, the era's prime literary cynic. Auden and Isherwood also fell under Heard's spell, eventually deserting his syncretic approach to faith in favor of the more specific appeal of Christianity and the Vedanta. Even H. G. Wells, a convinced secularist regularly tuned in to Heard's broadcast as science editor of the BBC.

However riveting his message, though, Heard was never an easy read. What he characteristically asked of his readers in the concluding pages of his many books was nothing less than metanoia, conversion to the life of the spirit.


Heard's technique was that of the old-fashioned evangelist. His catalogue of mankind's narrow escapes, from prehistory to the present day, was meant to scare you out of your wits. Doomsday was at hand, and then at the last moment you'd be offered the alternative—salvation through meditation, the practice of the presence, prayer. The juxtaposition of fear and hope was startling and compelling then, and it remains so today.


As for the pain and sex of the book's title, they are not only the physical and mental agony that mankind is heir to and the feckless fun of indiscriminate lovemaking. Heard saw them as repositories of energy, that energy that mankind requires for its continued evolution. "Unless we can find an end really adequate to our means," Heard warns, "a true meaning and purpose of life as an entirety, the only choice before us now is either individual neurosis or mass neurosis."

Heard's view of the human situation when he wrote this book was justifiably grim. Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin were at the peak of their power. World War II was imminent and according to Heard's own estimate,


"Man is cut off from any union with, or insight into reality. Hence he creates the analytic, mechanistic science which today gives him infinite means and no ends, unlimited powers and no sanctions. At length he can only perceive with general despair what at the beginning he wished to believe from private greed—a world which is completely amoral and yields its unlimited resources to those least trammeled by tabus."


But if Heard skirted despair, he never embraced it. A chapter heading, "The Historic Evidence for the Evolution of Consciousness," gives some indication of the books hopeful, wide-ranging thrust.


Like Huston Smith, I too first encountered Pain, Sex and Time many decades ago. In my case, as a young naval officer waiting to be shipped overseas in World War II. That encounter was also a life-changing moment for me. Now, though well into old age, I still feel the excitement of Heard's message. It is my hope that the youth of a new age every bit as threatening and chaotic as the one I faced in the 1940s will find in these pages an illuminating vision of where the human race came from and where it might still aspire to go.


"The mind is effected and agitated...first there are bewilderments, labourings, wanderings, darkness, then horror and trembling. This passes and a divine light displays itself."


True when spoken by an anonymous Greek youth millennia ago. True when Heard quoted it in this challenging book. True now.


*         *          *          *         *          *          *


Marvin Barrett (1920-2006) led an esteemed career as author of 14 books and editor of several noted magazines. For 16 years he served as senior lecturer at the Columbia University School of Journalism, and he was founding director of its prestigious Alfred I. DuPont Survey and Awards in Broadcast Journalism. After his retirement he was for many years a senior editor at Parabola magazine.


This originally appeared in the Spring 2005 edition of Parabola. Copyright © 2005 by Parabola Magazine. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by kind permission of Parabola.


PAIN, SEX AND TIME is available for purchase at the sites below:


Barnes & Noble

Bodhi Tree


Vedanta Press















PAIN, SEX AND TIME was the favorite book of legendary screen icon James Dean.*















* James Dean: The Mutant King by David Dalton, Straight Arrow Books, 1974, p. 263.

Reviews of



Aldous Huxley

"Gerald Heard's book represents a significant attempt to reinterpret in contemporary terms and in the light of modern knowledge the teachings, practical no less than theoretical, of the traditional religious philosophies, with their profound optimism about human potentialities, their empirically justified pessimism about man and society as they mostly are and have been. At a moment like the present, when the humanistic philosophy of progress is revealing itself as hopelessly unrealistic, and when ever-increasing numbers of reflective people are sinking through bewilderment into despair, the publication of Pain, Sex and Time seems particularly opportune."


Professor Huston Smith from his Foreword to the 2004 edition of Pain, Sex and Time

"Overnight, the book in hand converted me from the scientific worldview to the vaster world of the mystics. I applaud the decision to bring this book back into print."


E. M. Forster in The Listener

"One could spend all one's time praising the book but that is not what the writer wants. He wants to help the human race. These are the problems to which he brings his selflessness, his erudition, his great intellectual powers."


Dr. (Hon.) Rhea A. White

"Although published in 1939, this book was way ahead of its time. It should attract a large readership in this third millennium whose minds it will open to new ways of thinking about pain, sex, time, and a leading-edge spirituality that may just now be coming into its own."


Michael Murphy

"Gerald Heard was a prime catalyst in the founding of Esalen. Heard’s evolutionary mysticism, as encapsulated in Pain, Sex and Time, represents the basic worldview that I believe is trying to emerge in the world today. I am very pleased to see this book re-issued, and I heartily recommend it as a classic that has stood the test of time."


Harry Allen Overstreet

"Exciting reading to any one who has learned to despair of what we have liked to call our human achievements."


Marvin Barrett in Parabola

"It is my hope that the youth of a new age every bit as threatening and chaotic as the one I faced in the 1940s will find in these pages an illuminating vision of where the human race came from and where it might still aspire to go."

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