Saturday, 7 September 2019

The End of a World

Whenever we feel inclined to lament the deplorable spiritual state of the world we should remember one thing. Not only was this time predicted by many of the world's religions, most particularly Christianity with its doctrine of the Latter Days and Hinduism with its prophecies of the Kali Yuga, but it is also an inevitable part of a world age. It is the final point in a cycle when all forms built up during the course of that cycle start to disintegrate prior to the establishment of a new dispensation. Everything is dredged up from history (witness the unprecedented access we have to the contents of the past now) but in a spiritually redundant form, meaning we have the things themselves but their creative potency is no more. The body is there but the soul has departed, a point to bear in mind for those who seek to revive ancient religions.

The concept of a world cycle is familiar from both Indian and Greek mythology with the former positing a descent from the Satya Yuga down through the Treta, Dwapara and Kali Yugas, and the latter a similar progression from Gold to Silver, Bronze and Iron Ages (not to be confused with the periods when those last two metals began to be in general use). This is regarded as a descent because in earlier times humanity lived in close contact with the spiritual realm but as time passes and one age moves into another, that contact becomes fainter, no longer direct so that religions spring up to compensate for its loss. The material world assumes great prominence, physical matter itself becomes denser, weightier, more impenetrable. But there are compensations and these are mostly to do with the development of mind and the sense of self which come about as the feeling of separation increases. Nevertheless, later ages are always envisaged in terms of a loss, of spiritual awareness, of proximity to truth and of virtue. Eventually mankind lives for itself and denies God who is seen as an illusion of the past.

Creation might be said to come about when the two basic forces of spirit and matter are actively expressed in a relationship of polarity. God speaks the Word which brings form to matter, making order out of chaos. We can see this process as subject or consciousness and object or material appearance and the relation between them. The ideal is to hold these in balance though with spirit as the dominating principle. But spirit needs matter to express itself and to grow through that self-expression. Can God grow? Can the infinite and eternal source of all being become more than it already is? In one sense, no for it is and 'is-ness' does not grow. But in another, yes, it can grow through its self-expression because God may be the infinite and eternal but when he creates he is expressing himself in form and so development and change become possible. God plus one human being or even one blade of grass is more than God alone even though God is the all. And God delights to reveal himself through creation.

In earlier ages humanity still breathes the air of its origins in spirit. But as time passes the veil descends and matter becomes more opaque until finally substance, the objective world, obscures the direct perception of essence, the subjective reality.  Consciousness is still there, of course, but it is contracted and regarded as the secondary principle, an outcome of material processes. And everything associated with matter assumes greater significance.  Believe it or not, this fact is behind such modern day phenomena as socialism, egalitarianism and feminism, matter being the feminine polarity of being and also that which reduces all things to the horizontal axis with spirit being the vertical hierarchical principle. It is the Logos that gives quality to existence while matter is the principle behind quantity.

When matter has reached its furthest extremity from spirit it is a sure sign that the cycle is nearing its conclusion. That time (can it be doubted?) is now. We cannot know how much further this process has to go but we are surely in a late phase given the complete loss of spiritual awareness. This has created a reaction of sorts but most of the time this reaction takes place within a materialistic framework, witness the many distortions of spirituality we see today.

It might be asked what the point of all this is, why do we have to lose our spiritual awareness and 'descend' into materialism? The answer has to do with the evolution of consciousness and the conversion of spiritual babies into fully aware spiritual adults. In earlier times we may have been immersed in the wholeness of life, one with our environment and not conscious of ourselves as separate individuals with the many complications that entails. But all this was passive. We were not free.  The hardening of the cosmos (figuratively speaking) enables the development of the self and gives the opportunity for the self to return to God but this time in full consciousness, as a positive act in freedom and love, two conditions that were unknown in earlier times. However, this is not a foregone conclusion and depends on the individual soul being able to rise above its environment and the degenerative cosmic influences that are responsible for the descent into materialism.

We are living at the end of our world. Not the end of planet earth but the conclusion of a great cycle of thousands of years. This is a time of testing but also of opportunity. Those, sometimes called a remnant, who remain faithful to spiritual truths will move onwards to greater things, a life "which God has prepared for those that love him". Those who fail to do this will experience the consequences of that decision. Not all seeds that are sown sprout.


edwin said...

William, Wonderfully expressed. This is the only way to understand the impotence of seeming truth in the face of insane lies. The letter without the spirit becomes the corpse of truth. Those who cling to this corpse as to their only hope feel themselves sinking under the oppressive weight of materialism. Turning to the past, to the forms of bygone eras, with the intent of reviving forces that have long since departed the world can only end in failure and despair, or stubbornly maintained delusion. There is something both frightening and exhilarating about our time: we are freed from a past that once made us feel secure and we must step into a new world as individuals that think and feel and will without the support of prefabricated forms. We must, in a sense, enter the spiritual world in a new way, as co-creators in embryo.

William Wildblood said...

Edwin, thanks.I completely agree with your comment.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I heard a Steiner advocate put it that we needed to be made able to deny God, in order truly to choose God. I think that puts it well.

The fact is that under such circumstances, not many people do choose God, is the common nature of our challenge in this age.

My current assumption is that modern incarnates are souls who need this challenge in order to mature. Passively going along with external social pressures would not suffice - and we are being given the chance to recognise this as the social pressures become more obviously wicked and insane.

(As edwin says - the world is full of 'insane lies', more and more-extreme; and if someone refuses to recognise their insanity he will have failed.)

It is possible that - if this is indeed the last age - many/most of the souls currently incarnated are rather 'hopeless cases' who need extreme spiritual conditions in order to have the best chance of snapping-out-of what may have been an innate spiritual passivity, a refusal to grow up...

In the end it is Always up to each individual.

William Wildblood said...

Yes, that quote makes sense, Bruce. Another quote I've heard though I forget the source is that is is separation that leads to completion.

Given the reluctance of most people today to embrace a spiritual perspective your theory that the world is currently full of spiritual laggards rings very true.

Chris said...

" Tradition speaks to each man the language he can comprehend, provided he wishes to listen. The latter proviso is crucial, for tradition, let it be repeated , cannot become bankrupt; rather it is of the bankruptcy of man the one should speak, for it is he that has lost all intuition of the supernatural. It is man who has let himself be deceived by a falsely totalitarian science, that is to say, a science that does not recognize its own proper limits and for that same reason misses whatever lies beyond those limits."
- Frithjof Schuon

Bruce Charlton said...

@Chris "traditions cannot become bankrupt" - But that statement seems obviously false, since this is the usual thing that happens with traditions; unless there is something I am missing. Maybe Schuon meant a specific tradition, at his time and place - but it surely isn't true of traditions generally... He seems to be regarding tradition as something separate from, independent of, actual people.

edwin said...

Traditions arise from living thought, always from individual inspiration. They remain relevant only to those who can re-think them in a way that allows them to become living, personal thought. To adhere to a tradition because it relieves one of the necessity of thinking is to sink into an inertia that cannot end in other than spiritual "bankruptcy." Perhaps there is some confusion about tradition's content and its emotional appeal. The first vivifies spiritual life when one re-thinks traditional truth to make it one's own; the second kills the living thought of tradition and clings instead to its form as to a security blanket. Tradition can become a kind of spiritual thumb-sucking that keeps one from maturing as a free individual. At the risk of mixing one too many metaphors, tradition can become an idol: a dumb thing worshiped mindlessly and, in some cases, jealously and with malice toward those who will not burn the pinch of incense.

William Wildblood said...

Tradition according to the Traditionalist school of Guenon and Schuon is supposed to be something that stands above traditions, which are what edwin describes, and with the capital T more or less the same everywhere. That's an appealing thought but it's just not true except if you take Tradition to mean something that acknowledges transcendent reality in which case there is Tradition and Modernity. But traditions are not the same, Christianity and Buddhism for one, and the whole edifice seems shaky when you realise that.

On the other hand there are traditional ways of thinking which we have abandoned much to our spiritual peril. Once we have unmoored our minds from a foundation of traditional spiritual thought then we just float off into fantasy land as we have. As i've said here before when you get rid of God you soon lose Nature too.

I think Guenon had many remarkable insights though I don't share his view of advaita as the basis of all spiritual thought because it's just not. But his Reign of Quantity is a genuine 20th century spiritual classic of which there aren't many and some of his other books are excellent too. However Schuon has never appealed to me. I find him a bit of a long-winded bore to be honest and the fact that he ended up as a cult leader having fallen for the trappings of gurudom doesn't recommend him either.

Chris said...

In the vocabulary of the Perennialist School, tradition is basically synonymous with Religion, capital R. The most important thing about Religion is that it is not man-made. Religion is not invented by man , but revealed by God. From this perspective, each Religion is a unique revelation of Ultimate Reality . Divine revelation is a sine qua non; without it, there is no religion, only man-made ideology,in which there is no guarantee of Truth and above all no sacramental or salvational means.

The next important fundamental is tradition. Having once been revealed, Religion is then handed down- unchanged in essence , but often increasingly elaborated in expression - from one generation to the next , by the power of tradition. And finally, closely linked with tradition, comes the attribute of orthodoxy, which is viewed as the principle of truth, or, at the practical level ,the preservation of doctrinal purity .

So, Religion's essential contents comprise dogma, worship, and morality; and Religion's indispensable "container" or framework comprises revelation , tradition, and orthodoxy .

William Wildblood said...

That's an excellent summing up Chris. Thanks. I would add the important proviso though that not all revelations are equal. Most of the Traditionalists ended up in Islam but the Islamic revelation is clearly several steps down from the Christian one in terms of spiritual vision even when you factor in Sufism which is a mixture of Hindu philosophy and Christian mysticism funneled through a Muslim perspective.

edwin said...

Who determines the content of Divine Revelation? How is it distinguished from manmade ideology? Why do there exist contradictory "revelations"? How is it that the revelation of the Koran calls for the death of those who embrace contending "revelations" as truth? It would seem that the ultimate criteria for truth must rest with us, must be located in our judgment. The question then becomes: what criteria do I use to determine truth? William, you talk a great deal about intuition as a criteria for determining truth. But intuition is a rather difficult thing to define, or to fashion into a dogma or ritual or universal morality. Steiner insists that we need a "spiritual science" to eliminate all the warring dogmatic claims of the custodians of religious traditions. We should be wary of speaking about that of which we have no certain knowledge. Much of the cynicism about religion is well-founded: it is often pretentious blather that wildly overreaches whatever knowledge it actually possesses.

William Wildblood said...

Edwin, agreed. I actually meant to type 'the Islamic revelation if it is one' in the comment above but wrote quickly.

I do say we have to use intuition especially now when the time for taking things on external authority is past but that is not infallible in our present state and many people call intuition what isnt much more than personal preference. Still we have to do the best we can and try to balance the inner and the outer. Usually details are not so important if the heart, meaning one's inner orientation, is right.

Steiner talks of spiritual science. Fair enough. But what is the basis for that? He was clearly mistaken in many matters.

edwin said...

William, I don't know how many matters Steiner was mistaken about. As he was not proposing dogmas so much as a general understanding that reality is essentially spiritual and that whatever we can know must be expressed in the temporal language of our culture and cannot be carved in stone. I tend to think he was more in line with your comments about intuition. His major work is "Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Path." I think we have to move away from the longing for external authority and its secure definitions. We may make "mistakes" but not really, so long as we are earnestly doing our best to move toward the light that is given us.The term "spiritual science" suggests a body of proved facts, analagous to physical science, but I think that suggestion ought to be resisted. A spiritual science, like all science, is necessarily provisional and, to a degree, metaphorical. If we are evolving spiritually, our understanding of spirit will necessarily change, along with how we express it.

William Wildblood said...

I agree with all you say there and I don't mean any disrespect to Steiner. He did extraordinary, pioneering work. We're standing on the shoulders of giants etc. The mistakes I'm talking about are mostly details and I'm echoing Bruce Charlton here who I think says a similar thing.

I would take issue with him on a couple of matters however. He does lean to the abstract and the, dare I say it, Germanic tendency to systemise. I always found him very dry to read. And he also, to all intents and purposes, leaves out God which is a pretty big hole in his philosophy I would say. But as a spiritual scientist or scientist of the occult he doesn't really have an equal.

Moonsphere said...

Regarding the dry style of Steiner - it seems that it was something of a conscious choice. From a 1915 lecture he says:

"We need to use our anthroposophical literature to gradually and rationally discover how we as human beings are meant to relate to the spiritual world. [This literature] cannot be read without considerable mental effort. It has often been suggested that I make my writing more accessible to the general public. I have always resisted such suggestions because these things are just not meant to be popularized."

Chris said...

Although I certainly have my problems with Perennialism (William's critiques of Advaita led me to this blog) , I still think that it has a pretty solid inner consistency (if you accept its basic tenets) which address some of the issues raised. First off, one must fully concede, as Edwin alluded to, that the world religions blatantly contradict one another. Hinduism and Buddhism teach reincarnation whereas Christianity rejected it; Christianity and Islam affirm the soul whereas Buddhism negates it; Christianity exalts the Trinity while Judaism and Islam repudiate it ; Judaism, Christianity and Islam propound creation whereas Taoism and Neoplatonism prefer emanation. Are these facts irrelevant to the Perennialist ? Absolutely not . He would answer, " On the contrary , they are providential. "

The various world religions are indeed different, but at the center of each religion there is a core of Truth . This is precisely their reason for being . It is at this essential core in which differences collapse , not at the outward form. All the great world religions were revealed by God and it is because of this that each one speaks in such absolute fashion. If it did not do so, it would not be a religion, nor would it offer any means of salvation.

What is the evidence for this hypothesis ? Does the theory check out? The great historical religions have survived for millennia , which one would expect if they are divinely powered. Stated negatively, God would not have permitted them to endure for such stretches had they been founded on error. Nor conversely, would He have permitted multitudes to have been thrown into this life of sin and ignorance - ages and regions where there was no life line.

And finally, circling back to the subject of this post , all of the great faiths have similar teachings on the "ages" or "yugas" . They are not evolutionary , but rather are "devolutionary". The four ages of classical antiquity represent a continual decline , extending from the creation to the " end of the world". The decline is not even , but gradually accelerates . Similar doctrines are to be found in the Christian , Islamic and Red Indian traditions. All of them speak of " the signs of the times " and describe them only too clearly . Figures like Schuon , Guenon , and Coomaraswamy take the view that humanity is now , indeed , in the last phases of the Kali Yuga , the "Dark Age".

William Wildblood said...

Another great summing up, Chris! I think you are right in what you say. My problem with the Perennialists, apart from their belief that advaita is the root of everything, is their insistence that one must be an active member of a faith in an age when all faiths have lost spiritual power precisely due to the destructive force of the Kali Yuga but also the growth in human outer understanding of the world. Ironically enough, an increased intellectual knowledge of other religions has sapped this spiritual power because it makes faith less whole and uncompromising.

Adil said...

The appeal of Islam among western traditionalists is interesting. There is a certain mystique and spiritual wisdom to the Islamic aura, that is specifically tied to Sufism. This actually resembles the non-dual and impersonal element within Hindu thought. But both Hinduism and Islam represents a more Archaic spirituality than Christianity, despite Islam being the newest. Islam seems like a spiritual reaction against Christ specifically. The Islamic world was not able to recieve Christ, and retreated back to the collective Father God.

God the Father, at the foundation of the world, is what rings true behind all religions, but not the religions themselves. Steiner does not neglect the Father God, but puts strict emphasis on the Son God and differentiates between them.

And I think it is true. It would be a shame if people in the West fail in their true spiritual mission, which is to liberate the rest of humanity from the anachronistic and decadent forces of heredity with some omnipotent dictatorial Father God to be obeyed blindly.

As it stands though, the West is clearly failing at its pursuit of freedom, and the Turks are coming back.