Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Mysticism, True and False

Not all that seems spiritual comes from God. Ecstasies, visions, higher states of consciousness, mystical intoxications, all these and more can come from that level of the inner world which reflects higher, truer levels in a parodied or distorted form rather like the reflection of the sun on water. The 20th century saw this sort of thing like never before, and much that is called spiritual now actually emanates from these worlds. Such states do not lead to God but to illusion, pride and, if pursued, spiritual corruption, ending up in a greater separation from God than that of the everyday materialist.

How does one tell the difference between true and false? It comes down to what is in the heart. Those with pure motive and clean heart who tread the path out of love for God are unlikely to be deceived and, if they are, will learn from the deception relatively quickly and move on. Those who seek experience may get experience. They won't get truth. Those who seek truth may sometimes fall into error but they will be safeguarded by their fundamentally honest motivation. The impure self will attract impurity to itself. The self striving for purity for the sake of purity and not for the sake of what it may gain thereby will be open to levels of light undistorted by the action of the worldly ego which bends all it receives to reflect its own state.

True illumination is not simply an experience of joy or ecstasy. It is above all a moral experience which may elevate the soul but also reveals to it its utter dependence on God. There is no inflation or, if there is, it is not one of the individual experiencer but of his receptivity to God, and this will actually diminish the experiencer in his own eyes. True mystical experience makes humble. False experience puffs up and deceives.

I say false experience but actually the situation is not quite that simple. For the false is not completely false. It is a false representation of truth, like a counterfeit note or a mirage, and, to add to the potential for confusion, while it is not true, it does have a borrowed reality which makes it not completely a lie. In addition, compared to our normal mode of consciousness, it may seem much deeper, more alive and more intense. But then so can drunkenness compared to sobriety.

Everyone who is moving from a spiritual attitude exclusively deriving from following external authority to an inner spirituality that seeks to know for itself what it has only hitherto been told, and to know it as a fact of consciousness, needs to be aware of the dangers of spiritual deception. We are often told nowadays that there were esoteric groups in the past, whether followers of mystical teachings in the East or hidden occult orders in the West, who had a greater understanding of real spirituality than existed in the mainstream. Sometimes this is true. Often it is not. Those who have broken through to the inner worlds by whatever means, whether spiritual practices or yogic techniques or whatever it might be, even drugs, are by no means guaranteed a true vision. If they themselves are not true, they will not get truth though they may get an approximation of it that seems true to them. But unless they learn to see through the distorting waters of what is sometimes called the astral plane, that zone above the material in which spiritual truths are converted into mental images, they will remain in illusion. And the only way they can learn to traverse these waters safely is through purity of heart and love of God

This is the difference between the true and the false. It is a matter of motive. Do not think that lust applies only to the flesh. There is a spiritual lust too and those guilty of it may gain some kind of experience they call spiritual but they will never know the true mystical marriage between God and the soul.


Faculty X said...

In philosophy and science one of the most difficult questions is how does one know something is true.

One of the strengths of yoga is it offers actual pathways to take. Several esoteric orders of the West do the same.

I haven't found prayer effective by contrast. There is little guidance in the Bible on how one knows, especially if one wants direct knowledge.

Let's say one had a personal issue of great importance. How would you recommend finding out the answer in line with God's will if prayer is consistently ineffective?

William Wildblood said...

It depends what you mean by effective. The effectiveness, spiritually speaking, is not necessarily measured by outer effects or effects in consciousness which is what yoga etc might be looking for. Spiritual development is rarely obvious or even apparent to the individual concerned. Prayer might be purifying the soul in an unseen way that esoteric techniques cannot do.

Spiritual knowledge is a matter of intuition rather than experience. I might have any number of mystical experiences but the knowledge these give me could just be outer knowledge from the spiritual point of view. It needs intuition to convert that into wisdom.

Keri Ford said...

I think I’m in basic agreement with the point you are making, but don’t entirely agree with the way you make it when you say:

"Such states do not lead to God but to illusion…”

The Saints experienced ecstatic states, intoxications etc. however, the distinction you make next I think does lead to the heart of it:

“and, if pursued, spiritual corruption…”

That “if pursued” is the essence of it, these states are not the goal, they should not be pursued and they can be a distraction. The nature of God is all knowing, all loving and omnipresent and I can’t see how the true worshipper of God who has God within their heart will not experience great joy.

I think your point here gets to the heart of it:

“True mystical experience makes humble. False experience puffs up and deceives.”

Although I might phrase it the other way round, that pride and conceit will undermine even true experience.

William Wildblood said...

Keri, I'm not saying all ecstasies etc come from lower levels. I certainly don't believe that. I'm saying that there is a reflection of the true spiritual world which can be mistaken for the real one and these states can be reproduced there as well. Basically all that glitters is not gold.

Agreed about your last point.

edwin said...

John of the Cross examines in some detail the kinds of "spiritual" experiences that are available to those seeking a direct knowledge of God, and his advice is to ignore most all of them because one cannot be certain of their origin. Even if they come from God, he reasons, we can contaminate them with our own pride and imagination, turning them into something other than what was intended. If we let them alone, they will accomplish what God intended without our interference. The Ascent of Mount Carmel is both a catalogue of such experiences and a warning against becoming attached to them in any way. The only experience we can rest in with confidence, he says, is that which concerns God Himself. I once had a guru who was asked, "What happens to a disciple who has a false teacher?" He replied, "It doesn't matter if the teacher is false, so long as the disciple is true." This was ironic, as later revelations showed the guru to have been guilty of sexual abuse and other unsavory things. We all want confirmation of what we intuit to be true, and we tend to seek it in the sensory world, where it cannot be found. Drugs tend to intensify sensory experience; meditation tends to lull the mind into a passivity that feels blissful. Neither pass the test of St. John of the Cross.

William Wildblood said...

Good points, edwin. A question all of us who pursue the spiritual path should ask ourselves is why am I doing this? And if it is to get something then we need to ask forgiveness for seeking to use God for our own ends. We all do this but we have to realise the fact that we do.

Sean fowler said...

Isn’t there a passage in thebible where someone asks something along the lines of. How do I know if I’ve been visited by a benign or malevolent spirit. The answer was something like, you know by how you feel afterwards. Maybe I heard it somewhere else. Have looked for the passage on numerous occasions. Makes me think of Mohammed and how he was tortured for months afterwards and thought himself to be possessed by demons. Does anyone recognize the passage that I paraphrased?

William Wildblood said...

The only passage I can think of is somewhere in the acts of the apostles which says that all true spirits confess that Jesus is the Lord. I can't remember where exactly.