Friday 27 October 2017

Prayer and Meditation

When I first became interested in the spiritual world I, like many of my generation, did not enter through Christianity but through meditation of a roughly Eastern sort. I say roughly Eastern because my meditation was not based on any particular practice but was a generalised emptying of the mind and sitting in silent awareness. In fact I started meditation by just staring out of the window! But I soon moved on to sitting cross legged, eyes closed, and trying to still thought. There was not much sense of God or anything other than to reach a higher state of consciousness. All pretty amateur and self-centred, I must confess. But despite this fairly hopeless method I did have certain experiences that seemed to indicate to me that there was something real to it all. Beginner's luck, I suppose.

Eventually I honed my technique and learnt to meditate by stilling thought (or trying to, this was never easy for me) and attempting to focus my awareness in the heart which, spiritually speaking, is not the physical heart but a more central point in the chest. But still God was not invited to the party. I was young, only 22, and keen but very inexperienced and ignorant. My motive was mostly self-centred but there was also the sincere attempt to discover some kind of highly reality because I felt it must be there and that's what a person should do. So I did have a real sense that a human being was supposed to search for the highest truth that he could and not waste time in materialistic pursuits. My motive was a mixture of self-interest and genuine aspiration to something higher.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I learnt before too long that there was more to the spiritual path than just the attempt to enter into a state of passive bliss which was probably my initial goal. I used my periods of meditation to try to become more aware of God within and I began to appreciate that the spiritual path was not just about higher states of consciousness but the attempt to put oneself right with one's Maker. I went from simply trying to gain something for myself to trying to attune myself to the real. In a way that remains my aim.

Continued on Albion Awakening

Monday 23 October 2017

Western Hindus

Back in the 1970s when I first became interested in spiritual matters some of the most popular spiritual movements of the day were Hindu and though this was nothing new, going back at least a hundred years, there was a resurgence of interest amongst the young in the 1960s and '70s, fuelled, I have no doubt, by psychedelic drugs and the experiences many people had had through them. The main attractions then were Transcendental Meditation, Hare Krishna and the schoolboy Guru Maharaja Ji and none of them inspired me with any enthusiasm because, to put it bluntly, they seemed trite and superficial. But many people signed up to them, such was the spiritual wasteland of the time. The lure of the exotic was presumably a factor too. Most of those who flocked to these groups were in search of something more than was on offer from the materialistic world view of the late 20th century but they were often naive and many of those I met were motivated largely by self-interest and the desire for some kind of enlightenment. I don't mean this unkindly but it is true. Very few had a real and sincere love of God. Their quest was for themselves and this is why they were so easily lead astray by movements that were, if not totally fake, then not very authentic either.

As time went by people became more discriminating. Most fell away and went back into normal life but some pursued their interests at a deeper level and sought out more profound teachings from the subcontinent and teachers that were not so publicity driven. I myself went to India first for a visit in 1979 and then in 1980 for a stay of five years. My motive was not to find a teacher but had more to do with the fact that I felt a strong affinity for India itself and wanted to lead a spiritual life in an environment that didn't treat that as self-indulgent. I loved the country and still do though I haven't been back for more than 15 years now. But as I say I wasn't looking for a guru myself though I met a few of them and also more than a few Westerners, principally English, American, German and Australian, who had come out to India looking for spiritual truths. Most of those I met were made of sterner stuff than the people I had known earlier in the groups that had come to the West. They were often serious seekers who were quite aware of the pitfalls of Indian spirituality but who still sought for a genuine guru among the charlatans and frauds. There were certainly others who were just as naive as the English Hare Krishna devotees who chanted to a strange blue god in Piccadilly Circus, and those attracted to the recently deceased miracle man Sai Baba were among these, but the ashrams of Ramana Maharishi at Tiruvannamalai  and Sri Aurobindo at Pondicherry contained many people who were both sincere and serious.

And yet in few of them did I see a real spirituality by which I mean that the search for enlightenment was almost always the underlying motive. What's wrong with that, you might say? What is wrong is that their concern was invariably with God Immanent rather than God Transcendent so it basically amounted to a quest for the spirituality of experience rather than one of self-sacrifice in love. There is a difference and it is important for it concerns inner integrity. Of course, some sort of God was often acknowledged but not in the sense that he was actually real and the true goal of their spiritual search. Not in the sense that he was the Creator and the Father and their purpose was to reach a proper relationship of love with him. Sometimes he was even something to be gone beyond by the real mystic who was expected to leave him behind in the relative world when he penetrated to the non-dualistic reality behind all things. So their conception of God had changed from the Christian idea that he was the whole reason for the spiritual search, and its only proper aim and purpose, to putting him in a more peripheral place where, even if he existed, he was no longer the prime focus. That was now deep within themselves. God was within them as their truest self but there was not the perception that this true self within them actually had its origin outside them, Lip service might be paid to that notion but it was not felt.

Westerners who take to Hinduism usually do so because of the metaphysics but you can't really separate the religion and the metaphysics. It's like body and soul, and each needs the other to be complete. And Westerners with their education and their backgrounds simply cannot take Hindu religion, in most cases with mythologies thousands of years old, seriously, however hard they try. They can pretend to do so but it will not be real. It will always, and I mean always, be assumed not innate and therefore rather ridiculous.

Then there is the problem of temperament. This is certainly not as different as used to be thought, active Westerners versus passive Easterners went the cliché, but the difference is not non-existent either. Consequently Hindu practices and traditions just are not suitable for Westerners, however interesting they may find them.  I am among those who do find them not only interesting but profound too and yet I have never been drawn to follow an Eastern religion because it just would not 'sit right'. There would always be something artificial about it. That doesn't mean that some Eastern practices may not benefit Westerners but most of those that would do that already exist in the Western tradition, even if they are not widely known and used.

So what am I saying here? For as long as Europeans have known of India it has had a magnetic allure for them. Its sensuous beauties and exotic mysteries have been very captivating, and many are drawn to these in the search for something more than the grey reality they perceive in their homelands. There is undoubtedly something to be gained from this contact and yet, when all is said and done, the Westerner will always be on the outside looking in when it comes to Eastern religion. He is searching for something where he thinks the grass is greener but he would do better, and be truer to his destiny, if he explored his own spiritual heritage more deeply. For the Western mission is not to sit in contemplative meditation but to actively engage with the whole of life, though from a completely spiritual perspective, as Christ, its divine exemplar, did.

I am aware that I have been generalising in this piece and it is not my intention to put anyone off the great richness to be found in Eastern religion which can certainly supplement a traditional Western spirituality. But Western Hindus will always be a little bit like actors in costume and, while Indians may be flattered by them, I don't think they take them entirely seriously either.

Saturday 21 October 2017


I was born and brought up in London, left and then returned 20 odd years later. I've put a piece on Albion Awakening about the city. See here.

Friday 13 October 2017

More on Truth and Love

I’ve written before about truth and love and the necessity to keep a proper balance between them. Lean too far in either direction and you will fall into error either through rigidly enforcing law without mercy, as a political far right might do, and so becoming hard-hearted and dogmatic, or else by abandoning law for the sake of a sentimentalized love that recognizes no distinctions and no overarching truth, as the left does, thereby consolidating and confirming people in sin and ignorance. We can even look at these as masculine and feminine type reactions, at the same time noting that they are often provoked by an extremist attitude on the other side. Extremes breed extreme responses. To get this right requires a high level of discernment as well as honest motivation, and it is one of the primary tasks of the spiritual aspirant though really it is the duty of any individual to make some steps along this path.

The Pharisees condemned Christ because he favoured mercy over the law. In their eyes anyway. Actually he did not. He just didn’t reduce mercy to insignificance when set against the law. He kept the balance between the two and responded to each situation on an individual basis rather than an inflexible, set in stone one. Unlike the Pharisees he treated human beings in a human way not as impersonal objects to be fitted into an unbending dogma. But he also worked from law and truth as can be evidenced in numerous passages of the Gospels, for example when he said that he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil it or when, in John chapter 14 verse 15, he stated clearly and unequivocally "If you love me, keep my commandments".

The point is Jesus looked into the heart and if he saw goodness there he aimed to bring it out. He saw rigidity in the hearts of the Pharisees so contested them. Not because of their adherence to the Law but because of their hard-heartedness in enforcing it. He looked into the heart of sinners and sometimes he saw true spiritual feeling there, albeit overlaid by sin. So he encouraged them to come to him but that required a willingness on their part to repent of their sins, certainly to recognize that they were in a state of sin and do their best to move out of that. He reached out to people and called them to repent and change. If they were not willing to do that and wanted spiritual reward without being willing to renounce their sinful ways he would not have persevered with them. They would have been as bad as the Pharisees, at the other end of the spectrum of sinfulness. Their spiritual sincerity and desire to change were paramount.

It can never be repeated too often. Jesus did not come to make us happy in our earthly selves but to bring us to holiness. He loved and he forgave but above all he was the Truth and he required all those who followed him to walk in the way of truth. If they did not, well then they could not be his disciples. You cannot have Jesus and sin any more than you can have God and Mammon. If you love me, keep my commandments means if you don't keep, or at least try to keep, my commandments then you don't love me. Jesus brought mercy but not a cheap and false mercy that overlooked sin because sin is fundamentally what separates a person from God. To warn people against sin and the spiritual self-injury that results from it is not hard-hearted but truly merciful because it frees the soul from captivity.

We are all sinners but the spiritual person recognizes this, accepts it and tries to put it right. He doesn’t try to excuse or justify his sin. Likewise the spiritual teacher will talk of God's forgiveness but forgiveness is conditional on proper repentance. Again, truth and love must go together. You cannot have one without the other.

This idea has a bearing on the current difficulty in the Catholic church. I am referring to the so called 'filial correction' issued by some senior members of the Catholic hierarchy to the Pope. This is in response to his apparent opening up of Holy Communion to those who have disqualified themselves from receiving it by their way of life, principally, as I understand it, divorced people and others who have broken with traditional sexual standards. The reasoning of those who support the Pope in this is that he is bringing more people to God through the exercise of mercy and forgiveness. The concern of those who are against it is that he is offering forgiveness regardless of any repentance and thereby rebranding sin as not sin and starting the inevitable slide into moral relativism. 

It does seem to me that at the very least the Pope is being naive if he thinks that lowering the bar of what it means to be spiritual will do anything other than reduce God's truth to a worldly parody of it. You may increase quantity. You will certainly reduce quality. You simply cannot compromise truth and the excuse of love is no justification. At the same time you cannot use the excuse of truth to act unlovingly to God's children.  What the Pope should do is affirm traditional teaching while saying that the door is always open for repentant sinners who will be welcomed home as was the prodigal son. But note that the prodigal son had to return to his father. His father did not go to him. Yes, Jesus did come to us as that was his special mission, but he still required (and requires) us to come to him on his terms, the terms of truth, not on any of our own. There is no way round this. I can understand and sympathise with Catholics who regard this revised teaching with alarm, and I can appreciate their dilemma in that they have to go against their supreme authority on Earth. But there is a higher authority and they have to be faithful to that above all. Frankly, they've rather got themselves tied in knots with their doctrine of the infallibility of the Pope which comes very close to idolatry in my view.

So truth and love, always together. Neither one without the other. This is how it must be.

Sunday 8 October 2017

The Archbishop and Homosexuality

A few days ago in an interview the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was unable to give a clear cut answer as to whether he thought homosexual acts were inherently sinful or not. See here

I'd like to help him out. If you mean by sinful spiritually unlawful then yes they are. An act against nature is an act against God and that is a sin. And these are acts against nature because, at the simplest level, they are using organs either designed or evolved (it makes little difference which word you choose in this case) for one specific purpose in a way that is quite contrary to that purpose. You may say homosexual acts are natural to a homosexual but that is irrelevant. Suppose I have a bad temper. Losing my temper is quite natural to me. That does not justify it. The bottom line (goodness, it's hard not to make double entendres with this subject) is that homosexual acts are a sin because they are a misuse of the creative energy of polarity for purely personal ends. Of course, much heterosexual activity also falls into that category and there the same rules apply. We would never have come to this position were it not for the inroads the sexual revolution has made into all aspects of human sexuality just as feminism, the female revolt against the male, would not have come about if first there had not been the male revolt against God. One thing inevitably leads to another. It's a slippery slope and it always leads downwards.

Actually I sympathise with the Archbishop. He is caught between two stools, that of the spiritual beliefs of the church he leads and that of what it means to be a good and decent person according to contemporary liberal ideology which basically amounts to treating everybody in exactly the same way regardless. But he should learn a lesson from the person he supposedly follows. I have quoted from the passage in the New Testament where Jesus confronts the crowd baying for the blood of the female adulterer before on this blog because it seems to capture so much truth in such a perfect and concise way. You will recall Jesus told the mob that he who was without sin should cast the first stone at the woman at which its members shamefacedly dispersed. Then he told the woman that he did not condemn her either and that she should go and sin no more. So her act clearly was a sin. That should help the Archbishop make up his mind. But at the same time she was not condemned, though one has to assume that she did repent and not sin any more for her forgiveness to be properly operative. Or, if she did sin, she at least recognised that it was indeed a sin and did not try to justify her act as pure.

There is the idea that in the context of a faithful, loving relationship homosexual acts might be acceptable to God. But this is to ignore the reality that they are a distortion, almost an inversion, of the energies of creation which energies are fundamental to the existence of this universe and so about as sacred as anything in our experience can be. To transgress the sacred is surely sinful, regardless of the excuse of love which word is misused anyway since the true motivation here is really desire. There is no sin in two homosexuals living together or even loving one another but their love must be pure which, in this context, means not expressed sexually. Undoubtedly such an attitude will be widely rejected nowadays and anyone holding it condemned as prejudiced, if not hateful, but that just shows how out of kilter our contemporary civilisation is with spiritual truth which it either rejects altogether or else sees in the light of the priorities of this world.

And that is the Archbishop's problem. He is spiritually weak. He is a liberal before he is a Christian so he sees acts as moral or immoral according to whether or not anyone is hurt by them in their outer worldly self, not according to whether they are in line with or against spiritual reality. He is more concerned with injuries to personal feelings than he is with those to the soul. He is right not to condemn the sinner. He is wrong not to condemn the sin. Indeed, by not condemning the sin he is condemning the sinner to spiritual error and its consequences and thus doing him greater harm in the long term. Surely the greater love is to lead people to the truth that sets them free.

Friday 6 October 2017

Atheists and Believers

The self is a prison from which we all yearn to escape. But at the same time it is also that which frees us from fate and necessity and opens us up to the reality of love. How can we reconcile these two things? There is only one way and that is through God.

What is the difference between the self-hatred of the nihilist and the recognition that he is a sinner of the saint? Both are reacting to the reality of their selfhood and its enclosed nature in different ways, but one reacts from the self itself while the other reacts from awareness of a truth beyond the self.

Continued on Albion Awakening.

Monday 2 October 2017

Gareth Knight and Experience of the Inner Worlds.

Although you wouldn't guess it from the title this post is about the stages on the spiritual path as defined in Sufism.The stages being:

  • Conversion and repentance
  • Fear of the Lord
  • Detachment
  • Poverty
  • Patience
  • Self-Surrender
  • Union with God
Brief commentaries on each stage are to be found on Albion Awakening.

Sunday 1 October 2017

Conservative and Progressive

I recently sat in the same room as an adult explained the difference between conservative and left wing politics to a 15 year old. Conservatives, he said, think the past was good and didn't want to change anything (the clue is in the name, he maintained) while left wing people thought that the future could be better than the past. So they were in favour of change and progress while conservatives just clung to old ways and didn't like anything new.

Needless to say I didn’t agree with this as I think it makes a number of unfounded and incorrect assumptions; number one being that human beings on their own know what is true without reference to a higher authority. The speaker also ignored the fact that both left and right think of the future. It is over what sort of future there should be that they disagree, and fundamentally this means a future with God or one without him. You might say that plenty of right wing people now have no interest in God but I would counter that this is because they are only on the right in certain matters, economic for example. In most other particulars they have absorbed the current liberal ethos. The fact is that all true right wing thought recognizes a higher reality and a higher authority than the secular, materialistic world of the left. So, as far as I see it, what distinguishes the two sides is the acknowledgement of God and the acceptance that we are here in this world for a spiritual purpose. I realise that is not the usual definition but I think you will find that if you strip both back to their roots that is what you will discover.

Why is the left worse than the right, spiritually speaking, when, according to its lights, it seeks a juster and more humane society? It is because the modern left seeks to remake man in his own image and without reference to the Creator who, if he is mentioned at all, is only considered in the light of the centrality of human beings rather than the other way round as ought to be the case. When the right behaves like this, which admittedly it often does nowadays, it is only copying the left which is the main driver of atheistic relativism and the attempt to reconstruct man according to the scientific/materialistic vision (or lack of it). So, regardless of all the left's claims to improve the lot of man in this world, it immeasurably diminishes his true status by separating him from his spiritual source and being. Its focus on the collective also strips him of freedom and real individuality, denying him the chance to grow as he should. But above all its rejection of spiritual reality cuts him off from light and life in their real forms. Consequently the best you can say about the left is that it devotes itself to making the world perfect for acorns, ignoring the fact that acorns are meant to grow into oaks. It is therefore the ideology of stunted growth.

Think of these words of Jesus Christ and then ask yourself whether he was conservative or progressive.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Clearly the scribes and Pharisees, as spirit denying literalists, could be on the right or left but the point is the preservation of the Law and the Prophets is absolutely essential. You can, you should, build on them but they are the foundation. It is true that what does not grow will die but it must grow from its roots. So perhaps Jesus was progressive in a certain sense but his progressiveness was completely rooted in an innate conservatism whereas modern progressives seek to build a future on the shattered ruins of the past, the destruction of the Law and the Prophets.