Monday, 19 May 2014

The Threefold Path

There is some debate these days about whether or not spiritual effort is a contradiction in terms, but what's the alternative? Just being in the now? Try that and see where it gets you. You may experience an initial sense of wakefulness and peace but that will soon wear off once it ceases to be a novelty. For the fact is that while spiritual practice on its own will not make you a spiritual person, you will not get anywhere without it. It is perfectly true that no amount of practice can turn a self-centred ego-bound creature into an authentic saint or sage since spirituality cannot be reduced to a technique or mechanical process that gets you from a to b regardless of your motive for the journey - it would be meaningless if that were so. But, given the right attitude, which is one of humility and sincerity, correct practice will purify the mind and help remove the psychological obstacles to spirituality. It's like cleaning a dirty window so that the light can shine through. The fact that there is always grace does not mean that it can be received by any except the pure in heart; at least not in more than brief and occasional moments.

Some contemporary teachers take the end of the spiritual journey, which they think is pure consciousness, and say you are that now so all you have to do is realise it. Remove ignorance and there it will be shining forth in all its glory. That is at best a half truth. A better way to look at things is to say that you may have the seed of spiritual consciousness within you now but the seed will not develop and grow without being properly tended. This tending is the spiritual path which is both long and hard. There's no getting away from that, and the paucity of genuine saints and enlightened souls in the world surely proves as much. The modern mentality expects quick results but that is not how nature works, and it is not how spiritual life proceeds either.

If it is to be effective the spiritual path has to take us from where we are now. It has to deal with us as human beings with a mind, emotions and a physical body for that, after all, is what most of us identify ourselves as being. So the path must relate to all three aspects of our human nature in order to render these susceptible to the spiritual impulse. We can therefore think of it under three headings which are the level of mind, the level of feelings and the level of action. All of these require attention.

  • On the level of mind we need to learn detachment and discrimination or discernment. Detachment means detachment from the world and the aims and ambitions (including spiritual ones) of the separate self which we are beginning to see is not the true centre of our being. It means standing back from reaction, maintaining inner calm and not resisting what we experience. Discrimination means discrimination between the real and the unreal, the lasting and the transitory, the unchanging truth and the outer forms which both point to and obscure that truth depending on how you look. It also means differentiating between the true real and its many imitations and approximations. Meditation also relates to the level of mind in that it is the means whereby the mind is rendered still and quiet so that what lies behind it (figuratively speaking) may be sensed. The technique of self enquiry (Who Am I?) belongs to this level too, but note that it cannot, by itself, give a valid answer to the question it poses because, without being supported by total surrender, it can never awaken the heart which is where the answer is to be found. Spiritual accomplishment on the level of the mind is symbolised by the sage. 
  • The level of the feelings has to do with the awakening of the heart. This requires an intense love of God, but how many spiritual seekers really have that? Love of God, in the sense I am using it here, is not the same as bhakti yoga which is a path for the devotee type who sees God as a separate object outside himself, and who generally limits his idea of the deity to association with a particular form. I don't dismiss this as a spiritual method but devotion to an ideal is not the same as love for God. By this I mean awareness of the holy presence that lies behind all form (and, for that matter, formlessness),  the supreme spirit that transcends creation while equally being present within every atom, and which has a personal aspect different to but not separate from the impersonal absolute, and which is the source of all love, the totality of all understanding and the centre of the will to good. Bhakti yoga is devotion to something conceived of as outside yourself, but love of God is love for that divine presence existing both within creation and yourself. It sees this presence as beyond form but, at the same time, with an individual aspect for the idea of Being without One who is, or Consciousness without a being conscious of itself does not hold up logically. Remember the Creator said the Masters. The Impersonal Absolute and the Creator are simply two modes of the same thing and cannot be separated, nor can one be seen as ontologically higher than the other. They are one. The Masters also told me many times that love was the key to progress. Love requires a God who loves, who is not just impersonal being. They also made clear that if you don't have the love of God you can never have a true knowledge of God.  Spiritual accomplishment on the level of the feelings is symbolised by the saint. 
  • The level of action is concerned with what you do and why you do it. We all have to act. It is sometimes thought that the enlightened person does not act because truth is in being rather than doing which may be so, but then even doing nothing is a form of action in that it withholds action so is defined by it. So everyone acts. It is why we do what we do that matters, and the basis for right action can be summed up by asking whether we act from our own will or from seeking to do the will of God.  Now the problem with the will of God is how do we know what it is? We must interpret that in relation to ourselves, and many have justified wrongdoing by claiming that they were doing God's will. So self-deception is always possible in this regard but we can protect ourselves from that, to some degree at least, if we act without attachment to the fruits of our action or the sense of I am the doer. And, on an everyday level, doing God's will means that whenever you can either act or react from the personal self or forget the inclinations and desires of that self, you do the latter. Essentially, doing God's will is forgetting your own, and right action arises spontaneously from any given situation when you don't respond from ego.

These are the three aspects of the spiritual path and progress is made when you attend to each one of them in its proper place. If you ignore one you cannot become complete in any of the others because they are all part of a self-consistent whole, and the neglect of any one of them shows that you haven't understood the whole so your grasp of any part of it will be at best partial. Leave out the disciplines relating to the mind and you may reduce your idea of spirituality to the psychic level. Leave out those of the feelings and you may reduce it to the psychological level. And if your actions are not dedicated to serving God what good are they?

No comments: