Saturday, 20 February 2016

Words and their Meaning

The idea for the previous post came about from a question I received recently which suggested that we are approaching a new dimension of life (from the standpoint of those outgrowing the materialism of the modern world anyway), but do not have a developed language for it. That set me to thinking about language in general and how it can distort truth, especially spiritual truth, in ways which I outlined in the earlier article. The terminology used can carry certain inbuilt ideological assumptions which are taken as the basis on which anything else may be understood. But if spirituality has to be seen through the prism of a non-spiritual mindset how can it begin to be understood in the right way?

Here, though, I want to return to the original question and the specific points it raised. The questioner said that the word 'spiritual' is used in such a broad and vague way now that any real meaning it might have is easily lost. She said the same applied to words such as ‘psychic’, ‘occult’, ‘mystic’ and also ‘cosmic’ (as in cosmic consciousness), and asked if I could explain my understanding of the meaning of these words, some of which are used interchangeably and therefore confusingly. To a culture that only understands the world in terms of its outward manifestation these words are either meaningless or else amount to more or less the same thing but, in fact, they can be seen to have specific meanings which becomes clear when one thinks of the world beyond the physical in terms of various levels instead of dividing existence up into material and spiritual with nothing in between. My answer is below.

"You are right to point out that the language one uses in talking about spiritual matters is important because it conjures up ideas, and can either clarify or confuse understanding. I used to be quite loose with my language at one time because I knew what I meant but didn't fully appreciate that others might have a different understanding of the word employed. 'Spiritual' is a case in point. Now I try to be more accurate.

However, as you say, we are really only just approaching the non-material world now and don't have a good vocabulary for it yet. Moreover, as we generally approach it from the outside looking in, we don't understand it well which can lead to numerous difficulties, linguistic and otherwise. 

I use the word spiritual in different ways, depending, I must admit, on the context. Sometimes I use it just to mean non-material or even non-physical because, of course, the subtler worlds are not physical but they are still worlds of form, so material of a sort. This is where psychic comes in. I generally use that word to describe the non-physical but still material worlds, and to ideas and states of mind relating to them, emotional, mental and the like. For instance, the so called psychic powers are clearly not spiritual since they are extensions of the senses and have no true connection to what is beyond 'name and form'. In fact, much that is called spiritual today would be better termed psychic because it still involves the ego as a centre of consciousness and takes place in one or other levels of the world of phenomena.

So the spiritual, to be strictly accurate, is really only that which transcends the personal (as in separate) self and all that pertains to that self. In abstract and moral terms it has to do with concepts such as goodness, truth and beauty considered in their ideal forms, and, in human terms, with consciousness as distinct from the forms it might adopt. Thus it is the world of oneness beyond form in which we all have the innermost part of our being but which is only fully accessible when we have shed our identification with and attachment to the 'sheaths' or bodies that normally obscure it; that is, our differentiated aspect.

Occult is similar to psychic. As you will probably know, it simply means hidden so refers to worlds and powers which are above this physical one, and obscured from normal sensory perception. But the occult is not the spiritual any more than the psychic is, and once you have a rough idea of the nature of the inner worlds you see that many of them are no more spiritual in the sense of pure and holy than this one is. If duality is present, the idea of 'me' as a separate being, then spirituality is not. Occult techniques and practices may be effective on their own level but have nothing to do with true spirituality whether you think of that in terms of sanctity or enlightenment.They operate in and are restricted to the world of creation whereas spirituality is focused on the Creator or however you conceive of what is beyond the created order.

Mystic relates primarily to the attempt to attune oneself to the spiritual plane through practises such as intense prayer and meditation. The mystic tries to become one with God. I believe the word derives from a Greek word meaning closed eyes and lips, and that is a good clue to its basic sense which is the attempt to be still and know God. The mystic seeks to go beyond himself and the world of doing, and find his centre in pure being or love depending on how he conceives his quest. I see mysticism as the stage of going inwards after failing to find fulfilment in outer things. Some would say that, in its turn, it must be superseded by a more balanced approach which seeks to integrate inner and outer, and I would not dispute that.

As for cosmic consciousness, this is just a popular catchphrase as far as I am concerned. It was first used in the 19th century by the Canadian psychiatrist Richard Bucke to describe a brief  experience he had of the universe as a living presence. It was then taken up to refer to any kind of mystical-type experience in which the everyday self seems to be bypassed and the individual enters into a state of oneness. There are, however, various kinds of these experiences. They come about in different ways but one thing they all have in common, apart from the sense of being taken out of oneself, is that they are always temporary. They are not indicative of an advanced spiritual state, though the unwary or spiritually ambitious might take them as such. Personally, I don't use the phrase but, if one takes it literally, I suppose it would refer to the state of consciousness of beings who are not incarnate in this world. After all, the cosmos is pretty big and to reach a condition of real identification with it is rather more advanced than human beings, as they are here and now, can manage. But if it is understood simply to refer to the mystic's sense of oneness with all things caused by a connection to the soul level then I have no objection to it as long as it is understood that this is not some kind of ultimate state, beyond which there is nothing higher, but merely a glimpse into what awaits humanity when it goes beyond  its current dualistic (i.e. subject and object are separate) state of mind."

That's a brief run through of my understanding of various words that are sometimes used interchangeably. I'm sure that as our appreciation of spiritual reality grows and develops so will our language evolve, and become more capable of expressing subtler truths.

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