Friday, 7 May 2021

Enlightenment vs. Holiness

What would you say the spiritual path is all about? What is its intended destination? In the West until recently, apart from within a few esoteric and occult groups, there wasn't much doubt. The purpose of religion was holiness. The saints, who were the religious exemplars, were not enlightened beings whose consciousness had expanded to superhuman levels but figures of purity and sanctity who had given themselves entirely to God. Before I'm reminded that sometimes the saints did indeed experience higher states of consciousness I should point out that this was a by-product. It was not their goal or reason to pursue the spiritual path. Their motive was love of God not self-expansion.

However, over the last hundred years or so a different attitude has crept over the Western mind aspiring to spirituality. The goal of the spiritual path has in many cases become enlightenment. Partly this has arisen because of the influence from Buddhist, Hindu and other Eastern mystical teachings, but it is also because of the more pronounced individualistic strain that Western Man has exhibited since the 19th century. This has its good and its bad side. The good side is greater agency with the potential for creative thought. The bad is egotism and self-concern on a much greater level than before. We say we want to know and experience rather than accept things on authority and this is fine up to a point. We are meant to understand and grow in wisdom. But why do we want to know and experience? Is it to expand our own self (even if that is sought for by negating our own self) or is it because of a deeply felt love for our Creator? This might be expressed as a yearning for truth or aspiration to the highest we can conceive of but it must still be directed to something more than ourself.

As we enter into the period known as the End Times the situation will become more and more black and white. Our choices will narrow though it may not be seen in that way by everyone. Only if you are alert to the situation will you realise this. Neutrality will not be an option. Alternatives that may have existed in the past will disappear. They will break down into being in either one camp or the other. Take, for instance, spirituality  and Christianity. I think it has been legitimate for those in the West to explore other forms of religion and mysticism over the last 100 years but I now believe that those who have wandered away from Christ to pursue alternative spiritual options must start to return to him. They may have a wider perspective having departed and now returned than they would have had if they had never left. But they must now return. As things are moving, it is not enough to reject the material and take up the spiritual. The spiritual will be absorbed by the worldly unless it becomes Christian. I am speaking for the West and to those of traditionally Christian cultures. Those in the East will be confronted with their own test but I imagine it will amount to the same examination of the heart.

For well over a century Westerners have turned to the East for spiritual enlightenment. How many have become enlightened in the sense that the Buddha was enlightened? I am going to chance my arm and say none. Many have claimed enlightenment but this usually just amounts to some mystical insight and experience mistaken for more than it was. And the reason that none have become enlightened is that this is not the intended spiritual goal. We are not called to a supreme state of consciousness in this world. We are here to learn self-sacrifice in love, love meaning love of God. We accept suffering as Christ did because we do the Father's will. It is not his will that we suffer but it is his will that we renounce the ego so that the self may be sanctified and become the phoenix that rises from the ashes of the lower self.

Note: I am aware that various forms of gnosticism had something equivalent to enlightenment as their goal but this was generally not regarded as the correct way. The attempt to be spiritual without God is a perennial temptation, one which leans towards the luciferian rather than the Christian using that word to describe the spirit behind it rather than the actual religion.


Anonymous said...

Comment from Dave b

Reading the Theravada Buddhist canon for the past 5 years, I have come to doubt that much of it is authentic in actuality and that only the Dhammapada and some parts of the Sutta Nipata and a only a handful of suttas from the "four main nikayas" (namely those outlining the 4 noble truth and 8 fold noble path) are authentic.

And what I find is the suttas describing Buddha as having reached a state of omniscience are inauthentic. In the material I consider authentic he claims to know only that "this is my last birth, my last death" or in other words that he has broken free of the cycle of reincarnation, and that he can explain to others how to do the same. But, as happens with religion, after his death they deified him, so he becomes an omniscient "fully enlightened" know-it-all in their fake forged later-creation suttas, who pontificates on everything from the cause of the population decline they were experiencing at the time to the cause of earthquakes, and switches from the older Brahmanical acceptance of a Creator God named Brahma and the existence of the human soul to an agnostic position and ultimately ridicule of the existence of a Creator God.

So at the beginning enlightenment, or more properly awakening, meant only awakening to the reality that celibate monasticism and asceticism were necessary to exit the cycle of reincarnation and go beyond the angelic heavens to be with God, but later generations of Buddhists turned enlightenment into becoming a know-it-all atheist.

That's my reading of the Buddhist canon, which I began in 2015, and have read much of the material in multiple translations and many times over.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I wonder whether the pursuit of holiness is really possible - certainly holiness seems to be very rare if not absent altogether.

For several years after I became a Christian I sought for someone that I regarded as significantly advanced in holiness in order to have the guidance of a 'spiritual Father'. But I could not find anyone. There were plenty of people who knew more than I did, but none of them seemed significantly more holy; except a priest from Africa - but he was so different from me in his background and his nature (much closer to Original Participation - as I would now explain it) that I felt I could not learn from him.

This was also what Fr Seraphim Rose (writing before his death in 1982) taught about this era, from an Eastern Orthodox perspective - that the tradition of 'masters' of holiness had been broken by the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the time of learning by obedience to spiritual Fathers was passed. All that remained were 'teachers' (and old texts, and traditions) and the modern pupil must always use discernment to evaluate their teachings.

Nowadays, I think that this near absence of models of holiness is probably intentional on God's part - but even if it is not, this does not seem to be a living-option even when intensely desired; and that at this point we are probably supposed to seek another primary goal - or maybe each person has a distinctive destiny to discover.

William Wildblood said...

Bruce, what I meant to ask here is what is the spiritual goal? What is the intended end-product? I don't think we should pursue holiness. That would be a contradiction in terms. But our motive should be love of God not desire for some kind of spiritual superman status. I agree with everything you say about holiness and the present time and I don't think holiness is meant for us now. But we should see it, rather than enlightenment, as the mark of real spiritual attainment.

There is also Christ's injunction to be perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect. I don't suppose we can be, certainly not in this life, but that should be in our hearts as where we are meant to go so that we don't rest satisfied with anything less. But always the driving impulse must be love of God

Genie said... I read this right after reading the comments above about the Russian Revolution removing the masters of holiness.