You cannot become a master by remaining a follower.

THE SPIRITUAL PATH

by Walter Last

The purpose of life, including our human life, is the evolution of consciousness. The aim of our human existence is to become as fully human as possible, to realise or make real the full potential inherent in the human condition. This applies to all levels of being human, to the biological, the emotional as well as the mental level.

Instead of seeing yourself as just a personality with a mind and a body, imagine yourself as part of an individualised life-stream that flows eternally towards increasingly higher levels of consciousness. This life-stream builds itself different personalities as vehicles for its flow of consciousness. You are one of these temporary vehicles. Your personality is temporary, the present cutting edge of your life-stream as perceived in our space-time.

The aim of your life-stream at this level is to develop a vehicle that allows the full expression of your soul suitable for travel beyond the human condition. When this is accomplished, no further personalities are needed. As an ascended being the life-stream can now traverse the trans-human conditions of consciousness.

SPIRITUAL AWAKENING

This evolution of consciousness normally is a slow process and most personalities are not aware that they are part of an evolutionary growth. However, as the personality comes closer to perfection, it does become aware of its purpose and it begins to long for spiritual unfoldment. Before this spiritual awakening, the personality may already have believed in God and followed a religious faith in the traditional way. But there is a difference. In the traditional religious life the believer may try to follow the doctrines of his faith the best he can, but he basically remains on the same slow evolutionary path of consciousness.

With the spiritual awakening, spiritual growth becomes the main focus of this personality. The slow evolutionary process now becomes a spiritual revolution, not only in regard to the speed of the growth of consciousness but also in regard to the overthrow of established values. This spiritual revolution may take place within the confines of an established religion or it may happen outside a religious faith. Within a religion, these awakening spirits will sooner or later come in conflict with established doctrines. They may try to revolutionise or restore their church to its highest ideals and eventually become mystics or saints or martyrs or just start their own church or sect. Most established religions had at best an uneasy relationship with their mystics and (later) saints.

In any way, whether the awakening and subsequent spiritual growth takes place within or without an established religion, the awakening personality will begin to follow the spiritual guidance that comes from within rather than the established rules and doctrines of church and society. Spirituality is no longer something that one does on Sunday mornings or other established times and according to established rules, but rather it becomes the central purpose and focus of life. With this, we may say that the personality is now on the spiritual path.

VARIETIES OF SPIRITUAL PATHS

While the real goal of the spiritual path is the same for all, there are many different roads that one can travel and one may even travel without a road. Also the goal may be described in different terms without always recognising that it is the same goal. This is so because we all have different starting points and different preferences and opportunities. Many spiritual travellers will not expect to reach their goal in their present lifetime, while others may realise that they do not really need to travel anywhere.

Some of the better-defined roads are the different forms of Yoga, the Tao, the Gnostic teachings, the Rosicrucians and various ancient and modern Mystery Schools. While the Mystics are generally regarded as a distinct group, they really travelled each on his or her own individual path. At present Ascension teachings through books and channelled guidance attract many followers. These teachings are largely individualised outgrowths from the writings of the Theosophical Society since the end of the nineteenth century.

Looked at from a different perspective, we may say that there are two different approaches that often intermingle in each individual spiritual path. One is the path of the Doer or the Magus, while the other is the path of the Knower or the Mystic. The Doer mainly works in the world as a healer, alchemist or white magician, trying to master the non-physical energies and forces. The Mystic, on the other hand, follows mainly the inner path, seeking Union with the Divine Self and in the process becomes a Knower and a teacher. However, ultimately Knower and Doer both become one.

THE PATH OF THE MYSTICS

The recorded experiences of the many mystics in all religions is of particular interest because we can learn from these what the spiritual path looks like when it is not guided by specific verbal or written teachings. Most of these individuals in past centuries did not know that there was such a thing as a spiritual path and that others had travelled the same or a similar route. They just felt a longing to come closer to God and to feel at one with Him, to melt into Divinity like a drop of water becomes one with the ocean.

Each of them had different experiences and many of them walked only part of the way, but by constructing a composite picture from a large number of their writings we can discern a distinct pattern of the typical mystical path. Few mystics seem to have travelled all of this 'typical' path, but this may be because we can see only one life-time of a multiple-life-time journey. This typical mystical path may best be described as a five-stage journey and we may easily see its relationship to contemporary spiritual practises.

1. The Awakening

The spiritual awakening is the beginning of the mystical path and also of the spiritual path in general. It may be sudden or gradual. Often it comes as an emotionally overwhelming 'mystical experience', possibly ending a period of great emotional torment and suffering. Another frequent setting is during a spiritual initiation ceremony, such as presently during water baptism for 'Born-Again Christians'.

Others may have this awakening experience during an especially intense prayer or meditation or drift gradually onto the path by attending workshops or reading spiritual books. The latter as well as others coming to the path because of philosophical considerations turn out to become like the 'mental mystics' as compared to the 'emotional mystics' who had their mystical experiences mainly at the emotional level.

This initial peak experience may last for hours or days with gradually declining intensity. Commonly it is a combination of deep feelings, such as universal love, with profound spiritual intuition or insight, although depending on the personality traits the emotional or the mental component may dominate. Also psychic phenomena are frequently involved in the form of visions and voices.

2. Purification

After the awakening the individual does not only want to repeat the mystical experience but really wants to live in a permanent state of grace close to God. However, the aspiring mystic realises that he is not yet worthy, he becomes acutely aware of his imperfections, of the impurity of his thoughts and feelings. He starts to cleanse himself of all selfish or impure desires. Commonly this is combined with periods of fasting or food denial. Medieval mystics tended to be very severe with themselves in order to 'mortify' the body and with it the unruly senses and the desires of the flesh. Worldly pursuits no longer hold any interest. Periods of prayer and meditation are greatly extended.

While this process of purification requires strong willpower and causes much self-inflicted pain, it is also increasingly interspersed with beautiful and uplifting mystical experiences that spurn the seeker on to greater sacrifices for the sake of more rapturous experiences. This purification process continues for many years. Instead of turning the spiritual energies released by the awakening experience inward to purify, it may also be directed outwards. These individuals then become religious fanatics and may remain at this level for the rest of their lives.

3. Illumination

After the Self has been sufficiently cleansed or purified and the mind remains fully focused on the presence and the qualities of the Divine, a state of illumination may unexpectedly arise. This will be similar to the experience of awakening but even more intense and longer lasting. Again, it may be predominantly emotional with feelings of indescribable Divine love, being at one with 'All That Is' and combined with visions and voices, or it may be predominantly mental with profound insights and states of pure knowing. Commonly the initial peak experience is combined with perceiving an intense or blinding inner white light.

For many months these deep feelings and insights will keep flowing in, but gradually settle into a state of a permanently raised and more intuitive consciousness. The illuminated mystic will now always remain aware of the Divine presence in everyone and everything and radiate a presence of love and goodwill. Intuitive abilities will be greatly increased. Commonly, one will receive a spiritual gift with the illumination. This may be the ability to heal or to see or to know. By developing this ability one will become a great healer, seer or spiritual teacher.

The perception of mysticism as being incomprehensible to normal, unenlightened humans is due to the fact that most mystical writings were composed by the emotional type of mystics. They focused on emotional states of being and perceived and described their visions and experiences with emotional metaphors that remained incomprehensible to the uninitiated. This is similar to the present descriptions of reality given by quantum physicists.

Life in this state of illumination is easy and full of joy, a permanent state of great happiness and contentment. It is like living in a state of grace that can never be lost again. But sometimes it is being lost.

4. The Dark Night of the Soul

There is a saying that he whom God loves most, will be given the severest tests. This certainly seems to be true of the few mystics who continue to travel further along the spiritual path even after illumination. During the long and difficult purification process the aspiring mystic gave up most of his sense attachments, the pleasure of eating, of sexual union, of bodily comfort and of pleasant company. Instead all the energies were focused only on what was perceived to be transcendental and divine.

But there was still one thing left that had not been surrendered, that is the will, the central part of the Self. To give up the will, the innate instinct for personal happiness had to be surrendered. This is called the 'mystical death' or the spiritual crucifixion. During illumination the mystic seemed to walk hand in hand with God and sunned himself in eternal Divine bliss. This makes the contrast even greater to the feeling of having lost all the former grace and glory and being totally abandoned by God to a life in abject misery.

However, gradually the Self begins to accept total surrender. It gives up itself, its personality and individuality, asks for nothing and desires nothing. Now there is total passivity and acceptance of whatever God has ordained or whatever comes. Now the mystic is finally ready for the last stage of his earthly journey.

5. The Unitive Life

Finally, by giving up everything, the mystic has gained everything. By being completely passive, he is able to be filled with the Divine Spirit. No longer does he experience the strong mood swings between divine bliss and utter desolation, he has now settled into a feeling of constant peaceful and love-filled union with the Divine. However, this is not the goal of his long journey, just a by-product. The real achievement is that the mystic is now an ideal tool or instrument of the Divine Will to be used for manifesting the Great Plan on earth.

While now the mystic still lives in the world, he is no longer of the world. He may be a great reformer, healer, inventor, statesman, educator or spiritual teacher but whatever he does is never for any small or selfish interests, instead it is always for the greater good of All That Is. He now lives a life of service. Whatever he does, he is now a spiritual master, even if that is not always apparent to the outside world. After his passing, he will be an ascended being, not needing to return to earth.

Comments on the Mystical Path

In this description it is easy to draw comparisons to the life of Jesus of Nazareth and see in it a symbolic enactment of the mystical path. The baptism symbolises the spiritual awakening, the 40 days in the desert correspond to the period of purification, followed by illumination (the transfiguration on the mountain) and selfless service in the form of a healing and teaching ministry. The experience on the cross and the events leading up to it are his dark night. While the unitive life is cut short, it is signified by the ascension and the following teaching period in ascended form.

It may also be mentioned that the described states of the mystical path do not necessarily follow one after the other but some may occur simultaneously, such as enlightenment and the dark night of the soul or purification, enlightenment and selfless work. These may coexist or alternate, causing emotional extremes over short periods. Coexistence is possible because we do not need to be perfect to reach illumination and, therefore, continue with our purification on deeper levels.

Furthermore, these extremes and the perceived sufferings are mainly the lot of the emotional type of mystics while the mental type follows a much smoother path. Both have the difficult task of giving up their attachments to gratifying the senses and surrendering their will, it is just that the emotional mystics are so much more sensitive and take things very much to heart. It also must be understood that it is not necessary to give up things, only the attachment to things but that was not always understood by those leading a life of extreme asceticism.

ASCENSION TEACHINGS

The ascension teachings are a New Age phenomenon and largely based on channelled teachings. These started with Madame Blavatsky and led to the foundation of the Theosophical Society late in the nineteenth century. The aim of these teachings is to present a greatly accelerated path to ascension.

Ascension is highlighted as the main aim and achievement of the spiritual path. Ascension means that we are no longer in need of experiences at the human level. For our continuing progress towards higher levels of consciousness we develop a spiritual light body through our ascension work. Presently ascension teachings focus mainly on guided imagery to open, balance and extend the chakra system and build a light body.

A key feature is a system of initiations as a measure of progress on the spiritual path. These initiations are to take place in our higher energy bodies and may or may not be remembered with our normal body consciousness. While there are some variations in the way of counting, the basic requirements for passing the five initiations before ascension may be described as follows.

  1. Spiritual Awakening.
  2. Purifying the body, learning to work with the energies and controlling the etheric body.
  3. Purifying and controlling the emotions as well as developing a higher emotional body.
  4. Purifying and controlling the mind as well as developing a higher mental body.
  5. Submitting the will to Divine Guidance.
  6. Selfless work for the greater good of humanity.
  7. Ascension.

While formerly initiations in the physical body took place in the form of tests and rituals within secret societies, presently they appear to be incorporated as special situations in our normal life. As an example the third initiation requires us to have good control of the mental, emotional and etheric forces. In ancient Egypt an appropriate test might have been for the disciple to demonstrate that he can control an untamed lion with his mind and the lion obeying him. At the slightest sign of fear the lion would kill him.

A modern equivalent might be a diagnosis of advanced and incurable cancer. To overcome this without much outside help, one needs to use the mind constructively to guide the emotions in a positive way, release all negativity, especially be free of the fear of death and also learn to direct the life-force energies as in guided imagery. While only a small percentage of sufferers of advanced incurable diseases may have been given their disease as an initiation test, most of those who did recover from near-terminal conditions reportedly had profound spiritual experiences.

For more information on ascension teachings see the books and web site of Dr. Joshua Stone at http://www.drjoshuastone.com/ .

Ascension and the Mystical Path

The relationship of the ascension initiations as portrayed above to the divisions of the mystical path are quite obvious. Starting with the spiritual awakening in both, the first three initiations are related to the mystical period of purification. In contrast to the yoga system of purification, which concentrates strongly on controlling the etheric energies, the mystical path does not address the etheric or life-force body directly. However, this level is purified indirectly by removing emotional energy blockages and by learning to control the emotional energies, which in turn direct the etheric life-force energies.

Illumination is the first major initiation and is the result of purifying and learning to control the mind and developing a higher mental body as the requirement for the third initiation. The fourth initiation will be passed after waking from the dark night of the soul and the fifth initiation is the result of the unitive life.

The ascension teachings portray largely a magical or doer path in contrast to the knower-based mystical path. A combination of both may in some ways be easier to follow than either one of them on its own. The severity of the mystical path can be greatly eased and progress speeded up by suitable guided imagery, while the present ascension teachings seem to neglect the purification and control of the emotional and mental bodies that feature so prominently in the mystical path.