Tuesday 25 June 2019

Mysticism, True and False

Not all that seems spiritual comes from God. Ecstasies, visions, higher states of consciousness, mystical intoxications, all these and more can come from that level of the inner world which reflects higher, truer levels in a parodied or distorted form rather like the reflection of the sun on water. The 20th century saw this sort of thing like never before, and much that is called spiritual now actually emanates from these worlds. Such states do not lead to God but to illusion, pride and, if pursued, spiritual corruption, ending up in a greater separation from God than that of the everyday materialist.

How does one tell the difference between true and false? It comes down to what is in the heart. Those with pure motive and clean heart who tread the path out of love for God are unlikely to be deceived and, if they are, will learn from the deception relatively quickly and move on. Those who seek experience may get experience. They won't get truth. Those who seek truth may sometimes fall into error but they will be safeguarded by their fundamentally honest motivation. The impure self will attract impurity to itself. The self striving for purity for the sake of purity and not for the sake of what it may gain thereby will be open to levels of light undistorted by the action of the worldly ego which bends all it receives to reflect its own state.

True illumination is not simply an experience of joy or ecstasy. It is above all a moral experience which may elevate the soul but also reveals to it its utter dependence on God. There is no inflation or, if there is, it is not one of the individual experiencer but of his receptivity to God, and this will actually diminish the experiencer in his own eyes. True mystical experience makes humble. False experience puffs up and deceives.

I say false experience but actually the situation is not quite that simple. For the false is not completely false. It is a false representation of truth, like a counterfeit note or a mirage, and, to add to the potential for confusion, while it is not true, it does have a borrowed reality which makes it not completely a lie. In addition, compared to our normal mode of consciousness, it may seem much deeper, more alive and more intense. But then so can drunkenness compared to sobriety.

Everyone who is moving from a spiritual attitude exclusively deriving from following external authority to an inner spirituality that seeks to know for itself what it has only hitherto been told, and to know it as a fact of consciousness, needs to be aware of the dangers of spiritual deception. We are often told nowadays that there were esoteric groups in the past, whether followers of mystical teachings in the East or hidden occult orders in the West, who had a greater understanding of real spirituality than existed in the mainstream. Sometimes this is true. Often it is not. Those who have broken through to the inner worlds by whatever means, whether spiritual practices or yogic techniques or whatever it might be, even drugs, are by no means guaranteed a true vision. If they themselves are not true, they will not get truth though they may get an approximation of it that seems true to them. But unless they learn to see through the distorting waters of what is sometimes called the astral plane, that zone above the material in which spiritual truths are converted into mental images, they will remain in illusion. And the only way they can learn to traverse these waters safely is through purity of heart and love of God

This is the difference between the true and the false. It is a matter of motive. Do not think that lust applies only to the flesh. There is a spiritual lust too and those guilty of it may gain some kind of experience they call spiritual but they will never know the true mystical marriage between God and the soul.

Friday 21 June 2019

What Should Adam Have Done?

I'm currently reading Paradise Lost which I've never done before, not all the way through anyway. I'm up to Book 9 in which Satan convinces Eve to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, saying she won't die but will become godlike. Eve eats the forbidden fruit and then goes to Adam and confesses what she has done at which Adam follows suit, thus falling with her. According to Milton, this was because he was so enamoured of her he couldn't bear the thought of life without her which might seem relatively virtuous but is still putting self above God and a creature above the Creator which is idolatry. What should he have done? You might think this is a silly question, given the story's metaphorical nature, but it raises an interesting point. If those we love turn away from God, what can we do?

The answer is not much. Jesus said he had come to turn a man against his father and a daughter against her mother, and that a man's enemies will be the members of his own household. This is a radical, highly emotive teaching and yet it must be true. If people reject God, and we know that many do, we cannot allow ourselves to fall with them. We can, we surely must, do everything in our power to convince them of their error but, when push comes to shove, we have to choose. God or not God. We can pray for those we love but everyone's will is their own and we cannot force anyone to turn to the light, and nor can we allow their mistake to influence us.

This might seem a cruel doctrine but what is the alternative? Spiritual awakening is possible right up to death and so we should never lose hope and always work to encourage that. Moreover, it is possible that even after death we may be allowed to go to those we have loved who are trapped in spiritual darkness. Stories from the world of spiritualism do imply this. But our prime responsibility is to God and our own soul, and what Adam should have done when faced with his dilemma was to refuse to eat the apple himself and then help Eve in her fallen state as best he could.

I believe that the roots of the current war between men and women, in which feminism is a major battle, date back to the fall when complements joined by love became opposites striving for power or the former became mixed up with the latter. Hence the bickering of Adam and Eve with each blaming the other after they had fallen. The only way we can bring peace to this war, in which the two halves of humanity all too often see each other as rivals rather than partners, is through love. But then each side must be worthy of love which means that each side must ask itself not what can it get from the other or how it can use the other but how can it serve the other.

Adam would have best helped Eve by staying faithful to God. Similarly, modern man will only resolve the crisis caused by feminism by staying faithful to God and his own self, certainly not by going along with it even out of misconceived notions of equality. Only then will he be worthy of the role assigned to him in Creation.

Monday 17 June 2019

Seeking the Spiritual from the Secular

A number of my recent posts have been about the negative aspects of the modern world. You might think this is due to my age (things were better in the past, grumble, grumble, etc), and I can't be sure that doesn't enter into it somewhere. But the main reason is because the world really is further removed from God and spiritual truth than it ever has been. It's not just down to the nostalgia of someone in his 60s who looks at the past through rosy-tinted spectacles (I certainly don't do that), but reflects the dramatic spiritual decline of the last few decades. If you don't see this decline then you don't understand what the spiritual is. Arguments that point to improvements over this period miss the point. Outer improvements just mask inner deterioration.

When I first decided to spend my life seeking the truth behind religion I didn't pay much attention to the external world. I knew it was materialistic and that was that. I wasn't interested in it. What I didn't realise was how much the world then was still living off its spiritual inheritance. But, as time has gone by, that inheritance is almost spent and the world, even the secular, materialistic world, has changed fundamentally. Therefore I have felt the need to talk about that instead of remaining in my cosy spiritual bubble. The world used to be unspiritual in a passive way. Now, it is actively unspiritual. It was a place that just ignored spiritual reality but still functioned more or less naturally. Now it seems not only to have abandoned God but Nature too, and this has consequences when people begin to take an interest in spirituality. It powerfully affects their approach to it because they are not just starting off from a position of neutrality but one of opposition, and they generally don't realise this so take all their prejudices with them. The spiritual is often seen through the lens of the material or the political or the social or whatever it may be, something that has previously arisen from a purely secular ideology, even an anti-God ideology.

No-one can take to the spiritual path properly who does not start off that journey with a deep and sincere repentance. If we are to know God in any way at all we must acknowledge what a sorry and unholy thing we are without him. We must see that completely and it must leave us with a strong sense of unworthiness. This is not self-hatred but an honest recognition of reality. Without God we are nothing. With him we can become almost anything. But what do we find in spiritual circles now? Many people who seek spirituality do so without repentance. They want to add spirituality to their existing self without seeing that it is the existing self that is the barrier to spirituality. What is required is not just an intellectual appreciation. It must be foundational, reaching right down to the roots of what you are. It's no good becoming a spiritual seeker if you are just pursuing some kind of satisfaction or reward. You must have a profound sense of your own sinfulness but that is hard in the modern world because the modern world does not, for the most part, acknowledge sin except for secular sins, sins against political correctness, and these are transitory things, reflecting temporary attitudes. But sins against God, against truth, against nature, against your true self, spiritual sins, sins that are sins at all times and in all places? Not so much. However, without realising that you have sinned in this way you might as well not bother with the spiritual path. Knowing that you have so sinned is the beginning of repentance.

Just the beginning though. Repentance means you renounce your past self. You do not act from the self in the attempt to become spiritual. You refuse it. This is a lengthy process and means that repentance is not a one-off decision. It must be constantly renewed and it is renewed through purification which is the essential requirement of any real spirituality. To neglect the need for purification means you are a spiritual dilettante.

Purification is cleansing the soul of worldliness. It means seeing the world not in its own light but in the light of God, and it demands a complete reorientation of the mind and its motivations. Do not think that believing in spiritual things means you are a spiritual person. You can only qualify for that description when the prince of this world comes and finds nothing in you. And who would dare claim that? Not me.

Friday 14 June 2019

Ways To Go Beyond

This is the title of a book by Rupert Sheldrake. The blurb reads as follows.

"To go beyond is to move into a higher state of consciousness, to a place of bliss, greater understanding, love, and deep connectedness, a realm where we finally find life's meaning - experiences for which all spiritual seekers seek.

Dr Rupert Sheldrake, writing as both a scientist and a spiritual explorer, looks at seven spiritual practices that are personally transformative and have scientifically measurable effects. He combines the latest scientific research with his extensive knowledge of mystical traditions around the world to show how we may tune into more-than-human realms of consciousness through psychedelics, such as ayahuasca, and by taking cannabis. He also shows how everyday activities can have mystical dimensions, including sports and learning from animals. He discusses traditional religious practices such as fasting, prayer, and the celebration of festivals and holy days.

Why do these practices work? Are their effects all inside brains and essentially illusory? Or can we really make contact with forms of consciousness greater than our own? 
We are in the midst of a spiritual revival. This book is an essential guide."

Where does one start? As far as I am concerned, this shows a total lack of understanding of what spirituality is all about. I haven't read the book and don't intend to which might discount me from expressing any opinion on it. Nevertheless, going by the blurb and reading about it on his website where it talks about why "these seven practices work..., give a greater sense of connectedness.., make people happier and healthier, etc" leads me to think that Rupert Sheldrake has swallowed all the nostrums of the New Age and that, for him, spirituality is not about putting oneself right with God but the 'experiences' one gets out of it. Quite frankly, this is an inverted form of spiritual aspiration which strays perilously close to the diabolical. I will explain why.

First of all, I'm not saying that Sheldrake is in the league with the devil or anything silly like that. From what little I know of him, he strikes me as a very mild and benevolent person. However, if he is saying what he appears to be saying in this book then he is confusing spirituality with psychology.  He is saying that what matters in spirituality is how it makes you feel, "moving to a place of bliss, more connected, happier and healthier". What matters is none of these things. This is a classic case of the worldly self trying to appropriate the spiritual for its own ends instead of realising that the spiritual only arises when the worldly self is sidelined and not allowed to be the driving force behind an individual's goals and aspirations. Far from being about the search for bliss or health and happiness, real spirituality is about the sacrifice of the ego even to the point of accepting suffering if that is what God ordains.

Any spirituality that is not motivated by a pure love of God is a false spirituality, ultimately just a search for reward even if that is spiritual not material. But what's the difference if the motive is the same? That is why I call it diabolical for the devil always wants to claim the prize without paying the price. He is a thief, and seeking the effects of spirituality without qualifying for these through real personal transformation, which pace Sheldrake is not achieved through practises of any kind, still less drugs, but through dedicating oneself to the Good, the Beautiful and the True wherever these may lead and whatever they may demand in the way of sacrifice and suffering (and they will demand these), is attempted robbery.

The modern Western person wants spirituality without religion which means he wants higher states of consciousness without God. But it is only through dedication to God that one can rise above one's own petty self-concerns, and only by doing this can one really be stabilised in (instead of fleetingly touching or trespassing on) higher states of consciousness. But to do this you must love God not for what you get out of him but purely and simply for himself. If there is any hint of this in Sheldrake's book, I apologise but if there is not and it really is about what its description implies then I'm afraid I have to say he is just another blind leader of the blind.

There is no revival of spirituality just because people want to be spiritual in order to reap the perceived psychological benefits of spirituality. There will only be a revival of spirituality when people renounce their worldly egos and start to love Goodness and Truth for their own sake. But these are not mere abstract qualities. They are embodied in Christ and if that is not seen then they are not really seen.  Consequently I venture to say that there will be no real revival, in the West at least, until people reawaken to the reality of Christ. Only by following the path laid down by him, and actually focused in him, can we be truly spiritual. 

One further point.  Spirituality is not scientifically measurable. Anything that is scientifically measurable is not spirituality. 

Wednesday 12 June 2019

Are You Real? Then God Is

My approach to reality has inevitably been coloured by my experience with the Masters, as set out in my book about them, but the fact is that, even if I had not had this experience, that approach would in most essentials be the same.

Even before I met Michael Lord, the man who properly introduced me to spiritual ideas, I had come to a conclusion. I realised that if the world was as described by materialism, which was and still is the intellectual background of most people, even the nominally religious (by which I mean many religious people still go along with the tenets and assumptions of materialism in their daily lives), then nothing meant anything.  Worse, if the teachings of biology, physics, chemistry and psychology were true on their own terms then I didn't exist, not as a real person.

But I knew I did exist as a person.  I knew this as a fact of experience. Indeed, I see it as the prime spiritual fact and even a proof of the existence of God.  I am a person and I am real, not formed by mechanical, material forces which would make me an artificial thing with no substance. Therefore, there must be something beyond these. There must be spiritual forces and these forces must include, at the very least, a personal element.  My reality is not self-sufficient but I am real. Hence there must be something from which I take my reality which has its own self-sufficient reality.

These are intellectual reflections but actually my attitude was largely an intuitive one. I remember being told by a Buddhist monk that the self did not exist. In line with standard Buddhist teaching he maintained it was just a phenomenal thing held together by thought, sensation and the like. Now, if the self really were no more than this he would be right but I don't consider the Buddhists go far enough. They have deconstructed the ego but have not seen beyond that to the real self which is more than the phenomenal version. It is the reality of which the ego self is the illusionary distortion. The Buddhists are right when they say that the ego is a false thing but they don't see that it is a false version of a real thing. I recall standing in the rain on the platform of some dreary station in North London waiting for a train to go home after my meeting with this Buddhist monk, and my whole 22 year old self rebelled against his teaching, supposedly the wisest, most spiritually profound understanding of our true nature there was. It was logically impeccable and came with the highest qualifications, and there clearly was a deep state of peace that could be attained if self was renounced. But that didn't make it right. And I knew it wasn't right even though it took me a long while to work out why it wasn't. That's because, on its own terms, it is true. But, from the broader perspective, it's not the whole truth.

In a way, the Buddhist position is easy. For once you have decided that the self is not real you can detach yourself from your own problems and suffering without really having to confront them and deal with them as real issues. They are all nothing but passing states from which you stand aloof. And yet, while the Buddha is impassive, Jesus wept. In that little phrase lies something that Buddhism, for all its talk, genuine talk, of compassion, misses. If you renounce the self you kill something inside yourself which actually gives life its quality and flavour. As has been said, you cure the disease by killing the patient.

Buddhism is a magnificent teaching for rising above the pain of this world and establishing yourself in formless being, but it can only do this by turning its back on God's reason for creation and retreating to a state in which creation has no meaning. But creation does have meaning and this meaning is tied up with the fact of relationship or love. To forgo this is to repudiate God's purpose for expressing himself through the created universe and human beings who are not supposed to return to the formless source whence they arose but to become more individual though individual in the sense of being unique individualisations of God himself not separate individuals, cut off one from another. As the Masters have said, the aim is to be individual but not individualistic. 

So it was the reality of the person that first convinced me of the logical impossibility of materialism. I knew I was real, as does everyone who is not plagued by some form of mental illness, and I saw this knowledge as the basic fact that disproved materialism. I am quite aware that some materialists will say that this was just the mind playing tricks on itself but they are just caught up in intellectualising games. No-one lives as though they aren't real unless they are ill. No one looks at their own children as no more than assemblages of impersonal material forces unless they are sick.

If you are a real person then God exists.

Friday 7 June 2019

Discovering Tolkien and Lewis

I thought I might relate how I came across the works of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien even though it's probably not very different to how most people did. But this includes a bit of personal history too which I always quite like when it relates to other people.

My great-grandfather was a man called J.L. Garvin who was the editor of the Observer newspaper from 1908 to 1942. He was the son of an Irish labourer so he did very well for himself as apparently people could do in those days if they were clever and worked hard though that is not the perception now. He had 4 daughters and one son, the latter of whom was killed in the first World War like so many other young men at the time. There is a book published by my uncle which is a collection of letters between father and son written while the son was at the front. (We Hope to Get Word Tomorrow by John Ledingham). The family was very 'arty', books, poetry and so on, except for my grandmother Una who rebelled against all that and became a doctor, specialising in diabetes in pregnant women.  She married another doctor and they were both atheists, probably in reaction to their quite strict religious upbringing, Catholic in her case, Church of Scotland in his. But I think of them as atheists with strong Christian overtones as people still could be in those days when the moral and cultural legacy of the past was still deeply rooted. When, in effect, you could afford the luxury of being an atheist because you lived in a world formed by religion.

Thus the household in which my mother grew up was not religious at all though it did have an unspecified Christian underpinning. In contrast, my father grew up in a Methodist household run by his mother and her spinster sister. His father had died when he was only 3 years old and he was raised in religion though of a rather dour type which he didn't pay much attention to as soon as he was old enough not to.  I was baptised in the Church of England but we only went to church on high days and holidays, though I attended a religious service every day at school.

The point of all this is that, due to one thing or another, there were not many books in my house.  My mother was a voracious reader but she mostly read romantic fiction and pot boilers which in later life she actually bought by weight in a second-hand market like fruit and vegetables.  “Could I have 25 pounds of paperbacks, please.” It actually was like that. She claimed to have read all the classics in her youth and now just wanted something to distract her. My father, who was a chartered accountant, had more or less the same books on his bedside table when he died as he had had ever since I can remember. He just read the newspapers. But I was a bookish child and two of my grandmother's sisters, both regarded by the family as rather dotty (which they were), came to my rescue. It was they who every birthday and Christmas from the age of 8 until about 12 gave me The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and most of the Narnia stories. I devoured these avidly and when my parents died I recuperated my early hardback copies from their house and I still have them.

In this way it was basically two slightly eccentric old ladies, one of whom, Viola, was a tipsy poet constantly in debt who sold the family portraits to finance a whiskey habit while the other, Ursula, started her adulthood by running off to Paris with the actor Claude Rains before moving to Italy and ending up after a divorce super-devout and going to mass every day at Westminster Cathedral, who injected some imagination into my prosaic childhood. The more responsible members of the family, fond as I was of them, did not. Perhaps there’s a moral there somewhere.

Now, of course, it has fallen to me to be the slightly dotty relative in my wider family and I try to fill the same function (in respect of stimulating imagination not necessarily way of life) as my two great aunts.

Wednesday 5 June 2019

The Turin Shroud

I don't know whether or not the Shroud is authentic but it seems, as far as I understand the matter, that the weight of scientific evidence is tending more and more to the conclusion that it might be. Numerous tests on everything from the cloth, the blood, the image and how it might have been made, the wounds and how they are in keeping with what modern research says they would have been, even pollen found on the cloth, all point in the same direction. This could have been the burial shroud of Jesus. And significantly, despite the best efforts of researchers, it has not been proved to be inauthentic. Considering that it was manufactured, if it was manufactured, by, at the latest, the 14th century since when the existence of the Shroud has been recorded, this is remarkable. Any techniques in use at that time should surely have been relatively easy to expose with today's technology.

But, as I say, I have no idea of its authenticity and I think the position of the Catholic Church, which has neither endorsed nor dismissed the Shroud but regards it as an important relic, is a wise one. There are two things I would like to say about it though.

The first is that if I were told that it had been conclusively proved beyond any doubt (which is probably impossible but I present it as a theoretical possibility) that the Shroud really was the burial shroud of Jesus, I would not be disappointed. I am talking about the face.

It is a face of such nobility and majesty and wisdom and suffering borne without self-pity or complaint then it could well be that of Jesus. No other face I know of from painting or photographs has this effect. This is the face of someone I could follow. A man of sorrow but also a man of power. It is the face of a king. It's often said that you can't judge a book by its cover but, spiritually speaking, that's not the case. For someone like Jesus, the outer would reflect the inner just as it does in heaven, and I have no doubt that his physical appearance would have drawn people to him almost as much as his teaching. For his  appearance would have been the natural expression of his spiritual state within the parameters imposed by his parentage. 

The second thing is that, authentic or not, the Shroud could well have been given to Christians as an aid to faith, especially at a time like ours when everything external purports to explain religion away. Not a substitute for faith, which is why it will never be proven to be the shroud of Jesus, but an aid. There is just enough about it to convince those who want to believe, and maybe some who hesitate at the borders of belief, but not enough to silence doubters and deniers. That's as it should be. Belief should never be forced but always be a personal choice, based on intuition though aided and abetted by intellect. Reason, rightly responded to, will always point in the direction of God but you need something more to make intellectual understanding develop into spiritual conviction. Faith is the opening up of the mind to higher reality. The Shroud, the noble face, the miracle of its existence and its apparent witness to the reality of the resurrection, can be a material support to faith at a time when not much else is.

Saturday 1 June 2019

The Fall and the Rise

Somebody asked me how I could square the idea of a fall with the theory that we are evolving to higher states as I believe in both of these and, at first sight, they might appear contradictory. If we once lived in Paradise and knew neither good nor evil, how could we ever change? Why should we ever change?

That's a good question but I think the two ideas can be reconciled without too much trouble.

We were always intended to evolve from unconscious to conscious oneness. That is, from a state of passive non-separation from life to a creative union with it in which we could wield its powers in love. God created us as individuals and we were intended to grow to personal godhood through expressing our individuality. A static condition was never envisaged. But something went wrong and this evolution is consequently harder and longer with more suffering involved. But it still proceeds towards the always intended goal of divine union.

If Adam and Eve had not sinned by disobeying God then sin and death would not have entered the world. I am not saying that I believe in the literalness of the account in Genesis but it does contain a very profound truth presented as a simple story which all can understand. What actually took place probably did not occur in the physical world at all and was unlikely to have been the responsibility of just two individuals. It seems more reasonable to speculate that humanity as a whole, such as it was at the time, took a collective wrong turn, no doubt instigated in part by the forces of evil as the story says, and the result of that was a descent to a lower dimension of being in which full separation from the creative source of life was known. This had the knock-on effect of allowing for the development of individual consciousness but also meant there was nothing to stop that development from proceeding into permanent separation from God with no chance of a return until Christ was born to give that chance to those who would accept it.

If Adam and Eve had not fallen I believe they would still have developed as individuals but in an environment in which their growth proceeded without pain and suffering, and in an orderly way that was what you might call spiritually organic. It would have been a natural progression, as a tree grows or as physical growth occurs in human beings. Now, our spiritual growth is uncertain, sporadic and may not even occur. Without the Fall growth would have been rhythmically arranged, like seasonal change, and without pain. Because of the Fall it involves much greater hardship and is not inevitable.

God can bring good out of evil. The Fall was evil. I think that those who theorise that it was an intended part of the cycle of growth, on the basis that knowledge of good and evil allows for self-consciousness and the growth of mind, are mistaken. These things would have happened but they would have happened in a different, presumably better, way. God did not mean to leave Adam and Eve, nascent humanity, sitting in the Garden of Eden picking fruit forever. He meant them to become gods themselves, beings in whom (perhaps in contradistinction to the angels) spirit and matter were united and who could create something new out of that union. (Note: this is where those who acknowledge the reality of duality are more spiritually perspicacious than those who espouse a purely monistic philosophy - as long as their duality is grounded in monism.) He meant them to evolve according to the root meaning of that word which is to unfold. So this evolution is not of the Darwinian kind but the unfolding and expression of already present, albeit in a rudimentary form, elements. 

Human beings fell into a lower state of being through the misuse of their free will. But they can rise in the same way by reorienting their will to divine reality. I don't know if this can only be done through Christ but I do think it is best done through Christ. Before his advent the way to escape the prison house of matter (in that it had become separated from God, not absolutely because then it would cease to exist but apparently) was by renouncing it in the manner of a Buddha. But Christ, through his life and death, reopened the connection between spirit and matter and enabled the union between the two to take place which they first fully did at his Ascension. Christ brought the light of spirit to the darkness of matter and gives us the opportunity to do the same. 

If we had not fallen we would still have risen from Paradise towards Heaven (looking at those things in terms of conscious connection to God) but this would have been a natural process. Now it's not natural but it's possible that through the experience of sin and death something is gained by those who overcome them that would not have been available to us before. Might that be a deeper awareness of the reality of love?