Monday 24 February 2014

Gradual or Sudden Awakening?

This is an old controversy. Is spiritual awakening something you build up to, and which arrives as a result of hard work and effort, or does it come the instant you realise what you truly are and no longer get in the way of that? Is there a movement through time to reach it or does it happen spontaneously? The answer is quite simple, though it may require a little explanation. It is both.

Many times when writing about spiritual matters I notice how words can get in the way of real communication. I might be approaching the central issue from one angle and will say one thing, but then I will come at it from another side and say something different which may even seem contradictory to what was said before. I happen to think that's a good thing as it gives a more rounded picture of the whole, but I concede that it may be confusing for someone who takes words at face value and doesn't see through them to the reality they are attempting to describe. The subject of this post is definitely one that has the potential for confusion, and even heated disagreement, if one looks at it from an either/or perspective. As so often wisdom comes from treading the middle way.

From the standpoint of non-duality what is called enlightenment must happen out of time as it is awakening to your true self, the pure awareness that is always there and upon which your personal self has merely been superimposed by the actions and reactions of mind. Disassociate yourself from these actions and reactions and you will be what you are, what you always have been and always will be. Your eternal self, the eternal self that exists out of time, beyond form, is unchanging, unmoving and so on. This is elementary, indeed literally so.  There is nothing you can do to bring this about as 'you' are precisely what stands in the way of it. And all of that is true, but it is not the whole truth.

It is possible to have a spontaneous experience in which you seemingly arrive at the ground of consciousness, consciousness stripped of its feeling and thinking accretions. You have an insight into the nature of reality, and may assume you have reached the state called enlightenment. (The truth is this is just a beginning and requires considerable deepening, but we'll ignore that for the moment). You may become a teacher based on this experience and the insight it has given you, and consider that because pure awareness is always ever-present there is nothing anyone can do to get there because you are already there. You simply have to recognise that fact. This may lead you to deny the need for a spiritual path of gradual stages and movement through time, and to reject all teachings which support that idea. But that would be a mistake. For the vast majority of people it is simply not possible to go beyond the separate self without hard work and extensive purification of the ego. Traditional spirituality recognises this and has many practices designed to facilitate the task. However some modern teachers believe these can be ignored. As a result they can leave their followers floundering, confused and disillusioned if they're lucky, self-deceived and imagining they too have attained if they're not.

It may be true that there is nothing you can do to reach any kind of spiritual awakening because what keeps you from that is identification with yourself as the doer. You must simply be. However before you can simply be in a true and real sense you must clear your mind of all kinds of erroneous beliefs and impure energies. You must root out falseness and egotism from your psyche, you must sharpen discernment, detach yourself from image-making habits, deepen humility and thoroughly cleanse the physical, emotional and mental aspects of your nature from the detritus of many years of wrong thinking, self-centred feeling, attachments, tendencies to react and so on, and this is not the work of a day, a year or even, if we're being honest, a lifetime. The self cannot be seen through as an illusion before it has been wiped clean and all the knots and tangles that comprise it have been untied, and that takes time and effort. Truly to be in the ever-present moment is only possible for a soul that has reached a high degree of purification and is relatively impervious to ego. Of course, you can think yourself into the now by forming a mental concept of it and coordinating yourself to that, but this is just the ego copying its idea of reality which, even if it is based on a degree of real insight, is still just an idea.

There is another point that needs to be made here, and because it is one often ignored perhaps it should be stressed. 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.

So, bearing that in mind, I would counsel the spiritual seeker to be realistic and to understand that while awakening may indeed come spontaneously, as an act of grace you might say, it can only take root and develop as a result of hard spiritual endeavor. The water of ego will only come to the boil and evaporate when it has been fully heated.

Let me illustrate what I am saying here with an example. A while ago I saw a video in which a woman was lamenting the fact that after many years of seeking she still was not enlightened. The teacher, who was a strict non-dualist, was making the usual point that the fact she wanted enlightenment was what was preventing it happening. She should just let it come.  Now this teacher clearly had some insight and a degree of realisation, but he was still what I call a personality aware of the soul rather than someone totally anchored in and speaking from the higher self. He saw everything from inside the non-dualistic box for it is a fact that the concept of non-duality can indeed become a box if it gets fixed in the mind to the exclusion of anything else. As a result he was only giving his questioner half the story, the ‘forget the personal self’ half (putting it in the terms of my teachers). This is the via negativa side to spirituality, the stripping away of all that is not consciousness to find consciousness, what is known as neti, neti (not this, not this) in Advaita. And it is a valid approach. But it lacks something for what it doesn't take into account is the purpose of creation, the reason for this whole world of manifested life and the fact that there are human beings in the first place rather than just pure unmanifest consciousness. Why would reality manifest just to return to where it had always been? If the via negativa were all there was to spirituality that would surely be the case, but the unmanifest embraces form to become more, and this is why, for a true spiritual understanding, the negative approach to God (or reality, if you prefer) must be coupled with a positive, active complementary side.

What I believe the teacher here should have told his questioner (in addition to what he said not instead of it) was that she should forget about enlightenment and focus her entire being on something greater than herself. This would take her away from herself and make the quest for enlightenment (a personal quest obviously) redundant. This is the ‘Remember the Creator’ half of the Masters’ teachings, which is known as dhikr in Sufism, a form of mysticism which seems to me to combine the essence of both duality and non-duality better than most. It is the injunction to love and serve God, and it would help this lady make much faster progress (and yes, progress for there is a path) towards a true spiritual sensibility. She would not be waiting for enlightenment to come as a result of some sudden insight into her true nature, but instead gradually opening up her heart to receive divine grace.

The objection might be raised that this is just falling back into the illusion of duality with God and the soul seen as two separate things. But God is not an illusion, love is not an illusion, and nor, for that matter, is the soul which was created for a purpose, and the practice of the presence of God in the heart is the best way to overcome the sense of a separate self which is eventually swallowed up by active participation in the divine. Continual remembrance of God purifies the ego, rendering it transparent and fully receptive to the divine light, in a way that a goal-seeking self-enquiry, which is always going to be largely a matter of the mind looking into itself for most people, will be hard pressed to compete with. Spirituality is of the heart and, while it is perfectly correct that identification with the mind must be destroyed, this will not lead to true spiritual awakening unless, together with that negative, there is the positive of being centred in the heart. Live simply in the heart and all mysteries will in time become known to you, said the Masters. Note, with reference to our subject, the phrase ' in time'. 

So there is a spiritual path. It is not simply a matter of seeing that the ego is an illusion caused by thought but of cleansing the soul of all impurities, and eradicating the tendencies and habits of lifetimes. It is not just a question of detaching focus from the mind but of transferring it to the heart which is to be seen as the centre of being. And this takes time. What the God who created us wants is not that we see the self never existed, but that we actively give the self up in love, that we voluntarily give back the gift we were given, and it is this, rather than simply seeing through illusion, that is the sacrifice that makes holy and leads to the sanctification of the soul. Let me repeat this because it is so important. It is not that we see selfhood to be an illusion but that we renounce it in love. This is the proper transcending of duality, going through it and going beyond it, rather than its mere denial which it is all too easy to do with the mind. Furthermore, this is the reason for the Masters' recommendation of prayer as well as meditation, stilling the objection of the unbending non-dualist with the following words, addressed to me but appropriate for everyone. 'Do you think yourself above prayer? Even the greatest saints prayed and, while meditation is necessary, you need the humbling experience of prayer also.'

The universe was created in time. Of course, time is not the absolute reality but it exists as the means whereby unmanifest emptiness becomes more than it is. God,the Universal Mind, wants to grow. That process involves each one of us, and it can only be accomplished in and through time.


Tuesday 18 February 2014

Thoughts On The Modern World

This post starts off as one of those occasional pieces on my life with Michael Lord during the time we were being instructed by the Masters, but then detours into the preoccupation of the last few posts (as implied by the title) which is why it is included here. After this, though, it will be time to leave the Kali Yuga alone for a while.

The Masters sent Michael and me to India in 1980. Or rather, we came up with the idea to go there independently but they then confirmed that it was their wish for us. There was no question of them telling us what to do. However I imagine this move would have been intended from the beginning, and known on the spiritual level long before it filtered down into our conscious minds. By that I mean that on the level of the soul, the greater part of you that remains with us, as it was described by the Masters, the general pattern of our projected life path is known, though it remains for us to adopt that pattern or not as the case may be.

We had been living together for just over a year, and sorted out areas of disagreement due to our different ages and attitudes. The holiday we had taken in India earlier (described in the book and also here) had introduced me to the country and awoken what seemed to be a strong tie with it. So I felt I was going back to a place with which part of me already had an association. If the reader will forgive a little personal speculation here, I have no recollection of any past lives but I do feel affinity with certain times and places, and India is certainly one of the latter. That proves absolutely nothing but, given a belief in reincarnation, it is not so surprising.  India is such a large country, and of such great antiquity, that many of us must have spent lives within its borders. As for the Masters, they, of course, are universal, but I know they too have a close connection with India. They also told me that it was easier for them to come to us there than in the more psychically polluted atmosphere of the modern West. Mind you, that was over thirty years ago.

Although Michael spoke Urdu, a close cousin to Hindi which is the main language in the north, we decided to go to the south of the country as that region was closer to its traditional roots in those days.  As a result it was somewhat less affected by the ravages of modernity, especially outside the main urban areas. I have been accused by an enthusiast for the scientific/materialistic world-view of hypocrisy because I criticise the modern world while at the same time availing myself of its benefits, but I think my accuser misunderstood my position. This is what I actually believe. We in the modern world have been seduced by the wonders of technology and, as a result, have lost touch with our source and centre. We now live in a self-created artificial environment which we assume to be real, but which actually separates us more and more from what is truly real. It is often claimed that technology is neutral but it's not. It is based on a belief, and that belief is the superiority of the machine over nature. If we accept technology on its own terms then tacitly we accept that belief.

That is my view based on my understanding of the spiritual nature of reality. However we live in the modern world and it would be foolish to pretend otherwise so my attitude has been to use the products of modernity, as and when necessary, but to remember that many of them would not have been created in a society that was metaphysically aware and knew where it had come from and where it should be going. And while I may use them, and in some cases depend on them as we all do now since the contemporary world is built around them, I don't let their conveniences blind me to their downside. I would never deny the many advantages they have brought, but it is important to know that we have paid a price for those in our separation from both nature and God.

Apologists will say there have always been tools and that modern technology is just a more sophisticated tool, but they ignore the fact that this modern technology (beginning let's say, for the sake of argument, around the dawn of the industrial age) seeks to dominate nature with the sole purpose of making our lives materially better. It succeeds but at what cost? A spiritual one, quite obviously. For the more we focus on material improvement as the main point of life, the more we identify ourselves as material beings and the less we know ourselves for what we really are.

In the past mankind respected and worked with nature (not always but usually) because nature was seen as part of the universal spiritual order, but now it is regarded merely as stuff to control and exploit in an increasingly ambitious attempt to refashion the world according to our will. Of course, it's not wrong for man to use his ingenuity to improve his environment and better his material conditions, but that should always be subordinate to a proper spiritual awareness, and there is good reason to think that a line was crossed when nature ceased to be regarded as our Mother, or at least part of God's creation, and became, if not our slave, then certainly our thing to do with as we wished.

The modern world and the technology that created it are the result of a denial of God and nature. How could I not criticise it, given my stance that the basis of life is spiritual? Undoubtedly some degree of compromise is necessary, and I am not saying that everything about the modern world is wrong or that technology has not made life much easier for us. But I am saying that it has assumed too great a significance in our lives, and that the changes it has wrought have brought about many losses, both obvious and subtle. To an extent we are becoming aware of that now but very probably it is too late, and besides we don't seem able to give up what we have.

We are in this world but we have been instructed not to let ourselves become of it. That saying applies just as much to the modern world too, and another saying, that when you sup with the devil you should use a long spoon, is equally relevant in this context. Therefore live in the world, use what you need to live and work, but keep yourself spiritually free and avoid entanglement in its snares. For the apple was not just offered to Eve once only and long ago. It is offered to each one of us every day.

I don't want this article to be taken as a wholesale rejection of science or technology in themselves, but I do intend it as a criticism of the kind of science that denies our reality as spiritual beings, and of the technology that grows out of that attitude. For I am not saying that the modern world was an aberration that should never have happened (as I have mentioned before I believe it to be an inevitable part of an unfolding cycle, which is why its characteristics were able to be predicted so accurately in many ancient scriptures), but as spiritual people we should be alive to its anti-spiritual nature.

Away from the World 1982

It became clear that it was the Masters' wish for us to choose an environment as much as possible removed from the distractions of the modern world, somewhere that would aid our attempts to lead a spiritual life rather than obstruct them. This was not running away from reality, but returning to a state more in tune with reality for a period in order to become spiritually grounded. But it was not an end in itself, and after five years we went back to the 'real' world (real in the sense that it was our world, the world we had come from and to which we, in this life, belonged), partly to show that what we had learned had taken proper root and partly (or so the Masters said) to bring something to the modern world, or that small bit of it we contacted, of what we had learned whilst in India. This is what they said to me in one of the first talks they gave after our return to England. "You must learn to be more outgoing but still make the inner life of meditation your main point of focus, and then balance the two. Remain yourself, do not feel you need to adjust to suit the world, but absorb what others have to give and teach only when it is obviously required or sought. Observe and absorb. Gain strength and awareness from meditation, and practice what you have learned in India. You may find that outwardly people will reject your spiritual attitude, but if you remain yourself you will create an impression."

As always I quote the Masters' words because of their universal application. No spiritual person can feel at home in this world, especially not now, and it is important to know that we do not need to adjust to suit the world. But we cannot turn our back on it either and must always make ourselves available when our help is required or sought. The concluding sentence is also pertinent. The world is hungry for truth, whether it knows it or not, but no one likes being preached to. The way is most effectively shown through example or, as the Masters put it on another occasion, "you teach best through silence and the rays you give out".

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Rejection of the Contemporary World

This is another question relating to the Kali Yuga, that intriguing time in which we find ourselves today when so much is brought to the surface and must be dealt with in one way or another. Despite its difficulties we are fortunate to be alive at such a time because it can require us to make real choices and decisions. It is also an excellent opportunity to learn the prized virtue of detachment. When the outer world falls into spiritual disarray it is easier to take one's stand in the eternal.

I say it's a question but it's really more of a challenge. It came from remarks made to me by someone with no spiritual interests, and I include my response here (suitably fleshed out) as many spiritual aspirants can be called to account for themselves in a similar way. The reply is not designed to convert an unbeliever so much to support a believer, and it's the latter I am talking to here rather than the actual questioner.

Q. You don’t seem very happy with the present day. I don’t mean to be rude but couldn’t your interest in spirituality just be part of an escape from the here and now? You may not think much of the modern world but for most people it’s a vast improvement on the past. You might be accused of taking the benefits of 21st century life for granted while criticising what comes with them.

A. Would you not accept that we live in an age in which the divine presence is either denied or effectively ignored? Of course, from a material point of view there have been enormous improvements over the past few centuries and I don’t discount them though I do question if they genuinely bring real happiness. But the point is that no civilisation that does not acknowledge the supreme spirit can last. In fact, not only can it not last but it rapidly breaks down as ours is in the process of doing, though you may dispute that. If you do, wait and see! Our technological achievements over the past few hundred years have been extraordinary but, while they have brought us greater material prosperity and ease, they have also caused a thicker and thicker veil to be drawn over the divine presence. They have made matter more material and desensitised our consciousness. They have separated us from our source and blinded us to the reality of what we are. Be sceptical when people say you can have the wonders of technology and materialistic science and a full spiritual life also. You cannot serve two masters. You cannot have both God and Mammon. I realise that this opinion might put me in a minority, even amongst spiritual people, and I am not saying that we must retreat to the forest if we are to maintain our spiritual integrity. I’m writing this on a computer after all, and I don’t draw my water from a well. We live in the modern world and shouldn't pretend not to. But I do maintain that the spiritual person must be inwardly detached from all the trappings of modernity and see them for what they are, namely the products of a materialistic mindset that both denies and obscures spiritual reality. They are at once the symptoms and the causes (though probably only secondary ones) of the darkening of the world and the solidification of matter.

You talk of an escape from the here and now but if the here and now, in the sense of the contemporary world, is founded on an illusion, which it is, then it’s better not to be a part of it. And if by here and now you do really mean the here and now as in the ever present moment then the recognition of a spiritual reality transcending and underlying the material world takes you into that more fully than restricting your consciousness to this world ever can.

I do agree with those who say that we are living in the latter days of the Kali Yuga, the final phase of a cycle that unfolds from its earliest stages of matter being perceived as the body of spirit that exists for the manifestation of spirit and for that alone, to one in which it is seen as existent in its own right with spirit as either an imaginary and redundant superstition or as an extension of matter with that as the primary principle, the very reverse of the truth. This does not mean that people are in some sense worse today than they were before but that the environment has degraded, spiritually speaking, and that definitely has an effect on consciousness.

However the fact that the Kali Yuga is inevitable, as the time of breakdown prior to the dissolution of this world in preparation for a new cycle, is not an excuse to succumb to the prevailing mores and opinions. Illusion is illusion regardless as to whether it is inevitable or not, and truth is always truth. Besides, what may be inevitable on the universal scale is not necessarily so on the individual level, and it is as individuals that we are called upon to rise out of darkness and bear witness to the truth in times when it is obscured. Hence, while we cannot prevent the way the world is going, we can and should proclaim the true state of affairs to the best of our ability. We must give those that wish to do so the chance to align themselves with reality. We must also allow those that might reject the truth the opportunity to hear it. Their response is up to them but at least they cannot claim they were left without instruction. They have a choice.

So I say, it cannot be helped that the world will fall into materialism. We have to accept that it will, but we do not have to be part of that. Indeed, we are required not to be part of that. That is the test for those of us alive at the present time. To maintain our spiritual integrity during a period when to do that can be to invite ridicule. Maintaining our spiritual integrity means to love God and seek to do His will (insofar as we understand it) even if doing so puts us at odds with contemporary opinion. However we must take great care not do so in a prideful manner, with the attitude that we are the knowers and the rest are lost souls. We must be firm and true and recognise that, yes, there are spiritual laws (meaning modes of being in line with reality), and to follow them is the way to true happiness while to reject them is the act of ego. At the same time, we must not condemn those who do reject them. It is legitimate to point out the truth but we cannot judge or condemn unless we have arrived at a state where we can do so without a scrap of anger or superiority. Too often those who defend what they think of as God’s laws allow their concern for spiritual truth to cause them to hate others who defy and deny it so they fall into falsehood themselves. But just as often those who claim to seek the good of humanity allow that concern to blind them to its greatest good which is the love of God and desire to do His will. In fact, sometimes that claim is merely a front for what is actually a rebellion against God. ‘In His service is perfect freedom’ is one of the highest teachings I know. How does it make you feel to read those words? Humbly grateful or do they engender a sense of resistance?

We may have improved the world in many ways over the last three or four hundred years as a result of scientific advancements and humanitarian philosophies but we have lost the essential which is the sense of a divine Creator and that our origin lies beyond the material world. If we have that sense, we have all we need. If we do not have it then we have nothing, and that is why I am not very happy with the present day.

I should make one last point. Ultimately, of course, questions of the Kali Yuga and the ascendance of the material pole over the spiritual one at this particular moment in history all belong to the realm of duality. From the highest, and fundamentally only true, standpoint there is never any time when God is not all there is. But this is the world we live in, and until we have transcended it (that is, identification with it), and become fully one with spirit we need to understand it so that we can avoid being ensnared by its illusions.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Two Questions on the Kali Yuga

Although it didn't mention it by name the previous post was about what is known as the Kali Yuga. According to an idea taken from Hindu doctrine (where it is most developed though it finds echoes all over the world), history does not run in a linear fashion but is cyclical. Hence the past has several phases which, over a period of thousands of years, descend from a state more or less open to spirit to one more or less closed to it. The Kali Yuga is the final phase in a world cycle when matter has become largely impermeable to spirit with consequences that were predicted and which can be seen to be manifesting today. 

Here are a couple of questions that arose from that post. The first concerns its title which may have been slightly misleading as it was really no more than a reference to the feeling many of us have that something precious but indefinable is lost as time goes by. The article was an attempt to explore the roots of that feeling because I believe that it goes further than a simple reaction to the passing from innocence to experience.

Q. This makes partial sense but are you saying the good old days really were the good old days? Even disregarding material improvements, I wouldn’t like to have been alive at a time of slavery and when a poor man could be hanged for stealing a sheep.

A. No, it’s not as simple as that. The title was just a peg on which to hang an article about the darkening of the cosmic environment over the course of a world cycle, and the effect that has on human consciousness, including the sense of morality, aesthetics and general attitude to life. I have no idea as to whether the past really was better or worse, or, as seems most likely, better in some respects and worse in others.  I do know, however, that the Masters told me in around 1992 that there never was a time of such vulgarity (that was the word they used) as now. Decide for yourself what they meant by that word. To me it implies a loss of the sense of the sacred. They also  stated on several occasions that the world today had become further removed from its source than ever before.

But, anyway, thinking in terms of the recent past is much too limited for, according to traditional teachings on the subject, all recorded history falls within the last phase of the current world cycle, the Kali Yuga of Indian myth. A time of spiritual degeneration and inversion of true values which, we might be justified in thinking, is reaching a peak now. So, although the spiritual world has become progressively veiled throughout the Kali Yuga, a significant point in the thickening of that veil was reached before recorded history even began.

I would also refer you back to the point about compensation at a time of spiritual loss by material improvements, some of which would include improvements on the purely social level. Moreover the main pattern of gold, silver, bronze and iron ages is repeated on a smaller scale within each part of the major cycle and, no doubt, within each part of a part ad infinitum. So it's not so crude as a constant plunge downwards. Nevertheless, despite it all, human beings gradually forget who they really are, and that has definite effects on the way they think and behave.

Where you put your attention is the direction in which you are headed. So the task of the spiritual aspirant is to hold onto the light in a time of gathering darkness. Make sure it is the light of God you hold on to, though, and not one of the many imitations of that light that arise when awareness of the true light is lost.

On to the second question that came in response to the last post. This question brings up the interesting matter of the apparent speeding up of time today. This is a recognised characteristic of the final phases of a world cycle. 

Q. Is time speeding up nowadays? I’ve heard people talk about temporal acceleration but is that real or just an impression because the rate of change is so great these days and we have technology that is so fast?

A. Can we doubt that it is real? Everyone recognises it, though we usually dismiss it as something that it is quite normal to feel as one gets older because each day we experience now is a smaller proportion of the totality of our life. But life really does seem to be speeding up. To our perception, at least, the flow of time itself is accelerating, and this is in line with the belief that, at the end of a cycle, space seems to shrink and time to get faster. 

Now, on what level this is real is difficult to say, whether it is just psychological or, in some sense, actual, but it is certainly a fact in consciousness, and I would speculate that it may be associated with the contraction of matter as the process of spirit becoming matter reaches its conclusion prior to the formation of a new cycle.

So this is one more indication that we live in interesting times. It has various effects, most of which are not very pleasant. It leads to over-stimulation and mental imbalance as the psyche struggles to keep up with the pace of change. It leads to a lack of depth as nothing is allowed to put down roots and establish itself properly, and it creates a craving for excitement and desire for experience which can never be satisfied. In some people it prompts a fascination with the new and the frantic attempt to stay young. It is a true sign that the Kali Yuga is coming to a head. How to react to it? As always we have to centre ourselves in the real, detach ourselves from the unreal and establish ourselves in the point of stillness deep within the heart.