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. 

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