Friday, 18 March 2016

Follow up to Question on the Void

This question (or rather email conversation) came in response to the earlier question on the void, but it also has a connection to the last article which posited that a personal view of divine reality is more in line with truth than the non-personal one of monistic conceptions of the absolute. It is quite long but I hope not without interest to those struggling with the idea of whether God might be personal or impersonal, a question the resolution of which I find to be of great significance for a right understanding of the spiritual life. 

Anyway, on with the conversation which starts off by referring to the experience some people have of ultimate reality as pure awareness, and the claims they make based on that.

Q. If I say that many people who experience what they call enlightenment experience this “pure awareness”, or “void”, or “no centre” as some express it, as a genuine experience but that it is partly coloured by or interpreted by being centred in the personal self or ego, would you agree?

Then could we go on from that to say that there actually is a new centre that gradually grows in us, and which is in one way personal, in the sense that it is our intimate, inner connection with the whole, but at the same time universal, since in this centre we are no longer identified with our personality or even with our individuality? And in this way we gradually, and this is indeed a process of lifetimes, become fully realised and true individuals, anchored in God.

You said “In most cases what is called spiritual awakening is a contact with the soul, or higher self as it is known in occultism, not the Universal Self. Thus it is not a state of full realisation but a reconnection to the ante-natal non-separate consciousness. It can, it certainly should, be used as an inspiration for further spiritual exploration but it is not an indication of any kind of final attainment."

Could you explain this a bit more? Also, in relation to the above mentioned experience of “pure awareness, what is your understanding of the concepts of the soul and higher self in this context, and how do they relate to the universal self? You also refer to the teacher who is what you call a personality aware of the soul, rather than someone totally anchored in and speaking from the higher self. This makes sense to me even if I do not fully grasp what you mean. For example, how would a contact with one’s soul or higher self give rise to the experience of “pure awareness” or “the void”?

A. With regard to your first two paragraphs I would say, more or less, yes.

With regard to the rest, the answer rather relates to my conception of what a human being is, that is to say, how we are made up. I think of this as personality, soul and spirit where the personality is our normal earthly self of body, emotional and mental selves. The William Wildblood self in my case which is born and will die, though it may survive longer than the physical body does. Then there is the soul which is our spiritual self which I conceive of as remaining on a spiritual plane when we are born into this world but acting as the animating and individualising principle to the personality. It is our greater self, a spiritual being that is the driver and focus of our evolution. It is our individual consciousness and quality and has existed since we were created not just for this life like the personality. Spirit is the uncreated aspect of the divine fire in our being. It is our connection to universal life. This is just one way of describing things but I do think this threefold nature of our constitution model corresponds reasonably well to reality.

The experience many people have when they think they have attained a non-dualistic realisation is usually a contact with the soul. To be frank, we are so materially focused nowadays than we tend to think any spiritual state is the highest we can attain, such is the contrast to our normal earthbound consciousness. So if we are exposed to non-dualistic teachings then, if we have an experience of this kind, we think that we have entered into the absolute and touched our reality. But how could we possibly know that? It's just an assumption based on a mental preconception.

Your point about a new centre I take to mean that there is a gradual shifting of identification from the separate self, 'me' centre to a higher spiritual consciousness which is still 'us' but us as a spiritual entity which has its own life but is also consciously part of the whole. So that's the soul.

You also ask how the soul relates to the universal self. I think of one as spiritual and the other as divine, so one is our true spiritual self but a created being while the other is uncreated. One is the source of our individual consciousness, but the other is our being so not different to God's being though not the same either as it relates to God in us not God in the totality of himself. Does that make sense? But to us down here the consciousness of the soul is so expanded and non-separate in nature that we may think of it as supreme.

Teachers I describe as personalities aware of the soul are those, by far the most numerous, who have some knowledge and experience of spiritual truth but are still not wholly identified with that. They are still responding to it with their minds. It hasn't totally infused their hearts. I would include myself in that category - if I were a teacher!

Q. If I can go back to one thing that perhaps does not have a straightforward answer. How come that a personality that comes in contact with the soul, with the spirit self (if we use the terms as you described them), experiences this contact as being one with pure awareness or being one with the void? Why do they, in such a contact, not get at least an inkling of the existence of a God (a personal, living God, not just something absolute)? They also seem to reduce the creation, including their own and other people’s lives, to more or less arbitrary “stories”. Why does a contact with the soul leave them empty of at least an inkling of a deeper purpose here, so to speak?

They seem so certain about their experience.

I guess one answer is what you said, that any experience out of the ordinary earthbound consciousness is easily interpreted as something ultimate. Do you think it would make a difference if they had more knowledge (and interest) in a cosmology or a spiritual metaphysic that puts our current evolutionary stage in perspective?

But you also wrote in the post I referred to, that it is not a state of full realisation but a reconnection to the ante-natal non-separate consciousness. Could you say something more about this?

A. I think that when people contact the soul they generally interpret that according to pre-existing beliefs. So now when we are exposed to non-dualistic philosophies and told these are the highest teachings we assume that is what is going on. Also, an experience of the soul is so different to normal everyday consciousness that we might describe it in exclusively non-dualistic terms. And that is not necessarily wrong. Duality does seem to be transcended in the sense that an overwhelming feeling of oneness is experienced. But, as you say, if we had a more sophisticated metaphysical understanding we might not be so quick to assume that we have reached some kind of ultimate state, than which there is nothing higher.

The experience is true but the conclusions drawn from it may not be. That is why it is generally not a good idea to make experience the benchmark of spiritual understanding. It can feed into that but should not be used on its own.

You ask why people who have the experience of pure awareness do not get an inkling of the personal God. This is because of the state of their heart. It is because of their motivation and inner purity as well as the preconceptions they bring to bear. Briefly, it is because they are motivated more by the search for experience or realisation or enlightenment than love. This is why they might touch the ground of their being but not go further and encounter the living God who is only known through love. They have gone far but not far enough. They have seen through the false self (or had an experience of that) but if they stop there they will not know the glory of oneness with God, a much higher state than simply resting in pure awareness. And this next step on the way requires not simply seeing through the illusion of the false self or ego but the actual sacrifice in love of the self. That will be what is asked of anyone who wishes to know God. Ask yourself which is nobler, intellectually or experientially perceiving the illusory nature of the separate self or actually sacrificing that self in love? It's the difference between doing nothing and giving.

What I mean by reconnecting to the ante-natal non-separate consciousness (which is what some people do and mistake for enlightenment) is that this may engender feelings of bliss and oneness but it is not a state of full spiritual maturity. It's more a retreat to the spiritual womb, the paradisiacal condition before the roughness and darkness of being born in this world. It is the state of primeval innocence of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that is known before we enter the world of experience. In this state the ego has not been consciously transcended in love but just suspended so there are none of the fruits of developed spirituality which are love, wisdom and personal holiness. Though there may well be the imitation of these if the subject has been led to believe through other spiritual teachings that there should be.

To understand what I am saying here please consider this quotation from 'The Imitation of Christ' which I think captures the sense of how the search for pure awareness differs from the real spiritual goal. I'm relying on memory so it may not be exact but as far as I recall it runs like this. "You are not making progress when you receive divine grace but you are making progress when you bear the withdrawal of grace with patience, humility and resignation". With the former you are still seeking reward but with the latter you are faithfully submitting yourself to a higher power. Only when you do this can you make yourself worthy to draw near to the personal God.

Q. How can you tell whether someone has been reconnected to the ante-natal state, where the ego is kept in suspension as you say, or is having an experience that is conveyed by a mature, transformed and transcended ego? Since you said that the first can imitate the latter. Perhaps there can be different degrees of both kinds? Can they even coexist?

I am wondering because the experiences that these people have, and you can find many teachings and testimonies on YouTube nowadays, really puzzles me. And to me, this is a serious matter.

A. I suppose you'd have to say that by their fruits you shall know them. Has this experience made them a deeper, more sensitive person or do they remain identified with things of this world, including worldly viewpoints? Are they able to be alone and to stand alone? Do they require the approbation and recognition of others or can they just be happy with anonymity? Can they suffer, do they sacrifice? Do you see the light shining through them or is it just them that you see? People do try to steal the light, you know!

But then I would also say, does it really matter? Spiritual experiences do not make spiritual people. They can and do happen to almost anyone and are not a sign of advanced spirituality. Not at all. And all too often the ego takes the experience to itself and puffs itself up with the supposed achievement. Look for humility and learn to distinguish between the real thing and the false variety that is all too often met with in the spiritual world.

It's quite natural to be concerned about the shallow forms of spirituality to be found today. So many people setting themselves up as teachers or achievers of a certain state. But my teachers told me not to worry about this as such people are being allowed to prosper. Firstly, because of free will. They have the right to make their own mistakes, and, through experiencing the results of wrong choices, they will eventually make the correct choice. And then others, who might follow these people, will also learn through the experience, and find out what is truth and what is half-truth mistaken for the full version.  

So really the answer to your question is that you have to use your own intuition. Don't accept something is true just because someone says it is or even because everyone says it is. We live in a time of spiritual ignorance and there are many spiritual 'freelancers' who exploit our lack of understanding (not always consciously but they step into a gap because there is a big gap). Pray for discernment, and trust your own heart.

As I have often said here the Masters advised both meditation and prayer as part of a proper spiritual practice. In my estimation the truth is non-duality and duality combined. In the spiritual world we need to be able to embrace paradox sometimes. The mistake the non-duality people make is to leave out the fact that God exists and what he creates is real. It's dependent on him, of course, but none the less real for all that. Many of them are seduced by the fact that they think they have discovered a higher truth and can therefore ignore everything that is not complete oneness. There is a certain lack of humility in that. For God to be love (and all the really knowledgeable people confirm that he is) there must be some plurality right at the root of existence. Love requires a lover, a beloved and love itself. This is where the Christian doctrine of the Trinity (God is three in one) comes in. Non-duality, if really true, would deny love, and non-dualists should see that, if they accept love, then they deny non-duality. They can't have both. Attempts to fudge the issue by relating love to the relative world won't do. Either it is real or it's not. If non-duality is real then love is not real. And vice versa.

No comments: