By James Bean
Copyright June 2005
While visiting Benares, Kabir always passed by the same man daily, who was always sitting in his garden. One day, Kabir said to him, “Good Sir, instead of merely sitting in your garden doing nothing, why not sit in meditation and make spiritual progress?”
The man replied, “I have a family. My children are young, and I cannot find enough time for spiritual practices now. But I will practice spirituality when the children grow up.”
Years later, after the children had grown up, Kabir met the same man again. “Now that your children are older, do you find time for meditation?”
This time the man responded, “I am in the process of getting my children married off so they can live independently. As soon as they are all married, I will begin my spiritual practices.”
A few years passed, and Kabir met the man again. He again inquired about the man’s spiritual life. “Now that your children are married, do you have time for meditation?”
“My children have grandchildren, and I am watching them grow up, receive an education, and then marry.”
Some years passed, and Kabir returned to find that the man had passed away. Kabir Sahib shook his head and said, “The poor man has spent his whole life thinking he would find time for meditation, and passed away without devoting any time to discover his soul. His mind led him into such a deep attachment to this world that he did not take any time for his own meditations.”
It has been my observation that negative thinking or pessimistic beliefs which get ingrained in the mind, are what usually sabotage our spiritual aspirations. There is a saying in India which is so very true: “The mind is a good servant but makes for a bad master.” And what a dilemma this really presents. Eventually, there may be a point of no return, no escape from the labyrinth of one’s thinking or beliefs during what remains left of this very short lifespan. There is the danger of ending up permanently locked into a groove from which one may never escape. I suppose one may simply need to reincarnate and start over again with, quite literally, a more open mind. I am reminded of some lyrics by Rupert Hine: “But now my mind is new and clean. We’ll meet again in another dream. Make a wish for all you’ve seen.” (Rupert Hine’s “Immunity” album, A & M Records 1981) It really doesn’t have to come to that however. My favorite verse from Robert Bly’s translation of Kabir goes like this: “What you call ‘salvation’ belongs to the time before death. If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive, do you think ghosts will do it after!?” Better to reclaim THIS incarnation. What better place is there for spirituality than here? Who knows about tomorrow, but today is here now, in the living present, which is a very sacred thing, and a divine opportunity.
One may have a flash of inspiration or intuition, an “experience,” “conversion,” “revelation” or “realization,” perceiving there to bea Supreme Being, one’s own soul, or some other non-physical aspect to reality, and thus, the journey begins. Or perhaps one seeks or even yearns to have such a spiritual experience and so we start exploring various religions and philosophies on a quest to find it. One major aspect of the spiritual journey is finding a group, faith-community or Path to call “home.” It’s quite natural to seek the companionship and guidance of others.
I notice that often, people likely to attend meetings or classes are new to an area. Quite frequently, those who have relocated to a new city are the ones who especially read bulletin boards and check out the calendar of events in the local papers, while someone who has lived in the same area for twently years may have become complacent and does not even have a qlue what’s happening just down the street! Another good way to discover spiritual Paths that exist in your area is to make use of the internet. There are these days online calendar of event sites for most locations. National organizations can tell you if they have any gatherings nearby. You can also practice networking. Ask others. Someone may know of someone who knows someone who can tell you about a certain group. In the past there have been some handy “yellow pages” of Eastern religions and communities, national publications such as: “Networking”, “The Higher Consciousness Sourcebook”, “Network of Light”, “The Spiritual Seekers Guide”, “Spiritual Community Guide”, and “From Here to Nirvana.” Holistic papers or directories may provide valuable opportunities for networking, and, as I mentioned, the internet has become the primary source for information about a multitude of spiritual Paths and practices.
Book Seven of an ancient scripture from Egypt known as the Corpus Hermeticum describes the need, in a world of illusion and spiritual slumber, for a living teacher and his or her spiritual community, the fellowship of a School of Spirituality or Circle of Disciples: “Do not be swept away by the main current! Rather, you who can must avail yourselves of a countercurrent, take to the haven of safety, put in there, and look for a leader to show you the way to the Door of Gnosis (spiritual knowlege or direct experience), where there is bright Light, pure from darkness; where no one is intoxicated, but all are sober, contemplating – fixing their eyes on that Being who wills to be seen – but with the eye of the heart [soul, “mind’s eye”], for that Being cannot be heard or told of or seen by eyes, only by the eye of the soul.”
Mental Traps to Watch Out For
Not all spiritual Paths are lead by teachers of the kind of spiritual attainment, competence, and nobility as is described or idealized in the above passage of the Corpus Hermeticum. How nice if it were always so! but the reality is as complicated as any other aspect of human endeavor, ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime and all points in between. Sometimes people hearing the call of the Inner Voice end up taking that noble aspiration and associating it with an unhealthy group.
After encountering a few false or unethical teachers over the years, I came up with the following saying:
“The Disciple is genuine, even if the Guru is not.”
Most everyone in all faiths, east and west, arrived where they are as a result of a genuine Divine Impulse, a yearning for spirituality, whatever form that happened to take, and that spiritual thirst, that authenticity from within, remains intact and can never be taken away, no matter what. If a Path turns out to not be the affiliation or spiritual community of a lifetime, hopefully at the very least, it can serve as a stepping-stone along the way.
If a few Gurus are false, should we then choose to never have a spiritual teacher at all? someone might ask. A certain percentage of doctors are involved in cases of malpractice, but the population hasn’t decided to abandon the concept of medical treatment. That would be an extreme over-reaction. The same consistency should be applied to the area of spirituality. And besides, we all have gurus of one sort or another. We are influenced by others. Someone or some thing is the guru. Following one’s own ego might mean we belong to a cult-of-one. There are many potential sources of negative influence that can serve as the “bad” teacher: a twenty-four hour a day, non-stop materialistic society, getting caught up in church politics, meaningless television, music expressing violent notions, etc… Not having a formal teacher is no guarantee that one is not in a cult. Only very few people belong to what can be described as destructive cults, but the Cult of Complacency has millions of recruits and grows by leaps and bounds every day. Life is about taking chances and is not guaranteed to always be risk-free. The key is cultivating healthy relationships, seeking out ever more positive sources of inspiration, choosing the highest good, living compassionately, and gravitating towards the Light.
The classic definition of “Guru” is Light-giver, and their role, as defined by Eastern sources, is to introduce one to one’s Self or soul (Self-realization), or the Supreme Being (God-realization). Rumi says, “If you want to know God, sit at the feet of the Saints”. Their goal is to impart a method of spiritual practice – a meditation practice, to the disciple. Every great tradition has their own method of contemplative meditation they have developed and fine-tuned over many centuries. Think of the method of practice as like a scientific experiment. In order to get the desired results, one must adhere to the directions of the experiment very, very carefully and accurately. The intended result of this Master-disciple relationship is the communication or transmission of the method or mystery of the group under the right conditions so it can be successfully received, directly experienced by the student. The word “Kabbalah” means receptivity, “the received tradition”.
This is why the anti-traditional “salad bar” approach to spirituality is quite ineffective. People combine meditation methods that were never meant to be combined, and of course, get different results. People sometimes seem to forever remain stuck in “seek-mode”, never committing to some specific Path or practice long enough for it to work and never get to know a Path in it’s true depth, which, as with any committed relationship, might take some time and effort. Rumi says, “Window-shoppers, for god-sakes, buy something!” (Coleman Barks translation) An Eastern axiom is, “It’s better to dig a deep well and get to water than wasting energy digging many shallow dry holes.”
Usually, a spiritual Master is someone who himself or herself ALSO had a Master. A Master usually appoints a successor, an ethical, compassionate, worthy disciple, before they pass on. In turn, that Master will do the same, and this eventually forms a lineage of teachers spanning many generations. A Master appointing his successor is one of several forms of “accreditation” practiced in Gnostic, Sufi, and Eastern religions. In Middle eastern or Eastern traditions, one does not proclaim themselves to be a Master, print up some business cards and hang out a shingle. Whenever examining a spiritual Path, always ask where the teachings came from, and about the background of the current teacher – who THEIR teacher was. If you detect some awkwardness, resistance, or alarm over the question, this could be a red flag. Hazrat Sultan Bahu says, “These false prophets were never disciples themselves, but they contrive to make disciples of others as an act of seeming charity.”
There are several definitions of the word “cult”. The old dictionary definition of cult is rather harmless: “a group which follows a particular deity,” and/or, “a system of religious beliefs and ritual.” Another definition of cult might be: a “four-letter word” describing a group somebody doesn’t happen to like very much. This merely reflects someone’s personal preference and not necessarily anything more. In recent decades the word cult has come to have a more serious pejorative meaning, referring to an unhealthy sect or zealous religious movement. There can also be, and are, extremist political cults. I find some of the most destructive cults have an apocalyptic view of the world, that is to say, their emphasis upon the “end times”, “earth changes”, or the “end of the world” can cause their followers to suspend normal behavior, relationships with friends and family, and conventional wisdom or perceptions of reality. For “insiders”, the expectation of the coming apocalypse causes reality to be shredded to bits and replaced with a new world order. I find that groups with a powerful “end times” emphasis tend to have less interest in spiritual growth or transformation because there have a desire to “run out the clock”. Instead of contemplating how best to live life during this three score and ten we have been given, that gets short-circuited and subverted by a mentality of waiting for the imagined apocalypse to decend from the sky. Rumi says, “Some persons, relying on the promise of ‘tomorrow’, have wandered for years around that door, but ‘tomorrow’ never comes. My friend, the Sufi is the child of the present moment: to say ‘tomorrow’ is not our way.”
A Word About the Politics of Cult Discussion
Sometimes anti-cult organizations themselves might be run by cults, so to speak, or have hidden agendas. There was a famous case a few years back where a cult awareness organization was sued into bankruptcy and oblivion by a cult group. Later on, that very same cult purchased that anti-cult organization and all their assets at low, low prices. Needless to say, under new management, in their publications the anti-cult organization no longer had the same critical evaluation of this particular group. Sometimes anti-cult organizations are themselves run by cultish religious groups. A religious denomination might use discussion about cults and the other world religions to evangelize for their own faith. They have critiqued all the world religions and have found them to all come up short except for one, and that would be, no surprise, the particular religion that they happen to be funded by. Another hidden or not so hidden agenda might be to use cult discussion to propagandize against all forms of spirituality. Their strategy is to use the eccentric examples of a few, in an attempt to de-legitimize all.
There are however many honest and reliable books as well as resources online about spiritual Paths or faith-communities. It’s always a great idea to seek knowledge about a particular Path from sources OUTSIDE that group, to give yourself as many avenues of information as possible.
The Noble Quest – Seeking to See the Unseen – Themes from the World Scriptures and Mystics
The spiritual search in my view is the most noble quest of all, our reason to be here in fact. I conceive of a cosmos that is giving birth to enlightened, liberated souls. In the East some say, “It was for the sake of the God-conscious beings that our Creator created this earth, and began this play of death and birth.” (Adi Granth) In the West it has been said, it was for the sake of the enlightened soul that “heaven and earth came into being.” (Gospel of Thomas, saying 12)
Taking birth as sentient life presents a golden opportunity for self and God-realization. “The Seed of True Humanity” exists within us all. (Gospel of Mary Magdalene) We are the Divine Seed of Light, given the potential to know ourselves. The human body is kind of “temple” of the soul, is a clay jar with great treasure hidden inside. “The Light of one soul is equal to that of sixteen suns!” (Anurag Sagar of Kabir) When we know ourselves, we will discover this and come to discover our true identity as part of the Great Life. (Gospel of Thomas, saying 3) Within this human body is a multiverse bigger on the inside than all the billions of light-years-worth of visible cosmos on the outside, with many skies above skies, the unnumbered stars and galaxies, all the dimensions and universes, and within this body is the Beloved Creator, the Life of all Life. (Songs of Kabir, Rabindranath Tagore)
The Ultimate Reality is within us, all around us, within everyone “spread out upon the earth, and yet few see it”. (a lament from the Gospel of Thomas, saying 113) The Light of the soul is eclipsed by the “coat” or “garment” of the body it is wearing. “Coming to be, he became the veil of his own sight and was deprived of Vision.” (Fakhruddin ‘Iraqi’s Sufi Classic, Divine Flashes) A “mass of matter keeps us from seeing what we ought to see, and from hearing what we ought to hear.” (Corpus Hermeticum, Book Seven) Yet our birthright is by no means limited to seeing a material creation with physical eyes. The cosmos was brought into being consisting of both inner and outer, the sensory realm and the realm of the Unseen. We have been created to see the sensory aspect of the outward universe, as well as we have been given the eye of the soul to contemplate the inner, Unseen, Unmanifest aspect. (Ibn Al ‘Arabi, The Bezels of Wisdom) “With the incorporeal eye, let us go forth from the body to behold the Beautiful, let us fly up and float aloft.” (Corpus Hermeticum)
Close Your Eyes and See
Know yourself: a cloud
drifting before your sun.
Cut yourself off from your senses
and behold your Sun of Intimacy.
Then you will hear with the Ear of your Heart:
That Mystery, so long concealed
is at last opened,
the darkness of your night at last
bathed in Dawn.
In the ancient mystic traditions the living teacher guides their students into methods of contemplative meditation practice so that the Unseen may become seen, and the Unheard may be heard. The Master says, “I will give you what no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, what no hand has touched, and what has never occurred to the human mind.” (Gospel of Thomas, saying 17) “If your eye be Single, your whole body shall be full of Light.” (New Testament) “With the Divine Eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, a bhikkhu surveys a thousand worlds… I have proclaimed to my disciples the way whereby with the Divine Ear element, he hears both kinds of sounds, the divine and the human, those that are far as well as near. And thereby many disciples of mine abide having reached the consummation and Perfection of Direct Knowledge.” (Buddha, The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, A Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya)