Wednesday 16 December 2015

The Meaning of Christmas

It has become almost a tradition to complain of the commercialisation of Christmas, and I am not going to do that here. After all what’s the point? We have gone so far down that particular road there can be no turning back. But Christmas has not only been commercialised. It has been thoroughly trivialised too with every year bringing a further reduction of the sense of what its meaning really is, to the extent that the Christian aspect is now almost an embarrassment. We are happy to talk about a generalised peace and goodwill to all men but only in a rather bland, humanist context. Reindeer and elves? Fine. The birth of Jesus? Not so good. It might be divisive. Even many religious leaders appear to have succumbed to this watering down of the Christmas message, so much are they a product of their times, seemingly unable to stand back from the relentless flow of materialistic assumptions which increasingly frame all our discourse, our language and what passes for our philosophy.

So here I would like to consider what the true meaning of Christmas is, and I will start off by saying that it has nothing to do with peace and goodwill. This may be a part of it but it is by no means central. Nor, for that matter, is love, another word that has been hijacked by people whose understanding of it seems to be limited to a general sense of benevolent tolerance. But love is not merely well-meaning egalitarianism. It is a spiritual quality that can only be correctly understood in a spiritual context. To be sure, the materialist can come up with an imitation of love but an imitation is what it will be since real love derives from the soul. If the soul is denied then so is love, and all you are left with is a copy or reflection on a lower level, void of any real substance.

What then is Christmas about if not peace and goodwill? The answer to that is to be found in the image of the star shining in the winter night over Bethlehem, an image that is plainly symbolic (though not only symbolic), and speaks of something that combines a wonderful simplicity with great profundity. And what it tells us is that the message of Christmas is redemption from darkness. For Christmas is about the entry of supernatural light into the spiritual darkness of this world, and its core message is that those who recognise and follow this light can be saved from the darkness that constantly threatens to engulf us, a darkness so pervasive that it is not even recognised as such by many of us. Indeed, so much have true values been inverted, that sometimes it is even mistaken for light.

So the true message of Christmas has to do with the salvation of the soul. The rest, peace, goodwill and so on, is peripheral to that central point. Now this means three things. First of all, it means we have a soul. An immortal part of us that is not derived from or determined by the body, or even the mind as normally considered, and which will survive death. Secondly, that soul requires salvation. It is not in a good state at the moment. It certainly needs to get somewhere other than where it currently is. And thirdly, salvation is possible. The light exists but we must acknowledge and accept this light. We must recognise it and allow it to illumine us for, though it may be supremely powerful, it is not coercive and will only come when invited. The most powerful thing in the universe enters this world as a weak, defenceless baby. What a teaching there is in that!

There are those who would like to rebrand Christmas as a pagan winter festival, a sort of eat, drink and be merry Saturnalia. And there is nothing wrong with that unless you think this is all there is to it. Being merry is an excellent thing, and eating and drinking are rather good too. But tomorrow we die. What happens then? The entry of the light of Christ into this world tells us what may happen if we accept that light into our heart. This does not simply mean acknowledging with our mind that Christ is the Lord or something of that nature. That is a purely external thing. There is a big difference between Christ as a person out there, and the light that he embodied. I am not saying the two are separate but the one informs the other not vice versa. It is this light that you must accept and strive to be illumined by if you would embrace the true spirit of Christmas. For Christ does not want your mind, he wants your heart. It is his dearest wish that we break out of our self-inflicted prisons (our egos, if you like) and join him in his heavenly kingdom. This will eventually require death and resurrection but to begin with the entrance to Christ's kingdom is through the heart, and Christmas is the key that will unlock the door.

Some readers may be surprised by the overtly Christian nature of this post, given some of my other writings here. Partly this is because of the time of year. The post reflects that. But I would also say that, even though I do not think of myself as a conventional Christian in the external sense, my experiences with the Masters and my exploration of many spiritual traditions have never taken away my basic sense that it is in Christ that all teachings are consummated. I have always seen him as the supreme saviour of the world and, though there are other valid spiritual paths, the light of God shines most brightly through the figure of Jesus Christ.

It is often said that all religions are one on the level of mystical experience and only separated by their dogmas and doctrines which are ultimately outer things. That may be so but it does not mean that all religions are equally true. There is a fundamental impasse, for example, between Buddhism and Christianity in terms of how they view the Creator God, never mind the centrality of Christ in the scheme of things. I believe that the Christian view is the more correct one and comes from a higher revelation. Besides which, mystical experience is all very well but it really only points to the unity of consciousness on a supra-formal level, and entry into this state is not the primary goal of the spiritual life. At one time I might have thought it was but it's clear from the teachings of the Masters (and many others, of course) that the purpose of the spiritual life is not the attainment of some state of supreme consciousness. It is the sanctification of the soul. In other words, it is not attaining a personal enlightenment, nor any kind of experience, non-dual or otherwise. Rather it is fitting oneself, through repentance, purification, self-sacrifice and whatever else it takes, to receive the grace of God thereby allowing oneself to enter a full and complete relationship with Him which means deeper and deeper union. To think otherwise is to put the cart before the horse. This truth is taught most effectively and revealed most clearly in the figure of Christ and through the teachings of Christianity. 

The nature of life, with its complexities amidst fundamental simplicity, equal significance of the One and the Many, essential balance and complementarity of sameness and difference, and importance of goodness, beauty and truth, is just what one would expect if at root it were a Trinity of Persons and not mere impersonal abstraction. Subject, object and the relationship between them. This is just a fancy way of saying that God is Love. Only Christianity fully understands this.  As a result only Christianity really values the person, the individual and all that comes from the reality of the individual. Thus to say, as we are wont to do nowadays, that all religions share the same universal values is not quite true. Certainly they share many values and agree that the spiritual is fundamental but they do not agree on precisely what the spiritual is or on the true nature of the spiritual. Only Christianity fully accepts the personal nature of reality and because of that is able to see the purpose of Creation, explain the nature of evil, and understand the essential quality, reason for existence and goal of the human being. This is not to disparage any other religion for all undoubtedly contain truth and offer guidance. But it is something worth pointing out at Christmas, at a time when the relevance of Christianity is being attacked by its opponents, misunderstood and trivialised by many of its exponents and forgotten by the rest of us.

Wednesday 25 November 2015


We live today in a world of almost complete illusion. I am not referring here to the concept of maya as understood in Indian philosophy. That is simply mistaking appearance for reality and has always existed. It is part of being in this world and not seeing that the outer (the measurable) derives from the inner (that which is beyond the senses), having no substantive reality in itself. Maya is connected to Nature (Nature is the Mother and maya is certainly feminine) and, in itself, entirely natural even if illusionary when regarded as fundamental.

But, no, that is not what I mean at all. The illusion we live in today is far more destructive of truth than that for it does not involve mistaking the natural for the real, but has to do with the greater error of failing to distinguish sufficiently between the artificial and the natural. In a physical sense alone, most of us live our lives in a totally artificial environment, surrounded by and dependent on machines. Of course, we still appreciate the natural world but that is not the environment in which most of us live or really have very much to do with. I am not saying that we should all go back to live in caves but a line can be crossed when the disconnect between natural and artificial becomes too weighted in favour of the latter, and then there is a price to be paid. The trouble is that by that point we are usually too much in thrall to the artificial to even notice. I would submit that that line has been crossed, and we are leaving it ever further behind.

But even this is not the truly important issue. The more complete illusion lies in the realm of thought. It is here, in our ideas about ourselves and the world, that the problem really lies. Once we close our minds to metaphysical truth, the so called vertical pole of reality, once we deny our divine origins, we literally enter into a thought world of complete ignorance, and everything we then believe and think is founded on unreality. Today we see the results of this in every sphere. Let me list a few.

In religion, or what has become of it, void of spirit and mystery and lacking any sense of God as a living reality, the living reality: simply reduced, for the most part, to a form of humanism that is more concerned with this world than the next.  Even most modern spirituality seems more concerned with what its participants get out of it in emotional and personal fulfilment than in acquiring real holiness of character or displaying devotion for the Creator.

In science which, despite claims of objectivity, has been perverted by an atheistic and materialistic agenda, now so all-pervasive that it is largely unrecognised. Indeed, the very idea of knowledge is fundamentally misunderstood by modern science for it is increasingly seen as having a utilitarian function alone, being but a means to reshape the world according to our desires with no notion of what is really real or understanding that knowledge of the material world is actually the lowest form of knowledge; only truly meaningful when placed in a hierarchical context with knowledge of God sitting at the apex and known to be the one true knowledge, in the light of which all other knowledge must be seen.

In politics where, on the one hand, a horizontal and rigidly enforced egalitarianism has completely supplanted any idea of a natural hierarchy inherent in God and Nature (as the Masters said 'men are by no means equal on the Earth plane'), while, on the other, all non-financial considerations are sacrificed to the idea of the economy, otherwise known as Mammon. We are more concerned with equality than quality, and a nation’s economic success is the yardstick by which it is not only judged but judges itself.

In art, no longer devoted to the pursuit of the good, the beautiful and the true but preoccupied now, according to whether it is deemed 'high' or 'low', with the popular, the challenging and the novel. No longer interested in penetrating the veil between this world and the next, and bringing something of the next world into this one, but focused instead on the exploration and even celebration of the enclosed and earthbound little self.

In morality, now reduced to treating everybody equally and permitting anything that does not actually harm (or appear to as far as we know) anyone else. Gone is the traditional sense of obligation to and reverence for our Creator. Gone is the idea that we have a soul that can be harmed by actions, and even thoughts, which are counter to truth as it exists on the spiritual plane which, if acknowledged at all, is viewed as barely more than an extension of this world. Instead of an understanding that a proper morality must be directed towards a spiritual end, and seen in the context of the reality of God, what we have instead is one that takes the advancement of human happiness and the reduction of suffering in this world as its sole goal.

And in the relation between the sexes which, properly managed, is the bedrock of all civilisation but which maladjusted, with its complementary nature rejected, leads to disharmony and confusion throughout society. Tragically for both sexes, not to mention children, this relation is now in the process of being deconstructed and remade according to a godless and materialistic ideology.

I am not saying that things were better in the past. Some things may have been, many very obviously were not. But that is not the point. This has always been a fallen world. Previously, however, the way beyond its limitations and boundaries were known to everybody and clearly marked out. The lustre from the higher worlds illuminated, however dimly, art, philosophy and even the everyday beliefs of the ordinary person, educated or not. Now the gates appear to have been closed. The prison doors are shut. In fact, we no longer even realise we are in a prison. We take it as the normal and true state, and that is the problem.

I return to the saying of Jesus I have quoted several times in this pages. "What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?" This is the Faustian pact we appear to have made, and it is the cause of the illusion in which we live. The simple denial of transcendence, which is a denial of reality, means that we are wrong in every single area of life. Of course, many people might accept transcendence and still labour under an illusion as to its nature and their relationship to it. See Christian fundamentalists and Islamic terrorists. See also many psychics, occultists and others who seek to exploit God for their personal benefit. But that is a different matter. The prevailing world view, the one which forms our world and in which our children are educated and brought up, denies the reality of God. And when you deny truth, you inevitably live in illusion.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

If God is everywhere then why can't we perceive Him?

This is an interesting question in that it expresses something that can be a stumbling block for many people who would like to believe in God but cannot for they don't see why the reality of God would be obscured, should such a being exist. Why would his existence not be blazingly apparent? This is true whether one conceives of divine reality as personal or impersonal or, as must surely be the case, as something that includes but goes beyond both of these human perceptions which may reflect truth to some degree but are still limited.

Q. If God is everywhere why can't we perceive him? I don't mean see him as an object out there, of course, but why can't we at least feel him or sense some kind of spiritual presence?

A. There is an idea that for God to create he had to withdraw himself from part of himself. He is the all. There is nothing other than him. So, in order to create something other than himself (and a creation is necessarily that), he has to make a space in which that can happen. Thus he has to withdraw his presence (figuratively speaking) from a part of reality, the part in which creation may then take place. This is the void or nihil in which creation happens and the universe arises. Now, when God creates he is again present as he must be in his creation because there is nothing apart from him, and if he were not present in anything it would instantly cease to be and go back to the nothingness it was before he willed it into existence. But he is not present in the same way as he was before he withdrew the totality of his being. He is there as the substratum of existence, this is his immanence, but his transcendent being remains outside the creation. This may help explain why, to our currently limited awareness, there is always a feeling of absence. And yet this absence is necessary for us to grow into properly self-conscious individuals. If full awareness of our divine parent were always there, we would never become independent and free which is the point of our creation. We must be alone, or seem to be alone, for that to happen. Only through separation can we reach completion, that is to say, knowledge of completion.

This is part of the answer to your question but I believe there is more to it than the basic mechanics of creation. The Fall, whether seen as a necessary factor in evolution or an error on the part of infant humanity deceived by an anti-spiritual force, is that moment when we cut ourselves off from our divine source. Before then we walked in the presence of God. Afterwards that presence was lost. It was lost because we separated ourselves out from the rest of life. We could no longer sense God's presence because, by identifying ourselves with our selves, we withdrew from him. So it is not that we can't see him because he is not there. Rather we can't see him because we have blinded ourselves.

I agree with the story of how human beings lost their connection to the divine as it is presented in the book of Genesis. So I think the reason this happened was the result of error, though whether that error was in some way intended, never mind foreseen, is not something I want to go into here. What I would say is that self-consciousness, which is an important part of the process that brings a newly created spark of individualised spirit to authentic godhood, could surely have awoken and proceeded on its way without the full descent of the Fall, but we slipped into identification with matter and the concomitant spiritual darkness, sin and illusion because of our disobedience and resistance to truth. We preferred the way of our own will to that of submission to the will of God which only means coordinating our being to truth since God is truth. But we preferred the fluctuating relativism of our own point of view about reality to reality itself because we wanted to possess it instead of be possessed by it. This has reached a critical point today when all traditional restraints (in the form of revealed religion) have been removed and we rely solely on our own knowledge and experience, necessarily always limited, for understanding the world and ourselves. The only way back is through spiritual obedience and openness to truth. But how many of us today are really willing to put aside our prejudices and opinions and submit to truth as it really is, always unfashionable and accessible only to those who are able to become as a child? Which, by the way, does not mean someone who throws aside discrimination and common sense but someone prepared to be humble, accepting and trustful of legitimate authority while, at the same time, retaining proper discernment and  responsibility for himself.

Whatever the implications of the Fall there is another reason why we are not given the full revelation of the existence of God so that all doubters would be silenced, and it has to do with spiritual development. Think of the matter like this. If the reality of God were beyond dispute we would all be inspired to become saints, wouldn't we? Our hearts would naturally incline us to goodness and truth in the light of such a revelation. But is that really the case? Unfortunately I don't believe it is. Such is fallen human nature it is by no means certain that outer knowledge would bring about inner change. Change, as in true transformation, must come from within if it is to go all the way down and not just be like a dye that only stains the surface. That is why there is just enough evidence for God to support those who are faithfully looking for him, but not enough to convince those who want to deny his existence. Ultimately the choice is ours which is why it is correctly said that faith is a matter of will rather than intellect. If we turn to God without being compelled to do so because of irrefutable evidence it is because we want to do so which means we are allowing God to be born within us. In a way we are becoming godlike ourselves, or, at least, beginning to. This means that God can, if we continue to cooperate and not arrest the process by the ego trying to take it over, start to effect spiritual change from within. God is like a seed that must be planted deep in the heart itself if it is to grow effectively. He cannot just be grafted on from without. For the whole being to be transformed the process must start from within.

With regard to your question, it is now widely considered that early humanity did have a sense of spiritual presence but it was fairly rudimentary and certainly did not include full participation in divine being. There was no creativity, no love and no real intelligence. It was, if you like, passive not active, instinctive but not fully conscious We had to lose that connection to oneness and know separation in order to regain the awareness of oneness but this time with complete knowledge of ourselves added. This is the journey from pre-lapsarian Adam in the Garden of Eden to the risen Son of God who inherits the Kingdom of Heaven.

And so, to sum up, I would say that there are two reasons for us not being able to perceive the reality of God. One, the legitimate, is that we need to be distanced from the spiritual centre in order to develop a real self-consciousness. This is what you might call the result of a natural evolution. Like the prodigal son we then have to return carrying the fruits of our experiences. But the other reason is self-inflicted, and it is that we have withdrawn ourselves from God by identifying with the separate self. We have rebelled and rejected God. This is the Fall, and it is this we must address in ourselves in order to begin the homeward journey and that, I'm afraid to say, is something we can only do through acceptance of sin and repentance. These are old-fashioned terms I know, but if they have unpleasant connotations for you, ask yourself why. The fact of the matter is that we all have a fallen self, and it is this self that blinds us to the reality of God.

Having written all the above, there is one last point I would like to make. It is this. Why do you assume that we cannot perceive God? Is he not plainly present in the beauty and order of nature and the universe, if you look with unprejudiced eyes? Does he not speak to you through the voice of conscience?  And is not the desire for God, a desire that all men have always had, indicative that he is there? For just as there could be no eyes without light so there can be no desire for God if God does not exist.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Are the Masters Demons?

You might think it odd for me to include a question like this here but I do so because it expresses a legitimate concern. Essentially it points to the difference between the psychic and the spiritual which is a difference not sufficiently appreciated in our day when anything that is not material is often regarded as spiritual, taking that word to mean intrinsically good as opposed to just non-physical. But traditionally it was understood that there are many beings in the spiritual world which comprises a vast range of different types ranging from the very high to the very low. Anyone contacted by one of these beings was expected to exercise prudence and discrimination.

Q. "I'm a Christian and, according to my beliefs, most of the beings contacted by spiritualistic methods are actually demons whatever they may pretend to be. I must admit that your Masters don't seem to fall into this category but can you say anything to alleviate my concerns? I know that the fallen spiritual powers can be very deceptive and can even appear, as we are taught, as angels of light."

A. It may surprise you to hear that I actually have a lot of sympathy with your attitude which is by no means as alarmist as some people might think. I share your belief that some of the spirits that communicate through channeling or by other means are what you call demons, and are seeking to lead genuine seekers astray, whether that be in order to absorb energy from them or to sully spiritual truth by mixing it with enough falsehood to poison the well. Of course, not all are 'demons', the majority being simply discarnate spirits of varying levels of insight and understanding just as exist in this world, but some assuredly are though what a demon might actually be is open to discussion. When I asked the Masters about that they simply said that they were 'erring souls'. However I think that we can reasonably speculate, given religious tradition and the frankly mad state of much of the world today, that there are forces of division and deceit, spiritual powers of darkness to use a term that may sound melodramatic but which is literally accurate, that work against the upliftment and enlightenment of the world. And, yes, they can certainly present themselves as wise and benevolent beings dedicated to truth.

For, at the moment, there is an all out assault on humanity's understanding of the spiritual. This manifests itself as the stimulating of atheism and materialistic science (science is not, of course, anti-spiritual in itself), together with increasing reliance on machine technology, on the one hand, and the corruption of religion and distortion of spirituality on the other. There is also a gradual falling away from traditional morality, with its sense of responsibility and obligation to a higher power, and encouragement of attachment to the senses, the self and the independent, thinking mind. All potential points of weakness are targeted by these fallen spiritual powers which have as their ultimate agenda the separating of man from God. I appreciate this sounds like nothing so much as an occult conspiracy theory, but I consider the Christian view that Earth is a battleground for the souls of men to be nothing less than the truth, unfashionable as such a belief might be today to the intellectually sophisticated but spiritually unawakened. If it is asked why this is permitted, the answer would be that it is only through exposure to danger that one can learn courage. Only through the struggle to know truth from falsehood can an individual actually become truth.

So, are the Masters demons? Well, of course, they are not, though naturally I would say that! However I don't believe that anyone who reads their words could possibly think so. I don't think you think so which is perhaps why you ask the question instead of just making the assumption that they are, based on your religious beliefs. Quite apart from the quality of their presence, something of which I hope comes through in the book, their constant emphasis on the need to acquire humility and love seems to me to be the approach to spirituality most consistent with the teachings of Christ. Indeed, the only spiritual figure from the past they mentioned was Christ, and they did not mention him or stress what he stressed simply to slip in other teachings that might cause one to wander off into sidetracks and end up in a marshy bog as some discarnate speakers certainly do, whether intentionally or not. Catholics might not be happy to hear them refer to Catholicism (like any outward form of religion) as good for souls on a certain level but we now need a new and higher understanding of life, but this reflected their attitude that the spiritual path is an inner path, though they would add that only those who have fully assimilated the lessons of the outer path are truly ready for the inner. By their fruits you will know them, and the fruits of the Masters' words can surely be seen to be truth and goodness. So, far from beings demons or the like, they are, using conventional Christian terminology, members of the company of saints in heaven.

There are many channeled teachings. As a Christian you will be aware of the instruction in the epistle of St John to 'try the spirits, whether they are of God'. This is sound advice. You try (or test) them with  your head and with your heart, and if they pass that test then you may give them your attention. Always remember, though, that no external being should ever replace the inner connection you have with your Creator.

Christianity in its essence is probably the purest expression of spiritual teaching yet to appear on this planet and, in the figure of Christ, it contains the highest representation of a spiritual being. But with its understandable desire to protect itself from lower influences, arising from the time when it was struggling to establish itself in a pagan world, it can sometimes reject other approaches to truth that are perfectly valid. One should always exercise discrimination with respect to anything purporting to come from the spiritual world, but to write off anything that is not specifically Christian as demonic is a mistake that can lead to narrowed vision and unnecessary fear. It is certainly both arrogant and foolish to say that we are entering a new age so can throw off the superstitions and restrictions of the past (the ego always wants spirituality on its own terms), but the ways of the past can always be supplemented by new understanding as long as you see that understanding, like Christ said of himself, as coming not to abolish but to fulfil the law and the prophets.

Monday 21 September 2015

Free will

This is a short discussion on free will, initially on whether it exists at all and then how it might fit in the context of non-duality.

Q. Do you believe in free will?  As far as I understand the matter a strict materialism would deny it because everything about us is ultimately down to our genetic inheritance on the one hand and environmental factors on the other. But spiritual philosophies like advaita and Buddhism (whose shortcomings you have spoken of), which reject individuality, would also seem to leave free will out in the cold. In their view our sense of self is just a faulty perception that is the product of identification with thought and memory, and the fundamental reality is emptiness. Or else there is only the One Self so no selves truly exist in which case neither does free will. What's your view?

A. You are right to point out that certain forms of non-dualistic philosophy would seem to meet up with materialism in a rejection of free will. They might be approaching the question from different directions but they arrive at the same answer. Are they right though? Well, as I see it only someone whose intellectual mind had supplanted their intuitive sense of how things really are could think so. After all, no one actually behaves as though free will did not exist, and if it really didn't then why would it matter if you infringed another person's free will? And yet to do so is universally regarded as wrong, even criminal.

That having been said, we can't necessarily take our natural feelings of how things are as showing how they really are. Common sense may be a good guide in most things, but that doesn't mean we can assume our intuitions about ourselves are always right. They could be indicating how things appear to be rather than how they actually are so let's look at this question a little more closely.

Our point of departure, though, must be that the denial of free will is the denial of our own experience and deepest awareness of ourselves as autonomous creatures, and, whilst that is not conclusive, nor should it be discounted unless there is very good reason to do so. The deterministic point of view leads to the conclusion that no one is responsible for anything. We are only our brain states with no I controlling them, even in a limited way. However, though this might seem theoretically plausible to one who has a purely mechanistic view of human nature, a little reflection shows it runs completely counter to our experience of ourselves as rational beings endowed with individuality and knowing right from wrong. Indeed, if there is no free will can we even say that concepts of right and wrong have any meaning?  So, denying free will leads to the denying of morality. You can build it up but it is built on sand because it is rooted in convenience rather than truth.

Whether or not we have free will depends on whether or not we have true individuality or only the appearance of such formed out of experience, memory and so on. As with the existence of God, I suspect this is not something that can be proved to the full satisfaction of a doubting intellect, and that is because it is a metaphysical thing. For individuality does not belong to the world of phenomena and 'things' but to the inner world of qualities and meaning. Theoretically free will can be reduced to an effect of material causes but that truly is to reduce it and to leave out much about it and us that doesn't fit into that particular box. Specifically it is to leave out the element of freedom which is just dismissed as illusionary. So you can’t prove free will to the rational mind any more than you can prove God, and you may choose to disbelieve in it. However that very choice is the act of free will. You may claim that your choice is predetermined by your past, and some of it may well be, but a creature without free will would not be capable of seeing that there is a choice to be made. The simple fact that a creature can ask itself, “Do I or do I not have free will?” shows that it does (to a limited degree). If it did not, it would not even be able to grasp the concept of what free will might be.

So, to answer your question, I do believe in free will. Of course, it is not completely free because whatever we choose will inevitably be influenced by our past, by what we might have experienced and by our point of understanding at the present time. Nevertheless in any given circumstance where there is a question of moral right or wrong there is always an element in us that knows the truth and can incline us towards it. This part of us, call it soul, call it conscience, knows what we ought to do, and we can choose either to listen to or ignore it. That is where free will comes in.

Q. But from the point of view of non-duality isn't free will an illusion to be seen through when we see there is no self?

A. You're confusing the personal will, that can choose to go with the flow of life or against it, with the free will of a Master that is perfectly conformed to reality. His individual will is now one with Divine Will but that does not mean it does not exist. It does exist, in fact it must exist because without it he could not know the enlightened state. That is to say, he could not consciously know himself to be one with God. His will is not separate from God's but remains as a means through which he can serve and magnify God.

But even if free will did not exist for a Master (who, by the way, still has a self just not the sense of a separate self), that has no bearing on whether an ordinary person in this world now has free will. For even if you want to say that free will is redundant in absolute terms when identification with the separate self has ceased you could never reach that state without making the right conscious choices, i.e. exercising your free will. That does not mean that free will is capable of taking you there but it is, correctly co-ordinated, capable of taking you to the point where divine grace can operate.

Q. I asked this question because I read a book that said that free will is unreal because the self is unreal and the seeing of that fact is liberation.

A. At best, that's a half truth. First of all, there is nothing unreal in the phenomenal universe. Everything has its own kind of reality on its own level. All that is unreal are the mental projections we impose on reality, one of which being that there is no reality at all to the phenomenal world. So individuals are real, in their own way, which means that free will is too, in its own way.

I am not claiming that free will is absolute. It operates within a limited sphere but within that sphere it does exist. The author of your book is conflating absolute and relative levels, and using the fact of the absolute to deny the relative any kind of reality at all. But the relative, hence the individual and hence free will, is perfectly real. It’s just not absolutely so.  He is also equating individual identity with the separate self, but the two are not the same at all as can be seen by the fact that all realized beings still have an individual identity even if that is no longer the centre of their being.

God created Man with free will. That was the very purpose of this creation. In order that Man might add to the glory of life, and also for the full expression of divine love. Our free will must eventually be surrendered back to God of our own accord if we are grow in the spiritual way intended for us but even then it remains as the means through which God, Divine Life, continues to be expressed ever more abundantly in joy, love and creativity.

Thursday 3 September 2015

How to Stay Spiritual in a Materialistic World

This is a question from a young man who wants to explore the spiritual path but finds obstacles placed in his way from those close to him who reject his new found ideas as impractical and escapist. Some of us may have encountered something similar.

Q. I have been interested in spirituality for some time now but whenever I try to discuss spiritual matters with my friends or family they just laugh and tell me I'm wandering off into fantasy and wish fulfillment. I get depressed by this. It's hard to pursue any kind of spiritual life when surrounded by scoffers and non-believers. Have you any advice?

A. I sympathise with your problem which, I would guess, is not uncommon in today’s largely unbelieving world. It is difficult to hold fast to spiritual convictions, never mind put them into practice, when it seems that the whole world is against you. I remember when I was starting out on this path I encountered a similar reaction and resistance, and that was from people who cared for me. I still regularly mix with people who would regard a serious interest in spirituality as odd, if not deluded. But you just have to be true to yourself and not worry about what anyone else might say. Don’t retreat into a proud superiority that looks down on those who disagree with you, thinking them unenlightened and ignorant. But don’t let them deter you from doing what you feel to be right. You might even regard it as some kind of test that examines the depth of your commitment.  If you express your beliefs and are met with a lack of understanding, disagreement or even ridicule then just keep your own counsel, and don’t pursue the matter unless an opportunity presents itself.

This addresses one aspect of the problem, your reaction when the ideas you believe in are dismissed. The other difficulty is how to lead a spiritually purposeful life when your external surroundings, friends and family all conspire against that. Prayer and meditation can be engaged in, to an extent, in an environment that is unhelpful or even hostile to them, but there may come a time when, if you want to deepen your practice, you will have to remove yourself from that environment and find one that is more congenial to spiritual endeavour. Theoretically, of course, one should be able to maintain spiritual focus anywhere and under any conditions, but when we are putting down roots it does help if external conditions are supportive rather than obstructive or even antagonistic. But if that's not possible then the advice to ‘be in the world but not of it’ should be heeded. 

Here's a suggestion as to how you might deal with people who dismiss your ideas about spirituality as self-indulgent, naive or ignorant, all of which are common ways of belittling such ideas. Remind them (courteously, of course) that they are simply expressing their opinions, and opinions are often based on preconceptions, limited knowledge and obedience to the orthodoxies of the day. If they counter that their opinions are based on fact while yours are merely wish fulfillment, you could say that, even if they are based on fact, the facts they are taking as real are simply those operating at one level of reality while you are acknowledging higher levels which include but go beyond the material or physical level. They are being very selective in their choice of facts and ignoring (or just not knowing about) those that do not agree with their already formed opinion and/or prejudice. Don't forget that while some people are actively against any form of spirituality, others are just under the sway of the modern world and its materialistic bias. These latter might be more open to what you have to say

I think the best approach for you to adopt in these challenging situations is to realise that we live in times when those who would hold fast to the truth are being tested. The quality of your commitment, your courage and steadfastness, are being examined. Can you be true to your beliefs when your views are not taken seriously, and the world frequently denies the reality or distorts the nature of everything that seems to you good and holy? Can you live in the light while not disdaining those who do not because they are led astray by worldly forces? Speak out against falsehood but do not condemn those who are the victims of falsehood. That is not your responsibility. You are here to live the truth and be an example of righteousness, if you’ll forgive the use of such an old fashioned word which, nevertheless, has a meaning not found elsewhere.

So, it can be a hard time for those who wish to live spiritually but, paradoxically, it can also be a time when we can best learn detachment from this world; never giving up on it or allowing ourselves to hate it but not identifying with it or falling for its 'wisdom' either. When the world is in ruins (from the inward perspective) it is easier to put all one's faith in God. Today the powers of this world are being allowed full freedom and I don't think we can defeat them outwardly. But we can proclaim the truth and give as many souls as possible the chance to escape these powers. That is your opportunity now. If you flag in the attempt remember the example of the sufferings endured by Christ. The victory was eventually his and it will be yours too if you can display a fraction of his love, patience and humility.