Monday 25 November 2013


As traditional Christianity loses its appeal in the West many people look to other forms of spirituality. Some turn to the East and some to pre-Christian Western religions or, to be strictly accurate, modern versions thereof. In the book I made a brief comment about paganism, and I'm happy to expand on that in my response to this question. 

Q. I belong to a pagan group and I disagree with the statement in your book that paganism is not on the same spiritual level as the revealed religions. Different paths suit different people and why should one form of spirituality be better than another? Are you saying we should not worship as we please?

A. First of all, nowhere do I say that people should not worship as they please though I assume you would draw the line at human sacrifice?

Next, may I ask if you would deny that some things really are better than others? Do you truly believe that there is nothing superior and nothing inferior in this world? If that is so then why even tread the spiritual path at all?

Let me now try to describe paganism as I see it. It is not the philosophy of Plato or Plotinus, even if most medieval Christians would have thought of those two as pagans. Paganism in its modern sense is a religion of Nature. That is why it grants such a high place to the Goddess who is none other than the personification of Nature. I do not say that such a being does not, in some form, exist and is not worthy of veneration. I think she does and she is. However I do say that she is part of the created world and it is precisely this that marks out the essential difference between modern paganism and the revealed religions. To the extent that paganism either denies or downgrades the transcendent Creator God, it is a lesser spiritual approach than one that fully acknowledges that God as the supreme source of all. Pagans worship or seek to propitiate the powers of nature and the beings of the inner worlds. Now, there are many powers in the universe, most, though not all, benign. But they are created beings not the Creator and a religion that ignores this fact is not on the same spiritual level as one that accepts it. That does not mean that a pagan may not be a more spiritually aware person than, say, a Christian but, just as the more enlightened druids accepted Christ as a higher revelation of the divine than that they currently knew, and the polytheistic pagans of Mohammed’s time saw Islam as an advance on their religion, so the truths enshrined in the major revealed religions are of a higher order than those in paganism. I should add that Hinduism is a little different as it includes everything within itself, both paganism and the highest metaphysical truths. That is how it has developed. This points to the fact that one need not reject all aspects of paganism though one must go beyond it.

Please don’t think that I am dismissing your approach. Any spiritual practice followed in sincerity and humility will bear good fruit. I do however still maintain that paganism, the worship of the energies of nature and the earth, is not, spiritually speaking, on the same level as the great revealed religions which see spirit as hierarchically superior to matter whilst not denying that matter, creation, is an intrinsic part of the divine, worthy of love and respect though not worship. Could it be that modern paganism has arisen partly as a response to the body-denying element of traditional religion which was an over-reaction to the correct perception of spirit as the pre-eminent divine principle?

There is a further point. Paganism, while a justifiable spiritual approach in its day, was superseded by the advent of the monotheistic religion of Abraham then by Christianity and then Islam. The pagan deities may at one time have been the transmitters of the divine impulse but when that impulse was withdrawn, which it was, starting well over two and a half thousand years ago, something was left which were the vehicles that had embodied that impulse on the psychic level. For when spirit ceases to animate a form it has at one time operated through that form still remains in the inner worlds though it will start to decay in just the same way as the physical form does when the soul has departed. There is this difference though. The pool of psychic energy left behind by an ancient religion may linger for a long time and can even be given an additional lease of life if attention is directed to it, by, for example, ritual or prayer. This does not mean it retains its spiritual virtue as God has withdrawn his gaze from it but it can give the impression of that to those who mistake psychic for spiritual light.

By the way, it would be my contention that the animating spirit has started to withdraw from all contemporary religions and that is why they do not satisfy as they used to, and why many people seek elsewhere for their spiritual sustenance. However to seek to revive past approaches to the divine is not the answer, not in the long term anyway, as all you will reanimate is the psychic element of the religion. You may also be giving energy to beings on the psychic level who may present themselves as the old gods but who, even if they are in some sense affiliated to past spiritual practices, no longer have a connection to the transcendent realm. The spirit has withdrawn and it will not be going back into old bottles. It never does.

The fact is not all spiritual paths are equal in the sense of being of equal vision and depth. No doubt all paths that have the worship of God/the gods at their heart can lead you upwards if followed in sincerity but some are purer channels to truth than others. And while some forms of religion have as their primary purpose to enable us live in harmony with nature and help attune us to the higher worlds, others have the higher aim of bringing about the transcending of ego and the going beyond form. I don’t believe that paganism, as practised, can do this because that is not its principal purpose. It is to help us live in the world rather than go beyond it. At the same time, the revealed monotheistic religions have the defects of their qualities and undervalue both nature and the body. That leaves a gap which the pagan religions can fill. However they, in their turn, are limited by their emphasis on what the monotheistic religions tend to ignore or downplay which is the Goddess principle. The Goddess is the Mother and specifically Mother Nature but you must go beyond Nature or form, in all its aspects, to find the source of your being which is in spirit or the Father.

I'd like to add a few words about modern neo-paganism. This appears to be almost entirely derivative with the main focus on nature worship but some metaphysical concepts added on, picked up from occultism, Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism (amongst other things), to give it intellectual credibility. But these are by no means central to the religion as practised which is proven by the fact that neo-paganism celebrates the natural self rather than seeks to transcend it. True religion doesn't deny the body but it does see it in its proper place as a frame, and it would never identify with it. Neo-paganism has to be seen as a homemade belief system for people alienated by materialism but unwilling to go beyond the psychic to the truly spiritual.

I know that some of the things I say here will not sit well with everyone but if you are serious about the spiritual path you must put away fashionable beliefs as well as conventional ones.  Paganism and its companion shamanism are popular these days but, although there are certainly things we can learn from them, they belong to earlier ages and are more suited to psychic exploration than spiritual transcendence never mind the sanctification of the soul.

Monday 18 November 2013

A Visit to an Ashram

Meeting the Masters is mostly about a single year in my life, the year the Masters made contact with me and the first year of my tuition by them. This was also the only year I recorded their messages in a systematic (or relatively systematic) way. During that period Michael and I made a month long visit to India which is described in the book. However shortly after that we returned to India to live, and we stayed there for five years, during which time the Masters continued to talk to me. In fact, part of the reason we went there was that it was easier for them to do so. They also wanted  to separate us out from the world for a spell so that we could devote ourselves to the spiritual quest without distraction. 

We spent the first few months in and around the city of Bangalore before moving up to the hill station of Yercaud in Tamil Nadu where we bought a property which comprised two bungalows. This property was on the side of a hill with the bungalows on different levels of a terraced garden. We lived in the top bungalow and ran the lower one as a guesthouse. It only had three bedrooms and the season was relatively short but it gave us a small income as well as something to do of a practical nature. The Masters always encouraged me to keep myself occupied and not lapse into the sort of over-introspective mysticism which leads only to self-absorption. As they told me shortly after we arrived in Yercaud. 
Work more with your hands so that you keep busy, and do not dwell so much in thought as that will only make you self-centred and inclined to lose yourself in speculation that goes nowhere. You will not gain the knowledge you seek through thought”. They were and are practical mystics and that is what they seek in their disciples. The correct balance between inner and outer is important on the spiritual path, and the Masters were always keen advocates of working with the hands which they saw both as a form of giving, or, to be more accurate, training towards a giving attitude, and as a means of keeping the over-activity of the mind at bay.

You will not gain the knowledge you seek through thought. That's precisely the opposite approach to the modern one. It does not mean that thought is wrong (in its place) but it does tell us that spiritual knowledge is only to be found on a higher plane than the mental one. And really spiritual knowledge (that is, spiritual knowledge not knowledge about spiritual things which is an entirely different matter) is the only sort worth seeking.
Our Bungalow in Yercaud
I regard those five years in India as the most important of my life but didn't include much about them in the book partly for reasons of space, but also because I wanted to focus on the words of the Masters as recorded during that first year. The following piece is something I did originally include but then cut out as not particularly relevant to the main thread of the story. It's not without its interest though, and I hope earns its place as a post in the blog.

'This is not a personal history so, although there are many other things I could write about our time in India, here is not the place to do it. However I might mention a visit we made to the ashram of Bede Griffiths, the Christian monk who had adopted the lifestyle of a Hindu sannyasi. Michael and Bede Griffiths had a mutual acquaintance who had given us a letter of introduction and so, one time when we were travelling in the vicinity of his ashram, we decided to pay him a visit. By one of those little quirks of fate which implies that someone on the other side has a sense of humour, it turned out that Bede Griffiths had that very day gone to Yercaud for the funeral of a fellow Catholic priest. However he was expected back the next day and the people at the ashram kindly said we could stay there. I recall that the ‘bed’ we were offered was basically a slab of concrete jutting out from the wall, resembling a shelf more than something you might want to sleep on. Still, you don’t go to ashrams for the creature comforts. The ashram itself, though, was idyllically situated on the banks of the sacred river Kaveri, the Tamil equivalent of the Ganges, and though the life led by the devotees there seemed simple to the point of austerity, the natural beauty of the place more than compensated.

   Father Bede came back the next day. With his long white hair and beard, barefoot and simply dressed in an ochre robe, he looked every inch the holy man. We talked to him for an hour or so and it was clear that his appearance was a true representation of what he was which is not always the case. However I did have some reservations about his ashram or, more specifically, about the form it took. The church was built along the lines of a southern Indian temple with statues of Jesus and Mary in the form of Hindu deities and frankly looked like something out of an Indian Disneyland. We went to a service which was half Mass and half Puja and, although conducted with obvious sincerity, seemed to both Michael and me to be misconceived. When you mix the outer elements of religious traditions you risk ending up with a hybrid that may preserve something of the externals of both but has nothing of the inner nature of either. Truth is beyond form but form can also express or misrepresent truth, and if you try to blend traditions that have grown completely separately, you lose most of what matters and might even be left with a caricature of both. It is true that religions have borrowed from each other and that, for example, the now unmistakably Eastern form of the Buddha owes much to Greek influence but when a religious iconography and ritual has taken on a settled and defined form, to mix it up with that from another tradition negates its purpose which is to act as a channel from the inner to the outer.

I don’t want to be misunderstood on this point. I am not saying that religions cannot learn from one another or that they do not have the same inner truths behind them, but to seek to combine their outer trappings and forms of worship robs them of their operative value and results in a possibly well-intentioned but effectively confused mish-mash, style without substance. Religions may ultimately be one but a mosque is a mosque, a church is a church and a temple is a temple, and to see a picture of Christ sitting like Siva is likely to reduce them both from powerful images expressing spiritual truths to trite composites which communicate nothing of an inner nature. I understand that Father Bede himself was aware of the dangers of syncretism, and I mean no disrespect to his person in writing of my impression of his ashram like this. He was born in a time when religions were more exclusive than they are now, and it is understandable that he sought to move beyond that, but I think the approach tried at his ashram was a mistaken one even if it was well meaning and sincere. '

My visit to Father Bede's ashram was nearly thirty years ago and it may be completely different today. But that's not the issue. I've included the piece to make the point that a mix and match approach to religion, popular today, doesn't really work. Because there is nothing hidden anymore, and we all have easy access to everything that has ever existed, at least superficially we do, it is tempting to blend traditions and think we are getting the best of all worlds. But that is not necessarily the case, and in this instance greater breadth often means less depth. I am certainly not saying that we cannot learn from other traditions. One of the great boons of living at the present time is that we can do precisely that. But try to blend the outer forms of traditions that spring from different revelations and you risk losing the connection they both might have to the source.

Monday 11 November 2013

Is God He or She?

There was an article in the Daily Telegraph last week that claimed that thinking of God as ‘He’ is a purely cultural thing and that ‘He’ could just as well be referred to as ‘She’, though the article did admit that limiting God in any way determined by gender made no sense anyway. Of course, the latter point is perfectly true, God transcends form and cannot be limited by anything, but the article as a whole displayed a fundamental misconception of what God is and seemed to be prompted by the desire to fit spiritual truth into a form determined by personal prejudice. Now this is an accusation that could also be levelled at defenders of the so called patriarchal interpretation of religion and God, but the fact remains that conceiving of God as ‘He’ does make metaphysical sense in a way that conceiving of the Creator as female does not, and I will tell you why.

Absolute reality is beyond any idea of male and female as it is beyond duality and beyond quality of any kind. It is pure being, the One without a second that contains all things but in itself is No Thing. However if life is to be expressed then it must manifest and for that to happen the One without a second must appear as God the Creator who then, for Creation to take place, must bring forth from itself (or awaken since it already exists in potentia) the Eternal Mother which is Divine Substance or the form out of which the Creator creates. Form is Mother. This is the division of the One into two complementary principles and the beginning of what we might call masculine and feminine, though really it makes little sense to think of things in those terms at this stage. These two principles must act together in order that Creation may come about, the Father acting on the Mother who brings His thought to fruition through her being. Only through the working of the feminine aspect of divinity can idea take form and become reality, but the initiating creative impulse comes from the Father.

So, speaking symbolically, we can say that everything is created out of the body of the Mother but from the vision of the Father. The Mother is the matrix in which the thought of the Father is expressed and takes shape and without which it could not develop.

God the Creator, therefore, can most accurately be thought of as male because He is the acting principle behind manifestation but also because He stands in positive relation to Creation. As they say, all souls are feminine to God. However the Divine Feminine exists too, firstly as the substance out of which the Creator creates, but also, in case this mistakenly gives the impression of Her as purely passive, as the principle of Mother who is a divine being embodying love and compassion as well as sacrifice since it is she who gives her body to form the created worlds. To forestall possible objections I should add that it would be an error to claim that this description is merely a projection of human stereotypes onto a cosmic plane for, in fact, the reverse is the case. Human behaviour, when based on what is natural, is a reflection of archetypal cosmic principles or, as the famous Hermetic maxim has it, as above, so below.

What I hope to have made clear in the paragraphs above is that everything in Nature has been created out of the Mother, which is the passive or receptive principle in manifestation, by the Father which is the active principle. Hence, from the spiritual point of view, manifested life is made up of the union of spirit and matter with spirit as Father and matter as Mother. There is no implication in this scenario that one cosmic principle is better than the other since the two are equally necessary for creation to come about and, anyway, each suggests the other and is a part of the other. But they have different roles. The Father gives life. The Mother gives form to life.

This is a very simple outline of how life manifests and, it should go without saying, is more symbolically true than literally so, but nevertheless it expresses a reality. Out of the Great Unmanifest there emerges what become the two poles of manifest existence, and these are clearly described in various traditions as essence and substance, purusha and prakriti and so on, but the Masters sum it all up when they say (in Towards The Mysteries) that God is Father of Spirits, but Nature is Mother.

There is no doubt that in the past, particularly in Protestant countries and Muslim ones too, the Mother aspect of God has been devalued, if not neglected completely, and it should certainly be restored to full awareness in the interests of balance and harmony not to mention truth. However restoring it to its rightful position should be done with an awareness of what it actually signifies rather than an attempt to establish some kind of gender equality which is quite meaningless in this context. Spiritual beliefs should never arise out of political ideologies or personal preferences or in response to anything or in reaction to anything. They must always be based on the perception of truth as it is expressed in divine principles.

Monday 4 November 2013

Belief in God

This question came in response to the previous article. I consider it to express a common contemporary misconception which is why I am posting my reply here even though it's a subject I've touched on more than once before. 

Q. You’ve talked a lot about God in your recent posts but I incline towards Buddhism and don’t accept the idea of God which I see as an invented concept to give people something they can understand, like a powerful king to whom they owe allegiance and who will protect them if they serve him. That seems so out of date now. We know the universe is far subtler than that. Why do you believe God is so necessary to the spiritual path?

A. Because He exists! And without Him nothing would exist. Just because people in the past (and now) have understood God according to their own lights does not mean that that on which they base their inevitably limited understanding is false. I don’t think it is sufficiently realised today how Buddhism arose in part as a reaction to the prevailing Brahmanical religion with its plethora of gods for the masses and guarding of ultimate truth for the elite. The Buddhist position is not wrong but it can be one-sided, and that makes it unsuitable for those Westerners who, because they want to dispense with God, focus on its philosophical aspect but ignore the fact that traditional Buddhism has a religious side too. All spiritual aspirants need to understand that you cannot go beyond God and reach enlightenment until you have reached a stage of oneness with God. And you won't reach that without fully acknowledging God and your total dependence on Him. That is why the Masters told me many years ago (when my spiritual practice consisted mostly of meditation) that I did not pray enough, adding "Do you think yourself above prayer? Even the greatest saints prayed and while meditation is necessary you need to have the humbling experience of prayer also." We notice most the faults in others that we ourselves have or had, and I have observed that many people today think you can have spirituality without God, pointing to Buddhism or one of the non-dualistic philosophies in support of their position. But they are mistaken and they need to ask themselves why they want this to be true because it seems to me that in this case, as in many others, the desire is father to the belief. Of course, that is an argument that atheists have often, and sometimes justifiably, levelled at believers, but it cuts both ways.

God is the personhood of life. Without this aspect of personhood you have compassion but you do not have love. God is the 'I' that stands behind all other 'I's. If there were no archetypal 'I' there could be no individual 'I's. God's is the mind from which springs this whole universe. Without this original mind there would be no lesser minds. God is not a person but He has individuality and this universe is the expression of that, though not, it must be said, in the purest form on the physical level.

The Buddha is the greatest human spiritual figure known to history but I think Christ embodied divine truth to a higher degree and not least because, whereas the Buddha was honoured and respected until his death in old age, Christ was the suffering saviour who died ignominiously and who, to all outer appearances, failed completely in his mission. There is a great teaching there. The Buddha was the Enlightened One. He was a man who became a god or even more than a god according to the Buddhist conception of gods. But Christ was God who became Man. I don't mean this literally, which is what separates me from regular Christians, but on the symbolic level it is undoubtedly true, and even on the literal level I believe there is a mystery to the incarnation of Christ that cannot be adequately explained by seeing him as no more than a prophet or enlightened being. In his person the end and purpose of creation were made clear and fulfilled while for the Buddha, or so it seems, creation was, if not rejected, certainly seen as something to be gone beyond and left behind. For the Buddha the purpose of life was to attain Nirvana, but for Christ the world of creation was an integral part of the whole of life, there to be redeemed not just transcended.

I know Buddhism has the idea of the Bodhisattva but I see some of the later developments of Mahayana Buddhism as inspired by the Incarnation of Christ. Not directly as in a religious influence travelling in the physical world, but through a spiritual energy that was released by the Incarnation and which spread by suffusing the mental plane of the entire planet, and from there being reacted to independently throughout the world according to the understanding of those sensitive enough to respond to it, but expressed within their existing mindsets.

The reason for this brief comparison of the differences between the Buddha and Christ (I know comparisons are odious but they can be revealing as well) is to make the point that the non-theistic aspect of Buddhism is not a higher spiritual concept than a belief in God. It may relate to a deeper level of reality but that level of reality on its own is not all there is, certainly not in terms of manifested existence, and, in fact, on its own, is only half the truth for God Impersonal and God Personal are two sides of the same coin. On the level of ultimate reality all is one but when all is one then nothing is anything. Creation has a purpose which is to express the Uncreated, and that purpose can only be realised on an individual level, as Christ showed in himself, by fully acknowledging the Creator. As Jesus said, ' No one comes to the Father except through me', and what that means is that nobody realises the Impersonal Godhead without fully acknowledging the Personal God. The form in which we make this acknowledgment need not be the same but the spiritual perception and impulse behind it must be.

There is a further difficulty that may arise from unwillingness in a spiritual aspirant to believe in the Creator. Why do you tread the spiritual path? What is your motive? Is it because you seek something, wisdom, fulfillment, enlightenment, realisation, heaven? Or is it because you have perceived something that calls forth all your love and you want to conform your being to that, and to do so purely because of this love and not because you wish for anything? The Masters made very clear to me that only in the latter case is there any chance of spiritual success which always requires submission and surrender to a higher power. Not as a vassal submits to an overlord but as a lover submits to his love.