Friday 25 April 2014

What Spirituality Is Not Part 2

I concluded the previous post by saying that spirituality was not connected to the quest for enlightenment by which I meant that a concern with reaching a supreme spiritual state belongs to the ego. But I am not disputing the fact of enlightenment or self-realisation, though I do say that it is very rare and the current democratisation of it by some students and teachers does nobody any favours. The idea that we are all already enlightened and only have to realise it through not much more than a shift in perception is nonsense. We may all have the seed of enlightenment within us but the seed needs to take root and grow, and a shift in perception leading to the understanding that we are not the mind/body, and that life exists only in the present moment, is but the start of a very long process. The majority of contemporary Western non-duality teachers (none of whom, incidentally, is enlightened in the proper sense as a comparison with individuals such as Ramana Maharishi and Krishnamurti will show) confuse initial awakening to the soul with full enlightenment. Their teaching may have validity on a psychological level, and even take you a certain way down the spiritual path, but it is human-centred and unless you move beyond that limiting framework, you risk being left stranded in a cul-de-sac where the denial of the ego by itself is regarded as its own transcendence. For the ego is not simply an illusion to be seen through by the wise. It is a stone-hard reality that can only be burnt out on the funeral pyre of sacrifice and suffering.

Continuing with the theme of these posts, spirituality should not be confused with humanism, a philosophy that originated in the Renaissance, when the reality of God began to be removed from the centre of things, and really took off in the 18th century when that reality was pushed to the sidelines. Humanism makes the critical mistake of not recognising what a human being actually is for we only become fully human when we go beyond our ordinary selves. 
It may have introduced certain ideas deemed progressive, but these are really only secondary and the devil is always happy to see us 'improving' the world and ourselves if, in so doing, we forget God. Spirituality is not concerned with making us happy or fulfilled as human personalities. Its only purpose is to enable us to realise our identity as souls. Its priority is not to make a heaven on earth ('my kingdom is not of this world'), and it is not in any way political. 

That does not mean that inequalities and the suffering of the poor are of no concern to spiritual people, but the solution to these problems will not come from trying to solve them on their own level. Rather it will come when we reach upwards and see things in their true light, when we 'seek first the kingdom of heaven'. Political problems can only be solved with spiritual solutions because it is only when men and women know themselves to be souls that the right way to live in this world becomes apparent. As long as we are in ignorance of our true nature there will be disagreement. That's because political opinions are opinions, and where there is one opinion there will be two and so inevitably there will be conflict. To go beyond conflict we need to go beyond the duality of thought-based opinion, but a focus on politics per se will always lead to division and therefore some form of conflict. Besides, as the Masters have said, politics are born in the cradle of corruption, and the reason for this is that all politics invariably comes down to the search for power. Hence my belief that an overtly political person cannot be a spiritual one, which truth is illustrated in the lives of Jesus and the Buddha, particularly the former who made clear his view that the right way to live in this world could only come by being fully focused on the next. This is not an excuse to maintain the status quo, but true change can only come from inner transformation and it will not arrive until enough human beings know themselves for what they really are. If you want to change the world then first change yourself. 

The humanist approach is based on liberty, equality and fraternity, and you might think these ideals are a laudable foundation on which to build your worldview. What could possibly be wrong with them? But if we look at them in the light of spirituality then things are not so simple. First of all, take liberty. What is freedom? There is outer freedom in which no man owns another or can force another to do his will, but what of inner freedom? What is that? The truth is that inwardly we are all slaves. Slaves to our desires, to our prejudices, to our fears, and, most of all, to our selves. No man is free who is identified with self. So freedom is not of but from self. God gave us a self so that we could give it back of our own free will, and that is the only true and lasting liberty. 

Equality is the over-riding belief of the present day. To dissent from this is the nearest thing to heresy we have now, but I think that many of us, while in no way denying the essential oneness of humanity (which is surely what equality must be founded upon) feel that something is not quite right as it stands. Spirituality presupposes equality, doesn't it? The only answer to that is yes and no. The oneness of humanity is a spiritual fact (meaning that it is true at the deepest level and not just a theory or ideal), and the Masters told me to regard all people as manifestations of the divine. But they also said that men were by no means equal on the Earth, (though adding the essential proviso that one should not let that be a cause for dismissing anybody). If we want to be true to life as it is, and not just force it into a system of our own choosing that conforms to our own particular prejudices, we will have to arrive at an understanding that takes both these facts into account. Anything less will be lop-sided and so eventually fall over. However the reconciliation of apparently contradictory points of view is not a problem if one approaches things on an intuitive level. It's only a limited mind-centred approach that sees conflict where none exists in reality. Human beings are all sons and daughters of the Most High, but we are at different stages of growth and express different aspects of the divine.

Finally, take brotherhood. Can that be a mistaken ideal? Surely not, but again an important element is missing. How can you have brotherhood without a Divine Parent? It's no good acknowledging the brotherhood of man if you ignore what actually gives that brotherhood its basis in reality. The rock upon which human brotherhood is built is that we are all sons and daughters of the One God. Without full recognition of the Universal Father-Mother-God the brotherhood of man is just a dream with no substance or binding force.

The point here is that humanistic ideals are not wrong, and their introduction was necessary at a time of great privilege and an excessively hierarchical approach to society. But they are incomplete without seeing them in the light of the reality of God. Now they can be regarded as one of the many imitations of the good in this world, but if something does not have God at its centre it cannot be called good and will only end up distracting us from what is truly good. All spiritual aspirants must know that a lesser good can be (and often is) used to divert our attention from spiritual truth. And the politically inclined should realise that a spiritual approach cannot be allied to either a liberal or conservative agenda in this world, even if it may share certain points in common with both.

Moving on, there are many practices nowadays called spiritual that really just stimulate or sedate the mind. Even meditation can be one. The purpose of these practices is usually to bring about some experience or other, an experience of peace or bliss or whatever it might be. However spirituality is not about experience. It is about ego transcendence. That is to say, it is about actual ego transcendence not the experience of ego transcendence which is quite a different thing and can actually strengthen the ego. Higher states of consciousness do exist and can be accessed but that's not the way to make a sinner into a saint. I appreciate this is an unfashionable way of putting things nowadays, but a sense of our own unworthiness is a vital part of treading the spiritual path. The Masters at one time told me that in order to cultivate humility I should think of myself as the lowest of the low. This doesn't mean a grovelling, almost masochistic self-abasement but a free and frank recognition that, of ourselves, we are nothing and God is everything. And what is someone identified with their own ego if not a sinner? When it comes down to it that is precisely what sin is and why we are all sinners. This is the meaning of the story told of the 8th century Muslim saint Rabi'a. One day she met a man deemed wise in the ways of Allah who told her that all his life he had trodden the path of obedience and had never sinned. Her reply illustrates the difference between the conventionally religious person and the illumined mystic. She said, "Alas my son, your existence is a sin wherewith no other sin may be compared."

The spiritual path leads from this level of reality to a higher one but because it starts from this world it can easily become mired by the stains of worldliness. In fact, unless the truth, as it is represented in this world, is continuously nurtured and protected it soon loses its authenticity, and lesser imitations spring up to replace it. It's like a beautiful garden that must be weeded and tended on a regular basis if it is to remain beautiful and not turn into a wilderness. By the same token, if spiritual truth is not constantly maintained and restored there is always a falling away from divine law built on metaphysical principles to human morality based on the preferences of, and changing mores derived from, the mind. If there is no recognition of a higher power this morality then descends further because it is usually based on the recollection of spiritual teaching stripped of its spiritual content. And that is why we must constantly remind ourselves what spirituality is not as well as what it is.

Thursday 17 April 2014

What Spirituality is Not

Having discussed in an earlier post what spirituality is I thought it might be interesting here to take a look at what it is not because much is called spirituality nowadays that is really just a man-made imitation of it. This has a lot to do with the fading away of traditional religions with nothing coming up to replace them. Or rather, there is plenty to replace them but virtually all of it springs from human invention and experience. Thus it is man rather than God-centred and, while it might seem spiritual to those whose understanding of life and conscious awareness has hitherto been restricted to the physical plane, it lacks the sacred quality that would lift it above the merely human. There is very little that emanates from the true spiritual world and could be called in any way divinely inspired. As a consequence, spirituality today often means bringing the divine down to the human level instead of raising the human up to the divine level. Rather than looking to the heavens, and trying to conform ourselves to what is beyond ourselves, we think we can fit the heavens inside our own little heads.

So we are left with religions that are dying (I don't mean in terms of having fewer adherents but because they have lost much of their spiritual power), and replacements for these religions which are either designed from the limited experience of individual human beings or else put together as a composite from odds and ends ransacked from the psychic store cupboard of history. In both cases you have forms of spirituality constructed from the bottom up (the reverse of what should be), and with no input from the Creator, which may be why they often try to get by without Him.

Hence the world today is largely rudderless, spiritually speaking, and that leaves room for all kinds of misinterpretations as to what spirituality actually is. 'From the unreal lead us to the real' 
says the ancient Vedic prayer. The unreal affects approaches to the real, to the spiritual, just as much as it obscures it. Let us examine some of the ways in which it does this.

Spirituality is not the search for personal happiness or fulfilment still less health or, heaven help us, prosperity. It has no relation to the desires or even perceived needs of the self, that is, the so-called natural self or ego. All of that is obvious, and yet it is not unusual to find people who see spirituality as something to be acquired or possessed as one would anything else one wanted, and who approach it largely in terms of benefits to themselves. Now, that doesn't mean that our spiritual search will not have benefits but if we seek for our own sake, instead of being motivated by the legitimate desire to go beyond the barrenness of a self we recognise as being fundamentally empty and not the centre of our true being, we most assuredly will not find. At least, we may find something, or think we do, but it will not be God which is the only thing really worth looking for.

Spirituality is not connected to the pursuit of enlightenment. The idea of enlightenment is a major obstacle on the path and it would be a great help for seekers in the West if they forgot all about it. I mean this quite seriously. One of the most persistent illusions of the last century is that we can reach a state of full and permanent self-realisation in this life. There is no supreme, ultimate state that can be attained whilst in the physical body. There is no point at which you can say “I have achieved all that can be achieved and have become completely one with the absolute”. Yes, there are certainly experiences of unity, and there are high levels of insight and attunement to spiritual truth available to the disciple in this world, but you always come back to yourself. The idea of the enlightened guru who has completely transcended ego and is totally one with pure awareness is a myth, albeit one that has ensnared many students and even teachers whose spirituality is goal and therefore self-orientated. 

Now, of course, the great majority of these people are 'sheep that have been led astray', but could certain amongst them be the people sometimes referred to as Satan's contemplatives, the wolves in sheep's clothing that Jesus warned us about? Looking at the history of spiritual teaching over the last century it's hard not to think that there has at times been a consciously directed influence involved, attempting to lead true seekers into the shadows. On the one hand, we have seen the spread of atheism and materialism which has deflected millions from the proper path, but on the other, for those who can see through that falsehood, there has been the corruption of proper spiritual teachings by a variety of false doctrines with just enough of truth in them to appear valid to the unsuspecting. The Masters told me there were many false prophets in our day teaching half truths, adding that they were not all evil but they were not very evolved. This suggests that some might be driven by an agenda which includes the subversion of true spiritual values. A focus on enlightenment as a valid spiritual goal is designed to encourage wrong motive, and wrong motive will corrupt your entire journey. Forget enlightenment. It is a chimera, the pursuit of which will lead you far from the path of true transcendence.

I don't dispute for a second that there have been many saints and sages who have attained great spiritual heights in their lifetimes. Thank goodness there have been for we'd be lost without them.  But these were apostles of love and self-abnegation who saw themselves as servants of the Most High. None of them would have claimed to have reached the highest pinnacle of spiritual perfection. All of them would have regarded themselves as unworthy. For, as the Masters said, the Master Jesus and all the Masters of old knew that they were as nothing and that all they were came from the Creator. Some of these noble souls may well have reached the point of self-emptying at which they could be filled with the Holy Spirit (to use Christian terminology), and some may have become sufficiently pure in heart and detached from worldliness to have gone beyond the need to come back to this physical world. Some may have realised their true nature as much as you can in this life. They may have 'cut the knot', as it is esoterically understood. But if by enlightenment you mean they had attained to a kind of absolute knowledge and spiritual perfection, no, none of them had reached that, and they would have been the first to have said as much.

My point here is not to deny that enlightened souls exist.  My experience with the Masters has clearly shown me that they do. But perfection is not of this world. And if our concern on the path is with some kind of spiritual state we hope to reach or achieve then we have everything back to front. You cannot bring a worldly agenda to the spiritual path and hope to get very far.

To be continued.

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Relationships Question

This question addresses a problem that is probably quite common in one form or another. There can often be difficulty in a relationship when one person is interested in leading a spiritual life but the other is not and might even be hostile to the idea, perhaps feeling they are being replaced in their partner's eyes by something in which they have no part.

Q. I have been interested in spirituality for a long time. Several years ago I met someone and we got married and now have two children. Before this I’d practised meditation but stopped as there wasn’t time anymore. However now I’d like to start again. Unfortunately my wife regards my spiritual interests as pure self-indulgence and that’s the kindest thing she says about them.  It’s come to the point where we realise we don't have much in common and would probably separate but there are the children to consider. I’ve read your chapter on relationships and, broadly speaking, I agree with the points you make. But we are constantly arguing. I try and keep quiet but it’s hard in the face of the amount of abuse I get. This is my question. What’s the correct thing to do from a spiritual perspective? I admit you’re only getting my side of the story here. It’s just an unfortunate situation in which two people with little in common are stuck together but I do feel the more aggrieved party. Sorry for making this such a long question. I realise you’re not a marriage guidance councillor but I was prompted to write after reading what you said about the spiritual purpose of relationships. It’s hard to see what it could be in this case though I guess karma must be involved.

A. Obviously I can’t comment on your individual relationship but I can make some general points. You don’t say how old the children are but I’m assuming they’re still reasonably young and that’s why you feel you shouldn’t break up yet. Normally I would agree with you but it can get to the point when the atmosphere in a household is so poisoned that it would be better to make a change. Only you and your wife can be the judge of that. Karma almost certainly was involved in getting the two of you together, especially if the attraction was instant and of the ‘we’ve known each other before’ sort. This can gloss over the underlying personality conflicts which surface when the romance dies down. But perhaps sorting those out is the purpose of the relationship. Again, only you can know when the sorting out has gone as far as it can, though circumstances can sometimes bring things to a head too. Do remember, though, that what's left undone in one life will probably have to be done in another, future, one.

You imply that you would like to lead a more interior life but can’t because of the demands and difficulties of your relationship. If you’ve got together with someone you do owe it to that person to think of them and not freeze them out of your life. Perhaps your wife feels you are doing that? Equally, though, she owes it to you to let you follow a spiritual practice if that doesn’t interfere overmuch with your family life. It’s a question of balance. The Buddha, of course, left his wife and child to follow his destiny but, if that is a temptation for us, we must be really sure it is our destiny and not just our desire. 

One more point I’d like to make is this. It may be that you are being tested. You are being asked to renounce a happy family life and also the comforts of spirituality. Peace is denied you. You are being forced to give up everything and fall back entirely on accepting God’s will whatever that may be, not seeking fulfilment in anything, either outer or inner. This is quite a high stage of the path so you could take some comfort in that. But I don’t know your circumstances so I can’t judge your position and, even if I did, I couldn’t advise you except through these general points. I can perhaps offer some consolation in that these things wouldn’t be happening if they weren’t part of your path. They are challenges you are being called upon to confront and, if you are true to the highest you know, you will be successful in doing so. I hope that’s not cold comfort. The Masters told me that what I experienced was what I was meant to experience, and that I should have complete acceptance of it. I think that applies to anyone who has seriously embarked upon the spiritual path. It's certainly a thought to hold on to when times are tough. Finally try to remember that your wife is involved in this too and she can’t be happy either. That may mean that a separation is on the cards but you may both still have lessons to learn.

Wednesday 2 April 2014

A Higher Master Speaks

Many readers of this blog may not have read Meeting the Masters so here is another extract from that book. It's the first record I made of one of the Masters' talks. Strange as it may seem I had not initially thought to write down their words.  Perhaps the experience seemed so out of the ordinary at the start that it took a while for me to do anything more than just experience it. But I soon realised that it would be foolish not to make a record of the teachings. At the very least, to remind myself of what had been said so I could go over it later on. There was no thought of doing this for posterity or to share with anyone else but I found that, aside from the content, reading the Masters words brought back the sense of their presence, and their presence was always even more inspiring than what they actually said.

I believe I also began to take notes because this particular Master was so impressive. All the Masters were impressive, of course, and that was something that never changed during the twenty one years they spoke to me. But the one who came on this occasion was introduced by the Master who preceded him as a higher Master, and his presence and authority certainly justified that description. This implies that there are stages and initiations beyond the gaining of freedom from identification with form which is not some final destination but a step, albeit an important one, on an ever ascending way, and this was, in fact, confirmed to me later on. Returning for a moment to the subject of the last few articles, here is something for non-dualists to consider. Realisation is not some once and for all stepping into the absolute. It might even be thought of as a new beginning. There are paths beyond this world open to those who have completed their journey here. A commenter on a previous post asked me, in response to my view of Christ as something greater than 'merely' an enlightened soul, how there could be more than one infinite, eternal consciousness. Of course there is not, but consciousness has many modes and is capable of endless expansion. Don't the words infinite and eternal imply that? The transcending of identification with the personal self takes one out of one mode of consciousness into a new one which may seem absolute from the perspective of the human state but which has its own capacity to achieve greater depth and insight into life, though these are probably inadequate words to describe what happens. Replacing identification with self with identification with the One Life does not mean one has reached some kind of ultimate state beyond which there is nothing more. This, anyway, is my belief, but it is also the understanding I gained from my contact with the Masters and their description of some of their number as higher, in the sense of bearing more of divine realisation, than others.

Here is the extract from the book.

‘The first time I took notes after a talk had been a few nights previously. On this occasion I had been told that one of the higher Masters wished to speak to me. I know that the idea of hierarchy upsets some people in this democratic age and one can understand why. In human terms its potential abuses are obvious. The fact remains that in the spiritual world, hierarchy exists. It does not exist in the sense of intrinsic superiority or inferiority. Before God all men are equal. But we are not all equal in realised potential or spiritual unfoldment, and I for one am very grateful there are beings with greater understanding and awareness than myself. When the ego is transcended there is no risk of the higher attempting to dominate the lower or infringe free will. There is even a sense in which the higher is the servant of the lower as demonstrated so wonderfully by Jesus. Life is one but, in the context of unfolding spiritual being, there is a higher and there is a lower, and the medieval concept of the great chain of being stretching from highest heaven down to the lowliest state of matter is not just a poetic conceit. It is a real truth, and there are beings marking the links on that chain at every level.

   The idea of higher Masters might also seem strange to those who imagine that liberation is the attainment of some absolute state in which the liberated being, having transcended duality and realised his or her oneness with God, can no longer grow as there is nothing to grow into, all relative concepts having been transcended. But oneness with God does not mean one has become the Creator. Life is never static. As long as it is manifest in any way, it never ceases to grow and express itself in ever more perfect and magnificent forms, and the Masters speak of beings beyond them who are to them as they are to us. Life, it seems, truly is limitless and spiritual unfoldment a never-ending process. Having achieved everything achievable would be a sort of death and God is life.

February 10th

I was talked to by one of the higher Masters. The feeling of power and majesty was almost overwhelming but he spoke kindly and unusually even gave his name though it was not one I was familiar with. He told me that the body is a frame and its functions are not to be feared. He said it was designed for beings of a lesser evolution than myself and was more suited to their needs. He said that sometimes it is the will and not the action that counts, and stressed I should avoid lassitude as I have important work to do. He told me to have faith, courage and determination and said that I was always protected by his helpers.

   Once again a simple talk which I have transcribed here exactly as it exists in my notes of the time. I recall he said more but, unfortunately, I only wrote down a portion of what was said. The remarks about the body refer to concerns I had about sex, concerns which were theoretical as much as practical. Michael and I led celibate lives but, whilst that did not trouble me as much as it might have done some people, I was a still a normally constituted young man. Also, I was naturally curious to know what an enlightened approach to this often difficult subject might be. The attitude of the Masters was simplicity itself. They said that one should go beyond attachment to sexual desire as one should go beyond attachment to the body but, at the same time, sex is a natural function whilst in a body and one should not allow oneself to be tortured by suppressing that function. To paraphrase time-honoured words, the spiritual person must be in the body but not of the body. Look after the body, observe its needs but recognise it is not what you are and do not allow it to govern you in any way. Ultimately the sexual division and attraction reflects the original duality in manifestation of spirit and matter or subject and object, and to deny it is to deny life, love and creativity. That said, it reflects the divine duality in the body, and the body is a vehicle of manifestation for the spiritual person not an integral part of what he or she is.

   What did he mean by beings of lesser evolution than myself? The plain truth is that human beings in this world are not all equally developed in a spiritual sense. Some of us may have had our origin earlier than others, and some may have become less mired in duality and made faster progress. However the Masters never said the slightest thing to flatter my ego (they were more concerned with flattening it) and were not doing so on this occasion. Here the reference was to anyone for whom this world and its attractions were no longer sufficient, and who, as a consequence, had set out on the spiritual path. It included all those who had started to turn away from the alluring dazzle of the phenomenal world, beginning to realise that they were more than the body and more than the mind. It is undeniably the case that the majority of people (and I include conventionally religious people) seem to go through life with very little awareness of the soul but there is a substantial minority which is, I believe, growing all the time who are beginning to hear its voice and wake up to its call. This phrase applies to them just as much as it did to me. It probably applies to you who are reading these lines.'

As I say above, I only made briefs notes of this talk which was quite a bit longer than might appear from the notes. Normally a talk from the Masters would last between 10 to 20 minutes, but could be shorter or longer depending on what they had to say, any questions I might have and how able Michael was to support their presence. I never wrote while they were speaking but set down my memory of the talk after it had finished, only including what seemed to me the most important points.

The Master spoke of the body being designed. This represents the spiritual view that the body is a vehicle of manifestation for the soul to enable it to interact with and express itself on the physical plane. Obviously that is not the modern view, but I see no reason why the body should not have been 
tailored for a purpose, and be the end product of a mixture of both evolution and design. It seems there is nothing in this world that directly and unequivocally confirms a spiritual origin, even if many things do point to it. Equally there is nothing that denies it. This must be intended. It puts the responsibility on us which is how it should be if we are to grow into authentic spiritual beings ourselves. It might be said that we already are spiritual beings, and so we are essentially, but we still have to take the step to accept that in order to become what we, in potential but only in potential, already are.

The Master talked of being protected by his helpers. Protected from what, you might ask? It is a fact that anyone who seriously sets out to disentangle himself from this world and identification with the ego is assailed by discarnate beings who seek to distract him from that aim. These beings employ various means, depending on the prospective disciple's weaknesses. Thus they may try to divert him to one of the many spiritual byways or distortions of the path that exist, they may try to bring him down through stimulating a weakness, they may lead him astray through illusion, through temptation or employ any number of strategies to effect their end which is the corrupting and negating of potential spirituality. 

Now, it may be that some of this could be used to one's advantage as, by having one's shortcomings exposed, one is given the opportunity to overcome them. At the same time, that is certainly not the aim of these fallen beings who might also attempt to weaken a person's vitality, and even attack through other human beings who are open to malign influence, all with the aim of restricting or preventing a disciple's spiritual growth. This is why the new disciple needs a certain amount of protection and will continue to do so until he is able to stand on his own two spiritual feet. Obviously that protection cannot be unlimited or he will never be able to stand alone, but, just as a young sapling needs some kind of defence from marauding goats and rabbits in order to grow, so does the spiritual novice. It is usually the helpers who do this rather than the Master himself as he lives on a level far removed from that on which the dark forces (as they are called) operate. Nevertheless, and this is the reason I have elaborated on the Master's statement here, no sincere prayer for protection will go unheard.

Don't let the fact of the existence of such beings cause concern. They have no real power except what we lend them by responding to any thoughts or feelings they might introduce into our minds. They can only work on faults we already have, and even attacks prompted by them from outside will often have karmic roots. At all times non-reaction, turning the other cheek, is the way to counter perceived evil. But these beings can also be dispelled by prayer and envisaging oneself surrounded by a pure white light that effectively acts as a barrier of spiritual energy which, because it is of a higher vibration than any they can respond to, they cannot penetrate. 

The spiritual aspirant cannot ignore the reality of these fallen beings. They do exist and they will try to lead him astray. But there is no need to give them any more attention than simply being aware of them and their strategy of stimulating whatever is false in us. This points to the fact that the only true evil we have to fear is that within ourselves. Even the Masters can't protect us from that.