Sunday 28 June 2015

The Masculine and The Feminine

I recently read an article putting the case against women priests in Christianity. It took the position that the sexes have their proper roles, not totally unique but not arbitrary or interchangeable either, and that sex itself is not an accident of nature but something that reaches right to the core of our being, notwithstanding certain apparent exceptions, and reflects eternal realities. Thus a church that ordains women is one that confuses the roles of the sexes, denies archetypal truths and, ultimately, misunderstands the nature of God himself to whom the whole of creation is feminine because it is receptive to his life and gives form to his being. In essence, such a church is rejecting the order that God has established in the cosmos. It is forsaking quality in the name of an equality that actually only exists at the supra-formal level of pure oneness not at the level of phenomenal things and the world of multiplicity where it will only introduce, if imposed, disharmony and imbalance. The article concluded that when the sexes are mixed up in this way (and other ones, of course, but this is important because it relates to our approach to God), then the natural coherence of the social order will start to unravel, and any connection we might have to the true God will be lost because we have replaced that with an image of our own making and fantasy.

It may surprise some readers of this blog but I completely agree with these sentiments. I do think that the priest in Christianity is a male function  because he stands in the place of Christ who was male, and not by chance but because he represented the active masculine divine principle (the Father) in contrast to the receptive feminine one embodied by Mary. A true priest is not just a minister, counsellor, teacher or even spiritual adviser, all of which a woman can be just as well as a man. He is a symbol (a symbol being an outer sign of an inner reality), and he is a symbol firstly of Jesus and then, through Jesus, of God. Only a masculine priest can truly symbolise a masculine God. And God the Father and Lord of Creation is masculine.

Once this would have been an uncontroversial statement to make but times have changed and now it must be explained. Before I do so though I should point out, in the context of women priests, that to any person claiming Christian belief it should not be controversial since it is a fundamental part of the Christian faith, one that derives from revelation. If you wish to justify the ordination of women you are challenging that revelation, and if you want to do that then why be a Christian? You cannot just appeal to a theoretical logic (male and female exist in the world so they must also do so, and equally so, in God), or, worse, the changing mores of fashion, since revelation by virtue of what it is goes far beyond either of these. If you reject the revelation why subscribe to the religion which is founded on that revelation? But this simple fact appears to be ignored and so we see the greater truth sacrificed in the name of the lesser. That is to say, human concerns and desires are placed ahead of divine principles, and eternal verities are subordinated to worldly priorities, ideologies, opinions and agendas. It should go without saying that people who do this can have no real understanding of what God is. Theirs is a God of convenience who is just a projection of their own ideals and objectives.

Therefore it can be said that women who want to become Christian priests may be well intentioned but they don't properly understand their own religion, and, as I hope to show, they don't understand inner spiritual realities, facts that pertain to the metaphysical order, either. The same applies to their male supporters. Of course, some few may actually be using this as a means to rebel against divine authority and the natural order of things but they, presumably, would be a small minority.

So why do I say that God is masculine? First of all, this does not mean he is male in the sense a man is or that men are closer to God than women. One's spiritual status has nothing to do with one's sex. Indeed, a woman's greater natural receptivity potentially makes her more open to the spiritual in many ways than is a man. However male and female are the biological versions of much deeper, indeed archetypal, principles of cosmic masculine and feminine that go right down to the roots of existence. They are a fundamental part of the divine order and necessarily exist even from before Creation since Creation, as an outward and real thing at least, results from their interaction. Unmanifest being or the Supreme Principle is beyond all duality and includes all things in itself but when God or Pure Spirit manifests or expresses itself there is a polarisation into spirit and matter which are the active and receptive (masculine and feminine) aspects of the one reality. These can be thought of as God and Nature, the Absolute and the Infinite, Essence and Substance and they are qualitatively different from one another even if ultimately one. These polarities exist as complements and all creation results from their union, but there is also a hierarchical dimension to their relationship because one comes before the other. Spirit precedes matter which is its dualistic opposite or reflection in manifestation. This is why we say (if we say correctly) spirit and matter rather than matter and spirit or Heaven and Earth instead of Earth and Heaven and so on. We even say man and woman and this is an intuitive recognition of reality not just a convention of language. You can rebel against this if you want to but a rebellion against reality is what it will be.

Thus the feminine or substantial aspect of reality is the result of the One becoming two in order to manifest. So is the masculine but that is the primary or subject principle, the feminine being the substance by means of which essence is expressed, the object to its subject and the way in which the subject, God, may know himself or, better put, reveal himself to himself. The two aspects of reality always exist together as one implies the other but matter is the consequence of pure transcendent spirit becoming dual in order to see itself in a world of subject and object, a world of becoming, growing, changing, multiplying. This does not imply male superiority in human terms* but the reality is that, while the sexes are complementary one to another, it is also the case that, cosmically speaking, the feminine principle in manifestation is or should be passive to the masculine as matter is or should be passive to spirit. This gives us a relationship in which there is complementarity and hierarchical difference at the same time with both of equal importance.  Previous generations understood this intuitively (albeit often imperfectly which is why the hierarchical difference was taken out of context and misinterpreted to mean male all round superiority which led to the present day reaction and then, as usually happens with pendulum swings, over-reaction), but for intellectually focused people such as ourselves the outwardly paradoxical nature of such an idea is difficult to grasp.

What this comes down to is that, although God in terms of non-manifest being may be beyond all distinctions of quality (as we understand it anyway), in his aspect of the Creator he can properly be conceived of as the masculine polarity of being with Nature, the form in and through which life comes to know itself, object as opposed to subject, the feminine polarity.  God, therefore, God the Creator, is legitimately thought of as Father. That is true as far as the macrocosm goes and it is also true microcosmically since, as is often said, all souls are feminine to God, meaning souls can only become spiritually alive through receiving spiritual impregnation, otherwise known as grace, from God.

So this is why God as Creator and Transcendent Reality can reasonably be thought of in masculine terms.  At the same time, as part of that or projected from it, and because the primal duality is reflected at every level of the unfolding universe, a divine feminine principle also exists within Creation and is revealed in such qualities as Beauty and Compassion. But to move from acknowledging the reality that some of the divine qualities are accurately described as feminine to conceiving of God as “She” is a metaphysical mistake caused by the failure to distinguish between divine essence and its energies or to see that the world of Creation in its entirety is the substantial pole of existence which must be receptive to (or impregnated by) active Spirit in order to blossom. This does not mean that divine energies and beings (which, cosmically speaking, are the same thing) cannot be envisaged in the form of goddesses or angels or that we should not acknowledge the Queen of Heaven or Divine Mother, but these are still part of Creation and not to be confused with the Creator. Traditionally goddesses have nearly always been associated with the natural worlds and energies, and the soul or psyche of things rather than the life or spirit which is masculine in terms of the duality necessary for manifested existence. Or else as wisdom (Sophia), regarded as the first created of beings but still a created being not the Creator. To confuse male and female in spiritual terms is to confuse essence with substance, what fertilises with what is fertilised, the ground of Creation with the Creator. For Christians to do this is to risk returning to the pantheistic attitudes of paganism in which divine immanence is celebrated but the sense of transcendence is lost while Nature is quasi-deified and God as Creator given a back seat if one at all. Those who fear that the introduction of women priests (apart from being symbolically wrong) will lead to the introduction of the idea of God as equally 'she' as 'he' are right; and a belief in the deity as female practically always leads to a form of paganism or pantheism in which nature is venerated for itself, and the transcendent Creator God, the One who is the source of all and of whom creation is the expression not a thing in its own right to be worshipped or treated as divine or sacred in any independent way, is neglected. If nature is to be regarded as sacred it must not be for itself but because it is the expression of the One who made it. Any other approach will keep us identified with form and the outer sheaths of being.

So it is very likely that women priests will introduce or re-introduce the idea of God as 'she', and this will result in a gradual loss of the sense of transcendence, a disconnect from the absolute and the eventual idea that nature in some sense is God on her own. There will be much talk of an all purpose love, compassion and equality but hierarchical distinctions will be dissolved and egalitarian relativism installed in their place. Truth will be replaced by truths, yours and mine, each one of which will be more or less as valid as any other. The resulting religious emphasis will be very 'this worldly'. Obviously none of this will happen immediately but there will be tendencies towards it, and these, in fact, can already be clearly seen as egalitarian and liberal (i.e. worldly) values gradually take precedence over spiritual ones in churches which accept women as priests.

Don't misinterpret this to mean that men are somehow intrinsically more spiritual than women. I have already dismissed this notion but, just to leave no room for misunderstanding, let me state quite categorically that one's spiritual state is a purely individual thing, totally independent of any outer quality such as sex, race or the shape of one's nose. Here we are talking purely in the context of priests. As a matter of fact, I would suggest that the more spiritually aware woman would not want to be a priest as she will intuitively recognise that the nature of such an office is inherently masculine so her form of service will lie elsewhere.

To conclude, it is undoubtedly the case that any idea we might have of God is an image and a symbol which cannot approach reality, but that does not mean that anything goes. After all a rose is a symbol of beauty in a way a thistle is not. It conveys to us something of that of which it is the symbol. Thus to think of the transcendent creator God as masculine is symbolically accurate in a way that to think of him as feminine is not. At the same time, Divine Reality most certainly has a feminine aspect which has been neglected in the past and this is most perfectly represented by the image of the Mother of God (the Mother of God as incarnate Son not unmanifest Father), the embodiment of wisdom, mercy, purity and compassion, and the first being in Creation.

*Note:  Just to be clear on this point. The masculine and feminine principles exist in both men and women but in men they are, or should be, in the overall context of masculinity and in women they are, or should be, in the overall context of femininity. That this is not always the case is evidence that we live in a fallen world which has deviated from the truth. That it is less the case today than ever is evidence that we live in the Kali Yuga or end times or whatever one wishes to call that period at the end of an age when the material pole and everything associated with it dominates the spiritual.

Tuesday 16 June 2015

The Love of God

This is a good question because it looks for the truth behind words, recognising how even an apparently simple phrase must be understood correctly if the meaning behind it is to be properly grasped. 

Q. You have talked about the love of God as the essential factor in spiritual development and, theoretically, that makes a lot of sense. But what I would like to know is what do you actually mean by it?  How can you know that what you think is the love of God truly is that? It seems to me that many people claim to love God when what is really going on is that they have an attachment to their own idea of God. 

A. That is an excellent question, if I may say so, and one I had not considered as I should, simply using the phrase and then moving on*. But you are right. Many people do have an image of God that is either of their own making or else derives from a religion that they follow. And then they claim that their attachment to that is love when really it is just a personal preference or emotional response to something that gives them comfort. So there are two things to take into account here. One is God and the other is love. If we say we have love for God, is it really love we have and is it really for God?

Well, this is something that only God can know for sure but from our perspective we can say that the difference between God and an idea about God is the difference between what is known in the heart and what comes from the mind. Where is our notion of God held, head or heart, in thought or through intuition and, if intuition, is that pure and free of egotistical input, prejudice, preconception and the host of lower impulses that the mind is subject to? In other words, is our connection to God just to an idea about God or is it to something real beyond ourself which we sense because we have started to look beyond ourself? 

I would say that we can truly perceive something of God in three ways. One is through religion. If a particular revelation speaks to us then we can intuit something of God through that revelation. True, we may get caught up in the letter or form of that religion, its outer aspect, but, if our heart is pure, we will be able to see through the form to the inner truths behind it, and use the form without being bound by it.

Then we can understand something of the reality of God through seeing His signs in the outer world and in nature (remembering that God is in nature but always remains transcendent to it too). We can see His presence in the sun, the clear blue sky and so on. These are symbols that inform us about the metaphysical principles that lie behind them. And we can perceive God's laws, and through them see Him, operating through the way the world works. The beauty of nature also tells us about its Creator.

Finally, and most fully of all, we can know God in the heart. He is present in us as our very being and we are connected both to Him and to our being (since they are the same thing) in the heart. However to know this consciously requires a degree of purity that can only be acquired through hard spiritual effort. It requires a simplicity that is not afraid to seem foolish. And it requires humility. If you turn to God without having first turned away from yourself you will fall into illusion, and whatever you find (and you may well find something you imagine to be spiritual), it won't be God.

True awareness of God comes from seeing that there is something greater than you that is the source of all is that is good and beautiful and true.
 This awareness inspires a love that, in its turn, inspires complete dedication, the desire to serve and the ability to sacrifice. There is a perfect acceptance of God's will which means that we accept our experiences without resistance while, at the same time, looking for ways in which we might serve that will. It might be said that some of this could equally apply to the religious fanatic but the difference once again is between head and heart. The true lover of God does God's will in a spirit of acceptance and humble gratitude. The fanatic, obsessed with his idea of God, always use force of some kind.

God is within and God is without and God has been revealed through the great religions. However unless we know Him in our hearts there is the strong possibility that we will replace the reality with our own concept of it and so, in a sense, become an idol worshipper. Only through purification of heart and mind can we can start to disperse the clouds of self-centredness that block out God's light, and begin to perceive something of the living truth that lies beyond and behind all ideas about it. That very perception will bring love because it is of love.

*Note: Although I did actually write a post on this subject a couple of years ago and that can be read in conjunction with this one.

Tuesday 2 June 2015

The Direct Path

Here is a question that points to the limitations of a strictly non-dualistic metaphysics. It seems that more and more people in the West today are finding this approach appealing, but in my view it is seriously incomplete for it fails to acknowledge that the human being is two sided, and these two sides must always co-exist. There is never one without the other and together they form the whole. On the one hand, there is an uncreated aspect of pure spirit but on the other there is the created aspect or soul without which the uncreated part could not be known. These two cannot be separated and the one cannot be considered without the other. Thus there is always both unity and duality together, and in creation one never exists without the other. No created being can transcend creation though it can transcend identification with its purely created aspect. However to deny the reality of the created aspect or to regard it as irrelevant or unreal cannot be other than an act of the mind. It is not possible in reality. Even if certain mystical experiences reveal the oneness of life, oneness in the sense that God is all there is, yet still the basic truth is that sameness has no meaning without difference. The oneness of life (spirit) can only be known in the context of the duality (spirit and matter) of creation. And this is why the key to existence is not knowledge but relationship or, otherwise put, love.

Q. I have heard of something called the direct path that apparently offers a fast track route to spiritual understanding or even enlightenment. How does this compare with the spiritual path as normally practiced?

A. What you are referring to is a form of advaita Vedanta that takes Sankara’s philosophy to its logical extreme in which everything is reduced to consciousness and there is no other reality. It is a highly intellectual approach that uses rigorous logic to analyse and then deconstruct one's experience to reveal, theoretically, that mind, the body and the world itself are all fundamentally nothing but pure awareness. It is supremely rational and seemingly intellectually coherent, but it is also open to the charge of being one-sided and reductive. Perhaps most of all it lacks heart, and, I would suggest, imagination. It fails to see that the most apparently logical need not be the most spiritually correct.

This method claims that you are God and starts from that position. It assumes that the idea of progress is an illusion belonging to the ego and has no relevance for the Self that is above time and change. Thus it is using its own idea of the absolute to deny the reality in which it finds itself now.

There is also the assumption that a) human consciousness when free of the ego is the same as divine consciousness, and b) that consciousness is the bedrock of being which is an unwarranted assumption as it cannot explain itself.

Thus it reduces the divine to the human, in effect if not in theory.

The direct path acknowledges neither God nor the individual soul as true and enduring realities, but a more enlightened approach sees them as fundamentals even if ultimately made of the same stuff. All life is one and there is no separation but that does not mean that the individual soul does not exist and that God is swallowed up in an undetermined impersonal absolute without distinction. The mistake this approach makes is in thinking we are God instead of seeing that God is in us, and so it is not a case of denying ourselves as individuals but transcending identification with the separate self, and that requires sincere, humble spiritual practice, something that no amount of knowledge or insight can replace.

This form of advaita seeks to bypass God (downgraded to the personal God) but has no explanation for why the created world came about or what we are doing in it. It also ignores the reality of love even if lip service is paid to it. 

But the truth is that love, as a spiritual reality, can only exist in a theistic context. There is no place for it in advaita where the only reality is an undifferentiated, static consciousness. The fact that many contemporary non-dualists do talk about love shows they are recognising, consciously or not, the deficiencies of their philosophy. They are borrowing something from dualistic religions to plug the gap in their reductionist view of the universe. This view is based on an intellectual approach (which is why knowledge is exalted above all else) rather than an intuitional one. Hence it may seem logical but suffers from a dearth of imagination which is the faculty in man that goes beyond mere logic.

There is no doubt that advaita or non-duality does have logic on its side. After all, to reduce form to formlessness and multiplicity to unity makes some kind of sense. Form and multiplicity cannot be primary obviously. But spiritual truth, though by no means illogical, is not accessible by purely logical means. Thus the reality is that duality is an integral and non-dispensable part of non-duality for simple, undifferentiated oneness is only one aspect of the Whole and cannot be taken as representing its ultimate and unique principle. 

As I say, non-dualistic philosophies, including the direct path version thereof, regard knowledge as the means to liberation and the supreme path to enlightenment, but their impersonal view of the absolute has led them into certain errors. Nothing can come from nothing and the world of qualities could only come from something in which those qualities already existed even if only in an unexpressed form. If the advaita position were correct this universe could never have come about for a completely quality-less absolute, nirguna brahman, could never give rise to quality. How could it unless quality was already there implicitly in some form from the very foundation of things? So it is that the personal and impersonal God must both be present in the absolute.

This leads us to the conclusion that the personal does not derive from the impersonal in some mysterious and unknown way but is an eternally co-existing part of the One, and that, in turn, tells us that knowledge is certainly necessary but it is not sufficient. It is not an end in itself but something that must coincide with love. The fact of love is the fact of the person.

Sometimes it is asked that if this is so, if the personal God is just as deeply rooted in reality as the impersonal ground of being, then why is it not present in Buddhism? How can Buddhism get by quite happily without a personal God? I think we have to appreciate that Buddhism came at a time when prevailing attitudes were soaked in superstition, spiritualism and ritual. That is why a non-theistic and intellectual approach was needed. It's a matter of 
context and balance. Now we have the opposite problem which makes a Buddhist approach popular (in that it can be adapted quite easily to modern attitudes) but, for that reason, less effective as a spiritual path, especially for Westerners who do not have a religious cultural background. We live at a time of materialism, scientism and intellectual self-sufficiency so a theistic approach to the spiritual path is more necessary. And, as I never tire of repeating, the Masters who spoke to me insisted on prayer as being as important as meditation. For us moderns it may well be even more important. In their telling words, "Do you think yourself above prayer?"

I have wandered away a little from the original question but I hope maintained tangential relevance. However, addressing it more directly (no pun intended), I would say that the Direct Path can certainly bring a measure of insight but insight is not enlightenment in the sense of full spiritual awakening, and still less is it salvation which only comes when there is complete identification with the spiritual heart. Without the full development of humility and love any perceived enlightenment is only partial, and no amount of knowledge or insight will bring these about. Ultimately it is only grace that does so but the reception of this grace depends on a total self-emptying. 

The Direct Path says that we are always and already divine. It is not something to aspire to or to seek. It is here now, and we only have to recognise it for what it is. This is all well and good, and even true up to a point, but for the incarnated soul it's not so straightforward and an incompletely purified individual can frequently dupe itself into thinking it is what it is not. The fact is that we are not divine until we have integrated our created aspect, the soul, with the uncreated aspect of pure spirit, and that we can only do when it is cleansed of all egotism, and even then it is entirely dependent on grace.

It seems to me that the idea of a direct path exists largely as a sort of corrective to the idea of the path as something pursued by the self-centred goal-seeking ego. Its advocates rightly see that, spiritually speaking, this is just a contradiction in terms. Ego cannot go beyond ego. So they replace this with knowledge or a kind of pure seeing, the seeing of truth. But this is not enough on its own. It is correct to point to the flaws of an approach marked by the desire of the self for heaven but the ego cannot be got rid of just through knowledge. It is only love of God that will take you to heaven. Simply seeing the emptiness of self on an intellectual level can never efface the ego. It is only through forgetting the little self out of love for something greater that we can go beyond that self, and that love must be for the Source of all and not just any created part of it or something concocted out of our own imaginings. It must be vertically directed to God, the Creator and Origin of all things, none of which can do more than reflect a fraction of his infinite truth and glory.