4. Obey him not as though he were a general, but as though he were thyself, and his spoken words were the utterance of thy secret desires; for he is thyself, yet infinitely wiser and stronger than thyself. Look for him, else in the fever and hurry of the fight thou mayest pass him; and he will not know thee unless thou knowest him. If thy cry meet his listening ear, then will he fight in thee and fill the dull void within. And if this is so, then canst thou go through the fight cool and unwearied, standing aside and letting him battle for thee. Then it will be impossible for thee to strike one blow amiss. But if thou look not for him, if thou pass him by, then there is no safeguard for thee. Thy brain will reel, thy heart grow uncertain, and in the dust of the battle filed thy sight and sense will fail, and thou wilt not know thy friends from thy enemies.
He is thyself, yet thou aft but finite and liable to error. He is eternal and is sure. he is eternal truth. When once he has entered thee and become thy warrior, he will never utterly desert thee, and at the day of the great peace he will become one with thee.
Obey him not as though he were a general, but as though he were thyself, and his spoken words were the utterance of thy secret desires; for he is thyself, yet infinitely wiser and stronger than thyself.
Why? Because he is not external to us, but is our own inmost Self. That, of course, is said later on in the sentence, but for now let us consider the implications of the opening phrase. It has already been pointed out that obedience is an act of will, yet the obedience which a soldier gives to a general may arise from factors completely undesirable in the spiritual aspirant. For one thing, the obedience may arise from ignorance–that is, the assumption that the general knows what he does not know. Yet the soldier-disciple must be a man of knowledge. A soldier may also obey because he fears the punishment he would receive if he was slack or disobedient. The disciple must seek God because he loves God, not because he fears the censure or disapproval of God or any punishment from God. This also brings to mind the fact that although it is a laudable thing to wish to flee sorrow and attain peace, if the basis of the disciple’s search is simply the desire to avoid pain and attain happiness, he will inevitably fail, for his goal must be God, Who is beyond those dualities. The obedience of the soldier may also spring from the hope of recognition and personal reward. This attitude, too, is deadly for the disciple. Those who wish recognition in spiritual life are servants of the ego, not the spirit. Such persons disdain the humble and simple means which Christ and the Apostles have given us to scale the heights of the spirit.
The soldier may obey the commands of his general simply because everyone else is doing so. There are those who always want to know how many people adhere to a philosophy before they agree to adopt it. Such persons would never have joined themselves unto Christ and His impoverished little band. If they see that the multitude of people are following a path, then they are ready to fall in step, feeling secure in numbers. But with the disciple it is otherwise. Even though millions might be following the path of the disciple, each one would be following it alone–but alone with God. If God alone is not sufficient for us, then we have no business setting foot upon the highway of holiness. This is just good sense, as a little reflection can reveal. If this battle–and therefore this victory–is internal, then how could it involve anyone else but ourselves? Those who “need” community and association with likeminded companions will not find the path of the disciple at all congenial. For one of the purposes of any legitimate spiritual system is the development to the fullest of the individual’s capacities.
A soldier may obey simply because he thinks–or has been told–it is the right thing to do. Many people take up what they think is spiritual life because they have become convinced that it is the right (or safe) thing to do. This implies that they want to be thought “the right sort” by others and to receive the reward of “the righteous.” Being egoic in nature, such motivation prevents the aspirant from entering upon the path of the spirit. As has been said, the soldier may not himself have decided to take up warfare, but rather have been urged to it by outside factors. Since the battle is internal, no external factors must (or even can) enter into this, for as has also been said, the battle is a solitary endeavor. Why then obey this general? Because he is you. We have come back full circle.
Passing God by
Look for him, else in the fever and hurry of the fight thou mayest pass him. I think we have all seen this phenomenon. How many people have been so absorbed in “serving God” that they ignored God completely–their busy “service” eliminating Him from their lives. We especially see this in movements that have a “message.” There are the “movers” and “go-getters” that are busily missionarying others to get them into the flow of things. There are those brisk, efficient, and vocal people who seem to be living for nothing but “the cause.” Yet, when questioned closely, they will be discovered to have never studied their principles in depth and (if such is a part of the “message”) neither do they engage in the practices which they so busily are cajoling others into. And “busy” is their watchword-rationalization. “Oh, I am just so busy promoting The Work that I have never had time to read that,” or “No, I have just been so busy getting things organized and spreading The Word, that I never have time for meditation” (or whatever else it is that they tell everybody else to do). These are truly the empty trash cans that rattle so aggressively. If we carefully observe missionaries of any sort we will discover that their missionarying is a cover for their own slackness and emptiness. They are dedicated to harvesting, but not to the Lord of the Harvest; they are wells without water, clouds without rain.
So we must fight, but our eyes must not be on the fight but on the “general” of the fight, “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Only those who keep their eyes continually fixed upon God can ever do the work of God, can ever become one with God.
Let us not pass by two of the words in this phrase: fever and hurry. This is an assurance that the battle will indeed become heated and at times even hectic. Again, those who want the peace of inactivity will be disappointed in disciplic life. It is essential for the disciple to be always at “fever-pitch” and ready for more. I frequently liken the life of the disciple to jumping on the back of a tiger. The ride is terrifying, but the consequences of getting off are much worse, though many–if not most–do, and in consequence are eaten alive by the fangs and claws of evil.
And he will not know thee unless thou knowest him. This reminds us of the words of Jesus when He declared that the time will come when He shall say to those who pretend to be His followers: “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23). Naturally, this seems puzzling, for how can there be anything which an omniscient being does not know? Obviously, the word “know” has a greater connotation than in its common usage. Oftentimes in the Bible we find exhortations to God requesting Him to “hear” petitions. In older English, “hearken” meant not only to experience an auditory stimulus, but to pay attention and respond to what has been spoken. It is the same way with “know.” To be known by our own higher self, the individualized spirit, and the Supreme Self, God, is to have a dynamic communion established between us and those divine entities.
We read in the Bible: “Draw nigh unto God, and He shall draw nigh unto thee” (James 4:8). Long after these words were written by the apostle, our Lord Jesus Christ said to Saint Catherine of Siena: “Think of Me, and I will think of you.” When the prodigal son arose and went back to his father, his father came running to meet him (Luke 15:20). Not only are we mirrors of God, God is also a mirror of us. Therefore when we look to God He looks to us; when we hear God He hears us; when we call unto God He calls unto us; and when we strive to know Him He knows us–in the sense of acknowledgment and communication with us.
It is crucial that we understand the nature of the word “self.” Many people think that self-knowledge consists in studying the psychology of their egoic mind. Some even more deluded people think that self-knowledge is arrived at by studying their genealogy. But we must always distinguish between the lie and the truth–that is, between the ego-mind-body complex (including all the astral and causal bodies) and the pure consciousness which is not only our essential nature, but our only nature. That is, we must come to the knowledge of ourselves as waves of light within the ocean of light that is God. And so, when we speak of Self-knowledge we are speaking exclusively of the knowledge of the eternal spirit, the true “us.” If, however, we make the body and (lower) mind the basis, the frame of reference for the “fight,” then truly all hell breaks loose, for the fight can only be waged in and by the spirit.
If thy cry meet his listening ear, then will he fight in thee and fill the dull void within. The motive for attaining Self-knowledge is utterly pragmatic: Religion is the path to God–that is, the process of living communication with God that in time results in our reunification with God. “The dewdrop falls into the shining sea,” as someone so poetically expressed it. We see the world filled with religion, but very little spiritual attainment. Why is this? The founders of all true religions spoke from the consciousness of pure spirit. Those who heard them, being enmeshed in the nets of both material and psychic existence and held under the hitherto undisputed sway of the ego, heard the words of the ever-free within the context of their bondage and quite naturally turned the words that were spirit and life (John 6:63) into words of matter and mind. But if they caught the message of the necessity for transcendence of matter and mind, through following the teachings of the masters they transferred the focus of their consciousness into spirit and successfully liberated themselves from the ancient bondage. Functioning in their true nature as spirits, they attained true freedom: liberation.
“If thy cry….” Spiritual life depends upon the correctness of our approach to God. Just as there is a right and wrong way to use mechanisms of communication such as the telephone, so there are right and wrong ways to attempt communication with the Supreme Reality. The master wants the aspirant to understand this and therefore weigh carefully every aspect of his search to make sure that all is as it should be. Just as a sensible driver checks over his vehicle from time to time, and during his driving keeps an eye on the various indicators, so also must the spiritual aspirant do. I once heard a sermon entitled “Doing the Right Thing in the Right Way in the Right Place at the Right Time for the Right Reason.” If we do not have all five of these Rights, then our spiritual endeavors will be either fruitless or produce a negative effect.
Also, the master wants the aspirant to know that he has no “right” to expect any result in his spiritual life. Genuine spiritual life is a continual dissolution of our egoic control and a proportionate increase in the control of God over our lives. As Saint John said: “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30). This is not a popular view, but the many have never trod the blessed narrow path to God at any era of history. To put it more plainly, we have no business expecting that God will do all things according to our ideas. Real spiritual life consists in total conformity of ourselves to God, and if God conformed to us in any way our progress would cease. Complaining about God’s lack of responsiveness is a common trait of the demonic ego.
Again: “If thy cry….” The master uses the word “cry” to convey the necessity of total mind-gripping intensity of spiritual desire on our part. God does not hear the equivalent of a whisper, a mumble, a quiet speaking, or even an emphatic statement on our part. Rather, the spiritual equivalent of the “man overboard!” cry is needed for us to gain a response from God.
Sri Ma Anandamayi commonly addressed all men as “father.” Once a man, sitting directly in front of Her, asked: “Ma, why does God not answer our prayers?” Mother turned Her head to one side and absentmindedly muttered “Father,” in a low tone. Turning to the other side, She did the same, but slightly louder. Looking down at Her hands, Mother repeated “Father” in a conversational tone. Then, looking directly into his eyes, She shouted “Father!” as She gestured toward him. Taken by surprise, he jumped to his feet, joined his hands in salutation, and responded: “Yes, Ma, what is it?” Mother began laughing merrily and replied: “I have given you your answer. You did not answer My saying ‘Father,’ until I directed My attention to you completely and called out with intense concentration. So it is with you and God. Change the way you pray, and you will get an answer.”
Keeping in mind that the Master is speaking of both the individual Self and the cosmic Self, we must also realize that we cannot “get in touch with ourselves” without equal intensity on our part. Just as the scum floats on the surface of the water, veiling the water from our eyes, so the body, mind, and ego are blinding us to our true Self, stifling the Self and rendering it inoperative. Therefore intense and sustained effort is needed to remove the veils and let the Self shine forth. This is why in Oriental philosophy it is often stated that the individual Self is very hard to find, but that once this is done, then God is relatively easy to find. First we must realize (awaken) our individual spirit before there is any possibility of our realization of the infinite Spirit. This is why the great Indian philosopher, Sri Ramanuja, taught that Self-realization was the prerequisite for God realization.
Getting God’s attention
In both Old and New Testaments we are told that God must hear, see, and know us. Since God is an omniscient being, how is it possible for anything to be unheard, unseen, or unknown by Him? Obviously this is impossible. But the inspired writers are thinking in a totally pragmatic or practical sense. Although God does indeed hear, see, and know us in the highest levels of being, it is meaningless unless it is translated into direct operation within our lives. That is, God must become operative within the spheres of our interior and external existence. Otherwise, for all practical purposes, God does not even exist–at least for us.
We, on the other hand, having awakened after the course of countless ages of virtual spiritual unconsciousness, need to arouse our true selves. Then we will find that God, too, will awake and arise in relation to us. As Saint Paul wrote: “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give thee life” (Ephesians 5:14). At the same time we need to keep in mind the discomfiting statement of Jeremiah that: “The Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1, 2). We have to face the fact that throughout the ages which have lapsed during our numberless incarnations, the debris of ignorance has steadily accumulated, suffocating us and cutting us off from all sight and communication with God. Saint Paul tells us that whatever we sow we shall reap (Galatians 6:7). We must eliminate one by one the obstacles we have placed between us and God until the effects of our “sowing” throughout previous births, have been undone.
Work to be done
Twice in this commentary I have quoted the old saying about the American westward expansion, and I want to do it again: “The cowards never started, and the weak died along the way.” This is absolutely true of spiritual life–mostly because people have no idea just what it entails. This is why the Lord assured the Apostles that only few (at a time) are saved. (“Strait is the gate, and narrow [is] the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14). For some strange reason, people think that however much effort and struggle are needed even for simple success in material life, spiritual life should require no effort whatsoever, unless it be an effortless reaching out and taking of the divine benefits. This is seen to be utterly absurd when we consider that we have to counteract the negative effects (karmas and samskaras) of literally thousands of previous births–including the pre-human ones–before we can even begin to move a fraction of an inch toward transcendence of the human condition. Having gotten ourselves completely into the Devil’s Stewpot, we are suffering almost hopelessly. Further, we think that the only thing needful is for someone to put out the fire. We are seemingly unaware of the crucial need to get out of the pot, clean up, and heal our damages. Consequently, the real beginning of spiritual life is undreamed of by us; and when we do encounter it we draw back in distaste. “Oh! how negative!” we declaim with unrighteous indignation, “God would never expect that of anybody. It is unreasonable.” And so we boil on in the Stewpot.
In today’s pop culture the proof that a commodity is worth having is a dazzling array of testimonies from people who are just thrilled to death at the instant and easy way their every wish has been fulfilled just by getting the product. This being so, fake religion and fake meditation, like other fake merchandise, is touted as the instant remedy for all ills as well as the means to effortlessly get anything desired from God Who is, as one “born again” Hollywood starlet put it in a magazine interview some years ago: “a livin’ doll.” So they present statements from “satisfied customers” of the “At last I have found it,” “I never realized it would be this easy,” “It is far more than I expected,” and (of course) “I should have done it years ago” type.
In contrast, Jesus told seekers: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23), and “Ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake”, (Matthew 10:22, Mark 13:13, Luke 21:17) and “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it” (Luke 17:33. See also Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, and Luke 9:24).
What it means
To enter upon the path of discipleship is to begin the Great Work of spiritual alchemy, the transmutation of the (presently) human into the divine–in other words, the Great Struggle. For Jesus said: “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24). The Greek word translated “strive” is agonisthite, the word from which we get “agony,” and means to struggle even unto death. And it is death we are talking about–the death of our lower nature and all ties to the world’s lower evolution–death that must be voluntarily undergone in order that we may rise into “newness of life” (Romans 6:4), the life that is Christ. These are not very inspiring, or perhaps even motivating, words, but they are necessary for the serious seeker. For Jesus said that we must count the cost before we begin our spiritual endeavor. (“Which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” Luke 14:28-30).
Part of the cost is the expunging of all the negative and delusive conditionings produced in us by tens of thousands of earthly incarnations–conditionings which are present within us at this moment as vital factors within the hidden depths of our mind–which itself has become transformed into our own enemy.
Throughout history evil men have specialized in turning people into instruments of hate for the destruction of their own family, country, and race. For example, in Turkey prior to the First World War, Christian children were kidnapped and brought up to be an organized military force against Christians. These men, called Jannissaries, formed death squads for the extermination of tens of thousands (and ultimately millions) of Christians–many of them murdering their own family members. They were renowned for their fanatical hatred of Christians which exceeded even that of the Moslem Turks. The same unhappy phenomenon was repeated at the time of World War II in the Jewish guards of the Warsaw Ghetto who had taken on the attitude of the Nazis toward their own people, eventually slaughtering them, and in turn being themselves killed by the Germans.
So it is with us: we have been conditioned to externality and materiality through our experience in the many thousands of bodies which we have inhabited during our countless incarnations. And as Saint Paul tells us: “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Galatians 5:17). Because of this conditioning, all of our bodies, gross and subtle, including the desire and will bodies, are polarized to “the flesh” of material consciousness. As a result, we have for incarnation after incarnation refused to even listen to the truths of higher consciousness. Then for more lives we listened, but only passively, and did not a thing about it. Now, in this incarnation, we have decided to “arise and go” with the prodigal son back to the Father.
But this decision is both nebulous and tenuous. That is, we neither know what our rising and going will entail, nor do we really will it except with the minutest portion of our intellect. Everything else that is “us” is against us in this matter. Yet, all the elements of our being must in time be polarized to this godly intention and turned into instruments for its accomplishment. For this to occur, we must grapple with them one by one and submit them to our will. Our many levels (bodies) are not of themselves evil, but they have been negatively polarized and turned away from the truth we seek to unveil. We may think of our many bodies and faculties as the flock of a shepherd which have strayed and become wild. Before they can be returned to the fold where they belong, they will have to be both captured and tamed. Although I have used the simile of sheep, most of them are more like wild horses and wild elephants than merely skittish sheep. Consequently, spiritual life is much more like “bronco busting” than the effortless ethereal fantasy most of us hold. We like to think of ourselves as floating angels rather than sweating wranglers, but that is exactly what we must become, at least in the spirit.
Beyond the mind
Spiritual life cannot be encompassed by the superficial desire of the mind. Those who attempt spiritual life with such a basis will ultimately give up in frustration. To bring together all the components of our being and harmonize them with divine consciousness is as futile for the mind as the counting of the grains of sand on the ocean floor. It is just simply beyond the mind’s scope. Anyone who has ever tried the path of “positive thinking” or “replacing bad habits with good habits” knows how in time those endeavors prove to be utterly worthless. What then is to be done? Exactly what the Master tells us: We must rouse up the divine in us, for only the spirit–being the source of all–is capable of gathering all the aspects of our being into one and directing them toward the divine goal. For this reason, psychological mind games, however noble and philosophical they might seem, are futile. Rather, we must go directly to the spirit. Even more, we must activate the spirit. Spiritual consciousness has been symbolized throughout the ages by the sun–specifically, by the rising sun. Much of the physical world lies dormant and silent in the night, but at dawn everything comes to life around us, as we have all experienced. This is why the Bible speaks of the sun of righteousness (Malachi 4:7) dawning upon us (II Peter 1:19).
The threefold process
Again, we must realize that the Master is telling us to tap into our inmost consciousness which is the spirit. This is done primarily through the practice of meditation. In silent meditation we contact the transcendent aspect of our being. This divine entity, our spirit, is the source of all the external levels of our being. Just as God the infinite emanates all the evolutionary worlds we call “creation,” so in the same way our individual spirit–god the finite–has emanated the multifarious bodies in which we find ourselves. Therefore it alone can really encompass and master them and transmute them back into pure spirit, thus completing its own evolution. This is one of the reasons Jesus tells us “Seek ye first the kingdom, and all this shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).
In the beginning: God
It is crucial for spiritual aspirants to realize that the path to God must begin with God. Right away we must be contacting God and invoking the divine consciousness within. This sounds like an extremely difficult thing to accomplish, and if the aspiration was all on our part alone, it would be not only be difficult, it would be impossible. But the Master has told us a wonderful fact when he says: “If thy cry meet his listening ear….” By this he indicates that God the Infinite and god the finite (our own spirit) is ever listening for our call. God is not far away, nor is He asleep or deaf. Rather, He is nearer than our own thoughts and is conscious of every movement within our being. It is we who are failing to get the message, not God, and we must realize that.
At the same time we can be one hundred percent optimistic about God’s attention to us. To speak of God’s “listening ear” is to also indicate that God is eager to hear our call and to respond. Although everything is just fine on God’s end, things are clogged up on our side, and that is why the Master has put the word “if” in his statement. But this need not worry us, for when we apply spiritual methodology, it is not our lesser power or lesser will that is involved, but rather the divine power and will of our own divine spirit and ultimately–since our spirit is rooted in God and takes its very existence from Him–the infinite power and will of God.
However restless and distracted the mind may be at times in meditation and throughout the day, it is still in the midst of the divine world through its invocation of the Divine Consciousness. Again, we can be thoroughly optimistic regarding the eventual outcome of our meditation and invocation if they are steadily maintained, for it is the divine power which is acting in us through such activity. The divine seed, when carefully tended, will in time come to full growth and fruition. Patience is needed to persevere in our spiritual endeavors and in our waiting for the results of those endeavors, therefore Jesus counsels us: “In your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21:19). From the divine source Himself we have been assured that in time we shall “possess”–master–the totality of our existence. However, that will not be the end but only the beginning. Once we “go in and possess the land” (Deuteronomy 1:8) we must then begin the return of “ourselves” to pure spirit (consciousness).
“And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:7-9). This is a symbol of what takes place when our cry does in truth reach the listening ear of the divine Self. Then the principle of pure evolution–that is, the force that impels us to return to God–arises as Michael, the Prince of the Heavenly Hosts (powers), and makes war with the ancient power of delusion and ignorance that has gripped us throughout creation cycle upon creation cycle, even ascending into the “heaven” of our consciousness and darkening it to the point of seeming extinguishment, and in this way plunging us into total material awareness, at least on the conscious “waking” level of the mind.
It is the spirit alone that wages the divine warfare, for it is the spirit alone that can win. Those whose minds, emotions, and intellects direct the warfare are doomed to defeat, by the very nature of their “warriors.” Thus if we would be successful in spiritual life we must see that it is indeed that: spiritual. And meditation is the means of ensuring that our warfare is spiritual. Such a warfare is, as we say, invincible and shall lead in time to victory unless, tragically lead astray by Satan (the power of delusion in the cosmos and our energy-nature), we cry “halt” to the endeavor. And this does, indeed, happen.
From the Master’s words we can infer that one sign of being truly spiritually awakened is the process of inner warfare. Many, possessing an utterly false understanding of religious and spiritual life, engage in external warfare, enmeshed in their egoic minds and their concerns with the external world and its inhabitants. This futile warfare takes a myriad of forms, all the way from substituting good thoughts for bad thoughts and “cleaning up the vocabulary” to the writing of hysterical polemics against “heresies” and even the ultimate folly of imprisoning or killing “heretics.” We, too, must be vigilant in our spiritual life, and make sure that we do not slip into a like error. For although spiritual life must of necessity be manifested externally, it nevertheless is ever based in the spirit and is at all times directed by the spirit.. As Saint Paul asked: “Ye did run well; who did hinder you?” (Galatians 5:7). We often begin with warfare in the spirit but our habit of ego-dominance draws us away into the warfare centered in lesser realms.
It should be realized, then, that the truly spiritually awakened are not those that smile with wan sweetness and speak of their “great peace” or their supposed illumination. Rather, they are those who make no claims whatsoever about their spiritual life because they are much too busy successfully leading it. Those spiritual teachers or teachings that do not make the necessity for interior warfare clear to us have no part whatsoever with Him Who said: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34).
How is it done?
Just how will our spirit carry on the interior warfare? This is an important question, as millions of deluded people throughout the world are convinced that God is talking to them or managing their lives or that their higher selves are in control when in actuality their satanic ego, the true Antichrist, is in total domination. The answer is that our spirit wages war with but one weapon: the invocation of higher consciousness. This is literally so, and not to be taken symbolically. Our spiritual will is the sword in the hand of Michael which casts out Satan from our being (Revelation 12:7-9) so that we can truthfully say: “Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ” (Revelation 12:10). Ultimately everything that exists is one with God. However, all objects within creation appear to have an existence independent of God, and are actually veils which hinder our seeing the truth of their essential being–God.
In the Book of Revelation we find this dramatic symbol. When Saint John first sees Jesus, in his description he tells us that: “out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword” (Revelation 1:16). Later he describes this astonishing symbolic scene: “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.…And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which [sword] proceeded out of his mouth” (Revelation 19:11-16, 21).
Authentic spiritual life, especially in the beginning, is often more frightening than it is reassuring. This rather frightening picture is a really mild version of the account of the defeat of the evil forces by the Mother aspect of God that is found in the Hindu scripture known as the Chandi. There the Mother roves over a great battlefield, cutting off the heads of demons with Her sword. Both the Biblical and the Puranic accounts are about the same thing: the descent of the illumining power of God and its destruction of evil. This is the only possible spiritual victory. It will be good, then, to analyze the account Saint John gives of this, especially as it underscores the truth that the book of Revelation has nothing to do with world prophecy, as Yogananda often said, but is an esoteric, symbolic text about the soul’s enlightenment. And it gives us a perfect picture of the spiritual battle the Master is speaking about.
And I saw heaven opened. “Heaven” is a symbol of the higher consciousness, including the astral and causal brains in which are located a great number of centers or points (chakras) of higher awareness. These centers are usually dormant in the ordinary person, but in the disciple at the touch of spiritual power they become enlivened and activated. So this awakening of our inner spiritual power is essential to our spiritual development. This activation can also be described as an “opening.” Saint John, then, is giving us a picture of the disciple whose “heaven” has been “opened” by the advent of spiritual consciousness. Then and then only can Christ become fully active within us. And by Christ we mean both the universal Christ and our own individual Christ nature.
And behold a white horse. The esoteric tradition of Christianity comes directly from India, as did the esoteric tradition of Judaism which was derived from the esoteric tradition of Egypt whose wisdom had come directly from India. In India the horse is always a symbol of cosmic energy and the empowerment produced by the awakening of that energy in the individual. Saint John is telling us that he perceived the descent of the active Divine Presence into the individual. And he perceived the plenitude of this power, for he described it as being white, the color that embodies and contains all other colors which are but its “rays.” But such an event is not only the advent of power, it is also the advent of consciousness–specifically, Divine Consciousness, the Christ Who “sits” upon the white horse of Divine Power. Spiritual opening, then, is not just a giving of power to us so we may use it according to our own wish and will, however sincere or devout. Rather it is the preparation for the active descent of Christ into the depths of our being, and from those depths it is Christ Himself Who, with the cooperation of our will (“workers together with God”), shall direct and ultimately accomplish the transmutation of our humanity into divinity.
God the warrior
And he that sat upon him [the white horse] was called Faithful and True. These two titles or names indicate that Divinity itself is being shown here, for Faithful in the sense of remaining forever unchanged (James 1:17), and Truth in the sense of being the sole reality (I Samuel 2:2; Isaiah 45:6, 21), are titles that are to be properly applied to God alone. These titles also tell us something of the purpose of Christ’s descent into us. He shall reveal–make us faithful to–our true eternal nature and shall turn us away from all unfaithfulness in the form of self-forgetfulness and all modes of life and thought which are contradictory to–and therefore betrayal of–our essential nature as part of God. Further, He shall make us “true” both in the architectural sense of making us conform perfectly to the divine image and pattern which is inherent in our eternal nature and to the dispelling of all that is false within our consciousness and life sphere, as well as finally restoring us to our true home or base of consciousness which is God Himself. So to be a Christian is to be made Faithful and True by Christ our divine Archetype.
As already quoted, the Lord Jesus told His apostles that He had not come to bring peace but a sword–despite the Christmas slogans about “Prince of Peace” and “peace on earth.” Those who follow Christ do attain peace, for to them He said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you” (John 14:27). But how does He do this? By transferring the center of our consciousness from the never-peaceable world to the ever-peaceable spirit. Peace is not a state of mind or emotion, for the mind and emotions are by their nature in constant flux and incapable of peace, but is rather the permanent condition of the spirit. The wise know that there can never be peace on earth, but there is ever peace in the spirit. However everything comes with a price; and the price of true interior peace is interior war. Consequently Saint John continues: “And in righteousness He doth judge and make war.”
Jesus declared that he was the Light and that “there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known” (Matthew 10:26, Luke 12:2). This being so, the advent of the living Christ into the devoted disciple produces an impartial and shadowless light of inner perception by means of which the disciple sees fully all that is within him and discerns truly its character. This is not a particularly enjoyable experience since, except for our pure spirit, all that is within us is darkened and defiled with ignorance and delusion. If the light that produces this revelation was merely of our own intellect, we would understandably become depressed and discouraged. But since it is the light of Christ that shines, we are actually made optimistic, even cheerful, by it, for that light reveals to us that all darkness and delusion is merely temporary, only an illusion that shall be dispelled in time through our perseverance in spiritual endeavor. “You have to be cruel to be kind,” certainly applies to the advent of Christ into our life. To our ego the resulting illumination will appear merciless–and so it is–to the ego. But to the imprisoned spirit it is the sweet dew of mercy, for it will not allow a single bond to remain upon it.
Those who have received the light of Christ must straightaway set about scrutinizing every aspect of their existence, internal and external. And this must be done without sparing the egoic likes and dislikes of either ourself or others. It is essential that we force ourselves to face the total truth about ourselves and that with which we have mistakenly identified through so many incarnations. Too long have we been the “whited sepulchers” of which Jesus spoke (Matthew 23:27), often making religion or “spirituality” the whitewash that covered our inner darkness and death. (“And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness” Luke 11:39.)
The full picture
A striking simile of our condition is given in the book of Ezekiel, where he tells us that an angelic messenger “brought me to the door of the court [of the Temple]; and when I looked, behold a hole in the wall. Then said he unto me, Son of man, dig now in the wall: and when I had digged in the wall, behold a door. And he said unto me, Go in, and behold the wicked abominations that they do here. So I went in and saw; and behold every form of creeping things, and abominable beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel, portrayed upon the wall round about. And there stood before them seventy men of the ancients of the house of Israel, and in the midst of them stood Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, with every man his censer in his hand; and a thick cloud of incense went up. Then said he unto me, Son of man, hast thou seen what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the chambers of his imagery?” (Ezekiel 8:7-12).
This is a picture of someone who–as is usual with human beings–is completely unaware of his inner, or subconscious, mind. Everything seems to be just fine, and he is confident that he is indeed a temple of God, that in him dwells the eternal Spirit. And this is true (I Corinthians 3:16), but there is more he needs to know. Being unaware of his inner mind, he perceives only the minor symptoms of its condition in the form of his conscious thoughts and impulses. Although they may not be completely positive, they do not seem to be very serious, in fact he usually looks upon them as harmless flaws which he hopes one day to correct. They appear to be of little significance. But these little flaws (“holes”), when investigated, are seen to be of an entirely different character. They are not the little breaches in the wall of consciousness which he thought they were, but they are actually immense doors–doors through which negative elements have entered into his being and festered there, poisonous and deadly.
Medical research has shown that the human body is teeming with parasites, bacteria, and viruses–all invaders alien and destructive to the body. So it is with us psychologically. When we begin to examine the wall of our mind which is separating us from higher consciousness, we will find what at first appear to be small cracks or holes which will with scrutiny be revealed as vast fissures and breaches which both weaken the structure and permit the influx of inimical elements. In other words, where before we perceived soundness we perceive decay and destruction. Through continual birth and death in the distorted realms of material existence, our entire inner makeup has likewise become distorted and turned into an instrument of spiritual blindness and bondage. This must be clearly perceived and remedied before there is any possibility of our moving along the upward path of spiritual evolution.
The major cause of spiritual failure is this lack of interior insight on the part of those who consciously aspire to higher life. If the seeker is unaware of his inner dilemma, not taking care of either his mind, emotions, or “mere externals” (which presently comprise more than 90% of his conscious life), his endeavors are completely futile and only serve to delude him into thinking that he is truly traveling the Path. In India they give the simile of a man who gets in the boat and rows all night only to find at dawn that he is in the same place because he forgot to pull up the anchor. Before we can even hope to impel the boat of our individual consciousness across the ocean of delusion to the shore of enlightenment, we must first detach ourselves from all things that keep us anchored in our present status. And we must not content ourselves with detachment from just one anchor, for we have hundreds–if not thousands and millions–of anchors holding us firmly to the shore of ignorance. Intuiting this, the rich young man of the Gospels asked Jesus what he still lacked in his spiritual life, even though he had observed the Law so scrupulously (Matthew 19:16-20).
Words are not enough
No man belongs in prison. We are created to move freely over the earth, pursuing our livelihood. Suppose a tyrannical government were to seize us and put us into a dungeon, chaining us, hands, feet, and neck, to the wall as was done in previous centuries. We do not belong there, it is certainly unjust for us to be there. Yet it would do no good for well-meaning people to open the doors of the prison and call to us: “You should not be here! It is not your nature! Your nature is freedom! Come out and be free!” How can we go forth, being chained to the very stones of the dungeon? If our would-be liberators, seeing our non-emergence, began to speak to us in ringing tones of confidence, assuring us that we truly were set free, that we should simply “take it on faith,” affirm our freedom, and “act on it,” what would they accomplish except our frustration? In time, we might even call out to them to keep silence, go away, and leave us alone in peace. This is exactly our status, especially when encountering worthless religion and spiritual philosophy. The bonds must be cut! Not just one bond or nearly all bonds, but every single one. And then we will find that we must teach ourselves to walk before we can escape our imprisonment. Furthermore, like the long-caged bird we will no doubt find the prospect of freedom terrifying and will have to force ourselves to escape the dungeon. It will be helpful for us to look at the raising of Lazarus as it relates to this necessity for practical measures on our part if we would truly lay hold on life.
“[Jesus] cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go” (John 11:44). Although the divine voice of Jesus had miraculously called Lazarus to life, it was not enough. He was alive internally, but externally he was bound up in the grave clothes–wrapped round and round exactly like an Egyptian mummy. (The Jews naturally drew many of their burial customs from the Egyptians.) He was living but helpless, completely unable to function. If he had remained in that state he would have died of starvation or worse. The will of God had made him live, but the will of human beings was required to release that life and maintain it. Jesus made Lazarus live, but human action was needed to make him free. This is symbolic of the truth that although the inner call to life may make us inwardly alive, we must ourselves get busy and begin loosening the bands of personal ignorance and limitation until at last we are set free–both by God and by ourselves. The call to life is not enough; we need to tread The Way of Life as well.
Judgment is needed
Perhaps the final thing we need to say on the Ezekiel parable regarding secret “idolatry”is the simple statement of Saint Paul: “Examine yourselves,…prove your own selves” (II Corinthians 13:5). It is not always fun, but it is always profitable. For if we would be united to Christ, the Faithful and True, we must ourselves be faithful and true. And without true interior judgement this is impossible. What is true judgement? Saint John has already told us by saying that “In righteousness He doth judge.” That is, He judges according to the standards of the spirit–of the eternal verities. None of the delusive taint of relative finite existence is in the true judgment of God. Rather, everything is measured “with eternity’s values in view,” as a twentieth-century hymn says. “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:2). We, therefore, must be sure that in all things our consciousness is aligned with the divine consciousness, and that we evaluate all things according to the ultimate values of the spirit.
It is obvious, then, that there can be no version of “situation ethics” or “non-judgmentalism” in the life of the spiritual aspirant. Absolutes are necessary; but they must be the divine absolutes and not those of our own limited thinking. This is why the saints and masters are always seen to be a (seeming) mixture of liberal and conservative attitudes, displaying both flexibility and inflexibility in their words and deeds. They simply operate according to a totally different system than that of the world. “The recollected mind is awake in the knowledge of the Atman which is dark night to the ignorant: the ignorant are awake in their sense-life which they think is daylight: to the seer it is darkness” (Bhagavad Gita 2:69). No wonder, then, that the enemies of Saint Paul accused him of turning the world upside-down by his teaching (Acts 17:6). Those who dwell in the mirage are ever hostile to those dwelling in reality.
As can be expected, there are many versions of “righteousness,” but all except for God’s righteousness are really unrighteousness. “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). This is why Jesus warned His apostles that their righteousness must not be that of the scribes and the Pharisees–of the intellect or the body–but that which is of the spirit (Matthew 5:20). For the spirit alone is real, and therefore alone is true and “right.” And only those who are centered in the “right” perspective of their own divine spirit can possibly judge accurately. But judge they must.
The right response
We have pretty well covered the idea that spiritual life must be a warfare, so we need not go into that at this point. However, we should note that the divine warring of Christ comes as a natural consequence of His judgment. That is, having diagnosed the situation correctly, He responds in the correct mode, that of spiritual warfare, which is ultimately a matter of purification. Our Christhood is already a settled fact. It need not be attained, but rather revealed, which is why Saint Paul speaks of Jesus being “revealed from heaven” (II Thessalonians 1:7). The process of the revelation of Christ is the process of purification. Saint John points this out to us for, after assuring us that we are even now truly “the sons of God,” and that we shall indeed “see Him [Christ] as He is,” he concludes “He that hath this hope in himself purifies himself even as he is pure” (I John 3:3). So when we speak of warfare, we are not speaking of anger, hatred, or hostility, but of a catharsis, a thorough cleansing and purification such as gold undergoes in the fire when it is refined. The consciousness produced by the spiritual crucible is appropriately referred to by Jesus as “gold tried in the fire” (Revelation 3:18).
Eyes of spirit
His eyes were as a flame of fire. This has several meanings, and we will consider some of them. As already pointed out, the Book of Revelation is an esoteric treatise on the passage of the human being into unity with God. The simile of the Lord’s flaming eyes directly relates to the psychic anatomy of the disciplee and therefore to the science of Yoga.
That center of power in the subtle bodies known as the “third” or spiritual eye is a point from which two rays stream forth (in yogic treatises the rays of the chakras are spoken of poetically as “petals”). These are the two “flames” of the Lord’s divine single eye. However, Saint John does not exactly say that His eyes were as two flames, but rather they were as a single flame. Peripherally this means that although the Lord appears to perceive and function within relativity, His consciousness is in perfect unity. For Him the two have become one.
A further meaning is that the dual rays of the spiritual eye, when concentrated upon or functioning under the will of an adept, are concentrated and united into one powerful ray of will-intelligence. When this ray is trained on any object it will respond according to the adept’s will. For example, Jesus focussed this ray on the water at Cana and turned it into wine by an act of His will (John 2:1-11). Whenever an adept or master looks at an individual with full attention, he can change that person’s bodies and consciousness.
One time, before going back to my birthplace for a brief visit and a transaction of some business, I told an advanced disciple of Yogananda about my plans, commenting that I hoped that returning to my old environment would not disrupt the new spiritual habits that I had developed–especially that of meditation. As I was finishing my words, for some reason I can no longer recall I looked away to something slightly beyond him and to the side. Suddenly an indescribable surge of power began rising from the base of my spine upwards, producing in me a state of intense clarity of mind and a feeling of perfect ease. Looking back at him, I saw that he had tilted his head slightly to one side and was looking at me with great attention. I realized that this was his blessing to aid me in maintaining my spiritual life when I was far away. After some time, the sensation subsided, and he made a comment as to his being assured that I would manage just fine. And so I did–through his blessing. But a master can make any kind of change he wills. Being perfect in his alignment with the divine will, all that he does is healing, enlightening, and beneficial. Although most good things in this relative world have a negative counterpart, this power of divine blessing does not. It is certain that evil persons can indeed project negative forces and perpetrate what is known as a psychic attack. But it is a feeble thing compared with the great power accessible to the masters that are perfect in the love of God.
A more inward aspect of this subject is this: When the Christ enters within us, His divine sight is shared with us and we come to see as He sees. Now that sounds very exalted, but what it really comes out to be is that His divine eye reveals to us all that lies within between us and our true spirit. In other words, the muck and debris of millions (if not billions) of incarnations is revealed in perfect and devastating clarity. This is because the ignorance must be cleared out of us before the truth of ourselves, of our spiritual being, can be discovered. Most people expect that when they sit to meditate they will be wafted away on a magic carpet of beatitude into the realms of infinite bliss. This is like a kindergartner expecting that on the first day of school he will receive his doctorate amidst gratifying applause. It will not happen!
I once heard a yogi say that meditation was the true confession, for the mind divulges all its secrets–most of them ugly as well as trivial. In the book of Revelation we find the statement that at one time in the aspirant’s development the sea, death, and hades [“hell”] shall give up their dead for judgment (Revelation 20:13). Then they come and stand before the judgment throne and have their nature revealed in the Light of Christ. The sea represents the conscious mind, death represents the negative will, and hades represents the subconscious mind. Rather than being a little event, this is a cataclysmic psychological process, part of the purification which is necessary for enlightenment. In meditation we are mistaken to be annoyed by the thoughts, memories, emotions, and other flotsam and jetsam which come floating into the focus of our consciousness. These are certainly objectionable if they manage to pull our mind away from the focus of meditation. Yet we must understand that the meditation has itself evoked the rise of these negative elements. Jesus said that the time had come when “the dead” would hear His voice and come forth to either salvation or condemnation (John 5:25, 28, 29). (Again, we should note that Jesus did not make this a future event to occur at the end of the world.) This is fulfilled in the mind of the meditating Christian. The light of Christ shines into the darkness of our ignorance and summons forth all that dwell therein. They stand before the throne of judgment, their nature is clearly revealed, and they are dismissed–either to become a permanent part of our spiritual makeup or to be reduced to their basic constituent of primal consciousness and absorbed into the subtle power levels of our being, particularly that of the will. In other words, our inner citizens shall either be made immortal or “destroyed” (dissolved) through transmutation. The experiencing of this is not thrilling or something to write books about. Rather, it is tedious, disgusting, annoying, and even–if we permit it–discouraging.
Drilling through the layers
It is not uncommon for meditators to complain about negative traits arising in their mind which they believed were already eliminated. It should be understood that the meditator is like a geologist boring through strata laid down through millions, even billions, of incarnations. Let us say we have been greedy to an extreme degree in a dozen past lives–not continuously, but with other lives in between in which we were not greedy. We may be forced to face the greed demon for quite a few meditations to eliminate it from the impressions produced in our most recent life. We may then spend weeks, months, or even years, moving through the debris of prior lives, only to one day find the greed imp facing us again, just as before. Although it is the same negative trait arising, it is in one sense not the same. That is, it is the greed germ of a life farther back. It will in time disappear, and then once more reappear when we get into the layer of another past life in which we were obsessively greedy. It is good to know this, so we will not mistakenly think that we are simply cycling the same negative impulses over and over, and not really getting anywhere. We are actually making great progress when this occurs. As can be imagined, this process may take a long time to get through. It is possible to clear the debris out in one lifetime, but diligent application is needed.
They live again
The most important thing in all of this, is to realize that successful meditation involves the seeming resuscitation of long-dead thoughts, desires, and habits of previous lives. Although meditation is the divine eye through which we perceive these ghosts, we are not to voluntarily seek for them nor are we to fix our attention on them and analyze them. Instead, we are to ignore them and keep on with the process of meditation. In this way we will directly experience what Saint Paul meant in saying that some men’s sins go to judgement before them, and some men’s sins follow after them (I Timothy 5:24). Those who practice the interior life find their sins judged and dealt with before the great summing up that takes place at physical death (Hebrews 9:27). Those who have no effective interior life will find their sins (negative karmas) coming after them and catching up with them at the great summation, and thereby impelling them into further earthly births.
Karma and meditation
It is possible to dissolve or work out karma through meditation. The impressions which arise during meditation are not just simple memories or interior impressions; rather they are the karmic seeds from which the external factors we usually call “my karma” proceed. If these seeds are cauterized in meditation through the purifying vibrations of higher consciousness, they will not manifest whatsoever in the future. In this way meditation becomes the fulfillment of the ancient counsel: “See that your past does not become your future.” Meditation has the power to mitigate (lessen) our karma. If our karma is to have our leg amputated, we may instead only cut it severely. Or if our karma is to break our leg, we may only suffer a painful blow to the leg instead. Meditation also speeds up our karma.
Therefore the disciple is seen to reap far more karma in a single lifetime than the non-disciple. Further, the initiate’s karma is intensified–a karmic period that would ordinarily last several months or a year may last only a few weeks or days of great intensity. This is because the disciple, being “strong in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:10), can cope with karmic forces that would utterly overwhelm the non-disciple. Although, as has been said, meditation is healing, it has been my experience that the symptoms of an illness can be greatly magnified through meditation, thus making the illness of a much shorter duration. On the other hand, I have also found that meditation can greatly alleviate physical pain and lessen the discomfort of illness. All is done according to the infinite wisdom. One thing is sure: The current of meditation unerringly bears us to our true home in the heart of God.
A little more about the eyes of fire. When the currents of the two eyes merge into one they become as a sword which metaphysically pierces into the depths of anything and reveals everything about it, giving perfect intuitive knowledge of whatever the adept focuses his mind on. It also vanquishes evil in its various forms.
The hundreds of points of power (chakras) within our many bodies are primarily points of perception and are sometimes referred to in the Bible as “eyes” (Revelation 4:8). Thus, when the chakras are ablaze with spiritual light they, too, are eyes of fire, the Eyes of Christ.
All the foregoing is indicated by the few words: “His eyes were as a flame of fire”!
And on His head were many crowns. This is emblematic of the total power–and therefore mastery–gained through meditation. That power is able to conquer and rule every single aspect of our being–from the grossest to the most subtle. Furthermore, there is no aspect of our life which cannot be glorified by the presence of Christ through our faithful meditation. There is no activity, however slight or material, that cannot be affected by meditation. It is certainly true that much in the outer and inner cosmos is incompatible with the power and light of meditation–but it is exactly those things that should be ruthlessly eliminated from our inner and outer life spheres.
And He had a name written, that no man knew, but He Himself. As with all esoteric symbology, there are many meanings–all of which are intended and correct. This is why authentic scriptures can be expounded for centuries, and yet we never exhaust their meaning. The aspect of these words that is most immediate to the disciple relates to Consciousness itself. In this place “name” is a symbol of consciousness, for in esoteric science the consciousness of the named is contained in the name. Through faithful spiritual practice, the Divine Power pours into the disciple, enlightening and enlivening every atom of his physical and subtle bodies. He is not merely touched by the Holy Spirit, he is literally filled with the Holy Spirit in all the levels of his being. But this is not just an infilling, marvelous as that would be, it is also a specific attunement to Divine Consciousness. Nor is the disciple simply aligned with Christ or made close to Christ. Rather, in every particle of his being the disciple is made into a mirror image of Christ and a perfect reflection of the Holy Spirit.
The divine call
It is stated in Kabalistic writings that in the realm of the spiritual Jerusalem, within the spiritual temple, there is a jewel engraved with the ineffable Name of God upon the golden altar of the Holy Place, and that from above this jewel there ever resounds the voice of God saying: “Return unto Me, ye sons of men.” This is a perfect figurement of the disciple’s state. The “jewel” of his inmost consciousness is engraved with the deifying power of the Holy Spirit, the outer Word. This outer Word is also the Supreme Name which the disciple invokes constantly, both in and out of meditation, and which he employs in various esoteric practices to effect his transformation into an Alterus Christus–another Christ. Now that he has the ears with which to hear, if he continues to purify himself and live in conformity with that Power which he has been given, he shall in the depths of his being ever hear the call of God: “Return unto Me.”
This “writing” of the Consciousness of God upon every particle of the disciple’s being is spoken of in the Book of Revelation. There Jesus tells Saint John: “To him that overcometh will I give…a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it” (Revelation 2:17). The white stone is the spirit consciousness shining with the undifferentiated white light of God in which the “new name” is indelibly written, as well as in the disciple’s astral and causal bodies. It also particularly refers to the pineal gland–or more exactly its astral and causal counterparts. It is important to realize that when the Bible speaks of “knowing” something it means far more than a superficial intellectual cognizance. Knowing the New Name is a direct experiential knowing through total experience and perception of the object. This is possible to the him who has been given the empowerment and the knowledge of Christian initiation.
It was said in ancient India that the cobra has a jewel in its head which confers immortality, so the ignorant (exoteric) went around killing cobras and looking in their heads for the jewel that would make them immortal. Of course, they found no such thing, since the jewel in the head of the cobra is the pineal gland which has been transformed by the divine power. The cobra, with its extended hood, symbolizes the awakened occult centers in the spine and head–the extended hood representing the two lobes of the brain. I mention this to demonstrate the unity of Christian esoteric practice with the Yoga of India, as well as to demonstrate that Christianity has its roots in India and is in a sense inseparable from the Eternal Dharma (Sanatana Dharma) commonly known as Hinduism. Since Buddhism is also rooted in Hinduism it should be no surprise that this concept is found there, as well, where the awakened pineal gland is known as “the jewel in the lotus,” the core of the “thousand petaled lotus” that is the highest psychic center in the body.
A vesture dipped in blood
And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood. This is not a very appealing description, nor are some aspects of its symbolic meaning, but those who seek for higher consciousness must ruthlessly leave behind the childish demands of the ego that everything be pleasant and “nice.” Previously, and in other writings, I have cited the Hindu prayer: “Lead me from the unreal to the Real. Lead me from darkness to the Light. Lead me from death to Immortality.” This is beautiful, and delineates the very essence of spiritual life. And in doing so it implies something significant: that we must pass through unreality to reach Reality, we must pass through darkness to reach the Light, and we must pass through death to attain Life. The principle is simple: We must go through (and leave behind) the bitter to attain the sweet, the sorrowful to attain the joyful, the painful to attain true ease. We must surely carry many heavy and bitter burdens before we can take up the light burden and sweet yoke of Christ.
Blood symbolizes life; for the Bible itself speaks of “the life thereof, which is the blood” (Genesis 9:4). To have our garments dipped in blood means to have become alive in all of our body-garments, to have every atom of our being saturated with the divine light that is itself life. Those who continually plumb its depths through meditation imbue the totality of their being with this Life. It is the immersion of our complete being in this Christ life that is the true baptism which enables us to “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). By putting on the life in which Jesus Himself is clothed, we shall truly live.
In the Holy Eucharist a primary element is the offered wine that shall become the Blood of Christ. Wine is anciently defined as “the blood of the grape,” and need not be fermented, as is commonly thought. The wine which has been pressed out of the grapes and the Blood of Christ are often equated in the Bible and in Christian mystical writings. In view of this, it is not amiss to speak of the Blood of Christ as having been pressed out–that is, having been produced from great pressure. Before we can clothe ourselves in the life (blood) of Christ, we must undergo the “pressing” of intense austerity and unmitigated self-discipline. Without this nothing results. Christ Himself underwent the “pressing” of persecution and the passion. So must we, for there is but one path to life–the path that leads through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalms 23:4) before it ends in the Eternal Light.
Meditation is the perfect “winepress” by means of which the blood (the consciousness) of Christ is pressed out–made objective in our consciousness.
Little as we may like to think of it, the simile of vesture dipped in blood indicates spiritual–and sometimes physical–carnage. This has to be, for if there is no war there cannot possibly be a victory. The great epic of India, the Mahabharata, is a masterful picture of the present condition of ignorant humanity. Because of their own folly, the legitimate rulers of the Pandava kingdom were forced to hand over the governance of the land to the evil Kauravas for a certain period of time, after which they were to reassume their administrative control. But when the time lapsed, the Kauravas refused to relinquish their power. So war was inevitable–a war in which, although the Pandavas were victorious, nearly all the warrior-ruler caste of India was destroyed.
So it is with us: we have foolishly relinquished the “kingdom” of our bodies into the control of negativity and folly. Now we want this control back, but the mere wanting accomplishes nothing. We are going to have to fight; and in that battle most will not be merely bruised, but hacked to pieces. When the battle is over, our garments will certainly be “dipped in blood.” Spiritual life is for the slaying of evil as much as it is for the healing and restoration of the good. This Christ which we seek is not a little baby cooing in the manger. Rather, He is the fully realized adult who drives from the temple of God all that defiles or is alien to it (Matthew 21:12, 13). Homely as the saying may be, in spiritual life, as in all the other departments of life, “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Perhaps more accurately we might say: If you can’t take the heat, don’t even go into the kitchen.
The Word of God
And His Name is called The Word of God. By His Word God has created (manifested) all that exists, for the Word is the Holy Breath, the great Amen (Revelation 3:14), that is both the Son and the Holy Spirit. Through this creative power-impulse all that “is” has come into being, continues to exist, evolves, and shall in time be dissolved back into the divine perfection. It is this Word which leads to–and is–the Silence. Although It has undergone many permutations in the projection of relative existence, It ever remains What It Is in essence. Its divine nature is never diminished at any time. Realizing this, we must make It our sole reliance. The Apostle said that through Christ he could do all things (Philippians 4:13). The Christian disciple accomplishes all things through this Divine “Word.”
The armies of God
And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses. The dual nature of God as both Dynamic and Static has puzzled the philosophical intellects of all ages. This is because the intellect cannot possibly figure it out, and it must always remain an enigma. But those with an inward life come to experience it fully. There is God and there are His Powers, as there is the sun and there are the rays of the sun. Though in essence they are one, yet a distinction can be made. Within Christianity this has been most perfectly expounded by the mystic-theologian Saint Gregory Palamas. Saint Gregory said that God, though one, can be spoken of as divided into Essence and Energies. In Hinduism this divine duality is spoken of as Purusha and Prakriti, or as Chaitanya (consciousness) and Shakti (power). However we may or may not conceive of it, the fundamental principle is demonstrable: when the consciousness of God is invoked within us, it is accompanied by the divine powers as well, for they are inseparable from one another.
The battle for liberation of the spirit is not fought solo by the spirit against a virtually limitless number of foes in the form of karmas and samskaras–both negative and positive–as well the outer influences that go to make up “the world” of man and nature. This is the usual bleak and seemingly hopeless view. In actuality everything is from God and of God, a manifestation of divinity–and therefore of divine qualities. Anything to the contrary is an overlay of either momentary distortion or misperception. This being so, when we really begin the spiritual ascent as a movement from the depths of our being–and not as a temporary whim or an emotional-intellectual reaction to an outward-based stimulus such as suffering, confusion, discontent, fear, desire, or persuasion–we will find a great host of fellow strivers in the multiform powers of body, mind, intellect, and will. For, as Saint John tells us: “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (I John 4:4). It is God Who wages the battle of real spiritual struggle, so success is a matter of course. On the other hand, the battles instituted by ego must by their very nature fail.
When the consciousness of our spirit begins to arise in the mind it is accompanied by all the powers inherent in us–powers which are also impulses toward the divine. These rays of light, emanating from our inmost being which is an image of the Sun of Divinity, accompany the consciousness that is our inner Christ and prepare the way of the Lord (Matthew 3:3), exalting the valleys and making plain (smooth) the ways (Isaiah 40:4). It is these powers, commanded by God Himself, that annihilate all opposition however terrifying or mighty it might appear to be. For that appearance is a lie. The truth is also told us by Saint John in the first portion of the just cited verse, namely: “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome” all enemies, saying with the Psalmist: “All nations compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord will I destroy them. They compassed me about; yea, they compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord I will destroy them. They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them” (Psalms 118:10-12).
Of us, too, it can be said as it was of Jesus: “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 21:9), accompanied by all the powers of light, “clothed in fine linen, white and clean” (Revelation 19:14).
The Powers of God
These divine powers must never be confused with the “natural” powers of corrupted human nature. All “good” wrought by such is either seen in time to be no good at all or to be ineffectual and ephemeral in nature. This is why so many seem to progress and then regress, to rise high and fall low. The seeming progress and ascent were effects of natural powers which ultimately cannot avail. Which is why Jesus told the disciples: “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). That is, without the power of spirit nothing can be accomplished of any real–that is, lasting–character. This is why, for example, religions of true wisdom never try to convert through enticement or persuasion. They know that any adoption of religious thought or action that does not spring from the inmost consciousness of the pure self or spirit can only go awry or collapse. This latter is really more desirable, for twisted religion can devastate minds and lives through long centuries, becoming increasingly destructive and binding. Most religion at the present time is the expression of pathological conditions of body, mind, and emotion. This is the virulent fruit of missionarying.
In the matter of interior life it is particularly essential that all endeavor is motivated from the inmost consciousness of the seeker. Otherwise failure, and perhaps harm, is the inevitable result. For this reason aspirants should scrupulously examine the nature of their spiritual interest and see it for what it truly is. So also must a legitimate teacher and guide determine the source of the inquirer’s pursuit, and refuse to accommodate egoism or whimsy in any degree. The “will remodel to suit tenant” attitude of many teachers reveals their own incompetence and dishonesty.
How, then, can we ensure that it is the divine powers which are being evoked in us and not the ephemeral shades of “nature”? By the nature of our practice itself. It must be based from beginning to end on the invocation of the Divine Consciousness, the only commander around which the divine forces rally to do battle under His aegis. As already stated, this is the guarantor of success.
And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. The description of the clothing of these interior warriors gives us information by which we can further ensure that the forces manifesting from within us are spiritually legitimate. For they do not wear the expected costume of war–armor, helmets, and such like–but “fine linen, white and clean.” This listing of qualities is most informative, for it also reveals the character of true spiritual aspirants and the practices they employ to win the battle. We will find an examination of these aspects beneficial.
By the word “fine” is meant the opposite of coarseness and heaviness. Refinement and subtlety are also implied. Fine linen would be cloth woven of very light, thin threads in contrast to heavy cloth woven of thick, heavy threads. It is the difference between the finest and softest fabric and the coarsest burlap, for example.
The inner spiritual powers, then, are subtle, refined, and light. So also are their effects. These powers are not cataclysmic in nature, producing extreme, violent, or even readily perceived changes or effects. This is important to know, because presently it is considered desirable that spiritual practice should result in shakes, quakes, thrills, chills, sights, lights and other such gross phenomena that read well in a “how I got enlightened” book for popular consumption. But as the Master Yogananda often reminded his students, “the path to the Divine is not a circus.” In truth such phenomena as just described are fundamentally pathological in nature, and those who undergo them are ultimately seen to be worsened rather than bettered–all effusive testimonial and insistence to the contrary. Here are two examples from life, both connected with each other.
One of Yogananda’s disciples, Brahmacharini Forest, told me that she and many others were puzzled at the great difference they experienced when blessed by Yogananda and his most advanced male disciple, James Lynn (Rajasi Janakananda). “When Rajasi blessed us, it nearly blew the tops of our heads off,” she said. “Sometimes people almost fell over backwards. But when Master blessed us we did not feel anything at all.” This was often discussed by the various disciples, but they could not arrive at any conclusion. So Forest went to Sister Meera, one of the senior monastics, and asked her about the matter. “Sister Meera explained to me that Rajasi had a great deal of power, but did not know how to direct it. So he just threw it at us and literally bowled us over. Master, on the other hand, had perfect control, and when he blessed us he directed the currents deep into our physical and astral bodies, cleansing us from karmas and our negative subconscious habit patterns. We did not feel anything, because everything moved in the astral channels as they should without any resistance, and we were benefited by it.”
This was my experience in relation to two of Yogananda’s advanced disciples. When one touched me on the forehead I would feel tremendous spiritual force entering the “third eye” and flowing through the brain and spine. It was not violent, but it was very dramatic. In contrast, when one of Yogananda’s seniormost disciples touched me in blessing I would feel nothing whatsoever. But in a few minutes, as I sat quietly, I would experience an indescribable elevation of consciousness and a deep, lasting inner awakening. It was when I referred to this in a conversation with Brahmacharini Forest that she told me her experience and Sister Meera’s clarification.
It is the refined, subtle energies that are able to work lasting changes in our awareness. The more evolved consciousness or energy becomes, the more refined and subtle it becomes. Thus it is the highest level of spiritual powers alone that are able to conquer all opposition to our ascent to perfection. It is not the obvious energies of the objective levels of our being–including emotion or intellect–that can aid us in the struggle, for they are of mixed character: partly polarized to the lower, downward-pulling orientation of matter, and partly polarized to the higher, upward-tending pull of the spirit. By their very nature they create conflict in us, which is why responsible spiritual teachers emphasize the need for continual purification of the aspirant on all levels. For if the aspirant does not rise above these lower levels his spiritual life will continually swing like a pendulum between the opposites of higher and lower–outward and inner–consciousness. The seeker must disentangle himself from such constant cycling, otherwise his life will be a frustrating series of ups and down, risings and fallings “like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt” (Isaiah 57:20). For this reason we must continually strive to purify and refine our entire makeup, outer and inner, to ensure our success and stability in spiritual life.
Only the refined aspirant can succeed, and his spiritual practice must correspondingly be of the highest character–not just the obvious and outer ways of exoteric religion, though they, too, are needed to maintain his pursuit. It is the subtle interior practices of yoga and meditation that are the foundation of his spiritual attainment.
In the Egyptian and Hebrew religions linen was the distinctive clothing of priests. This was carried over into Christianity until vanity dictated the wearing of showy vestments. Linen, however, remained the prescribed cloth for use on the altar. Linen, then, is emblematic of the essentially religious, even priestly, character of those interior powers that grant victory to the aspiring soul. These are not the powers that are native to every human being. Rather, they are the powers infused into the disciple, and upon which he continually draws. Here, too, the aspirant and his spiritual practice must be of the same nature.
“God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5), therefore white has universally been a symbol of the divine light–of the active presence of God “Who coverest himself with light as with a garment” (Psalms 104:2). This adjective conveys the idea that it is God Himself, manifesting as inner spiritual power, that works our inner transformation (Romans 12:2), enabling us to say that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:37). Only the awakened disciple can declare with the knowledge derived from experience that “in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Here, as in the commentary on Aphorism Four, we find the principle that our spiritual search must be a manifestation of the divine nature in us: our spirit. That which arises from any other aspect of our being cannot end in higher consciousness because it does not originate in consciousness at all but in the subtle materiality of our psychic and intellectual bodies. The impulses of those bodies can only lead back into them, into the realm of unconsciousness. For the only life or consciousness they have is the reflection cast upon them by the proximity of our spirit-consciousness. Spiritual life, as distinct from physical, psychic, or intellectual life, only results when “Deep calleth unto deep” (Psalms 42:7), when the individual spirit calls out for union with the Absolute Spirit.
It is spirit power that accomplishes our metamorphosis from the unreal to the Real, from the darkness to the Light, from death to Immortality. Only the spirit truly aspires to Spirit. And the means of metamorphosis, the methods of inner alchemy, must be exclusively spiritual in nature. This is particularly crucial for the spiritual pilgrim, since most “spiritual practices” are really physical, psychic, or intellectual in nature and, like their impulses, can only lead back to them, however flashy or impressive they may be. In the end their practicers find themselves right where they started, however entertaining the experiences produced by them. Beginning in delusion, limitation, and bondage, they end there–for actually they never really “took” the practicers anywhere. This is a horrible realization, and even more horrible when unrealized. Years, lifetimes even, are frittered away by such methods that are very much like the revolving mirrored spheres seen on dance floors. They have no light of their own, distort what they reflect, and ultimately go dark. Then, “if the light that is in thee [really] be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:23).
A practice is spiritual and not illusive if it begins and ends in consciousness, and consciousness alone. That is, if its ultimate result is establishment in the pure consciousness that alone is the nature of our spirit–and God. Such a practice is extremely hard to find, but not impossible. We must not unquestioningly accept the claims of a practice’s promoters, but observe or experience its results and judge accordingly, since “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20). One thing can be said: authentic spiritual practice does not at all lend itself to the hype and puff of the carnival sideshow of contemporary pop religion, “spirituality,” or “yoga.”
“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God”(Matthew 5:8). The Greek word katharos means pure, clean, and clear. In this case it means the state of being free of all alien elements (pure), obscuration (clean), or blockage (clear). That is, it must be of a purely spiritual character with no admixture of any kind, it must be undimmed by any taint of ignorance or unconsciousness, and it must be free of all obstacles or hindrances. Such must be the nature of our inner spiritual powers, otherwise they cannot lead to the state of cleanness or purity. So also must the aspirant be–or at least he must be effectively engaged in his own purification, for “every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (I John 3:3). Until his purification is complete, the final attainment is impossible. Obviously the aspirant’s inner practices cannot lead to this necessary cleanness unless the practices themselves are already pure–and purifying. “The Lord recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his eyesight” (Psalms 18:24). “For the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (Revelation 19:8).
And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword…. The primal power, the initial manifestation of God Himself is “the word of his mouth” (Jeremiah 9:20). For “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The Word–in Greek: Logos; in Sanskrit: Vak or Shabda–is not just a projection of God, but is inherent in God, present from the very beginning. It is virtually the prime faculty, or power, of God; yet It really is God. God, though absolutely one, is yet dual, both Silence and Sound, both Speaker and Spoken. All that exists is an expansion-manifestation of God. “And God said,…” (Genesis 1:3), and all things came to be. “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth” (Psalms 33:6). It is essential to realize that in the Bible “the Word” often means the creative Will or intention of God.
This primordial Word is called “the sword of the Spirit” by Saint Paul (Ephesians 6:17). Out of the mouth of the divine spark that is our spirit–and out of the mouth of him who has been put in touch with his spirit by spiritual wakening–emanates the sharp sword of the Word. This is the conquering weapon in all spiritual warfare. For this reason the great disciple, Isaiah, declared that God “hath made my mouth like a sharp sword” (Isaiah 49:2). Here mouth and word are the same thing. The Will-Word of God is described by the apostle as “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
The purpose of the Sword
…that with it he should smite the nations, is the purpose of the sword. With it he should bring into subjection the unruly and distorted elements of our own natures. Most of our inner rebels can be conquered and restored to their true purpose–the attainment of divine perfection. But some elements such as ignorance and illusion must be annihilated, so a few verses later he says that “the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth.” Again we remember the words of David: “All nations compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord will I destroy them. They compassed me about; yea, they compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord I will destroy them. They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.”
As for those parts of our nature which can be healed and restored: he shall rule them with a rod of iron–the illumined and empowered will of both God and the disciple working together. (“We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain” II Corinthians 6:1. “Work out your own salvation” Philippians 2:12.)
The wrath of God
And he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. Oh, my! how little we like pictures such as this. Nonetheless, they are true and should be understood by us. Within us–for we are treaders of the winepress along with the divine power–there is a necessary power for the subduing and vanquishing of ignorance and evil. And to be successful that power must be fierce, opposing, and ruthless–not in the egoic sense of hatred, anger, or enmity, but in the sense of determined elimination-annihilation. Being directed toward “things” it is, however, objective and thus a bringer of peace. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them” (Romans 1:18, 19). The “wrath of God” is directed at the evil of men, but not at men. And since it comes “from heaven” it is the descent of Divine Consciousness whose purpose is to make known to men, and make manifest in them, that part of them that is one with God: their spirit. Through this “wrath” God clears from their vision all that obstructs it, and shows them both His and their reality. This is love and mercy. But not for the fantasies of sin and evil. Upon them comes the purifying “wrath” of God. So the Divine Consciousness is the Destroyer of delusion and ignorance, but the Healer of our goodness. It is both wrath and mercy.
“And the angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God” (Revelation 14:19). This earth is our lower nature, and the vine of the earth is that which binds us to it. The Power of God, the Holy Spirit, within us presses out the winepress and cauterizes the seeds of the vine of evil, setting us free from future bondage. It never fails–nor does he who never ceases to foster that inner grace.
The book of Revelation gives a stunning–though sometimes incomprehensible–symbolic picture of the liberating workings of the “wrath” of God with us. All that is portrayed there is the action of the Divine Life within us. Wherefore: “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him” (Hebrews 12:5)–for it is not you who are being rebuked or rejected, but that with which you wrongly identify.
Whenever a negative thing arises within or without to hinder or harm us, it is the promise of God that when petitioned by us, “I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2:16).
The victor’s reward
And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. To the ancients the thigh was the center of strength, and oaths–especially of loyalty and service–made to a king were often sealed by kissing his thigh or knee. This action is retained by the Eastern (Byzantine) Orthodox Church in the rite of ordination to the priesthood where the ordinand kneels and kisses the vestment-clad thigh or knee of the ordaining bishop.
The presence of God within us, the Holy Spirit is ultimately revealed as being Itself the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Ruler of the ruled, the Power of the powerful, the Life of the living. And he who overcomes, who wins the spiritual battle, becomes himself King of Kings and Lord of Lords by participating in the Divine State. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it” (Revelation 2:17), the New Name being the evidence that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17).
Further: “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God” (Revelation 3:12). “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21). “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son” (Revelation 21:7).
No one likes war–inner or outer; but for the aspirant to higher consciousness it is an absolute necessity. Without the struggle into the light, the seed will die; without the struggle to break open the egg and emerge, the chick will die; without the trauma of birth the infant in the womb will die. We fear a fight lest we be injured or killed, but unless we engage in the inner war, pain and death are inevitable. As in all other aspects, our outer life often renders us unfit for the inner life, since we assume the same rules apply and the experiences will be the same. But without the inner fight there is no inner fulfillment. The Master wants us to understand this well.
The dull void
The Prodigal Son wasted his inheritance, “and when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him” (Luke 15:14-16).
The prodigal is the spirit that has left its home in God and entered in the alien country of relative existence. In that barren place it loses all knowledge of itself and God. By continual rebirth it goes into the fields of the swine–into the bodies dominated by the senses. There it feeds those senses with the husks of material experience. How it yearns to satisfy itself deep inner hunger with those same husks. But they are food for the material senses alone, and cannot touch, much less satisfy, the questing spirit. “No man gave unto him.” That is, nothing of “man,” of humanity and its “nature” can feed the spirit. And so the wandering soul drifts on, impelled by “the dull void within”–but always in the wrong direction.
Educated in the school of this world, we fear pain. The struggle to avoid want and suffering is considered “the pursuit of happiness.” And it is that struggle which robs us of “life” and “liberty” as well. How alienated we find ourselves from those “inalienable rights”! Occasionally we encounter the distraction or excitement of real suffering. But mostly we plod on, absorbed in the ache of that “dull void within.” Zombielike, we feed the pigs and starve our souls, living the common life of “quiet desperation.” But when we turn back into ourselves and send out the inner call, the divine spark, fanned by our earnest cry, bursts into living fire, fights, and thereby fills that void with the inner light, the Fos Ilaron, the joy-bearing light of our inner Christ (Fos Ilaron is the title of an ancient hymn to Christ sung at sunset). Nothing else can fill that void and bring peace to the spirit.
The expression “dull void” conveys to us the truth about this world and its life: dreariness is its primary character. However raucous and gaudy, however frantic and explosive it may be, “after the ball is over” and the silence of the devastated heart alone remains, only weariness and hopelessness reigns. Dull of eye and soul we sink to earth and wallow in momentary oblivion, only to awaken to the whips and shouts of “the good life,” struggle up, and again stagger on in “the pursuit of happiness,” leaving any hope of real life and liberty behind us undetected. How worn out we are. Therefore Saint Paul refers to “the old man” of earth (Romans 6:6; Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:9). “The dullness of the tea-time of life” persists. Rare are those who rally enough to grieve that “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons.” Rarer, still, are those who come to themselves like the Prodigal, turn from earthly nothingness, and say: “I will arise and go to my father” (Luke 15:18). To them alone will come the joy-giving words: “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine” (Luke 15:31).
The inner void
This dull aching void is within–not without–and it is a grave error to attribute our dis-ease to any outer factor whatsoever or to suppose that any outer thing whatsoever can remove it. Those who frantically pursue pleasure or fulfillment outside themselves only compound their misery, even if momentarily they seem to gain what they desire. From life to life we assume that the void is outside us and seek to fill it by obtaining a myriad “things,” only to be disappointed and impelled to run after the next object we mistakenly believe will satisfy us and remove our discontent.
It is especially crucial that we do not fall into the supposition that our problem is not an inner void, but some kind of inner state or entity that only needs to be removed, healed, or soothed–that nothing more is needed than the removal or anesthetizing of the pain. But our problem is an absence, a lack, a painful emptiness rather than an undesired or undesirable presence or condition. Therefore it must be filled.
Unfortunately, although we cannot fill that inner void with outward things, we can attempt to cram into our hearts all sorts of distractions and mental toys–not to speak of outright self-deceptions, and even illusions imposed upon us by others. Never do these things really fill us or dispel the pain, but we make ourselves think that, like medicine, they only need some time to work their cure. That, too, never occurs, and we keep running in the inner maze, grasping at anything in our mental reach and attempting to plug up the inner vacuum that gnaws at us perpetually. Only the spirit, by its advent–which is gained only by great warfare–can work the cure and truly fill the dull void within.
Many fantasy or fairy stories from ancient times are really spiritual parables. Originally they were part of the inner tradition of the religions that were displaced by Christianity. Their theology was forgotten but the stories, since they drew upon subconscious roots that are common to all, remained fascinating to all generations.
Sleeping Beauty is one such sacred myth. The spirit, asleep under the evil spell of ignorance, lies within the castle of the body as if dead. Impenetrable brambles encircle the castle, squeezing it like a malevolent serpent. Such are the negative forces we call karma that spring from our sins of past and present. Only with agonizing battle can the evil guardian of evil be slain, the brambles cut through, and the princess be awakened to life. Tremendous is the war that the divine warrior must fight to enter the dull void of our heart and fill it with his Light. We must acknowledge this and prepare ourselves accordingly.
And if this is so, then canst thou go through the fight cool and unwearied…. Yes, there will be a fight. But we shall even then be at peace if we let the warrior work his will in us. There are two stories illustrative of this.
A devotee of Sri Ramakrishna told of having a dream in which he saw a man walking easily and rapidly across the water of a vast sea. “How are you able to do that?” he called from the shore. Not looking back, the man replied: “It is easy. There is a bridge just beneath the surface of the water.” “Wait for me, then,” the dreamer called out. “No; I cannot wait. You come along in your own time,” answered the man as we kept on walking. When Sri Ramakrishna heard this, He was profoundly thrilled and urged the man to take up spiritual practice immediately.
We think that leading a spiritual life of sufficient intensity to make a difference will be difficult and even painful. But we are wrong. God has already made the way, and according to Jesus it is easy. (“My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” Matthew 11:30. Our problem is that we have a wrong understanding of just about everything to do with the higher life, and naturally it becomes a struggle and a frustration for us. But once we find the “bridge” all is easy. And where is that bridge? Within, just beneath the surface appearance of things. For the truth is, the entire universe, which is a net in which the ignorant are hopelessly caught, is also the way out to liberation. We just have to gain the inner viewpoint. And this is done through meditation–no other way.
In her book The Scent of Water Elizabeth Goudge tells of a thief who reformed and became a hermit. As part of his penance he built a beautiful chapel, and at the back carved a self-portrait in which he was crowned with thorns. But those who looked closely saw that there was a gap between the thorns and the head of the carving; and when they put their finger behind the carved thorns they could feel that the monk was really crowned with roses! And so it is. When “we” try to lead the life of the spirit it is an awful struggle that is doomed to fail. But when we let our spirit–and therefore God–begin to unfold the divine life it is easy and inevitable. Just as you cannot eat with your elbow, you cannot lead the life of the spirit with anything but the spirit; and the spirit is able to utilize all the lesser elements of our being as tools for success. We need never doubt or fear: it is our destiny to manifest divinity.
And how do we let the spirit move within us? By…standing aside and letting him battle for thee. This entire cosmos is an evolutionary device that moves inexorably toward the revelation of God in all. “For the earnest expectation of the creature [creation] waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:19, 21, 22). It is a much greater struggle than that of the body in childbearing, and it is painful in the superficial levels, but the result is “the glorious liberty of the children of God,” which makes it all worthwhile and relatively easy. Inner divinity must be released. Just as Jesus in the tomb was wound around and around with linen bands stuck together in layers by more than one hundred pounds of gummy resins, so we are entangled and stuck up in the labyrinth of our earthly existence–which includes all our previous incarnations, as well. Our spirits are like helpless mummies, lying in the tomb of the body and its material life. But, like Christ, they can pass through the bonds and the goo and be free. It is all a matter of letting the spirit live, of letting it breathe its source, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Breath of God.
Then it will be impossible for thee to strike one blow amiss. How truly incredible–and how incredibly true. For some reason, perhaps because of the trauma of the mental botch called modern education and the spiritual botch that is “popular” Christianity, we seem very afraid of making a mistake and either being laughed at and considered stupid or being condemned to eternal roasting. It has amazed me through the years how reluctant nearly everyone is to answer questions put to them about what they perceive to be the truth. I cannot count the number of times I have had to assure students that there is no wrong answer, that my intention is to learn how they view something. No pronouncement of right or wrong is going to be made on it. Contradictorily, people rush ahead and never give a thought to the wisdom or rightness of speech and action. How hard we work at tripping ourselves up where there really is no tangle at all.
Those who begin consciously looking after their spiritual development are particularly prone to fear making a mistake, or taking a wrong turn, or wasting effort. But what else has been going on for lifetimes beyond number? So a few more false starts will not destroy us. The time comes when we have to quit shivering and shaking with fear of being wrong and just plunge in and find out by the result. The cosmos is a great laboratory of spiritual experimentation, in which many mistakes will be made and quite a few explosions (some quite stinky) will occur. But so what? Better to be a spiritual scientist with smudges and smells on our white coat than to be locked in a straitjacket of fear and doubt. Go ahead and try! That should be our motto.
One of Swami Sivananda’s created expressions was “mahafoolishity”–the condition of being maximally foolish. One of the dumbest things (and people) I ever saw was in Ranchi, Bihar (India), at the Anandamayi Ashram homeopathic dispensary run by my dear friend Dr. Mukherji. An old man came in who had married a girl about a third his age. He was carrying the product of the marriage, a fat little boy with the mental development of a brussels sprout. (I really wanted to get a look at the mother.) Dr. Mukherji had prescribed a remedy for the child bride, who was “too nervous” to come see him for herself. (I was getting the idea.) When he asked how the medicine was working, the old man said in a voice like a hoot owl: “She has not taken that remedy.” “Why not?” inquired the doctor, quite surprised. “Because she thinks she remembers somebody once told her that remedy was hot. And she cannot stand hot things.” “No, no, it is not hot in the least,” protested the doctor. “She should take it and benefit.” “But she is afraid it might be hot,” hooted the aged spouse. “So she will not take it. She wants you to give something else.” Dr. Mukherji was kindly exasperated. “But that is the only medication for her problem. She must take it.” “No, she is afraid it might be hot.” Now this ring-around-the rosy went on and on, with “She is afraid it might be hot” recurring as the tiresome refrain. Finally the hooter picked up the chubby sprout and left. Dr. Mukherji turned to me…and his look said it all. Then he turned back and began to laugh. A wise response to the whole thing. In spiritual life we cannot be afraid that it might be “hot.” Heaven and hell should both be disregarded–we must move on. Then we will not fail, ever.
But if thou look not for him, if thou pass him by, then there is no safeguard for thee. Absolutely! If we look not within (for “he” is nowhere else), but pass him by as we rush down the highways and byways of “life,” not only will there be no safeguard for us, there is the absolute assurance of a collision and crack-up, just like in a few hundred or thousand past lives. As a consequence:
Thy brain will reel, thy heart grow uncertain, and in the dust of the battlefield thy sight and senses will fail,…. Confusion, doubt, and imperception are the only possible outcome of turning from or ignoring the inner light of the spirit.
…and thou wilt not know thy friends from thy enemies. This is the worst of the consequences that follow from rejecting or losing sight of spiritual realities. We become truly negative: everything is seen as opposite to what they really are, just as in a photographic negative the dark is light and the light is dark. Seeking to help ourselves, we can only come to harm, for we inevitably do that which compounds our trouble or adds some new dimension to it. (Any general textbook on psychology will reveal the truth of this.) In this state, a search for truth or God is inevitably perilous. This is why most religion and religionists are so harmful. The fault does not lie with religion itself or with the pursuit of spiritual life, but rather with those who are engaged in it. As Jesus pointed out, when the blind lead the blind they all fall into the ditch (Matthew 15:14). “Living in the abyss of ignorance yet wise in their own conceit, deluded fools go round and round, the blind led by the blind” (Katha Upanishad 1:2:5; Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.8).
Without spiritual vision any spiritual endeavor is hopeless, and usually turns out to not be spiritual at all, but physical, emotional, or fantasy. This is why it is harmful to go around trying to force people into spiritual life or perspective. At best hypocrisy will result, and at worst spiritual harm for themselves and others will occur. Most religion runs on the fuel of vicious or stupid ignorance. (Yes, there is benevolent and intelligent ignorance. It leads nowhere, but it does not lead to harm.) This is why a true religion simply makes itself available, but never seeks to convert or convince–conversion and conviction must arise from the spontaneous spiritual awakening that comes to all of us in time. God has eternity–and so do we–in which this can happen. There is no need for anxiety regarding others. The same illumination that has come forth in us is in them and shall shine forth when it should–not one moment more or less. It is all inward, and no outer force can effect that awakening. Nor can it prevent it.
For this reason we must be extremely careful of that or those which are supposedly spiritual, for they usually are just the opposite. Not being truly of the spirit they become physically and mentally coercive, abusive, and delusive. To those who are just beginning to wake up inwardly and stir to effective spiritual life, they can be extremely confusing and even destructive. To those who have become stabilized in their interior awakening they are only a pathetic joke, but it is not good to take chances with them. Caution is wisdom in relation to them–always. I am not counseling you to fear them, but to be wary of them. On your own you will discover that they are a waste of time at best. That is why Jesus advised us: “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matthew 15:14).
In the same way, be careful about speaking of spiritual matters to those who may be unready for it or even (consciously or subconsciously) opposed to things of the spirit. Do not judge by appearances or take anyone’s words at face value–especially the enthusiastic and emotional “glowies” who seem to radiate love, peace, and light. This is usually a cover for just the opposite, or a self-delusion. So be careful, cautious, and tread very warily and softly in introducing spiritual subjects. Try to gauge just how real their spiritual awareness is, and to what degree they are awake. Just as you do not discuss with a preschooler the ins and outs of the stock market or physics or higher mathematics, so do not burden them with what they are not capable of grasping. Pay no attention to their opinion of themselves or their aspiration. You must apply wisdom here and usually remain safely silent. Your ego may want to shine and strut in spiritual talk–but let that be a warning to you that not a word should be said lest you harm yourself. Many times I have seen genuinely spiritual people dismissed by the shallow as ignorant and unspiritual because they kept quiet when they should. This happened to me one time in India when I visited a yogi that lived on an island in the Ganges. Because I would not chatter on or ply him with “profound” questions, but simply sat and listened to him and three others play religious ring-around-the-rosy with words, he became very dissatisfied with me and hinted that I need not return to see him again.
Don’t waste your time
Do not believe that you can help the ignorant and immature. Neither can you save them from harm if in their ignorance and immaturity they are blithely (and happily and self-satisfiedly) going in the wrong direction–even perhaps to harm and pain. This is their choice: “Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone” (Hosea 4:17). Now you know why “God lets us suffer.” We have chosen it. That is what free will is all about. Some people need to burn themselves to learn to avoid fire. Ego-based interference is not compassion. Keep your hands to yourself. God does; and He is wiser than you.
If we cannot tell our friends from our enemies, what shall we do? Look within, become established in the inner vision, and let our immortal spirit lead us from the unreal to the real, from darkness to the light, from death to immortality. Do not sit around waiting for God to do the calling and the leading. Wake up, stand up, and get moving.
Shake off childish conceptions and misperceptions about God and hearken to the truth the Master now says to you: He is thyself, yet thou art but finite and liable to error. He is eternal and is sure. He is eternal truth. These are truly the words of life (John 6:68; Acts 5:20). God is our own Self. He is eternal; we are eternal. He has never not existed, nor shall He ever cease to exist; and it is the same with us. We and God have existed co-eternally. There has never been separation between us to any degree whatsoever. He knows that; we do not. We have lost that awareness, He has not. And we can regain it in Him, for He is the root of our root, the Spirit of our spirit. He is the Whole and we are the parts–but nonetheless eternally divine. We are one, but we are not the same. He is infinite and not subject to error; we are finite and susceptible to error. We are eternal, as is He, but at present we are unsure, subject to coming and going, birth and death, rising and falling–and a host or contradicting dualities. And this confusion will persist as long as we look to our finitude. But if we turn to Infinity, to God Who is eternal Truth, then the confusion will fade away, be seen as merely a mirage, and we, too, will become stable and Real.
We have come to believe that eternity is merely time without end and that truth is a conglomerate of the right or correct ideas. Consequently we never even touch either eternity or truth. But the Master now lets us know that eternity and truth are God Himself. We cannot enter eternity (the revivalist question: “Where will you spend eternity?” being particularly erroneous) or find truth. Rather we can wake up in God–where we have always been–in eternity, in truth. “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness” (Psalms 17:15). At the moment we think we are “lost” or “strayed” from God, but that is an illusion. “When I awake, I am still with thee” (Psalms139:18). Fear and doubt are ended forever, for:
When once he has entered thee and become thy warrior, he will never utterly desert thee, and at the day of the great peace he will become one with thee. We are always one with God, as the Master has assured us, but we do not know that. Actually we forget it utterly. But in time, through cultivation of inner consciousness, we begin to experience that unity to a slight degree, and it increases in us much as does the light of day–in stages. Then the full light comes in “the day of the great peace” when everything but God ceases to exist in our perception. This is set forth in the Old Testament (II Kings 5:1-14) in the healing of Naaman the leper. Naaman was a captain of the Syrian army who came to Elisha the prophet (who would later be born as Jesus of Nazareth), asking for healing. Elisha told him to dip seven times in the Jordan river (where he himself would be baptized by his master Elijah, returned as John the Baptist). He did so and was cured. Why seven times instead of just once? Because we are restored in degrees. Also, this symbolizes the seven levels of consciousness–corresponding to the seven chakras of Yoga–through which we must pass to attain the perfect Consciousness of the Unconditioned Absolute that is symbolized in the New Testament as the “eighth day” of Resurrection.
The same idea is presented in the Gospel of Mark: “And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought. And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly” (Mark 8:22-25). Spiritual sight comes in steps as exact as the ascent of a ladder. One by one, and each following the other in precise order. This is not a haphazard ascent, and has nothing to do with the vague muddle of popular religious thought or devotion. It is a methodology of the spirit and has nothing to do with either the ideas of the seeker or the whims of a conditioned deity. It is the only real science there is, for it alone results in Knowledge and Truth: God.
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