Friday, 25 April 2014

What Spirituality Is Not Part 2

I concluded the previous post by saying that spirituality was not connected to the quest for enlightenment by which I meant that a concern with reaching a supreme spiritual state belongs to the ego. But I am not disputing the fact of enlightenment or self-realisation, though I do say that it is very rare and the current democratisation of it by some students and teachers does nobody any favours. The idea that we are all already enlightened and only have to realise it through not much more than a shift in perception is nonsense. We may all have the seed of enlightenment within us but the seed needs to take root and grow, and a shift in perception leading to the understanding that we are not the mind/body, and that life exists only in the present moment, is but the start of a very long process. The majority of contemporary Western non-duality teachers (none of whom, incidentally, is enlightened in the proper sense as a comparison with individuals such as Ramana Maharishi and Krishnamurti will show) confuse initial awakening to the soul with full enlightenment. Their teaching may have validity on a psychological level, and even take you a certain way down the spiritual path, but it is human-centred and unless you move beyond that limiting framework, you risk being left stranded in a cul-de-sac where the denial of the ego by itself is regarded as its own transcendence. For the ego is not simply an illusion to be seen through by the wise. It is a stone-hard reality that can only be burnt out on the funeral pyre of sacrifice and suffering.

Continuing with the theme of these posts, spirituality should not be confused with humanism, a philosophy that originated in the Renaissance, when the reality of God began to be removed from the centre of things, and really took off in the 18th century when that reality was pushed to the sidelines. Humanism makes the critical mistake of not recognising what a human being actually is for we only become fully human when we go beyond our ordinary selves. 
It may have introduced certain ideas deemed progressive, but these are really only secondary and the devil is always happy to see us 'improving' the world and ourselves if, in so doing, we forget God. Spirituality is not concerned with making us happy or fulfilled as human personalities. Its only purpose is to enable us to realise our identity as souls. Its priority is not to make a heaven on earth ('my kingdom is not of this world'), and it is not in any way political. 

That does not mean that inequalities and the suffering of the poor are of no concern to spiritual people, but the solution to these problems will not come from trying to solve them on their own level. Rather it will come when we reach upwards and see things in their true light, when we 'seek first the kingdom of heaven'. Political problems can only be solved with spiritual solutions because it is only when men and women know themselves to be souls that the right way to live in this world becomes apparent. As long as we are in ignorance of our true nature there will be disagreement. That's because political opinions are opinions, and where there is one opinion there will be two and so inevitably there will be conflict. To go beyond conflict we need to go beyond the duality of thought-based opinion, but a focus on politics per se will always lead to division and therefore some form of conflict. Besides, as the Masters have said, politics are born in the cradle of corruption, and the reason for this is that all politics invariably comes down to the search for power. Hence my belief that an overtly political person cannot be a spiritual one, which truth is illustrated in the lives of Jesus and the Buddha, particularly the former who made clear his view that the right way to live in this world could only come by being fully focused on the next. This is not an excuse to maintain the status quo, but true change can only come from inner transformation and it will not arrive until enough human beings know themselves for what they really are. If you want to change the world then first change yourself. 

The humanist approach is based on liberty, equality and fraternity, and you might think these ideals are a laudable foundation on which to build your worldview. What could possibly be wrong with them? But if we look at them in the light of spirituality then things are not so simple. First of all, take liberty. What is freedom? There is outer freedom in which no man owns another or can force another to do his will, but what of inner freedom? What is that? The truth is that inwardly we are all slaves. Slaves to our desires, to our prejudices, to our fears, and, most of all, to our selves. No man is free who is identified with self. So freedom is not of but from self. God gave us a self so that we could give it back of our own free will, and that is the only true and lasting liberty. 

Equality is the over-riding belief of the present day. To dissent from this is the nearest thing to heresy we have now, but I think that many of us, while in no way denying the essential oneness of humanity (which is surely what equality must be founded upon) feel that something is not quite right as it stands. Spirituality presupposes equality, doesn't it? The only answer to that is yes and no. The oneness of humanity is a spiritual fact (meaning that it is true at the deepest level and not just a theory or ideal), and the Masters told me to regard all people as manifestations of the divine. But they also said that men were by no means equal on the Earth, (though adding the essential proviso that one should not let that be a cause for dismissing anybody). If we want to be true to life as it is, and not just force it into a system of our own choosing that conforms to our own particular prejudices, we will have to arrive at an understanding that takes both these facts into account. Anything less will be lop-sided and so eventually fall over. However the reconciliation of apparently contradictory points of view is not a problem if one approaches things on an intuitive level. It's only a limited mind-centred approach that sees conflict where none exists in reality. Human beings are all sons and daughters of the Most High, but we are at different stages of growth and express different aspects of the divine.

Finally, take brotherhood. Can that be a mistaken ideal? Surely not, but again an important element is missing. How can you have brotherhood without a Divine Parent? It's no good acknowledging the brotherhood of man if you ignore what actually gives that brotherhood its basis in reality. The rock upon which human brotherhood is built is that we are all sons and daughters of the One God. Without full recognition of the Universal Father-Mother-God the brotherhood of man is just a dream with no substance or binding force.

The point here is that humanistic ideals are not wrong, and their introduction was necessary at a time of great privilege and an excessively hierarchical approach to society. But they are incomplete without seeing them in the light of the reality of God. Now they can be regarded as one of the many imitations of the good in this world, but if something does not have God at its centre it cannot be called good and will only end up distracting us from what is truly good. All spiritual aspirants must know that a lesser good can be (and often is) used to divert our attention from spiritual truth. And the politically inclined should realise that a spiritual approach cannot be allied to either a liberal or conservative agenda in this world, even if it may share certain points in common with both.

Moving on, there are many practices nowadays called spiritual that really just stimulate or sedate the mind. Even meditation can be one. The purpose of these practices is usually to bring about some experience or other, an experience of peace or bliss or whatever it might be. However spirituality is not about experience. It is about ego transcendence. That is to say, it is about actual ego transcendence not the experience of ego transcendence which is quite a different thing and can actually strengthen the ego. Higher states of consciousness do exist and can be accessed but that's not the way to make a sinner into a saint. I appreciate this is an unfashionable way of putting things nowadays, but a sense of our own unworthiness is a vital part of treading the spiritual path. The Masters at one time told me that in order to cultivate humility I should think of myself as the lowest of the low. This doesn't mean a grovelling, almost masochistic self-abasement but a free and frank recognition that, of ourselves, we are nothing and God is everything. And what is someone identified with their own ego if not a sinner? When it comes down to it that is precisely what sin is and why we are all sinners. This is the meaning of the story told of the 8th century Muslim saint Rabi'a. One day she met a man deemed wise in the ways of Allah who told her that all his life he had trodden the path of obedience and had never sinned. Her reply illustrates the difference between the conventionally religious person and the illumined mystic. She said, "Alas my son, your existence is a sin wherewith no other sin may be compared."

The spiritual path leads from this level of reality to a higher one but because it starts from this world it can easily become mired by the stains of worldliness. In fact, unless the truth, as it is represented in this world, is continuously nurtured and protected it soon loses its authenticity, and lesser imitations spring up to replace it. It's like a beautiful garden that must be weeded and tended on a regular basis if it is to remain beautiful and not turn into a wilderness. By the same token, if spiritual truth is not constantly maintained and restored there is always a falling away from divine law built on metaphysical principles to human morality based on the preferences of, and changing mores derived from, the mind. If there is no recognition of a higher power this morality then descends further because it is usually based on the recollection of spiritual teaching stripped of its spiritual content. And that is why we must constantly remind ourselves what spirituality is not as well as what it is.

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