Monday, 17 June 2019

Seeking the Spiritual from the Secular

A number of my recent posts have been about the negative aspects of the modern world. You might think this is due to my age (things were better in the past, grumble, grumble, etc), and I can't be sure that doesn't enter into it somewhere. But the main reason is because the world really is further removed from God and spiritual truth than it ever has been. It's not just down to the nostalgia of someone in his 60s who looks at the past through rosy-tinted spectacles (I certainly don't do that), but reflects the dramatic spiritual decline of the last few decades. If you don't see this decline then you don't understand what the spiritual is. Arguments that point to improvements over this period miss the point. Outer improvements just mask inner deterioration.

When I first decided to spend my life seeking the truth behind religion I didn't pay much attention to the external world. I knew it was materialistic and that was that. I wasn't interested in it. What I didn't realise was how much the world then was still living off its spiritual inheritance. But, as time has gone by, that inheritance is almost spent and the world, even the secular, materialistic world, has changed fundamentally. Therefore I have felt the need to talk about that instead of remaining in my cosy spiritual bubble. The world used to be unspiritual in a passive way. Now, it is actively unspiritual. It was a place that just ignored spiritual reality but still functioned more or less naturally. Now it seems not only to have abandoned God but Nature too, and this has consequences when people begin to take an interest in spirituality. It powerfully affects their approach to it because they are not just starting off from a position of neutrality but one of opposition, and they generally don't realise this so take all their prejudices with them. The spiritual is often seen through the lens of the material or the political or the social or whatever it may be, something that has previously arisen from a purely secular ideology, even an anti-God ideology.

No-one can take to the spiritual path properly who does not start off that journey with a deep and sincere repentance. If we are to know God in any way at all we must acknowledge what a sorry and unholy thing we are without him. We must see that completely and it must leave us with a strong sense of unworthiness. This is not self-hatred but an honest recognition of reality. Without God we are nothing. With him we can become almost anything. But what do we find in spiritual circles now? Many people who seek spirituality do so without repentance. They want to add spirituality to their existing self without seeing that it is the existing self that is the barrier to spirituality. What is required is not just an intellectual appreciation. It must be foundational, reaching right down to the roots of what you are. It's no good becoming a spiritual seeker if you are just pursuing some kind of satisfaction or reward. You must have a profound sense of your own sinfulness but that is hard in the modern world because the modern world does not, for the most part, acknowledge sin except for secular sins, sins against political correctness, and these are transitory things, reflecting temporary attitudes. But sins against God, against truth, against nature, against your true self, spiritual sins, sins that are sins at all times and in all places? Not so much. However, without realising that you have sinned in this way you might as well not bother with the spiritual path. Knowing that you have so sinned is the beginning of repentance.

Just the beginning though. Repentance means you renounce your past self. You do not act from the self in the attempt to become spiritual. You refuse it. This is a lengthy process and means that repentance is not a one-off decision. It must be constantly renewed and it is renewed through purification which is the essential requirement of any real spirituality. To neglect the need for purification means you are a spiritual dilettante.

Purification is cleansing the soul of worldliness. It means seeing the world not in its own light but in the light of God, and it demands a complete reorientation of the mind and its motivations. Do not think that believing in spiritual things means you are a spiritual person. You can only qualify for that description when the prince of this world comes and finds nothing in you. And who would dare claim that? Not me.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Ways To Go Beyond

This is the title of a book by Rupert Sheldrake. The blurb reads as follows.

"To go beyond is to move into a higher state of consciousness, to a place of bliss, greater understanding, love, and deep connectedness, a realm where we finally find life's meaning - experiences for which all spiritual seekers seek.

Dr Rupert Sheldrake, writing as both a scientist and a spiritual explorer, looks at seven spiritual practices that are personally transformative and have scientifically measurable effects. He combines the latest scientific research with his extensive knowledge of mystical traditions around the world to show how we may tune into more-than-human realms of consciousness through psychedelics, such as ayahuasca, and by taking cannabis. He also shows how everyday activities can have mystical dimensions, including sports and learning from animals. He discusses traditional religious practices such as fasting, prayer, and the celebration of festivals and holy days.

Why do these practices work? Are their effects all inside brains and essentially illusory? Or can we really make contact with forms of consciousness greater than our own? 
We are in the midst of a spiritual revival. This book is an essential guide."

Where does one start? As far as I am concerned, this shows a total lack of understanding of what spirituality is all about. I haven't read the book and don't intend to which might discount me from expressing any opinion on it. Nevertheless, going by the blurb and reading about it on his website where it talks about why "these seven practices work..., give a greater sense of connectedness.., make people happier and healthier, etc" leads me to think that Rupert Sheldrake has swallowed all the nostrums of the New Age and that, for him, spirituality is not about putting oneself right with God but the 'experiences' one gets out of it. Quite frankly, this is an inverted form of spiritual aspiration which strays perilously close to the diabolical. I will explain why.

First of all, I'm not saying that Sheldrake is in the league with the devil or anything silly like that. From what little I know of him, he strikes me as a very mild and benevolent person. However, if he is saying what he appears to be saying in this book then he is confusing spirituality with psychology.  He is saying that what matters in spirituality is how it makes you feel, "moving to a place of bliss, more connected, happier and healthier". What matters is none of these things. This is a classic case of the worldly self trying to appropriate the spiritual for its own ends instead of realising that the spiritual only arises when the worldly self is sidelined and not allowed to be the driving force behind an individual's goals and aspirations. Far from being about the search for bliss or health and happiness, real spirituality is about the sacrifice of the ego even to the point of accepting suffering if that is what God ordains.

Any spirituality that is not motivated by a pure love of God is a false spirituality, ultimately just a search for reward even if that is spiritual not material. But what's the difference if the motive is the same? That is why I call it diabolical for the devil always wants to claim the prize without paying the price. He is a thief, and seeking the effects of spirituality without qualifying for these through real personal transformation, which pace Sheldrake is not achieved through practises of any kind, still less drugs, but through dedicating oneself to the Good, the Beautiful and the True wherever these may lead and whatever they may demand in the way of sacrifice and suffering (and they will demand these), is attempted robbery.

The modern Western person wants spirituality without religion which means he wants higher states of consciousness without God. But it is only through dedication to God that one can rise above one's own petty self-concerns, and only by doing this can one really be stabilised in (instead of fleetingly touching or trespassing on) higher states of consciousness. But to do this you must love God not for what you get out of him but purely and simply for himself. If there is any hint of this in Sheldrake's book, I apologise but if there is not and it really is about what its description implies then I'm afraid I have to say he is just another blind leader of the blind.

There is no revival of spirituality just because people want to be spiritual in order to reap the perceived psychological benefits of spirituality. There will only be a revival of spirituality when people renounce their worldly egos and start to love Goodness and Truth for their own sake. But these are not mere abstract qualities. They are embodied in Christ and if that is not seen then they are not really seen.  Consequently I venture to say that there will be no real revival, in the West at least, until people reawaken to the reality of Christ. Only by following the path laid down by him, and actually focused in him, can we be truly spiritual. 

One further point.  Spirituality is not scientifically measurable. Anything that is scientifically measurable is not spirituality. 

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Are You Real? Then God Is

My approach to reality has inevitably been coloured by my experience with the Masters, as set out in my book about them, but the fact is that, even if I had not had this experience, that approach would in most essentials be the same.

Even before I met Michael Lord, the man who properly introduced me to spiritual ideas, I had come to a conclusion. I realised that if the world was as described by materialism, which was and still is the intellectual background of most people, even the nominally religious (by which I mean many religious people still go along with the tenets and assumptions of materialism in their daily lives), then nothing meant anything.  Worse, if the teachings of biology, physics, chemistry and psychology were true on their own terms then I didn't exist, not as a real person.

But I knew I did exist as a person.  I knew this as a fact of experience. Indeed, I see it as the prime spiritual fact and even a proof of the existence of God.  I am a person and I am real, not formed by mechanical, material forces which would make me an artificial thing with no substance. Therefore, there must be something beyond these. There must be spiritual forces and these forces must include, at the very least, a personal element.  My reality is not self-sufficient but I am real. Hence there must be something from which I take my reality which has its own self-sufficient reality.

These are intellectual reflections but actually my attitude was largely an intuitive one. I remember being told by a Buddhist monk that the self did not exist. In line with standard Buddhist teaching he maintained it was just a phenomenal thing held together by thought, sensation and the like. Now, if the self really were no more than this he would be right but I don't consider the Buddhists go far enough. They have deconstructed the ego but have not seen beyond that to the real self which is more than the phenomenal version. It is the reality of which the ego self is the illusionary distortion. The Buddhists are right when they say that the ego is a false thing but they don't see that it is a false version of a real thing. I recall standing in the rain on the platform of some dreary station in North London waiting for a train to go home after my meeting with this Buddhist monk, and my whole 22 year old self rebelled against his teaching, supposedly the wisest, most spiritually profound understanding of our true nature there was. It was logically impeccable and came with the highest qualifications, and there clearly was a deep state of peace that could be attained if self was renounced. But that didn't make it right. And I knew it wasn't right even though it took me a long while to work out why it wasn't. That's because, on its own terms, it is true. But, from the broader perspective, it's not the whole truth.

In a way, the Buddhist position is easy. For once you have decided that the self is not real you can detach yourself from your own problems and suffering without really having to confront them and deal with them as real issues. They are all nothing but passing states from which you stand aloof. And yet, while the Buddha is impassive, Jesus wept. In that little phrase lies something that Buddhism, for all its talk, genuine talk, of compassion, misses. If you renounce the self you kill something inside yourself which actually gives life its quality and flavour. As has been said, you cure the disease by killing the patient.

Buddhism is a magnificent teaching for rising above the pain of this world and establishing yourself in formless being, but it can only do this by turning its back on God's reason for creation and retreating to a state in which creation has no meaning. But creation does have meaning and this meaning is tied up with the fact of relationship or love. To forgo this is to repudiate God's purpose for expressing himself through the created universe and human beings who are not supposed to return to the formless source whence they arose but to become more individual though individual in the sense of being unique individualisations of God himself not separate individuals, cut off one from another. As the Masters have said, the aim is to be individual but not individualistic. 

So it was the reality of the person that first convinced me of the logical impossibility of materialism. I knew I was real, as does everyone who is not plagued by some form of mental illness, and I saw this knowledge as the basic fact that disproved materialism. I am quite aware that some materialists will say that this was just the mind playing tricks on itself but they are just caught up in intellectualising games. No-one lives as though they aren't real unless they are ill. No one looks at their own children as no more than assemblages of impersonal material forces unless they are sick.

If you are a real person then God exists.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Discovering Tolkien and Lewis

I thought I might relate how I came across the works of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien even though it's probably not very different to how most people did. But this includes a bit of personal history too which I always quite like when it relates to other people.

My great-grandfather was a man called J.L. Garvin who was the editor of the Observer newspaper from 1908 to 1942. He was the son of an Irish labourer so he did very well for himself as apparently people could do in those days if they were clever and worked hard though that is not the perception now. He had 4 daughters and one son, the latter of whom was killed in the first World War like so many other young men at the time. There is a book published by my uncle which is a collection of letters between father and son written while the son was at the front. (We Hope to Get Word Tomorrow by John Ledingham). The family was very 'arty', books, poetry and so on, except for my grandmother Una who rebelled against all that and became a doctor, specialising in diabetes in pregnant women.  She married another doctor and they were both atheists, probably in reaction to their quite strict religious upbringing, Catholic in her case, Church of Scotland in his. But I think of them as atheists with strong Christian overtones as people still could be in those days when the moral and cultural legacy of the past was still deeply rooted. When, in effect, you could afford the luxury of being an atheist because you lived in a world formed by religion.

Thus the household in which my mother grew up was not religious at all though it did have an unspecified Christian underpinning. In contrast, my father grew up in a Methodist household run by his mother and her spinster sister. His father had died when he was only 3 years old and he was raised in religion though of a rather dour type which he didn't pay much attention to as soon as he was old enough not to.  I was baptised in the Church of England but we only went to church on high days and holidays, though I attended a religious service every day at school.

The point of all this is that, due to one thing or another, there were not many books in my house.  My mother was a voracious reader but she mostly read romantic fiction and pot boilers which in later life she actually bought by weight in a second-hand market like fruit and vegetables.  “Could I have 25 pounds of paperbacks, please.” It actually was like that. She claimed to have read all the classics in her youth and now just wanted something to distract her. My father, who was a chartered accountant, had more or less the same books on his bedside table when he died as he had had ever since I can remember. He just read the newspapers. But I was a bookish child and two of my grandmother's sisters, both regarded by the family as rather dotty (which they were), came to my rescue. It was they who every birthday and Christmas from the age of 8 until about 12 gave me The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and most of the Narnia stories. I devoured these avidly and when my parents died I recuperated my early hardback copies from their house and I still have them.

In this way it was basically two slightly eccentric old ladies, one of whom, Viola, was a tipsy poet constantly in debt who sold the family portraits to finance a whiskey habit while the other, Ursula, started her adulthood by running off to Paris with the actor Claude Rains before moving to Italy and ending up after a divorce super-devout and going to mass every day at Westminster Cathedral, who injected some imagination into my prosaic childhood. The more responsible members of the family, fond as I was of them, did not. Perhaps there’s a moral there somewhere.

Now, of course, it has fallen to me to be the slightly dotty relative in my wider family and I try to fill the same function (in respect of stimulating imagination not necessarily way of life) as my two great aunts.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

The Turin Shroud

I don't know whether or not the Shroud is authentic but it seems, as far as I understand the matter, that the weight of scientific evidence is tending more and more to the conclusion that it might be. Numerous tests on everything from the cloth, the blood, the image and how it might have been made, the wounds and how they are in keeping with what modern research says they would have been, even pollen found on the cloth, all point in the same direction. This could have been the burial shroud of Jesus. And significantly, despite the best efforts of researchers, it has not been proved to be inauthentic. Considering that it was manufactured, if it was manufactured, by, at the latest, the 14th century since when the existence of the Shroud has been recorded, this is remarkable. Any techniques in use at that time should surely have been relatively easy to expose with today's technology.

But, as I say, I have no idea of its authenticity and I think the position of the Catholic Church, which has neither endorsed nor dismissed the Shroud but regards it as an important relic, is a wise one. There are two things I would like to say about it though.

The first is that if I were told that it had been conclusively proved beyond any doubt (which is probably impossible but I present it as a theoretical possibility) that the Shroud really was the burial shroud of Jesus, I would not be disappointed. I am talking about the face.

It is a face of such nobility and majesty and wisdom and suffering borne without self-pity or complaint then it could well be that of Jesus. No other face I know of from painting or photographs has this effect. This is the face of someone I could follow. A man of sorrow but also a man of power. It is the face of a king. It's often said that you can't judge a book by its cover but, spiritually speaking, that's not the case. For someone like Jesus, the outer would reflect the inner just as it does in heaven, and I have no doubt that his physical appearance would have drawn people to him almost as much as his teaching. For his  appearance would have been the natural expression of his spiritual state within the parameters imposed by his parentage. 

The second thing is that, authentic or not, the Shroud could well have been given to Christians as an aid to faith, especially at a time like ours when everything external purports to explain religion away. Not a substitute for faith, which is why it will never be proven to be the shroud of Jesus, but an aid. There is just enough about it to convince those who want to believe, and maybe some who hesitate at the borders of belief, but not enough to silence doubters and deniers. That's as it should be. Belief should never be forced but always be a personal choice, based on intuition though aided and abetted by intellect. Reason, rightly responded to, will always point in the direction of God but you need something more to make intellectual understanding develop into spiritual conviction. Faith is the opening up of the mind to higher reality. The Shroud, the noble face, the miracle of its existence and its apparent witness to the reality of the resurrection, can be a material support to faith at a time when not much else is.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

The Fall and the Rise

Somebody asked me how I could square the idea of a fall with the theory that we are evolving to higher states as I believe in both of these and, at first sight, they might appear contradictory. If we once lived in Paradise and knew neither good nor evil, how could we ever change? Why should we ever change?

That's a good question but I think the two ideas can be reconciled without too much trouble.

We were always intended to evolve from unconscious to conscious oneness. That is, from a state of passive non-separation from life to a creative union with it in which we could wield its powers in love. God created us as individuals and we were intended to grow to personal godhood through expressing our individuality. A static condition was never envisaged. But something went wrong and this evolution is consequently harder and longer with more suffering involved. But it still proceeds towards the always intended goal of divine union.

If Adam and Eve had not sinned by disobeying God then sin and death would not have entered the world. I am not saying that I believe in the literalness of the account in Genesis but it does contain a very profound truth presented as a simple story which all can understand. What actually took place probably did not occur in the physical world at all and was unlikely to have been the responsibility of just two individuals. It seems more reasonable to speculate that humanity as a whole, such as it was at the time, took a collective wrong turn, no doubt instigated in part by the forces of evil as the story says, and the result of that was a descent to a lower dimension of being in which full separation from the creative source of life was known. This had the knock-on effect of allowing for the development of individual consciousness but also meant there was nothing to stop that development from proceeding into permanent separation from God with no chance of a return until Christ was born to give that chance to those who would accept it.

If Adam and Eve had not fallen I believe they would still have developed as individuals but in an environment in which their growth proceeded without pain and suffering, and in an orderly way that was what you might call spiritually organic. It would have been a natural progression, as a tree grows or as physical growth occurs in human beings. Now, our spiritual growth is uncertain, sporadic and may not even occur. Without the Fall growth would have been rhythmically arranged, like seasonal change, and without pain. Because of the Fall it involves much greater hardship and is not inevitable.

God can bring good out of evil. The Fall was evil. I think that those who theorise that it was an intended part of the cycle of growth, on the basis that knowledge of good and evil allows for self-consciousness and the growth of mind, are mistaken. These things would have happened but they would have happened in a different, presumably better, way. God did not mean to leave Adam and Eve, nascent humanity, sitting in the Garden of Eden picking fruit forever. He meant them to become gods themselves, beings in whom (perhaps in contradistinction to the angels) spirit and matter were united and who could create something new out of that union. (Note: this is where those who acknowledge the reality of duality are more spiritually perspicacious than those who espouse a purely monistic philosophy - as long as their duality is grounded in monism.) He meant them to evolve according to the root meaning of that word which is to unfold. So this evolution is not of the Darwinian kind but the unfolding and expression of already present, albeit in a rudimentary form, elements. 

Human beings fell into a lower state of being through the misuse of their free will. But they can rise in the same way by reorienting their will to divine reality. I don't know if this can only be done through Christ but I do think it is best done through Christ. Before his advent the way to escape the prison house of matter (in that it had become separated from God, not absolutely because then it would cease to exist but apparently) was by renouncing it in the manner of a Buddha. But Christ, through his life and death, reopened the connection between spirit and matter and enabled the union between the two to take place which they first fully did at his Ascension. Christ brought the light of spirit to the darkness of matter and gives us the opportunity to do the same. 

If we had not fallen we would still have risen from Paradise towards Heaven (looking at those things in terms of conscious connection to God) but this would have been a natural process. Now it's not natural but it's possible that through the experience of sin and death something is gained by those who overcome them that would not have been available to us before. Might that be a deeper awareness of the reality of love?

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Is This What It's All Come To?

I know a man now in his eighties. He has led a successful and fulfilled life. He rose high in his profession and was widely respected by his peers. He had a happy marriage with several children and now has numerous grandchildren who love him and whom he loves. His life has not been without suffering but, on the whole, it has been a good one. And he's a good and honourable man. But he has no religious belief at all. As far as he is concerned, it's all childish nonsense, wish fulfilment and make-believe.

Now he is wracked with pain from various ailments to do with old age. Worse, his wife may be dying and he won't be far behind. He is frightened. 

He reminds me of my own father who was always a proud (in a good way), independent, self-reliant sort of person but who was brought low by a stroke and became a shadow of himself. He had a vague religious belief but had left it to one side for most of his life, seeing it as something that wasn't really that important compared to the actual reality of life here and now. It wasn't strong enough to sustain him when it came down to the wire. Both these people come to the end, the point to which all lives inevitably tend, and suddenly are faced with the bitter (to them) truth. This is it. There is no more. All pleasures have faded and disappeared, past joys and happiness really are past. They are dust and ashes. There is nothing left but pain, suffering and then darkness. Non-existence. There was never any meaning in anything.

This is a truly pitiful state to be in. It leaves the person in it with few options.  Some might think there is a kind of bleak heroism in defiance, in saying I have lived my life and have no regrets. Death, do your worst! Perhaps there is but I think this is really just bravado. It achieves nothing. And it is prideful. Most people are not able to be like this anyway. They, like the person I describe above, become frightened. The reality of life and death, hitherto not fully thought about, becomes apparent and they risk being overwhelmed and dying in a state of hopelessness though I believe that at the end people are often aided by a feeling of acceptance. God is merciful.

The other option is repentance. Some might say it is cowardly to turn to God when you are dying. I would say it is sensible. You can put all your intellectualising aside and just become what you always have been really which is a naked child. Become a naked child and turn to God and you will not be left comfortless. Choose light rather than darkness.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

World's Woe

Here's something that I won't do again very often, if at all, but I've shared it elsewhere so thought I might put it here too. 

When I was at school doing A level English I wrote a poem in which all the words began with a W (for obvious reasons plus I was born on a Wednesday). That was lost years ago but I've tried to reconstruct it from memory so some of this is old and some new and some a mixture of the two. Lowercase omega is like a w and is the last letter of the Greek alphabet so the poem was about the end of things. 

Nowadays I might call that the Kali Yuga and that is the subject of this poem. The last phase of a world cycle when the environment, both physical and psychological, degrades and not just the spiritual but the natural too is overturned with understanding of the true good lost, to be replaced by a pseudo-good based on the primacy of humanity in and for itself. But, because this is a lie, the world deteriorates and many people who notice this now happening completely fail to see that it is they who are responsible. There is a grim humour in the current lamentations of leftists about how bad things are getting (Trump, Brexit etc) for they don't realise that it is they who have caused this reaction by their anti-God and anti-Nature behaviour of the last 50 years. When your thoughts and actions are out of harmony with reality then chaos and disruption are the inevitable consequence. Monsters breed monsters.

World's Woe

When will we wonder why we went wandering wistfully woodways?
Will we walk with wizards while whispering women wait without?
What will we wear when water weeps?
Why waste words with wicked wastrels?

Wild winds worsen wintry weather
Worthless worship weakens warriors
Winners welcome wagers with winks
Wisdom will warm when wedlock wanes

Weaklings, wet with wine, whimper while wolves watch
Weeping willows waver, wormy, weedy, wasted
Wounded wombs wither, wealth wilts
Wives, widows, witches, woeful world

Whitewashed wills weave worn words
War waxes while whips whirl
Whether warnings work when we wake weary
Wonders witnessed within will.

A friendly critic told me that the poem as a poem would be improved if I allowed myself to break the w rule occasionally. He's quite right. For instance, the last two lines could be made clearer. They mean that outer warnings won't stir us when our minds have been dulled and desensitised by the distortions of modernity so inner spiritual awakening is required. However, I was hoping to create an incantationary quality too and that would be diminished. I like the idea of a poem as a magical spell and with the sense somewhat hidden.