Tuesday 19 January 2016


It is a truism that all responsible parents want a good education for their children, but what exactly is a good education? Obviously it's to do with learning but learning what? Facts and figures? Clearly not that or not only that. How to think? Certainly but not, perhaps, primarily. First and foremost, I would say that it should be rooted in a proper understanding of the true nature of life, and the training of a person to correctly coordinate themselves to that. In the past this basic understanding formed a significant part of a child's upbringing, but now it is sorely lacking in a world in which truth is largely denied, and false beliefs about man and the cosmos are increasingly accepted as part of a received wisdom which cannot be challenged without betraying oneself as naive, ignorant, foolish or even mad. In fact, the materialistic and anti-spiritual assumptions of the day are so deeply entrenched in the modern mind that even religious people and those who become interested in various forms of spirituality are affected by them, their spiritual or religious views frequently influenced by or even subordinated to the prevailing ethos. But if your spirituality is seen through the prism of a predominantly materialistic worldview, and if it admits only what a humanistic outlook would accept, it is fairly useless. It is by the light of spiritual understanding that you should view everything else, and not vice versa as seems to be the case now (except, of course, amongst the fundamentalists of various religions, but then their spiritual understanding tends to the literalistic and be limited to externals only). For you don't adapt God to man. You adapt man to God.

So education, above all else, should be spiritual education, teaching a child what he is and giving him an understanding of his place in the world, of his duties to others and, most of all, to God. The form may vary according to different cultures' needs, conditions and points of awareness but in some form this is a basic requirement of any proper education. And it is the one thing completely neglected nowadays. At best lip service is paid to it but increasingly not even that. What a strange kind of world it is that insists on sex education for very young children but does nothing for spiritual education. I am not condemning instructing children on the nature of their bodies at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way, but they should be made aware of the reality of their whole being and see how the different parts that comprise it relate to each other; the place each part, body, mind and spirit, has in the overall scheme of things. Taking a part out of context cannot fail to give it disproportionate meaning and significance, and even give a totally false idea of it.

We may condemn the past as ignorant, and so it was in many ways, but it was wise in the most important way. It recognised a Creator and knew that this world was not man's true home. He was here for a purpose and that was not to make money or even live a nominally good and fulfilling life. It was to fit himself for eternity. Now we have the extraordinary situation in which the most educated people are frequently the most ignorant because they don't understand that basic truth, having been trained to regard it as outdated and foolish. They have been so educated on a purely intellectual level that their minds are closed to anything higher.  No wonder the Masters in The Boy and the Brothers said that the system of modern education murdered souls, and defined it as producing people who live inside closed walls, hence have bad sight. They were certainly not denigrating education as such but a particular sort, prevalent today, that denied the reality of spirit. It's an irony that universities arose from monasteries but have now so severed their links with the spiritual that they have cut themselves off from the truth.

If you told anyone that modern education was narrower in scope that at any time in history they would laugh you out of court. How can that be the case when the range of subjects is greater than ever and the depth of knowledge, especially scientific, is such that it makes the understanding of previous generations look like the investigations of children? But there is really only one subject taught today and that is materialism. That is the assumed background to everything, even the arts (nearly all modern arts are blasphemy, say the Masters). Yes, contemporary knowledge is hugely impressive but it is, as the cliché goes, more and more about less and less. Soon we will know everything about nothing. I certainly do not decry this knowledge nor do I in any way reject worldly learning but it should be supplementary to the knowledge of God not a replacement for it because unless it is seen in the light of the knowledge of God it is not really knowledge at all. Rather it is sophisticated ignorance.

For ultimately all education should be the education of the soul, and if that is not given a central position in a child's education, or an adult's for that matter, the person remains uneducated and ignorant. Unfortunately this is the case with the majority of those who set the agenda today whether they be politicians, scientists, artists, teachers or leaders in almost any field you care to mention. Such people are usually highly educated but know nothing of what really matters. Consequently their influence is destructive and is inevitably leading to a society and culture that has divorced itself from reality which means, whatever the appearances, it is on the path to disintegration. 

Now this insight, once admitted, might be seen as a cause for despair. If those holding the reins are riding in the wrong direction what's going to happen to the rest of us, pulled along with them? However despair indicates a lack of faith and trust in God so should be resisted. Besides, such a state of affairs was foreseen in the prophesies of numerous traditions, Christian, ancient Egyptian, Hindu and so on, and so was its eventual overturning. Thus we should never allow ourselves to fall into despondency, and always maintain the truth even when no one seems to be listening. Remember that no matter how thick the cloud cover the sun always shines brightly behind it, and eventually it disperses all darkness.

Thursday 7 January 2016

The Limitations of Advaita

This is familiar territory here but I've been challenged elsewhere on my view that advaita or non-duality is a limited understanding of the world, and thought I might pass on my response here. Roughly speaking, for those unfamiliar with this philosophy, advaita states that Brahman (The Divine Self, you might call it) alone is real and everything else is, in the words of Shankara, its principal exponent, ‘neither real nor unreal’. It states unequivocally that once you see things correctly there is no difference at all between the soul and God (Atman is Brahman) so the individual qua individual has no proper existence. That means nothing else does either. So advaita denies any integrity to anything except formless being. In its eyes the soul does not become one with God, and so is divinised or made perfect as in Christianity. Basically it is God who is not personal (except as Isvara, a lower form of divine being still operating in the world of maya or phenomenal existence), but purely impersonal.

This is just a brief overview of advaita Vedanta, and purists would probably throw up their hands in horror at what it omits, but nevertheless it contains the essential substance or gist of it which is that absolute reality is pure, impersonal consciousness and no more. And that is what you are too. There is therefore no room in this scheme of things for the notion that God is Love. There is no room for creativity or any kind of growth or progression or development. Instead of all things being eternally made new, all things are eternally the same, static.

Now, advaita is very close to the truth which is why it is so attractive to many and has so many adherents nowadays.  However it leaves out the real beauty and wonder of creation and existence because it separates absolute and relative, more or less discarding the latter as surplus to requirements. But the glory of life is that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and it is only through spirit immersing itself fully in matter that this can be realised.

There are other versions of Vedanta such as the qualified non-duality of Ramanuja and that is much more in tune with reality in my view. It sees Brahman as a Divine Person with Divine attributes instead of an impersonal, featureless Absolute. Consequently it asserts that individual souls retain their distinct identity even when inseparably and indissolubly united with God. This is precisely my experience with the Masters who were both individual and universal in consciousness and presence, and it is surely a richer view of the spiritual life which implies it should be true since reality must be greater than anything we can conceive.

My interlocutor rather grandly claimed that advaita cannot be accepted by the rational mind and so can’t be rejected by it either, implying that it just is true and you either see it or you don’t. Faith is not involved. I take the opposite view. I think advaita actually comes from a very intellectually based approach in that it argues from a to b, and it doesn’t really take into account any kind of deeper faith or intuition at all. That, as I say below in my reply, is one of the reasons for its increased popularity today in our reason based culture. And that also is the reason for its limitations.

Anyway here is the reply to my challenger.

You say that advaita sums up the totality of truth and is not an intellectually constructed philosophy, but it has no explanation for this whole world of creation which it simply describes as a not to be understood mystery. Subtler philosophies can accept that what God creates is real and has a purpose, and can see that reality is the integration of being and becoming not restriction to being alone. Thus the One and the Many both exist as part of the whole. Fundamentally advaita denies the many which is why it is reductive. I know it gives the many provisional reality and accepts the existence of Isvara but neither are given any real importance or significance once realisation is attained. And even before then they are regarded as the products of ignorance.

Thus advaita basically denies the value of relationship because it fails to see that both duality and non-duality are true. And relationship is why there is something rather than nothing. This is why the idea of God being a Trinity, three in one, is a higher concept than simple advaita or one in one. Of course, there is only God and, of course, the goal is to realise that in oneself but what God creates is real not neither real nor unreal which, frankly, is just a piece of sophistry. It may not be real in the same way that God Himself is as it has no reality apart from Him, but He has given it reality and, in the case of human beings, autonomy too.

And actually to say, as you do, that advaita, or non-duality, cannot just be accepted or appreciated by the rational mind is not, I think, true. One of the reasons for its current popularity is precisely because it has a certain rationality to it. After all, what could be simpler or more rational than to boil everything down to one? You might even say that the current belief system of materialism does the same and, indeed, there are grounds for comparing the two. For in just the same way as materialism denies spirit so advaita denies matter (to all intents and purposes), seeing it only as maya. The truth is there is no knowing God without bringing together the two poles of reality which are split apart and consciously reassembled precisely so that God may be known and not remain a hidden treasure. 

Wednesday 6 January 2016

Is mystical experience the final goal?

This question refers to a point made in the last post and, by implication at least, touches on the important matter of what the self, if it exists, is actually for.

Q. Can you elaborate a bit on why you say that mystical experience is not the goal of the spiritual life. You said that in your book and you also mentioned it in a recent post. Surely once a person has attained full unity consciousness there is nowhere else to go? If enlightenment, which I am taking as the summation of all mystical experience, is not the goal then what is?

A. Let's get our definitions in order first. Can we agree that the basis of mystical experience is usually said to be the withdrawal of attention from all external objects and created things, outer and inner including oneself, and the subsequent focus on pure being? There are other, perhaps lesser, forms of mysticism, such as nature mysticism or one-pointed devotion to a deity, but when one talks of mysticism in the context of the search for enlightenment, this is what we are talking about. The entry into pure being. The advanced mystic (that is, one who has not just touched this state but fully embraced or been embraced by it) might come back into the phenomenal world but henceforth his unique focal point is the undifferentiated oneness of uncreated reality. 

Some call this the experience of God, others the essence of our own true being, and many mystics maintain that there is not much difference at this stage. But is the attaining of this state really the whole object of the spiritual journey? As I have said before, at one time I might have thought it was, and, as far as I can see, it is for Buddhism and advaita Vedanta. But there is a problem. Even if one comes back from this state and preaches its virtues to other spiritual enquirers there is still a whiff of solipsism about it. The enlightened one wants nothing and nobody. He may have a blanket universal compassion for all living beings still caught up in the illusions of this world, but he himself in himself is remote, distant, uninvolved, detached. He resides in eternity and so cannot really relate to anyone else. For some this may imply completion but others might see an inner solitariness like this as a kind of limitation.

What I am feeling my way towards here is that whatever is behind this created world and our created selves (which, for ease of reference, let us call God) did not just send us out into phenomenal existence for us to come back no different from when we started. What would be the point of that? He (and I use that pronoun a) because I believe God to be personal, and b) because I think the masculine pronoun most accurately describes the nature of the Creator, see here for why) had a purpose. That purpose was not for individual units of consciousness to be absorbed back into pure being with their individuality dissolved but for them to become living Sons and Daughters of God themselves. And this, crucially, does not demand a return to original being with all experience gained from this world just thrown away because it is meaningless, but the full integration of being and becoming with the soul made perfect not just, for want of a better word, binned. Not the abandonment of the Many for the One or of difference for sameness but the recognition that both are part of the whole, two sides of the same divine coin, and only through the perfected union of both can the Good, the Beautiful and the True take form and be known. So the spiritual journey, once it leaves the plains of conventional religion and outer worship and begins to climb, may start its ascent with a quest for inner enlightenment and personal oneness with God, or life as the impersonalists would have it, through the emptying or denial of self. But it is not complete until the mystical path becomes the path of holiness and perfection, and self, instead of being regarded as unreal, sinful, the product of ignorance or an impediment, is seen as a gift to be voluntarily offered up in love as the vessel for grace once it is fully purified of all worldly stain and egotism. 

Therefore, in contrast to Buddhism and similar philosophies, in 
this scheme of things the individual self is not rejected but renewed. To be sure, the old self, the personal or separate self, must die but selfness lives on as the means through which God's grace and glory can be made manifest. For just as abstract reality can only properly be revealed through concrete form so the Universal requires the Individual in order to manifest and to make itself known. God is a combination of the two and so must we be. This melding of absolute and relative is what I mean by the integration of being and becoming, and its necessity in the overall pattern of spiritual unfoldment is why I think of advaita and Buddhism as being but stages on the road to God or godliness not the true goal. Advanced stages, certainly, but not the full destination because they have a one-sided view of ultimate reality.

Through mystical experience we can cure ourselves of the idea that our selves are absolutely real in themselves, and enter into the knowledge of oneness. But we must then use that knowledge or realisation not to dismiss the self but to adorn it and make of it a house fit for the Lord to dwell in. The non-dualist must take his non-duality and, with it, re-enter and re-embrace duality. For self is not an illusion or unreal but the very purpose of existence, and the goal of the spiritual life is not enlightenment but theosis or the divinization of the self which, after full purification, is transformed by grace and made utterly new.