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Historical Sketch of Mysticism – A Biography in the Christian Era

Evelyn Underhill: Mysticism

Appendix
Historical Sketch of Mysticism

If we try to represent the course of Mysticism in Europe during the Christian period by the common device of a chronological curve, showing by its rises and falls as it passes across the centuries the absence or preponderance in any given epoch of mystics and mystical thought, we shall find that the great periods of mystical activity tend to correspond with the great periods of artistic, material, and intellectual civilization. As a rule, they come immediately after, and seem to complete such periods: those outbursts of vitality in which man makes fresh conquests over his universe apparently producing, as their last stage, a type of heroic character which extends these victories to the spiritual sphere. When science, politics, literature, and the arts — the domination of nature and the ordering of life — have risen to their height and produced their greatest works, the mystic comes to the front; snatches the torch, and carries it on. It is almost as if he were humanity’s finest flower; the product at which each great creative period of the race had aimed.
Thus the thirteenth century expressed to perfection the medieval ideal in religion, art, philosophy, and public life. It built the Gothic cathedrals, put the finishing touch to the system of chivalry, and nourished the scholastic philosophers. It has many saints, but not very many mystics; though they increase in number as the century draws on. The fourteenth century is filled by great contemplatives; who lifted this wave of activity to spiritual levels, and brought the intellectual vigour, the romance and passion of the mediaeval temperament, to bear upon the deepest mysteries of the transcendental life. Again, the sixteenth century, that period of abounding vitality which left no corner of existence unexplored, which produced the Renaissance and the Humanists and remade the mediaeval world, had hardly reached its full development before the great procession of the post-Renaissance mystics, with St. Teresa at their head, began. If life, then — the great and restless life of the race — be described under the trite metaphor of a billowy sea, each great wave as it rises from the deep bears the mystic type upon its crest.
Our curve will therefore follow close behind that other curve which represents the intellectual life of humanity. Its course will be studded and defined for us by the names of the great mystics; the possessors of spiritual genius, the pathfinders to the country of the soul. These starry names are significant not only in themselves but also as links in the chain of manes growing spiritual history. They are not isolated phenomena, but are related to one another. Each receives something from his predecessors: each by his personal adventures enriches it, and hands it on to the future. As we go on, we notice more and more this cumulative power of the past. Each mystic, original though he be, yet owes much to the inherited acquirement of his spiritual ancestors. These ancestors form his tradition, are the classic examples on which his education is based; and from them he takes the language which they have sought out and constructed as a means of telling their adventures to the world. It is by their help too, very often, that he elucidates for himself the meaning of the dim perceptions of his amazed soul. From his own experiences he adds to this store; and hands on an enriched tradition of the transcendental life to the next spiritual genius evolved by the race. Hence the names of the great mystics are connected by a thread; and it becomes possible to treat them as subjects of history rather than of biography.
I have said that this thread forms a curve, following the fluctuations of the intellectual life of the race. At its highest points, the names of the mystics are clustered most thickly, at its descents they become fewer and fewer, at the lowest points they die away. Between the first century A.D. and the nineteenth, this curve exhibits three great waves of mystical activity besides many minor fluctuations. They correspond with the close of the Classical, the Mediaeval, and the Renaissance periods in history: reaching their highest points in the third, fourteenth, and seventeenth centuries. In one respect, however, the mystic curve diverges from the historical one. It rises to its highest point in the fourteenth century, and does not again approach the level it there attains; for the mediaeval period was more favourable to the development of mysticism than any subsequent epoch has been. The fourteenth century is as much the classic moment for the spiritual history of our race as the thirteenth is for the history of Gothic, or the fifteenth for that of Italian art.
The names upon our curve, especially during the first ten centuries of the Christian era, are often separated by long periods of time. This, of course, does not necessarily mean that these centuries produced few mystics: merely that few documents relating to them have survived. We have now no means of knowing, for instance, the amount of true mysticism which may have existed amongst the initiates of the Greek or Egyptian Mysteries; how many advanced but inarticulate contemplatives there were amongst the Alexandrian Neo-platonists, amongst the pre-Christian communities of contemplatives described by Philo , the deeply mystical Alexandrian Jew (20 B.C.-A.D. 40), or the innumerable Gnostic sects which replaced in the early Christian world the Orphic and Dionysiac mystery-cults of Greece and Italy. Much real mystical inspiration there must have been, for we know that from these centres of life came many of the doctrines best loved by later mystics: that the Neoplatonists gave them the concepts of Pure Being and the One, that the New Birth and the Spiritual Marriage were foreshadowed in the Mysteries, that Philo anticipated the theology of the Fourth Gospel.
As we stand at the beginning of the Christian period we see three great sources whence its mystical tradition might have been derived. These sources are Greek, Oriental, and Christian— i.e. , primitive Apostolic—doctrine or thought. As a matter of fact all contributed their share: but where Christianity gave the new vital impulse to transcendence, Greek and Oriental thought provided the principal forms in which it was expressed. The Christian religion, by its very nature, had a profoundly mystical side. Putting the personality of its Founder outside the limits of the present discussion, St. Paul and the author of the Fourth Gospel are obvious instances of mystics of the first rank amongst its earliest missionaries. Much of the inner history of primitive Christianity still remains unknown to us, but in what has been already made out we find numerous, if scattered, indications that the mystic life was indigenous in the Church and the natural mystic had little need to look for inspiration outside the limits of his creed. Not only the epistles of St. Paul and the Johannine writings, but also the earliest liturgic fragments which we possess, and such primitive religious poetry as the “Odes of Solomon” and the “Hymn of Jesus,” show how congenial was mystical expression to the mind of the Church how easily that Church could absorb and transmute the mystic elements of Essene, Orphic, and Neoplatonic thought.
Towards the end of the second century this tendency received brilliant literary expression at the hands of Clement of Alexandria (c. 160-220) — who first adapted the language of the pagan Mysteries to the Christian theory of the spiritual life — and his great pupil Origen (c. 183-253). Nevertheless, the first person after St. Paul of whom it can now be decisively stated that he was a practical mystic of the first rank, and in whose writings the central mystic doctrine of union with God is found, is a pagan. That person is Plotinus , the great Neoplatonic philosopher of Alexandria (A.D. 205-c. 270). His mysticism owes nothing to the Christian religion, which is never mentioned in his works. Intellectually it is based on the Platonic philosophy, and also shows the influence of the Mysteries, and perhaps certain of the Oriental cults and philosophies which ran riot in Alexandria in the third century. Ostensibly a metaphysician, however, Plotinus possessed transcendental genius of a high order, and was consumed by a burning passion for the Absolute: and the importance of his work lies in the degree in which his intellectual constructions are made the vehicle of mystical experience. His disciple Porphyry has left it on record that on four occasions he saw his master rapt to ecstatic union with “the One.”
The Neoplatonism of which Plotinus was the greatest exponent became the medium in which much of the mysticism — both Christian and pagan—of the first six centuries was expressed. But since mysticism is a way of life — an experience of Reality, not a philosophic account of Reality—Neoplatonism, and the mysticism which used its language, must not be identified with one another. Porphyry (233-304) the favourite pupil of Plotinus seems to have inherited something of his master’s mysticism, but Neoplatonism as a whole was a confused, semi-religious philosophy, containing many inconsistent elements. Appearing when the wreck of paganism was complete, but before Christianity had conquered the educated world, it made a strong appeal to the spiritually minded; and also to those who hankered after the mysterious and the occult. It taught the illusory nature of all temporal things, and in the violence of its idealism outdid its master Plato. It also taught the existence of an Absolute God, the “Unconditioned One,” who might be known in ecstasy and contemplation; and here it made a direct appeal to the mystical instincts of men. Those natural mystics who lived in the time of its greatest popularity found in it therefore a ready means of expressing their own intuitions of reality. Hence the early mysticism of Europe, both Christian and pagan, has come down to us in a Neoplatonic dress; and speaks the tongue of Alexandria rather than that of Jerusalem, Athens, or Rome.
The influence of Plotinus upon later Christian mysticism was enormous though indirect. During the patristic period all that was best in the spirit of Neoplatonism flowed into the veins of the Church. St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430) and Dionysius the Areopagite (writing between 475 and 525) are amongst his spiritual children; and it is mainly through them that his doctrine reached the mediaeval world. Proclus (412-c. 490), the last of the pagan philosophers, also derives from his teaching. Through these three there is hardly one in the long tale of the European contemplatives whom his powerful spirit has failed to reach.
The mysticism of St. Augustine is partly obscured for us by the wealth of his intellectual and practical life: yet no one can read the “Confessions” without being struck by the intensity and actuality of his spiritual experience, and the characteristically mystical formula under which he apprehended Reality. It is clear that when he composed this work he was already an advanced contemplative. The immense intellectual activities by which he is best remembered were fed by the solitary adventures of his soul. No merely literary genius could have produced the wonderful chapters in the seventh and eighth books, or the innumerable detached passages in which his passion for the Absolute breaks out. Later mystics, recognizing this fact, constantly appeal to his authority, and his influence ranks next to that of the Bible in the formation of the mediaeval school.
Second only to that of St. Augustine was the influence exercised by the strange and nameless writer who chose to ascribe his works to Dionysius the Areopagite, the friend of St. Paul, and to address his letters upon mysticism to Paul’s fellow-worker, Timothy. The pseudo-Dionysius was probably a Syrian monk. The patristic quotations detected in his work prove that he cannot have written before A.D.475; it is most likely that he flourished in the early part of the sixth century. His chief works are the treatises on the Angelic Hierarchies and on the Names of God, and a short but priceless tract on mystical theology. From the ninth century to the seventeenth these writings nourished the most spiritual intuitions of men, and possessed an authority which it is now hard to realize. Medieval mysticism is soaked in Dionysian conceptions. Particularly in the fourteenth century, the golden age of mystical literature, the phrase “Dionysius saith” is of continual recurrence: and has for those who use it much the same weight as quotations from the Bible or the great fathers of the Church.
The importance of Dionysius lies in the fact that he was the first and for a long time the only, Christian writer who attempted to describe frankly and accurately the workings of the mystical consciousness, and the nature of its ecstatic attainment of God. So well did he do h s work that later contemplatives, reading him, found their most sublime experiences reflected and partly explained. Hence in describing those experiences, they adopted his language and metaphors; which afterwards became the classic terms of contemplative science. To him Christian literature owes the paradoxical concept of the Absolute Godhead as the “Divine Dark,” the Unconditioned, “the negation of all that is ”— i.e., of all that the surface consciousness perceives — and of the soul’s attainment of the Absolute as a “divine ignorance,” a way of negation. This idea is common to Greek and Indian philosophy. With Dionysius it enters the Catholic fold.
Side by side with the Neoplatonic mysticism of St. Augustine and Dionysius runs another line of spiritual culture, hardly less important for the development of the contemplative life. This takes its rise among the Fathers of the Egyptian desert, whose heroic spirituality was a contributory factor in St. Augustine’s conversion. It finds beautiful expression in the writings of St. Marcarius of Egypt (c. 295-386), the disciple of St. Anthony and friend of St. Basil, and reaches the West through the “Dialogues” of John Cassian (c. 350- ), one of the most important documents for the history of Christian mysticism. The fruit of a seven-year pilgrimage among the Egyptian monasteries, and many conversations on spiritual themes with the monks, we find in these dialogues for the first time a classified and realistic description of the successive degrees of contemplative prayer, and their relation to the development of the spiritual life. Adopted by St. Benedict as part of the regular spiritual food of his monks, they have had a decisive influence on the cloistered mysticism of the Middle Ages. Their sober and orderly doctrine, destined to be characteristic of the Roman Church, received fresh emphasis in the works of St. Gregory the Great (540-604), which also helped to form the souls of succeeding generations of contemplatives.
We have therefore, at the opening of the Middle Ages, two great streams of spiritual culture; the Benedictine, moderate and practical, formed chiefly on Cassian and St. Gregory, and the Neoplatonic, represented by Dionysius the Areopagite, and in a less exclusive form by St. Augustine. The works of Dionysius were translated from Greek into Latin about A.D. 850 by the Irish philosopher and theologian, John Scotus Erigena , one of the scholars assembled at the court of Charlemagne: and this event marks the beginning of a full tradition of mysticism in Western Europe. John the Scot, many of whose own writings exhibit a strong mystical bias, is the only name in this period which the history of mysticism can claim. We are on the descending 458line of the “Dark Ages”: and here the curve of mysticism runs parallel with the curves of intellectual and artistic activity.
The great current of medieval mysticism first shows itself in the eleventh century, and chiefly in connection with the Benedictine Order for the work of such monastic reformers as St. Romuald (c. 950-1027) St. Peter Damian (1007-1072), and St. Bruno (1032-1101), the founder of the Grande Chartreuse, was really the effort of contemplative souls to establish an environment in which the mystical life could be lived. Thus too we must regard at least a large proportion of the hermits and solitaries who became so marked a feature in the religion of the West. At this period mysticism was not sharply distinguished from the rest of the religious complex, but was rather the realistic experience of the truths on which religion rests. It spread mainly through personal instruction and discipleship. Its literary monuments were few among the most important and widely influential being the “Meditations” of St. Anselm (1033-1109), which, disentangled by recent scholarship from the spurious material passing under his name, are now seen to have been a chief channel of transmission for the Augustinian mysticism which dominated the early Middle Ages. The general religious revival of the twelfth century had its marked mystical aspect, and produced four personalities of great historical importance: the Benedictines St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), St. Hildegarde of Bingen (1098-1179), and Joachim of Flora (1132-1202); and the Scotch or Irish Augustinian Richard of St. Victor (ob. c. 1173), whom Dante held to be “in contemplation more than man.” Richard’s master and contemporary, the scholastic philosopher Hugh (1097-1141) of the same Abbey of St. Victor at Paris, is also generally reckoned amongst the mystics of thus period, but with less reason; since contemplation occupies a small place in his theological writings. In spite of the deep respect shown towards him by Aquinas and other theologians, Hugh’s influence on later mystical literature was slight. The spirit of Richard and of St. Bernard, on the contrary, was destined to dominate it for the next two hundred years. With them the literature of mediaeval mysticism properly so called begins.
This literature Falls into two classes: the personal and the didactic. Sometimes, as in a celebrated sermon of St. Bernard, the two are combined; the teacher appealing to his own experience in illustration of his theme. In the works of the Victorines the attitude is didactic: one might almost say scientific. In them mysticism — that is to say, the degrees of contemplation, the training and exercise of the spiritual sense — takes its place as a recognized department of theology. It is in Richard’s favourite symbolism, “Benjamin,” the beloved child of Rachel, emblem of the Contemplative Life: and in his two chief works, “Benjamin Major” and “Benjamin Minor,” it is classified and described in all its branches. Though mysticism was for Richard the “science of the heart” and he had little respect for secular learning, yet his solid intellectuality did much to save the medieval school from the perils of religious emotionalism. In his hands the antique mystical tradition which flowed through Plotinus and the Areopagite, was codified and transmitted to the mediaeval world. Like his master, Hugh, he had the mediaeval passion for elaborate allegory, neat arrangement, rigid classification, and significant numbers in things. As Dante parcelled out Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell with mathematical precision, and proved that Beatrice was herself a Nine, so these writers divide and subdivide the stages of contemplation, the states of the soul, the degrees of Divine Love: and perform terrible tours de force in the course of compelling the ever-variable expressions of man’s spiritual vitality to fall into orderly and parallel series, conformable to the mystic numbers of Seven, Four, and Three.
The influence of Richard of St. Victor, great as it was, is exceeded by that of St. Bernard; the dominant spiritual personality of the twelfth century. Bernard’s career of ceaseless and varied activity sufficiently disproves the “idleness” of the contemplative type. He continued and informed with his own spirit the Benedictine tradition, and his writings quickly took their place, with those of Richard of St. Victor, among the living forces which conditioned the development of later mysticism. Both these mystics exerted a capital influence on the formation of our national school of mysticism in the fourteenth century. Translations and paraphrases of the “Benjamin Major,” “Benjamin Minor,” and other works of Richard of St. Victor, and of various tracts and epistles of St. Bernard, are constantly met with in the MS. collections of mystical and theological literature written in England in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. An early paraphrase of the “Benjamin Minor,” sometimes attributed to Richard Rolle, was probably made by the anonymous author of “The Cloud of Unknowing,” who was also responsible for the first appearance of the Areopagite in English dress.
If mediaeval mysticism in the West develops mainly under the sane and enduring influence of the Victorines and St. Bernard, in Germany and Italy it appeared in a more startling form; seeking, in the prophetic activities of St. Hildegarde of Bingen and the Abbot Joachim of Flora, to influence the course of secular history. In St. Hildegarde and her fellow-Benedictine St. Elizabeth of Shönau (1138-1165) we have the first of that long line of women mystics — visionaries, prophetesses, and political reformers — combining spiritual transcendence with great practical ability, of whom St. Catherine of Siena is probably the greatest example. Exalted by the strength of their spiritual intuitions, they emerged from an obscure life to impose their wills, and their reading of events, upon the world. From the point of view of Eternity, in whose light they lived, they attacked the sins of their generation. St. Hildegarde, a woman of powerful character, apparently possessed of abnormal psychic gifts, was driven by that Living Light which was her inspiration to denounce the corruptions of Church and State. In the inspired letters which she sent like firebrands over Europe, we see German idealism and German practicality struggling together; the unflinching description of abuses, the vast poetic vision by which they are condemned. These qualities are seen again in the South German mystics of the next century: the four Benedictine women of genius, who had their home in the convent of Helfde. These are the Nun Gertrude (Abbess 1251-1291) and her sister St. Mechthild of Hackborn (ob. 1310), with her sublime symbolic visions: then, the poet of the group, the exquisite Mechthild of Magdeburg (1212-1299), who, first a béguine at Magdeburg, where she wrote the greater part of “The Flowing Light of the Godhead,” came to Helfde in 1268; last the celebrated St. Gertrude the Great (1256-1311). In these contemplatives the political spirit is less marked than in St. Hildegarde: but religious and ethical activity takes its place. St. Gertrude the Great is a characteristic Catholic visionary of the feminine type: absorbed in her subjective experiences, her often beautiful and significant dreams, her loving conversations with Christ and the Blessed Virgin. Close to her in temperament is St. Mechthild of Hackborn; but her attitude as a whole is more impersonal, more truly mystic. The great symbolic visions in which her most spiritual perceptions are expressed are artistic creations rather than psycho-sensorial hallucinations, and dwell little upon the humanity of Christ, with which St. Gertrude is constantly occupied. The terms in which Mechthild of Magdeburg — an educated and well-born woman, half poet, half seer — describes her union with God are intensely individual, and apparently owe more to the romantic poets of her time than to earlier religious writers. The works of this Mechthild, early translated into Latin, were read by Dante. Their influence is traceable in the “Paradiso”; and by some scholars she is believed to be the Matilda of his Earthly Paradise, though others give this position to her sister-mystic, St. Mechthild of Hackborn.
Modern scholarship tends more and more to see in the strange personality of the Abbot Joachim of Flora, whom Dante placed among the great contemplatives in the Heaven of the Sun, the chief influence in the development of Italian mysticism. The true import of his prophecies, which proclaimed in effect the substitution of mystical for institutional Christianity, was only appreciated after his death. But their prestige grew during the course of the thirteenth century; especially after the appearance of the mendicant friars, who seemed to fulfil his prediction that the new era of the Holy Spirit would be brought in about the year 1260 by two new Orders who would live in poverty the spiritual life. From this time, Joachism found its chief vehicle of expression through Franciscan mysticism of the more revolutionary sort. Though there is no evidence that St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) knew the prophecies of the “Eternal Gospel,” he can hardly have grown up without some knowledge of them, and also of the Cathari and other semi-mystical heresies — many of them stressing the idea of evangelical poverty — which were spreading through Italy from the north. But the mystical genius which may have received food from these sources was itself strikingly original; the spontaneous expression of a rare personality, a great spiritual realist who admitted no rival to the absolute claims of the mystical life of poverty and joy. St. Francis was untouched by monastic discipline, or the writings of Dionysius or St. Bernard. His only literary influence was the New Testament. With him, mysticism comes into the open air, seeks to transform the stuff of daily life, speaks the vernacular, turns the songs of the troubadours to the purposes of Divine love; yet remains completely loyal to the Catholic Church. None who came after him succeeded in recapturing his secret which was the secret of spiritual genius of the rarest type: but he left his mark upon the history, art and literature of Western Europe, and the influence of his spirit still lives.
In a general sense it is true to say that Italian mysticism descends from St. Francis, and in its first period seems almost to be the prerogative of his disciples; especially those of the “Spiritual” party who strove to maintain his ideals in their purity. It is here that we find Franciscan ardour and singlemindedness in alliance with apocalyptic notions deriving from Joachist ideas. In Provence, a widespread mystical movement coloured by Joachism was led by Hugues de Digne and his sister St. Douceline ( n . 1214); in whom we find a spirit which, like that of Francis, could find the Divine through flowers and birds and simple natural things. In Italy, nourished by the influence of such deeply mystical friars as John of Parma (ob. 1288 ) and John of La Verna , this Franciscan spirituality entered into conflict with the ecclesiastical politics of the day; taking up that duty of denouncing the corruptions of the Church, which has so often attracted the mystics. Here the typical figure is that of Jacopone da Todi ( 1228-1306), the converted lawyer turned mystical poet. On one hand deeply influenced by St. Augustine and Dionysius the Areopagite, on the other the devoted exponent of the Founder’s ideals, his “spiritual songs” lift Franciscan mysticism to the heights of ecstatic rapture and literary expression; whilst his savage castigations of the Papacy give him a place among the great mediaeval satirists. Jacopone’s poems have been shown by Von Hügel to have had a formative influence on St. Catherine of Genoa; and have probably affected many other mystics, not only in Italy but elsewhere, for they quickly attained considerable circulation.
In his contemporary the Blessed Angela of Foligno (1248-1309) who was converted from a sinful life to become a tertiary hermit of the Franciscan Order we have a mystic of the first rank whose visions and revelations place her in the same class as St. Catherine of Genoa and St. Teresa. Known to her followers as the Mistress of Theologians, and numbering among her disciples the brilliant and tempestuous “spiritual” friar Ubertino da Casale, the lofty metaphysical element in Angela’s mysticism suggests the high level of spiritual culture achieved in Franciscan circles of her time. By the sixteenth century her works, translated into the vernacular, had taken their place amongst the classics of mysticism. In the seventeenth they were largely used by St. François de Sales, Madame Guyon, and other Catholic contemplatives. Seventeen years older than Dante, whose great genius properly closes this line of spiritual descent, she is a link between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in Italian mysticism.
We now approach the Golden Age of Mysticism: and at the opening of that epoch, dominating it by their peculiar combination of intellectual and spiritual power stand the figures of the “Seraphic and Angelic Doctors,” St. Bonaventura , the Franciscan (1221-1274), and St. Thomas Aquinas , the Dominican (1226-1274). As with St. Augustine, the intellectual greatness of St. Thomas has obscured his mystical side, whilst St. Bonaventura, the apostle of a wise moderation, may easily appear to the hurried reader the least mystical of the Franciscan mystics. Yet both were contemplatives, and because of this were able to interpret to the medieval world the great spiritual tradition of the past. Hence their immense influence on the mystical schools of the fourteenth century. It is sometimes stated that these schools derive mainly from St. Bonaventura, and represent an opposition to scholastic theology; but as a matter of fact their greatest personalities — in particular Dante and the German Dominicans — are soaked in the spirit of Aquinas, and quote his authority at every turn.
In Europe the mystic curve is now approaching its highest point. In the East that point has already been passed. Sufi, or Mahommedan mysticism, appearing in the eighth century in the beautiful figure of Rabi’a , the “Moslem St. Teresa” (717-801), and continued by the martyr Al Hallaj (ob. 922), attains literary expression in the eleventh in the “Confessions” of Al Ghazzali (1058-1111), and has its classic period in the thirteenth in the works of the mystic poets ‘Attar (c. 1140-1234), Sadi (1184-1263), and the saintly Jalalu ‘d Din (1207-1273). Its tradition is continued in the fourteenth century by the rather erotic mysticism of Hafiz (c. 1300-1388) and his successors, and in the fifteenth by the poet Jámí (1414-1492).
Whilst Hafiz already strikes a note of decadence for the mysticism of Islam, the year 1300 is for Western Europe a vital year in the history of the spiritual life. Mystics of the first rank are appearing, or about to appear. The Majorcan scholar-mystic Ramon Lull (ob. 1315) is drawing to the end of his long life. In Italy Dante (1265-1321) is forcing human language to express one of the most sublime visions of the Absolute which has ever been crystallized into speech. He inherits and fuses into one that loving and artistic reading of reality which was the heart of Franciscan mysticism, and that other ordered vision of the transcendental world which the Dominicans through Aquinas poured into the stream of European thought. For the one the spiritual world was all love: for the other all law. For Dante it was both. In the “Paradiso” his stupendous genius apprehends and shows to us a Beatific Vision in which the symbolic systems of all great mystics and many whom the world does not call mystics — of Dionysius, Richard, St. Bernard, Mechthild, Aquinas, and countless others — are included and explained.
The moment in which the “Commedia” was being written coincides with the awakening of mystical activity in Germany and Flanders. Between the years 1280 and 1309 was produced, probably in the Liege district and under Franciscan influence, the curious anonymous work which is now only known to us in Latin and English translations — “The Mirror of Simple Souls.” This long treatise, clearly influenced by Dionysius, the Victorines, and the twelfth-century tract known as the “Letter to the Brethren of Mons Dei,” is a piece of mystical literature of an advanced kind, often fringing the borders of orthodoxy and looking forward to the speculative Flemish mysticism of the fourteenth century. Its writer was probably contemporary with the founder of this school; the great Dominican scholar Meister Eckhart (1260-1327), who resembled Dante in his combination of mystical insight with intense intellectual power, and laid the foundations at once of German philosophy and German mysticism. These two giants stand side by side at the opening of the century; perfect representatives of the Teutonic and Latin instinct for transcendental reality.
Eckhart, though only a few years younger than St. Gertrude the Great, seems to belong to a different world. His commanding personality, his genius for the supra-sensible nourished by the works of Dionysius and Erigena, moulded and inspired all whom it came near. The German and Flemish mystics of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, differing much in temperament from their master and from each other, have yet something in common: something which is shared by no other school. This something is derived from Eckhart; for all have passed under his hand, being either his immediate disciples, or the friends or pupils of his disciples. Eckhart’s doctrine is chiefly known to us by reports of his vernacular sermons delivered at Strassburg; then the religious centre of Germany. In these we see him as a teaching mystic full of pastoral zeal, but demanding a high level both of intellect and spirituality in those he addressed. Towards the end of his life he fell into disgrace. A number of propositions extracted from his writings, and representing his more extreme views, were condemned by the Church as savouring of pantheism and other heresies: and certainly the violence and daring of his language laid him open to misconstruction. In his efforts to speak of the unspeakable he was constantly betrayed into expressions which were bound to seem paradoxical and exaggerated to other men. Eckhart’s influence, however, was little hurt by ecclesiastical condemnation. His pupils, though they remained loyal Catholics, contrived also to be loyal disciples. To the end of their lives their teaching was coloured — often inspired — by the doctrines of the great, if heretical, scholar whose memory they venerated as that of a saint.
The contrast in type between Eckhart and his two most famous disciples is an interesting one. All three were Dominican friars; all were devout followers of St. Augustine, the Areopagite, St. Bernard, and Aquinas; all had been trained in the schools of Cologne, where Albert the Great and St. Thomas had taught, and where their powerful influence still lived. The mysticism of Eckhart, so far as he allows us to see it in his sermons and fragmentary writings, is objective — one might almost say dogmatic. He describes with an air of almost terrible certainty and intimacy, not that which he has felt, but the place or plane of being he has known—“the desert of the Godhead were no one is at home.” He is a great scholar, a natural metaphysician passionately condensed with the quest of Absolute Truth.
Of his two pupils, John Tauler (c. 1300-1361), friar-preacher of Strassburg, was a born missionary: a man who combined with great theological learning and mystical genius of a high order an overwhelming zeal for souls. He laboured incessantly to awaken men to a sense of their transcendental heritage. Without the hard intellectualism occasionally noticeable in Eckhart, or the tendency to introspection and the excessive artistic sensibility of Suso, Tauler is the most virile of the German mystics. The breadth of his humanity is only equalled by the depth of his spirituality. His sermons—his only authentic works—are trumpet-calls to heroic action upon spiritual levels. They influenced many later mystics, especially St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross. Tauler is not a subjective writer: only by implication can we assure ourselves that he speaks from personal experience. He has sometimes, though unfairly, been described as a precursor of the Reformation. Such a claim could only be made by those who look upon all pure Christianity as a form of Protestant heresy. He attacked, like St. Hildegarde, St. Catherine of Siena, and many others, the ecclesiastical corruption of his period: but his writings, if read in unexpurgated editions, prove him to have been a fervent and orthodox Catholic.
Tauler was one of the leading spirits in the great informal society of the Friends of God , which sprang into being in Strassburg, spread through the Rhenish province and beyond to Switzerland and Bavaria, and worked in this moment of religious decadence for the spiritual regeneration of the people. In a spirit of fierce enthusiasm and wholehearted devotion, the Friends of God set themselves to the mystic life as the only life worthy of the name. A great outburst of transcendental activity took place: many visions and ecstasies were reported: amazing conversions occurred. The movement had many features in common with that of the Quakers; except that it took place within, instead of without, the official Church, and was partly directed against the doctrines of the Brethren of the Free Spirit and other heretical sects. With it was connected the third of the trio of great German Dominican mystics, the Blessed Henry Suso (c. 1295-1365), a natural recluse and ascetic, and a visionary of the most exuberant Catholic type. To Suso, subjective, romantic, deeply interested in his own soul and his personal relation with God, mysticism was not so much a doctrine to be imparted to other men as an intimate personal adventure. Though a trained philosopher and theologian, and a devoted follower of Eckhart, his autobiography — a human document far more detailed and ingenuous than St. Teresa’s more celebrated “Life” — is mainly the record of his griefs and joys, his pains, visions, ecstasies, and miseries. Even his mystical treatises are in dialogue form, as if he could hardly get away from the personal and dramatic aspect of the spiritual life.
Around these three — Eckhart, Tauler, Suso — are gathered other and more shadowy personalities: members of this mystical society of the Friends of God, bound to the heroic attempt to bring life — the terribly corrupt and disordered religious life of the fourteenth century — back into relation with spiritual reality, to initiate their neighbours into the atmosphere of God. From one of these nameless members comes the literary jewel of the movement: the beautiful little treatise called the “Theologia Germanica,” or “Book of the Perfect Life,” probably written in Frankfort about the year 1350 by a priest of the Teutonic Order. One of the most successful of many attempts to make mystic principles available for common men, this book was greatly loved by Luther, who published an incomplete edition in 1518. Other Friends of God are now only known to us as the authors of letters, descriptions of conversions, visions, and spiritual adventures—literature which the movement produced in enormous quantities. No part of the history of mysticism has been more changed by recent research than that of the Rhenish school: and the work is still but partly done. At present we can only record the principal names which we find connected with the mystical propaganda of the Friends of God. These are first the nuns Margaret Ebner (1291-1351) and her sister Christina , important personages in the movement upon whose historicity no doubts have been cast. Margaret appears to have been a psychic as well as a mystic: and to have possessed, like Madame Guyon, telepathic and clairvoyant powers. Next the rather shadowy pair of laymen, Henry of Nordlingen and Nicolas of Basle . Lastly the puzzling figure of Rulman Merswin (c. 1310-1382), author of the series of apocalyptic visions called The Book of the Nine Rocks”; whose story of his conversion and mystic life, whether it be regarded as fact or “tendency literature,” is a psychological document of the first rank.
In immediate dependence on the German school, and like it drawing its intellectual vigour from the genius of Eckhart, is the mysticism of Flanders: best known to us in the work of its most sublime representative, the Blessed John Ruysbroeck (1293-1381), one of the greatest mystics whom the world has yet known. In Ruysbroeck’s works the metaphysical and personal aspects of mystical truth are fused and attain their highest expression. Intellectually indebted to St. Augustine, Richard of St. Victor, and Eckhart, his value lies in the fact that the Eckhartian philosophy was merely the medium by which he expressed the results of profound experience. In his early years a priest in Brussels, in old age a recluse in the forest of Soignes, Ruysbroeck’s influence on his own generation was great. Through his disciple Gerard Groot (1340-1384), founder of the Brotherhood of the Common Life, it formed the inspiration of the religious movement of the New Devotion; which carried over into the next century the spirit of the great mediaeval mystics. The mystical writings of Henry de Mande (c. 1360-1415), the “Ruysbroeck of the North,” the beautiful and deeply Platonic “Fiery Soliloquy with God” of Gerlac Petersen (1378-1411), and above all the “Imitation of Christ” of his friend Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471), in which some of Gerard Groot’s meditations may be enshrined, are the chief channels through which this mystical current passed. In the next century the Franciscan Henry de Herp or Harphius (ob. 1477) and two greater personalities—the learned and holy Platonist, Cardinal Nicolas of Cusa (1401-1464), and his friend the theologian and contemplative Denis the Carthusian (1402-1471), one of the great religious figures of the fifteenth century—drew their inspiration from Ruysbroeck. Denis translated the whole of his works into Latin; and calls him “another Dionysius” but “clear where the Areopagite is obscure.” It was mainly through the voluminous writings of Denis, widely read during succeeding centuries, that the doctrine of the mediaeval mystics was carried over to the Renaissance world. Ruysbroeck’s works, with those of Suso, appear in English MSS. early in the fifteenth century, taking their place by the side of St. Bernard, St. Bonaventura, and the great English mystic Richard Rolle. The influence of his genius has also been detected in the mystical literature of Spain.
English mysticism seems to have its roots in the religious revival which arose during Stephen’s reign. It was then, and throughout its course, closely linked with the solitary life. Its earnest literary monument, the “Ancren Riwle,” was written early in the twelfth century for the use of three anchoresses. So too the “Meditations” of St. Aldred (Abbot of Rievaulx 1146-1166), and the Rule he wrote for his anchoress sister, presuppose the desire for the mystical life. But the first English mystic we can name with certainty is Margery Kempe (probably writing c. 1290), the anchoress of Lynn. Even so, we know nothing of this woman’s life; and only a fragment of her “Contemplations” has survived. It is with the next name, Richard Rolle of Hampole (c. 1300-1349), that the short but brilliant procession of English mystics begins. Rolle, educated at Oxford and perhaps at Paris, and widely read in theology, became a hermit in order to live in perfection that mystic life of “Heat, Sweetness, and Song,” to which he felt himself to be called. Richard of St. Victor, St. Bernard, and St. Bonaventura are the authors who have influenced him most; but he remains, in spite of this, one of the most individual of all writers on mysticism. A voluminous author, his chief works are still in MS., and he seems to have combined the careers of writer and wandering preacher with that of recluse. He laid claim to direct inspiration, was outspoken in his criticisms of religious and secular life, and in the next generation the Lollards were found to appeal to his authority. Rolle already shows the practical temper characteristic of the English school. His interest was not philosophy, but spiritual life; and especially his own experience of it. There is a touch of Franciscan poetry in his descriptions of his communion with Divine Love, and the “heavenly song” in which it was expressed, of Franciscan ardour in his zeal for souls. His works greatly influenced succeeding English mystics.
He was followed in the second half of the fourteenth century by the unknown author of “The Cloud of Unknowing” and its companion treatises, and by the gracious spirit of Walter Hilton (ob. 1396). With “The Cloud of Unknowing,” the spirit of Dionysius first appears in English literature. It is the work of an advanced contemplative, deeply influenced by the Areopagite and the Victorines, who was also an acute psychologist. From the hand that wrote it came the first English translation of the “Theologia Mystica,” “Dionise Hid Divinite”: a work which says an old writer, “ran across England at deere rates,” so ready was the religious consciousness of the time for the reception of mystical truth.
Hilton, though also influenced by Dionysius and Richard of St. Victor, addresses a wider audience. He is pre-eminently a spiritual director, the practical teacher of interior ways, not a metaphysician; and his great work “The Scale of Perfection” quickly took rank among the classics of the spiritual life. The moment of his death coincides with the completion of the most beautiful of all English mystical works, the “Revelations of Love” of the anchoress Julian of Norwich (1343–died after 1413), “theodidacta, profunda, ecstatica,” whose unique personality closes and crowns the history of English mediaeval mysticism. In her the best gifts of Rolle and Hilton are transmuted by a “genius for the infinite” of a peculiarly beautiful and individual type. She was a seer, a lover, and a poet. Though considerable theological knowledge underlies her teaching, it is in essence the result of a direct and personal vision of singular intensity.
Already before the completion of Julian’s revelations two other women of genius, the royal prophetess and founder St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373) and St. Catherine of Siena(1347-1380), had lived and died. St. Bridget, or Birgitta, a mystic and visionary of the Hildegardian type, believed herself called to end the exile of the Papacy and bring peace to the Church. Four months after her death, St. Catherine—then aged 26—took up her unfinished work. The true successor of Dante as a revealer of Reality, and next to St. Francis the greatest of Italian mystics, Catherine exhibits the Unitive Life in its richest, most perfect form. She was a great active and a great ecstatic: at once politician, teacher, and contemplative, holding a steady balance between the inner and the outer life. Well named “the mother of thousands of souls,” with little education she yet contrived, in a short career dogged by persistent ill-health, to change the course of history, rejuvenate religion, and compose, in her “Divine Dialogue,” one of the jewels of Italian religious literature.
With the first half of the fifteenth century it is plain that the mystic curve droops downwards. At its opening we find the influential figure of the Chancellor Gerson (1363-1429) at once a mystic in his own right and a keen and impartial critic of extravagant mystical teachings and phenomena. But the great period is over: the new life of the Renaissance, already striving in other spheres of activity, has hardly touched the spiritual plane. A transient revival of Franciscan spirituality is associated with the work of three reforming mystics; the energetic French visionary St. Colette of Corbie (1381-1447), her Italian disciple St. Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444), and the ecstatic Clarisse, St. Catherine of Bologna (1413-1463). Contemporary with this group are the careers of two strongly contrasted woman-mystics: St. Joan of Arc (1412-1431), and the suffering Flemish visionary St. Lydwine of Schiedam (1380-1432).
With the second half of the century the scene shifts to Italy, where a spiritual genius of the first rank appeared in St. Catherine of Genoa (1447-1510). She, like her namesake of Siena, was at once an eager lover and an indomitable doer. More, she was a constructive mystic, a profound thinker as well as an ecstatic: an original teacher, a busy and practical philanthropist. Her influence lived on, and is seen in the next generation in the fine, well-balanced nature of another contemplative: the Venerable Battista Vernazza (1497-1587), her goddaughter and the child of one of her most loyal friends. Catherine of Genoa stands alone in her day as an example of the sane and vigorous mystic life. Her contemporaries were for the most part visionaries of the more ordinary female type, such as Osanna Andreasi of Mantua (1449-1505), Columba Rieti (c. 1430-1501) and her disciple Lucia of Narni . They seem to represent the slow extinction of the spirit which burned so bright in St. Catherine of Siena.
That spirit reappears in the sixteenth century in Flanders in the works of the Benedictine Abbot Blosius (1506-1565); and, far more conspicuously, in Spain, a country hardly touched by the outburst of mystical life which elsewhere closed the medieval period. Spanish mysticism first appears in close connection with the religious orders: in the Franciscans Francisco de Osuna (ob. c. 1540), whose manual of contemplative prayer influenced the development of St. Teresa, and St. Peter of Alcantara (1499-1562), her friend and adviser; in the Dominican Luis de Granada (1504-1588) and the Augustinian Luis de Leon (1528-1591). It attains definite and characteristic expression in the life and personality of St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), the great founder of the Society of Jesus. The concrete nature of St. Ignatius’ work, and especially its later developments, has blinded historians to the fact that he was a true mystic, own brother to such great actives as St. Teresa and George Fox, actuated by the same vision of reality, passing through the same stages of psychological growth. His spiritual sons greatly influenced the inner life of the great Carmelite, St. Teresa (1515-1582).
Like St. Catherine of Siena, these mystics — and to them we must add St. Teresa’s greatest disciple, the poet and contemplative St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) — seem to have arisen in direct response to the need created by the corrupt or disordered religious life of their time. They were the “saints of the counter-Reformation”; and, in a period of ecclesiastical chaos, flung the weight of their genius and their sanctity into the orthodox Catholic scale. Whilst St. Ignatius organized a body of spiritual soldiery, who should attack heresy and defend the Church, St. Teresa, working against heavy odds, infused new vitality into a great religious order and restored it to its duty of direct communion with the transcendental world. In this she was helped by St. John of the Cross; who, a psychologist and philosopher as well as a great mystic, performed the necessary function of bringing the personal experience of the Spanish school back again into touch with the main stream of mystic tradition. All three, practical organizers and profound contemplatives, exhibit in its splendour the dual character of the mystic life. They left behind them in their literary works an abiding influence which has guided the footsteps and explained the discoveries of succeeding generations of adventurers in the transcendental world. The true spiritual children of these mystics are to be found, not in their own country, where the religious life which they had lifted to transcendent levels degenerated when their overmastering influence was withdrawn, but amongst the innumerable contemplative souls of succeeding generations who have fallen under the spell of the “Spiritual Exercises,” the “Interior Castle,” or the “Dark Night of the Soul.”469
The Divine fire lit by the great Carmelites of Spain is next seen in Italy, in the lives of the Dominican nun St. Catherine dei Ricci (1522-1590) and the Florentine Carmelite St. Maria Maddelena dei Pazzi (1566-1607), the author of voluminous literary works. It appears in the New World in the beautiful figure of St. Rose of Lima (1586-1617), the Peruvian nun; and at the same moment, under a very different aspect, in Protestant Germany, in the person of one of the giants of mysticism, the “inspired shoemaker” Jacob Boehme (1575-1624).
Boehme, one of the most astonishing cases in history of a natural genius for the transcendent, has left his mark upon German philosophy as well as upon the history of mysticism. William Law, Blake, and Saint-Martin are amongst those who have sat at his feet. The great sweep of Boehme’s vision includes both Man and the Universe: the nature of God and of the Soul. In him we find again that old doctrine of Rebirth which the earlier German mystics had loved. Were it not for the difficult symbolism in which his vision is expressed, his influence would be far greater than it is. He remains one of those cloud-wrapped immortals who must be rediscovered and reinterpreted by the adventurers of every age.
The seventeenth century rivals the fourteenth in the richness and variety of its mystical life. Two main currents are to be detected in it: dividing between them the two main aspects of man’s communion with the Absolute. One, symbolic, constructive, activistic, bound up with the ideas of regeneration, and often using the language of the alchemists sets out from the Teutonic genius of Boehme. It achieves its successes outside the Catholic Church, and chiefly in Germany and England, where by 1650 his works were widely known. In its decadent forms it runs to the occult: to alchemy, Rosicrucianism, apocalyptic prophecy, and other aberrations of the spiritual sense. The other current arises within the Catholic Church, and in close touch with the great tradition of Christian mysticism. It achieves fullest expansion in France, and tends to emphasize the personal and intimate side of contemplation: encouraging passive receptivity and producing in its exaggerated forms the aberrations of the Quietists.
In the seventeenth century England was peculiarly rich, if not in great mystics, at any rate in mystically minded men, seekers after Reality. Mysticism, it seems, was in the air; broke out under many disguises and affected many forms of life. It produced in George Fox (1624-1690), the founder of the Quakers, a “great active” of the first rank, entirely unaffected by tradition, and in the Quaker movement itself an outbreak of genuine mysticism which is only comparable to the fourteenth-century movement of the Friends of God.
We meet in Fox that overwhelming sense of direct relationship with God, that consciousness of the transcendent characteristic of the mystic; and Quaker spirituality, in spite of its marked aversion to institutional religion, has much in common not only with those Continental Quietists who are its most obvious spiritual affinities, but also with the doctrine of the Catholic contemplatives. Mysticism crops up frequently in the writings of the school; and finds expression in the first generation in the works of Isaac Penington (1616-1679) and in the second in the Journal of the heroic American Friend John Woolman (1720-1772).
At the opposite end of the theological scale, the seventeenth century gives us a group of English mystics of the Catholic type, closely related to the contemporary French school. Of these, one of the most individual is the young Benedictine nun Gertrude More (1606-1633), who carries on that tradition of the communion of love which flows from St. Augustine through St. Bernard and Thomas à Kempis, and is the very heart of Catholic mysticism. In the writings of her director, and the preserver of her works, the Venerable Augustine Baker (1575-1641) — one of the most lucid and orderly of guides to the contemplative life — we see what were still the formative influences in the environment where her mystical powers were trained. Richard of St. Victor, Hilton, and “The Cloud of Unknowing”; Angela of Foligno; Tauler, Suso, Ruysbroeck; St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross; these are the authorities to whom Augustine Baker most constantly appeals, and through these, as we know, the family tree of the mystics goes back to the Neoplatonists and the first founders of the Church.
Outside that Church, the twins Thomas Vaughan the spiritual alchemist and Henry Vaughan, Silurist, the mystical poet (1622-1695) show the reaction of two very different temperaments upon the transcendental life. Again, the group of “Cambridge Platonists,” Henry More (1614-1687), John Smith (1618-1652), Benjamin Whichcote (1609-1683), Peter Sterry (c. 1614-1672), and John Norris (1657-1711) developed and preached a philosophy deeply tinged with mysticism; and Thomas Traherne (c. 1637-1674) gave poetic expression to the Platonic vision of life. In Bishop Hall (1574-1656) the same spirit takes a devotional form. Finally, the Rosicrucians, symbolists, and other spiritually minded occultists—above all the extraordinary sect of Philadelphians, ruled by Dr. Pordage (1608-1698) and the prophetess Jane Lead (1623-1704)—exhibit mysticism in its least balanced aspect mingled with mediumistic phenomena, wild symbolic visions, and apocalyptic prophecies. The influence of these Philadelphians, who were themselves strongly affected by Boehme’s works, lingered for a century, appearing again in Saint-Martin the “Unknown Philosopher.”
The Catholic mysticism of this period is best seen in France, where the intellectual and social expansion of the Grande Siècle had also its spiritual side. Over against the brilliant worldly life of seventeenth-century Paris and the slackness and even corruption of much organized religion there sprang up something like a cult of the inner life. This mystical renaissance seems to have originated in the work of an English Capuchin friar, William Fitch, in religion Benedict Canfield (1520-1611), who settled in Paris in old age and there became a centre of spiritual influence. Among his pupils were Madame Acarie (1566-1618) and Pierre de Bérulle (1575-1629), and through them his teaching on contemplation affected all the great religious personalities of the period. The house of Madame Acarie — a woman equally remarkable for spiritual genius and practical ability — became the gathering-point of a growing mystical enthusiasm, which also expressed itself in a vigorous movement of reform within the Church. Bérulle was one of the founders of the Oratory. Madame Acarie, known as the “conscience of Paris,” visited the relaxed convents and persuaded them to a more strict and holy life. Largely by her instrumentality, the first houses of reformed Carmelites were established in France in 1604, nuns being brought to direct them from St. Teresa’s Spanish convents, and French mysticism owes much to this direct contact with the Teresian school. Madame Acarie and her three daughters all became Carmelite nuns; and it was from the Dijon Carmelites that St. Jeanne Françoise de Chantal (1572-1641) received her training in contemplation. Her spiritual father, and co-founder of the Order of the Visitation, St. François de Sales (1567-1622), had also been in youth a member of Madame Acarie’s circle. He shows at its best the peculiar talent of the French school for the detailed and individual direction of souls. Outside this cultured and aristocratic group two great and pure mystics arise from humbler social levels. First the intrepid Ursuline nun Marie de l’Incarnation (1599-1672), the pioneer of education in the New World, in whom we find again St. Teresa’s twin gifts for high contemplation and practical initiative. Secondly the Carmelite friar Brother Lawrence (1611-1691), who shows the passive tendency of French mysticism in its most sane, well-balanced form. He was a humble empiricist, laying claim to no special gifts: a striking contrast to his contemporary, the brilliant and unhappy genius Pascal (1623-1662), who fought his way through many psychic storms to the vision of the Absolute.
The genuine French and Flemish mysticism of this period, greatly preoccupied with the doctrines of self-naughting and passivity, constantly approached the frontiers of Quietism. The three great Capuchin teachers of contemplation, the Flemings Constantine Barbançon (1581-1632) and John Evangelist of Barluke (1588-1635), and the English Benedict Canfield, were not entirely beyond suspicion in this regard; as their careful language, and the scrutiny to which they were subjected by contemporary authority, clearly shows. The line between the true and false doctrine was a fine one, as we see in the historic controversy between Bossuet and Fenelon; and the perilous absurdities of the Quietist writers often tempted the orthodox to draw it in the wrong place.
The earliest in date and most exaggerated in type of these true Quietists is the Franco-Flemish Antoinette Bourignan (1616-1680): a strong-willed and wrong-headed woman who, having renounced the world with Franciscan thoroughness, founded a sect, endured considerable persecutions, and made a great stir in the religious life of her time. An even greater uproar resulted from the doctrinal excesses of the devout Spanish priest Miguel de Molinos (1640-1697); whose extreme teachings were condemned by the Church, and for a time brought the whole principle of passive contemplation into disrepute. Quietism, at bottom, was the unbalanced expression of that need which produced the contemporary Quaker movement in England: a need for personal contact with spiritual realities, evoked by the formal and unsatisfying quality of the official religion of the time. Unfortunately the great Quietists were not great mystics. Hence their propaganda, in which the principle of passivity — divorced from, and opposed to, all spiritual action — was pressed to its logical conclusion, resulted in a doctrine fatal not only to all organized religion but to the healthy development of the inner life.
Madame Guyon (1648-1717), the contemporary of Molinos, is usually quoted as a typical Quietist. She is an example of the unfortunate results of an alliance of mystical tendencies with a feeble surface intelligence. Had she possessed the robust common sense so often found in the great contemplatives, her temperamental inclination to passivity would have been checked, and she would hardly have made use of the exaggerated expressions which brought about the official condemnation of her works. In spite of the brilliant championship of Fenelon, and the fact that much of her writing merely reproduces orthodox teaching on contemplative prayer in an inferior form, she was involved in the general condemnation of “passive orison” which the aberrations of the extreme Quietists had called forth.
The end of the seventeenth century saw a great outburst of popular Quietism, some within and some without the official Church. Well within the frontiers of orthodoxy, and exhibiting the doctrine of passivity in its noblest form, was the Jesuit J. P. de Caussade (still living 1739). Among those who over-stepped the boundary — though all the Quietists appealed to the general tradition of mysticism in support of their one-sided doctrine — were Malaval , whose “Théologie Mystique” contains some beautiful French translations from St. Teresa, and Peter Poiret (1646-1719), once a Protestant pastor, then the devoted disciple of Antoinette Bourignan. Later generations owe much to the enthusiasm and industry of Poiret, whose belief in spiritual quiescence was combined with great literary activity. He rescued and edited all Madame Guyon’s writings; and has left us, in his “Bibliotheca Mysticorum,” the memorial of many lost works on mysticism. From this unique bibliography we can see how “orthodox” was the food which nourished even the most extreme of the Quietists: how thoroughly they believed themselves to represent not a new doctrine, but the true tradition of Christian mysticism.
With the close of the seventeenth century, the Quietist movement faded away. The beginning of the eighteenth sees the triumph of that other stream of spiritual vitality which arose outside the Catholic Church and flowed from the great personality of Jacob Boehme. If the idea of surrender be the mainspring of Quietism, the complementary idea of rebirth is the mainspring of this school. In Germany, Boehme’s works had been collected and published by an obscure mystic, John Gichtel (1638-1710); whose life and letters constantly betray his influence. In England, where that influence had been a living force from the middle of the seventeenth century, when Boehme’s writings first became known, the Anglo-German Dionysius Andreas Freher was writing between 1699 and 1720. In the early years of the eighteenth century, Freher was followed by William Law (1686-1761), the Nonjuror: a brilliant stylist, and one of the most profound of English religious writers. Law, who was converted by the reading of Boehme’s works from the narrow Christianity to which he gave classic expression in the “Serious Call” to a wide and philosophic mysticism, gave, in a series of writings which burn with mystic passion, a new interpretation and an abiding place in English literature to the “inspired shoemaker’s” mighty vision of Man and the Universe.
The latter part of a century which clearly represents the steep downward trend of the mystic curve gives us three strange personalities; all of whom have passed through Boehme’s school, and have placed themselves in opposition to the ecclesiasticism of their day. In Germany, Eckartshausen (1752-1803), in “The Cloud upon the Sanctuary” and other works, continued upon individual lines that tradition of esoteric and mystical Christianity, and of rebirth as the price of man’s entrance into Reality, which found its best and sanest interpreter in William Law. In France the troubled spirit of the transcendentalist Saint-Martin (1743-1803), the “Unknown Philosopher,” was deeply affected in his passage from a merely occult to a mystical philosophy by the reading of Boehme and Eckartshausen, and also by the works of the English “Philadelphians,” Dr. Pordage and Jane Lead, who had long sunk to oblivion in their native land. In England, William Blake , poet, painter, visionary, and prophet (1757-1827), shines like a solitary star in the uncongenial atmosphere of the Georgian age.
The career of Blake provides us with a rare instance of mystical genius, forcing not only rhythm and words, but also colour and form to express its vision of truth. So individual in his case was this vision, so strange the elements from which his symbolic reconstructions were built up, that he failed in the attempt to convey it to other men. Neither in his prophetic books nor in his beautiful mystical paintings does he contrive to transmit more than great and stimulating suggestions of “things seen” in some higher and more valid state of consciousness. Whilst his visionary symbolism derives to a large extent from Swedenborg, whose works were the great influence of his youth, Blake has learned much from Boehme, and probably from his English interpreters. Almost alone amongst English Protestant mystics, he has also received and assimilated the Catholic tradition of the personal and inward communion of love. In his great vision of “Jerusalem,” St. Teresa and Madame Guyon are amongst the “gentle souls” whom he sees guarding that Four-fold Gate which opens towards Beulah — the gate of the contemplative life — and guiding the great “Wine-press of Love” whence mankind, at the hands of its mystics, has received, in every age, the Wine of Life.

Eveleyn Underhill: Mysticism 1911
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THE SIX ENNEADS of Plotinus – First Tractate

THE SIX ENNEADS

by Plotinus

FIRST TRACTATE.

THE ANIMATE AND THE MAN.

1. Pleasure and distress, fear and courage, desire and aversion, where have these affections and experiences their seat?
Clearly, either in the Soul alone, or in the Soul as employing the body, or in some third entity deriving from both. And for this third entity, again, there are two possible modes: it might be either a blend or a distinct form due to the blending.
And what applies to the affections applies also to whatsoever acts, physical or mental, spring from them.
We have, therefore, to examine discursive-reason and the ordinary mental action upon objects of sense, and enquire whether these have the one seat with the affections and exper-iences, or perhaps sometimes the one seat, sometimes another.
And we must consider also our acts of Intellection, their mode and their seat.
And this very examining principle, which investigates and decides in these matters, must be brought to light.
Firstly, what is the seat of Sense-Perception? This is the obvious beginning since the affections and experiences either are sensations of some kind or at least never occur apart from sensation.

2. This first enquiry obliges us to consider at the outset the nature of the Soul — that is whether a distinction is to be made between Soul and Essential Soul [between an individual Soul and the Soul-Kind in itself.
If such a distinction holds, then the Soul [in man] is some sort of a composite and at once we may agree that it is a recipient and — if only reason allows — that all the affections and experiences really have their seat in the Soul, and with the affections every state and mood, good and bad alike.
But if Soul [in man] and Essential Soul are one and the same, then the Soul will be an Ideal-Form unreceptive of all those activities which it imparts to another Kind but possessing within itself that native Act of its own which Reason manifests.
If this be so, then, indeed, we may think of the Soul as an immortal — if the immortal, the imperishable, must be impassive, giving out something of itself but itself taking nothing from without except for what it receives from the Existents prior to itself from which Exist-ents, in that they are the nobler, it cannot be sundered.
Now what could bring fear to a nature thus unreceptive of all the outer? Fear demands feeling. Nor is there place for courage: courage implies the presence of danger. And suchdesires as are satisfied by the filling or voiding of the body, must be proper to something very different from the Soul, to that only which admits of replenishment and voidance.
And how could the Soul lend itself to any admixture? An essential is not mixed. Or of the intrusion of anything alien? If it did, it would be seeking the destruction of its own nature. Pain must be equally far from it. And Grief — how or for what could it grieve? Whatever possesses Existence is supremely free, dwelling, unchangeable, within its own peculiar nature. And can any increase bring joy, where nothing, not even anything good, can accrue? What such an Existent is, it is unchangeably.
Thus assuredly Sense-Perception, Discursive-Reasoning; and all our ordinary mentation are foreign to the Soul: for sensation is a receiving — whether of an Ideal-Form or of an impassive body — and reasoning and all ordinary mental action deal with sensation.
The question still remains to be examined in the matter of the intellections — whether these are to be assigned to the Soul — and as to Pure-Pleasure, whether this belongs to the Soul in its solitary state.

3. We may treat of the Soul as in the body — whether it be set above it or actually within it — since the association of the two constitutes the one thing called the living organ-ism, the Animate.
Now from this relation, from the Soul using the body as an instrument, it does not follow that the Soul must share the body’s experiences: a man does not himself feel all the experiences of the tools with which he is working.
It may be objected that the Soul must however, have Sense-Perception since its use of its instrument must acquaint it with the external conditions, and such knowledge comes by way of sense. Thus, it will be argued, the eyes are the instrument of seeing, and seeing may bring distress to the soul: hence the Soul may feel sorrow and pain and every other affection that belongs to the body; and from this again will spring desire, the Soul seeking the mending of its instrument.
But, we ask, how, possibly, can these affections pass from body to Soul? Body may communicate qualities or conditions to another body: but — body to Soul? Something happens to A; does that make it happen to B? As long as we have agent and instrument, there are two distinct entities; if the Soul uses the body it is separate from it.
But apart from the philosophical separation how does Soul stand to body?
Clearly there is a combination. And for this several modes are possible. There might be a complete coalescence: Soul might be interwoven through the body: or it might be an Ideal-Form detached or an Ideal-Form in governing contact like a pilot: or there might be part of the Soul detached and another part in contact, the disjoined part being the agent or user, the conjoined part ranking with the instrument or thing used.
In this last case it will be the double task of philosophy to direct this lower Soul towards the higher, the agent, and except in so far as the conjunction is absolutely necessary, to severthe agent from the instrument, the body, so that it need not forever have its Act upon or through this inferior.

4. Let us consider, then, the hypothesis of a coalescence.
Now if there is a coalescence, the lower is ennobled, the nobler degraded; the body is raised in the scale of being as made participant in life; the Soul, as associated with death and unreason, is brought lower. How can a lessening of the life-quality produce an increase such as Sense-Perception?
No: the body has acquired life, it is the body that will acquire, with life, sensation and the affections coming by sensation. Desire, then, will belong to the body, as the objects of desire are to be enjoyed by the body. And fear, too, will belong to the body alone; for it is the body’s doom to fail of its joys and to perish.
Then again we should have to examine how such a coalescence could be conceived: we might find it impossible: perhaps all this is like announcing the coalescence of things utterly incongruous in kind, let us say of a line and whiteness.
Next for the suggestion that the Soul is interwoven through the body: such a relation would not give woof and warp community of sensation: the interwoven element might very well suffer no change: the permeating soul might remain entirely untouched by what affects the body — as light goes always free of all it floods — and all the more so, since, precisely, we are asked to consider it as diffused throughout the entire frame.
Under such an interweaving, then, the Soul would not be subjected to the body’s affec-tions and experiences: it would be present rather as Ideal-Form in Matter. Let us then suppose Soul to be in body as Ideal-Form in Matter.
Now if — the first possibility — the Soul is an essence, a self-existent, it can be present only as separable form and will therefore all the more decidedly be the Using-Principle [and therefore unaffected].
Suppose, next, the Soul to be present like axe-form on iron: here, no doubt, the form is all important but it is still the axe, the complement of iron and form, that effects whatever is effected by the iron thus modified: on this analogy, therefore, we are even more strictly compelled to assign all the experiences of the combination to the body: their natural seat is the material member, the instrument, the potential recipient of life.
Compare the passage where we read2 that “it is absurd to suppose that the Soul weaves”; equally absurd to think of it as desiring, grieving. All this is rather in the province of some-thing which we may call the Animate.

5. Now this Animate might be merely the body as having life: it might be the Couplement of Soul and body: it might be a third and different entity formed from both.
The Soul in turn — apart from the nature of the Animate — must be either impassive, merely causing Sense-Perception in its yoke-fellow, or sympathetic; and, if sympathetic, it may have identical experiences with its fellow or merely correspondent experiences: desire for example in the Animate may be something quite distinct from the accompanying movement or state in the desiring faculty.
The body, the live-body as we know it, we will consider later.
Let us take first the Couplement of body and Soul. How could suffering, for example, be seated in this Couplement?
It may be suggested that some unwelcome state of the body produces a distress which reaches to a Sensitive-Faculty which in turn merges into Soul. But this account still leaves the origin of the sensation unexplained.
Another suggestion might be that all is due to an opinion or judgement: some evil seems to have befallen the man or his belongings and this conviction sets up a state of trouble in the body and in the entire Animate. But this account leaves still a question as to the source and seat of the judgement: does it belong to the Soul or to the Couplement? Besides, the judgement that evil is present does not involve the feeling of grief: the judgement might very well arise and the grief by no means follow: one may think oneself slighted and yet not be angry; and the appetite is not necessarily excited by the thought of a pleasure. We are, thus, no nearer than before to any warrant for assigning these affections to the Couplement.
Is it any explanation to say that desire is vested in a Faculty-of-desire and anger in the Irascible-Faculty and, collectively, that all tendency is seated in the Appetitive-Faculty? Such a statement of the facts does not help towards making the affections common to the Couplement; they might still be seated either in the Soul alone or in the body alone. On the one hand if the appetite is to be stirred, as in the carnal passion, there must be a heating of the blood and the bile, a well-defined state of the body; on the other hand, the impulse to-wards The Good cannot be a joint affection, but, like certain others too, it would belong necessarily to the Soul alone.
Reason, then, does not permit us to assign all the affections to the Couplement.
In the case of carnal desire, it will certainly be the Man that desires, and yet, on the other hand, there must be desire in the Desiring-Faculty as well. How can this be? Are we to suppose that, when the man originates the desire, the Desiring-Faculty moves to the order? How could the Man have come to desire at all unless through a prior activity in the Desiring-Faculty? Then it is the Desiring-Faculty that takes the lead? Yet how, unless the body be first in the appropriate condition?

6. It may seem reasonable to lay down as a law that when any powers are contained by a recipient, every action or state expressive of them must be the action or state of that recip-ient, they themselves remaining unaffected as merely furnishing efficiency.
But if this were so, then, since the Animate is the recipient of the Causing-Principle [i.e., the Soul] which brings life to the Couplement, this Cause must itself remain unaffected, all the experiences and expressive activities of the life being vested in the recipient, the Animate.
But this would mean that life itself belongs not to the Soul but to the Couplement; or at least the life of the Couplement would not be the life of the Soul; Sense-Perception would belong not to the Sensitive-Faculty but to the container of the faculty.
But if sensation is a movement traversing the body and culminating in Soul, how the soul lack sensation? The very presence of the Sensitive-Faculty must assure sensation to the Soul.
Once again, where is Sense-Perception seated?
In the Couplement. Yet how can the Couplement have sensation independently of action in the Sensitive-Faculty, the Soul left out of count and the Soul-Faculty?

7. The truth lies in the Consideration that the Couplement subsists by virtue of the Soul’s presence.
This, however, is not to say that the Soul gives itself as it is in itself to form either the Couplement or the body.
No; from the organized body and something else, let us say a light, which the Soul gives forth from itself, it forms a distinct Principle, the Animate; and in this Principle are vested Sense-Perception and all the other experiences found to belong to the Animate.
But the “We”? How have We Sense-Perception?
By the fact that We are not separate from the Animate so constituted, even though certainly other and nobler elements go to make up the entire many-sided nature of Man.
The faculty of perception in the Soul cannot act by the immediate grasping of sensible objects, but only by the discerning of impressions printed upon the Animate by sensation: these impressions are already Intelligibles while the outer sensation is a mere phantom of the other [of that in the Soul] which is nearer to Authentic-Existence as being an impassive reading of Ideal-Forms.
And by means of these Ideal-Forms, by which the Soul wields single lordship over the Animate, we have Discursive-Reasoning, Sense-Knowledge and Intellection. From this moment we have peculiarly the We: before this there was only the “Ours”; but at this stage stands the WE [the authentic Human-Principle] loftily presiding over the Animate.
There is no reason why the entire compound entity should not be described as the Animate or Living-Being — mingled in a lower phase, but above that point the beginning of the veritable man, distinct from all that is kin to the lion, all that is of the order of the multiple brute. And since The Man, so understood, is essentially the associate of the reasoning Soul,in our reasoning it is this “We” that reasons, in that the use and act of reason is a characteristic Act of the Soul.

8. And towards the Intellectual-Principle what is our relation? By this I mean, not that faculty in the soul which is one of the emanations from the Intellectual-Principle, but The Intellectual-Principle itself [Divine-Mind].
This also we possess as the summit of our being. And we have It either as common to all or as our own immediate possession: or again we may possess It in both degrees, that is in common, since It is indivisible — one, everywhere and always Its entire self — and severally in that each personality possesses It entire in the First-Soul [i.e. in the Intellectual as distin-guished from the lower phase of the Soul].
Hence we possess the Ideal-Forms also after two modes: in the Soul, as it were unrolled and separate; in the Intellectual-Principle, concentrated, one.
And how do we possess the Divinity?
In that the Divinity is contained in the Intellectual-Principle and Authentic-Existence; and We come third in order after these two, for the We is constituted by a union of the su-preme, the undivided Soul — we read — and that Soul which is divided among [living] bodies. For, note, we inevitably think of the Soul, though one undivided in the All, as being present to bodies in division: in so far as any bodies are Animates, the Soul has given itself to each of the separate material masses; or rather it appears to be present in the bodies by the fact that it shines into them: it makes them living beings not by merging into body but by giving forth, without any change in itself, images or likenesses of itself like one face caught by many mirrors.
The first of these images is Sense-Perception seated in the Couplement; and from this downwards all the successive images are to be recognized as phases of the Soul in lessening succession from one another, until the series ends in the faculties of generation and growth and of all production of offspring — offspring efficient in its turn, in contradistinction to the engendering Soul which [has no direct action within matter but] produces by mere in-clination towards what it fashions.

9. That Soul, then, in us, will in its nature stand apart from all that can cause any of the evils which man does or suffers; for all such evil, as we have seen, belongs only to the Animate, the Couplement. But there is a difficulty in understanding how the Soul can go guiltless if our mentation and reasoning are vested in it: for all this lower kind of knowledge is delusion and is the cause of much of what is evil.
When we have done evil it is because we have been worsted by our baser side — for a man is many — by desire or rage or some evil image: the misnamed reasoning that takes up with the false, in reality fancy, has not stayed for the judgement of the Reasoning-Principle: we have acted at the call of the less worthy, just as in matters of the sense-sphere we some-times see falsely because we credit only the lower perception, that of the Couplement, without applying the tests of the Reasoning-Faculty.
The Intellectual-Principle has held aloof from the act and so is guiltless; or, as we may state it, all depends on whether we ourselves have or have not put ourselves in touch with the Intellectual-Realm either in the Intellectual-Principle or within ourselves; for it is possible at once to possess and not to use.
Thus we have marked off what belongs to the Couplement from what stands by itself: the one group has the character of body and never exists apart from body, while all that has no need of body for its manifestation belongs peculiarly to Soul: and the Understanding, as passing judgement upon Sense-Impressions, is at the point of the vision of Ideal-Forms, seeing them as it were with an answering sensation (i.e., with consciousness) this last is at any rate true of the Understanding in the Veritable Soul. For Understanding, the true, is the Act of the Intellections: in many of its manifestations it is the assimilation and reconcili-ation of the outer to the inner.
Thus in spite of all, the Soul is at peace as to itself and within itself: all the changes and all the turmoil we experience are the issue of what is subjoined to the Soul, and are, as have said, the states and experiences of this elusive “Couplement.”

10. It will be objected, that if the Soul constitutes the We [the personality] and We are subject to these states then the Soul must be subject to them, and similarly that what We do must be done by the Soul.
But it has been observed that the Couplement, too — especially before our emancipation — is a member of this total We, and in fact what the body experiences we say We experience. This then covers two distinct notions; sometimes it includes the brute-part, sometimes it transcends the brute. The body is brute touched to life; the true man is the other, going pure of the body, natively endowed with the virtues which belong to the Intellectual-Activity, virtues whose seat is the Separate Soul, the Soul which even in its dwelling here may be kept apart. [This Soul constitutes the human being] for when it has wholly withdrawn, that other Soul which is a radiation [or emanation] from it withdraws also, drawn after it.
Those virtues, on the other hand, which spring not from contemplative wisdom but from custom or practical discipline belong to the Couplement: to the Couplement, too, belong the vices; they are its repugnances, desires, sympathies.
And Friendship?
This emotion belongs sometimes to the lower part, sometimes to the interior man.

11. In childhood the main activity is in the Couplement and there is but little irradiation from the higher principles of our being: but when these higher principles act but feebly or rarely upon us their action is directed towards the Supreme; they work upon us only when they stand at the mid-point.
But does not the include that phase of our being which stands above the mid-point?
It does, but on condition that we lay hold of it: our entire nature is not ours at all times but only as we direct the mid-point upwards or downwards, or lead some particular phase of our nature from potentiality or native character into act.
And the animals, in what way or degree do they possess the Animate?
If there be in them, as the opinion goes, human Souls that have sinned, then the Anim-ating-Principle in its separable phase does not enter directly into the brute; it is there but not there to them; they are aware only of the image of the Soul [only of the lower Soul] and of that only by being aware of the body organised and determined by that image.
If there be no human Soul in them, the Animate is constituted for them by a radiation from the All-Soul.

12. But if Soul is sinless, how come the expiations? Here surely is a contradiction; on the one side the Soul is above all guilt; on the other, we hear of its sin, its purification, its expiation; it is doomed to the lower world, it passes from body to body.
We may take either view at will: they are easily reconciled.
When we tell of the sinless Soul, we make Soul and Essential-Soul one and the same: it is the simple unbroken Unity.
By the Soul subject to sin we indicate a groupment, we include that other, that phase of the Soul which knows all the states and passions: the Soul in this sense is compound, all-inclusive: it falls under the conditions of the entire living experience: this compound it is that sins; it is this, and not the other, that pays penalty.
It is in this sense that we read of the Soul: “We saw it as those others saw the sea-god Glaukos.” “And,” reading on, “if we mean to discern the nature of the Soul we must strip it free of all that has gathered about it, must see into the philosophy of it, examine with what Existences it has touch and by kinship to what Existences it is what it is.”
Thus the Life is one thing, the Act is another and the Expiator yet another. The retreat and sundering, then, must be not from this body only, but from every alien accruement. Such accruement takes place at birth; or rather birth is the coming-into-being of that other [lower] phase of the Soul. For the meaning of birth has been indicated elsewhere; it is brought about by a descent of the Soul, something being given off by the Soul other than that actually coming down in the declension.
Then the Soul has let this image fall? And this declension is it not certainly sin?
If the declension is no more than the illuminating of an object beneath, it constitutes no sin: the shadow is to be attributed not to the luminary but to the object illuminated; if the object were not there, the light could cause no shadow.
And the Soul is said to go down, to decline, only in that the object it illuminates lives by its life. And it lets the image fall only if there be nothing near to take it up; and it lets it fall, not as a thing cut off, but as a thing that ceases to be: the image has no further being when the whole Soul is looking toward the Supreme.
The poet, too, in the story of Hercules, seems to give this image separate existence; he puts the shade of Hercules in the lower world and Hercules himself among the gods: treating the hero as existing in the two realms at once, he gives us a twofold Hercules.
It is not difficult to explain this distinction. Hercules was a hero of practical virtue. By his noble serviceableness he was worthy to be a God. On the other hand, his merit was action and not the Contemplation which would place him unreservedly in the higher realm. Therefore while he has place above, something of him remains below.

13. And the principle that reasons out these matters? Is it We or the Soul?
We, but by the Soul.
But how “by the Soul”? Does this mean that the Soul reasons by possession [by contact with the matters of enquiry]?
No; by the fact of being Soul. Its Act subsists without movement; or any movement that can be ascribed to it must be utterly distinct from all corporal movement and be simply the Soul’s own life.
And Intellection in us is twofold: since the Soul is intellective, and Intellection is the highest phase of life, we have Intellection both by the characteristic Act of our Soul and by the Act of the Intellectual-Principle upon us — for this Intellectual-Principle is part of us no less than the Soul, and towards it we are ever rising.

(Plotinus (/plɒˈtaɪnəs/; Greek: Πλωτῖνος; c. 204/5 – 270) was a major philosopher of the ancient world. In his philosophy there are three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas and he is of the Platonic tradition. Historians of the 19th century invented the term Neoplatonism and applied it to him and his philosophy which was influential in Late Antiquity. Much of the biographical information about Plotinus comes from Porphyry’s preface to his edition of Plotinus’ Enneads. His metaphysical writings have inspired centuries of Pagan, Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Gnostic metaphysicians and mystics.)
plotinus

Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness (ESSENTIAL READING!)

Part 1: The Mystic Fact
Chapter 1: The Point of Departure

The most highly developed branches of the human family have in common one peculiar characteristic. They tend to produce — sporadically it is true, and often in the teeth of adverse external circumstances — a curious and definite type of personality; a type which refuses to be satisfied with that which other men call experience, and is inclined, in the words of its enemies, to “deny the world in order that it may find reality.” We meet these persons in the east and the west; in the ancient, mediaeval, and modern worlds. Their one passion appears to be the prosecution of a certain spiritual and intangible quest: the finding of a “way out” or a “way back” to some desirable state in which alone they can satisfy their craving for absolute truth. This quest, for them, has constituted the whole meaning of life. They have made for it without effort sacrifices which have appeared enormous to other men: and it is an indirect testimony to its objective actuality, that whatever the place or period in which they have arisen, their aims, doctrines and methods have been substantially the same. Their experience, therefore, forms a body of evidence, curiously self-consistent and often mutually explanatory, which must be taken into account before we can add up the sum of the energies and potentialities of the human spirit, or reasonably speculate on its relations to the unknown world which lies outside the boundaries of sense.
All men, at one time or another, have fallen in love with the veiled Isis whom they call Truth. With most, this has been a passing passion: they have early seen its hopelessness and turned to more practical things. But others remain all their lives the devout lovers of reality: though the manner of their love, the vision which they make to themselves of the beloved object varies enormously. Some see Truth as Dante saw Beatrice: an adorable yet intangible figure, found in this world yet revealing the next. To others she seems rather an evil but an irresistible enchantress: enticing, demanding payment and betraying her lover at the last. Some have seen her in a test tube, and some in a poet’s dream: some before the altar, others in the slime. The extreme pragmatists have even sought her in the kitchen; declaring that she may best be recognized by her utility. Last stage of all, the philosophic sceptic has comforted an unsuccessful courtship by assuring himself that his mistress is not really there.
Under whatsoever symbols they have objectified their quest, none of these seekers have ever been able to assure the world that they have found, seen face to face, the Reality behind the veil. But if we may trust the reports of the mystics — and they are reports given with a strange accent of certainty and good faith — they have succeeded where all these others have failed, in establishing immediate communication between the spirit of man, entangled as they declare amongst material things, and that “only Reality,” that immaterial and final Being, which some philosophers call the Absolute, and most theologians call God. This, they say — and here many who are not mystics agree with them — is the hidden Truth which is the object of man’s craving; the only satisfying goal of his quest. Hence, they should claim from us the same attention that we give to other explorers of countries in which we are not competent to adventure ourselves; for the mystics are the pioneers of the spiritual world, and we have no right to deny validity to their discoveries, merely because we lack the opportunity or the courage necessary to those who would prosecute such explorations for themselves.
It is the object of this book to attempt a description, and also — though this is needless for those who read that description in good faith — a justification of these experiences and the conclusions which have been drawn from them. So remote, however, are these matters from our ordinary habits of thought, that their investigation entails, in those who would attempt to understand them, a definite preparation: a purging of the intellect. As with those who came of old to the Mysteries, purification is here the gate of knowledge. We must come to this encounter with minds cleared of prejudice and convention, must deliberately break with our inveterate habit of taking the “visible world” for granted; our lazy assumption that somehow science is “real” and metaphysics is not. We must pull down our own card houses — descend, as the mystics say, “into our nothingness” — and examine for ourselves the foundations of all possible human experience, before we are in a position to criticize the buildings of the visionaries, the poets, and the saints. We must not begin to talk of the unreal world of these dreamers until we have discovered — if we can — a real world with which it may be compared.
Such a criticism of reality is of course the business of philosophy. I need hardly say that this book is not written by a philosopher, nor is it addressed to students of that imperial science. Nevertheless, amateurs though we be, we cannot reach our starting-point without trespassing to some extent on philosophic ground. That ground covers the whole area of first principles: and it is to first principles that we must go, if we would understand the true significance of the mystic type.
Let us then begin at the beginning: and remind ourselves of a few of the trite and primary facts which all practical persons agree to ignore. That beginning, for human thought, is of course the I, the Ego, the self-conscious subject which is writing this book, or the other self-conscious subject which is reading it; and which declares, in the teeth of all arguments, I AM. Here is a point as to which we all feel quite sure. No metaphysician has yet shaken the ordinary individual’s belief in his own existence. The uncertainties only begin for most of us when we ask what else is.
To this I, this conscious self “imprisoned in the body like an oyster in his shell,” come, as we know, a constant stream of messages and experiences. Chief amongst these are the stimulation of the tactile nerves whose result we call touch, the vibrations taken up by the optic nerve which we call light, and those taken up by the ear and perceived as sound.
What do these experiences mean? The first answer of the unsophisticated Self is, that they indicate the nature of the external world: it is to the “evidence of her senses” that she turns, when she is asked what the world is like. From the messages received through those senses, which pour in on her whether she will or no, battering upon her gateways at every instant and from every side, she constructs that “sense-world” which is the “real and solid world” of normal men. As the impressions come in — or rather those interpretations of the original impressions which her nervous system supplies — she pounces on them, much as players in the spelling game pounce on the separate letters dealt out to them. She sorts, accepts, rejects, combines: and then triumphantly produces from them a “concept” which is, she says, the external world. With an enviable and amazing simplicity she attributes her own sensations to the unknown universe. The stars, she says, are bright; the grass is green. For her, as for the philosopher Hume, “reality consists in impressions and ideas.”
It is immediately apparent, however, that this sense-world, this seemingly real external universe — though it may be useful and valid in other respects — cannot be the external world, but only the Self’s projected picture of it. It is a work of art, not a scientific fact; and, whilst it may well possess the profound significance proper to great works of art, is dangerous if treated as a subject of analysis. Very slight investigation shows that it is a picture whose relation to reality is at best symbolic and approximate, and which would have no meaning for selves whose senses, or channels of communication, happened to be arranged upon a different plan. The evidence of the senses, then, cannot be accepted as evidence of the nature of ultimate reality: useful servants, they are dangerous guides. Nor can their testimony disconcert those seekers whose reports they appear to contradict.
The conscious self sits, so to speak, at the receiving end of a telegraph wire. On any other theory than that of mysticism, it is her one channel of communication with the hypothetical “external world.” The receiving instrument registers certain messages. She does not know, and — so long as she remains dependent on that instrument — never can know, the object, the reality at the other end of the wire, by which those messages are sent; neither can the messages truly disclose the nature of that object. But she is justified on the whole in accepting them as evidence that something exists beyond herself and her receiving instrument. It is obvious that the structural peculiarities of the telegraphic instrument will have exerted a modifying effect upon the message. That which is conveyed as dash and dot, colour and shape, may have been received in a very different form. Therefore this message, though it may in a partial sense be relevant to the supposed reality at the other end, can never be adequate to it. There will be fine vibrations which it fails to take up, others which it confuses together. Hence a portion of the message is always lost; or, in other language, there are aspects of the world which we can never know.
The sphere of our possible intellectual knowledge is thus strictly conditioned by the limits of our own personality. On this basis, not the ends of the earth, but the external termini of our own sensory nerves, are the termini of our explorations: and to “know oneself” is really to know one’s universe. We are locked up with our receiving instruments: we cannot get up and walk away in the hope of seeing whither the lines lead. Eckhart’s words are still final for us: “the soul can only approach created things by the voluntary reception of images.” Did some mischievous Demiurge choose to tickle our sensory apparatus in a new way, we should receive by this act a new universe.
William James once suggested as a useful exercise for young idealists, a consideration of the changes which would be worked in our ordinary world if the various branches of our receiving instruments exchanged duties; if, for instance, we heard all colours and saw all sounds. Such a remark throws a sudden light on the strange and apparently insane statement of the visionary Saint-Martin, “I heard flowers that sounded, and saw notes that shone”; and on the reports of other mystics concerning a rare moment of consciousness in which the senses are fused into a single and ineffable act of perception, and colour and sound are known as aspects of one thing.
Since music is but an interpretation of certain vibrations undertaken by the ear, and colour an interpretation of other vibrations performed by the eye, this is less mad than it sounds and may yet be brought within the radius of physical science. Did such an alteration of our senses take place the world would still send us the same messages — that strange unknown world from which, on this hypothesis, we are hermetically sealed — but we should interpret them differently. Beauty would still be ours, though speaking another tongue. The bird’s song would then strike our retina as a pageant of colour: we should see the magical tones of the wind, hear as a great fugue the repeated and harmonized greens of the forest, the cadences of stormy skies. Did we realize how slight an adjustment of our organs is needed to initiate us into such a world, we should perhaps be less contemptuous of those mystics who tell us that they apprehended the Absolute as “heavenly music” or “Uncreated Light”: less fanatical in our determination to make the solid “world of common sense” the only standard of reality. This “world of common sense” is a conceptual world. It may represent an external universe: it certainly does represent the activity of the human mind. Within that mind it is built up: and there most of us are content “at ease for aye to dwell,” like the soul in the Palace of Art.
A direct encounter with absolute truth, then, appears to be impossible for normal non-mystical consciousness. We cannot know the reality, or even prove the existence, of the simplest object: though this is a limitation which few people realize acutely and most would deny. But there persists in the race a type of personality which does realize this limitation: and cannot be content with the sham realities that furnish the universe of normal men. It is necessary, as it seems, to the comfort of persons of this type to form for themselves some image of the Something or Nothing which is at the end of their telegraph lines: some “conception of being,” some “theory of knowledge.” They are tormented by the Unknowable, ache for first principles, demand some background to the shadow show of things. In so far as man possesses this temperament, he hungers for reality, and must satisfy that hunger as best he can: staving off starvation, though he many not be filled.
It is doubtful whether any two selves have offered themselves exactly the same image of the truth outside their gates: for a living metaphysic, like a living religion, is at bottom a strictly personal affair — a matter, as William James reminded us, of vision rather than of argument. Nevertheless such a living metaphysic may — and if sound generally does — escape the stigma of subjectivism by outwardly attaching itself to a traditional School; as personal religion may and should outwardly attach itself to a traditional church. Let us then consider shortly the results arrived at by these traditional schools — the great classic theories concerning the nature of reality. In them we see crystallized the best that the human intellect, left to itself, has been able to achieve.
I. The most obvious and generally accepted explanation of the world is of course that of Naturalism, or naive Realism: the point of view of the plain man. Naturalism states simply that we see the real world, though we may not see it very well. What seems to normal healthy people to be there, is approximately there. It congratulates itself on resting in the concrete; it accepts material things as real. In other words, our corrected and correlated sense impressions, raised to their highest point of efficiency, form for it the only valid material of knowledge: knowledge itself being the classified results of exact observation.
Such an attitude as this may be a counsel of prudence, in view of our ignorance of all that lies beyond: but it can never satisfy our hunger for reality. It says in effect, “The room in which we find ourselves is fairly comfortable. Draw the curtains, for the night is dark: and let us devote ourselves to describing the furniture.” Unfortunately, however, even the furniture refuses to accommodate itself to the naturalistic view of things. Once we begin to examine it attentively, we find that it abounds in hints of wonder and mystery: declares aloud that even chairs and tables are not what they seem.
We have seen that the most elementary criticism, applied to any ordinary object of perception, tends to invalidate the simple and comfortable creed of “common sense”; that not merely faith but gross credulity, is needed by the mind which would accept the apparent as the real. I say, for instance, that I “see” a house. I can only mean by this that the part of my receiving instrument which undertakes the duty called vision is affected in a certain way, and arouses in my mind the idea “house.” The idea “house” is now treated by me as a real house, and my further observations will be an unfolding, enriching, and defining of this image. But what the external reality is which evoked the image that I call “house,” I do not know and never can know. It is as mysterious, as far beyond my apprehension, as the constitution of the angelic choirs. Consciousness shrinks in terror from contact with the mighty verb “to be.” I may of course call in one sense to “corroborate,” as we trustfully say, the evidence of the other; may approach the house, and touch it. Then the nerves of my hand will be affected by a sensation which I translate as hardness and solidity; the eye by a peculiar and wholly incomprehensible sensation called redness; and from these purely personal changes my mind constructs and externalizes an idea which it calls red bricks. Science herself, however, if she be asked to verify the reality of these perceptions, at once declares that though the material world be real, the ideas of solidity and colour are but hallucination. They belong to the human animal, not to the physical universe: pertain to accident not substance, as scholastic philosophy would say.
“The red brick,” says Science, “is a mere convention. In reality that bit, like all other bits of the universe, consists, so far as I know at present, of innumerable atoms whirling and dancing one about the other. It is no more solid than a snowstorm. Were you to eat of Alice-in-Wonderland’s mushroom and shrink to the dimensions of the infra-world, each atom with its electrons might seem to you a solar system and the red brick itself a universe. Moreover, these atoms themselves elude me as I try to grasp them. They are only manifestations of something else. Could I track matter to its lair, I might conceivably discover that it has no extension, and become an idealist in spite of myself. As for redness, as you call it, that is a question of the relation between your optic nerve and the light waves which it is unable to absorb. This evening, when the sun slopes, your brick will probably be purple, a very little deviation from normal vision on your part would make it green. Even the sense that the object of perception is outside yourself may be fancy; since you as easily attribute this external quality to images seen in dreams, and to waking hallucinations, as you do to those objects which, as you absurdly say, are ‘really there.’”
Further, there is no trustworthy standard by which we can separate the “real” from the “unreal” aspects of phenomena. Such standards as exist are conventional: and correspond to convenience, not to truth. It is no argument to say that most men see the world in much the same way, and that this “way” is the true standard of reality: though for practical purposes we have agreed that sanity consists in sharing the hallucinations of our neighbours. Those who are honest with themselves know that this “sharing” is at best incomplete. By the voluntary adoption of a new conception of the universe, the fitting of a new alphabet to the old Morse code — a proceeding which we call the acquirement of knowledge — we can and do change to a marked extent our way of seeing things: building up new worlds from old sense impressions, and transmuting objects more easily and thoroughly than any magician. “Eyes and ears,” said Heracleitus, “are bad witnesses to those who have barbarian souls”: and even those whose souls are civilized tend to see and hear all things through a temperament. In one and the same sky the poet may discover the habitation of angels, whilst the sailor sees only a promise of dirty weather ahead. Hence, artist and surgeon, Christian and rationalist, pessimist and optimist, do actually and truly live in different and mutually exclusive worlds, not only of thought but also of perception. Only the happy circumstance that our ordinary speech is conventional, not realistic, permits us to conceal from one another the unique and lonely world in which each lives. Now and then an artist is born, terribly articulate, foolishly truthful, who insists on “Speaking as he saw.” Then other men, lapped warmly in their artificial universe, agree that he is mad: or, at the very best, an “extraordinarily imaginative fellow.”
Moreover, even this unique world of the individual is not permanent. Each of us, as we grow and change, works incessantly and involuntarily at the re-making of our sensual universe. We behold at any specific moment not “that which is,” but “that which we are”, and personality undergoes many readjustments in the course of its passage from birth through maturity to death. The mind which seeks the Real, then, in this shifting and subjective “natural” world is of necessity thrown back on itself: on images and concepts which owe more to the “seer” than to the “seen.” But Reality must be real for all, once they have found it: must exist “in itself” upon a plane of being unconditioned by the perceiving mind. Only thus can it satisfy that mind’s most vital instinct, most sacred passion — its “instinct for the Absolute,” its passion for truth.
You are not asked, as a result of these antique and elementary propositions, to wipe clean the slate of normal human experience, and cast in your lot with intellectual nihilism. You are only asked to acknowledge that it is but a slate, and that the white scratches upon it which the ordinary man calls facts, and the Scientific Realist calls knowledge, are at best relative and conventionalized symbols of that aspect of the unknowable reality at which they hint. This being so, whilst we must all draw a picture of some kind on our slate and act in relation therewith, we cannot deny the validity — though we may deny the usefulness — of the pictures which others produce, however abnormal and impossible they may seem; since these are sketching an aspect of reality which has not come within our sensual field, and so does not and cannot form part of our world. Yet as the theologian claims that the doctrine of the Trinity veils and reveals not Three but One, so the varied aspects under which the universe appears to the perceiving consciousness hint at a final reality, or in Kantian language, a Transcendental Object, which shall be, not any one, yet all of its manifestations; transcending yet including the innumerable fragmentary worlds of individual conception. We begin, then, to ask what can be the nature of this One; and whence comes the persistent instinct which — receiving no encouragement from sense experience — apprehends and desires this unknown unity, this all-inclusive Absolute, as the only possible satisfaction of its thirst for truth.
2. The second great conception of Being — Idealism — has arrived by a process of elimination at a tentative answer to this question. It whisks us far from the material universe, with its interesting array of “things,” its machinery, its law, into the pure, if thin, air of a metaphysical world. Whilst the naturalist’s world is constructed from an observation of the evidence offered by the senses, the Idealist’s world is constructed from an observation of the processes of thought. There are but two things, he says in effect, about which we are sure: the existence of a thinking subject, a conscious Self, and of an object, an Idea, with which that subject deals. We know, that is to say, both Mind and Thought. What we call the universe is really a collection of such thoughts; and these, we agree, have been more or less distorted by the subject, the individual thinker, in the process of assimilation. Obviously, we do not think all that there is to be thought, conceive all that there is to be conceived; neither do we necessarily combine in right order and proportion those ideas which we are capable of grasping. Reality, says Objective Idealism, is the complete, undistorted Object, the big thought, of which we pick up these fragmentary hints: the world of phenomena which we treat as real being merely its shadow show or “manifestation in space and time.”
According to the form of Objective Idealism here chosen from amongst many as typical — for almost every Idealist has his own scheme of metaphysical salvation — we live in a universe which is, in popular language, the Idea, or Dream of its Creator. We, as Tweedledum explained to Alice in the most philosophic of all fairy tales, are “just part of the dream.” All life, all phenomena, are the endless modifications and expressions of the one transcendent Object, the mighty and dynamic Thought of one Absolute Thinker, in which we are bathed. This Object, or certain aspects of it — and the place of each individual consciousness within the Cosmic Thought, or, as we say, our position in life, largely determines which these aspects shall be — is interpreted by the senses and conceived by the mind, under limitations which we are accustomed to call matter, space and time. But we have no reason to suppose that matter, space, and time are necessarily parts of reality; of the ultimate Idea. Probability points rather to their being the pencil and paper with which we sketch it. As our vision, our idea of things, tends to approximate more and more to that of the Eternal Idea, so we get nearer and nearer to reality: for the idealist’s reality is simply the Idea, or Thought of God. This, he says, is the supreme unity at which all the illusory appearances that make up the widely differing worlds of “common sense,” of science, of metaphysics, and of art dimly hint. This is the sense in which it can truly be said that only the supernatural possesses reality; for that world of appearance which we call natural is certainly largely made up of preconception and illusion, of the hints offered by the eternal real world of Idea outside our gates, and the quaint concepts which we at our receiving instrument manufacture from them.
There is this to be said for the argument of Idealism: that in the last resort, the destinies of mankind are invariably guided, not by the concrete “facts” of the sense world, but by concepts which are acknowledged by every one to exist only on the mental plane. In the great moments of existence, when he rises to spiritual freedom, these are the things which every man feels to be real. It is by these and for these that he is found willing to live, work, suffer, and die. Love, patriotism, religion, altruism, fame, all belong to the transcendental world. Hence, they partake more of the nature of reality than any “fact” could do; and man, dimly recognizing this, has ever bowed to them as to immortal centres of energy. Religions as a rule are steeped in idealism: Christianity in particular is a trumpet call to an idealistic conception of life, Buddhism is little less. Over and over again, their Scriptures tell us that only materialists will be damned.
In Idealism we have perhaps the most sublime theory of Being which has ever been constructed by the human intellect: a theory so sublime, in fact, that it can hardly have been produced by the exercise of “pure reason” alone, but must be looked upon as a manifestation of that natural mysticism, that instinct for the Absolute, which is latent in man. But, when we ask the idealist how we are to attain communion with the reality which he describes to us as “certainly there,” his system suddenly breaks down; and discloses itself as a diagram of the heavens, not a ladder to the stars. This failure of Idealism to find in practice the reality of which it thinks so much is due, in the opinion of the mystics, to a cause which finds epigrammatic expression in the celebrated phrase by which St. Jerome marked the distinction between religion and philosophy. “Plato located the soul of man in the head; Christ located it in the heart.” That is to say, Idealism, though just in its premises, and often daring and honest in their application, is stultified by the exclusive intellectualism of its own methods: by its fatal trust in the squirrel-work of the industrious brain instead of the piercing vision of the desirous heart. It interests man, but does not involve him in its processes: does not catch him up to the new and more real life which it describes. Hence the thing that matters, the living thing, has somehow escaped it; and its observations bear the same relation to reality as the art of the anatomist does to the mystery of birth.
3. But there is yet another Theory of Being to be considered: that which may be loosely defined as Philosophic Scepticism. This is the attitude of those who refuse to accept either the realistic or the idealistic answer to the eternal question: and, confronted in their turn with the riddle of reality, reply that there is no riddle to solve. We of course assume for the ordinary purposes of life that for every sequence a: b: present in our consciousness there exists a mental or material A: B: in the external universe, and that the first is a strictly relevant, though probably wholly inadequate, expression of the second. The bundle of visual and auditory sensations, for instance, whose sum total I am accustomed to call Mrs. Smith, corresponds with something that exists in the actual as well as in my phenomenal world. Behind my Mrs. Smith, behind the very different Mrs. Smith which the X rays would exhibit, there is, contends the Objective Idealist, a transcendental, or in the Platonic sense an ideal Mrs. Smith, at whose qualities I cannot even guess; but whose existence is quite independent of my apprehension of it. But though we do and must act on this hypothesis, it remains only a hypothesis; and it is one which philosophic scepticism will not let pass.
The external world, say the sceptical schools, is — so far as I know it — a concept present in my mind. If my mind ceased to exist, so far as I know the concept which I call the world would cease to exist too. The one thing which for me indubitably is, the self’s experience, its whole consciousness. Outside this circle of consciousness I have no authority to indulge in guesses as to what may or may not Be. Hence, for me, the Absolute is a meaningless diagram, a superfluous complication of thought: since the mind, wholly cut off from contact with external reality, has no reason to suppose that such a reality exists except in its own ideas. Every effort made by philosophy to go forth in search of it is merely the metaphysical squirrel running round the conceptual cage. In the completion and perfect unfolding of the set of ideas with which our consciousness is furnished, lies the only reality which we can ever hope to know. Far better to stay here and make ourselves at home: only this, for us, truly is.
This purely subjective conception of Being has found representatives in every school of thought: even including by a curious paradox, that of mystical philosophy — its one effective antagonist. Thus Delacroix, after an exhaustive and even sympathetic analysis of St. Teresa’s progress towards union with the Absolute, ends upon the assumption that the God with whom she was united was the content of her own subconscious mind. Such a mysticism is that of a kitten running after its own tail: a different path indeed from that which the great seekers for reality have pursued. The reductio ad absurdum of this doctrine is found in the so-called “philosophy” of New Thought, which begs its disciples to “try quietly to realize that the Infinite is really You.” By its utter denial not merely of a knowable, but of a logically conceivable Transcendent, it drives us in the end to the conclusion of extreme pragmatism; that Truth, for us, is not an immutable reality, but merely that idea which happens to work out as true and useful in any given experience. There is no reality behind appearance; therefore all faiths, all figments with which we people that nothingness are equally true, provided they be comfortable and good to live by.
Logically carried out, this conception of Being would permit each man to regard other men as non-existent except within his own consciousness: the only place where a strict scepticism will allow that anything exists. Even the mind which conceives consciousness exists for us only in our own conception of it; we no more know what we are than we know what we shall be. Man is left a conscious Something in the midst, so far as he knows, of Nothing: with no resources save the exploring of his own consciousness.
Philosophic scepticism is particularly interesting to our present inquiry, because it shows us the position in which “pure reason,” if left to itself, is bound to end. It is utterly logical; and though we may feel it to be absurd, we can never prove it to be so. Those who are temperamentally inclined to credulity may become naturalists, and persuade themselves to believe in the reality of the sense world. Those with a certain instinct for the Absolute may adopt the more reasonable faith of idealism. But the true intellectualist, who concedes nothing to instinct or emotion, is obliged in the end to adopt some form of sceptical philosophy. The horrors of nihilism, in fact, can only be escaped by the exercise of faith, by a trust in man’s innate but strictly irrational instinct for that Real “above all reason, beyond all thought” towards which at its best moments his spirit tends. If the metaphysician be true to his own postulates, he must acknowledge in the end that we are all forced to live, to think, and at last to die, in an unknown and unknowable world: fed arbitrarily and diligently, yet how we know not, by ideas and suggestions whose truth we cannot test but whose pressure we cannot resist. It is not by sight but by faith — faith in a supposed external order which we can never prove to exist, and in the approximate truthfulness and constancy of the vague messages which we receive from it — that ordinary men must live and move. We must put our trust in “laws of nature” which have been devised by the human mind as a convenient epitome of its own observations of phenomena, must, for the purposes of daily life, accept these phenomena at their face value: an act of faith beside which the grossest superstitions of the Neapolitan peasant are hardly noticeable.
The intellectual quest of Reality, then, leads us down one of three blind alleys: (1) To an acceptance of the symbolic world of appearance as the real; (2) to the elaboration of a theory also of necessity symbolic — which, beautiful in itself, cannot help us to attain the Absolute which it describes; (3) to a hopeless but strictly logical skepticism.
In answer to the “Why? Why?” of the bewildered and eternal child in us, philosophy, though always ready to postulate the unknown if she can, is bound to reply only, “Nescio! Nescio!” In spite of all her busy map-making, she cannot reach the goal which she points out to us, cannot explain the curious conditions under which we imagine that we know; cannot even divide with a sure hand the subject and object of thought. Science, whose business is with phenomena and our knowledge of them, though she too is an idealist at heart, has been accustomed to explain that all our ideas and instincts, the pictured world that we take so seriously, the oddly limited and illusory nature of our experience, appear to minister to one great end: the preservation of life, and consequent fulfilment of that highly mystical hypothesis, the Cosmic Idea. Each perception, she assures us, serves a useful purpose in this evolutionary scheme: a scheme, by the way, which has been invented — we know not why — by the human mind, and imposed upon an obedient universe.
By vision, hearing, smell, and touch, says Science, we find our way about, are warned of danger, obtain our food. The male perceives beauty in the female in order that the species may be propagated. It is true that this primitive instinct has given birth to higher and purer emotions; but these too fulfil a social purpose and are not so useless as they seem. Man must eat to live, therefore many foods give us agreeable sensations. If he overeats, he dies; therefore indigestion is an unpleasant pain. Certain facts of which too keen a perception would act detrimentally to the life-force are, for most men, impossible of realization: i.e. , the uncertainty of life, the decay of the body, the vanity of all things under the sun. When we are in good health, we all feel very real, solid, and permanent; and this is of all our illusions the most ridiculous, and also the most obviously useful from the point of view of the efficiency and preservation of the race.
But when we look closer, we see that this brisk generalization does not cover all the ground — not even that little tract of ground of which our senses make us free; indeed, that it is more remarkable for its omissions than for its inclusions. Récéjac has well said that “from the moment in which man is no longer content to devise things useful for his existence under the exclusive action of the will-to-live, the principle of (physical) evolution has been violated.” Nothing can be more certain than that man is not so content. He has been called by utilitarian philosophers a tool-making animal — the highest praise they knew how to bestow. More surely he is a vision-making animal; a creature of perverse and unpractical ideals, dominated by dreams no less than by appetites — dreams which can only be justified upon the theory that he moves towards some other goal than that of physical perfection or intellectual supremacy, is controlled by some higher and more vital reality than that of the determinists. We are driven to the conclusion that if the theory of evolution is to include or explain the facts of artistic and spiritual experience — and it cannot be accepted by any serious thinker if these great tracts of consciousness remain outside its range — it must be rebuilt on a mental rather than a physical basis.
Even the most ordinary human life includes in its range fundamental experiences — violent and unforgettable sensations — forced on us as it were against our will, for which science finds it hard to account. These experiences and sensations, and the hours of exalted emotion which they bring with them — often recognized by us as the greatest, most significant hours of our lives — fulfil no office in relation to her pet “functions of nutrition and reproduction.” It is true that they are far-reaching in their effects on character; but they do little or nothing to assist that character in its struggle for physical life. To the unprejudiced eye many of them seem hopelessly out of place in a universe constructed on strictly physicochemical lines — look almost as though nature, left to herself, tended to contradict her own beautifully logical laws. Their presence, more, the large place which they fill in the human world of appearance, is a puzzling circumstance for deterministic philosophers; who can only escape from the dilemma here presented to them by calling these things illusions, and dignifying their own more manageable illusions with the title of facts.
Amongst the more intractable of these groups of perceptions and experiences are those which we connect with religion, with pain and with beauty. All three, for those selves which are capable of receiving their messages, possess a mysterious authority far in excess of those feelings, arguments, or appearances which they may happen to contradict. All three, were the universe of the naturalists true, would be absurd; all three have ever been treated with the reverence due to vital matters by the best minds of the race.
A. I need not point out the hopelessly irrational character of all great religions: which rest, one and all, on a primary assumption that can never be intellectually demonstrated, much less proved — the assumption that the supra-sensible is somehow important and real, and is intimately connected with the life of man. This fact has been incessantly dwelt upon by their critics, and has provoked many a misplaced exercise of ingenuity on the part of their intelligent friends. Yet religion — emphasizing and pushing to extremes that general dependence on faith which we saw to be an inevitable condition of our lives — is one of the most universal and ineradicable functions of man, and this although it constantly acts detrimentally to the interests of his merely physical existence, opposes “the exclusive action of the will-to-live,” except in so far as that will aspires to eternal life. Strictly utilitarian, almost logical in the savage, religion becomes more and more transcendental with the upward progress of the race. It begins as black magic; it ends as Pure Love. Why did the Cosmic Idea elaborate this religious instinct, if the construction put upon its intentions by the determinists be true?
B. Consider again the whole group of phenomena which are known as “the problem of suffering”: the mental anguish and physical pain which appear to be the inevitable result of the steady operation of “natural law” and its voluntary assistants, the cruelty, greed, and injustice of man. Here, it is true, the naturalist seems at first sight to make a little headway, and can point to some amongst the cruder forms of suffering which are clearly useful to the race: punishing us for past follies, spurring to new efforts, warning against future infringements of “law.” But he forgets the many others which refuse to be resumed under this simple formula: forgets to explain how it is that the Cosmic Idea involves the long torments of the incurable, the tortures of the innocent, the deep anguish of the bereaved, the existence of so many gratuitously agonizing forms of death. He forgets, too, the strange fact that man’s capacity for suffering tends to increase in depth and subtlety with the increase of culture and civilization; ignores the still more mysterious, perhaps most significant circumstance that the highest types have accepted it eagerly and willingly, have found in Pain the grave but kindly teacher of immortal secrets, the conferrer of liberty, even the initiator into amazing joys.
Those who “explain” suffering as the result of nature’s immense fecundity — a by-product of that overcrowding and stress through which the fittest tend to survive — forget that even were this demonstration valid and complete it would leave the real problem untouched. The question is not, whence come those conditions which provoke in the self the experiences called sorrow, anxiety, pain: but, why do these conditions hurt the self? The pain is mental; a little chloroform, and though the conditions continue unabated the suffering is gone. Why does full consciousness always include the mysterious capacity for misery as well as for happiness — a capacity which seems at first sight to invalidate any conception of the Absolute as Beautiful and Good? Why does evolution, as we ascend the ladder of life, foster instead of diminishing the capacity for useless mental anguish, for long, dull torment, bitter grief? Why, when so much lies outside our limited powers of perception, when so many of our own most vital functions are unperceived by consciousness, does suffering of some sort form an integral part of the experience of man? For utilitarian purposes acute discomfort would be quite enough; the Cosmic Idea, as the determinists explain it, did not really need an apparatus which felt all the throes of cancer, the horrors of neurasthenia, the pangs of birth. Still less did it need the torments of impotent sympathy for other people’s irremediable pain the dreadful power of feeling the world’s woe. We are hopelessly over-sensitized for the part science calls us to play.
Pain, however we may look at it, indicates a profound disharmony between the sense-world and the human self. If it is to be vanquished, either the disharmony must be resolved by a deliberate and careful adjustment of the self to the world of sense, or, that self must turn from the sense-world to some other with which it is in tune. Pessimist and optimist here join hands. But whilst the pessimist, resting in appearance, only sees “nature red in tooth and claw” offering him little hope of escape, the optimist thinks that pain and anguish — which may in their lower forms be life’s harsh guides on the path of physical evolution — in their higher and apparently “useless” developments are her leaders and teachers in the upper school of Supra-sensible Reality. He believes that they press the self towards another world, still “natural” for him, though “supernatural” for his antagonist, in which it will be more at home. Watching life, he sees in Pain the complement of Love: and is inclined to call these the wings on which man’s spirit can best take flight towards the Absolute. Hence he can say with A Kempis, “Gloriari in tribulatione non est grave amanti,” and needs not to speak of morbid folly when he sees the Christian saints run eagerly and merrily to the Cross.
He calls suffering the “gymnastic of eternity,” the “terrible initiative caress of God”; recognizing in it a quality for which the disagreeable rearrangement of nerve molecules cannot account. Sometimes, in the excess of his optimism, he puts to the test of practice this theory with all its implications. Refusing to be deluded by the pleasures of the sense world, he accepts instead of avoiding pain, and becomes an ascetic; a puzzling type for the convinced naturalist, who, falling back upon contempt — that favourite resource of the frustrated reason — can only regard him as diseased.
Pain, then, which plunges like a sword through creation, leaving on the one side cringing and degraded animals and on the other side heroes and saints, is one of those facts of universal experience which are peculiarly intractable from the point of view of a merely materialistic philosophy.
C. From this same point of view the existence of music and poetry, the qualities of beauty and of rhythm, the evoked sensations of awe, reverence, and rapture, are almost as difficult to account for. The question why an apparent corrugation of the Earth’s surface, called for convenience’ sake an Alp, coated with congealed water, and perceived by us as a snowy peak, should produce in certain natures acute sensations of ecstasy and adoration, why the skylark’s song should catch us up to heaven, and wonder and mystery speak to us alike in “the little speedwell’s darling blue” and in the cadence of the wind, is a problem that seems to be merely absurd, until it is seen to be insoluble. Here Madam How and Lady Why alike are silent. With all our busy seeking, we have not found the sorting house where loveliness is extracted from the flux of things. We know not why “great” poetry should move us to unspeakable emotion, or a stream of notes, arranged in a peculiar sequence, catch us up to heightened levels of vitality: nor can we guess how a passionate admiration for that which we call “best” in art or letters can possibly contribute to the physical evolution of the race. In spite of many lengthy disquisitions on Esthetics, Beauty’s secret is still her own. A shadowy companion, half seen, half guessed at, she keeps step with the upward march of life: and we receive her message and respond to it, not because we understand it but because we must.
Here it is that we approach that attitude of the self, that point of view, which is loosely and generally called mystical. Here, instead of those broad blind alleys which philosophy showed us, a certain type of mind has always discerned three strait and narrow ways going out towards the Absolute. In religion, in pain, and in beauty — and not only in these, but in many other apparently useless peculiarities of the empirical world and of the perceiving consciousness — these persons insist that they recognize at least the fringe of the real. Down these three paths, as well as by many another secret way, they claim that news comes to the self concerning levels of reality which in their wholeness are inaccessible to the senses: worlds wondrous and immortal, whose existence is not conditioned by the “given” world which those senses report. “Beauty,” said Hegel, who, though he was no mystic, had a touch of that mystical intuition which no philosopher can afford to be without, “is merely the Spiritual making itself known sensuously.” In the good, the beautiful, the true,” says Rudolph Eucken, “we see Reality revealing its personal character. They are parts of a coherent and substantial spiritual world.” Here, some of the veils of that substantial world are stripped off: Reality peeps through and is recognized, dimly or acutely, by the imprisoned self.
Récéjac only develops this idea when he says, “If the mind penetrates deeply into the facts of aesthetics, it will find more and more, that these facts are based upon an ideal identity between the mind itself and things. At a certain point the harmony becomes so complete, and the finality so close that it gives us actual emotion. The Beautiful then becomes the sublime; brief apparition, by which the soul is caught up into the true mystic state, and touches the Absolute. It is scarcely possible to persist in this Esthetic perception without feeling lifted up by it above things and above ourselves, in an ontological vision which closely resembles the Absolute of the Mystics.” It was of this underlying reality — this truth of things — that St. Augustine cried in a moment of lucid vision, “Oh, Beauty so old and so new, too late have I loved thee!” It is in this sense also that “beauty is truth, truth beauty”: and as regards the knowledge of ultimate things which is possible to ordinary men, it may well be that
“That is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
“Of Beauty,” says Plato in an immortal passage, “I repeat again that we saw her there shining in company with the celestial forms; and coming to earth we find her here too, shining in clearness through the clearest aperture of sense. For sight is the most piercing of our bodily senses: though not by that is wisdom seen; her loveliness would have been transporting if there had been a visible image of her, and the other ideas, if they had visible counterparts, would be equally lovely. But this is the privilege of Beauty, that being the loveliest she is also the most palpable to sight. Now he who is not newly initiated, or who has been corrupted, does not easily rise out of this world to the sight of true beauty in the other. . . . But he whose initiation is recent, and who has been the spectator of many glories in the other world, is amazed when he sees anyone having a godlike face or form, which is the expression of Divine Beauty; and at first a shudder runs through him, and again the old awe steals over him. . . .”
Most men in the course of their lives have known such Platonic hours of initiation, when the sense of beauty has risen from a pleasant feeling to a passion, and an element of strangeness and terror has been mingled with their joy. In those hours the world has seemed charged with a new vitality; with a splendour which does not belong to it but is poured through it, as light through a coloured window, grace through a sacrament, from that Perfect Beauty which “shines in company with the celestial forms” beyond the pale of appearance. In such moods of heightened consciousness each blade of grass seems fierce with meaning, and becomes a well of wondrous light: a “little emerald set in the City of God.” The seeing self is indeed an initiate thrust suddenly into the sanctuary of the mysteries: and feels the “old awe and amazement” with which man encounters the Real. In such experiences, a new factor of the eternal calculus appears to be thrust in on us, a factor which no honest seeker for truth can afford to neglect; since, if it be dangerous to say that any two systems of knowledge are mutually exclusive, it is still more dangerous to give uncritical priority to any one system. We are bound, then, to examine this path to reality as closely and seriously as we should investigate the most neatly finished safety-ladder of solid ash which offered a salita alle stelle.
Why, after all, take as our standard a material world whose existence is affirmed by nothing more trustworthy than the sense-impressions of “normal men”; those imperfect and easily cheated channels of communication? The mystics, those adventurers of whom we spoke upon the first page of this book, have always declared, implicitly or explicitly, their distrust in these channels of communication. They have never been deceived by phenomena, nor by the careful logic of the industrious intellect. One after another, with extraordinary unanimity, they have rejected that appeal to the unreal world of appearance which is the standard of sensible men: affirming that there is another way, another secret, by which the conscious self may reach the actuality which it seeks. More complete in their grasp of experience than the votaries of intellect or of sense, they accept as central for life those spiritual messages which are mediated by religion, by beauty, and by pain. More reasonable than the rationalists, they find in that very hunger for reality which is the mother of all metaphysics, an implicit proof that such reality exists; that there is something else, some final satisfaction, beyond the ceaseless stream of sensation which besieges consciousness. “In that thou hast sought me, thou hast already found me,” says the voice of Absolute Truth in their ears. This is the first doctrine of mysticism. Its next is that only in so far as the self is real can it hope to know Reality: like to like: Cot ad cot loquitur. Upon the propositions implicit in these two laws the whole claim and practice of the mystic life depends.
“Finite as we are,” they say — and here they speak not for themselves, but for the race — “lost though we seem to be in the woods or in the wide air’s wilderness, in this world of time and of chance, we have still, like the strayed animals or like the migrating birds, our homing instinct. . . . We seek. That is a fact. We seek a city still out of sight. In the contrast with this goal, we live. But if this be so, then already we possess something of Being even in our finite seeking. For the readiness to seek is already something of an attainment, even if a poor one.”
Further, in this seeking we are not wholly dependent on that homing instinct. For some, who have climbed to the hill-tops, that city is not really out of sight. The mystics see it and report to us concerning it. Science and metaphysics may do their best and their worst: but these pathfinders of the spirit never falter in their statements concerning that independent spiritual world which is the only goal of “pilgrim man.” They say that messages come to him from that spiritual world, that complete reality which we call Absolute: that we are not, after all, hermetically sealed from it. To all who will receive it, news comes of a world of Absolute Life, Absolute Beauty, Absolute Truth, beyond the bourne of time and place: news that most of us translate — and inevitably distort in the process — into the language of religion, of beauty, of love, or of pain.
Of all those forms of life and thought with which humanity has fed its craving for truth, mysticism alone postulates, and in the persons of its great initiates proves, not only the existence of the Absolute, but also this link: this possibility first of knowing, finally of attaining it. It denies that possible knowledge is to be limited (a) to sense impressions, (b) to any process of intellection, (c) to the unfolding of the content of normal consciousness. Such diagrams of experience, it says, are hopelessly incomplete. The mystics find the basis of their method not in logic but in life: in the existence of a discoverable “real,” a spark of true being, within the seeking subject, which can, in that ineffable experience which they call the “act of union,” fuse itself with and thus apprehend the reality of the sought Object. In theological language, their theory of knowledge is that the spirit of man, itself essentially divine, is capable of immediate communion with God, the One Reality.
In mysticism that love of truth which we saw as the beginning of all philosophy leaves the merely intellectual sphere, and takes on the assured aspect of a personal passion. Where the philosopher guesses and argues, the mystic lives and looks; and speaks, consequently, the disconcerting language of first-hand experience, not the neat dialectic of the schools. Hence whilst the Absolute of the metaphysicians remains a diagram — impersonal and unattainable — the Absolute of the mystics is lovable, attainable, alive.
“Oh, taste and see!” they cry, in accents of astounding certainty and joy. “Ours is an experimental science. We can but communicate our system, never its result. We come to you not as thinkers, but as doers. Leave your deep and absurd trust in the senses, with their language of dot and dash, which may possibly report fact but can never communicate personality. If philosophy has taught you anything, she has surely taught you the length of her tether, and the impossibility of attaining to the doubtless admirable grazing land which lies beyond it. One after another, idealists have arisen who, straining frantically at the rope, have announced to the world their approaching liberty; only to be flung back at last into the little circle of sensation. But here we are, a small family, it is true, yet one that refuses to die out, assuring you that we have slipped the knot and are free of those grazing grounds. This is evidence which you are bound to bring into account before you can add up the sum total of possible knowledge; for you will find it impossible to prove that the world as seen by the mystics, ‘unimaginable, formless, dark with excess of bright,’ is less real than that which is expounded by the youngest and most promising demonstrator of a physicochemical universe. We will be quite candid with you. Examine us as much as you like: our machinery, our veracity, our results. We cannot promise that you shall see what we have seen, for here each man must adventure for himself; but we defy you to stigmatize our experiences as impossible or invalid. Is your world of experience so well and logically founded that you dare make of it a standard? Philosophy tells you that it is founded on nothing better than the reports of your sensory apparatus and the traditional concepts of the race. Certainly it is imperfect, probably it is illusion in any event, it never touches the foundation of things. Whereas ‘what the world, which truly knows nothing, calls “mysticism” the science of ultimates, . . . the science of self-evident Reality, which cannot be “reasoned about,” because it is the object of pure reason or perception’.

Evelyn Underhill: Mysticism – A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness 1911
mysticismstudyin00undeuoft_0007 Photoevelyn3

The Gospel of Truth

(Translated by Robert M. Grant – part of the Nag Hammadi library)

The gospel of truth is joy to those who have received from the Father of truth the gift of knowing him by the power of the Logos, who has come from the Pleroma and who is in the thought and the mind of the Father; he it is who is called “the Savior,” since that is the name of the work which he must do for the redemption of those who have not known the Father. For the name of the gospel is the manifestation of hope, since that is the discovery of those who seek him, because the All sought him from whom it had come forth. You see, the All had been inside of him, that illimitable, inconceivable one, who is better than every thought.

This ignorance of the Father brought about terror and fear. And terror became dense like a fog, that no one was able to see. Because of this, error became strong. But it worked on its hylic substance vainly, because it did not know the truth. It was in a fashioned form while it was preparing, in power and in beauty, the equivalent of truth. This then, was not a humiliation for him, that illimitable, inconceivable one. For they were as nothing, this terror and this forgetfulness and this figure of falsehood, whereas this established truth is unchanging, unperturbed and completely beautiful.

For this reason, do not take error too seriously. Thus, since it had no root, it was in a fog as regards the Father, engaged in preparing works and forgetfulnesses and fears in order, by these means, to beguile those of the middle and to make them captive. The forgetfulness of error was not revealed. It did not become light beside the Father. Forgetfulness did not exist with the Father, although it existed because of him. What exists in him is knowledge, which was revealed so that forgetfulness might be destroyed and that they might know the Father, Since forgetfulness existed because they did not know the Father, if they then come to know the Father, from that moment on forgetfulness will cease to exist.

That is the gospel of him whom they seek, which he has revealed to the perfect through the mercies of the Father as the hidden mystery, Jesus the Christ. Through him he enlightened those who were in darkness because of forgetfulness. He enlightened them and gave them a path. And that path is the truth which he taught them. For this reason error was angry with him, so it persecuted him. It was distressed by him, so it made him powerless. He was nailed to a cross. He became a fruit of the knowledge of the Father. He did not, however, destroy them because they ate of it. He rather caused those who ate of it to be joyful because of this discovery.

And as for him, them he found in himself, and him they found in themselves, that illimitable, inconceivable one, that perfect Father who made the all, in whom the All is, and whom the All lacks, since he retained in himself their perfection, which he had not given to the all. The Father was not jealous. What jealousy, indeed, is there between him and his members? For, even if the Aeon had received their perfection, they would not have been able to approach the perfection of the Father, because he retained their perfection in himself, giving it to them as a way to return to him and as a knowledge unique in perfection. He is the one who set the All in order and in whom the All existed and whom the All lacked. As one of whom some have no knowledge, he desires that they know him and that they love him. For what is it that the All lacked, if not the knowledge of the Father?

He became a guide, quiet and in leisure. In the middle of a school he came and spoke the Word, as a teacher. Those who were wise in their own estimation came to put him to the test. But he discredited them as empty-headed people. They hated him because they really were not wise men. After all these came also the little children, those who possess the knowledge of the Father. When they became strong they were taught the aspects of the Father’s face. They came to know and they were known. They were glorified and they gave glory. In their heart, the living book of the Living was manifest, the book which was written in the thought and in the mind of the Father and, from before the foundation of the All, is in that incomprehensible part of him.

This is the book which no one found possible to take, since it was reserved for him who will take it and be slain. No one was able to be manifest from those who believed in salvation as long as that book had not appeared. For this reason, the compassionate, faithful Jesus was patient in his sufferings until he took that book, since he knew that his death meant life for many. Just as in the case of a will which has not yet been opened, for the fortune of the deceased master of the house is hidden, so also in the case of the All which had been hidden as long as the Father of the All was invisible and unique in himself, in whom every space has its source. For this reason Jesus appeared. He took that book as his own. He was nailed to a cross. He affixed the edict of the Father to the cross.

Oh, such great teaching! He abases himself even unto death, though he is clothed in eternal life. Having divested himself of these perishable rags, he clothed himself in incorruptibility, which no one could possibly take from him. Having entered into the empty territory of fears, he passed before those who were stripped by forgetfulness, being both knowledge and perfection, proclaiming the things that are in the heart of the Father, so that he became the wisdom of those who have received instruction. But those who are to be taught, the living who are inscribed in the book of the living, learn for themselves, receiving instructions from the Father, turning to him again.

Since the perfection of the All is in the Father, it is necessary for the All to ascend to him. Therefore, if one has knowledge, he gets what belongs to him and draws it to himself. For he who is ignorant, is deficient, and it is a great deficiency, since he lacks that which will make him perfect. Since the perfection of the All is in the Father, it is necessary for the All to ascend to him and for each one to get the things which are his. He registered them first, having prepared them to be given to those who came from him.

Those whose name he knew first were called last, so that the one who has knowledge is he whose name the Father has pronounced. For he whose name has not been spoken is ignorant. Indeed, how shall one hear if his name has not been uttered? For he who remains ignorant until the end is a creature of forgetfulness and will perish with it. If this is not so, why have these wretches no name, why do they have no sound? Hence, if one has knowledge, he is from above. If he is called, he hears, he replies, and he turns toward him who called him and he ascends to him and he knows what he is called. Since he has knowledge, he does the will of him who called him. He desires to please him and he finds rest. He receives a certain name. He who thus is going to have knowledge knows whence he came and whither he is going. He knows it as a person who, having become intoxicated, has turned from his drunkenness and having come to himself, has restored what is his own.

He has turned many from error. He went before them to their own places, from which they departed when they erred because of the depth of him who surrounds every place, whereas there is nothing which surrounds him. It was a great wonder that they were in the Father without knowing him and that they were able to leave on their own, since they were not able to contain him and know him in whom they were, for indeed his will had not come forth from him. For he revealed it as a knowledge with which all its emanations agree, namely, the knowledge of the living book which he revealed to the Aeons at last as his letters, displaying to them that these are not merely vowels nor consonants, so that one may read them and think of something void of meaning; on the contrary, they are letters which convey the truth. They are pronounced only when they are known. Each letter is a perfect truth like a perfect book, for they are letters written by the hand of the unity, since the Father wrote them for the Aeons, so that they by means of his letters might come to know the Father.

While his wisdom mediates on the logos, and since his teaching expresses it, his knowledge has been revealed. His honor is a crown upon it. Since his joy agrees with it, his glory exalted it. It has revealed his image. It has obtained his rest. His love took bodily form around it. His trust embraced it. Thus the logos of the Father goes forth into the All, being the fruit of his heart and expression of his will. It supports the All. It chooses and also takes the form of the All, purifying it, and causing it to return to the Father and to the Mother, Jesus of the utmost sweetness. The Father opens his bosom, but his bosom is the Holy Spirit. He reveals his hidden self which is his son, so that through the compassion of the Father the Aeons may know him, end their wearying search for the Father and rest themselves in him, knowing that this is rest. After he had filled what was incomplete, he did away with form. The form of it is the world, that which it served. For where there is envy and strife, there is an incompleteness; but where there is unity, there is completeness. Since this incompleteness came about because they did not know the Father, so when they know the Father, incompleteness, from that moment on, will cease to exist. As one’s ignorance disappears when he gains knowledge, and as darkness disappears when light appears, so also incompleteness is eliminated by completeness. Certainly, from that moment on, form is no longer manifest, but will be dissolved in fusion with unity. For now their works lie scattered. In time unity will make the spaces complete. By means of unity each one will understand itself. By means of knowledge it will purify itself of diversity with a view towards unity, devouring matter within itself like fire and darkness by light, death by life.

Certainly, if these things have happened to each one of us, it is fitting for us, surely, to think about the All so that the house may be holy and silent for unity. Like people who have moved from a neighborhood, if they have some dishes around which are not good, they usually break them. Nevertheless the householder does not suffer a loss, but rejoices, for in the place of these defective dishes there are those which are completely perfect. For this is the judgement which has come from above and which has judged every person, a drawn two-edged sword cutting on this side and that. When it appeared, I mean, the Logos, who is in the heart of those who pronounce it – it was not merely a sound but it has become a body – a great disturbance occurred among the dishes, for some were emptied, others filled: some were provided for, others were removed; some were purified, still others were broken. All the spaces were shaken and disturbed for they had no composure nor stability. Error was disturbed not knowing what it should do. It was troubled; it lamented, it was beside itself because it did not know anything. When knowledge, which is its abolishment, approached it with all its emanations, error is empty, since there is nothing in it. Truth appeared; all its emanations recognized it. They actually greeted the Father with a power which is complete and which joins them with the Father. For each one loves truth because truth is the mouth of the Father. His tongue is the Holy Spirit, who joins him to truth attaching him to the mouth of the Father by his tongue at the time he shall receive the Holy Spirit.

This is the manifestation of the Father and his revelation to his Aeons. He revealed his hidden self and explained it. For who is it who exists if it is not the Father himself? All the spaces are his emanations. They knew that they stem from him as children from a perfect man. They knew that they had not yet received form nor had they yet received a name, every one of which the Father produces. If they at that time receive form of his knowledge, though they are truly in him, they do not know him. But the Father is perfect. He knows every space which is within him. If he pleases, he reveals anyone whom he desires by giving him a form and by giving him a name; and he does give him a name and cause him to come into being. Those who do not yet exist are ignorant of him who created them. I do not say, then, that those who do not yet exist are nothing. But they are in him who will desire that they exist when he pleases, like the event which is going to happen. On the one hand, he knows, before anything is revealed, what he will produce. On the other hand, the fruit which has not yet been revealed does not know anything, nor is it anything either. Thus each space which, on its part, is in the Father comes from the existent one, who, on his part, has established it from the nonexistent. […] he who does not exist at all, will never exist.

What, then, is that which he wants him to think? “I am like the shadows and phantoms of the night.” When morning comes, this one knows that the fear which he had experienced was nothing. Thus they were ignorant of the Father; he is the one whom they did not see. Since there had been fear and confusion and a lack of confidence and doublemindness and division, there were many illusions which were conceived by him, the foregoing, as well as empty ignorance – as if they were fast asleep and found themselves a prey to troubled dreams. Either there is a place to which they flee, or they lack strength as they come, having pursued unspecified things. Either they are involved in inflicting blows, or they themselves receive bruises. Either they are falling from high places, or they fly off through the air, though they have no wings at all. Other times, it is as if certain people were trying to kill them, even though there is no one pursuing them; or, they themselves are killing those beside them, for they are stained by their blood. Until the moment when they who are passing through all these things – I mean they who have experienced all these confusions – awake, they see nothing because the dreams were nothing. It is thus that they who cast ignorance from them as sheep do not consider it to be anything, nor regard its properties to be something real, but they renounce them like a dream in the night and they consider the knowledge of the Father to be the dawn. It is thus that each one has acted, as if he were asleep, during the time when he was ignorant and thus he comes to understand, as if he were awakening. And happy is the man who comes to himself and awakens. Indeed, blessed is he who has opened the eyes of the blind.

And the Spirit came to him in haste when it raised him. Having given its hand to the one lying prone on the ground, it placed him firmly on his feet, for he had not yet stood up. He gave them the means of knowing the knowledge of the Father and the revelation of his son. For when they saw it and listened to it, he permitted them to take a taste of and to smell and to grasp the beloved son.

He appeared, informing them of the Father, the illimitable one. He inspired them with that which is in the mind, while doing his will. Many received the light and turned towards him. But material men were alien to him and did not discern his appearance nor recognize him. For he came in the likeness of flesh and nothing blocked his way because it was incorruptible and unrestrainable. Moreover, while saying new things, speaking about what is in the heart of the Father, he proclaimed the faultless word. Light spoke through his mouth, and his voice brought forth life. He gave them thought and understanding and mercy and salvation and the Spirit of strength derived from the limitlessness of the Father and sweetness. He caused punishments and scourgings to cease, for it was they which caused many in need of mercy to astray from him in error and in chains – and he mightily destroyed them and derided them with knowledge. He became a path for those who went astray and knowledge to those who were ignorant, a discovery for those who sought, and a support for those who tremble, a purity for those who were defiled.

He is the shepherd who left behind the ninety-nine sheep which had not strayed and went in search of that one which was lost. He rejoiced when he had found it. For ninety-nine is a number of the left hand, which holds it. The moment he finds the one, however, the whole number is transferred to the right hand. Thus it is with him who lacks the one, that is, the entire right hand which attracts that in which it is deficient, seizes it from the left side and transfers it to the right. In this way, then, the number becomes one hundred. This number signifies the Father.

He labored even on the Sabbath for the sheep which he found fallen into the pit. He saved the life of that sheep, bringing it up from the pit in order that you may understand fully what that Sabbath is, you who possess full understanding. It is a day in which it is not fitting that salvation be idle, so that you may speak of that heavenly day which has no night and of the sun which does not set because it is perfect. Say then in your heart that you are this perfect day and that in you the light which does not fail dwells.

Speak concerning the truth to those who seek it and of knowledge to those who, in their error, have committed sin. Make sure-footed those who stumble and stretch forth your hands to the sick. Nourish the hungry and set at ease those who are troubled. Foster men who love. Raise up and awaken those who sleep. For you are this understanding which encourages. If the strong follow this course, they are even stronger. Turn your attention to yourselves. Do not be concerned with other things, namely, that which you have cast forth from yourselves, that which you have dismissed. Do not return to them to eat them. Do not be moth-eaten. Do not be worm-eaten, for you have already shaken it off. Do not be a place of the devil, for you have already destroyed him. Do not strengthen your last obstacles, because that is reprehensible. For the lawless one is nothing. He harms himself more than the law. For that one does his works because he is a lawless person. But this one, because he is a righteous person, does his works among others. Do the will of the Father, then, for you are from him.

For the Father is sweet and his will is good. He knows the things that are yours, so that you may rest yourselves in them. For by the fruits one knows the things that are yours, that they are the children of the Father, and one knows his aroma, that you originate from the grace of his countenance. For this reason, the Father loved his aroma; and it manifests itself in every place; and when it is mixed with matter, he gives his aroma to the light; and into his rest he causes it to ascend in every form and in every sound. For there are no nostrils which smell the aroma, but it is the Spirit which possesses the sense of smell and it draws it for itself to itself and sinks into the aroma of the Father. He is, indeed, the place for it, and he takes it to the place from which it has come, in the first aroma which is cold. It is something in a psychic form, resembling cold water which is […] since it is in soil which is not hard, of which those who see it think, “It is earth.” Afterwards, it becomes soft again. If a breath is taken, it is usually hot. The cold aromas, then, are from the division. For this reason, God came and destroyed the division and he brought the hot Pleroma of love, so that the cold may not return, but the unity of the Perfect Thought prevail.

This is the word of the Gospel of the finding of the Pleroma for those who wait for the salvation which comes from above. When their hope, for which they are waiting, is waiting – they whose likeness is the light in which there is no shadow, then at that time the Pleroma is about to come. The deficiency of matter, however, is not because of the limitlessness of the Father who comes at the time of the deficiency. And yet no one is able to say that the incorruptible One will come in this manner. But the depth of the Father is increasing, and the thought of error is not with him. It is a matter of falling down and a matter of being readily set upright at the finding of that one who has come to him who will turn back.

For this turning back is called “repentance”. For this reason, incorruption has breathed. It followed him who has sinned in order that he may find rest. For forgiveness is that which remains for the light in the deficiency, the word of the pleroma. For the physician hurries to the place in which there is sickness, because that is the desire which he has. The sick man is in a deficient condition, but he does not hide himself because the physician possesses that which he lacks. In this manner the deficiency is filled by the Pleroma, which has no deficiency, which has given itself out in order to fill the one who is deficient, so that grace may take him, then, from the area which is deficient and has no grace. Because of this a diminishing occurred in the place which there is no grace, the area where the one who is small, who is deficient, is taken hold of.

He revealed himself as a Pleroma, i.e., the finding of the light of truth which has shined towards him, because he is unchangeable. For this reason, they who have been troubled speak about Christ in their midst so that they may receive a return and he may anoint them with the ointment. The ointment is the pity of the Father, who will have mercy on them. But those whom he has anointed are those who are perfect. For the filled vessels are those which are customarily used for anointing. But when an anointing is finished, the vessel is usually empty, and the cause of its deficiency is the consumption of its ointment. For then a breath is drawn only through the power which he has. But the one who is without deficiency – one does not trust anyone beside him nor does one pour anything out. But that which is the deficient is filled again by the perfect Father. He is good. He knows his plantings because he is the one who has planted them in his Paradise. And his Paradise is his place of rest.

This is the perfection in the thought of the Father and these are the words of his reflection. Each one of his words is the work of his will alone, in the revelation of his Logos. Since they were in the depth of his mind, the Logos, who was the first to come forth, caused them to appear, along with an intellect which speaks the unique word by means of a silent grace. It was called “thought,” since they were in it before becoming manifest. It happened, then, that it was the first to come forth – at the moment pleasing to the will of him who desired it; and it is in the will that the Father is at rest and with which he is pleased. Nothing happens without him, nor does anything occur without the will of the Father. But his will is incomprehensible. His will is his mark, but no one can know it, nor is it possible for them to concentrate on it in order to possess it. But that which he wishes takes place at the moment he wishes it – even if the view does not please anyone: it is God`s will. For the Father knows the beginning of them all as well as their end. For when their end arrives, he will question them to their faces. The end, you see, is the recognition of him who is hidden, that is, the Father, from whom the beginning came forth and to whom will return all who have come from him. For they were made manifest for the glory and the joy of his name.

And the name of the Father is the Son. It is he who, in the beginning, gave a name to him who came forth from him – he is the same one – and he begat him for a son. He gave him his name which belonged to him – he, the Father, who possesses everything which exists around him. He possess the name; he has the son. It is possible for them to see him. The name, however, is invisible, for it alone is the mystery of the invisible about to come to ears completely filled with it through the Father`s agency. Moreover, as for the Father, his name is not pronounced, but it is revealed through a son. Thus, then, the name is great.

Who, then, has been able to pronounce a name for him, this great name, except him alone to whom the name belongs and the sons of the name in whom the name of the Father is at rest, and who themselves in turn are at rest in his name, since the Father has no beginning? It is he alone who engendered it for himself as a name in the beginning before he had created the Aeons, that the name of the Father should be over their heads as a lord – that is, the real name, which is secure by his authority and by his perfect power. For the name is not drawn from lexicons nor is his name derived from common name-giving, But it is invisible. He gave a name to himself alone, because he alone saw it and because he alone was capable of giving himself a name. For he who does not exist has no name. For what name would one give him who did not exist? Nevertheless, he who exists also with his name and he alone knows it, and to him alone the Father gave a name. The Son is his name. He did not, therefore, keep it secretly hidden, but the son came into existence. He himself gave a name to him. The name, then, is that of the Father, just as the name of the Father is the Son. For otherwise, where would compassion find a name – outside of the Father? But someone will probably say to his companion, “Who would give a name to someone who existed before himself, as if, indeed, children did not receive their name from one of those who gave them birth?”

Above all, then, it is fitting for us to think this point over: What is the name? It is the real name. It is, indeed, the name which came from the Father, for it is he who owns the name. He did not, you see, get the name on loan, as in the case of others because of the form in which each one of them is going to be created. This, then, is the authoritative name. There is no one else to whom he has given it. But it remained unnamed, unuttered, `till the moment when he, who is perfect, pronounced it himself; and it was he alone who was able to pronounce his name and to see it. When it pleased him, then, that his son should be his pronounced name and when he gave this name to him, he who has come from the depth spoke of his secrets, because he knew that the Father was absolute goodness. For this reason, indeed, he sent this particular one in order that he might speak concerning the place and his place of rest from which he had come forth, and that he might glorify the Pleroma, the greatness of his name and the sweetness of his Father.

Each one will speak concerning the place from which he has come forth, and to the region from which he received his essential being, he will hasten to return once again. And he want from that place – the place where he was – because he tasted of that place, as he was nourished and grew. And his own place of rest is his Pleroma. All the emanations from the Father, therefore, are Pleromas, and all his emanations have their roots in the one who caused them all to grow from himself. He appointed a limit. They, then, became manifest individually in order that they might be in their own thought, for that place to which they extend their thoughts is their root, which lifts them upward through all heights to the Father. They reach his head, which is rest for them, and they remain there near to it so that they say that they have participated in his face by means of embraces. But these of this kind were not manifest, because they have not risen above themselves. Neither have they been deprived of the glory of the Father nor have they thought of him as small, nor bitter, nor angry, but as absolutely good, unperturbed, sweet, knowing all the spaces before they came into existence and having no need of instruction. Such are they who possess from above something of this immeasurable greatness, as they strain towards that unique and perfect one who exists there for them. And they do not go down to Hades. They have neither envy nor moaning, nor is death in them. But they rest in him who rests, without wearying themselves or becoming involved in the search for truth. But, they, indeed, are the truth, and the Father is in them, and they are in the Father, since they are perfect, inseparable from him who is truly good. They lack nothing in any way, but they are given rest and are refreshed by the Spirit. And they listen to their root; they have leisure for themselves, they in whom he will find his root, and he will suffer no loss to his soul.

Such is the place of the blessed; this is their place. As for the rest, then, may they know, in their place, that it does not suit me, after having been in the place of rest to say anything more. But he is the one in whom I shall be in order to devote myself, at all times, to the Father of the All and the true brothers, those upon whom the love of the Father is lavished, and in whose midst nothing of him is lacking. It is they who manifest themselves truly since they are in that true and eternal life and speak of the perfect light filled with the seed of the Father, and which is in his heart and in the Pleroma, while his Spirit rejoices in it and glorifies him in whom it was, because the Father is good. And his children are perfect and worthy of his name, because he is the Father. Children of this kind are those whom he loves.

Gnosticism - Grant

From Robert M. Grant, Gnosticism (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1961),
as quoted in Willis Barnstone, The Other Bible (Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1984).

The world of relationship

Now, there is a different way of working, which is to inquire into ourselves and to know exactly what is going on within the field of the mind, not in order to gain some reward, but for the very simple reason that there can obviously be no end to misery in the world as long as the mind does not understand itself. And, after all, the world in which we live is not the enormous world of political activities, of scientific research, and so on; it is the little world of the family, the world of relationship between two people at home or in the office, between husband and wife, parents and children, teacher and pupil, lawyer and client, policeman and citizen. That is the little world we all live in, but we want to escape from that world of relationship and go out into an extraordinary world which we have imagined and which does not really exist at all. If we do not understand the world of relationship and bring about a fundamental transformation there, we cannot possibly create a new culture, a different civilization, a peaceful world. So it must start with ourselves. The world demands an immense, a radical change, but it must begin with you and me; and we cannot bring about a real change in ourselves if we do not know the totality of our world of thoughts, of feelings, of actions, if we are not aware of ourselves from moment to moment. And you will see, if you are so aware, that the mind begins to free itself from all influences of the past. After all, the mind is now the result of the past, and all thinking is a projection of the past, it is simply a response of the past to challenge, so merely to think of creating a new world will never bring a new world into being.

– Krishnamurti, The Collected Works, Vol. X”, 253,Choiceless Awareness

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Inquiry into Reality

When the mind is burdened with a conclusion, a formulation, there is the cessation of inquiry. And it is essential to inquire, not merely as it is being done by certain specialists in the scientific or psychological field, but to inquire into oneself and to know the totality of one’s being, the operation of one’s own mind at the conscious and also at the unconscious level in all the activities of one’s daily existence: how one functions, what one’s responses are when one goes to the office, rides in the bus, when one talks with one’s children, with one’s wife or husband, and so on.

Unless the mind is aware of the totality of itself, not as it should be, but as it actually is – unless it is aware of its conclusions, its assumptions, its ideals, its conformity – there is no possibility of the coming into being of this new, creative impulse of reality.

– Krishnamurti, The Collected Works, Vol. X”,253,Choiceless Awareness

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Neti Neti

Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth,
and if a man does not know what a thing is,
it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not.

Carl Jung
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Skin in the Game

It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.

Thomas Sowell, Economist
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Perspective

When you change the way you look at things,
the things you look at change.

Max Planck, 1858-1947, originator of quantum physics
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Your awareness is conditioned by your accumulation

The important thing is to be aware from moment to moment without accumulating the experience which awareness brings, because the moment you accumulate, you are aware only according to that accumulation, according to that pattern, according to that experience. That is, your awareness is conditioned by your accumulation, and therefore there is no longer observation, but merely translation. Where there is translation, there is choice, and choice creates conflict; and in conflict there can be no understanding.

– Krishnamurti, The Collected Works, Vol. VI,206,Choiceless Awareness
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EnviroScience 101

 

Man did not weave the web of life. He is merely a strand in it.
Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

– Chief Seattle

Only after the last tree has been cut down.
Only after the last river has been poisoned.
Only after the last fish has been caught.
Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

– Cree Indian prophecy

The Real

What is real is beyond the mind.

Samael Aun Weor: Revolution of the Dialectic p159

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More Awareness – You call it jealousy, anger, greed

You can experiment with this for yourself very simply and very easily. Next time you are angry or jealous or greedy or violent or whatever it may be, watch yourself. In that state, ‘you’ are not: there is only that state of being. The moment, the second afterwards, you term it, you name it, you call it jealousy, anger, greed; so you have created immediately the observer and the observed, the experiencer and the experienced. When there is the experiencer and the experienced, then the experiencer tries to modify the experience, change it, remember things about it and so on, and therefore maintains the division between himself and the experienced. If you don’t name that feeling -which means you are not seeking a result, you are not condemning, you are merely silently aware of the feeling- then you will see that, in that state of feeling, of experiencing, there is no observer and no observed, because the observer and the observed are a joint phenomenon, and so there is only experiencing.

– Krishnamurti, The First and Last Freedom,175,Choiceless Awareness

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Awareness – In relationship with people, with ideas, and with things

The man who wants to improve himself can never be aware, because improvement implies condemnation and the achievement of a result; whereas in awareness there is observation without condemnation, without denial or acceptance. That awareness begins with outward things, being aware, being in contact with objects, with nature. First, there is awareness of things about one, being sensitive to objects, to nature, then to people, which means relationship; then there is awareness of ideas. This awareness -being sensitive to things, to nature, to people, to ideas- is not made up of separate processes, but is one unitary process. It is a constant observation of everything, of every thought and feeling and action as they arise within oneself. As awareness is not condemnatory, there is no accumulation. You condemn only when you have a standard, which means there is accumulation and therefore improvement of the self. Awareness is to understand the activities of the self, the ‘I’, in its relationship with people, with ideas, and with things. That awareness is from moment to moment, and therefore it cannot be practised. When you practise a thing, it becomes a habit, and awareness is not habit. A mind that is habitual is insensitive, a mind that is functioning within the groove of a particular action is dull, unpliable; whereas awareness demands constant pliability, alertness. This is not difficult. It is what you actually do when you are interested in something, when you are interested in watching your child, your wife, your plants, the trees, the birds. You observe without condemnation, without identification; therefore in that observation there is complete communion: the observer and the observed are completely in communion. This actually takes place when you are deeply, profoundly interested in something.

– Krishnamurti, The First and Last Freedom,173,Choiceless Awareness

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Awareness takes place when one observes

You know, concentration is effort: focusing upon a particular page, an idea, image, symbol, and so on and so on. Concentration is a process of exclusion. You tell a student, ‘Don’t look out of the window; pay attention to the book.’ He wants to look out, but he forces himself to look, look at the page; so there is a conflict. This constant effort to concentrate is a process of exclusion, which has nothing to do with awareness. Awareness takes place when one observes -you can do it; everybody can do it- observes not only what is the outer, the tree, what people say, what one thinks, and so on, outwardly, but also inwardly to be aware without choice, just to observe without choosing. For when you choose, when choice takes place, only then is there confusion, not when there is clarity.

– Krishnamurti, The Collected Works, Vol. XVII,82,Choiceless Awareness

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Do it and see

Questioner:
Sir, if there is no effort, if there is no method, then any transition into the state of awareness, any shift into a new dimension must be a completely random accident, and therefore unaffected by anything you might say on the subject.

Krishnamurti:
Ah, no, sir! I didn’t say that. I said one has to be aware. By being aware, one discovers how one is conditioned. By being aware, I know I am conditioned as a Hindu, as a Buddhist, as a Christian; I am conditioned as a nationalist: British, German, Russian, Indian, American, Chinese;I am conditioned. We never tackle that. That’s the garbage we are, and we hope something marvellous will grow out of it, but I am afraid it is not possible. Being aware doesn’t mean a chance happening, something irresponsible and vague. If one understands the implications of awareness, one’s body not only becomes highly sensitive, but the whole entity is activated; there is a new energy given to it. Do it, and you will see. Don’t sit on the bank and speculate about the river; jump in and follow the current of this awareness, and you will find out for yourself how extraordinarily limited our thoughts, our feelings, and our ideas are. Our projections of gods, saviours, and Masters – all that becomes so obvious, so infantile.

– Krishnamurti, The Collected Works, Vol. XV,138,Choiceless Awareness

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Effort is non-awareness

Does not effort mean a struggle to change what is into what it is not, or what it should be, or what it should become? We are constantly escaping from what is to transform or modify it. Only when there is no awareness of exactly what is, then effort to transform takes place. So effort is non-awareness. Awareness reveals the significance of what is, and the complete acceptance of the significance brings freedom. So awareness is non-effort; awareness is the perception of what is without distortion. Distortion exists whenever there is effort.

– Krishnamurti, The Collected Works, Vol. IV,117,Choiceless Awareness

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the minor path – the nine minor mysteries

…..The first step of all, absolutely necessary, without which no approach is possible, by which achievement ever comes within reach of realisation, may be summed up in four brief words: the Service of Man.

There is the first condition, the sine qua non. For the selfish no such advance is possible; for the unselfish such advance is certain. And in whatever life the man begins to think more of the common good than of his own individual gain, whether it be in the service of the town, of the community, of the nation, of the wider joinings of nations together, right up to the service of humanity itself, every one of those is a step towards the Path, and is preparing the man to set his feet thereon. And there is no distinction here between the kinds of service, provided they are unselfish, strenuous, moved by the ideal to help and serve. It may be purely intellectual – the work of the writer and the author, trying to spread among others the knowledge he has found, in order that the world may be a little wiser, a little more understanding, because that man has lived and written. It may be along the service of Art, wherein the musician, the painter, the sculptor, [9] the architect, puts before himself the ideal of making the world a little fairer and more beautiful, life a little more sweet, more full of grace and culture for humankind. It may be along the way of Social Service, where the man, moved by sympathy for the poor, the suffering, pours out his life in the work of helping, tries to alter the constitution of Society where it needs amendment, tries to change the environment where the environment of the past, useful in the past, has become an anachronism, and is preventing the better progress that humankind should today be making in better surroundings, in nobler environment. It may be along the way of Political Work, where the life of a nation, internal and external, is the object of service. It may be along the way of Healing, where the doctor tries to bring health in the place of disease, and to make conditions good for the body, in order that the body may be healthier and longer-lived than otherwise it would be. I cannot give you one by one the numerous divisions of the Way of Service. Anything that is of value to human life is included on that way. Choose then what way you will, because of your capacities and your opportunities; it matters not as regards the treading of the first steps. Commerce, industry, anything of use to man, production, distribution; they all come within Service for man and supply man’s necessities……

Then the seeker finds that there are certain Qualifications laid down for the treading of the earlier portion of the Path, that which the Roman Catholic calls the Path of Purgation, which the Hindu and the Buddhist call the probationary or preparatory Path. Those Qualifications are laid down quite plainly and definitely, so that any man may begin to practise them, and the practice of them, with some slight restriction which I will give you in a moment, need not imply that Discipline of Life of which I have been speaking, because it does not, with one exception, lead into a certain definite practice of meditation. These Qualifications are said to be four:

First the Power to Discriminate between the real and the unreal. I shall go more fully into these next week, but I want to run over them now to show you the line of the preparation. You have to learn to distinguish in everything around you, and in [39] everyone around you, between the permanent element and the impermanent, between the surface and the content, as it were, between the eternal and the transitory. That is the first of the Qualifications, and that leads on necessarily to the second; for when you distinguish between the passing and the lasting, you become somewhat indifferent to the things that are ever-changing, while your gaze is steadfastly fixed on that which you recognise as lasting.
The second Qualification is what is called Dispassion, or Desirelessness, the absence of desire for the fleeting and the changing, the concentration of desire on the Eternal, on that which Is.
The third Qualification is made of the Six Jewels, mental qualities that you must acquire. First, Control of the Mind, that you may be able to fix it steadily on a single thing, to suck out all the contents of that thing, and also to use it as an instrument in the building of character; for your mind is your only instrument, remember, whereby you can create, re-create, yourself. As the mallet and the chisel in the hand of the sculptor, so is control of the mind moved by will the mallet and chisel in the hand of the man who would create out of the rough marble of his own nature the perfect image of the Divine, that he seeks within that marble. Then Control of Action, which grows out of the mind, and the great virtue of Tolerance. No one who is bigoted, narrow-minded, illiberal, can enter on the Path we seek. Tolerance, broad, [40] all-pervading, that is one of the Qualifications, and it means far more than some of you think. It does not mean the spirit that says: “Oh, yes, you are all wrong, but you can go your own way”. That is not real tolerance; that is rather indifference to your neighbor’s welfare. The real tolerance grows out of the recognition of the Spirit in the heart of each, of him who knows his own way and takes it “according to the Word”, recognising in each the Spirit that knows, seeing in each the will of the Spirit that chooses, never desiring in any way to compel any more than to obstruct; to offer anything we have of value, but never to desire to force it on the unwilling; to place what we believe to be true before the eyes of another, but to feel no vexation, no anger, no irritation, if to him it is not true; to remember that truth is no truth to anyone until he sees it and embraces it for himself, and that we are so built, our inner nature is so true, that the moment we see a truth we embrace it. It is not argument, but recognition, with which the Spirit in man meets the unveiled truth; and while the bandage is on the eyes and we cannot see, truth is to us as falsehood, for our nature has not recognised it as truth. That is what tolerance means, holding your own, willing to share it, but ever refusing to impose or to attack. The fourth jewel is Endurance, that strong power which can bear without giving way, which can face all things in the search for truth, and never fall back [41] because of difficulty or of peril; which knows no discouragement, admits no despair, which is sure that truth is findable, and resolute to find it. Every obstacle makes it stronger, every struggle strengthens its muscles, every defeat makes it rise again to struggle for victory. The man needs endurance who would tread the higher path. Then Faith, faith in the God within you, faith in the God manifested in the Master, faith in the One Life whereof we all are manifestations, faith unshaken and unshakable, so that no doubt may arise. Then Balance, equilibrium. The Song-Celestial says: “Equilibrium is called Yoga”; absence of excitement, absence of passion, the transmutation of excitement and passion into the will that points unswerving to its goal; the power of standing serene while all around are troubled; the power of standing alone where all others have left and have deserted. That perfect balance is the sixth of these jewels of the mind. The fourth Qualification is the desire to be free, the will to be free, in order that you may help.

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…..The first of the Qualifications, as I told you last week, is called Discrimination, discrimination between the real and the unreal. Among the Buddhists they call it the “opening of the doors of the mind”, a very graphic and significant expression. Last week also I told you how you might meditate in order to find the higher consciousness which is yourself. How shall we apply what we have learned in meditation to practice? To meditate on a quality and then to live it, that is the way of definite progress.

Now the Master makes one great division of the whole human race, sweeping and clear. He says there are only two classes of men in the world – those who know and those who know not. The second class naturally embraces at present the vast majority of human kind, for, as another Teacher said, few there are who are treading that narrow Path. Knowledge, as He defines it, is the knowledge of the Divine Will in evolution, and the attempt to co-operate with that Will so as to help effectively forward the day when that Will shall be done on earth as it is already done in the higher worlds of being. To know then that the world is being guided towards a higher and nobler evolution; to know that every child of man, young or old, laggard or rapid in his progress, is walking by [53] that divine Plan, and may be helped or hindered in the walking; to recognise the Plan and try to live in it; to make one’s own will part of the Will divine, the only true willing there is; that is the characteristic of those who know. Those who know not this are ignorant.

Turning to apply that knowledge to practice, we are told how discrimination should be worked out in life, not only between the real and the unreal, but between all those many things in which there is more or less of the real, in which the essential mark of the real may be seen. And, first of all, we have to recognise that the form is unreal, while the life is real. It does not matter to the Occultist, to take an illustration, to what form of religion a man may belong. He may be a Hindu or a Buddhist; he may be a Christian or a Hebrew; he may be a Zoroastrian or a Mussulman. That is all of form and unessential; the question is: How does he live his religion, and how far does the essence of it come out in his thought and in his life? And so in distinguishing between the real and unreal in religion, we put aside the whole of the forms, admitting to the full that they are valuable to those who need them – they are the signposts that guide a man along the way of life – but knowing that they all mark out a single road, the road of man to Perfection. Not against any of them may the Occultist speak; not contemptuously must he ever look even at any forms that he may himself have [54] outgrown; but he must realise that while forms are many, the Wisdom is but one, and the Wisdom is the food of the soul, while the forms are for the training of the body.

He must learn also to discriminate between truth and falsehood, not as the world discriminates, but as the Occultist discriminates. The man who is training his thought to truth and to the avoidance of falsehood must never ascribe to another man a motive which is evil as being behind an outer action. He cannot see the man’s motive; he has no right to judge what he cannot know; and over and over again, as the Master points out, he may ascribe a wrong motive which does not exist, and so may break the law of truth. A man may speak angrily to you, and you, to whom the angry word is said, may think that the aggressor desired to wound or to hurt you, and see an evil motive behind the evil word. But the man, it is pointed out, may not be thinking of you at all; he may have some troubles of his own, some trials of his own, some strain upon him of which you know nothing, which makes his nerves irritable and his lip-speech unkind. Do not, then, ascribe a motive where you are ignorant of it, for you are breaking there the occult law of truth, and are condemned as a false witness before the bar of the great Teacher.

You must discriminate also not only between right and wrong, for to the Occultist there is [55] no choice between right and wrong; he is bound to do the right at whatever cost and at whatever sacrifice. He cannot, as some will do, hesitate between the course which is one with the divine Will and the course that goes against it; that he left far behind him in his progress towards the Path. He must ever remember, in dealing with questions of right and wrong, that for the Occultist there is no excuse if he swerves from the law of right; he must follow it more strenuously, more rigidly, more perfectly, than the men who are living in the outer world. To do the right is woven into his nature, and no question can arise in the mind as to taking the lower way when the higher is seen. I do not mean that he may not make a mistake; I do not mean that his judgment may not err; but I do mean that where he sees the right inevitably he must follow it, or else his eyes will become utterly blinded, and he will stumble and fall upon the Path. But not only must he distinguish between right and wrong, but between that which is more or less important in the right things he follows. Sometimes a question arises of relative importance, and he must remember ever, when such question arises, that to serve the divine Will and follow his Master’s guidance is the one important thing in life. Everything else must give way to that; all else must be broken in order that that may be preserved; for that Will marks out the path of [56] the most important duty, and as he follows it the very best he can give is rendered to human service.

And then, in this distinguishing between the essential and the non-essential, he has to cultivate a gentle yielding, a sweet courtesy, on all matters that are not essential. It is well to yield in little things that do not matter, in order that you may follow perfectly those things that do matter. I remember myself how difficult at first I found it to check the willful nature that I brought over from many other lives of struggle and of storm. And for a year or two I made it a practice never to refuse a single thing I was asked to do, in which right and wrong did not arise. I made it an exaggerated practice, in order rapidly to correct the inborn fault. And so I wasted a good deal of time, as people would say, in doing unnecessary things that people wanted me to do, in going out for a walk, perhaps, when I would far rather have stayed at home and read a book, yielding in everything in the immaterial in order that in the material I might go forward unswervingly towards the goal. And that I would recommend to those amongst you who are naturally imperious, naturally self-willed, for in the swing of the pendulum from one side or the other you must go sometimes to excess in the practice of the contrary, in order that finally you may strike the middle path, that golden mean which the Greeks said was virtue. And if you have little [57] time and much to do, then it is well even to go to excess in the building of a virtue, in the eradication of a fault.

Then also you must learn to discriminate between the duty to help and the desire to dominate. There are so many people who are always meddling with the thoughts and actions of other people, and desiring, as it were, to save their neighbours’ souls instead of attending to their own. As a rule, while you may offer help, you should never try to control another, save in those cases where they are placed in your hands for guidance; then it may be your duty to exercise some control over conduct. Along those lines the Master taught that discrimination should be practised, in order that this first great Qualification might become second nature to the disciple.

And then the second came, Dispassion, Desirelessness. That is very easy in its coarser forms. When once the great desire has arisen for the treading of the Path, the things that are unreal lose their attraction, the things that are seen to be passing have small power to hold back the man bent on going rapidly forward towards Perfection.

As it is said in an old Hindu Scripture “The desire for the objects of the senses falls away when once the Supreme is seen”; when once the eyes have rested on the wondrous perfection and beauty of a Master, when the radiance of His character has shone out into [58] the dazzled eyes, but one longing is left – to reproduce His likeness, and to be in some small measure His image, His messenger, among men.

But there are subtler desires that may trip up the feet of the unwary traveler. There is the desire to see the results of one’s work. We work with all our heart and all our powers; we build our life into some project for the helping, the uplifting, of men. Can you, without a pang, see your project crumble in the dust, and the walls that you had built for shelter break down as ruins at your feet? If not, you are working for results, and not purely for the love of humanity; for if one has built ill instead of well – though meaning well – the great Plan breaks the work into pieces, and it is good. But the material is not lost. Every force put into it, every aspiration it embodied, every effort made in order to build it, are garnered up as materials for the raising more wisely of a greater building, which shall be according to the Plan of the great Overseer of the universe. And so we learn to work, but not to demand payment in results for our labour, sure that what is good must last, and willing that what is evil shall be broken.

Sometimes the desire for psychic powers attacks the disciple. “Oh, I could be more useful if only I could see; I could help people so much more if only I could remember what I do when out of the body”. Who is the best [59] judge, the disciple or the Master? Who knows best what is wanted, the pupil or the Teacher? If He sees you can help better by possessing them, He will open up the way and tell you how to build them. But sometimes the work is better done without them, the work of the special kind that He wants his disciple at that moment to fulfill. Leave to Him the time when those powers shall flower; they are the blossoms of the spiritual nature, and they will come to open maturity when the great Gardener sees the time is come for the blossoming.

Not only do we desire results; not only do we desire psychic powers; but still subtler desires assail us – the desire to be looked up to, to be recognised as shining, the desire to speak and show our knowledge wherever we can. Let that go, the Master bids us, for silence is the mark of the Occultist. Speak when you have something to say that is true, helpful, kind, but otherwise speech is a snare and a trap. Half the harm in the world is done by idle speech. Not without knowledge did the Christ say: “For every idle word a man shall speak, he shall give account thereof in the day of judgment”. Not evil words, nor wicked words, but idle words, He warned the disciple against. And to know, to do, to dare, and to be silent, that is one of the marks of the Occultist. So these subtler desires must also be weeded out and thrown on the rubbish heap, till only one strong will shall remain, the will to serve and [60] to serve along the lines laid down in the divine Plan. So is the desirelessness accomplished, which the Buddhist wisely calls the “preparation for action”.

Then come the six jewels I ran over to you last week – Control of the Mind, keeping the mind away from all that is evil and using it for all that is good. And that control of the mind is needed on the Path, for we must so shape our mind that it shall not be in any way shaken or disturbed by anything that the outer world knows as trouble: loss of friends, loss of fortune, evil speaking, slander, anything that causes trouble in the world. These, the Master says, do not matter. How far are most from recognis­ing that great truth. These are the fruits of past thoughts and desires and actions, the karma of the past working out in the action of the present. There is nothing in these to disturb you, but rather to encourage; for it shows that you are wearing out the evil karma of the past, and until it is outworn you are of little use in the Master’s work. You must so control the mind that you shall think no evil, that you shall keep bright and cheerful as well as calm. You have no right to be depressed; it spreads a fog around you, causing suffering to others; and it is your work to increase the happiness of the world, and not to add your own contribution to its misery. If you are depressed, the Master cannot use you to send His life through you to the helping of His [61] brethren. Depression is like a dam built across the stream, preventing the waters from right flowing. And you must not build obstacles in the way of the Master’s life that flows through the disciple, and so hinder His blessing from cheering the hearts of men. Right Control of Thought and then of Action, doing as well as thinking the right, the kind, the loving.

Then you must build up that great virtue of Tolerance, which is so rare amongst us. You must study, the Master says, the religions of others in order that you may be able to help them as otherwise you cannot. And yet the judgment of the world on that is condemnatory and not approving. How often have I seen the criticism directed against myself: “Oh, Mrs. Besant talks like a Hindu in India, and like a Christian in England”. Of course Mrs. Besant does! How else should she talk? Talk Hinduism to Christians? But that would not help them. Talk Christianity to Hindus and Buddhists? But that would veil the great truths from their eyes. Our duty is to learn in order to help, and you can only reach the hearts of men by sympathy when you can speak from their standpoint instead of standing obstinately on your own. That is the great mark of one who is truly tolerant, that he can see a thing from the standpoint of another, and speak from that standpoint in order to help.

Then you must learn Endurance, because of those trials that I have spoken of that will come [62] raining down upon you in order that your past karma may work itself out in brief space, that you may be ready to serve. Take trouble as an honour, not as a penalty; as the sign that the great Lords of Karma have heard your cry for swifter progress, and are giving you the bad karma of the past that you may exhaust it, and so are answering your cry. Then you may endure cheerfully, and not with a face of unhappiness and discontent; as it is said of old that a martyr smiled in the fire, regarding it as a chariot of flame that took him to his Lord.

Then you must learn One-pointedness, or Balance, as the Hindu and Buddhist call it. One-pointedness in the Master’s work, such balance that nothing can turn you aside from it. As the needle points to the Pole and returns if forcibly dragged away, so must your will point unswervingly to that goal of the divine Will for human perfection, that you are endeavouring to reach.

The last of the six jewels is Faith or Con­fidence, confidence in your Teacher and confidence in yourself. But, says the Master, perhaps the man will answer: “Trust in my­self? I know myself too well to trust it”. No, is His answer, you do not know your Self; you only know the outer husk that hides it, for in the Self is strength unconquerable, that never can be frustrated or destroyed. And so the six jewels of the mind are gradually cut into shape, to be cut more perfectly in later years, [63] but at least enough that they may be recognised in the character.

And then, ah, then, remains the last of the great Qualifications, the hardest of all, the one most likely to arouse opposition in the mind of many. The Hindu and the Buddhist call it Desire for Liberation; the Master calls it Union with the Supreme; and because the Supreme is Love, He brings it down to Love lived out among men. And as He deals with that great virtue of love, love which is the fulfilling of the law, He brands three vices as crimes against love, that must be utterly thrown aside by the disciple. The first is gossip, the second cruelty, and the third superstition. These, He says, are the worst crimes against love. And then He goes on to explain how it is so. He takes up gossip first, and points out how, in thinking evil of another, you are committing a threefold injury on man; first, on the neighbourhood in which you live, which you fill with evil thoughts instead of good thoughts, and so, He says pathetically, you increase the sorrow of the world. Then the evil thought about the fault of another, for if that fault be in the man your evil thought makes it stronger, and harder for the man to overcome; your thought makes the evil in him greater every time that in thought you ascribe that fault to him, and you are thus making your brother’s path more difficult, making his struggle harder; perhaps your evil thought will be the last determining push which makes him fall, [64] where otherwise he might have stood upright. If the thought be false and not true, even then in him you may plant an evil which as yet does not exist in his character. Hence the wickedness of thinking evil, let alone of talking it, for where an evil story is passed on to another, there the same cycle of evil is trodden by the one who was spoken to, and so you become a fountain of evil, careless as the words have been.

Cruelty He brands as another great crime against love.

Annie Besant: “Initiation: The Perfecting of Man”

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More on Choiceless Awarenes

The beauty of listening

The beauty of listening lies in being highly sensitive to everything about you: to the ugliness, to the dirt, to the squalor, to the poverty about you, and also to the dirt, to the disorder, to the poverty of one’s own being. When you are aware of both, then there is no effort, that is, when there is an awareness which is without choice, then there is no effort.

– Krishnamurti, The Collected Works, Vol. XV,61,Choiceless Awareness
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Forty Two

In the beginning the Universe was created.

This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move……..

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.
 
There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

~ Douglas Adams: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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There is understanding only when there is stillness

There is understanding only when there is stillness, when there is silent observation, passive awareness. Then only the problem yields its full significance. The awareness of which I speak is of what is from moment to moment, of the activities of thought and its subtle deceptions, fears, and hope. Choiceless awareness wholly dissolves our conflicts and miseries.

– Krishnamurti, The Collected Works, Vol. IV,144,Choiceless Awareness

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Choiceless Awareness as the Way to Understanding

Discover the whole content of what is

Understanding comes with the awareness of what is. There can be no understanding if there is condemnation of or identification with what is. If you condemn a child or identify yourself with him, then you cease to understand him. So being aware of a thought or a feeling as it arises, without condemning it or identifying with it, you will find that it unfolds ever more widely and deeply, and thereby discover the whole content of what is. To understand the process of what is, there must be choiceless awareness, a freedom from condemnation, justification, and identification. When you are vitally interested in fully understanding something, you give your mind and heart, withholding nothing. But unfortunately you are conditioned, educated, disciplined through religious and social environment to condemn or to identify, and not to understand. To condemn is stupid and easy, but to understand is arduous, requiring pliability and intelligence. Condemnation, as identification, is a form of self-protection. Condemnation or identification is a barrier to understanding. To understand the confusion, the misery in which one is, and so of the world, you must observe its total process. To be aware and pursue all its implications requires patience, to follow swiftly, and to be still.

– Krishnamurti, The Collected Works, Vol. IV,143,Choiceless Awareness

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What I mean by “God”

From “The Kingdom of the Gods” by Geoffrey Hodson 1952

CHAPTER I

DEFINITION OF TERMS

SINCE in this book certain familiar words are used in a special sense and certain ideas unfamiliar to most Western readers are presented, this first Chapter consists of a definition of terms and a brief exposition of the philosophic basis upon which the book is founded.

THE DEITY

In Occult philosophy, the Deific Power of the universe is not regarded as a personal God. Although imbued with intelligence, It is not an Intellect. Although using the One Life as vehicle, It is not Itself a Life. Deity is an inherent Principle in Nature, having Its extensions beyond the realm of manifested forms, however tenuous.

The Immanence of God is not personal, neither is the Transcendence. Each is an expression in time, space and motion of an impersonal Principle, which of Itself is eternal, omnipresent and at rest.

Finiteness is essential to the manifestation of THAT which is Infinite. Ideas, rhythms and forms are essential for the expression of THAT which is Absolute. God, then, may best be defined as Infinity and Absoluteness made manifest through finite forms. Such manifestation can never be singular or even dual alone; it must always be primarily threefold and secondarily sevenfold. Point, circumference and radii; power, receiver and conveyer; knower, known and knowledge; these must ever constitute the basic triplicity without which Absoluteness can never produce finiteness, at however lofty a level.

Creation, therefore, involves a change from a unity to a triplicity. In order to become the many, the One must first become the three. The possible combinations of three are seven. Continuance of advance from unity to diversity inevitably involves passage through seven modes of the manifestation and expression of that which essentially is one. Thus divisions arise in the One Alone. Thus beings arise within the One Life and intelligences appear within Universal Mind, all inherent within the Whole.

Of the Trinity, the point is the highest because the Source. Of the Seven, the Trinity is the highest because the parent. Thus hierarchy exists when manifestation occurs Parent hierarchies give birth to offspring in a descending scale of nearness to the original Source. Emanated beings in hierarchical order inevitably come into existence when movement first occurs in THAT which of Itself is still.

Absolute stillness implies absolute motion, the two terms being synonymous. The Absolute, therefore, can be both still and in motion whilst retaining absoluteness. The finite is therefore contained within the Absolute, which in its turn enfolds and permeates the finite. Because of this, finite beings have regarded the Absolute as divine and have named it God.

The worship of the all-enfolding and all-permeating Source of all is true religion. To reverence the omnipresent Source and to conform to its laws of manifestation is true religious practice. To conceive the Source of all as a person, however exalted, and to give it human attributes, is not true religion. To reverence that false conception and live in fear of its vengeance is not true religious practice.

Absolute existence and absolute law — these are the highest existences and therefore are worthy of man’s study and reverence. Finite existence and finite law are not the highest existences and therefore are not worthy of the title “God”. They are offspring and not parent, secondary and not primary, and their elevation to primary rank can only lead to confusion and dismay.

Modern man needs to emancipate himself from the delusion and worship of a personal, and therefore finite, God, and to substitute therefore an impersonal and infinite Deific Power and Law, with Deific Life as the essential Third.

Deific Life is the vehicle of Deific Power, and Deific Law rules their combined expression. By the instrumentation of Life, therefore, all things truly were made. Life is the Creator. Sustainer and Transformer of the Cosmos. Life should be reverenced in all its manifestations and such reverence of omnipresent, ever-active Life is true religion.

What, then, is Life to the human intellect? How may Deific Life be conceived, perceived and worshipped — that is the supreme problem. Life may be conceived as the soul of form, its relationship to which is comparable to that of the sun to the solar system. The difference between the two relationships is that Life is omnipresent and the sun has a fixed location, even though its rays pervade the universe. Life does not send forth rays; for as the interior source of existence, Life is all-pervading and all-penetrating.

Life is beneficent in that by it all things are sustained. Without it, nothing can exist that does exist. It is the Thought-Soul, the Spirit-Intelligence, of all Creation. Vehicle for Power imbued with ideative thought, Life is the one essential to existence, to evolution and to transfiguration. “Life, then, is God and God is Life.”

The term “God” thus implies all Nature, physical and superphysical, the evolutionary impulse imparted to it and the irresistible creative force which bestows the attribute of self­-reproduction and the capacity to express it indefinitely. This concept of Deity includes the creative Intelligences — the Elohim — which direct the manifestations and the operations of the one creative force, the divine thought or Ideation of the whole Cosmos from its beginning to its end and the “sound” of the Creative “Voice” by which that Ideation is impressed upon the matter of Cosmos. All these, together with all seeds and all beings, forces and laws, including the one parent law of harmony, constitute that totality of existence to which in this work is given the title “God”.

If so vast a synthesis may be designated a Being, then that Being is so complex, so all-inclusive as to be beyond the comprehension of the human mind and beyond the possibility of restriction to any single form: for the idea of God includes Everlasting Law, Everlasting Will, Everlasting Life, Everlasting Mind.

In manifestation, “God” is objectively active. In non­manifestation, “God” is quiescent. Behind both activity and quiescence is THAT which is eternal and unchanging, the Absolute, Self-Existent Self. The Creative Agent referred to by various names in the world’s cosmogonies is the active expression of that eternal, incomprehensible One Alone.

The names “God” and “Logos” are thus used in this book to connote a Divine Being, omnipresent as the Universal Energising Power, Indwelling Life and Directing Intelligence within all substance, all beings and all things, separate from none. This Being is manifest throughout the Solar System as Divine Law, Power, Wisdom, Love and Truth, as Beauty, Justice and Order.

The Solar Logos is regarded as both immanent within and transcendent beyond His System, of which He is the threefold “Creator”, Sustainer and Regenerator of all worlds and the Spiritual Parent of all beings.

Whether as Principle or Being, God has been conceived in many aspects and as playing many roles. Ancient Egyptian, Hellenic, Hebrew, Hindu and Christian Cosmogonies represent Him as bringing His worlds into existence by means of the creative power of sound. In Christianity we are told: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then God spake and in six creative epochs or “days”, each followed by a period of quiescence or “night”, all worlds, all kingdoms of Nature and all beings came into existence. As a result of this outpouring of creative energy as sound, forms appeared expressive of the divine creative Intent, embodiments of divine Life and vehicles for divine Intelligence. Thus God may be conceived as Celestial Composer, Divine Musician, perpetually composing and performing His creative symphony; with its central theme and myriad variations. This concept of creation by the Voice, known as the Logos doctrine, important in the study of the subject of the Gods, is developed in later Chapters of this book.

God has also been poetically and mystically described as Divine Dancer. Nature — with all its varied rhythmic motions, including the cyclic swing of planets round the sun, terrestrial changes, the flow of river, waterfall, and stream, the ceaseless movement of the ocean waves, the swaying of the trees and flowers, the ever-changing forms of fire and flame, the motions of electrons around their nuclei—is conceived, notably in Hinduism, as part of the great dance of the Supreme by which all things are created and sustained.

Again, God is variously portrayed, as Dramatist whose stage upon which the drama of life is played is the Solar System; as Weaver, whose many-coloured tapestry, Nature and all her sons, is woven on the loom of time and space; as Gardener, with the Angelic Hosts as husbandmen, the universe His garden sown with every kind of seed of His own creating, and every one destined to produce its own facsimile of Himself. He further is regarded as Architect and Engineer, Geometrician and Scientist, Magician and Ceremonialist with the universe as a temple of many shrines in which creative rituals are perpetually performed. A still higher conception reveals Him as Spiritual King, Divine Emperor, ruling through His hierarchy of ministers His Solar Empire. All beings are His subjects over whom He presides with all-inclusive knowledge and wisdom all-embracing. All these He is and doubtless far more — Creator, Preserver, Transformer of the universe, Spiritual Parent of all its inhabitants.

“A man’s idea of God is that image of blinding light that he sees reflected in the concave mirror of his own soul, and yet this is not in very truth God, but only His reflection. His glory is there, but it is the light of his own Spirit that man sees, and it is all he can bear to look upon. The clearer the mirror, the brighter will be the divine image. But the external world cannot be witnessed in it at the same moment. In the ecstatic Yogin, in the illuminated Seer, the spirit will shine like the noon-day sun; in the debased victim of earthly attraction, the radiance has disappeared, for the mirror is obscured with the stains of matter.”

THE EVOLUTIONARY PLAN

From these concepts of the Deity there emerges inevitably the idea of a divine purpose, a great plan. That plan is assumed throughout this book to be evolution, but not of form alone. The word “evolution” is herein used to connote a process which is dual in its operation, spiritual as well as material, and directed rather than purely natural or “blind”. This process is understood to consist of a continuous development of form accompanied by a complementary and parallel unfolding of consciousness within the form.

Although man cannot completely know the evolutionary plan – from his Superiors, Sages and Spiritual Teachers throughout the ages he learns that the motive is to awaken and bring to fulfilment that which is latent, seed-like, germinal. Divine Will, divine Wisdom, divine Intellect and divine Beauty, these are latent in all seeds, Macrocosmic and microcosmic. The apparent purpose for which the universe comes into existence is to change potentialities into actively manifested powers.

On Earth, for example, for each of the kingdoms of Nature there is a standard or ideal which is dual, as is the evolutionary process. The ideal for consciousness in the mineral kingdom is physical awareness and for form, hardness and beauty. For plant consciousness the ideal is sensitivity, capacity to feel, and for the plant form, beauty. For animal consciousness, it is self-consciousness of feeling and thought, and for animal form it is beauty. For man the evolutionary goal is the complete unfoldment and expression of his inherent divine powers — will to omnipotence, wisdom to omnipresence and intellect to omniscience. In the “perfect” man or Adept, these powers are expressed in fully conscious unity, and therefore perfect co-operation, with the Creator of all in the fulfilment of His plan.

Human perfection attained, superhuman ideals present themselves. We as men can but conceive of the nature of these by the aid of analogy and the little that the Supermen Themselves have in these days permitted us to know. We may conceive these ideals to be: to compose and perform perfectly with God the great symphony of creation; to produce and enact with Him the drama of life; to weave with and for Him, consciously contributing to the perfection of His great design; to till His garden with Him, tending His plants of the fullness of their flowering; to manage as Heads of Departments, the organisation which is His Solar System; to build with Him His temple of the universe and, as Principal Officers, to enact therein great rituals of creation; to serve as Regents and Ministers in the Solar and Planetary Governments through which He, as Solar Emperor, administers His wide dominions beneath the stars. This in part, we may assume, is God’s plan for Supermen, and indeed for all, since the attainment of superhumanity is the destiny of all:

“the one far-off divine event
towards which the whole creation moves.”

CREATION

The emergence and subsequent development of a universe and its contents is regarded in occult science as being less the result of an act of creation, followed by natural evolution, than a process of emanation guided by intelligent Forces under immutable Law. The creation or emergence of universes from nothing is not an acceptable concept, all being regarded as emanating from an all-containing, Sourceless Source. This Source is regarded as triune, consisting of pre-cosmic spirit, pre-cosmic matter and eternal motion. This doctrine is further expounded in Part II of this book.

SEERSHIP

As part of the unfoldment of the human intellect into omniscience, the development occurs at a certain stage of human evolution of the faculty of fully-conscious, positive clairvoyance. This implies an extension, which can be hastened by means of self-training, of the normal range of visual response to include both physical rays beyond the violet and, beyond them again, the light of the superphysical worlds.

The mechanism of supersensual vision and the process of its development are referred to in the descriptive matter accompanying Plate 28. It is important to differentiate between the passive psychism of the medium, and even the extra sensory perception (ESP) of parapsychology, and the positive clairvoyance of the student of Occultism. This latter, completely under the control of the will and used in full waking consciousness, is the instrument of research with which during the past thirty years I have endeavoured to enter and explore the Kingdom of the Gods.

THE GODS

This term is used throughout this book to denote, not the symbolic images to which the title was given by ancient peoples, but hierarchical Orders of Intelligences, quite distinct from man in this Solar System, but who either have been or will be men. Information concerning their immensely varied nature and functions forms the subject matter of the third Chapter of Part I and succeeding Chapters of this book. Part V consists of illustrations and descriptions of various types of Gods, as they have appeared to me when attempting to study them by means of extended vision.

Eastern peoples, as well as numerous members of the Keltic and other naturally psychic races, are familiar with the idea of the existence of the Gods. In the East they are called devas, a Sanskrit word meaning “shining ones” and referring to their self-luminous appearance. They are regarded as omnipresent, superphysical agents of the Creative Will, as directors of all natural forces, laws and processes, solar, interplanetary and planetary.

For these beings the term “the Gods” is chiefly employed in this work. The Kabbalistic term “Sephira” is used in Part III. Deva occurs occasionally, as does its useful adjective devic, which applies equally to Archangels, angels and nature spirits. Certain types of Gods, associated more closely with man than with Nature, are referred to as “angels”, the four terms being used synonymously. The three main stages of devic development have each their own names. Nature spirits, like animals and birds, are actuated by a group-consciousness shared with others of the same genus. Gods, Sephiras, devas and angels, have evolved out of group consciousness into separate individuality, as has man. Archangels, especially, have transcended the limitations of individuality and have entered into universal or cosmic consciousness, as has the Superman or Adept.

* * * * *

Before proceeding to a fuller consideration of the nature, the functions and the activities of the Gods, I offer an answer to those who quite naturally will ask: “Where is the proof of their existence?” Of concrete, demonstrable proof of the fruits of mystical experience there can be none. Of evidence for mystical states of consciousness, in which supersensual faculties may operate, and for the existence of the superphysical worlds and their inhabitants, there is an abundance. Most universal and enduring of this evidence is the folklore of all nations. Throughout all time of which records exist, men have borne testimony to their perception of forces, phenomena and beings not normally visible. Despite wide separation both in time and space, there is a remarkable resemblance between the myths, the legends and the folklore of the various peoples of the earth. This universality, similarity and persistence through the ages of belief in the Gods and the Kingdom of the Gods is strong evidence, I submit, for the existence of a kernel of reality within that belief, a basis of fact upon which folklore is founded.

Added to this is the testimony of those who have made both a science and an art of the process of self-illumination called in the East “yoga”. The followers of this, the oldest and greatest of the sciences, the science of the Soul, aver that extension of visual and auditory power and mastery of the forces, first of one’s own nature and then of Nature herself, can be deliberately and consciously achieved. Anyone, they say, who will fulfil the necessary conditions, who will obey laws as certain in their operation as those to which the chemist subscribes in his laboratory, can pierce the veil of matter which normally hides from view the eternal, spiritual realities, as the veil of day conceals the ever-shining stars.

In individual experiment and individual investigation alone is proof to be found. Whilst demonstration is admittedly impossible, test by personal research is not. That test I have attempted to apply, and this book is in part a record of my own findings. Whilst all are entitled to question, only those, I submit, who have similarly experimented and explored, have the right to deny.

– From “The Kingdom of the Gods” by Geoffrey Hodson 1952

Geoffrey Hodson

Revelation and Scripture

from “Esoteric Christianity” – Annie Besant (1901)

CHAPTER XIV.

REVELATION.

All the religions known to us are the custodians of Sacred Books, and appeal to these books for the settlement of disputed questions. They always contain the teachings given by the founder of the religion, or by later teachers regarded as possessing super-human knowledge. Even when a religion gives birth to many discordant sects, each sect will cling to the Sacred Canon, and will put upon its word the interpretation which best fits in with its own peculiar doctrines. However widely may be separated in belief the extreme Roman Catholic and the extreme Protestant, they both appeal to the same _Bible_. However far apart may be the philosophic Vedântin and the most illiterate Vallabhâchârya, they both regard the same _Vedas_ as supreme. However bitterly opposed to each other may be the Shias and the Sunnis, they both regard as sacred the same _Kurân_. Controversies and quarrels may arise as to the meaning of texts, but the Book itself, in every case, is looked on with the utmost reverence. And rightly so; for all such books contain fragments of The Revelation, selected by One of the great Ones who hold it in trust; such a fragment is embodied in what down here we call a Revelation, or a Scripture, and some part of the world rejoices in it as in a treasure of vast value. The fragment is chosen according to the needs of the time, the capacity of the people to whom it is given, the type of the race whom it is intended to instruct. It is generally given in a peculiar form, in which the outer history, or story, or song, or psalm, or prophecy, appears to the superficial or ignorant reader to be the whole book; but in these deeper meanings lie concealed, sometimes in numbers, sometimes in words constructed on a hidden plan–a cypher, in fact–sometimes in symbols, recognisable by the instructed, sometimes in allegories written as histories, and in many other ways. These Books, indeed, have something of a sacramental character about them, an outer form and an inner life, an outer symbol and an inner truth. Those only can explain the hidden meaning who have been trained by those instructed in it; hence the dictum of S. Peter that “no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.”[350] The elaborate explanations of texts of the Bible, with which the volumes of patristic literature abound, seem fanciful and overstrained to the prosaic modern mind. The play upon numbers, upon letters, the apparently fantastic interpretations of paragraphs that, on the face of them, are ordinary historical statements of a simple character, exasperate the modern reader, who demands to have his facts presented clearly and coherently, and above all, requires what he feels to be solid ground under his feet. He declines absolutely to follow the light-footed mystic over what seem to him to be quaking morasses, in a wild chase after dancing will-o’-the-wisps, which appear and disappear with bewildering and irrational caprice. Yet the men who wrote these exasperating treatises were men of brilliant intellect and calm judgment, the master-builders of the Church. And to those who read them aright they are still full of hints and suggestions, and indicate many an obscure pathway that leads to the goal of knowledge, and that might otherwise be missed.

We have already seen that Origen, one of the sanest of men, and versed in occult knowledge, teaches that the Scriptures are three-fold, consisting of Body, Soul, and Spirit.[351] He says that the Body of the Scriptures is made up of the outer words of the histories and the stories, and he does not hesitate to say that these are not literally true, but are only stories for the instruction of the ignorant. He even goes so far as to remark that statements are made in those stories that are obviously untrue, in order that the glaring contradictions that lie on the surface may stir people up to inquire as to the real meaning of these impossible relations. He says that so long as men are ignorant, the Body is enough for them; it conveys teaching, it gives instruction, and they do not see the self-contradictions and impossibilities involved in the literal statements, and therefore are not disturbed by them. As the mind grows, as the intellect develops, these contradictions and impossibilities strike the attention, and bewilder the student; then he is stirred up to seek for a deeper meaning, and he begins to find the Soul of the Scriptures. That Soul is the reward of the intelligent seeker, and he escapes from the bonds of the letter that killeth.[352] The Spirit of the Scriptures may only be seen by the spiritually enlightened man; only those in whom the Spirit is evolved can understand the spiritual meaning: “the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God … which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth.”[353]

The reason for this method of Revelation is not far to seek; it is the only way in which one teaching can be made available for minds at different stages of evolution, and thus train not only those to whom it is immediately given, but also those who, later in time, shall have progressed beyond those to whom the Revelation was first made. Man is progressive; the outer meaning given long ago to unevolved men must needs be very limited, and unless something deeper and fuller than this outer meaning were hidden within it, the value of the Scripture would perish when a few millennia had passed away. Whereas by this method of successive meanings it is given a perennial value, and evolved men may find in it hidden treasures, until the day when, possessing the whole, they no longer need the part.

The world-Bibles, then, are fragments–fragments of Revelation, and therefore are rightly described as Revelation.

The next deeper sense of the word describes the mass of teaching held by the great Brotherhood of spiritual Teachers in trust for men; this teaching is embodied in books, written in symbols, and in these is contained an account of kosmic laws, of the principles on which the kosmos is founded, of the methods by which it is evolved, of all the beings that compose it, of its past, its present, its future; this is The Revelation. This is the priceless treasure which the Guardians of humanity hold in charge, and from which they select, from time to time, fragments to form the Bibles of the world.

Thirdly, the Revelation, highest, fullest, best, is the Self-unveiling of Deity in the kosmos, the revealing of attribute after attribute, power after power, beauty after beauty, in all the various forms which in their totality compose the universe. He shows His splendour in the sun, His infinity in the star-flecked fields of space, His strength in mountains, His purity in snow-clad peaks and translucent air, His energy in rolling ocean-billows, His beauty in tumbling mountain-torrent, in smooth, clear lake, in cool, deep forest and in sunlit plain, His fearlessness in the hero, His patience in the saint, His tenderness in mother-love, His protecting care in father and in king, His wisdom in the philosopher, His knowledge in the scientist, His healing power in the physician, His justice in the judge, His wealth in the merchant, His teaching power in the priest, His industry in the artisan. He whispers to us in the breeze, He smiles on us in the sunshine, He chides us in disease, He stimulates us, now by success and now by failure. Everywhere and in everything He gives us glimpses of Himself to lure us on to love Him, and He hides Himself that we may learn to stand alone. To know Him everywhere is the true Wisdom; to love Him everywhere is the true Desire; to serve Him everywhere is the true Action. This Self-revealing of God is the highest Revelation; all others are subsidiary and partial.

The inspired man is the man to whom some of this Revelation has come by the direct action of the universal Spirit on the separated Spirit that is His offspring, who has felt the illuminating influence of Spirit on Spirit. No man knows the truth so that he can never lose it, no man knows the truth so that he can never doubt it, until the Revelation has come to him as though he stood alone on earth, until the Divine without has spoken to the Divine within, in the temple of the human heart, and the man thus knows by himself and not by another.

In a lesser degree a man is inspired when one greater than he stimulates within him powers which as yet are normally inactive, or even takes possession of him, temporarily using his body as a vehicle. Such an illuminated man, at the time of his inspiration, can speak that which is beyond his knowledge, and utter truths till then unguessed. Truths are sometimes thus poured out through a human channel for the helping of the world, and some One greater than the speaker sends down his life into the human vehicle, and they rush forth from human lips; then a great teacher speaks yet more greatly than he knows, the Angel of the Lord having touched his lips with fire.[354] Such are the Prophets of the race, who at some periods have spoken with overwhelming conviction, with clear insight, with complete understanding of the spiritual needs of man. Then the words live with a life immortal, and the speaker is truly a messenger from God. The man who has thus known can never again quite lose the memory of the knowledge, and he carries within his heart a certainty which can never quite disappear. The light may vanish and the darkness come down upon him; the gleam from heaven may fade and clouds may surround him; threat, question, challenge, may assail him; but within his heart there nestles the Secret of Peace–he knows, or knows that he has known.

That remembrance of true inspiration, that reality of the hidden life, has been put into beautiful and true words by Frederick Myers, in his well-known poem, _S. Paul_. The apostle is speaking of his own experience, and is trying to give articulate expression to that which he remembers; he is figured as unable to thoroughly reproduce his knowledge, although he knows and his certainty does not waver:

So, even I, athirst for His inspiring, I, who have talked with Him, forget again; Yes, many days with sobs and with desiring, Offer to God a patience and a pain.

Then through the mid complaint of my confession, Then through the pang and passion of my prayer, Leaps with a start the shock of His possession, Thrills me and touches, and the Lord is there.

Lo, if some pen should write upon your rafter Mene and Mene in the folds of flame, Think ye could any memories thereafter Wholly retrace the couplet as it came?

Lo, if some strange intelligible thunder Sang to the earth the secret of a star, Scarce should ye catch, for terror and for wonder, Shreds of the story that was pealed so far!

Scarcely I catch the words of His revealing, Hardly I hear Him, dimly understand. Only the power that is within me pealing Lives on my lips, and beckons to my hand.

Whoso hath felt the Spirit of the Highest Cannot confound, nor doubt Him, nor deny; Yea, with one voice, O world, though thou deniest, Stand thou on that side, for on this am I.

Rather the world shall doubt when her retrieving Pours in the rain and rushes from the sod; Rather than he in whom the great conceiving Stirs in his soul to quicken into God.

Nay, though thou then shouldst strike him from his glory, Blind and tormented, maddened and alone, E’en on the cross would he maintain his story, Yes, and in Hell would whisper, “I have known.”

Those who have in any sense realised that God is around them, in them, and in everything, will be able to understand how a place or an object may become “sacred” by a slight objectivisation of this perennial universal Presence, so that those become able to sense Him who do not normally feel His omnipresence. This is generally effected by some highly advanced man, in whom the inner Divinity is largely unfolded, and whose subtle bodies are therefore responsive to the subtler vibrations of consciousness. Through such a man, or by such a man, spiritual energies may be poured forth, and these will unite themselves with his pure vital magnetism. He can then pour them forth on any object, and its ether and bodies of subtler matter will become attuned to his vibrations, as before explained, and further, the Divinity within it can more easily manifest. Such an object becomes “magnetised,” and, if this be strongly done, the object will itself become a magnetic centre, capable in turn of magnetising those who approach it. Thus a body electrified by an electric machine will affect other bodies near which it may be placed.

An object thus rendered “sacred” is a very useful adjunct to prayer and meditation. The subtle bodies of the worshipper are attuned to its high vibrations, and he finds himself quieted, soothed, pacified, without effort on his own part. He is thrown into a condition in which prayer and meditation are easy and fruitful instead of difficult and barren, and an irksome exercise becomes insensibly delightful. If the object be a representation of some sacred Person–a Crucifix, a Madonna and Child, an Angel, a Saint–there is a yet further gain. The Being represented, if his magnetism has been thrown into the image by the appropriate Word and Sign of Power, can re-inforce that magnetism with a very slight expenditure of spiritual energy, and may thus influence the devotee, or even show himself through the image, when otherwise he would not have done so. For in the spiritual world economy of forces is observed, and a small amount of energy will be expended where a larger would be withheld.

An application of these same occult laws may be made to explain the use of all consecrated objects–relics, amulets, &c. They are all magnetised objects, more or less powerful, or useless, according to the knowledge, purity, and spirituality of the person who magnetises them.

Places may similarly be made sacred, by the living in them of saints, whose pure magnetism, radiating from them, attunes the whole atmosphere to peace-giving vibrations. Sometimes holy men, or Beings from the higher worlds, will directly magnetise a certain place, as in the case mentioned in the Fourth Gospel, where an Angel came at a certain season and touched the water, giving it healing qualities.[355] In such places even careless worldly men will sometimes feel the blessed influence, and will be temporarily softened and inclined toward higher things. The divine Life in each man is ever trying to subdue the form, and mould it into an expression of itself; and it is easy to see how that Life will be aided by the form being thrown into vibrations sympathetic with those of a more highly evolved Being, its own efforts being reinforced by a stronger power. The outer recognition of this effect is a sense of quiet, calm, and peace; the mind loses its restlessness, the heart its anxiety. Any one who observes himself will find that some places are more conducive to calm, to meditation, to religious thought, to worship, than others. In a room, a building, where there has been a great deal of worldly thought, of frivolous conversation, of mere rush of ordinary worldly life, it is far harder to quiet the mind and to concentrate the thought, than in a place where religious thought has been carried on year after year, century after century; there the mind becomes calm and tranquillised insensibly, and that which would have demanded serious effort in the first place is done without effort in the second.

This is the rationale of places of pilgrimage, of temporary retreats into seclusion; the man turns inward to seek the God within him, and is aided by the atmosphere created by thousands of others, who before him have sought the same in the same place. For in such a place there is not only the magnetisation produced by a single saint, or by the visit of some great Being of the invisible world; each person, who visits the spot with a heart full of reverence and devotion, and is attuned to its vibrations, reinforces those vibrations with his own life, and leaves the spot better than it was when he came to it. Magnetic energy slowly disperses, and a sacred object or place becomes gradually demagnetised if put aside or deserted. It becomes more magnetised as it is used or frequented. But the presence of the ignorant scoffer injures such objects and places, by setting up antagonistic vibrations which weaken those already existing there. As a wave of sound may be met by another which extinguishes it, and the result is silence, so do the vibrations of the scoffing thought weaken or extinguish the vibrations of the reverent and loving one. The effect produced will, of course, vary with the relative strengths of the vibrations, but the mischievous one cannot be without result, for the laws of vibration are the same in the higher worlds as in the physical, and thought vibrations are the expression of real energies.

The reason and the effect of the consecration of churches, chapels, cemeteries, will now be apparent. The act of consecration is not the mere public setting aside of a place for a particular purpose; it is the magnetisation of the place for the benefit of all those who frequent it. For the visible and the invisible worlds are inter-related, interwoven, each with each, and those can best serve the visible by whom the energies of the invisible can be wielded.

Annie Besant – Esoteric Christianity (1901)

220px-Annie_Besant_-_portrait

Pilgrimage and Discovery

If you meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him – Sheldon Kopp (1972)

From Chapter 1 – Pilgrims and Disciples

The pilgrim, whether psychotherapy patient or earlier wayfarer, is at war with himself, in a struggle with his own nature. All of the truly important battles are waged within the self. It is as if we are all tempted to view ourselves as men on horseback. 9 The horse rep-resents a lusty animal-way of living, untrammeled by reason, unguided by purpose. The rider represents in-dependent, impartial thought, a sort of pure cold, intelligence. Too often the pilgrim lives as though his goal is to become the horseman who would break the horse’s spirit so that he can control him, so that he may ride safely and comfortably wherever he wishes to go. If he does not wish to struggle for discipline, it is because he believes that his only options will be either to live the lusty, undirected life of the riderless horse, or to tread the detached, unadventuresome way of the horseless rider. If neither of these, then he must be the rider struggling to gain control of his rebellious mount. He does not see that there will be no struggle, once he recognizes himself as a centaur.

If he ever achieves his true nature, gets beyond the point of struggle, he may wonder why the therapist-guru did not tell him at once the simple truths that would have made him free. But as a therapist, I know that though the patient learns, I do not teach. Furthermore, what is to be learned is too elusively simple to be grasped without struggle, surrender, and experiencing of how it is. As one Zen Master said to his now-enlightened pupil:

If I did not make you fight in every way possible in order to find the meaning [of Zen] and lead you finally to a state of non-fighting and of no-effort from which you can see with your own eyes, I am sure that you would lose every chance of discovering yourself.

This search for enlightenment, pursued in a secular context by today’s psychotherapy patient, has in the past been cast in religious terms. Whatever the metaphors in which the pilgrim experiences his quest, any trip involving a search for spiritual meaning is an allegorical journey through life, a journey that can renew and enrich the quality of the rest of the pilgrim’s daily living. The pilgrim, “strengthened by desire and hope, burdened with anxiety and fear, beset by temptations and guarded by spiritual powers, pursues his way along the Path of Life, seeking ever ‘a better country.”’

The early history of the pilgrimage is a variegated story of journeys made for reasons both sacred and profane to those holy places where a god resides, or where a prophet has appeared, or where a hero has been martyred. Pilgrimages were made by pagan Greeks and by the inhabitants of the ancient sites of other early Mediterranean civilizations, by Orientals, Egyptians, Jews, and Christians.

The primitive Aborigines of Australia also make ceremonial trips to holy places, places whose origin their myths describe: The two Djanggau Sisters came across the water.., traveling on the path of the rising sun from an island away to the northeast. They made the first people. They made the water holes and the sacred ritual sites.
At first the sisters possessed all the most secret sacred objects, the most sacred rites. Men had nothing. And so men stole them. But the sisters, said, “Oh, let them keep those things. Now men can do this work, looking after those things for everybody.”

And to this day, Aboriginal men still make pilgrim-ages to the sacred ritual sites to look after things.

In the Orient, pilgrimages have long been, and still are, common ways of fulfilling spiritual vows. Buddha himself has been called “the Great Pilgrim.” In Islam, Mohammed, the Prophet of Allah, proclaimed it the duty of every Muslim to visit Mecca at least once in his lifetime. As a result, Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed, has become the centre of religious life of the Muslim world.

Christians, too, have long found it rewarding to make pilgrimages. From the close of the eleventh century on they undertook several great crusading expeditions. Taking up the Cross and forsaking their homes, thousands ventured out for the love of God, or for their own material gain. They made the far journey to the places in which the Saviour is said to have walked. Whatever their motives, they went in the company of other seekers; they found community with others as they ex-changed tales, made themselves known to one another, and examined the meaning of their lives.

Even before (as well as after) the Crusades, many were used to the familiar habit of journeying to the shrines of local saints. Some were sick and sought a cure. Others, now recovered, went to fulfill a vow of gratitude. Many went to expiate their sins, as a communal expression of penances. Some even went as a form of social protest, to honour a dissident hero. “To make a saint of a rebel was the most energetic means of protesting against the king.”

Whatever the initial motives, such a journey often gave the pilgrims new perspective on the meaning of their lives, made them “converts to better lives, [at least] for a time.” The metaphor of his journey is a bridge, and as the pilgrim crosses it, “a fiend clutches at him from behind; and Death awaits him at the farther end.” But there are companions and helpers along the way as well. One pilgrim may help another as when a blind man carries one who is lame upon his back, so that together they may make a pilgrimage that neither could make alone.

By acts of devotion, the crossing of this bridge may be undertaken. But the call to the difficult life of pilgrimage may be ignored or denied. Christ admonishes:

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.

And a journey may be a flight, rather than a search. James Joyce, the Irish expatriate, went to find his place in Paris, and spent the rest of his life in exile there, writing about life in Dublin, the home from which he had escaped. Someone once suggested that his God-term should have been a pier, rather than the bridge of pilgrimages, for a pier is a bridge that goes nowhere.

Search we must. Each man must set out to cross his bridge. The important thing is to begin. “A journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath one’s feet.” But, remember, setting out does not by itself guarantee success. There is beginning, but there is also persevering, that is, beginning again and again and again. You are well advised to set out with a professional pilgrim as a guide. Such men of lifelong calling (or penance) are easily recognizable, “adorned with many tokens, the witness of many wonders, the hero of many adventures.”

And remember, too, you can stay at home, safe in the familiar illusion of certainty. Do not set out with-out realizing that “the way is not without danger. Everything good is costly, and the development of the personality is one of the most costly of all things.” It will cost you your innocence, your illusions, your certainty.

Sheldon Kopp – If you meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him (1972)

buddha on the road

The Tragedy of Reason

from the book “The Occult” by Colin Wilson 1971

INTRODUCTION

THE THESIS OF THIS BOOK IS REVOLUTIONARY and I must state it clearly at the outset.

Primitive man believed the world was full of unseen forces: the orenda (spirit force) of the American Indians, the huaca of the ancient Peruvians. The Age of Reason said that these forces had only ever existed in man’s imagination; only reason could show man the truth about the universe. The trouble was that man became a thinking pygmy, and the world of the rationalists was a daylight place in which boredom, triviality and ‘ordinariness’ were ultimate truths.

But the main trouble with human beings is their tendency to become trapped in the ‘triviality of everydayness’ (to borrow Heidegger’s phrase), in the suffocating world of their personal preoccupations. And every time they do this, they forget the immense world of broader significance that stretches around them. And since man needs a sense of meaning to release his hidden energies, this forgetfulness pushes him deeper into depression and boredom, the sense that nothing is worth the effort.

In a sense, the Indians and Peruvians were closer to the truth than modern man, for their intuition of ‘unseen forces’ kept them wide open to the vistas of meaning that surround us.

Goethe’s Faust can be seen to be the greatest symbolic drama of the West, since it is the drama of the rationalist suffocating in the dusty room of his personal consciousness, caught in the vicious circle of boredom and futility, which in turn leads to still further boredom and futility. Faust’s longing for the ‘occult’ is the instinctive desire to believe in the unseen forces, the wider significances, that can break the circuit.

The interesting thing is that Western man developed science and philosophy because of this consuming passion for wider significances. It was not his reason that betrayed him, but his inability to reason clearly, to understand that a healthy mind must have an ‘input’ of meaning from the universe if it is to keep up an ‘output’ of vital effort. The fatal error was the failure of the scientists and rationalists to keep their minds open to the sense of huaca, the unseen forces. They tried to measure life with a six-inch ruler and weigh it with the kitchen scales. This was not science; it was crudity only one degree beyond that of savages; and Swift made game of it in the ‘Voyage to Laputa.’

Man lives and evolves by ‘eating’ significance, as a child eats food. The deeper his sense of wonder, the wider his curiosity, the stronger his vitality becomes, and the more powerful his grip on his own existence.

There are two ways in which he can expand: inward and outward. If I am in a foreign country and I get a powerful desire to explore it thoroughly, to visit its remotest places, that is a typical example of outward expansion. And it would not be untrue to say that the love of books, of music, of art, is typical of the desire for inward expansion. But that is only a half of it. For what happens if I suddenly become fascinated by a foreign country is that I feel like the spider in the centre of a web; I am aware of all kinds of ‘significances’ vibrating along the web, and I want to reach out and grab them all. But in moods of deep inner serenity, the same thing happens. Suddenly I am aware of vast inner spaces, of strange significances inside me. I am no longer a puny twentieth-century human being trapped in his life-world and personality. Once again, I am at the centre of a web, feeling vibrations of meaning. And suddenly I realise that in the deepest sense those Indians and Peruvians were right. I am like a tree that suddenly becomes aware that its roots go down deep, deep into the earth. And at this present point in evolution, my roots go far deeper into the earth than my branches stretch above it – a thousand times deeper.

So-called magic powers are a part of this underground world: powers of second sight, pre-vision, telepathy, divination. These are not necessarily important to our evolution; most animals possess them, and we would not have allowed them to sink into disuse if they were essential. But the knowledge of his ‘roots,’ his inner world, is important to man at this point in evolution, for he had become trapped in his image of himself as a thinking pygmy. He must somehow return to the recognition that he is potentially a ‘mage,’ one of those magical figures who can hurl thunderbolts or command spirits. The great artists and poets have always been aware of this. The message of the symphonies of Bee-thoven could be summarised: ‘Man is not small; he’s just bloody lazy.’

Civilisation cannot evolve further until ‘the occult’ is taken for granted on the same level as atomic energy. I do not mean that scientists ought to spend their evenings with an ouija board, or that every university should set up a ‘department of psychic sciences’ along the lines of the Rhine Institute at Duke. I mean that we have to learn to expand inward until we have somehow re-established the sense of huaca, until we have re-created the feeling of ‘unseen forces’ that was common to primitive man. It has somehow got to be done. There are aspects of the so-called supernatural that we have got to learn to take for granted, to live with them as easily as our ancestors did. ‘Man’s perceptions are not bounded by organs of perception,’ says Blake. ‘He perceives more than sense (though ever so acute) can discover.’ He ‘knows’ things that he has not learned through schooling or everyday experience, and sometimes it is more comfortable not to know. Osbert Sitwell has a strange anecdote about a palmist:

Nearly all my brother-officers of my own age had been, two or three months earlier in the year, to see a celebrated palmist of the period – whom, I remember it was said, Mr. Winston Churchill used sometimes to consult. My friends, of course, used to visit her in the hope of being told that their love affairs would prosper, when they would marry, or the direction in which their later careers would develop. In each instance, it appears, the cheiromant had just begun to read their fortunes, when, in sudden bewilderment, she had thrown the outstretched hand from her, crying, ‘I don’t understand it! It’s the same thing again! After two or three months, the line of life stops short, and I can read nothing…’ To each individual to whom it was said, this seemed merely an excuse she had improvised for her failure: but when I was told by four or five persons of the same experience, I wondered what it could portend…’

It portended the outbreak of the 1914 war, and the deaths of the brother officers whose life lines came to an end three months after consulting the palmist.

The number of readers who would dismiss this story as a fantasy or a downright lie is probably very small. A larger number may feel that there is some truth in it, but that it has been in some way exaggerated. The majority of people would probably accept that it is more or less true, and all rather odd…but not very important; at least, they have no intention of thinking about it. And we tend to fall back on this response whenever we are faced with the ‘odd’: to push it into a com-partment of the mind labelled ‘exceptions,’ and forget about it. I hear that Abraham Lincoln had dreams and premonitions of his death for a week before he was assassinated; that is ‘odd,’ but it is also past history, and it may have been exaggerated. I open a weekend colour supplement, and read that for a week before the explosion that destroyed a BEA Comet aircraft on October 12, 1967, Nicos Papapetrou was haunted by premonitions, and dreams of death and mourning, so that an hour before take-off, he tried to book on another flight. That is not past history, but then, Papapetrou was carrying the bomb that accidentally exploded. He was an explosives smuggler and had made six similar trips earlier that year; why did he get premonitions on this one? We shrug, agree that it is very odd, and think about something else.

Now, I am certainly not suggesting that we should spend our lives worrying about dreams and premonitions, or patronise fortune-tellers; it is a healthy instinct that makes us ignore them and get on with the practical business of living. But the hard-headed, tough-minded attitude towards such things is a mistake in the most ordinary, logical sense of that term. A mere two centuries ago, the most respected scientists declared that it was absurd to assert that the earth is more than a few thousand years old, or that strange monsters had once walked its forests. When workmen in quarries discovered fossilised sea-creatures, or even the skull of a dinosaur, this was explained as a freak rock formation, nature imitating living forms by way of a joke. And for the next fifty years the hard-headed scientists devoted their time and inge-nuity to explaining away the fossils and bones that were found in increasing numbers. Cuvier, one of the greatest zoologists of the nineteenth century, destroyed the career of his colleague Lamarck by stigmatising his theory of evolution as fanciful and unscientific; his own more ‘scientific’ belief was that all the prehistoric creatures (whose existence was now acknowledged) had been totally destroyed in a series of world catastrophes, wiping the slate clean for the creation of man and the animals of today.

This kind of thing is not the exception in the history of science but the rule. For one of the fundamental dogmas of science is that a man who is denying a theory is probably more ‘scientific’ than a man who is affirming it.

In spite of Cuvier, the ‘fanciful’ ideas of evolution have won the day – although, in the form in which they were most acceptable to scientists, they were rigorous, mechanical laws of ‘survival of the fittest.’ Slowly that is changing, and the latest developments in biology may end by altering our conception of the universe as much as the dinosaur bones altered our conception of the earth. And that is the premise upon which this book is based. The time may not be far off when we can accept certain ‘occult’ phenomena as naturally as we now accept the existence of atoms.

In order to clarify this assertion, I must speak briefly of the new science of cybernetics. Cybernetics was ‘invented’ in 1948 by the physicist Norbert Wiener of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is the science of control and communication, in machines and animals. (The Greek work kybernetes means a steersman or governor.) The floating ball in the lavatory cistern is a simple application of cybernetic control; when the cistern is full, the ball-cock cuts off the water. With a little ingenuity I could devise a similar control to turn off the bath taps when the water reaches a certain level, saving myself the trouble of sitting up in the bath. But in science and industry, the process I want to control may be many times more complicated than bath taps; it may, for example, be some chemical process that might develop in several directions. In which case, I must make use of an electronic computer and ‘programme’ it to deal with many possible situations. A card with a few holes punched in it is enough to give the computer its instructions and to make it behave like a foreman seeing that a job gets done properly.

Since the late-nineteenth century, it has been understood that living creatures derive their characteristics from tiny cells called genes, which are contained in the male sperm and the female egg. The colour of my hair and eyes, and the size of my feet, are all determined by genes. But no one was sure how the genes did this. In the mid-1950s, it gradually became clear that the genes are like a computer card with holes punched in it. The ‘holes’ are actually molecules of a substance called DNA, linked together in the form of a double spiral, something like two springs twisted together in opposite directions.

The more we know about this computer system that makes us what we are, the more baffling it becomes. Darwin’s theory of evolution accounts for the giraffe’s neck and the elephant’s trunk in terms of accident, just as you might explain a rock worn into the shape of a face by pointing to the wind and rain. Science hates ‘teleology,’ the notion of purpose. The rock didn’t want to be sculpted into the shape of a face, and the wind and rain didn’t want to sculpt it; it just happened. Similarly, biologists hate the heresy known as ‘vitalism,’ the notion that life somehow ‘wants’ to produce healthier and more intelligent creatures; they just happen to get produced because health and intelligence survive better than sickness and stupidity. But when one realises that human beings are produced by a highly complex computer card, it becomes difficult to avoid slipping into ‘teleology’ and wondering who programmed the computer.

In 1969, a cybernetician, Dr. David Foster, lectured to the International Conference on Cybernetics at the Imperial College, London, and sketched some of the philosophical implications of these discoveries. He pointed out that from the cybernetician’s point of view, it is possible to consider the universe in terms of data and data processing. An acorn, for example, may be regarded as the ‘programme’ for an oak tree. Even an atom can be thought of as a computer card with three holes punched in it, the holes being (a) the number of particles in the nucleus, (b) the number of electrons orbiting round it, (c) the energy of these electrons expressed in terms of the smallest known ‘parcel’ of energy, Planck’s constant. Dr. Foster goes on: ‘Surely it must be obvious that the essential nature of matter is that the atoms are the alphabet of the universe, that chemical compounds are words, and that DNA is rather a long sentence or even a whole book trying to say something such as “elephant,” “giraffe” or even “man.”

He goes on to point out that the basic building brick of any electrical information theory is one electrical wave, and a wave consists of two halves, because it is measured from the top of one ‘bump’ to the bottom of the next trough.

That is, a wave is a ‘binary’ system, and computers work upon binary mathematics. This is an important step in his argument, for if we think of ‘waves’ as the basic vocabulary of the universe, then you can think of life – in fact, of all matter – as being due to waves that have somehow been cybernetically programmed.

What he is saying certainly sounds like ‘teleology.’ If I saw a complex chemical process being regulated and controlled by a computer, I would infer that someone had programmed the computer. Dr. Foster is saying that, to the eyes of a cybernetician, the complex structures of life around him reveal data processing on a massive scale. This is a matter of scientific fact. And he naturally finds himself wondering what intelligence processed the data?

And now Dr. Foster takes his most controversial step. He explains that ‘as an automation consultant, whenever I design a control system for a process it is axiomatic that the speed of the control system must be greater than that of the motions of the process concerned.’ For example, you can drive your car because you can think faster than the engine works; if you couldn’t, you would crash. But in that case, programming of matter must be achieved by vibrations – or waves – much faster than the vibrations of matter. That is, in cosmic radiations. The universe is, of course, full of cosmic radiations; and, in Dr. Foster’s view, these are probably what lie behind the ‘programming’ of the DNA molecules.

But observe the central point. A wave that carries information is quite different from a wave that doesn’t. The information is imposed on its structure by intelligence. Dr. Foster’s conclusion – although stated with the typical caution of a scientist and hedged around with qualifications – is that the level of intelligence involved must be a great deal higher than our human intelligence. This is also a scientific deduction, not a metaphysical guess. He mentions the Compton Effect in physics, by which the wave length of X-rays is increased by collision with electrons, and the rule deduced from this that you can make red light from blue light – because its energy is less – but not blue light from red light. ‘The faster vibrating blue light is programming for red light, but not vice versa.’

What Dr. Foster is saying is not fundamentally different from the Paley’s watch argument. The theologian Paley remarked that when he looks at the works of his watch, he realises that it implies an intelligent maker, and that man is, after all, more complex than any watch. However, Dr. Foster – if I understand him aright – is not trying to introduce God through the back door. He is less concerned with theories about who does the programming than with the fact that there is programming throughout nature; he is concerned with the question of how the ‘information’ gets carried to the DNA, and ‘cosmic radiation’ suggests itself as a plausible assumption. He says, ‘One establishes a new picture of the universe as a digitised universe, an information universe, but I think that because of the strong cybernetical influences at work, I prefer to call it The Intelligent Universe.’

It is interesting that Dr. Foster arrives at this Intelligent Universe not by starting from the idea of purpose or God, as religious thinkers do, but simply by considering the facts we now know about the cybernetic programming of living matter. What emerges is a picture of the universe that fits in with the theories of other scientists and psychologists during the past twenty years: Teilhard de Chardin, Sir Julian Huxley, C. H. Waddington, Abraham Maslow, Viktor Frankl, Michael Polanyi, Noam Chomsky. What all these men have in common is an opposition to ‘reductionism,’ the attempt to explain man and the universe in terms of the laws of physics or the behaviour of laboratory rats. The psychologist Abraham Maslow, for example, writes: ‘Man has a “higher nature” that is just as instinctoid as his lower (animal) nature…’ Dr. Foster’s theory of a ‘digitised universe’ is perhaps bolder than the evolutionism of Huxley and Waddington, but the spirit is fundamentally similar. There is no contradiction.

And all this means that for the first time in Western history a book on the occult can be something more than a collection of marvels and absurdities. Religion, mysticism and magic all spring from the same basic ‘feeling’ about the universe: a sudden feeling of meaning, which human beings sometimes ‘pick up’ accidentally, as your radio might pick up some unknown station. Poets feel that we are cut off from meaning by a thick lead wall, and that sometimes for no reason we can understand the wall seems to vanish and we are suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of the infinite interestingness of things. Ivan Karamazov, in Dostoevsky’s novel, tells a story about an atheist who did not believe in life after death, and after his death, God sentenced him to walk a billion miles as a penance. The atheist lay on the road and refused to move for a million years; however, he eventually dragged himself to his feet and unwillingly walked the billion miles. And when he was finally admitted to heaven, he immediately declared that it would have been worth walking ten times as far just for five minutes of heaven. Dostoevsky catches this mystical sense of a meaning so intense that it surpasses anything we can conceive and that would make any effort worthwhile. It is the sense of meaning that spurs man to make the efforts necessary to evolution. While he believes that his boredom and pessimism are telling him the truth about the universe he refuses to make an effort. If, like Ivan’s sinner, he could get a sudden glimpse of ‘meaning,’ he would become unconquerable and unkillable; walking ten billion miles would be a joke.

Now, Western science has always agreed that there is plenty to discover about the universe – but it is fundamentally a dead, mechanical universe. You might say that the scientist is nothing more than a glorified accident-investigator. And the accident-investigator is himself the product of accident. But man is more deeply moved by meaning than by accident. The French speleologist Norbert Casteret found the underground caves at Montespan exciting to explore; but this was nothing to his excitement when he found the walls covered with paintings of lions and horses, and realised that he had stumbled on the art of prehistoric cave men. Discovery of the product of intelligence is always more exciting than the product of accident.

If David Foster is right, or even half right, then it is the beginning of a new epoch in human knowledge, for science will cease to be the investigation of accident and become a search for meaning. He writes, ‘The universe is a total construction of waves and vibrations whose inner content is “meaning”…’ admitting at the same time that our instruments are far too clumsy to decode the meanings carried by high-frequency vibrations. But to believe that the meaning is there, to be decoded, is an enormous step forward, almost the equivalent of the atheist’s glimpse of heaven.

And, for present purposes, it also provides a picture of the universe that has room for ‘occult phenomena’ as well as for atomic physics. In the past, the trouble was always where to draw the line. If you could accept telepathy and premonitions of the future, then why not astrology and fortune-telling and werewolves and vampires and ghosts and witches casting spells? Because if you are going to contradict scientific logic, you may as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb, and see how many impossible things you can believe before breakfast.

On the other hand, Dr. Foster’s theory agrees with the intuitions of poets, mystics and ‘occultists’: that there are ‘meanings’ floating around us from which we are normally cut off by habit, ignorance and the dullness of the senses. So-called esoteric tradition may be no more than the superstition of ignorant savages, but it could also be an attempt to explain one of those accidental glimpses of a meaning that goes beyond everyday banality, a moment when the human radio set picks up unknown vibrations. The word ‘occult’, after all, means ‘the unknown,’ the hidden. Or perhaps these glimpses are not accidental; perhaps the Intelligent Universe is trying to communicate to us.

But whether we want to go this far or not, there is a sense of liberation in being able to accept that the universe is full of meaning that we could grasp if we took the trouble. Bertrand Russell expresses the same feeling in My Philosophical Development when he tells how he came to reject the Kantian notion that there is no ‘reality’ out there: ‘With a sense of escaping from prison, we allowed ourselves to think that the grass is green, that the sun and stars would exist if no one was aware of them, and also that there is a pluralistic timeless world of Platonic ideas…’

Man must believe in realities outside his own smallness, outside the ‘triviality of everydayness,’ if he is to do anything worthwhile.

And this brings me to one of the central assertions of this book. As long ago as 1887, Max Müller, the editor of The Sacred Books of the East, pointed out that for all practical purposes our ancestors of two thousand years ago were almost colour-blind, as most animals are today. ‘Xenophanes knew of three colours of the rainbow only – purple, red and yellow; that even Aristotle spoke of the tricoloured rainbow; and that Democritus knew of no more than four colours – black, white, red and yellow.’ Homer apparently thought the sea the same colour as wine. There are no colour words in primitive Indo-European speech. We can understand why Aristotle’s pupil Alexander of Macedon spent his life conquering the world. It must have been a singularly dull world, with no distinction between the red of wine, the blue-green of the sea, the emerald-green of grass and the deep-blue of the sky. But it is understandable, biologically speaking. Life was hard and violent, and the capacity to grasp subtle distinctions of thought or colour would have been of no value for survival. Alexander was energetic and imaginative; what else was there for him to do but conquer the world, and then cry when there was no more to conquer?

But the capacity to enjoy ‘subtle vibrations’ is an important part of our energy-outlets. A man who cannot read is going to have a very dull time as he recuperates in hospital from a serious operation, whereas a man who loves reading may find the inactivity delightful. Boredom is lack of the capacity for registering subtle vibrations. And the definition of a living organism is an organism capable of responding to energy vibrations. These vibrations constitute ‘meanings.’ Whether I am relaxing in front of a fire, or enjoying a glass of wine, or responding to a symphony, or smelling cut grass as I mow the lawn, I am registering meanings and recording vibrations. The important difference between a man and his dog is not only that the dog is colour-blind, but that the man has a wider range of response in almost every field.

The higher the form of life, the deeper its capacity for registering meaning, and the more powerful its hold on life. For Alexander, meaning was bound up with conquest, and when he reached a limit of conquest, he also reached the end of his tether; he had conquered the world at thirty-one; he died at thirty-three.

Evolution is simply the capacity to register meanings that are already there. Blue and green existed, even if Xenophanes could not distinguish between them. We are evolving into a universe that becomes progressively more fascinating as we learn to register new vibrations. No doubt in another thousand years, human beings will see a dazzling universe with a dozen colours that do not exist for us.

Now, it should be obvious that an increase in ‘subtlety’ is an inward evolution. An apprentice clockmaker begins by repairing large docks, and slowly graduates to the finest watches. He develops an increasing stillness and concentration, and these are ‘inward’ qualities.

Man has reached a point in his evolution where he must graduate from clocks to watches, from the large to the subtle. He must turn increasingly inward. That is, he must turn to the hidden levels of his being, to the ‘occult,’ to meanings and vibrations that have so far been too fine to grasp.

I have divided this book into three parts. Although it was originally intended to take the form of a history, I felt that a lengthy preamble was needed – a section in which I could state my own preoccupations and convictions. I have argued that there is a connection between creativity and ‘psychic’ sensitivity. The creative person is concerned to tap the powers of the subconscious mind, and in doing so, may become aware of forces that are normally inaccessible to consciousness. This is why I have included discussions of the I Ching and the Tarot in this section.

The second part is the history that I set out to write. I had the choice of attempting either a history of magic in general, or a history of individual ‘mages’ and adepts, with the necessary historical background to connect them together. I have chosen the latter course.

The third part of the book is concerned with the subjects that I only had time to touch upon in the second part: witchcraft, lycanthropy and vampirism, the history of spiritualism, the problem of ghosts and poltergeists. The last chapter of the book, ‘Glimpses,’ returns to the subjects of this preface: the metaphysical questions that arise out of occultism; the problem of time; and the nature of ‘man’s latent powers.’

This is a large book, and as comprehensive a history as I can make it. But it soon became clear to me that it had to be essentially a personal statement of conviction rather than an encyclopaedia. There are good encyclopaedias: notably Lewis Spence’s Encyclopedia of Occultism. Nandor Fodor’s Encyclopedia of Psychic Science, and the wide-ranging Man, Myth and Magic (which, at the time this book goes to press, has only reached the second of seven volumes). But their disadvantage is that they tend to be a disconnected mass of information. The books of the late Charles Fort have the same fault; he spent his life collecting newspaper reports of weird and unexplainable events to disconcert the scientists, and then failed to disconcert anybody but his admirers because he tossed down a great mountain of facts like a heap of firewood and hoped they would argue for themselves. But facts never do. In this book, perhaps I have argued a little too much, but it seemed to me to be the safer of two courses.

In an early chapter I speak about coincidences; and certainly there have been enough in the writing of this book. On one occasion, when I was searching for a piece of information, a book actually fell off the shelf and fell open at the right page. And items of required information have turned up with a promptitude that sometimes made me nervous. After a while I got used to this, and even began to feel a mild resentment when some piece of information evaded me for more than ten minutes or so. Which seems to demonstrate my point that if the supernatural made too many incursions into human existence, it would end by making us lazy.

My own attitude to the subject has changed during the course of researching and writing this book. Although I have always been curious about the ‘occult’ – I have five hundred or so volumes on magic and the supernatural – it has never been one of my major interests, like philosophy or science, or even music. While I was by no means entirely sceptical, I felt that most people are interested in the supernatural for the wrong reasons. My grandmother was a spiritualist, and the few spiritualists I met through her did not impress me as particularly wide-awake or intelligent. Some ten years ago the Shakespearian scholar G. Wilson Knight talked to me about spiritualism and lent me books on the subject, and again I could not bring myself to take any deep interest. It was not that I rejected what he said; I had sufficient respect for his intellect in other fields to accept that this was not pure wishful thinking. But I still felt that, compared to the world of philosophy or psychology, there was something trivial about all this preoccupation with life after death, as there is about chess or ballroom dancing. There was a smell of the ‘human, all too human’ about it. Camus expressed the same feeling when he said, ‘I do not want to believe that death opens out onto another life. For me, it is a closed door…All the solutions that are offered to me try to take away from man the weight of his own life. And watching the heavy flight of the great birds in the sky at Djémila, it is exactly a certain weight of my life that I ask for and I receive.’ Hemingway, at his best, possessed this same awareness. It is a feeling that our life can offer a reality and an intensity that makes most ordinary religious emotion seem trivial and self-deluding. The spiritualist says, ‘Surely this life would be meaningless if it came to an end with death?’ Camus’s reply would be that if he accepts life after death as an answer to this meaninglessness, he is losing even the possibility of the moments when life becomes oddly ‘real.’

It was not until two years ago, when I began the systematic research for this book, that I realised the remarkable consistency of the evidence for such matters as life after death, out-of-the-body experiences (astral projection), reincarnation. In a basic sense, my attitude remains unchanged; I still regard philosophy – the pursuit of reality through intuition aided by intellect – as being more relevant, more important, than questions of ‘the occult.’ But the weighing of the evidence, in this unsympathetic frame of mind, has convinced me that the basic claims of ‘occultism’ are true. It seems to me that the reality of life after death has been established beyond all reasonable doubt. I sympathise with the philosophers and scientists who regard it as emotional nonsense, because I am temperamentally on their side; but I think they are closing their eyes to evidence that would convince them if it concerned the mating habits of albino rats or the behaviour of alpha particles.

In the past few centuries, science has made us aware that the universe is stranger and more interesting than our ancestors realised. It is an amusing thought that it may turn out stranger and more interesting than even the scientists are willing to admit.

Colin Wilson – The Occult, Introduction (1971)

Cover of The Occult

The Law of Sacrifice – the fundamental principle of creation

Esoteric Christianity – Annie Besant

CHAPTER VII.

THE ATONEMENT.

We will now proceed to study certain aspects of the Christ-Life, as they appear among the doctrines of Christianity. In the exoteric teachings they appear as attached only to the Person of the Christ; in the esoteric they are seen as belonging indeed to Him, since in their primary, their fullest and deepest meaning they form part of the activities of the Logos, but as being only secondarily reflected in the Christ, and therefore also in every Christ-Soul that treads the way of the Cross. Thus studied they will be seen to be profoundly true, while in their exoteric form they often bewilder the intelligence and jar the emotions.

Among these stands prominently forward the doctrine of the Atonement; not only has it been a point of bitter attack from those outside the pale of Christianity, but it has wrung many sensitive consciences within that pale. Some of the most deeply Christian thinkers of the last half of the nineteenth century have been tortured with doubts as to the teaching of the churches on this matter, and have striven to see, and to present it, in a way that softens or explains away the cruder notions based on an unintelligent reading of a few profoundly mystical texts. Nowhere, perhaps, more than in connection with these should the warning of S. Peter be borne in mind: “Our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given unto him, hath written unto you – as also in all his epistles – speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto own destruction.” For the texts that tell of the identity of the Christ with His brother-men have been wrested into a legal substitution of Himself for them, and have thus been used as an escape from the results of sin, instead of as an inspiration to righteousness.

The general teaching in the Early Church on the doctrine of the Atonement was that Christ, as the Representative of Humanity, faced and conquered Satan, the representative of the Dark Powers, who held humanity in bondage, wrested his captive from him, and set him free. Slowly, as Christian teachers lost touch with spiritual truths, and they reflected their own increasing intolerance and harshness on the pure and loving Father of the teachings of the Christ, they represented Him as angry with man, and the Christ was made to save man from the wrath of God instead of from the bondage of evil. Then legal phrases intruded, still further materialising the once spiritual idea, and the “scheme of redemption” was forensically outlined. “The seal was set on the ‘redemption scheme’ by Anselm in his great work, Cur Deus Homo, and the doctrine which had been slowly growing into the theology of Christendom was thenceforward stamped with the signet of the Church. Roman Catholics and Protestants, at the time of the Reformation, alike believed in the vicarious and substitutionary character of the atonement wrought by Christ. There is no dispute between them on this point. I prefer to allow the Christian divines to speak for themselves as to the character of the atonement…. Luther teaches that ‘Christ did truly and effectually feel for all mankind the wrath of God, malediction, and death.’ Flavel says that ‘to wrath, to the wrath of an infinite God without mixture, to the very torments of hell, was Christ delivered, and that by the hand of his own father.’ The Anglican homily preaches that ‘sin did pluck God out of heaven to make him feel the horrors and pains of death,’ and that man, being a firebrand of hell and a bondsman of the devil, ‘was ransomed by the death of his only and well-beloved son’; the ‘heat of his wrath,’ ‘his burning wrath,’ could only be ‘pacified’ by Jesus, ‘so pleasant was the sacrifice and oblation of his son’s death.’ Edwards, being logical, saw that there was a gross injustice in sin being twice punished, and in the pains of hell, the penalty of sin, being twice inflicted, first on Jesus, the substitute of mankind, and then on the lost, a portion of mankind; so he, in common with most Calvinists, finds himself compelled to restrict the atonement to the elect, and declared that Christ bore the sins, not of the world, but of the chosen out of the world; he suffers ‘not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me.’ But Edwards adheres firmly to the belief in substitution, and rejects the universal atonement for the very reason that ‘to believe Christ died for all is the surest way of proving that he died for none in the sense Christians have hitherto believed.’ He declares that ‘Christ suffered the wrath of God for men’s sins’; that ‘God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for,’ sin. Owen regards Christ’s sufferings as ‘a full valuable compensation to the justice of God for all the sins’ of the elect, and says that he underwent ‘that same punishment which … they themselves were bound to undergo.'”

To show that these views were still authoritatively taught in the churches, I wrote further: “Stroud makes Christ drink ‘the cup of the wrath of God.’ Jenkyn says ‘He suffered as one disowned and reprobated and forsaken of God.’ Dwight considers that he endured God’s ‘hatred and contempt.’ Bishop Jeune tells us that ‘after man had done his worst, worse remained for Christ to bear. He had fallen into his father’s hands.’ Archbishop Thomson preaches that ‘the clouds of God’s wrath gathered thick over the whole human race: they discharged themselves on Jesus only.’ He ‘becomes a curse for us and a vessel of wrath.’ Liddon echoes the same sentiment: ‘The apostles teach that mankind are slaves, and that Christ on the cross is paying their ransom. Christ crucified is voluntarily devoted and accursed’; he even speaks of ‘the precise amount of ignominy and pain needed for the redemption,’ and says that the ‘divine victim’ paid more than was absolutely necessary.”

These are the views against which the learned and deeply religious Dr. McLeod Campbell wrote his well-known work, On the Atonement, a volume containing many true and beautiful thoughts; F. D. Maurice and many other Christian men have also striven to lift from Christianity the burden of a doctrine so destructive of all true ideas as to the relations between God and man.

None the less, as we look backwards over the effects produced by this doctrine, we find that belief in it, even in its legal – and to us crude exoteric – form, is connected with some of the very highest developments of Christian conduct, and that some of the noblest examples of Christian manhood and womanhood have drawn from it their strength, their inspiration, and their comfort. It would be unjust not to recognise this fact. And whenever we come upon a fact that seems to us startling and incongruous, we do well to pause upon that fact, and to endeavour to understand it. For if this doctrine contained nothing more than is seen in it by its assailants inside and outside the churches, if it were in its true meaning as repellent to the conscience and the intellect as it is found to be by many thoughtful Christians, then it could not possibly have exercised over the minds and hearts of men a compelling fascination, nor could it have been the root of heroic self-surrenders, of touching and pathetic examples of self-sacrifice in the service of man. Something more there must be in it than lies on the surface, some hidden kernel of life which has nourished those who have drawn from it their inspiration. In studying it as one of the Lesser Mysteries we shall find the hidden life which these noble ones have unconsciously absorbed, these souls which were so at one with that life that the form in which it was veiled could not repel them.

When we come to study it as one of the Lesser Mysteries, we shall feel that for its understanding some spiritual development is needed, some opening of the inner eyes. To grasp it requires that its spirit should be partly evolved in the life, and only those who know practically something of the meaning of self-surrender will be able to catch a glimpse of what is implied in the esoteric teaching on this doctrine, as the typical manifestation of the Law of Sacrifice. We can only understand it as applied to the Christ, when we see it as a special manifestation of the universal law, a reflection below of the Pattern above, showing us in a concrete human life what sacrifice means.

The Law of Sacrifice underlies our system and all systems, and on it all universes are builded. It lies at the root of evolution, and alone makes it intelligible. In the doctrine of the Atonement it takes a concrete form in connection with men who have reached a certain stage in spiritual development, the stage that enables them to realise their oneness with humanity, and to become, in very deed and truth, Saviours of men.

All the great religions of the world have declared that the universe begins by an act of sacrifice, and have incorporated the idea of sacrifice into their most solemn rites. In Hinduism, the dawn of manifestation is said to be by sacrifice, mankind is emanated with sacrifice, and it is Deity who sacrifices Himself; the object of the sacrifice is manifestation; He cannot become manifest unless an act of sacrifice be performed, and inasmuch as nothing can be manifest until He manifests, the act of sacrifice is called “the dawn” of creation.

In the Zoroastrian religion it was taught that in the Existence that is boundless, unknowable, unnameable, sacrifice was performed and manifest Deity appeared; Ahura-mazdâo was born of an act of sacrifice.

In the Christian religion the same idea is indicated in the phrase: “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” slain at the origin of things. These words can but refer to the important truth that there can be no founding of a world until the Deity has made an act of sacrifice. This act is explained as limiting Himself in order to become manifest. “The Law of Sacrifice might perhaps more truly be called The Law of Manifestation, or the Law of Love and of Life, for throughout the universe, from the highest to the lowest, it is the cause of manifestation and life.”

“Now, if we study this physical world, as being the most available material, we find that all life in it, all growth, all progress, alike for units and for aggregates, depend on continual sacrifice and the endurance of pain. Mineral is sacrificed to vegetable, vegetable to animal, both to man, men to men, and all the higher forms again break up, and reinforce again with their separated constituents the lowest kingdom. It is a continual sequence of sacrifices from the lowest to the highest, and the very mark of progress is that the sacrifice from being involuntary and imposed becomes voluntary and self-chosen, and those who are recognised as greatest by man’s intellect and loved most by man’s heart are the supreme sufferers, those heroic souls who wrought, endured, and died that the race might profit by their pain. If the world be the work of the Logos, and the law of the world’s progress in the whole and the parts is sacrifice, then the Law of Sacrifice must point to something in the very nature of the Logos; it must have its root in the Divine Nature itself. A little further thought shows us that if there is to be a world, a universe at all, this can only be by the One Existence conditioning Itself and thus making manifestation possible, and that the very Logos is the Self-limited God; limited to become manifest; manifested to bring a universe into being; such self-limitation and manifestation can only be a supreme act of sacrifice, and what wonder that on every hand the world should show its birth-mark, and that the Law of Sacrifice should be the law of being, the law of the derived lives.

“Further, as it is an act of sacrifice in order that individuals may come into existence to share the Divine bliss, it is very truly a vicarious act – an act done for the sake of others; hence the fact already noted, that progress is marked by sacrifice becoming voluntary and self-chosen, and we realise that humanity reaches its perfection in the man who gives himself for men, and by his own suffering purchases for the race some lofty good.

“Here, in the highest regions, is the inmost verity of vicarious sacrifice, and however it may be degraded and distorted, this inner spiritual truth makes it indestructible, eternal, and the fount whence flows the spiritual energy which, in manifold forms and ways, redeems the world from evil and draws it home to God.”

When the Logos comes forth from “the bosom of the Father” in that “Day” when He is said to be “begotten,” the dawn of the Day of Creation, of Manifestation, when by Him God “made the worlds,” He by His own will limits Himself, making as it were a sphere enclosing the Divine Life, coming forth as a radiant orb of Deity, the Divine Substance, Spirit within and limitation, or Matter, without. This is the veil of matter which makes possible the birth of the Logos, Mary, the World-Mother, necessary for the manifestation in time of the Eternal, that Deity may manifest for the building of the worlds.

That circumscription, that self-limitation, is the act of sacrifice, a voluntary action done for love’s sake, that other lives may be born from Him. Such a manifestation has been regarded as a death, for, in comparison with the unimaginable life of God in Himself, such circumscription in matter may truly be called death. It has been regarded, as we have seen, as a crucifixion in matter, and has been thus figured, the true origin of the symbol of the cross, whether in its so-called Greek form, wherein the vivifying of matter by the Holy Ghost is signified, or in its so-called Latin, whereby the Heavenly Man is figured, the supernal Christ.

“In tracing the symbolism of the Latin cross, or rather of the crucifix, back into the night of time, the investigators had expected to find the figure disappear, leaving behind what they supposed to be the earlier cross-emblem. As a matter of fact exactly the reverse took place, and they were startled to find that eventually the cross drops away, leaving only the figure with uplifted arms. No longer is there any thought of pain or sorrow connected with that figure, though still it tells of sacrifice; rather is it now the symbol of the purest joy the world can hold – the joy of freely giving – for it typifies the Divine Man standing in space with arms upraised in blessing, casting abroad His gifts to all humanity, pouring forth freely of Himself in all directions, descending into that ‘dense sea’ of matter, to be cribbed, cabined, and confined therein, in order that through that descent we may come into being.”

This sacrifice is perpetual, for in every form in this universe of infinite diversity this life is enfolded, and is its very heart, the “Heart of Silence” of the Egyptian ritual, the “Hidden God.” This sacrifice is the secret of evolution. The Divine Life, cabined within a form, ever presses outwards in order that the form may expand, but presses gently, lest the form should break ere yet it had reached its utmost limit of expansion. With infinite patience and tact and discretion, the divine One keeps up the constant pressure that expands, without loosing a force that would disrupt. In every form, in mineral, in vegetable, in animal, in man, this expansive energy of the Logos is ceaselessly working. That is the evolutionary force, the lifting life within the forms, the rising energy that science glimpses, but knows not whence it comes. The botanist tells of an energy within the plant, that pulls ever upwards; he knows not how, he knows not why, but he gives it a name – the vis a fronte – because he finds it there, or rather finds its results. Just as it is in plant life, so is it in other forms as well, making them more and more expressive of the life within them. When the limit of any form is reached, and it can grow no further, so that nothing more can be gained through it by the soul of it – that germ of Himself, which the Logos is brooding over – then He draws away His energy, and the form disintegrates – we call it death and decay. But the soul is with Him, and He shapes for it a new form, and the death of the form is the birth of the soul into fuller life. If we saw with the eyes of the Spirit instead of with the eyes of the flesh, we should not weep over a form, which is a corpse giving back the materials out of which it was builded, but we should joy over the life passing onwards into nobler form, to expand under the unchanging process the powers still latent within.

Through that perpetual sacrifice of the Logos all lives exist; it is the life by which the universe is ever becoming. This life is One, but it embodies itself in myriad forms, ever drawing them together and gently overcoming their resistance. Thus it is an At-one-ment, a unifying force, by which the separated lives are gradually made conscious of their unity, labouring to develop in each a self-consciousness, which shall at last know itself to be one with all others, and its root One and divine.

This is the primary and ever-continued sacrifice, and it will be seen that it is an outpouring of Life directed by Love, a voluntary and glad pouring forth of Self for the making of other Selves. This is “the joy of thy Lord” into which the faithful servant enters, significantly followed by the statement that He was hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, a stranger and in prison, in the helped or neglected children of men. To the free Spirit to give itself is joy, and it feels its life the more keenly, the more it pours itself forth. And the more it gives, the more it grows, for the law of the growth of life is that it increases by pouring itself forth and not by drawing from without – by giving, not by taking. Sacrifice, then, in its primary meaning, is a thing of joy; the Logos pours Himself out to make a world, and, seeing the travail of His soul, is satisfied.

But the word has come to be associated with suffering, and in all religious rites of sacrifice some suffering, if only that of a trivial loss to the sacrificer, is present. It is well to understand how this change has come about, so that when the word “sacrifice” is used the instinctive connotation is one of pain.

The explanation is seen when we turn from the manifesting Life to the forms in which it is embodied, and look at the question of sacrifice from the side of the forms. While the life of Life is in giving, the life, or persistence, of form is in taking, for the form is wasted as it is exercised, it is diminished as it is exerted. If the form is to continue, it must draw fresh material from outside itself in order to repair its losses, else will it waste and vanish away. The form must grasp, keep, build into itself what it has grasped, else it cannot persist; and the law of growth of the form is to take and assimilate that which the wider universe supplies. As the consciousness identifies itself with the form, regarding the form as itself, sacrifice takes on a painful aspect; to give, to surrender, to lose what has been acquired, is felt to undermine the persistence of the form, and thus the Law of Sacrifice becomes a law of pain instead of a law of joy.

Man had to learn by the constant breaking up of forms, and the pain involved in the breaking, that he must not identify himself with the wasting and changing forms, but with the growing persistent life, and he was taught his lesson not only by external nature, but by the deliberate lessons of the Teachers who gave him religions.

We can trace in the religions of the world four great stages of instruction in the Law of Sacrifice. First, man was taught to sacrifice part of his material possession in order to gain increased material prosperity, and sacrifices were made in charity to men and in offerings to Deities, as we may read in the scriptures of the Hindus, the Zoroastrians, the Hebrews, indeed all the world over. The man gave up something he valued to insure future prosperity to himself, his family, his community, his nation. He sacrificed in the present to gain in the future. Secondly, came a lesson a little harder to learn; instead of physical prosperity and worldly good, the fruit to be gained by sacrifice was celestial bliss. Heaven was to be won, happiness was to be enjoyed on the other side of death – such was the reward for sacrifices made during the life led on earth.

A considerable step forward was made when a man learned to give up the things for which his body craved for the sake of a distant good which he could not see nor demonstrate. He learned to surrender the visible for the invisible, and in so doing rose in the scale of being; for so great is the fascination of the visible and the tangible, that if a man be able to surrender them for the sake of an unseen world in which he believes, he has acquired much strength and has made a long step towards the realisation of that unseen world. Over and over again martyrdom has been endured, obloquy has been faced, man has learned to stand alone, bearing all that his race could pour upon him of pain, misery, and shame, looking to that which is beyond the grave. True, there still remains in this a longing for celestial glory, but it is no small thing to be able to stand alone on earth and rest on spiritual companionship, to cling firmly to the inner life when the outer is all torture.

The third lesson came when a man, seeing himself as part of a greater life, was willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the whole, and so became strong enough to recognise that sacrifice was right, that a part, a fragment, a unit in the sum total of life, should subordinate the part to the whole, the fragment to the totality. Then he learned to do right, without being affected by the outcome to his own person, to do duty, without wishing for result to himself, to endure because endurance was right not because it would be crowned, to give because gifts were due to humanity not because they would be repaid by the Lord. The hero-soul thus trained was ready for the fourth lesson: that sacrifice of all the separated fragment possesses is to be offered because the Spirit is not really separate but is part of the divine Life, and knowing no difference, feeling no separation, the man pours himself forth as part of the Life Universal, and in the expression of that Life he shares the joy of his Lord.

It is in the three earlier stages that the pain-aspect of sacrifice is seen. The first meets but small sufferings; in the second the physical life and all that earth has to give may be sacrificed; the third is the great time of testing, of trying, of the growth and evolution of the human soul. For in that stage duty may demand all in which life seems to consist, and the man, still identified in feeling with the form, though knowing himself theoretically to transcend it, finds that all he feels as life is demanded of him, and questions: “If I let this go, what then will remain?” It seems as though consciousness itself would cease with this surrender, for it must loose its hold on all it realises, and it sees nothing to grasp on the other side. An over-mastering conviction, an imperious voice, call on him to surrender his very life. If he shrinks back, he must go on in the life of sensation, the life of the intellect, the life of the world, and as he has the joys he dared not resign, he finds a constant dissatisfaction, a constant craving, a constant regret and lack of pleasure in the world, and he realises the truth of the saying of the Christ that “he that will save his life shall lose it,” and that the life that was loved and clung to is only lost at last. Whereas if he risks all in obedience to the voice that summons, if he throws away his life, then in losing it, he finds it unto life eternal, and he discovers that the life he surrendered was only death in life, that all he gave up was illusion, and that he found reality. In that choice the metal of the soul is proved, and only the pure gold comes forth from the fiery furnace, where life seemed to be surrendered but where life was won. And then follows the joyous discovery that the life thus won is won for all, not for the separated self, that the abandoning of the separated self has meant the realising of the Self in man, and that the resignation of the limit which alone seemed to make life possible has meant the pouring out into myriad forms, an undreamed vividness and fulness, “the power of an endless life.”

Such is an outline of the Law of Sacrifice, based on the primary Sacrifice of the Logos, that Sacrifice of which all other sacrifices are reflexions.

We have seen how the man Jesus, the Hebrew disciple, laid down His body in glad surrender that a higher Life might descend and become embodied in the form He thus willingly sacrificed, and how by that act He became a Christ of full stature, to be the Guardian of Christianity, and to pour out His life into the great religion founded by the Mighty One with whom the sacrifice had identified Him. We have seen the Christ-Soul passing through the great Initiations – born as a little child, stepping down into the river of the world’s sorrows, with the waters of which he must be baptised into his active ministry, transfigured on the Mount, led to the scene of his last combat, and triumphing over death. We have now to see in what sense he is an atonement, how in the Christ-life the Law of Sacrifice finds a perfect expression.

The beginning of what may be called the ministry of the Christ come to manhood is in that intense and permanent sympathy with the world’s sorrows which is typified by the stepping down into the river. From that time forward the life must be summed up in the phrase, “He went about doing good;” for those who sacrifice the separated life to be a channel of the divine Life, can have no interest in this world save the helping of others. He learns to identify himself with the consciousness of those around him, to feel as they feel, think as they think, enjoy as they enjoy, suffer as they suffer, and thus he brings into his daily waking life that sense of unity with others which he experiences in the higher realms of being. He must develop a sympathy which vibrates in perfect harmony with the many-toned chord of human life, so that he may link in himself the human and the divine lives, and become a mediator between heaven and earth.

Power is now manifested in him, for the Spirit is resting on him, and he begins to stand out in the eyes of men as one of those who are able to help their younger brethren to tread the path of life. As they gather round him, they feel the power that comes out from him, the divine Life in the accredited Son of the Highest. The souls that are hungry come to him and he feeds them with the bread of life; the diseased with sin approach him, and he heals them with the living word which cures the sickness and makes whole the soul; the blind with ignorance draw nigh him, and he opens their eyes by the light of his wisdom. It is the chief mark in his ministry that the lowest and the poorest, the most desperate and the most degraded, feel in approaching him no wall of separation, feel as they throng around him welcome and not repulsion; for there radiates from him a love that understands and that can therefore never wish to repel. However low the soul may be, he never feels the Christ-Soul as standing above him but rather as standing beside him, treading with human feet the ground he also treads; yet as filled with some strange uplifting power that raises him upwards and fills him also with new impulse and fresh inspiration.

Thus he lives and labours, a true Saviour of men, until the time comes when he must learn another lesson, losing for awhile his consciousness of that divine Life of which his own has been becoming ever more and more the expression. And this lesson is that the true centre of divine Life lies within and not without. The Self has its centre within each human soul – truly is “the centre everywhere,” for Christ is in all, and God in Christ – and no embodied life, nothing “out of the Eternal” can help him in his direst need. He has to learn that the true unity of Father and Son is to be found within and not without, and this lesson can only come in uttermost isolation, when he feels forsaken by the God outside himself. As this trial approaches, he cries out to those who are nearest to him to watch with him through his hour of darkness; and then, by the breaking of every human sympathy, the failing of every human love, he finds himself thrown back on the life of the divine Spirit, and cries out to his Father, feeling himself in conscious union with Him, that the cup may pass away. Having stood alone, save for that divine Helper, he is worthy to face the last ordeal, where the God without him vanishes, and only the God within is left. “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” rings out the bitter cry of startled love and fear. The last loneliness descends on him, and he feels himself forsaken and alone. Yet never is the Father nearer to the Son than at the moment when the Christ-Soul feels himself forsaken, for as he thus touches the lowest depth of sorrow, the hour of his triumph begins to dawn. For now he learns that he must himself become the God to whom he cries, and by feeling the last pang of separation he finds the eternal unity, he feels the fount of life is within, and knows himself eternal.

None can become fully a Saviour of men nor sympathise perfectly with all human suffering, unless he has faced and conquered pain and fear and death unaided, save by the aid he draws from the God within him. It is easy to suffer when there is unbroken consciousness between the higher and the lower; nay, suffering is not, while that consciousness remains unbroken, for the light of the higher makes darkness in the lower impossible, and pain is not pain when borne in the smile of God. There is a suffering that men have to face, that every Saviour of man must face, where darkness is on the human consciousness, and never a glimmer of light comes through; he must know the pang of the despair felt by the human soul when there is darkness on every side, and the groping consciousness cannot find a hand to clasp. Into that darkness every Son of Man goes down, ere he rises triumphant; that bitterest experience is tasted by every Christ, ere he is “able to save them to the uttermost” who seek the Divine through him.

Such a one has become truly divine, a Saviour of men, and he takes up the world-work for which all this has been the preparation. Into him must pour all the forces that make against man, in order that in him they may be changed into forces that help. Thus he becomes one of the Peace-centres of the world, which transmute the forces of combat that would otherwise crush man. For the Christs of the world are these Peace-centres into which pour all warring forces, to be changed within them and then poured out as forces that work for harmony.

Part of the sufferings of the Christ not yet perfect lies in this harmonising of the discord-making forces in the world. Although a Son, he yet learns by suffering and is thus “made perfect.” Humanity would be far more full of combat and rent with strife were it not for the Christ-disciples living in its midst, and harmonising many of the warring forces into peace.

When it is said that the Christ suffers “for men,” that His strength replaces their weakness, His purity their sin, His wisdom their ignorance, a truth is spoken; for the Christ so becomes one with men that they share with Him and He with them. There is no substitution of Him for them, but the taking of their lives into His, and the pouring of His life into theirs. For, having risen to the plane of unity, He is able to share all He has gained, to give all He has won. Standing above the plane of separateness and looking down at the souls immersed in separateness, He can reach each while they cannot reach each other. Water can flow from above into many pipes, open to the reservoir though closed as regards each other, and so He can send His life into each soul. Only one condition is needed in order that a Christ may share His strength with a younger brother: that in the separated life the human consciousness will open itself to the divine, will show itself receptive of the offered life, and take the freely outpoured gift. For so reverent is God to that Spirit which is Himself in man, that He will not even pour into the human soul a flood of strength and life unless that soul is willing to receive it. There must be an opening from below as well as an outpouring from above, the receptiveness of the lower nature as well as the willingness of the higher to give. That is the link between the Christ and the man; that is what the churches have called the outpouring of “divine grace”; that is what is meant by the “faith” necessary to make the grace effective. As Giordano Bruno once put it – the human soul has windows, and can shut those windows close. The sun outside is shining, the light is unchanging; let the windows be opened and the sunlight must stream in. The light of God is beating against the windows of every human soul, and when the windows are thrown open, the soul becomes illuminated. There is no change in God, but there is a change in man; and man’s will may not be forced, else were the divine Life in him blocked in its due evolution.

Thus in every Christ that rises, all humanity is lifted a step higher, and by His wisdom the ignorance of the whole world is lessened. Each man is less weak because of His strength, which pours out over all humanity and enters the separated soul. Out of that doctrine, seen narrowly, and therefore mis-seen, grew the idea of the vicarious Atonement as a legal transaction between God and man, in which Jesus took the place of the sinner. It was not understood that One who had touched that height was verily one with all His brethren; identity of nature was mistaken for a personal substitution, and thus the spiritual truth was lost in the harshness of a judicial exchange.

“Then he comes to a knowledge of his place in the world, of his function in nature – to be a Saviour and to make atonement for the sins of the people. He stands in the inner Heart of the world, the Holy of Holies, as a High Priest of Humanity. He is one with all his brethren, not by a vicarious substitution, but by the unity of a common life. Is any sinful? he is sinful in them, that his purity may purge them. Is any sorrowful? in them he is the man of sorrows; every broken heart breaks his, in every pierced heart his heart is pierced. Is any glad? in them he is joyous, and pours out his bliss. Is any craving? in them he is feeling want that he may fill them with his utter satisfaction. He has everything, and because it is his it is theirs. He is perfect; then they are perfect with him. He is strong; who then can be weak, since he is in them? He climbed to his high place that he might pour out to all below him, and he lives in order that all may share his life. He lifts the whole world with him as he rises, the path is easier for all men, because he has trodden it.

“Every son of man may become such a manifested Son of God, such a Saviour of the world. In each such Son is ‘God manifest in the flesh,’ the atonement that aids all mankind, the living power that makes all things new. Only one thing is needed to bring that power into manifested activity in any individual soul; the soul must open the door and let Him in. Even He, all-permeating, cannot force His way against His brother’s will; the human will can hold its own alike against God and man, and by the law of evolution it must voluntarily associate itself with divine action, and not be broken into sullen submission. Let the will throw open the door, and the life will flood the soul. While the door is closed it will only gently breathe through it its unutterable fragrance, that the sweetness of that fragrance may win, where the barrier may not be forced by strength.

“This it is, in part, to be a Christ; but how can mortal pen mirror the immortal, or mortal words tell of that which is beyond the power of speech? Tongue may not utter, the unillumined mind may not grasp, that mystery of the Son who has become one with the Father, carrying in His bosom the sons of men.”

Those who would prepare to rise to such a life in the future must begin even now to tread in the lower life the path of the Shadow of the Cross. Nor should they doubt their power to rise, for to do so is to doubt the God within them. “Have faith in yourself,” is one of the lessons that comes from the higher view of man, for that faith is really in the God within. There is a way by which the shadow of the Christ-life may fall on the common life of man, and that is by doing every act as a sacrifice, not for what it will bring to the doer but for what it will bring to others, and, in the daily common life of small duties, petty actions, narrow interests, by changing the motive and thus changing all. Not one thing in the outer life need necessarily be varied; in any life sacrifice may be offered, amid any surroundings God may be served. Evolving spirituality is marked not by what a man does, but by how he does it; not in the circumstances, but in the attitude of a man towards them, lies the opportunity of growth. “And indeed this symbol of the cross may be to us as a touchstone to distinguish the good from the evil in many of the difficulties of life. ‘Only those actions through which shines the light of the cross are worthy of the life of the disciple,’ says one of the verses in a book of occult maxims; and it is interpreted to mean that all that the aspirant does should be prompted by the fervour of self-sacrificing love. The same thought appears in a later verse: ‘When one enters the path, he lays his heart upon the cross; when the cross and the heart have become one, then hath he reached the goal.’ So, perchance, we may measure our progress by watching whether selfishness or self-sacrifice is dominant in our lives.”

Every life which begins thus to shape itself is preparing the cave in which the Child-Christ shall be born, and the life shall become a constant at-one-ment, bringing the divine more and more into the human. Every such life shall grow into the life of a “beloved Son,” and shall have in it the glory of the Christ. Every man may work in that direction by making every act and power a sacrifice, until the gold is purged from the dross, and only the pure ore remains.

 Annie Besant – Esoteric Christianity

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It cannot be invited

Let me put it differently: When the mind is free from the known, it is a new mind, an innocent mind; it is in a state of creation which is immeasurable, nameless, beyond time. And, we have been discussing, what it is that prevents us from coming naturally, easily, gracefully, to that state. It cannot be invited because a petty mind cannot invite the immense.

All pettiness has to come to an end, and then the other is. The mind cannot imagine that state of immensity. From its pettiness, from its shallowness, it can project something which it thinks is beautiful, but that which it projects is still part of its own ugliness.

The psychological structure of society is what we are. When the structure is understood and there is freedom from it, then the nameless, that in which there is no time, no progress, comes into being. Then the other is.

– Krishnamurti, Collected Works, Vol. XIII,273

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Pope Francis on Human Life and Modern Society

IV. DECLINE IN THE QUALITY OF HUMAN LIFE AND THE BREAKDOWN OF SOCIETY

43. Human beings too are creatures of this world, enjoying a right to life and happiness, and endowed with unique dignity. So we cannot fail to consider the effects on people’s lives of environmental deterioration, current models of development and the throwaway culture.

44. Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.

45. In some places, rural and urban alike, the privatization of certain spaces has restricted people’s access to places of particular beauty. In others, “ecological” neighbourhoods have been created which are closed to outsiders in order to ensure an artificial tranquillity. Frequently, we find beautiful and carefully manicured green spaces in so-called “safer” areas of cities, but not in the more hidden areas where the disposable of society live.

46. The social dimensions of global change include the effects of technological innovations on employment, social exclusion, an inequitable distribution and consumption of energy and other services, social breakdown, increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression, drug trafficking, growing drug use by young people, and the loss of identity. These are signs that the growth of the past two centuries has not always led to an integral development and an improvement in the quality of life. Some of these signs are also symptomatic of real social decline, the silent rupture of the bonds of integration and social cohesion.

47. Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches. True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim, thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason, we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can also arise.

ENCYCLICAL LETTER
LAUDATO SI’
OF THE HOLY FATHER
FRANCIS
ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME
24 May 2015

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VM Samael Aun Weor – Lecture on Meditation and Samadhi

SAMAEL AUN WEOR LECTURE: THE ILLUMINATING VOID

Inverential Peace! Speaking to you now is Samael Aun Weor. Headquarters of Mexico. Our topic: Meditation.

It is urgent to comprehend profoundly the techniques of meditation. Today we will talk about the Illuminating Void.

Beginning this subject, I feel the obligation to narrate in a direct way, what I, on my own, have been able to verify about the Illuminating Void.

I believe that those who are listening to this cassette are already informed about the marvelous Law of Reincarnation, because the following story is based on that law…

When the second sub-race of our current great Aryan race flourished in ancient China, I was reincarnated there, then my name was Chou Li, obviously I was a member of the Chou dynasty.

In that existence I became an active member of the Order of the Yellow Dragon, and it is clear that in that order I was able to clearly learn the Science of Meditation.

That marvelous instrument called Aya-Atapan, which had 49 notes, still comes to my memory. We know very well what the sacred Law of the eternal Heptaparaparshinokh is, that is to say, the Law of Seven. Undoubtedly, the notes of the musical scale are seven. If we multiply seven by seven, we will get 49 notes in seven octaves.

The brothers gathered in the meditation room. We used to sit in the oriental style, with crossed legs, placing the palms of our hands like this, with the right over the left. We sat in a circle in the center of the room; we closed our eyes, and immediately we placed profound attention on the music that a certain brother offered to the cosmos and to us.

When the artist made the first note vibrate, it was in Do, all of us concentrated. When he made the next note vibrate in Re, our concentration became more profound, we were fighting with the different subjective elements that we had within ourselves, we wanted to recriminate them, to make them understand the necessity to be in absolute silence. It is good to remind you dear brothers, that those undesirable elements that make up the “I,” the Ego, the myself, are like diverse entities, personifying our errors.

When the note Mi vibrated, we penetrated into the third zone of the subconscious and confronted the multiplicity of those diverse psychic aggregates that boil in disorder within us and that impede the quietude and silence of the mind. We recriminated them and tried to comprehend them. When we achieved that, then we penetrated even more profoundly in the note Fa. It is obvious that new battles awaited us with that note, because it is not that easy to gag all those demons of desire one carries within oneself, to force them to keep silent and in quietude is not a simple thing, but with patience we achieved it; and in this way we used to continue with each one of the notes of the musical scale.

We made the same effort in a higher octave, and thus little by little we used to confront the different inhuman elements that we carry within ourselves. Finally we were successful in gagging all of them in the 49 levels of the subconscious. Then the mind remained quiet, in the most profound silence. That was the instant in which the Essence, the Soul, the purest thing we have within, escaped to experience what’s Real. In that way we penetrated into the Illuminating Void, thus the Illuminating Void erupted within us, and moving within the Illuminating Void we were able to know the Laws of Nature in themselves, just as they are and not as they appear.

In this three-dimensional world of Euclid, only the mechanical causes and effects are known, but not the natural laws in themselves. But in the Illuminating Void they are before us as they really are. We could perceive in that state, with the Essence, with the Superlative Senses of the Being, things in themselves, just as they really are.

In the world of physical phenomena, in reality, we only perceive the appearance of things: angles, surfaces; but never the entire body in an integral form, and the little that we perceive is fleeting since nobody could perceive how many atoms are in a table or a chair, etc. But, in the Illuminating Void, we perceive things in themselves, just as they are, integrally.

While we were like that, submerged within the great Illuminating Void, we were able to listen to the voice of the Father who is in secret. Indubitably in that state, we found ourselves in what could be called rapture or ecstasy. The personality stayed in a passive state, seated in the meditation room; the emotional and motor centers were integrated with the intellectual center creating a singular, receptive whole. In that way the waves of the experiences that we were living in the Illuminating Void, which were circulating through the Silver Cord, were received by the three centers: the emotional, intellectual and motor.

I repeat, when the Samadhi ended, we returned to the interior of the body, preserving the memory of everything that we had seen and heard. Nevertheless, I have to tell you that the first thing that we have to leave in order for one to be able to submerge for a long time in the Illuminating Void is fear. The “I” of fear has to be comprehended. We already know that its disintegration becomes possible when we supplicate in a vehement way to the Divine Mother Kundalini; she will eliminate that “I.”

One day, it does not matter which, I was in the Illuminating Void, beyond the personality, the “I,” individuality, submerged in what we could call the Tao, or “That.” I felt that I was everything that is, has been and will be. I experienced the unity of life free in its movement. Then I was the flower, I was the crystalline river that flows on its bed of rocks singing in its happy language; I was the bird that hurls itself to the unending depths; I was the fish that delightfully travels among the waters; I was the moon, I was the worlds; I was all that is, has been and will be. The feeling of the “me-myself,” of the “I,” had fear; yes, I felt that I was being annihilated, that I was ceasing to exist as an individual, that I was everything but an individual, that the myself tended to go towards its death forever.

Obviously I was filled with an indescribable terror and I came back to the form. New efforts, therefore, allowed me the eruption of the Illuminating Void once again, and I felt I was mixed in with everything. I, as an individual, had ceased to exist. This state of consciousness was becoming more and more profound, in such a way that any possibility to exist separately or to have an individual existence was ending. I could not withstand it any more and came back to the form. I made a third attempt, but could not withstand it, and I returned to the form. Since then I know that in order to experience the Illuminating Void, to feel the Tao in oneself, it is necessary to eliminate the “I” of fear. That is indubitable.

Among the brothers of the Sacred Order of the Yellow Dragon, the most distinguished one was my friend Chang. Today he lives on one of those Planets of Christ, in which nature does not die and never changes, because there are two natures: the perishable, changing, mutable; and the imperishable that never changes and is immutable. On the Planets of Christ there exists the eternal, imperishable and immutable nature; and he lives on one of those Worlds of the Lord, the Christ shines in him. He achieved the liberation several ages ago. My friend Chang lives on that far away planet, with a group of brothers who along with him, also achieved liberation.

I knew then, the Seven Secrets of the “Order of the Yellow Dragon.” I would like to teach them, but with great pain, I realize that the brothers everywhere are not yet prepared to receive them, and this is lamentable.

I also know that today it is not possible to use the 49 sounds of the Aya-Atapan, because that musical instrument no longer exists. There exists many involutions of this instrument, but they are different, they do not have the seven octaves. Involutions of this instrument are all the stringed instruments: violin, guitar, also the piano, etc.

However, it is possible to arrive at the experience of the Illuminating Void with a simple and practical system that all the brothers can practice. I will dictate the technique to you right now, pay attention.

Take a seat in the oriental style with your legs crossed, like this. Because you are westerners, this position is very tiresome for you. Therefore, sit comfortably, in a comfortable chair, western style. Place the palm of your left hand open, and put your right palm over your left, that is to say, the back of the right palm of your right hand over the palm of your left hand. Relax the body as much as possible and then inhale profoundly, very slowly. While inhaling, imagine that the creative energy is rising through the spermatic channels to the brain. Exhale: short and quick. While inhaling, pronounce the mantra HAAAAAMMMMM, when exhaling, pronounce the mantra “SAAJJ.”

Undoubtedly one has to inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. When inhaling mantralize the sacred syllable HAM mentally, since you are inhaling through your nose; when you exhale you can vocalize the syllable SAH sonorously.

HAM is written with the letters H A M, SAH is written with the letters S A H, the H always sounds like a J.

The inhalation is done slowly, the exhalation short and fast. The reason why? Obviously the creative energy in everyone flows from the inside to the outside, that is to say, in a centrifugal way; but we have to reverse that order with the aim of achieving a spiritual surmounting. Our energy must flow in a centripetal form, that is to say, from the outside to the inside.

Undoubtedly if we inhale slowly, the creative energy will flow in a centripetal form from the outside to the inside. And if we exhale shortly and quickly then this energy will become more and more centripetal each time.

During the practice you should not think about absolutely anything. The eyes must be closed, profoundly in our mind only the HAM-SAH will vibrate and nothing else.

As you practice the inhalation, the inhalation will become more and more profound and the exhalation very short and quick.

The greatest Masters of Meditation manage to make the respiration become just an inhalation and then it is suspended. Impossible for the scientists, but real to the mystics! And in that state the Master takes part in the Nirvi-Kalpa Samadhi or Maha-Samadhi, the irruption of the Illuminating Void arrives. One falls into that Great Void where nobody lives and where one only hears the word of the Father who is in secret.

With this practice the eruption of the Illuminating Void is attained, the requirement being to not think about absolutely anything; to not allow any thought, any desire, any memory into the mind; the mind must be totally quiet inside, outside and in the center. Any thought, as insignificant as it may be, is an obstacle for the Samadhi, for the Ecstasy.

At the same time, this science of meditation combined with the breath produces extraordinary effects. Normally people suffer from what is called “nocturnal pollutions,” men and women suffer from that problem, they have erotic dreams, and if the “I’s” copulate with each other, the vibration pass through the Silver Cord to the physical body and what comes about is the orgasm with the loss of creative energy. But this happens when the sexual energy flows from the inside to the outside in a centrifugal way. When the sexual energy flows from the outside to the inside, in a centripetal way, the sexual pollutions will end; that then, is a benefit for the health.

Now then, the Samadhi is produced during this practice of meditation because the creative energies, flowing from outside to within, impregnate the Consciousness and end up by making it abandon the Ego and the body. The Consciousness, unbottled from within the Ego, in the absence of the Ego and outside of the physical body, undoubtedly penetrates into the Illuminating Void, receives the Tao.

If one eliminates the Ego of fear, of being scared, he will be able to remain in the Illuminating Void without any preoccupation, he will feel that his individual aspect keeps dissolving, he will feel himself living in the stone and the flower, in the far away star and in the singing bird of any world or planet, but will not be afraid, and if he does not feel fear, finally he will gravitate to his origin with the Consciousness, the Essence transformed into a terribly divine creature beyond good and evil. He will be able to land in the Sacred Absolute Sun, and there, in that Sun, as a microcosmic star he will know the Mysteries of the Universe. Because it is good to know that the universe itself, our entire solar system, exists in the Intelligence of the Sacred Absolute Sun, as an eternal instant.

All of the phenomena of nature are processed within an eternal instant in the Intelligence of the Sacred Absolute Sun; but if one is afraid, one will lose the ecstasy and will return to the dense form.

Dear brothers who are listening to this cassette: you must abandon fear! Undoubtedly, it is not enough to say, “I will stop being afraid!” It is necessary to eliminate the “I” of fear. Yes, this is dissolved, strictly, with the power of the Divine Mother Kundalini Shakti. First, it is necessary to analyze it, to comprehend it and then to invoke Devi Kundalini, our Divine Particular Cosmic Mother, so that she may disintegrate the “I” of fear. Only in this way can one submerge in the Illuminating Void in an absolute way. Whoever does this will gravitate towards the Sacred Absolute Sun and will know the marvels of the Universe.

Our brothers must, then, practice the technique of meditation as we have given it. Do not forget that the body has to be relaxed, that is indispensable.

HAAAAAMMMM-SAAAHHHH is the Great Breath; HAAAAMMMM-SAAAAHHHH is the Prana. HAAAAMMMM-SAAAAHHHH is also a mantra that transmutes the creative energies.

Meditation combined with tantrism is formidable; HAM- SAH is the key.

We know very well that the creative energy is useful for the awakening of the Consciousness when it is combined with meditation. Unquestionably, it takes the Consciousness out from the element Ego and absorbs it in the Illuminating Void.

Obviously the Illuminating Void is beyond the body, the affections and the mind.

In a Zen meditation room, in the East, a monk asked a Master: “What is the Illuminating Void?” The Zen texts say that the Master kicked the disciple in the stomach, and that he fell unconscious. Then the disciple stood up and embraced the Master: “Thank you Master, I have experienced the Illuminating Void!”

Many would say “that’s absurd,” but it is not. What happens is that very special phenomena present themselves for the Illuminating Void. When a little chicken is ready to come out of the eggshell, its mother helps him by pecking the eggshell, and with this help the little chicken follows by pecking, and it comes out. Thus, when someone has maturated, he receives the help of the Divine Mother Kundalini; and comes out from the shell of the personality and the Ego in order to experience the Illuminating Void. But it is necessary to persevere…

In the meditation, one must intelligently combine concentration with sleep. Sleep and concentration mixed produce illumination.

Many esotericists think that in no way should meditation be combined with the sleep of the body, but those who think in that way are mistaken because meditation without sleep damages the brain. Sleep must always be used in combination with the technique of meditation, but a controlled sleep, a voluntary sleep; not a sleep without control, not an absurd sleep; meditation and sleep combined in an intelligent way.

We must “ride on the sleep” and not allow the sleep to “be the one riding us.” If we learn to ride on the sleep we have been triumphant; if the sleep rides us, we have failed. But, it is necessary to use sleep! Meditation, I repeat, combined with the technique, will take our students to Samadhi, to the experience of the Illuminating Void.

We have to practice daily. At what time?; in the moment in which we feel inspired to do it. Most especially when we feel sleepy, take advantage of it for meditation.

If the disciples follow these indications one day they will be able to receive the Tao, they will be able to experience the Truth.

Obviously there are two types of dialectics: the Dialectic of Reasoning, of the intellect and the Dialectic of the Consciousness. During Satori, the Dialectic of the Consciousness works, then we understand everything through intuitions or through words or from symbolic figures; it is the language of the parables of the Christic Gospel, the living language of the Superlative Consciousness of the Being.

In Zen, for example, the Dialectic of the Consciousness is always put before the Dialectic of Rationalization. A Zen monk was asked, “Why did Boddhidarma come from the west?” His answer was, “The cypress is in the garden.” Anyone could say, “that answer is not related with the question at all,” but it is. It is an answer that comes before the Dialectic of Reasoning; it comes from the Essence. The Cypress, the “Tree of the Life” is everywhere; it does not matter if it is in the East or the West. That is the meaning of that answer.

In the Illuminating Void everything is known “just because,” through the direct experience of the Truth.

The student will have to become familiar with the Dialectic of the Consciousness. Unfortunately, the power to formulate logical concepts, as brilliant as it may be, and even useful in all the aspects of practical life, is an obstacle to the Dialectic of the Consciousness.

I do not want with this to discard the power of formulating logical concepts, because we all need them in the field of the practical facts of existence, but each faculty obviously has its particular orbit and is useful within its particular field, outside of its orbit it is useless and harmful.

Let’s leave the power of formulating concepts in its orbit. And within Samadhi or Para-Samadhi, or in the Meditation we must always apprehend, capture, experience the Dialectic of the Consciousness. That is a matter of experience that the disciple will keep developing as he practices the technique of meditation.

The path of profound meditation implies a great deal of patience, those who are impatient will never manage to triumph. It is not possible to live the experience of the Illuminating Void while impatience exists in us. The “I” of impatience has to be eliminated after having been comprehended. This has to be understood clearly! If one does so, he will receive the Tao; that is obvious.

Never could the experience of the Real come to us while the Consciousness remains trapped within the Ego. The Ego in itself is time, all those multitudes of phantasmal elements that make up the “myself,” are a compendium of time. The experience of the Illuminating Void is the antithesis, it is atemporal, it is beyond time and the mind.

Time is the entire multiplicity of the “I,” the “I” is time. So then, time is subjective, incoherent, slow, heavy, does not have objective reality.

When one sits to meditate in a meditation room or simply at home, when one wants to practice this technique, one must forget the concept of time and live in an eternal instant. Those who dedicate themselves to meditate and are paying attention to the clock obviously do not achieve the experience of the Illuminating Void.

If you were to ask me how many minutes we must spend daily to meditate, either a half an hour or one hour or two hours… I would not give an answer because if someone is in meditation and is paying attention to the time, he cannot experience the Illuminating Void, because the Illuminating Void does not belong to time. It would be something similar to a bird that is trying to fly, but has its leg tied down by a stone or a stick, it would not be able to fly, there would be a hindrance. In order to experience the Illuminating Void we have to liberate ourselves from any obstacle.

The important thing certainly is to experience the Truth; the Truth is in the Illuminating Void.

When Jesus, the Great Kabir, was asked, “What is the Truth?,” the Master kept a profound silence; and when Gautama Sakyamuni was asked the same question, he turned his back and walked away.

The truth cannot be described, it cannot be explained; each one has to experience it by himself through the technique of meditation. In the Illuminating Void we experience the truth; that is an element that transforms us radically.

It is necessary to persevere, to be tenacious. It can happen that in the beginning we may not achieve anything, but with the passing of time, we will feel that we are becoming more and more profound each time, and that in the end, any day, the experience of the Illuminating Void will erupt in our minds.

Undoubtedly, the Illuminating Void is the Holy Okidanock, the active Okidanock, omnipresent, omnipenetrating, omniscient, which emanates in itself, from the Sacred Absolute Sun.

Happy is the one who is able to plunge into the Illuminating Void, where not one creature lives, because it is precisely there where he will experience what’s Real, the Truth!

Perseverance becomes indispensable. It is necessary to work profoundly every day until achieving total triumph.

The experience of the Truth through Meditation proves to be prodigious. If one has experienced the Truth, one feels the strength to persevere in the work on oneself.

Brilliant authors have spoken about the work on oneself, about the “I,” about the “myself”; and it is obvious that they have done well in having spoken in this way, but they have forgotten something?the experience of the Truth. As long as one has not experienced what is real, one does not feel comforted; one does not feel enough forces to be able to work on the “oneself,” on the “I myself.” When one has truly passed though such a mystical experience, he is different and nothing can hold him back in his yearning for liberation. One will work tirelessly on oneself to be able to truly achieve a radical, total, and definitive change.

Now you will comprehend, my dear friends, why the Meditation Chambers are so indispensable. Frankly, I feel quite sad when I see that even though I have written so much about meditation in different Christmas Messages of previous years, and yet in South American and Central American countries meditation chambers do not exist, when they should already exist.

What has happened? There is indolence. Why does indolence exist? It exists because of a lack of comprehension. It is indispensable to understand.

The poor intellectual animal mistakenly called man needs encouragement, needs something to encourage him in the battle, needs stimulus for the work on oneself.

I know that the poor intellectual animal is weak by nature and finds himself in a completely disadvantageous situation. The Ego is so strong and the personality is terribly weak. Left alone like that, he is hardly able to walk. He needs something that could encourage him to work; he needs an intimate help. This is only possible through meditation.

I do not want to say that everyone will experience the Illuminating Void in one single go. Obviously it is necessary to arrive at that experience through different degrees. The devotee will keep feeling, each time more, the intimate impulse of the Being. He will have different, more or less lucid experiences and finally, one day will arrive at having the best of the experiences, the Direct Experience of the Great Reality; then he will receive the Tao.

May those who listen to this cassette weigh my words well; reflect on them. It is not enough to simply listen, it is necessary to know how to listen, and this is different.

But “the one who listens to the word and does not do it” says the Apostle James in the Universal Epistle “is like a man who looks at himself in a mirror and then turns his back and leaves.”

It is necessary to make the word within ourselves. It is not enough to listen to this cassette; it must become flesh, blood and life, if what one wants is a radical transformation. It is necessary to persevere.

That is all for now.

Inverential Peace! Samael Aun Weor

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Wisdom of the Papal Encyclical

“Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”

ENCYCLICAL LETTER
LAUDATO SI’
OF THE HOLY FATHER
FRANCIS
ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME
24 May 2015

Click to access papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.pdf

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A Gnostic Brain

A good place to start looking for knowledge:

https://webbrain.com/brainpage/brain/E1F752C7-DAD6-0F01-2A25-9A2B08AD3181

Just start clicking.

Try right-click on background, then select Wander.

Best on Full-Screen.

mc

brain icon

Paradise Lost – we know why!

john milton quote - paradise lost

Preface from “Encounter with Samael”

Revelation, Tradition and Succession…

Revelation is the unequivocal sign of the fact that the Divine Being who dwells in you, the one who humanly and imperfectly we represent in this world, insists on your cooperation in attaining the intimate self-realization of all its different autonomous and self-conscious parts.

How Revelation appears to each soul, as the long occult tradition gives testimony, is always different, and in accordance with the soul’s psychological condition.

Of the Tradition, it is necessary to say that it is expressed externally when “men” nonsensically impose it so as to safeguard their egoistic interests. And it is internal when it is given by the persuasion of the spirit itself.

While external tradition is like a noisy river that drags and destroys everything, inner tradition, however, is an underground current that, impelling and reuniting, quietly constructs.

The exoteric tradition gathers its treasures here, in the world of the three-dimensional forms, with its later consequence of the loss of the soul. The esoteric tradition crystallises all its efforts in the precious gem of the Philosopher’s Stone, which allows the soul to exist in both worlds: the absolute and the relative one.

Having no interest at all in the ambitions and fears of this world, other than the interest of following here a continuous probatory path in order to assay oneself before the gold of the spirit, true tradition has no physical Succession… And it is not transmitted by race, nor by creed or religion, much less by political or social means. Since in the entire Universe there is an order already established by the divine, the human simply subjects itself to it, thus it is able to exist in harmony. One day true tradition will return to govern on the face of our world; then the Golden Age will have arrived again.

Rafael Vargas : Rome, February 17, 2000

Rafael Vargas

Choose your path

Life will find your weakness.

You must find it first!

When life finds it, that is called suffering.

When you find it first, that is called consciousness.

Choose your path.

mc

The Four Aids – The First: Knowledge of the Truths and Principles

The supreme Shastra of the integral Yoga is the eternal Veda secret in the heart of every thinking and living being. The lotus of the eternal knowledge and the eternal perfection is a bud closed and folded up within us. It opens swiftly or gradually, petal by petal, through successive realisations, once the mind of man begins to turn towards the Eternal, once his heart, no longer compressed and confined by attachment to finite appearances, becomes enamoured, in whatever degree, of the Infinite. All life, all thought, all energising of the faculties, all experiences passive or active, become thenceforward so many shocks which disintegrate the teguments of the soul and remove the obstacles to the inevitable efflorescence. He who chooses the Infinite has been chosen by the Infinite. He has received the divine touch without which there is no awakening, no opening of the spirit; but once it is received, attainment is sure, whether conquered swiftly in the course of one human life or pursued patiently through many stadia of the cycle of existence in the manifested universe. Nothing can be taught to the mind which is not already concealed as potential knowledge in the unfolding soul of the creature. So also all perfection of which the outer man is capable, is only a realising of the eternal perfection of the Spirit within him. We know the Divine and become the Divine, because we are That already in our secret nature. All teaching is a revealing, all becoming is an unfolding. Self-attainment is the secret; self-knowledge and an increasing consciousness are the means and the process.

The usual agency of this revealing is the Word, the thing heard (sruta). The Word may come to us from within; it may come to us from without. But in either case, it is only an agency for setting the hidden knowledge to work. The word within may be the utterance of the inmost soul in us which is always open to the Divine; or it may be the word of the secret and universal Teacher who is seated in the hearts of all. There are rare cases in which none other is needed, for all the rest of the Yoga is an unfolding under that constant touch and guidance; the lotus of the knowledge discloses itself from within by the power of irradiating effulgence which proceeds from the Dweller in the lotus of the heart. Great indeed, but few are those to whom self- knowledge from within is thus sufficient and who do not need to pass under the dominant influence of a written book or a living teacher.

Ordinarily, the Word from without, representative of the Divine, is needed as an aid in the work of self-unfolding; and it may be either a word from the past or the more powerful word of the living Guru. In some cases this representative word is only taken as a sort of excuse for the inner power to awaken and manifest; it is, as it were, a concession of the omnipotent and omniscient Divine to the generality of a law that governs Nature. Thus it is said in the Upanishads of Krishna, son of Devaki, that he received a word of the Rishi Ghora and had the knowledge. So Ramakrishna, having attained by his own internal effort the central illumination, accepted several teachers in the different paths of Yoga, but always showed in the manner and swiftness of his realisation that this acceptance was a concession to the general rule by which effective knowledge must be received as by a disciple from a Guru.

But usually the representative influence occupies a much larger place in the life of the sadhaka. If the Yoga is guided by a received written Shastra, – some Word from the past which embodies the experience of former Yogins, – it may be practised either by personal effort alone or with the aid of a Guru. The spiritual knowledge is then gained through meditation on the truths that are taught and it is made living and conscious by their realisation in the personal experience; the Yoga proceeds by the results of prescribed methods taught in a Scripture or a tradition and reinforced and illumined by the instructions of the Master. This is a narrower practice, but safe and effective within its limits, because it follows a well-beaten track to a long familiar goal.

For the sadhaka of the integral Yoga it is necessary to remember that no written Shastra, however great its authority or however large its spirit, can be more than a partial expression of the eternal Knowledge. He will use, but never bind himself even by the greatest Scripture. Where the Scripture is profound, wide, catholic, it may exercise upon him an influence for the highest good and of incalculable importance. It may be associated in his experience with his awakening to crowning verities and his realisation of the highest experiences. His Yoga may be governed for a long time by one Scripture or by several successively, – if it is in the line of the great Hindu tradition, by the Gita, for example, the Upanishads, the Veda. Or it may be a good part of his development to include in its material a richly varied experience of the truths of many Scriptures and make the future opulent with all that is best in the past. But in the end he must take his station, or better still, if he can, always and from the beginning he must live in his own soul beyond the limitations of the word that he uses. The Gita itself thus declares that the Yogin in his progress must pass beyond the written Truth, beyond all that he has heard and all that he has yet to hear. For he is not the sadhaka of a book or of many books; he is a sadhaka of the Infinite.

Sri Aurobindo – The Synthesis of Yoga (Part 1, Ch 1, pp47-49)

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The Four Aids

YOGA-SIDDHI, the perfection that comes from the practice of Yoga, can be best attained by the combined working of four great instruments. There is, first, the knowledge of the truths, principles, powers and processes that govern the realisation – sastra. Next comes a patient and persistent action on the lines laid down by this knowledge, the force of our personal effort – utsaha. There intervenes, third, uplifting our knowledge and effort into the domain of spiritual experience, the direct suggestion, example and influence of the Teacherguru. Last comes the instrumentality of Timekala; for in all things there is a cycle of their action and a period of the divine movement.

Sri Aurobindo – The Synthesis of Yoga (part 1, ch 1, p47)

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The mind itself must become the unknown

To receive the unknown, the mind itself must become the unknown. The mind is the result of the thought process, the result of time, and this thought process must come to an end. The mind cannot think of that which is eternal, timeless; therefore, the mind must be free of time, the time process of the mind must be dissolved. Only when the mind is completely free from yesterday, and is therefore not using the present as a means to the future, is it capable of receiving the eternal. That which is known has no relationship with the unknown; therefore, you cannot pray to the unknown, you cannot concentrate on the unknown, you cannot be devoted to the unknown. All that has no meaning. What has meaning is to find out how the mind operates, it is to see yourself in action.Therefore, our concern in meditation is to know oneself not only superficially, but the whole content of the inner, hidden consciousness. Without knowing all that and being free of its conditioning, you cannot possibly go beyond the mind’s limits. That is why the thought process must cease and, for this cessation, there must be knowledge of oneself. Therefore, meditation is the beginning of wisdom, which is the understanding of one’s own mind and heart.

– Krishnamurti, Collected Works, Vol. V,165

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The Path and practical psychology

We see, then, what from the psychological point of view, – and Yoga is nothing but practical psychology, – is the conception of Nature from which we have to start. It is the self- fulfilment of the Purusha through his Energy. But the movement of Nature is twofold, higher and lower, or, as we may choose to term it, divine and undivine. The distinction exists indeed for practical purposes only; for there is nothing that is not divine, and in a larger view it is as meaningless, verbally, as the distinction between natural and supernatural, for all things that are are natural. All things are in Nature and all things are in God. But, for practical purposes, there is a real distinction. The lower Nature, that which we know and are and must remain so long as the faith in us is not changed, acts through limitation and division, is of the nature of Ignorance and culminates in the life of the ego; but the higher Nature, that to which we aspire, acts by unification and transcendence of limitation, is of the nature of Knowledge and culminates in the life divine. The passage from the lower to the higher is the aim of Yoga; and this passage may effect itself by the rejection of the lower and escape into the higher, – the ordinary viewpoint, – or by the transformation of the lower and its elevation to the higher Nature. It is this, rather, that must be the aim of an integral Yoga.

But in either case it is always through something in the lower that we must rise into the higher existence, and the schools of Yoga each select their own point of departure or their own gate of escape. They specialise certain activities of the lower Prakriti and turn them towards the Divine. But the normal action of Nature in us is an integral movement in which the full complexity of all our elements is affected by and affects all our environments. The whole of life is the Yoga of Nature. The Yoga that we seek must also be an integral action of Nature, and the whole difference between the Yogin and the natural man will be this, that the Yogin seeks to substitute in himself for the integral action of the lower Nature working in and by ego and division the integral action of the higher Nature working in and by God and unity. If indeed our aim be only an escape from the world to God, synthesis is unnecessary and a waste of time; for then our sole practical aim must be to find out one path out of the thousand that lead to God, one shortest possible of short cuts, and not to linger exploring different paths that end in the same goal. But if our aim be a transformation of our integral being into the terms of God-existence, it is then that a synthesis becomes necessary.

The method we have to pursue, then, is to put our whole conscious being into relation and contact with the Divine and to call Him in to transform our entire being into His. Thus in a sense God Himself, the real Person in us, becomes the sadhaka of the sadhana as well as the Master of the Yoga by whom the lower personality is used as the centre of a divine transfiguration and the instrument of its own perfection. In effect, the pressure of the Tapas, the force of consciousness in us dwelling in the Idea of the divine Nature upon that which we are in our entirety, produces its own realisation. The divine and all-knowing and all-effecting descends upon the limited and obscure, progressively illumines and energises the whole lower nature and substitutes its own action for all the terms of the inferior human light and mortal activity.

In psychological fact this method translates itself into the progressive surrender of the ego with its whole field and all its apparatus to the Beyond-ego with its vast and incalculable but always inevitable workings. Certainly, this is no short cut or easy sadhana. It requires a colossal faith, an absolute courage and above all an unflinching patience. For it implies three stages of which only the last can be wholly blissful or rapid, – the attempt of the ego to enter into contact with the Divine, the wide, full and therefore laborious preparation of the whole lower Nature by the divine working to receive and become the higher Nature, and the eventual transformation. In fact, however, the divine Strength, often unobserved and behind the veil, substitutes itself for our weakness and supports us through all our failings of faith, courage and patience. It makes the blind to see and the lame to stride over the hills. The intellect becomes aware of a Law that beneficently insists and a succour that upholds; the heart speaks of a Master of all things and Friend of man or a universal Mother who upholds through all stumblings. There- fore this path is at once the most difficult imaginable and yet, in comparison with the magnitude of its effort and object, the most easy and sure of all.

Sri Aurobindo – The Synthesis of Yoga (Part 1, ch 5, pp39-41)

The Getting of Wisdom

Knowledge cannot be imposed.

Ignorance can only be removed by an internal impulse of will.

This releases a willingness to learn, a search for knowledge and a shift in perception – all internally generated and self-sustained.

Knowledge can be offered. It is always available. But ignorance is obstinate, even among the well-meaning.

A question cannot be answered that has not been asked.

mc.

A Clear Definition and Integration

“In the right view both of life and of Yoga all life is either consciously or subconsciously a Yoga. For we mean by this term a methodised effort towards self-perfection by the expression of the secret potentialities latent in the being and a union of the human individual with the universal and transcendent Existence we see partially expressed in man and in the Cosmos. But all life, when we look behind its appearances, is a vast Yoga of Nature who attempts in the conscious and the subconscious to realise her perfection in an ever-increasing expression of her yet unrealised potentialities and to unite herself with her own divine reality. In man, her thinker, she for the first time upon this Earth devises self-conscious means and willed arrangements of activity by which this great purpose may be more swiftly and puissantly attained. Yoga, as Swami Vivekananda has said, may be regarded as a means of compressing one’s evolution into a single life or a few years or even a few months of bodily existence.”

and further…

A given system of Yoga, then, can be no more than a selection or a compression, into narrower but more energetic forms of intensity, of the general methods which are already being used loosely, largely, in a leisurely movement, with a profuser apparent waste of material and energy but with a more complete combination by the great Mother in her vast upward labour.”

and more…

Yogic methods have something of the same relation to the customary psychological workings of man as has the scientific handling of the force of electricity or of steam to their normal operations in Nature. And they, too, like the operations of Science, are formed upon a knowledge developed and confirmed by regular experiment, practical analysis and constant result. All Rajayoga, for instance, depends on this perception and experience that our inner elements, combinations, functions, forces, can be separated or dissolved, can be new-combined and set to novel and formerly impossible workings or can be transformed and resolved into a new general synthesis by fixed internal processes. Hathayoga similarly depends on this perception and experience that the vital forces and functions to which our life is normally subjected and whose ordinary operations seem set and indispensable, can be mastered and the operations changed or suspended with results that would otherwise be impossible and that seem miraculous to those who have not seized the rationale of their process. And if in some other of its forms this character of Yoga is less apparent, because they are more intuitive and less mechanical, nearer, like the Yoga of Devotion, to a supernal ecstasy or, like the Yoga of Knowledge, to a supernal infinity of consciousness and being, yet they too start from the use of some principal faculty in us by ways and for ends not contemplated in its everyday spontaneous workings. All methods grouped under the common name of Yoga are special psychological processes founded on a fixed truth of Nature and developing, out of normal functions, powers and results which were always latent but which her ordinary movements do not easily or do not often manifest.”

and finally, its integration…

“No synthesis of Yoga can be satisfying which does not, in its aim, reunite God and Nature in a liberated and perfected human life or, in its method, not only permit but favour the harmony of our inner and outer activities and experiences in the divine consummation of both. For man is precisely that term and symbol of a higher Existence descended into the material world in which it is possible for the lower to transfigure itself and put on the nature of the higher and the higher to reveal itself in the forms of the lower. To avoid the life which is given him for the realisation of that possibility, can never be either the indispensable condition or the whole and ultimate object of his supreme endeavour or of his most powerful means of self-fulfilment. It can only be a temporary necessity under certain conditions or a specialised extreme effort imposed on the individual so as to prepare a greater general possibility for the race. The true and full object and utility of Yoga can only be accomplished when the conscious Yoga in man becomes, like the subconscious Yoga in Nature, outwardly conterminous with life itself and we can once more, looking out both on the path and the achievement, say in a more perfect and luminous sense: “All life is Yoga.”

Sri Aurobindo – The Synthesis of Yoga (Introduction, ch 1 – Life and Yoga, p2-3)

The Synthesis of Yoga – Sri Aurobindo (Complete contents)

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The Synthesis of Yoga
“All life is Yoga.”

CONTENTS

    INTRODUCTION

    THE CONDITIONS OF THE SYNTHESIS

    Chapter I
    Life and Yoga 5

    Chapter II
    The Three Steps of Nature 9

    Chapter III
    The Threefold Life 20

    Chapter IV
    The Systems of Yoga 31

    Chapter V
    The Synthesis of the Systems 41

    PART I
    THE YOGA OF DIVINE WORKS

    Chapter I
    The Four Aids 53

    Chapter II
    Self-Consecration 69

    Chapter III
    Self-Surrender in Works — The Way of the Gita 89

    Chapter IV
    The Sacrifice, the Triune Path and the Lord of
    the Sacrifice 106

    Chapter V
    The Ascent of the Sacrifice – 1
    The Works of Knowledge — The Psychic Being 134

    Chapter VI
    The Ascent of the Sacrifice – 2
    The Works of Love — The Works of Life 158

    Chapter VII
    Standards of Conduct and Spiritual Freedom 188

    Chapter VIII
    The Supreme Will 208

    Chapter IX
    Equality and the Annihilation of Ego 221

    Chapter X
    The Three Modes of Nature 232

    Chapter XI
    The Master of the Work 243

    Chapter XII
    The Divine Work 264

    Appendix to Part I

    Chapter XIII
    The Supermind and the Yoga of Works 279

    PART II
    THE YOGA OF INTEGRAL KNOWLEDGE

    Chapter I
    The Object of Knowledge 287

    Chapter II
    The Status of Knowledge 300

    Chapter III
    The Purified Understanding 308

    Chapter IV
    Concentration 317

    Chapter V
    Renunciation 326

    Chapter VI
    The Synthesis of the Disciplines of Knowledge 335

    Chapter VII
    The Release from Subjection to the Body 343

    Chapter VIII
    The Release from the Heart and the Mind 350

    Chapter IX
    The Release from the Ego 356

    Chapter X
    The Realisation of the Cosmic Self 368

    Chapter XI
    The Modes of the Self 374

    Chapter XII
    The Realisation of Sachchidananda 383

    Chapter XIII
    The Difficulties of the Mental Being 391

    Chapter XIV
    The Passive and the Active Brahman 400

    Chapter XV
    The Cosmic Consciousness 409

    Chapter XVI
    Oneness 419

    Chapter XVII
    The Soul and Nature 426

    Chapter XVIII
    The Soul and Its Liberation 436

    Chapter XIX
    The Planes of Our Existence 446

    Chapter XX
    The Lower Triple Purusha 457

    Chapter XXI
    The Ladder of Self-Transcendence 465

    Chapter XXII
    Vijnana or Gnosis 475

    Chapter XXIII
    The Conditions of Attainment to the Gnosis 488

    Chapter XXIV
    Gnosis and Ananda 498

    Chapter XXV
    The Higher and the Lower Knowledge 511

    Chapter XXVI
    Samadhi 519

    Chapter XXVII
    Hathayoga 528

    Chapter XXVIII
    Rajayoga 536

    PART III
    THE YOGA OF DIVINE LOVE

    Chapter I
    Love and the Triple Path 545

    Chapter II
    The Motives of Devotion 552

    Chapter III
    The Godward Emotions 561

    Chapter IV
    The Way of Devotion 571

    Chapter V
    The Divine Personality 577

    Chapter VI
    The Delight of the Divine 587

    Chapter VII
    The Ananda Brahman 593

    Chapter VIII
    The Mystery of Love 599

    PART IV
    THE YOGA OF SELF-PERFECTION

    Chapter I
    The Principle of the Integral Yoga 609

    Chapter II
    The Integral Perfection 616

    Chapter III
    The Psychology of Self-Perfection 623

    Chapter IV
    The Perfection of the Mental Being 632

    Chapter V
    The Instruments of the Spirit 643

    Chapter VI
    Purification — The Lower Mentality 654

    Chapter VII
    Purification — Intelligence and Will 663

    Chapter VIII
    The Liberation of the Spirit 674

    Chapter IX
    The Liberation of the Nature 682

    Chapter X
    The Elements of Perfection 691

    Chapter XI
    The Perfection of Equality 698

    Chapter XII
    The Way of Equality 709

    Chapter XIII
    The Action of Equality 721

    Chapter XIV
    The Power of the Instruments 729

    Chapter XV
    Soul-Force and the Fourfold Personality 740

    Chapter XVI
    The Divine Shakti 752

    Chapter XVII
    The Action of the Divine Shakti 762

    Chapter XVIII
    Faith and Shakti 771

    Chapter XIX
    The Nature of the Supermind 783

    Chapter XX
    The Intuitive Mind 799

    Chapter XXI
    The Gradations of the Supermind 811

    Chapter XXII
    The Supramental Thought and Knowledge 825

    Chapter XXIII
    The Supramental Instruments — Thought-Process 841

    Chapter XXIV
    The Supramental Sense 862

    Chapter XXV
    Towards the Supramental Time Vision 885

    Appendix to Part IV

    Chapter XXVI
    The Supramental Time Consciousness 907

Freedom and Will

All things here are the one and indivisible eternal transcendent and cosmic Brahman that is in its seeming divided in things and creatures; in seeming only, for in truth it is always one and equal in all things and creatures and the division is only a phenomenon of the surface. As long as we live in the ignorant seeming, we are the ego and are subject to the modes of Nature. Enslaved to appearances, bound to the dualities, tossed between good and evil, sin and virtue, grief and joy, pain and pleasure, good fortune and ill fortune, success and failure, we follow helplessly the iron or gilt and iron round of the wheel of Maya. At best we have only the poor relative freedom which by us is ignorantly called free will. But that is at bottom illusory, since it is the modes of Nature that express themselves through our personal will; it is force of Nature, grasping us, ungrasped by us that determines what we shall will and how we shall will it. Nature, not an independent ego, chooses what object we shall seek, whether by reasoned will or unreflecting impulse, at any moment of our existence. If, on the contrary, we live in the unifying reality of the Brahman, then we go beyond the ego and overstep Nature. For then we get back to our true self and become the spirit; in the spirit we are above the impulsion of Nature, superior to her modes and forces. Attaining to a perfect equality in the soul, mind and heart, we realise our true self of oneness, one with all beings, one too with That which expresses itself in them and in all that we see and experience. This equality and this oneness are the indispensable twin foundation we must lay down for a divine being, a divine consciousness, a divine action. Not one with all, we are not spiritual, not divine. Not equal-souled to all things, happenings and creatures, we cannot see spiritually, cannot know divinely, cannot feel divinely towards others. The Supreme Power, the one Eternal and Infinite is equal to all things and to all beings; and because it is equal, it can act with an absolute wisdom according to the truth of its works and its force and according to the truth of each thing and of every creature.

This is also the only true freedom possible to man, a freedom which he cannot have unless he outgrows his mental separativeness and becomes the conscious soul in Nature. The only free will in the world is the one divine Will of which Nature is the executrix; for she is the master and creator of all other wills. Human free will can be real in a sense, but, like all things that belong to the modes of Nature, it is only relatively real. The mind rides on a swirl of natural forces, balances on a poise between several possibilities, inclines to one side or another, settles and has the sense of choosing: but it does not see, it is not even dimly aware of the Force behind that has determined its choice. It cannot see it, because that Force is something total and to our eyes indeterminate. At most mind can only distinguish with an approach to clarity and precision some out of the complex variety of particular determinations by which this Force works out her incalculable purposes. Partial itself, the mind rides on a part of the machine, unaware of nine-tenths of its motor agencies in Time and environment, unaware of its past preparation and future drift; but because it rides, it thinks that it is directing the machine. In a sense it counts: for that clear inclination of the mind which we call our will, that firm settling of the inclination which presents itself to us as a deliberate choice, is one of Nature’s most powerful determinants; but it is never independent and sole. Behind this petty instrumental action of the human will there is something vast and powerful and eternal that oversees the trend of the inclination and presses on the turn of the will. There is a total Truth in Nature greater than our individual choice. And in this total Truth, or even beyond and behind it, there is something that determines all results; its presence and secret knowledge keep up steadily in the process of Nature a dynamic, almost automatic perception of the right relations, the varying or persistent necessities, the inevitable steps of the movement. There is a secret divine Will, eternal and infinite, omniscient and omnipotent, that expresses itself in the universality and in each particular of all these apparently temporal and finite inconscient or half-conscient things. This is the Power or Presence meant by the Gita when it speaks of the Lord within the heart of all existences who turns all creatures as if mounted on a machine by the illusion of Nature.

This divine Will is not an alien Power or Presence; it is intimate to us and we ourselves are part of it: for it is our own highest Self that possesses and supports it. Only, it is not our conscious mental will; it rejects often enough what our conscious will accepts and accepts what our conscious will rejects. For while this secret One knows all and every whole and each detail, our surface mind knows only a little part of things. Our will is conscious in the mind, and what it knows, it knows by the thought only; the divine Will is superconscious to us because it is in its essence supramental, and it knows all because it is all. Our highest Self which possesses and supports this universal Power is not our ego-self, not our personal nature; it is something transcendent and universal of which these smaller things are only foam and flowing surface. If we surrender our conscious will and allow it to be made one with the will of the Eternal, then, and then only, shall we attain to a true freedom; living in the divine liberty, we shall no longer cling to this shackled so-called free will, a puppet freedom ignorant, illusory, relative, bound to the error of its own inadequate vital motives and mental figures.

Sri Aurobindo – The Synthesis of Yoga pp88-90

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Essential services – a conflict in principal

Essential services must not be controlled by those driven by the profit motive.

Why?

Because the service is essential. The users of the service have no choice – they must use it.

Because the motive of profit is in contradiction to service.
Because the motive of service is in contradiction to profit.

A service provided in the spirit of service may result in a profit.
A service provided in the spirit of profit may result in service.

But…

When choice is required whether to give priority to one or the other, the profit motive will preclude service.
When a choice is required whether to give priority to one or the other, the service motive will preclude profit.

Such situations will always arise, and, in fact, are the norm.

Power, water, health – these are not options.

Give control over these to private, profit-motivated people and the inevitable result will be economic enslavement – guaranteed. It has already begun.

Air next? Try to negotiate a good deal on that!

Tell me what you want, and I will tell you who you are. If you want profit, you are not to be trusted with my essential needs. I will buy a car from you, and a house, even my phone – but stay away from my power, water, health and air. In fact, stay away from my religion too. You want profit, you want to survive – you don’t care about me. You will destroy me in your pursuit for survival and profit if my needs come into conflict with yours.

When the motive is service, our needs are the same.
When profit is the motive, our needs are in conflict.

This is a principle.

mc

LIFE – really.

(for Nicci)

Life, not a remote silent or high-uplifted ecstatic Beyond – Life alone, is the field of our Yoga. The transformation of our superficial, narrow and fragmentary human way of thinking, seeing, feeling and being into a deep and wide spiritual consciousness and an integrated inner and outer existence and of our ordinary human living into the divine way of life must be its central purpose. The means towards this supreme end is a self-giving of all our nature to the Divine. Everything must be given to the Divine within us, to the universal All and to the transcendent Supreme. An absolute concentration of our will, our heart and our thought on that one and manifold Divine, an unreserved self-consecration of our whole being to the Divine alone – this is the decisive movement, the turning of the ego to That which is infinitely greater than itself, its self-giving and indispensable surrender.

The life of the human creature, as it is ordinarily lived, is composed of a half-fixed, half-fluid mass of very imperfectly ruled thoughts, perceptions, sensations, emotions, desires, enjoyments, acts, mostly customary and self-repeating, in part only dynamic and self-developing, but all centred around a superficial ego. The sum of movement of these activities eventuates in an internal growth which is partly visible and operative in this life, partly a seed of progress in lives hereafter. This growth of the conscious being, an expansion, an increasing self-expression, a more and more harmonised development of his constituent members is the whole meaning and all the pith of human existence. It is for this meaningful development of consciousness by thought, will, emotion, desire, action and experience, leading in the end to a supreme divine self-discovery, that Man, the mental being, has entered into the material body. All the rest is either auxiliary and subordinate or accidental and otiose; that only matters which sustains and helps the evolution of his nature and the growth or rather the progressive unfolding and discovery of his self and spirit.

The aim set before our Yoga is nothing less than to hasten this supreme object of our existence here. Its process leaves behind the ordinary tardy method of slow and confused growth through the evolution of Nature. For the natural evolution is at its best an uncertain growth under cover, partly by the pressure of the environment, partly by a groping education and an ill-lighted purposeful effort, an only partially illumined and half-automatic use of opportunities with many blunders and lapses and relapses; a great portion of it is made up of apparent accidents and circumstances and vicissitudes, – though veiling a secret divine intervention and guidance. In Yoga we replace this confused crooked crab-motion by a rapid, conscious and self-directed evolution which is planned to carry us, as far as can be, in a straight line towards the goal set before us. In a certain sense it may be an error to speak of a goal anywhere in a progression which may well be infinite. Still we can conceive of an immediate goal, an ulterior objective beyond our present achievement towards which the soul in man can aspire. There lies before him the possibility of a new birth; there can be an ascent into a higher and wider plane of being and its descent to transform his members. An enlarged and illumined consciousness is possible that shall make of him a liberated spirit and a perfected force, and, if spread beyond the individual, it might even constitute a divine humanity or else a new, a supramental and therefore a superhuman race. It is this new birth that we make our aim: a growth into a divine consciousness is the whole meaning of our Yoga, an integral conversion to divinity not only of the soul but of all the parts of our nature.

Sri Aurobindo – The Synthesis of Yoga Ch 3, pp 82-83

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Read the whole book – The Synthesis of Yoga

The Synthesis of Yoga

click and save
http://www.sriaurobindoashram.org/ashram/sriauro/downloadpdf.php?id=37

while you’re at it, this is also recommended;

The Life Divine

click and save
http://www.sriaurobindoashram.org/ashram/sriauro/downloadpdf.php?id=36

and if that is not enough, go here for everything he produced;

The Writings of Sri Aurobindo

http://www.sriaurobindoashram.org/ashram/sriauro/writings.php

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Conception and Concentration – The Fundamental Thrust

But on that which as yet we know not how shall we concentrate? And yet we cannot know the Divine unless we have achieved this concentration of our being upon him. A concentration which culminates in a living realisation and the constant sense of the presence of the One in ourselves and in all of which we are aware, is what we mean in Yoga by knowledge and the effort after knowledge. It is not enough to devote ourselves by the reading of Scriptures or by the stress of philosophic reasoning to an intellectual understanding of the Divine; for at the end of our long mental labour we might know all that has been said of the Eternal, possess all that can be thought about the Infinite and yet we might not know him at all. This intellectual preparation can indeed be the first stage in a powerful Yoga, but it is not indispensable: it is not a step which all need or can be called upon to take. Yoga would be impossible, except for a very few, if the intellectual figure of knowledge arrived at by the speculative or meditative Reason were its indispensable condition or a binding preliminary. All that the Light from above asks of us that it may begin its work is a call from the soul and a sufficient point of support in the mind. This support can be reached through an insistent idea of the Divine in the thought, a corresponding will in the dynamic parts, an aspiration, a faith, a need in the heart. Any one of these may lead or predominate, if all cannot move in unison or in an equal rhythm. The idea may be and must in the beginning be inadequate; the aspiration may be narrow and imperfect, the faith poorly illumined or even, as not surely founded on the rock of knowledge, fluctuating, uncertain, easily diminished; often even it may be extinguished and need to be lit again with difficulty like a torch in a windy pass. But if once there is a resolute self-consecration from deep within, if there is an awakening to the soul’s call, these inadequate things can be a sufficient instrument for the divine purpose. Therefore the wise have always been unwilling to limit man’s avenues towards God; they would not shut against his entry even the narrowest portal, the lowest and darkest postern, the humblest wicket-gate. Any name, any form, any symbol, any offering has been held to be sufficient if there is the consecration along with it; for the Divine knows himself in the heart of the seeker and accepts the sacrifice.

But still the greater and wider the moving idea-force behind the consecration, the better for the seeker; his attainment is likely to be fuller and more ample. If we are to attempt an integral Yoga, it will be as well to start with an idea of the Divine that is itself integral. There should be an aspiration in the heart wide enough for a realisation without any narrow limits. Not only should we avoid a sectarian religious outlook, but also all one-sided philosophical conceptions which try to shut up the Ineffable in a restricting mental formula. The dynamic conception or impelling sense with which our Yoga can best set out would be naturally the idea, the sense of a conscious all-embracing but all-exceeding Infinite. Our uplook must be to a free, all-powerful, perfect and blissful One and Oneness in which all beings move and live and through which all can meet and become one. This Eternal will be at once personal and impersonal in his self-revelation and touch upon the soul. He is personal because he is the conscious Divine, the infinite Person who casts some broken reflection of himself in the myriad divine and undivine personalities of the universe. He is impersonal because he appears to us as an infinite Existence, Consciousness and Ananda and because he is the fount, base and constituent of all existences and all energies, the very material of our being and mind and life and body, our spirit and our matter. The thought, concentrating on him, must not merely understand in an intellectual form that he exists, or conceive of him as an abstraction, a logical necessity; it must become a seeing thought able to meet him here as the Inhabitant in all, realise him in ourselves, watch and take hold on the movement of his forces. He is the one Existence: he is the original and universal Delight that constitutes all things and exceeds them: he is the one infinite Consciousness that composes all consciousnesses and informs all their movements: he is the one illimitable Being who sustains all action and experience: his will guides the evolution of things towards their yet unrealised but inevitable aim and plenitude. To him the heart can consecrate itself, approach him as the supreme Beloved, beat and move in him as in a universal sweetness of Love and a living sea of Delight. For his is the secret Joy that supports the soul in all its experiences and maintains even the errant ego in its ordeals and struggles till all sorrow and suffering shall cease. His is the Love and the Bliss of the infinite divine Lover who is drawing all things by their own path towards his happy oneness. On him the Will can unalterably fix as the invisible Power that guides and fulfils it and as the source of its strength. In the impersonality this actuating Power is a self-illumined Force that contains all results and calmly works until it accomplishes, in the personality an all-wise and omnipotent Master of the Yoga whom nothing can prevent from leading it to its goal. This is the faith with which the seeker has to begin his seeking and endeavour; for in all his effort here, but most of all in his effort towards the Unseen, mental man must perforce proceed by faith. When the realisation comes, the faith divinely fulfilled and completed will be transformed into an eternal flame of knowledge.

Sri Aurobindo – The Synthesis of Yoga pp74-77

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Self-Consecration to the Path (or Definition)

All Yoga is in its nature a new birth; it is a birth out of the ordinary, the mentalised material life of man into a higher spiritual consciousness and a greater and diviner being. No Yoga can be successfully undertaken and followed unless there is a strong awakening to the necessity of that larger spiritual existence. The soul that is called to this deep and vast inward change, may arrive in different ways to the initial departure. It may come to it by its own natural development which has been leading it unconsciously towards the awakening; it may reach it through the influence of a religion or the attraction of a philosophy; it may approach it by a slow illumination or leap to it by a sudden touch or shock; it may be pushed or led to it by the pressure of outward circumstances or by an inward necessity, by a single word that breaks the seals of the mind or by long reflection, by the distant example of one who has trod the path or by contact and daily influence. According to the nature and the circumstances the call will come.

But in whatever way it comes, there must be a decision of the mind and the will and, as its result, a complete and effective self-consecration. The acceptance of a new spiritual idea-force and upward orientation in the being, an illumination, a turning or conversion seized on by the will and the heart’s aspiration, – this is the momentous act which contains as in a seed all the results that the Yoga has to give. The mere idea or intellectual seeking of something higher beyond, however strongly grasped by the mind’s interest, is ineffective unless it is seized on by the heart as the one thing desirable and by the will as the one thing to be done. For truth of the Spirit has not to be merely thought but to be lived, and to live it demands a unified single-mindedness of the being; so great a change as is contemplated by the Yoga is not to be effected by a divided will or by a small portion of the energy or by a hesitating mind. He who seeks the Divine must consecrate himself to God and to God only.

If the change comes suddenly and decisively by an overpowering influence, there is no further essential or lasting difficulty. The choice follows upon the thought, or is simultaneous with it, and the self-consecration follows upon the choice. The feet are already set upon the path, even if they seem at first to wander uncertainly and even though the path itself may be only obscurely seen and the knowledge of the goal may be imperfect. The secret Teacher, the inner Guide is already at work, though he may not yet manifest himself or may not yet appear in the person of his human representative. Whatever difficulties and hesitations may ensue, they cannot eventually prevail against the power of the experience that has turned the current of the life. The call, once decisive, stands; the thing that has been born cannot eventually be stifled. Even if the force of circumstances prevents a regular pursuit or a full practical self-consecration from the first, still the mind has taken its bent and persists and returns with an ever-increasing effect upon its leading preoccupation. There is an ineluctable persistence of the inner being, and against it circumstances are in the end powerless, and no weakness in the nature can for long be an obstacle.

But this is not always the manner of the commencement. The sadhaka is often led gradually and there is a long space between the first turning of the mind and the full assent of the nature to the thing towards which it turns. There may at first be only a vivid intellectual interest, a forcible attraction towards the idea and some imperfect form of practice. Or perhaps there is an effort not favoured by the whole nature, a decision or a turn imposed by an intellectual influence or dictated by personal affection and admiration for someone who is himself consecrated and devoted to the Highest. In such cases, a long period of preparation may be necessary before there comes the irrevocable consecration; and in some instances it may not come. There may be some advance, there may be a strong effort, even much purification and many experiences other than those that are central or supreme; but the life will either be spent in preparation or, a certain stage having been reached, the mind pushed by an insufficient driving-force may rest content at the limit of the effort possible to it. Or there may even be a recoil to the lower life, what is called in the ordinary parlance of Yoga a fall from the path. This lapse happens because there is a defect at the very centre. The intellect has been interested, the heart attracted, the will has strung itself to the effort, but the whole nature has not been taken captive by the Divine. It has only acquiesced in the interest, the attraction or the endeavour. There has been an experiment, perhaps even an eager experiment, but not a total self-giving to an imperative need of the soul or to an unforsakable ideal. Even such imperfect Yoga has not been wasted; for no upward effort is made in vain. Even if it fails in the present or arrives only at some preparatory stage or preliminary realisation, it has yet determined the soul’s future.

But if we desire to make the most of the opportunity that this life gives us, if we wish to respond adequately to the call we have received and to attain to the goal we have glimpsed, not merely advance a little towards it, it is essential that there should be an entire self-giving. The secret of success in Yoga is to regard it not as one of the aims to be pursued in life, but as the one and only aim, not as an important part of life, but as the whole of life.

* **

And since Yoga is in its essence a turning away from the ordinary material and animal life led by most men or from the more mental but still limited way of living followed by the few to a greater spiritual life, to the way divine, every part of our energies that is given to the lower existence in the spirit of that existence is a contradiction of our aim and our self-dedication. On the other hand, every energy or activity that we can convert from its allegiance to the lower and dedicate to the service of the higher is so much gained on our road, so much taken from the powers that oppose our progress. It is the difficulty of this wholesale conversion that is the source of all the stumblings in the path of Yoga. For our entire nature and its environment, all our personal and all our universal self, are full of habits and of influences that are opposed to our spiritual rebirth and work against the whole-heartedness of our endeavour. In a certain sense we are nothing but a complex mass of mental, nervous and physical habits held together by a few ruling ideas, desires and associations, – an amalgam of many small self-repeating forces with a few major vibrations. What we propose in our Yoga is nothing less than to break up the whole formation of our past and present which makes up the ordinary material and mental man and to create a new centre of vision and a new universe of activities in ourselves which shall constitute a divine humanity or a superhuman nature.

Sri Aurobindo – The Synthesis of Yoga, ChII pp63-66

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Time

Time presents itself to human effort as an enemy or a friend, as a resistance, a medium or an instrument.

But always it is really the instrument of the soul.

Time is a field of circumstances and forces meeting and working out a resultant progression whose course it measures.

To the ego it is a tyrant or a resistance, to the Divine an instrument.

Sri Aurobindo – The Synthesis of Yoga p61.

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Gnostic ubiquity

The Cultural Stream

As we have seen, gnosticism has been the fountain-head of many heretical movements and many unusual religious and sectarian practices.

Modern secret societies, no less than the medieval guilds, have their ‘mysteries’, many of which retain vestiges of what is clearly a gnostic endowment. The Dutch scholar Gilles Quispel discerns gnostic types of religiosity in the Rosicrucians and Freemasons (Yamauchi, 1973, p. 17). According to another writer, Kenneth Rexroth, ‘Alchemy was gnostic through and through’ (Mead, 1960, p. xx).

The history of magic and the occult is crowded with the names of exponents having a distinctively gnostic cast of thought. In contemporary terms this is perhaps best exemplified in the career of the English mage Aleister Crowley (Symonds, 1951). Under his aegis a number of occult organizations sprang up, whose membership made up a constellation of men and women distinguished in literature, the theatre and the arts.

But to return to the main current of the European cultural tradition. The names of the scholastics and other men of learning whose works were condemned as heretical during the middle ages would constitute a roll call of some of the most eminent figures in medieval thought. Later still, strong gnostic elements are found in the work of mystics like Jakob Boehme, himself accused of heresy, and George Fox, who suffered persecution and imprisonment for his teachings; in poets like John Milton, whose great sonnet beginning, ‘Avenge, O Lord! Thy slaughtered saints’, was written on the massacre of the Cathars (Vaudois) in 1655. His Paradise Lost is almost an apotheosis of Satan. According to Blake, Milton was a true poet of the Devil’s party without knowing it.

For his part, William Blake gave vivid and rapturous expression to opinions that are nothing if not gnostic. He spoke frankly of interpreting the Bible ‘in its infernal or diabolical sense.’ Other well-known poets, like Gerard de Nerval, Rainer Maria Rilke and W. B. Yeats, as well as several leading composers have been named in a similar context. Quispel called Mozart ‘a later gnostic.’

Among the novelists we have Novalis, Honore de Balzac, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Herman Melville, Leo Tolstoy and Franz Kafka. The German novelist Thomas Mann speaks of gnosticism as ‘Man’s truest knowledge of himself’. Many social, political, even psychological trends, like Puritanism, Marxism, Communism, Nihilism, Nazism and Psycho-analysis have been spoken of in conjunction with the gnostics (Layton, 1980, p. 38). Scientists like Wolfgang Pauli, and certain modern scientific theories, have likewise been drawn into the gnostic ambit.

Among the philosophers we have Blaise Pascal, G. W. F. Hegel, Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. Invoking the perennial gnostic riddle, Kierkegaard questioned the purpose of ‘this thing called the world’, and asked why he had been created and thus compelled to participate in existence. Existentialism, of which he was one of the founding fathers, is rife with gnostic ideas, as more than one authority has pointed out.

C. G. Jung, whose intuitive mind ranged over a wide field covering many of the obscure cultural byways of European thought, perhaps best summed up the full extent of the gnostic involvement in all the problems that had for so long preoccupied him, when he wrote, ‘All my life I have been working and studying to find these things, and these people knew already’ (Layton, 1980, p. 23).

 

THE GNOSTIC PARADOX

The gnostic doctrine relating to sin, or spiritual evil, is the cornerstone of their theology.

Today the notion of sin tends to be dismissed as an offensive archaism. It is denounced as a sewer concept, a product of the salacious Puritan mind, breeding guilt and false contrition. Enlightened people prefer to believe in the essential goodness of man, despite his countless and continuing villainies.

Sin is not a Puritan invention. It is basic to every major religion. Perceptive individuals are aware of its constant presence in the human heart. The confessions of those we esteem saints, show that they did not regard themselves as saintly, and with good reason. In our own times, if we needed further evidence, the lewdness and violence lying dormant in our minds has been highlighted by psychoanalysis, and amply demonstrated by the Nazis.

Man is steeped in sin. This was the one tenet to which the gnostics adhered with fierce tenacity. They restored the doctrine of original sin to its original status. In this view even the new-born infant is contaminated with it. When Jesus said of little children, ‘Of such is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 19:14), he was referring, according to the gnostics, to their androgynous state, and not to their innocence.

The taint of sin does not necessarily imply acts. It simply comes from being human. Man does not have to commit sin. He is sinful by nature. He is not just weak, but wicked in essence, evil in a Satanic sense, for he is Satan’s creature.

From this follows the conviction that the sin of man cannot be wiped out by man. Man’s good works do not expiate sin. In any event, man on his own can do no good works, for as the Bible states, without equivocation, ‘All our righteous deeds are as filthy rags’ (Isa. 64:6).

It is expedient for our own welfare to render ‘good works’ unto Caesar. Moral conduct is a social convenience, necessary in order to avoid a situation where the life of man would otherwise be ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’.

The moral qualities that make for a stable society, including the humanitarian and ethical traits we cherish as if they were religious principles, were recognized by the ancients for what they were, and classed by them as mere ‘political virtues’. God, said the gnostic Marcion, is not concerned with them.

Man may give a good or bad account of himself in the contest of life, depending on the stars above, the environment around, and the hormones within. And all these, the Valentinians would say, are counters that are ultimately dealt out by the Prince of Darkness.

The law of Caesar is devoid of spiritual overtones. In Caesar’s realm ‘sin’ can be legislated into or decreed out of existence. The gnostics saw with crystal clarity how easily the law of Caesar could be made to serve the ends of Satan.

In gnosticism the leading dramatis personae in the cosmic theatre are Christ and Lucifer. But in ultimate terms the gnostics were non-dualists, believing that God the Father is the Supreme Being, and is utterly transcendent to the world where the dualist conflict is taking place.

The material world is the preserve of Satan, and we might remain in bondage to him for all time – but for divine grace. St Augustine spoke of the happy fault (Lat.felix culpa), referring to the sin that caused the fall of our first parents, for it was because of this that the human race in time came to know Christ.

By himself, the human being is helpless, in a situation that is hopeless. His only hope lies in Christ. The second, and last, great Christian commandment – to love your neighbour – relates to Caesar’s realm. It only becomes spiritually relevant when the first – to love God – is brought into operation.

And one can only love the transcendent God through a knowledge (gnosis) of Christ. When this understanding is attained, one’s life assumes a new spiritual dimension, and the real virtues then begin to flow from a divine source.

In spite of their docetic views, most gnostics acknowledged the deeper significance of Christ’s death on the cross. It is probably to a gnostic source that we must look for the famous remark attributed to Tertullian concerning the resurrection: ‘It is certain, because it is impossible.’

The gnostics were aware that to the rational mind the incarnation was a fantasy, the crucifixion an offence, and the resurrection an absurdity (see I Cor. 1:23).

All this lies outside the realm of common sense. But those who wish to avoid the absurdities of the Christian faith, and build up an image of Jesus as just another one of a long line of prophets preaching ethics and morals, find they can give no reason why anyone should follow Jesus in preference to another teacher.

Gnostic truth is heterodox, and presents alternative values. It is an allegory, since it speaks in another way. It is a paradox, which means something contrary to received opinion. It is not logical, rational, or even thinkable.

The existentialists, paraphrasing the gnostics, affirmed that Christianity involves the choice of the absurd alternative.

 

Benjamin Walker – “Gnosticism – Its History and Influence”  1983  (Crucible Edn. pp 185-190)

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