Wednesday, 18 December 2013

What is Spirituality?

This may seem a strange question to ask because the answer is surely obvious. Isn't spirituality just believing in a spiritual basis to life and then behaving in a way that corresponds to that? Well yes it is, according to the simplest definition, but in reality spirituality has many sides to it, as you would expect if you are using a single word to describe the attitude of a Christ on the one hand and that of an ordinary believer, fully identified with his 'name and form', on the other. Moreover, so much is called spirituality that is really just plain sentimentality or else a search for self-improvement that it is worth considering what the word might actually mean.

I will attempt a few definitions here while stressing that it is all of these and more, and cannot be limited to any single definition. But if we seek to lead a truly spiritual life then something of each of them should inform our approach to that end.

Spirituality is being true to your conscience.

It is revealing that we all, believer or non-believer, saint and sinner alike, regard our conscience as representing something good to which we should adhere, and if we do not then we are falling short of some proper and objective standard. We might suppress the voice of conscience but no one would claim that disobeying your conscience is an admirable thing or that it is a false friend which can potentially mislead. Conscience is an inner knowing that cannot be argued with, and exists at a deeper level than thought. It never suggests personal advantage which should tell us something about its source. At the same time, the reality of conscience does not mean that everything we might call conscience actually is such for we are multi-levelled creatures, not always able to recognise whence come our thoughts, feelings and ideas. Historically many people have justified their opinions and actions as inspired by conscience while a more objective view would show them to be heavily coloured by a personal ideology, if not prejudice. That is why the Masters told me to be true to my conscience but make sure that it was my conscience I was being true to.

Spirituality is a love of the laws of God. 

There are spiritual laws which are just as real as the physical ones we know about, and these laws are the basis of creation and lie at the roots of our being. Real happiness and inner harmony can only come from observing them. They are presented in religions, though in forms appropriate to particular times and places, but can also be discerned in a pure form within one's own heart which is, as it were, stamped with truth, though our mind must be able to discern it there. And they are present in Nature, even if it must be appreciated that this is a fallen world so God's laws are by no means perfectly expressed in Nature as it exists on the physical level. The Masters told me that there is nothing perfect in your world, but there are echoes of perfection and signs pointing towards it, and we must be alert to these and able to discriminate between what is of God, hence of truth, and what is of fallen man or the human ego. God's laws are truth.

If you find the word law a little oppressive then be assured that the greatest law is love. But it is not the only one. 

Spirituality is an awareness of the oneness of life. 

This is at once the easiest and the hardest thing to understand. It is almost a truism today to say that all life is one but who among us really lives as though that were the case? The oneness of life is a fact in consciousness for the enlightened but for the rest of us it is only a theory, albeit one we can, at least, try to live up to. Yet this oneness must be seen in the overall context of manifestation. All life is certainly one but in the created world there is a hierarchy of being which stretches from the highest archangel, who was one of the first thoughts of God, to the humble worker bee and beyond. Don't be put off by the word hierarchy which has as its root meaning the sense of rule of the sacred. The sacred is the spiritual, and that which reveals more of pure spirit in its expression is always higher in the chain of being. The Masters said when speaking of beauty that it is everywhere. It varies in degrees according to its closeness to God but there is God in everything. In these words we have the relation between the principles of hierarchy and oneness perfectly expressed.

Spirituality is awareness of the sacred. 

All life is sacred but see the Master’s quote above. I could rephrase it by saying that there is God in everything but He is more present in some things than others. Awareness of the sacred is the ability to see this. When Christ was alive not everyone was able to recognize him for what he was. In fact, most people could not recognize him. Spirit has to be awakening in you for you to be able to perceive it in outer things. It is a sense of the sacred that first draws many onto the spiritual path. An awareness that a world without God is empty and dead. The sacred is that which is beyond quantity, and when it is denied the world is without meaning.

Spirituality is service, sacrifice and surrender.

This is self-explanatory. It was a constant theme of the Masters who quickly disabused me of the idea that their presence had anything to do with my personal advancement. Spiritual progress comes through service and sacrifice, they said. This sounds rather fine in theory but when the reality of what it actually entails is made apparent, it is another matter. Plus, of course, the obvious point that if you think of any service and sacrifice you might be called upon to make as service and sacrifice that is exactly what they are not. They must be made willingly and almost joyfully if they are to be spiritually fruitful. As for surrender, this means letting go of everything remotely related to self, and is really only possible for a saint. But then we have to become saints if we want to be spiritual, and there are no half measures in that. It is only by going through the fires of self-immolation that we can hope to become worthy of entry into the Kingdom of Heaven. And that is the path of service, sacrifice and surrender.

Spirituality is observance of silence.

I don't suppose there has ever been more outer stimulation to distract us from what is real. If we would discover the truth within we have, at least some of the time, to withdraw our mind from attending to the constant stream of fast moving images and the assault by ever more discordant sounds. There is also the noise of the mind itself that must be quietened. We have to get back to a more measured way of being, and find a space in our lives for contemplation. Inner truths can only arise when the noise of the world dies away, and this noise is not just the buzz of the world's ceaseless activity but its very presence for if the world is with us then we are with the world. Similarly, silence is not just an absence of sound but the womb in which awareness of that which lies behind the constantly shifting veils of form may be born.

Spirituality is simplicity.

Many a time the Masters spoke to me of a need to be more simple and childlike. Michael Lord, their outer representative, was a good illustration of this. He had no interest in anything except loving and serving God in the form of the Masters. He was fortunate in that he could see them but maybe he had earned this precisely because in his heart he wanted nothing for himself. Simplicity means an open heart and a humble attitude that does not seek to force understanding but allows it to arise naturally and in its own good time. These Michael possessed, and they were the reason the Masters were able to use him as their medium.

Spirituality is forgetting.

It is forgetting your attachments and all the things that bind you to this world. Forgetting your frustrations and your fears, your desire to shine, to amass, to impress, to dominate and to control. Really there is only one thing needful on the spiritual path, and that is to forget the personal self.

Spirituality is remembering.

It is remembering what you really are and where you come from. It is remembering that this world is not ultimately real, certainly not in its current form. Most of all, the essence of spirituality is summed up in three simple words. Remember the Creator.

Spirituality is the sun in a blue sky.

When we have had enough of thoughts and words, and beliefs and philosophies, and books and blogs and all the paraphernalia of the mind, we just have to go outside and look upwards to know that, behind all the shadows and obscurity of this world, there is something glorious that is ever present and which awaits us when we have completed our earthly duty and are called back home. The sun shining brightly in a clear sky is an honest image of a holy truth.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Material World

One of the major tasks for anyone on the spiritual path is to arrive at a correct relationship with the material world, and in particular that part of it which involves us most closely, namely the physical body. This has caused no end of problems in the past when matter and spirit were often viewed as opposites, if not outright enemies, and even today, when we tend to see them as two parts of a single whole, it is by no means easy to have exactly the right balance between these two principles. How then should the spiritual aspirant regard the material world?

The first point to be made is that God is one and there is nothing apart from God. The material world is not the product of some demiurge type figure or in any way evil, as certain early Gnostics believed. It is the creation of God, made out of His own being and from His own thought. Therefore it is good. However things are not quite that straightforward. They rarely are! There are three further points that we should bear in mind which help to explain why, if a perfect God really did create this world, it is so full of imperfection.

According to occult teachings it was not the Supreme Being itself that created the world. God may start the process off ("Let there be light") but the moulding of that light into form on lower levels than the first plane of manifestation is undertaken by beings referred to in the Bible as Elohim, angelic deity type figures who carry out the Will of God but are a step down from divine omnipotence. The created world is multi-levelled and can be thought of as a great chain of being stretching from highest spirit to lowest matter with the work on each level done by beings of and just above that level. (By the way, low and high are relative terms here. What is low may be lower than what is high, as in more limited and less purely reflecting the source, but it is all part of the whole because there is God in everything).

So the Elohim step down pure, divine light to lower levels of vibration (planes) until the material world is created. In this they are aided by what are known as the elemental builders of form who work largely unconsciously under the supervision of higher beings. Thus this world is not the direct creation of God but a creation of the created. No doubt those more learned than I on this subject could go into much more detail but this rough outline suffices to make the point. The material world and all life forms in it came from God only at certain removes. Moreover, as we shall see, this world was something in the nature of an experiment and never intended to be perfect as in complete and without blemish.

Here is one reason for the fact that our world is not as ideal as it might be if it were a direct reflection of the Creator who I call the Creator because all creation does ultimately and essentially come from Him even if not all comes directly. But there are other matters to take into account. From a purely metaphysical perspective, nothing manifested can ever be perfect because everything that is not wholly God is less than God. Manifestation, by its very nature, is limitation. Whatever is created is impermanent. Whatever is impermanent contains the seeds of its own dissolution from its very inception. That is not perfection.

However this world is not just not perfect. It is very imperfect. The higher planes may not be perfect in an absolute sense but they are perfect in themselves. In terms of what they are, they cannot be conceived as being any better or any more. That obviously is not the case here and the reason is that this is, as many religions teach, a fallen world. It is not what it should be.

When the world was created it was perfect (in terms of what it was and what it was meant to be), but suffering and the association of death with pain came into the world through the fault of man. This is not what we are led to believe today but it is what is taught by those who have spiritual knowledge. I submit that it is corroborated by intuition too. The story in Genesis of the Garden of Eden is a myth but it is a myth that embodies a truth. Humanity fell away from its proper path through disobedience to its own higher self and hearkening instead to the lower voice of ego and self-will. It inverted the true hierarchical order and has been doing that ever since. That is why humanity fell and, because the human race is the custodian of the world, that is why the world, including nature, fell too. It was the refusal to live in accordance with the will of the Creator, and the replacing of that with self-will, that resulted in the current unhappy state of our world. Now, because of the supreme mercy of God, it is said that this has actually been turned to our advantage, and that, through falling, we can, after suffering the consequences of that fall and turning around, eventually rise higher. This idea is brought out in the parable of the prodigal son.

All of which brings us to the third point. This world was never intended to be a place of perfect happiness without challenge or testing. The sorrow and suffering that we endure were not part of God's original plan but the world was created as an environment for experience and experiment, and so the potential for error always had to be there. As the Masters emphasised to me on more than one occasion, Earth is a school. It is a place in which the soul is intended to grow through learning, and that is why the existence of God is not evident to us. It is not meant to be. We must discover Him for ourselves. We have free will and can choose what to believe and even, to an extent, what to see. Therefore there must be potential for choice. That is why there is just enough evidence for a divine origin to support those who wish to believe in that but not enough to convert those who do not want to acknowledge that truth. We can choose. Those who choose not to believe in a spiritual basis to life have a perfect right to do so but they are condemning themselves to remain where they are now and not to rise to a higher estate. In effect, they are imprisoning themselves because an individual cut off from his soul is in prison. That is why arguments about whether you need God in order to lead a good life are missing the point. Many people like to claim that you don’t need to believe in God to lead a morally upright life but the aim of spirituality goes far beyond mere morality*. We are not here to lead good lives. We are here to discover our souls and realise our true identity as spiritual beings. This we can only do in a positive sense, and voluntarily, when we have the opportunity not to do it which (to return to the subject of this post after something of a diversion) is why we come to the material world. This is the part of the spiritual spectrum where the presence of the divine is not clearly palpable because substance has densened to the point at which the inner light of spirit is no longer discernible. At least, it is not to the mind and senses which are our means of experiencing the world.

So the relative imperfection of the material world is part of its purpose. 

In a future post I shall talk about that aspect of the material world which most directly concerns us, the physical body. To conclude this one, I would like to say that the spiritual aspirant should regard the material world as real but only relatively real. No-one but the most complacent and deluded would walk past a wounded child with the thought that this is just one of the many aspects of the divine play; and yet, from the point of view of the absolute, there truly is nothing but Brahman. However we need to remember that, while things may not be true from the standpoint of a higher plane, they are true on their own plane, and our approach to the material world and everything in it has to take both of these factors into account. In this, as in many other matters, the heart will show the way where the intellect may stumble.

* Note: Apropos of that point I would maintain that even the desire to have a system of ethics and abide by it comes from the presence of God within you, who is there whether you acknowledge Him or not. I would also say that many atheists today are living off the moral capital of the religion of the past and the cultural background formed by that, and would question how long true morals would last if a spiritual sense really were expunged completely from the world.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

More on Paganism

An acquaintance who read the previous post on paganism made some comments on it which I reproduce below in the form of a question together with my response to it.

Q. Why do you say you must go beyond the Goddess to find ultimate truth? I regard the Great Goddess as the primal source of life. I accept that unmanifest Oneness transcends sex but prefer to visualise it in the form of the Goddess who gives us birth and death. What is wrong with that? After all most of the earliest religions of humanity were matriarchal. I follow the pagan path because I like its full acceptance of the natural world which so many religions look down on. We honour the divine as manifested in nature and try to live according to its seasons and cycles. And we have a solid ethical teaching expressed in the maxim "As long as it doesn't harm anyone, you may do whatsoever you will".

A. I would not say anything is wrong, as such, with using the concept of the Goddess as a symbol for Unmanifest Oneness, if that is the way you prefer to look at things, mainly because no way of visualising divine reality can begin to come close to the truth. Therefore all fall short, and equally so in the face of the infinite. However some forms are closer approximations than others, and more metaphysically correct. And some are relatively true while others don't even come into that category. If we take the masculine and feminine polarity as based on something real, and not just arbitrary designations that are interchangeable and have no fundamental meaning, then we must see each in its proper light, and neither should usurp or imitate the role of the other. It is the case that all traditions based on revelation envisage the universe as the product of two primal principles that issue forth from unmanifest Oneness, and these are the origin of what appear in the human being as masculine and feminine. The masculine corresponds to essence and the feminine to substance so the Goddess, the Mother (and it is surely no coincidence that matter and the Latin mater are etymologically so similar), is not the creator but the womb in which creation takes place. She does give birth and death but to form not life. Life, being, comes from the Father. To confuse roles is not to see clearly and implies the intervention of thought and the personal self with its own agendas rather than true, unbiased intuitive perception. As the Masters said, we need to make sure that our spiritual vision is not coloured by wishful thinking.

 Early religions were matriarchal because humanity at that time was bound up in nature and unable to see beyond the natural world. People then could sense the presence of spirit immanent in matter but did not know transcendent spirit. That is why they tended to be pantheistic and were unaware of the reality that transcends nature in whose light nature is revealed as not absolutely real in itself but real only as the activity of something deeper and more fundamental. That is not to downgrade nature at all but it is to see it in its true perspective. No true religion looks down on nature but it will regard it as subsidiary to God, which it must surely be or else when your body dies so you would too. Neo-paganism certainly believes in spirit but it inverts the true hierarchical relationship between spirit and nature for it tends to see the former as an aspect of the latter rather than vice versa. At the very least, the relationship is viewed as one of equals, but nature is an aspect of spirit and not truly real in its own right. That is why I consider paganism to be, in a certain respect, materialistic though, of course, it is so in a quite different way to a belief that denies any kind of reality to spirit at all.

You speak of Unmanifest Oneness but the metaphysical truth of this is not central to pagan or neo-pagan practise. In fact, in the pagan scheme of things, it is conceived more as a raw energy or power diffused throughout nature than pure transcendent spirit, and it has probably only acquired its higher overtones through the influence in the 20th century of such things as Kabbalah and other forms of Western occultism.

As for the maxim you quote, it sounds very reasonable, but it sums up the ethics of the natural man not the spiritual man.  A secular materialist would not find anything in it to disagree with. There's nothing wrong with that either but it doesn't take you very far beyond where you are now. It does not light the way to your true spiritual being. It will not lead to what I called in a previous post the sanctification of the soul. There is a much higher teaching in the Lord's Prayer, and it is contained in the words "Thy Will be done". Not your will but God's will. What is God's will? It is very simple, that you renounce the personal will and go beyond the natural self which you don't reject but don't identify with either. How can you go beyond the 'you', which is the goal of spirituality, if you "do whatsoever you will"?

The pagan remains locked in the natural self, as you imply when you say that you honour the divine as manifested in nature. That is a worthy practice but there is so much more to divine reality which is why you will never see a pagan of the spiritual stature of the Buddha or Christ. I don't mean by this that anyone should reject paganism, but you have to go beyond it. On its own it is not enough. You have to go beyond the forces of nature. You have to go beyond the powers and energies of the material world, and all levels of it for the material world is not just restricted to the physical level.

And how do you know what harms unless you have spiritual vision? Something may not harm the outer person but be severely detrimental to the soul and its development. Things you do, actions you make, choices you take which seem to have no outer consequences as viewed by the standards of this world may be spiritually retrogressive. It simply is not good enough to say that you can do what you like as long as no one else is harmed by it. You may be harming yourself without realising it if you ignore the deeper spiritual teachings in favour of that ideology. Of course, you have the right to do whatever you wish because we live in a world of free will but if your actions, or even your thoughts, go against God's laws, which are the true coordinates of your own being, you will bring consequences upon yourself. At best, you will remain where you are which is fine if you're happy there but there is a long way further to go than your current state.

This is a picture of the stones at Avebury with some local inhabitants. I love the prehistoric sites of Great Britain, and visited those in Wiltshire and the West Country as regularly as I could when I lived in the area which I did for a number of years. There is still a sense of mystery and dormant power to be sensed in these places, and I can sometimes imagine that I lived in the distant times when they were functioning sacred centres, and that I took part in the rituals that were enacted there. Rituals when the veils between the worlds were lifted and the gods appeared to bless the worshippers. I don't doubt that this was what took place at these holy sites. They were not just areas where the tribes gathered to perform fertility rites or worship as modern people go to church. They were places where things we might call spiritual could actually be made to happen. But that was then. It is right to reconnect to the truths known then and subsequently forgotten but it is not right to try to live those times again. The wheel has turned and humanity has moved on. Paganism is a religion of this world but we must go beyond this world and beyond nature to find truth.