Sunday, 26 October 2014

Living In The World

To the spiritual aspirant it is apparent that the world nowadays is dominated by falsehood and illusion. That does not mean that truth and goodness are not to be found but one could be forgiven for thinking that they are hard to find, in anything like a pure form anyway. No doubt that has always been the case to an extent which explains the Buddhist reaction to the world as a place of suffering, the Gnostic perception of it as the flawed creation of a flawed being and the medieval Christian view of this world as a vale of tears to be endured rather than enjoyed. And yet, while it is certainly true that the darkness in matter divorced from spirit has always been recognised, it does seem that only now has that darkness reached such a pitch that it is no longer even seen as darkness by many people. Indeed, sometimes darkness is actually mistaken for light. This world has always suffered from a sense of separation from its source but the degree of separation has never been greater than it is today (exacerbated by the fact that it is so often not even seen as such), and the consequences of that separation have never been more far-reaching or profound.

Before going any further with these thoughts I should make it clear that I reject the Gnostic position. This world is the creation of God and it is good. But I do subscribe to the view that it is a fallen world, corrupted principally and initially by fallen spiritual powers and then by humanity itself as it pursues an ego-motivated path, aided, abetted and clandestinely encouraged by these powers*. Like it or not, there are no two ways about this. The Masters were quite categorical in their assertion that so called dark forces exist and will try their utmost to distract one from the spiritual path. Their aim is to separate Man from God and they will do anything to further that aim including the fostering of materialism and atheism on the one hand and the corruption and distortion of spirituality on the other, both of which those who have eyes to see can observe quite clearly today. One of the current principal aims of these forces is the dismantling or deconstructing of the human form, using that word in its Platonic sense as the essential nature of a thing. This amounts to the denial that we are made in the image of God and the rejection of all that that implies. It has a bearing on every aspect of the human condition from the relation between the sexes on the horizontal level to that between the soul and its Maker on the vertical scale. The purpose is to sever the connection between the human being as it exists in the material world and its higher self in the spiritual worlds.

To illustrate the subtlety of these forces one might point to how they can co-opt apparent truth and goodness to serve their ends. For instance, the revival of classical learning which gave the Renaissance its impetus and name was used to lessen the focus on God and transfer it to the human being as a centre in its own right, a process that gathered pace over the centuries, going through the 18th century Enlightenment and the 19th century age of scientific exploration on up to the present time. All the while each advance in understanding man as man and the physical world as the physical world was counterbalanced and often outweighed by the loss of a sense of divine connection and an increasing separation from the source. Each apparent freedom was offset by a new, and sometimes hard to recognise, servitude. So, while one is not saying that these developments were or are bad in themselves, it is undeniably the case that, when taken out of a greater context and a part emphasised at the expense of the whole, they can by used to further the ends of the negative and the destruction of true spiritual values. For a right over-emphasised and given disproportionate significance in the overall scheme of things becomes a wrong.

All that having been said, the present state of the world, in which the spiritual is denied or neglected or parodied with everything that springs from that, is not wholly unexpected. In fact, it is predicted in many ancient texts (for instance, parts of the New Testament, the Vishnu Puranas and the prophesy of Hermes), all of which attest to the fact that the end of an age is a time of universal spiritual decay, a time when qualitative differences are eroded or leveled out and the hierarchy of values undermined with the result that the universe and mankind are both increasingly perceived in purely quantitative terms. One may reject these traditions as primitive superstitions but their near unanimity should give pause for thought. Actually, what enabled these predictions to be made with any degree of accuracy is the fact that human development proceeds in cycles, and a consequence of this is that disorder increases the further in time one travels from a cycle's initiating spiritual impulse. The creative energy that pours into the world at the beginning of an age gradually dissipates as time goes by, even if sporadic renewal can take place here and there and improvements on the material plane can occur as attention is directed there instead of higher levels of reality which are no longer acknowledged. Of course, this is totally contrary to the prevailing myth of progress, and progress may well take place in certain worldly, social or material spheres for the reason just given, but progress is not of much use if it leaves out the greater part of what a human being is, and it is worse than useless if it actively suppresses that part.

The spiritual emptiness of the modern world may be inevitable but how does one live in world which is blind to truth and often denies or even derides it? For the spiritual person it is a hard task but, paradoxically, a potentially creative opportunity. It is not so easy to be detached from the world when the world reflects truth to some degree, but when it actually scoffs at it and lives accordingly that detachment is easier to acquire. The current world state is as it is and it will probably get worse from the spiritual point of view. It should not be actively resisted or fought or you will be sucked into a spiral of negativity and the dualistic struggle of us and them which only creates conflict, both inner and outer. The fact of it must be accepted but the downward gravitational pull of it must be seen for what it is and rejected. Don't follow the crowd, even the crowd of the apparently reasonable and intelligent. Now is a time when there are many half truths masquerading as truth. It is a testing time when our ability to intuit the truth and stand firm by that in the face of worldly opposition, or even condemnation, is being examined. Do we have sufficient inner contact with the soul to hold fast to it in the face of outer pressure not to do so or to accept a lesser truth in place of a greater one? Are we able to stay faithful to our vision of the light when there are so many forces pulling us away, some obviously false but others outwardly fair of face but inwardly devoid of spiritual truth?

To say we live at a time of rebellion against God may seem over-dramatic but what else can you call a world which denies its origins? The obvious version of this is atheism and materialism, but one cannot write these things off in purely negative terms because some good in some areas has definitely come from them. Nevertheless, ultimately they are false doctrines which will lead us into error and illusion. Perhaps more difficult to see through are the forms of spirituality which have arisen or been revived which serve as diversions for those who reject the materialistic worldview but are not prepared to accept a divine Creator to whom they must submit. To submit not as to some authoritarian overlord who demands obeisance to further his own power but because it is the act of submission alone that releases the soul from the chains of ego. It is also a recognition of reality. Submission is liberation. It is the sole mode of entry into the higher life, the life of the spirit. Submission, in the spiritual sense, is humility which is love. Jesus taught that the one essential commandment was to love God. Everything else comes from that. Any form of spirituality which ignores this will not lead to eternal life or enlightenment or whatever you wish to call it. Without true and sincere love of God as the divine source of your being, whatever knowledge you might have, whatever realization you might have or think you do, you will remain within the bounds of this world.

I raise this point here because there are many people nowadays in the West who adopt Eastern forms of spirituality and claim that they don't need to accept the hypothesis of a creator to make spiritual progress. I'm not so sure. Maybe in some cases that is true but what needs to be understood is that many of these spiritual paths arose as a reaction against the excesses or failings of the theism of the time, a theism which had either become corrupted (as in dominated by a priestly caste who sought power for themselves) or which insisted on a complete separation between Creator and created. Now we have the opposite problem.  The solution is not the same. We also live in a world in which the sense of ego is more pronounced than it was in the cultures in which those spiritual paths developed. I am not saying it wasn't present then, it obviously was as it is a basic part of being human, but it is much more present now. So why do people in the West take up these ancient Eastern paths? I am certainly not saying that there is nothing we can learn from them. There is a great deal, and I personally am indebted to many Buddhist and Hindu teachings. But more significant than what people believe or subscribe to is why they do so, and the choice of a spiritual form that dispenses with a personal God or relegates that to near insignificance could well be prompted by the rejection of God on the part of an ego reluctant to submit to a higher power, an ego that pursues spirituality for its own ends. God is both personal and impersonal and if you ignore either side of this reality you will miss the mark. As the Masters said, and as I have repeated often  enough in these pages, our spiritual practice must consist of both meditation and prayer if it is to be successful. One without the other is not enough.

Be in the world but not of it is a timeless spiritual teaching and one we need now just as much as we always have done. In many ways the world clamours for our attention today more loudly than at any time. It is hard to avoid its insistent demands, and the increasingly artificial nature of our lives can have the effect of separating us ever more comprehensively from the soul. And yet, at the same time, the falseness of the world as it is today can set spiritual truth into greater relief thereby helping us to see it more clearly. This is particularly so if we put aside all theory and intellectualising and allow ourselves to be guided by the heart which is the source of all wisdom.

* Note: In the absolute sense these fallen spiritual powers have no real power or even being of their own but in terms of the manifested world they do have such power and being.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Body is a Frame

In one of the Masters' earliest talks, in fact the first that I wrote down which I give in its entirety here, they* said the words that I have taken as the title for this piece. The body is a frame. Here I would like to consider what they might have meant by that because a correct relationship with the body is something all spiritual aspirants must acquire. In the past the tendency has been to lean too much towards a negation (as much as possible) of the body. Now we often go too far in the other direction, regarding the body as an intrinsic part of what we are. I think the Master's words can be very helpful in giving us a correct perspective in this matter.

First of all, they tell us that our real self is not the body. Many people in the West today would probably dispute that. Brought up on a diet of scientific materialism, we imagine that the body is what we fundamentally are, and anything else we might seem to be, mind, emotions, even consciousness, derives from that. That is not the Masters' view nor, of course, is it the traditional religious view. We are souls in bodies and the body is actually a projection of the soul not the other way round as present day conventional wisdom would have it.

So the body is not who or what we are but an outer aspect of who or what we are. In fact it is a frame. What is the function of a frame? It is to set off a picture. To provide a solid outer structure for the picture and enable it to be displayed. But the picture is the important thing. The frame is not unimportant and it's necessary if you want to hang the picture, but it is not what matters and the picture is just the same without it.

To say that the body is a frame does not in any sense mean one should reject, neglect or not take care of it. After all no gallery curator would display pictures unworthily with chipped or dirty frames. But it does mean that, although one should look after the body and observe its needs, one should not identify with it or follow its desires. It has its 'functions', as the Master said, and these are what they are. We should not deny or suppress those we might dislike or fear but nor should we indulge any of them either. To do the former is to make the body the enemy of the soul and set up a dualistic battle between mind and body. To do the latter increases our identification with the body and its power over us.

So the course we need to adopt if we wish to realise our true spiritual nature is to treat the body with respect as a divine creation and the vehicle for our functioning in this world but, at the same time, know it to be just that, a vehicle. That means doing what is required to enable the body to act correctly in its role as support for the soul, in terms of diet, exercise, maintaining good health and so on, but not giving it undue prominence or excessive focus or it will usurp attention which should be directed elsewhere. As the Buddha came to appreciate after several years of austerities which led nowhere, a well cared for physical frame is not a barrier to spiritual understanding but necessary for the mind to have sufficient energy be able to attend to the spiritual task in hand.

I called the body a divine creation and so I consider it to be. The Master, after all, spoke of its having been designed, and I both believe him as a knowledgeable authority in this matter and intuitively feel it to be so as well. But this does not mean I fall into the creationist camp. With regard to the human form, I understand this to have originally been conceived as a blueprint in the spiritual world, on a plane corresponding to that of the Platonic archetypes, and then that blueprint realised, as best it may given the resistance of physical matter to spiritual impulse, over a period of time. Pre-existing forms may well have been adapted to bring forth the human form, but I don't see even these animal forms as entirely arbitrary. Again, the spiritual idea precedes the material form but these also develop and change through currently accepted evolutionary means. In other words, the form of incarnated beings comes about through a mixture of spiritual ideation and evolution as it is understood from the modern scientific perspective. I would place the primary impulse on the spiritual side and regard evolution more as a tweaking mechanism which might develop new and interesting variations on an archetypal theme.

What this means is that the gulf between those who believe in a spiritual origin and design of the human body and those who see the body, indeed the whole human being, as coming about through random mutations and 'survival of the fittest' can only be crossed when each side accepts that the truth contains elements of the insights of the other as well as their own. Neither is sufficient by itself. I would certainly place the emphasis on spiritual principles guiding the process overall but what you might call the unconscious or material side also plays a part in the development of form, by no means as big a part as presently surmised, but an important part nonetheless. For those who think that this is hedging my bets I can only say that when human beings take diametrically opposed positions on a subject the truth often falls between the two or perhaps transcends them both, including them but seen from a higher perspective. Moreover if we regard manifesting life as the product of the creative interplay between spirit and matter then it is reasonable to suppose that both of these polarities must have an influence on the end result. However, as I wrote in the book, the origin of human bodies is of secondary importance given that we are not bodies but souls and these are of purely spiritual origin.

We are living in a material world, encased in a material form, and it can be hard to detach ourselves from that and realise that the latter is just an outer aspect or frame. And yet I truly believe that we can know ourselves to be souls by listening to the still, small voice in the heart which is always present though often drowned out by external noise and commotion coming from our own thoughts, prejudices and opinions as well as those that prevail in the society in which we live. The truth is ever-present, accessible to all not just a minority of esoteric adventurers or the spiritually gifted. We can reject that truth, deny it, rebel against it for whatever reason, but it will remain, and the truth is that human beings are spiritual beings currently experiencing life in matter for reasons pertaining to the development of consciousness. The body in which they find themselves, and with which they may confuse themselves, is but a frame, by no means to be identified with but to be used and respected as a vehicle or support for the manifestation of what they truly are which is spiritual consciousness.

* Note.
I often write 'they' instead of 'he' when speaking of the Masters, even individual ones, because they presented themselves as a group in which individualities were certainly present but subsumed in the unity of their awareness. Here may also be a good place to say that I would estimate I was spoken to by around six or seven different Masters, though some more frequently than others. Names were not given but I could usually identify, or think I could, which Master was speaking. There was a definite unity to them, as though they were speaking from the same place or state of consciousness, but that was filtered through an individuality which always had its own 'flavour' or tone.