Sunday 14 December 2014

Question on Esoteric Schools

Here’s a question that follows on from the previous one on how to determine the authenticity of spiritual teachings.

Q. I was interested to read your reply to the question about the books of Alice Bailey. I was a member of an esoteric group that partly based itself on these books, putting itself forward as a school for initiation. I did a lengthy correspondence course which went into all kinds of occult matters such as the make up of the spiritual man, the higher planes, techniques of meditation, chakras and so on. The leaders of the group claimed to bring through occasional messages from the Masters but these never seemed to add much to what was already known until messages referring to the coming world changes associated with 2012 began to come through. But by then I was rather disillusioned with the whole thing because, after the initial excitement of learning so many higher truths, I felt myself to be no different in terms of actual spiritual attainment. I knew many more spiritual facts but was the same person I had always been. What's more the attitude of superiority that some members of the group showed began to put me off. And then, of course, 2012 came and went with none of the anticipated changes. The leaders of the group gave their reasons for this but these were obviously excuses and so I left. However I remain a seeker. Are there any comments you might make about this experience? I don't regard it as completely wasted because I've learnt something from it even if it's not exactly what I was hoping for when I began.

I can make some general remarks. First of all, nothing need be wasted for anyone who treads the spiritual path. Every experience can be used to advance one's understanding both of oneself and of life. That is, if one chooses to react to the experience positively. As you say, what we get out of it may not be what we anticipated at the start but it may be what we needed at that particular point on our journey. In order to learn what is right we sometimes have to find out what is wrong.

Secondly, I must say that if any group claims itself to be a school for initiation you should look at its claims with a sceptical eye. Initiation, in its true spiritual sense, is not something that is organised by any earthly body. These may give basic spiritual training and be useful in that respect but they are probably only so for those who are (to use their own terminology) on the probationary path. That is to say, those have yet to anchor the spiritual current firmly in the heart so that they have actually started to become the soul as opposed to being a personality reaching towards it. These groups can help lay the groundwork and provide a support in which true spirituality can start to take hold, but that is always (always and without exception) an inner thing. Most of them would doubtless say as much themselves, but then that raises the question of what they are really for. Spirituality grows from the inside out, but what many of these groups do is effectively reverse that process because they present the spiritual as it exists when reflected in the mind.

For these reasons I would define most self-styled esoteric schools of the present day as exoteric esoteric schools. One must also consider the possibility that as the esoteric has entered the public domain, which it has over the last hundred and fifty years, any initiatory capabilities it might have possessed have diminished almost as though a quantitative increase inevitably leads to a reduction in the qualitative side of the equation. I am not saying that the publicizing of previously esoteric teachings is a bad thing or that it should not have happened. I believe it to be both inevitable and right as many people were in a position to benefit from the exposure of hitherto hidden teachings. But bringing something out into the light of day often causes it to fade a little. And, even if one disregards this, it has to be said that esoteric knowledge or the lack of it has little to do with initiation as it really is. What is important is (as it always has been) what a person thinks in his heart. How a person perceives the world. Not what he knows, or even what he understands, but what he is.

The concept of initiation can cause unnecessary problems for an aspirant in that it may well fuel pride and ambition. Spiritual training has many levels and we sometimes tend to over-estimate our position on the evolutionary ladder. So it is not really helpful to focus on initiation as a goal, especially since, let us be frank, no one in this world really knows what it is, not from the higher perspective anyway and that's the only one that counts. Far better to forget about spiritual status and rewards and simply seek to bring the lower self under the dominion of the higher so that the focal point of awareness is gradually transferred from the personality to the soul. Initiation might seem an enticing prospect but spiritual training has only one purpose and that is to teach the disciple to become detached from identification with the separate self. We must do this out of love of God and a burning desire for truth not for any other end or goal. If we do pursue the path with a goal such as initiation in mind we will pursue it at the mental level rather than the spiritual one, and so try to think ourselves into the soul. This is obviously impossible, and it was so I might avoid just such an error that the Masters who spoke to me recommended (or perhaps I should say, insisted on) both meditation and prayer for the aspiring disciple. This entails a balanced approach of head and heart. Meditation opens up a channel between lower and higher self, mind and soul, and allows the latter to receive the spiritual influence of the former. But you need the humbling experience of prayer also (in the Master's words) in order to purify the lower self through submission to a higher power because the purer it becomes, the fewer obstructions it places between itself and the soul, the more it will be able to receive and accurately reflect the soul's influence, eventually reaching the point where it may become one with it.

So, the idea of initiation has its problems but it can be helpful too as it introduces the sense of gradual steps along the path, and gets rid of the nonsensical notion that full and complete enlightenment is available to anyone at any time simply because we all have consciousness. Nevertheless the fact remains that initiation, as a spiritual reality, is not something any worldly group or esoteric school can prepare you for, other than by introducing you to the spiritual basics, because it is not gained through method or practice or understanding (necessary as these all may be), or any outward activity of the self.  It comes only with the awakening of the heart. It is entirely dependent on an authentic inner response to the soul, and this response must be sufficiently strong that, of itself, it starts the process of transformation.

Those who feel they benefit from membership of an esoteric school can ignore what I have written above. If something works for you then stick with it. At least until it no longer does. The remarks made here are in response to the question above, but are also addressed to anyone who finds a gap between their inner perceptions and outer presentations of truth. 

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Authenticity of Teachings

I have been asked an interesting, and I think very relevant, question about how one can determine whether the source of a teaching is what it purports to be. This is a perennial problem to which there is no straightforward answer, but it is one every seeker must ask. It's one I've considered many times myself, and I give my conclusions in the answer below. 

Q. I have a question that pertains to the access others have had to the Masters in the past, and the authenticity of their books. My inquiry is prompted by your post on Cyril Scott. I first read his trilogy when I was a young man and was deeply affected by them. Admittedly, they are overly “romantic”, and perhaps unduly dramatize certain aspects of a Master’s life. But yet, the books struck a chord. I’ve also read the books by Guy Ballard regarding his claimed experiences with St. Germain, which later led to the whole “I Am” movement. And others as well. All of these books, just as those of Scott, were claimed by the author to be true accounts. And all of them have been later questioned. From my perspective, they all contain profound truths, so I don’t want to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”, so to say. I believe that in following any path, we are required to utilize our best sense of discrimination and wisdom, but the readers of these books is largely asked to take them on faith. So what to do?

There are also the dictated transmissions of Alice Bailey, which were reputed at that time to be from one of the Masters who had worked through the Theosophical Society. Very detailed and complex teachings, written in a somewhat obtuse style, but clearly coming from some profound source.

All of these books are premised on the authenticity of the Masters, but then if the truth of the narrative itself is in question, then the source must also be questioned. For example, how do we know if Scott was indeed in contact? So, as the fortunate recipient of authentic teachings, can you offer any perspective on these previous teachings, and guidance to help the novice evaluate other teachings that are still coming through from other sources? Perhaps the best we can do is to follow the admonition of Jesus that “by their fruits you shall know them”, but the “fruits” of some of these other books are deeply nourishing indeed. So, on that basis, the books are profound indeed.  Or perhaps the source doesn’t matter at all, and it is sufficient to know that each of us will respond to those teachings that resonate with him. But then, how do we know what teachings are from the Masters, or whether they are even in touch with us at all?

So, how do we determine what teachings are “revealed teachings” coming from those who have walked before us, and who know the way?

A. It seems to me that in essence what you are asking is how do we know that something really is what it claims to be, and the short answer is that we can’t know for sure. Not in this world anyway. We have to use our discrimination and developing powers of intuition to size up what’s on offer. But this, I think, is intended for the modern spiritual aspirant has to know things for himself and not rely on anything external. Only in this way can his spirituality be his own and not borrowed.

Nowadays a lot of information is out there but hardly any of it, or so it seems to me, is completely pure. There is always some falseness, or, if this implies deliberate deception, inexactitude, mixed in with the truth. That is partly the fault of the age, and the fact that there is so much ego in all our seeking and so many imperfect vessels looking to promote their version of the truth, but it also something that can be used by our spiritual mentors on the higher planes in order that we may develop our own insight. We mustn’t remain spiritual babies or become esoteric fundamentalists!

You mention the books of Cyril Scott and Alice Bailey. Interestingly enough, when I searched around for books about Masters in the late 1970s these ones were among the first I read. To begin with I took them at face value and assumed they were exactly what they said they were, but there was always a bit of a nagging doubt. The Bailey books were very wordy, and long-windedness was not a quality I associated with the Masters. They (the books) were also very mentally oriented, and the Masters who spoke to me, while encouraging me to read and to learn, always discouraged excessive philosophizing, always emphasizing that spiritual truth was simple, and warning against getting caught up in in words and ideas. I found these books very interesting, and indeed useful, but I don’t think I ever read any of them all the way through, even though I bought many of them and often used them for reference. They were just too dense, seeming to contain a lot of knowledge but not much light. Almost like textbooks for a university course on esoteric spirituality, in fact. There was probably a need for transmitting esoteric knowledge when they came out but I’m not sure how much of a truly spiritual ‘vibration’ they carry. 

Eventually I decided that a spiritual being of some sort may have inspired them, but there was a good deal of Alice Bailey in them too. Probably she clothed the impressions she was given with her own thoughts. So, as with practically all spiritual writings, you have to read them with discrimination, learning to sort out the wheat from the chaff.

I enjoyed Scott's Initiate series of books when I read them in my mid-twenties but never entirely believed they were as factual as he made out. Now I think they were fiction based on fact. I think he had some genuine contact with the Masters, probably through the medium he mentions in the third book, but a lot of the rest is just made up, although maybe based on his experiences with various teachers he encountered along the way. As far as I know, no one else has ever substantiated anything about this Master supposedly wandering around the drawing rooms of London and Boston! What confirms me in this opinion is another book he produced called The Boy Who Saw True which purports to be the diary of a clairvoyant Victorian boy that was sent to Scott, but is clearly a fabrication of Scott himself, so closely does it echo his other works and what he writes of his own childhood in his autobiography. I think he had good intentions in writing these books but it’s a shame he felt the need to mix truth with fiction as, to my way of thinking, that sullies the truth, especially in a subject such as this where there is so much illusion and sensationalism anyway.

I was never attracted to Guy Ballard or Elizabeth Claire Prophet as their work seemed very contaminated with 'astralitis’. And their tendency to turn the Masters into personalities, common to many Theosophists, runs completely counter to my experience and, indeed, to my intuition about these things. As you say, ‘by their fruits’ etc, and the fruits of these two were very cultish.

I think there are various positions we can take regarding communications claiming to come from discarnate Masters or any spiritually perfected beings. We can think that the whole thing is made up and a fake. Sometimes that is undoubtedly the case. Then we can think that there may be some true basis to the claim but it is not as represented. The psychic world tends to reflect our own state of consciousness back to us, and mediumistically inclined people can pick up all sorts of wandering influences which they interpret in their own way. They can translate impression into concrete form which owes a lot to their own understanding and mental state and conditioning. There are also spirits that may imitate enlightened souls or even mistakenly think they are such, and these can put through teachings that are seemingly elevated but which lack a truly spiritual quality. Quite a lot of communication seems to me to fall into this category. But even if something does genuinely originate from the Masters (which I think is quite rare), that does not mean that the form in which it comes out in this world perfectly reflects the source, owing to the limitations of the channel.

Ultimately, as you quite rightly say, we have to make our own judgment based on common sense and intuition. And something doesn’t have to be perfect to contain valuable teaching, teaching which we may outgrow but which may also serve us well at a certain point in our journey. For me that would be the case with the Scott and Bailey books so even if I no longer think of them as true in the way they were presented as being, I have definitely learnt from them.

We need take nothing on faith in the sense of giving it unconditional and unquestioning belief. As the Masters told me, “there is nothing perfect in your world”. At the same time, some things, and some teachings, are a good deal more perfect than others and we have to exercise discrimination to work out what these are. I think that the source does matter in the sense that only a pure source will give a pure teaching, transmitting not just spiritual words but also a spiritual quality (which will convey more than just words), but until we are able to discern the purity of a particular source it makes sense to do as you suggest, and follow a teaching with which you resonate.

As I said in my book, the only teachings I know of that I think do come from the Masters in an unadulterated form are those in the books by Swami Omananda, “The Boy and the Brothers” and “Towards the Mysteries”. The tone of these is very similar to that of my experience, and the direct method (a complete overshadowing in which there was no influence from the medium) was the same too. I feel that these do present the Masters and their teachings as they are. No doubt there are other records of which I am unaware but I have to say I have explored this question quite a lot over the last 35 years, and while there are a number of teachings I find profound and impressive (there are also many I find much less so!), there’s nothing else that speaks to me quite as these do.

I won’t have said anything you don’t already know here. My view is that the Masters do communicate with humanity but most of that communication is on the spiritual level, i.e. through wordless impression. The person who picks it up then has to put it in their own terms which is where some degree of confusion will always set in. We then have to use our spiritual intuition to separate out timeless truth from the form in which it is presented.

You ask how we can determine what teachings really do come from the Masters, or even if any do. Some certainly do even if most of the time, I believe, the Masters work through their disciples, both incarnate and discarnate. And to the first part of the question I would answer, we determine this through our own purity of heart. If we have sincere love of God and true aspiration in our hearts we will not be led astray. Not seriously anyway.

The authenticity or otherwise of spiritual teachings has long been a question that I have grappled with. It would be nice if the fountain always flowed with pure water but it seems that is not yet the case in this imperfect world. Perhaps through learning, maybe through trial and error but learning all the same, that all that glitters is not gold we are able to develop our powers of intuition in a way that might not be possible if we were given to drink directly from the source.