Tuesday 27 January 2015

The Liberated Soul After Death

Here’s an interesting question that seeks to reconcile the idea of Masters working for the spiritual upliftment of humanity with the advaitic idea of liberation as entry into pure being with no return to the world of becoming. Bodhisattvas versus Buddhas, you might say.

Q. According to Sankara in his Vivekachudamini the liberated man after death becomes like water poured into water or oil poured into oil. This implies complete absorption into the One. How does it square with your idea of the Masters who seem to be still operating in some aspect at least of the phenomenal world hence of duality? There are also contemporary teachers who say that there is no return for the liberated soul after release from the body, and that those who do communicate from the higher or non-physical worlds have not achieved liberation. What would you say to them? 

A. Regarding the Sankara quote, this is an advaita point of view and I don't subscribe to advaita, not completely anyway. I see it as true in absolute terms but one-sided and reductive in reality because reality is not the absolute alone but the absolute and the relative together, both with their own perfectly valid degree of reality even if the latter must be seen as the expression of the former. But advaita admits the relative in theory only to deny it in practice, regarding it as fundamentally unreal once the absolute is realised. A more nuanced and inclusive approach, however, sees the relative as integral to the whole even if it relates to quality, expression and relationship rather than pure being. It is a dry, life-denying sort of spirituality that refuses to allow a proper reality to any kind of form, quality or expression. It relegates love, beauty and goodness to the realm of insubstantial ephemera, but I think the very purpose of manifestation was to allow the expression of these things. That means that in some way they must be present even in the Absolute. I know that some advaitins claim that their system acknowledges the relative but it does so only in a very perfunctory way, giving it a provisional reality but then dismissing it and focusing only on the absolute. It certainly does not give the two equal footing or see that the goal of life is to unify and integrate absolute and relative rather than reject the one in favour of the other. And mitya, Sankara's word to describe the phenomenal world, (usually translated nowadays as neither real nor unreal), takes back with one hand what it gives with the other, and is consequently a very unsatisfactory way in which to view the reality inherent, subsidiary but real, in created things and the phenomenal world. To all intents and purposes advaita sees the world of duality, including individuals, as the product of ignorance, but a deeper understanding shows the One and the Many to be equally part of the whole, and that there is no contradiction in something being both individual and universal. In fact, not only is there no contradiction but that's the point of the whole show.

You talk of liberated souls but just what constitutes liberation? In advaita Vedanta realisation is exclusive, a retreat into pure consciousness, unqualified and static, but other schools of thought teach that Ultimate Reality is not just inert consciousness but has an active side to it too. For these schools true realisation only comes about when all aspects of reality, those belonging to both being and becoming, are accepted, fully integrated and made one. Anything else is incomplete. This encompasses both duality and non-duality and is a step beyond either one of them on its own. 

The Masters do operate in duality as does anything that operates at all. But they are not identified with it, and it is their compassion that brings them back into contact with our world not any need to experience it or any attachment to it. In terms of consciousness they live in non-duality. In terms of individual expression they live in duality or, I should say, they appear in duality. Again, it is not a matter of either/or but of both/and with each aspect of being in its proper place. They have certainly transcended the relative world but that is in consciousness not function or expression which are always and necessarily outward things. And, just as God has an aspect of pure being and an expressed aspect as the Creator, so do the Masters who are one in essence but who each have a unique individual quality.

Now, of course, not all liberated souls remain in touch with the outermost circles of existence (ours), and probably the majority don't. But some do (thank goodness), and even the ones that don't will still exist in some sort of relative form in so far as the expressed aspect of their nature is concerned. You might query whether they would still have an expressed aspect after liberation, but, as I have said, I don't think that death of the liberated person's physical body means unqualified entry into the limitless light with nothing left of the individual being, or water poured into water to use Sankara's words. What would be the point of manifested existence if that were so?  The liberated soul does not become God in the sense of disappear completely into the absolute so that there is nothing left of him as an individual soul at all.  He realises his being to be none other than God's being for what else could it be? There is no other being. However he does not become God qua God so much as enter a path that proceeds ever more deeply into the Divine Presence without ever exhausting the infinitude of that Presence. The fact that the Masters themselves talked of higher Masters, beings beyond even the state of liberation, points this way.

I would say to those teachers who deny the possibility of Masters communicating, how can you possibly know if you have not had the experience? They are speaking from a theoretical position and according to a mindset. I would never dispute the fact that the great majority of channeled entities are psychic beings rather than those who have achieved liberation. This is certainly the case however they may present themselves. But why should a liberated being not communicate if deemed necessary and in line with the recipient's karma? Granted, it is rare but it does happen. I do have some sympathy with the naysayers given that the bulk of channeled messages are fairly obviously not from beings of the calibre of the great saints and sages. Nevertheless I can testify from my own experience that Masters can and do communicate, and that liberated beings are not without an individual aspect even if for them now consciousness is no longer limited by that.

Thursday 15 January 2015

Mindfulness Question

Now and then certain spiritual concepts and/or practices rise up into public awareness and become popular. But does this indicate a real spiritual hunger or is it simply symptomatic of a number of worldly people jumping on a bandwagon and seeking to add a bit of spirituality to their other possessions? Can it lead to a genuine opportunity for awakening, at least for some, or is it just superficial, the fad of the moment, with no more significance than the latest diet or yoga craze? The following enquiry addresses this question.

Q. What do you think of the recent spread of mindfulness practices with teachers springing up all over the place and even apps that are supposed to help you meditate? Do you see it as a positive development that might lead to a greater spiritual awareness in the general public or is it just the latest fashion that will blow over when another one comes along? I must confess that I view it as another example of the desacralisation of proper spirituality and so of not much long term value, but I appreciate that could be seen as a rather intolerant attitude so I thought I'd ask you your opinion.

A. Well, I wouldn't bet on a mass spiritual awakening but anything that suggests there is a spiritual component to human beings has the potential to progress some people, even if it's only a few, further along the path. It's easy to dismiss the whole thing as no more than a passing craze that attracts those seeking a little spiritual spice in their lives with its novelty value, and for some people it may well be that. But for others it can be a valid initial approach to meditation which is the bedrock of any spiritual practice. No doubt many of its adherents are simply looking for a space in which to find a measure of peace amidst the hurly burly of modern life, and there is nothing wrong with that. But there may be others who are inspired to search more deeply, to go further into the whole matter of what a human being really is and how best to conform oneself to that.

Having said that, there is always a danger when bona fide spiritual practices are separated from their religious sources and taken out of context. In the case of mindfulness that source is Buddhism, of course, and within Buddhism mindfulness finds its place as part of a wider practice and within the framework of a strong ethical foundation. To practise it without a sense of true spiritual values will not take one very far, spiritually speaking, and might even lead to a parody of spirituality as it replaces the real with a shallow imitation of it. That is the risk when spiritual means are divorced from spiritual ethics and proper metaphysical understanding. It can be just another road to egoic inflation.

So, if mindfulness is coupled with attempts to purify the lower self of greed, anger, attachment, ignorance and so on, all of which distort perception both of the world and of oneself, and if the practitioner does not fall into the common modern trap of neglecting the transcendent on discovering the immanent (recollection of the simple formula 'Remember the Creator' would save spiritual seekers a great deal of misapprehension and trouble), then it can be a useful approach to the spiritual path. But if practised out of context and without an ethical foundation or a real sense of dedication to truth as well as the understanding that the purpose of spirituality is not to benefit the ego, its effects will be superficial at best. 

I would say that what your question really amounts to is this. Is the current popularity of mindfulness just a trivialisation of proper spirituality or does it represent a real chance for some people to step onto the spiritual path?  And the answer is both, potentially. It all depends on how each individual reacts, on the depth and sincerity of their approach and whether they are prepared to dig more deeply into spiritual practice than simple exercises to establish peace in the mind or direct attention to the present moment. And on that note, let me draw attention to a common misunderstanding of the day, one which falls into the category of confusion of levels. In this case spiritual or pertaining to the soul (formlessness), and psychological or pertaining to the mind (the phenomenal world). Don’t mistake the present moment for the Eternal Now. The present moment is still a passing moment in time. It is not the deep immutable state of timelessness beyond the flow of time. It is good to live from moment to moment as a means of detaching yourself from identification with past and future, but don’t confuse that mental fixing on the present with transcendent awareness of timelessness. That is like mistaking ordinary, everyday awareness with establishment in Divine Presence.

Sunday 4 January 2015

Why Am I Not Enlightened?

Here is a question which expresses a common or even a persistent problem, but one that really comes from looking at things the wrong way round. What I mean by that should become clearer further on.

Q. I have been a seeker of enlightenment for nearly forty years now.  When I first started out on this path I was full of enthusiasm and hope, and genuinely thought that the goal was attainable in this life.  I mastered meditation to the extent that I could enter into deep states of peace, and had several profound spiritual experiences. However after a while my spiritual life seemed to stagnate. I stopped progressing and my attainments seemed to dry up. Now as I approach my seventh decade I feel I am no nearer to the goal than when I started out. What do you think your Masters would advise in my case?

A. To start off with I must make clear that I no longer have any outer contact with the Masters and have not done so since 1999. So I can't say what they would advise. However, based on things they said to me, as well as my own understanding, I would make the following points. 

First of all, I would ask you a question. What has been your motive in following the spiritual path? What were you hoping to gain from it? That's a rhetorical question because the answer is clear from your own words. You were hoping to gain enlightenment. So I would now ask you, why? Why do you seek enlightenment? That may seem a strange thing to ask. After all, assuming enlightenment exists, why would anyone not seek it? But that's the problem. We have been told that if we seek we will find, but we might equally well have been told that if we seek we will not find. It all depends on why we seek because in the spiritual world motive is all, and the only proper motive on the spiritual path is love. That is why Jesus said that we should love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. This is the most important commandment but it is one often forgotten by the modern mystic or contemporary seeker who only looks inside himself for truth. But without this love you will never find what you are looking for because it, and it alone, provides the true self-forgetfulness that takes you beyond egotistical searching. No knowledge or insight can replace it or make up for it if it is not present. The fact is that enlightenment will never be found by one who seeks it. This is the well-known paradox, but the solution is not not to seek it (if you don't seek, you certainly won't find), nor is it to assume that it is already there and you only have to realise it. That will just lead to self-deception with intellectual enlightenment the best you can hope for. The solution is to seek but to seek from love rather than desire. If you ask me how to kindle this love if it doesn't already exist I can only suggest that you try to forget yourself and your goals, and concentrate instead on the good, the beautiful and the true. God is transcendent as well as immanent and will only be found by those who recognise that and all that it implies. Open yourself up to the vertical.

Having said that, I would now suggest that you put aside ideas about enlightenment altogether.  I have often used the word both here and elsewhere but I'm not convinced that the concept is in any way helpful, not in the sense of a spiritually perfected completion. It really only exists in Buddhism, and with the many contemporary false claimants to enlightenment the whole idea has become trivialised and spiritually polluted anyway. Far better just to meditate, pray and work to cleanse yourself of all psychic and psychological impurities and habits formed from faulty identification with the external sheaths of your being, and then let the divine power that rules the universe do the rest in the time that it thinks good not that you do. Otherwise put, simply serve God and do his will as you think it may apply to you at the point you are now. That is a much wiser course than to chase after enlightenment. Spiritual growth will come when you least expect it and in ways you may not anticipate. So don't project yourself into an unknown future but be faithful to and serve your divine source here and now without expectation of reward. This may seem unexciting but it is the best way to make the progress you currently desire.

It's very common to seem to make rapid strides initially but then find that everything, as you put it, dries up. This is partly because of action and reaction. Perhaps you over-reacted to the spiritual highs and so had to suffer the corresponding lows, but it's also a test of your resolve. You were given openings into the higher life but then thrown back into this world and your everyday mind to see what you make of that. To see if you can integrate your spiritual awareness into the fabric of your being. To become it, in fact, and not have it dependent on, let's be honest, spiritual pleasures and rewards. 

The long and short of this is that enlightenment is not the goal of the spiritual life. As I was taught by the Masters the purpose of the spiritual path is to develop love of God and his creation, including mankind, intuitive awareness of 'what is' and self-forgetfulness. It is, furthermore, to become a co-creator with God through service to his will in manifesting the higher realities in this world. In essence, it is to become a pure channel for the light but for the sake of the light not for your own sake. Of course, this brings its own rewards and its own joy because by following such a course you are fulfilling your own true nature and purpose, but that is not a personal thing.

I've already written something about  this here and you might wish to read that post in conjunction with this one.