Sunday, 27 March 2016

The Message of Easter

I went for a walk this afternoon and was struck by how every moment of peace or beauty was almost immediately shattered by the discordant intrusions of modernity in some form or other, noisy vehicles, ugly architecture and so on. But most of contemporary life is like this. To the spiritually sensitive it may sometimes seem as though the whole world is on fire, and that soon there will be nothing left but ashes. Values are turned upside down, truth is denied or distorted and some virtues, or semblances of them, in particular a counterfeit of compassion, are used to subvert others, in particular a wise discrimination. All this may incline one to the temptation of despair. But if we are tempted in that direction then we should remember the lesson of Easter. The disciples after the crucifixion were cast down and despondent, their dreams shattered and their lives seemingly over. But a few days later the most extraordinary event in the history of mankind occurred.

So the message of Easter is hope. We are being tested and those that remain faithful to the truth within them will one day see the lifting of the clouds, and a bright sun shining in a clear blue sky beyond.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Follow up to Question on the Void

This question (or rather email conversation) came in response to the earlier question on the void, but it also has a connection to the last article which posited that a personal view of divine reality is more in line with truth than the non-personal one of monistic conceptions of the absolute. It is quite long but I hope not without interest to those struggling with the idea of whether God might be personal or impersonal, a question the resolution of which I find to be of great significance for a right understanding of the spiritual life. 

Anyway, on with the conversation which starts off by referring to the experience some people have of ultimate reality as pure awareness, and the claims they make based on that.

Q. If I say that many people who experience what they call enlightenment experience this “pure awareness”, or “void”, or “no centre” as some express it, as a genuine experience but that it is partly coloured by or interpreted by being centred in the personal self or ego, would you agree?

Then could we go on from that to say that there actually is a new centre that gradually grows in us, and which is in one way personal, in the sense that it is our intimate, inner connection with the whole, but at the same time universal, since in this centre we are no longer identified with our personality or even with our individuality? And in this way we gradually, and this is indeed a process of lifetimes, become fully realised and true individuals, anchored in God.

You said “In most cases what is called spiritual awakening is a contact with the soul, or higher self as it is known in occultism, not the Universal Self. Thus it is not a state of full realisation but a reconnection to the ante-natal non-separate consciousness. It can, it certainly should, be used as an inspiration for further spiritual exploration but it is not an indication of any kind of final attainment."

Could you explain this a bit more? Also, in relation to the above mentioned experience of “pure awareness, what is your understanding of the concepts of the soul and higher self in this context, and how do they relate to the universal self? You also refer to the teacher who is what you call a personality aware of the soul, rather than someone totally anchored in and speaking from the higher self. This makes sense to me even if I do not fully grasp what you mean. For example, how would a contact with one’s soul or higher self give rise to the experience of “pure awareness” or “the void”?

A. With regard to your first two paragraphs I would say, more or less, yes.

With regard to the rest, the answer rather relates to my conception of what a human being is, that is to say, how we are made up. I think of this as personality, soul and spirit where the personality is our normal earthly self of body, emotional and mental selves. The William Wildblood self in my case which is born and will die, though it may survive longer than the physical body does. Then there is the soul which is our spiritual self which I conceive of as remaining on a spiritual plane when we are born into this world but acting as the animating and individualising principle to the personality. It is our greater self, a spiritual being that is the driver and focus of our evolution. It is our individual consciousness and quality and has existed since we were created not just for this life like the personality. Spirit is the uncreated aspect of the divine fire in our being. It is our connection to universal life. This is just one way of describing things but I do think this threefold nature of our constitution model corresponds reasonably well to reality.

The experience many people have when they think they have attained a non-dualistic realisation is usually a contact with the soul. To be frank, we are so materially focused nowadays than we tend to think any spiritual state is the highest we can attain, such is the contrast to our normal earthbound consciousness. So if we are exposed to non-dualistic teachings then, if we have an experience of this kind, we think that we have entered into the absolute and touched our reality. But how could we possibly know that? It's just an assumption based on a mental preconception.

Your point about a new centre I take to mean that there is a gradual shifting of identification from the separate self, 'me' centre to a higher spiritual consciousness which is still 'us' but us as a spiritual entity which has its own life but is also consciously part of the whole. So that's the soul.

You also ask how the soul relates to the universal self. I think of one as spiritual and the other as divine, so one is our true spiritual self but a created being while the other is uncreated. One is the source of our individual consciousness, but the other is our being so not different to God's being though not the same either as it relates to God in us not God in the totality of himself. Does that make sense? But to us down here the consciousness of the soul is so expanded and non-separate in nature that we may think of it as supreme.

Teachers I describe as personalities aware of the soul are those, by far the most numerous, who have some knowledge and experience of spiritual truth but are still not wholly identified with that. They are still responding to it with their minds. It hasn't totally infused their hearts. I would include myself in that category - if I were a teacher!

Q. If I can go back to one thing that perhaps does not have a straightforward answer. How come that a personality that comes in contact with the soul, with the spirit self (if we use the terms as you described them), experiences this contact as being one with pure awareness or being one with the void? Why do they, in such a contact, not get at least an inkling of the existence of a God (a personal, living God, not just something absolute)? They also seem to reduce the creation, including their own and other people’s lives, to more or less arbitrary “stories”. Why does a contact with the soul leave them empty of at least an inkling of a deeper purpose here, so to speak?

They seem so certain about their experience.

I guess one answer is what you said, that any experience out of the ordinary earthbound consciousness is easily interpreted as something ultimate. Do you think it would make a difference if they had more knowledge (and interest) in a cosmology or a spiritual metaphysic that puts our current evolutionary stage in perspective?

But you also wrote in the post I referred to, that it is not a state of full realisation but a reconnection to the ante-natal non-separate consciousness. Could you say something more about this?

A. I think that when people contact the soul they generally interpret that according to pre-existing beliefs. So now when we are exposed to non-dualistic philosophies and told these are the highest teachings we assume that is what is going on. Also, an experience of the soul is so different to normal everyday consciousness that we might describe it in exclusively non-dualistic terms. And that is not necessarily wrong. Duality does seem to be transcended in the sense that an overwhelming feeling of oneness is experienced. But, as you say, if we had a more sophisticated metaphysical understanding we might not be so quick to assume that we have reached some kind of ultimate state, than which there is nothing higher.

The experience is true but the conclusions drawn from it may not be. That is why it is generally not a good idea to make experience the benchmark of spiritual understanding. It can feed into that but should not be used on its own.

You ask why people who have the experience of pure awareness do not get an inkling of the personal God. This is because of the state of their heart. It is because of their motivation and inner purity as well as the preconceptions they bring to bear. Briefly, it is because they are motivated more by the search for experience or realisation or enlightenment than love. This is why they might touch the ground of their being but not go further and encounter the living God who is only known through love. They have gone far but not far enough. They have seen through the false self (or had an experience of that) but if they stop there they will not know the glory of oneness with God, a much higher state than simply resting in pure awareness. And this next step on the way requires not simply seeing through the illusion of the false self or ego but the actual sacrifice in love of the self. That will be what is asked of anyone who wishes to know God. Ask yourself which is nobler, intellectually or experientially perceiving the illusory nature of the separate self or actually sacrificing that self in love? It's the difference between doing nothing and giving.

What I mean by reconnecting to the ante-natal non-separate consciousness (which is what some people do and mistake for enlightenment) is that this may engender feelings of bliss and oneness but it is not a state of full spiritual maturity. It's more a retreat to the spiritual womb, the paradisiacal condition before the roughness and darkness of being born in this world. It is the state of primeval innocence of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden that is known before we enter the world of experience. In this state the ego has not been consciously transcended in love but just suspended so there are none of the fruits of developed spirituality which are love, wisdom and personal holiness. Though there may well be the imitation of these if the subject has been led to believe through other spiritual teachings that there should be.

To understand what I am saying here please consider this quotation from 'The Imitation of Christ' which I think captures the sense of how the search for pure awareness differs from the real spiritual goal. I'm relying on memory so it may not be exact but as far as I recall it runs like this. "You are not making progress when you receive divine grace but you are making progress when you bear the withdrawal of grace with patience, humility and resignation". With the former you are still seeking reward but with the latter you are faithfully submitting yourself to a higher power. Only when you do this can you make yourself worthy to draw near to the personal God.

Q. How can you tell whether someone has been reconnected to the ante-natal state, where the ego is kept in suspension as you say, or is having an experience that is conveyed by a mature, transformed and transcended ego? Since you said that the first can imitate the latter. Perhaps there can be different degrees of both kinds? Can they even coexist?

I am wondering because the experiences that these people have, and you can find many teachings and testimonies on YouTube nowadays, really puzzles me. And to me, this is a serious matter.

A. I suppose you'd have to say that by their fruits you shall know them. Has this experience made them a deeper, more sensitive person or do they remain identified with things of this world, including worldly viewpoints? Are they able to be alone and to stand alone? Do they require the approbation and recognition of others or can they just be happy with anonymity? Can they suffer, do they sacrifice? Do you see the light shining through them or is it just them that you see? People do try to steal the light, you know!

But then I would also say, does it really matter? Spiritual experiences do not make spiritual people. They can and do happen to almost anyone and are not a sign of advanced spirituality. Not at all. And all too often the ego takes the experience to itself and puffs itself up with the supposed achievement. Look for humility and learn to distinguish between the real thing and the false variety that is all too often met with in the spiritual world.

It's quite natural to be concerned about the shallow forms of spirituality to be found today. So many people setting themselves up as teachers or achievers of a certain state. But my teachers told me not to worry about this as such people are being allowed to prosper. Firstly, because of free will. They have the right to make their own mistakes, and, through experiencing the results of wrong choices, they will eventually make the correct choice. And then others, who might follow these people, will also learn through the experience, and find out what is truth and what is half-truth mistaken for the full version.  

So really the answer to your question is that you have to use your own intuition. Don't accept something is true just because someone says it is or even because everyone says it is. We live in a time of spiritual ignorance and there are many spiritual 'freelancers' who exploit our lack of understanding (not always consciously but they step into a gap because there is a big gap). Pray for discernment, and trust your own heart.

As I have often said here the Masters advised both meditation and prayer as part of a proper spiritual practice. In my estimation the truth is non-duality and duality combined. In the spiritual world we need to be able to embrace paradox sometimes. The mistake the non-duality people make is to leave out the fact that God exists and what he creates is real. It's dependent on him, of course, but none the less real for all that. Many of them are seduced by the fact that they think they have discovered a higher truth and can therefore ignore everything that is not complete oneness. There is a certain lack of humility in that. For God to be love (and all the really knowledgeable people confirm that he is) there must be some plurality right at the root of existence. Love requires a lover, a beloved and love itself. This is where the Christian doctrine of the Trinity (God is three in one) comes in. Non-duality, if really true, would deny love, and non-dualists should see that, if they accept love, then they deny non-duality. They can't have both. Attempts to fudge the issue by relating love to the relative world won't do. Either it is real or it's not. If non-duality is real then love is not real. And vice versa.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

God Transcends Nirvana

I first became interested in Buddhism almost forty years ago but felt at the time that, despite its many insights, it ultimately fell short of the ideal as a description of spiritual reality. The intervening years have brought a greater understanding of the religion but my conclusions about it remain the same. I feel that the Buddha found and articulated the highest state open to man unaided and on his own which is the entry into pure being. But this is not the final destination intended for the human soul by its Creator, though it may (I believe), if it wishes, rest there. But if it does, either through its own desire or through ignorance, it is accepting a secondary condition.

Buddhism does not acknowledge God which is its major failing. In every other respect it is a religion of great beauty and profound wisdom but that is a pretty big omission! Because it denies God (and it does do that because if it doesn't accept Him then it denies Him) it fails to see that the goal of the human soul is not to be absorbed into the Nirvanic state of pure being which is a kind of back to where you started condition, but to be consciously made one with the Creator in a perfect union of the individual with the universal. Only in such a way can the whole of life comprising being and becoming, the one and the many, spirit and matter and so on, be integrated and reconciled in a manner that does justice to all aspects of the created and uncreated realms. The purpose of our lives is not to forsake the reality in creation (which includes relationships with other beings) for pure consciousness, but to bring the two poles of existence together in a conscious reunion that gives each one its due place in the hierarchical scheme of things. Only in this way can man become a full co-creator with God which is his divine destiny.

Despite beliefs to the contrary there are various kinds of mystical experience and attitudes to reality resulting from them but, for my purpose here, I would like to boil these down to the monistic and the theistic. The former is non-dualistic while the latter is dualistic with the proviso that, properly understood, it is a dualism in which there is underlying oneness, though one could just as well say that it is a oneness in which difference is also present with the two being held in perfect balance. Hence it combines and integrates the two. It has often been said that monism is a higher realisation than theism into which the latter is subsumed when true understanding dawns and a person realises his identity with the whole, having come to perceive that pure consciousness is the ground of everything that is, and the idea of an individual self is just that, an idea, a thought in the mind. This may seem to have a satisfyingly logical sense of progression to it but I think it is mistaken and that the reality is precisely the opposite. What the monist does is attain to the unified ground of being through detachment from the 'sheathes' that cover consciousness. He strips away all that is not consciousness and is left with the root of existence.

This is a true state of being but is it what we were created for? Could there be a higher state which combines the qualities of being and becoming to make something entirely new, something not possible in pure being alone? I believe that there is and that it is union with God, a union in love with a (or maybe I should say the) Person. The monist reaches the ground of existence but God is beyond this, including but transcending it. It is his being but it is not his Person. The monist (quite reasonably really) assumes he has attained to the ultimate because there is nothing left to strip away and he has reached perfect peace and unity of being. He feels he is the All and that it is him. However he has sacrificed his God-given individuality in this quest and thereby missed the truth that oneness of being is a lower condition than union in love. For the higher goal than simple entry into pure being is the union of the oneness of being with the variety and capacity to grow of becoming. It is not the Absolute alone but the Absolute and the relative together. It is not pure spirit but the union of uncreated spirit and created soul. This is the extraordinary truth behind the reason for life in this world and the created order in general. It is why enlightenment or liberation (largely a matter of knowledge, whether that be direct perception or insight gained through meditation) must take second place in a hierarchy of spiritual understanding to a union with God which is only possible through love. Overcoming the ego through detachment and intellectual insight is one thing, and can take you to the uncreated core of yourself which is identical with the uncreated core of all beings, but voluntarily offering up the self in love is another thing altogether and points to the higher state of the sanctified soul in which individuality is not rejected, dismissed, seen as illusionary or denied but made perfect in holiness. And this is only possible through the combined action of self-purification, love and grace.

The Buddha reached the highest state possible to man, the very ground and root of being. He attained complete detachment from all manifested forms of existence. He rejected desire and found a way beyond suffering, which was the initial motive behind his search. But though he penetrated to the very depths of his being he failed to see (if I may say so) that the ground of existence is not the same as God who includes this in himself but stands above it in his Person. It may be that the time had not yet arrived for this revelation, and it had to wait for the advent of Christ to be made known. Christ, be it noted, did not try to escape suffering but accepted it, offering it up to the Father in loving sacrifice. In so doing he showed the way to cleanse the self of its fallen will and thereby render it open to sanctification.

When I consider the teachings I received from the Masters I find that they fully support this view, i.e. that the mode of existence entered into by the non-dualists is not the final goal for the human soul. There is a higher and more glorious destiny that awaits those who choose to follow it, and it is the union of the soul with its Maker. A union in which oneness and difference are both perfectly present and one, moreover, capable of ever deeper development unlike Nirvana which, if not static, cannot be considered open to change. The Masters did not spell this out since they don't work like that. They guide but leave you to find things out yourself through your own endeavours. But the teachings they imparted point to it. Their insistence on love and humility as the primary qualities to be acquired by the disciple along with their advice to remember the Creator and be centred in God certainly indicate that

Now these instructions, on the face of it so simple as to be almost mundane, actually contain the essence of the spiritual path and, if followed faithfully, can take one to the highest goal. There is nothing quite like them in the teachings of the Buddha. But note that they must be followed with one's whole being to be properly effective for you cannot be centred in God as long as you are identified with the lower or outer self. If you identify yourself with the 'name and form' aspect of your being, your (in my case) William Wildblood self , you are not centred in God but in yourself whatever your spiritual feelings might be. Neither are you remembering the Creator who might be in your thoughts as an image but will not be in your heart as a living presence. And this is where the teachings of Buddhism can be a great help for, if they do not in themselves lead to union with God, they can certainly bring the disciple to the point of complete detachment from the lower self which is where you need to be in order to begin to be centred in God.

I realise that to say that Buddhism shows the way to the ground of being but does not lead to God Himself who is a step further on will be rejected by many. Nevertheless I believe that (contrary to the opinion of monists) God includes but goes beyond this ground or, at any rate, the ground as it exists in the human being which may be identical with God's being but is not the totality of God in Himself who remains transcendent as well as immanent. Non-dualists like to tell us that theism is dualistic and therefore on a lower level than their philosophy but they do not realise that, while there certainly is a theism of straightforward duality, there is also one in which oneness and duality co-exist, and this is the one I am talking about here.

This is not the simplest of subjects to write about (how can there be something more than oneness?) but I hope to have said enough to trigger an intuitive response in anyone who feels that non-duality teachings omit something important. It may be objected that I am saying that the Buddha was wrong and who am I to do that? But either he or Jesus were mistaken since they are not, despite what many people claim nowadays, saying the same thing. I find the teachings of Christ not only more profound but more in keeping with reality too. In terms of the Vedanta this means I am in Ramanuja's camp rather than Sankara's who surely picked and chose from the Upanishads whatever suited his (Buddhist inspired) thesis. Non-dualists like to say that they do not deny duality but that their position transcends it, viewing it as part of the relative world only. But the fact is that they misconceive the relative world, rejecting it as insignificant in the light of the Absolute and not realising that it fulfils the Absolute by giving expression to it. They have yet to appreciate that there is a higher duality beyond non-duality which encompasses oneness in the context of difference and vice versa. Moreover I would like to ask how many non-dualists really love God and how many just pay lip service to him as an idea, the need for which they have transcended and therefore are no longer required to concern themselves with? They should know that something is only transcended if it is fully experienced and its qualities absorbed.

Buddhism teaches the fact of absolute reality and outlines the way to it, but it neglects the all important personal aspect and so it misses that the highest truth is not the disappearance of the individual into the universal but the integration of the individual with the universal. And this is why, while it advocates an impersonal compassion, it doesn’t know love in the full Christian sense which has to be foreign to it since love requires the reality of the person. Mahayana Buddhism tries to make up for this deficit with its teachings on the Bodhisattva but it cannot really do so and acknowledge the reality of the person (both God and the individual soul) without betraying its fundamental principles which means that the attempts to do so are never very satisfactory or coherent.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Question on the Void

One of the major questions that separates those orientated to the spiritual life concerns the ultimate nature of reality. Granted there is a unified ground of existence, what is it? Is it personal, impersonal, something, nothing?  To my way of thinking Buddhists look at this from below up. That is, they have a perspective that is fundamentally human and rooted in the intellect. Their revelation, if that's the right word for it, comes from a man, an extraordinary man but still a man. Their philosophy is human-centric. There is no direct input from the spiritual world as there is considered to be in Christianity or Hinduism or Islam (which, of course, can make it more attractive to the contemporary mindset). Consequently, after they have stripped away the not self in their search for the fundamentals of what is, they are left with what appears to be nothing as the origin of all things. They might prefer to describe this as not something or no-thing but it still comes very close to an impersonal blank absolute that has no characteristics or qualities at all, even in potentia. Can this be true and, if it is, how did anything ever come about?

The following question refers to this idea and asks how it might be possible.

Q. What do you think of those who describe ultimate reality as emptiness or the void as many Buddhists seem to do? I can see the logic behind this but it seems a very unsatisfactory way of looking at things to me. I suppose the idea is that every thing ultimately comes from no thing and nothing has any intrinsic reality, being made up only of ever-changing, interdependent parts none of which have any real substance. Intellectually this idea makes a certain kind of sense but intuitively it just seems wrong.

A. Trust your intuition! Emptiness as an ultimate has become a popular concept but the reason many people in the West today are attracted to notions like ‘emptiness’ and ‘the void’ as descriptions of the absolute is because they desire a spirituality without God. Either they want the benefits of a spiritual consciousness but don't want to accept that there is something greater than themselves to which they owe their being and which is real, not just life in the abstract but actually alive. Or else they regard the idea of a personal God as intellectually inferior to that of an impersonal absolute, not seeing that a truly impersonal reality could never give rise to anything still less individuality and therefore love. The void may be a sincere attempt to describe the state of formlessness beyond form but to conceive of the absolute reality in such terms is just plain wrong because to be empty of form does not mean to be empty per se. It might be claimed that emptiness is just a word that tries to describe the reality behind appearance, but the problem is that it’s a bad word and, as we have discussed, words are important because they create images in the mind. The wrong word will create the wrong image which then results in wrong understanding which, in its turn, is likely to lead to the wrong approach and practice. 

The notion of emptiness is best considered as a provisional concept which might help to wean people off attachment to form and the belief that this phenomenal world has a reality in and for itself. And in that respect it can be useful. But once it is realised that the world is an expression of a formless and living reality then emptiness becomes superfluous and can be seen to be just a halfway house on the road to a fuller understanding. Indeed, at that point it becomes positively misleading for it denies God who is the ultimate cause of all. Truth is certainly beyond expression but words have real meaning and create specific ideas in the mind so they matter. Of course, language cannot express what is inexpressible but there are words that point in the right direction and ones that point in the wrong direction. Emptiness is quite simply the wrong word to describe the state of formlessness which underlies the created world for while the intrinsic nature of things may be empty of form, as in without or beyond form, it is not absence as emptiness would necessarily imply. In fact, to describe it as Presence would be much nearer the mark.

We all fall down when we attempt to describe the reality behind form in words which only relate to the world of form. We may reach for negatives to avoid positive definitions, which must by their very nature limit, forgetting that negative descriptions limit just as much. But there is also a certain type of mind nowadays which does not wish to acknowledge a Creator, and this mind eagerly seeks to dispense with a reality it objects to by framing its metaphysical discourse in language that does precisely that. But this language, the language of emptiness, is ultimately incoherent because it does not take into account the whole. It describes but a limited aspect of it, and it does so only from the point of view of the rational mind which is rather ironic since that is what it is seeking to transcend. What I mean by this is that emptiness may be how the mind perceives the core of reality from its own perspective but it is not how reality truly is. It may be empty of ideation and mental form but all that means is that it exists at a level beyond thought.

As for those who demote the Creator God to a lower level of reality than can be attained by incarnate human beings because they associate him with form, one must ask how can the creator of form only exist in form? This is to demote God to a god. For if Divine Will is not present at the very heart of reality then the world of manifestation could never have come about at all.