Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 18: The Reverential Life > Chapter 5: Grace
Grace is a cosmic fact. If it were not, then the spiritual outlook for the human race, dependent entirely on its own efforts for the possibility of spiritual progress, would be poor and disheartening.
Grace is the indrawing power, or inward pull, of Overself, which, being itself ever-present, guarantees the ever-presence of Grace.
There is either great ignorance or grave confusion as regards grace, some serious errors and many smaller ambiguities. There is need to understand exactly what it is, the principal forms it takes, how to recognize its presence, and how its workings show themselves.
Grace is the benign effluence of the Overself, the kindly radiation from it, ever-present in us. The theological use of this term to mean particular help given by God to man to enable him to endure temptation and act rightly is a serious and arbitrary narrowing down of its original meaning. It may mean this sometimes, but it also means the loving mercy God shows to man, which appears variously as enlightenment of the mind or relief of the heart, as change of outward physical conditions or a dynamic revolution-working energy acting on the aspirant or on his life.
Out of the grand mystery of the Overself, the first communication we receive telling us of and making us feel its existence, is Grace.
The rejection of the idea of Grace is based on a misconception of what it is, and especially on the belief that it is an arbitrary capricious gift derived from favouritism. It is, of course, nothing of the kind, but rather the coming into play of a higher law. Grace is simply the transforming power of the Overself which is ever-present but which is ordinarily and lawfully unable to act in a man until he clears away the obstacles to this activity. If its appearance is considered unpredictable, that is because the karmic evil tendencies which hinder this appearance vary considerably from one person to another in strength, volume, and length of life. When the karma which generated them becomes weak enough, they can no longer impede its action.
By grace I mean the manifestation of God's friendliness.
The Overself extends its grace to all men, but all not men are able to get it. This may be due to different reasons, some physical and others, the most numerous, emotional or mental.
There have been many objections to the introduction of the idea of Grace in these writings. It is too closely associated with theology for these objectors' liking, too much connected with a God who favours some but neglects others. Grace was never taught by Buddha, they point out. And to those who have plodded wearily year after year along what seems an unrewarding spiritual quest, the idea either mocks their plight or is simply a remnant of theological imagination--unfactual and untrue. These critics are right in part, wrong in part. If Saint Paul used this term and concept "Grace" several times but may be thought too religious to be considered authoritative by modern seekers of a scientific bent, let them remember that Ramana Maharshi of India also used it several times and yet his bent was quite mystical and philosophic.
What I mean by Grace may easily be misunderstood, or only half-understood. Its full meaning is only partly suggested by the Tamil word arul--divine blessing--and the Greek word charis--free and beautiful gift.
Grace is either a gift from above or a state within, a help of some kind or an experience reverently felt.
It is a whisper which comes out of the utter silence, a light which glimmers where all was sable night. It is the mysterious herald of the Overself.
There are little graces, such as those which produce the glimpse; but there is only one great Grace: this produces a lasting transformation, a deep radical healing and permanent enlightenment.
Indian critics who reject my statements about Grace are requested to consider the meaning of prasada--so often associated with the greatest holy men. If it does not mean Grace of God or guru, what does it mean? I refer them also to their own scriptural Svetasvatara Upanishad which especially states that prasada is needed for salvation.
To deny the reality of grace is to call into question the presence, in nearly all religions, of an intercessory element--Allah's mercy, God's pardon, Rama's help, or Buddha's compassion. This element has been greatly exaggerated perhaps, or grossly materialized, but it is still there under the superstition.
The wicked cannot always be judged by appearances. Some illumination may suddenly be granted because of past good deeds or intensity of suffering. The Higher Self is infinitely accommodating to human weakness and, also, infinitely patient; compassion is its first attribute.
Grace is here for all. It cannot be here for one special person and not for another. Only we do not know how to open our tensioned hands and receive it, how to open our ego-tight hearts and let it gently enter.
There is a power which inspires the heart, enlightens the mind, and sanctifies the character of man. It is the power of Grace.
The grace of an infinite being is itself infinite.
The doctrine of grace may easily lead to a supine fatalism if unclearly understood, but it will lead to intense self-humbling prayer if clearly understood.
The sceptical view that Grace is a superstition prompted by our human self-regarding and self-favouring nature, that it could have no place on the high altitude of truly divine attributes, is understandable but erroneous.
"My Grace is sufficient for thee." What does this sentence mean? For an answer we must enquire first, who pronounced it and second, in what context it was spoken.
Those who reject the concept of grace will have to explain why the Bhagavad Gita declares, "This Spiritual Self reveals itself to whom it chooses," and why the New Testament asserts, "Neither doth anyone know the Father but . . . he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal him."
Those Indian critics who have rejected my inclusion of Grace and stamped it as an alien Christian idea do not belong, and could not have belonged, to the great Southern region of their country, with its far purer Brahmin knowledge (because less subject to admixture by repeated Northern invasion). The mystical literature of that region is quite familiar with arul, a Tamil word which has no other and no better equivalent than "Grace."
The Grace is always present since the Infinite Power, from which it originally comes, is always present.
Grace does not depend on God's intervention in any favouritistic or arbitrary manner. It is not an effect of God's whim or caprice. It falls like sunlight on all, the good and evil alike. Each individual can receive it, according to the quantity of obstacles he removes from its path.
Grace comes from outside a man's own self although it seems to manifest entirely within himself.
So hidden is the manifestation of Grace and so mysterious is its operation, that we need not wonder why men often deny its very existence.
R.W. Emerson put it pithily: "Into grace all our goodness is resolved." These were his words, as far as I can remember them.
That is the real Grace which depends neither upon any other person nor upon himself.
In the religious symbolism of the Islamic faith, the crescent figure stands for the reception of Grace, as well as for the man who is perpetually receiving grace--that is, the mystic who has perfected himself.
I know that many dispute the existence of Grace, especially those who are Buddhistically minded, strictly rational, and they have much ground for their stand. My own knowledge may be illusory, but my experience is not; from both knowledge and experience I must assert that through one channel or another Grace may come: dutiful, compassionate, and magnanimous.
If he offers himself to the divine, the divine will take him at his word, provided his word is sincerely meant. The response to this offer when it comes is what we call Grace.
There has been some questioning about the idea of Grace. It is accepted by the Christians and Hindus and denied by the Buddhists and Jains. However, even those who accept it have confused and contradictory ideas concerning it. In a broad general sense it could be defined as a benevolent change brought about without the person's own willpower, but rather by some power not commonly or normally his own. But because we have with us residues of former reincarnations in the form of karma, it is impossible for most persons to distinguish whether any happening is the result of karma or of Grace. But sometimes they can, for instance, if they wake up in the morning or even in the middle of the night remembering some difficulty, some situation or problem, but along with it feeling a Higher Presence and then with this feeling beginning to see light upon the difficulty or the problem and especially beginning to lose whatever distress, inquietude, fear, or uncertainty may have been caused by it. If they feel that the negative reactions vanish and a certain peace of mind replaces them, and especially if the way to act rightly in the situation becomes clear, then they are experiencing a Grace.
People have curious ideas about what grace really is. So few, for instance, seem to see that in opening themselves up to the beauties of nature or of music and art they would be inviting the attention of grace too. Grace is not just an arbitrary religious factor.
It is grace which inspires our best moves, and which enables us to make them.
If Grace does not exist, why does the Bhagavad Gita contain the statement: "To him whom the Overself chooses, to him does It reveal Itself"? And why did the early Christian Father Clement, whose writings are considered authoritative, state: "It is said the Son will reveal Himself to whom He wishes"? (The Homilies, Vol. xvii, p. 278, Ante-Nicene lib.)
Grace may be defined as the Overself's response to the personal self's aspiration, sincerity, and faith, lifting up the man to a level beyond his ordinary one. This working in us (as contrasted with the working by us) begins in deep passive stillness and ends in mental, emotional, and even physical activity.
It is true that grace is given, but we ourselves help to make its blessing possible by the opening of self to receive it, the silencing of self to feel it, and the purifying of self to be fit for it.
An unknown mysterious thing inside the self is drawing him to it. He is groping his way, but it constantly eludes him. There must be something very beautiful there, which the subconscious recognizes, for the feeling of being attracted will not leave him and only grows stronger if by remaining passive, meditative, he will let it.
If the existence of grace is granted, the question of its means of transmission arises. Since it is a radiation issuing from the Overself, it can be directly bestowed. But if there are internal blockages, as in most cases there are, and insufficient force on the man's part to break through them, then it cannot be directly received. Some thing or person outside him will have then to be used as a means of indirect transmission.
When a person is crushed by events and falls to his knees in prayer, his ego is temporarily crushed at the same time. After the prayer has been formulated, whether aloud or mentally, there are a few moments of complete exhaustion, of complete rest, which follow it. There is then temporary stillness and it is in this stillness that the Grace which is always emanating from the inner Being is able to do its healing and helping work. At the same time there may also be a corresponding external activity of a beneficial character.
Ascending to a higher level and studying the case of the aspirant on the Quest who by the practice of meditation deliberately brings about such moments of stillness, we see that he too opens a door to Grace. At this point it is necessary to clear away some confusion which often makes its appearance in spiritual literature and most especially in Indian literature. There we find an insistent and reiterated declaration of the absolute necessity of finding a guru so that by his Grace the aspirant may be helped towards enlightenment. When I say Indian literature I mean of course Indian Hindu literature, because in the Buddhist literature this insistence is generally absent and the aspirant is told to do the necessary work and he will get the natural result. The aspirant who has silently called for help may find that his call is answered by the appearance of a book or a person or a circumstance from whom he receives the help needed at the time. In the case of the appearance of a person, this may or may not be his destined guru, but it will be someone sufficient for the moment. The point is that what is called the guru helps prepare the right conditions which allow the inner Presence to make itself felt or which let it do its gracious work. The real help comes from this Grace--from the aspirant's own spiritual being, from himself. Saswitha, the Dutch healer, once said that he used his patients' own healing energy in order to treat them. Where did this healing energy come from? It came from their own subtler bodies, that is, from themselves; but Saswitha created the necessary conditions which enabled it to be released--when he was successful.
Grace is not necessarily bestowed deliberately or conferred personally. It may be received from someone who does not even know that he is its source. It may manifest through nothing more than the physical meeting between these two, or through a letter from one to the other, or even through the mere thinking about one of them by the other person. But, however obtained, Grace has its ultimate source in the mysterious Overself. This is why no man, however saintly, exalted, or advanced, can really give it to anyone: he can only be used by the higher power for this purpose, whether aware or unaware in the surface part of his mind of what is happening.
Ask for your share of the divine nectar and it shall not be withheld from you. Indeed, those who have turned from the peaceful hearth that is their due, to move through the gloomy houses of men to dispense it, have done so because of the dark flood of secret tears that break daily through the banks of human life.
Grace flows in wavelengths from the mind of an illuminated man to sensitive human receivers as if he were a transmitting station. It is by their feeling of affinity with him and faith in him that they are able to tunein to this grace.
No one but a man's own Being gives him grace. From the moment when he lays his head prostrate before It, and returns again and again to that posture, mentally always and physically if urged, grace is invoked.
He may receive grace directly from its source in the infinite love, power, and wisdom of the Overself, or indirectly through personal contact with some inspired man, or still more indirectly through such a man's intellectual or artistic productions.
The philosophic concept of Grace is different from, and not to be confounded with, the popular religio-theologic one. The latter carries arbitrariness, caprice, and favouritism within it. The former has nothing of the kind. Despite its mysteriousness, it often follows the fulfilment of certain conditions by the seeker; but even when it does not appear to do so, it is a legacy from causes set going in earlier lives on this earth. The notion that it is dispensed in an arbitrary manner by the Higher Power is to anthropomorphize that Power, to regard it as a glorified man. This is nonsense to anyone who can reflect correctly and think deeply on the Power's real nature. The notion of caprice is to make the manifestation of Grace an affair of mere whimsy, an emotion of the moment, a passing mood. This simply could not be, for grace descends from a plane which transcends such things. Lastly, the notion of favouritism is usually applied in connection with a guru, a holy man, or a godlike man. If such a man is really, fully, and profoundly illumined, he has goodwill to all other people, wishes that all shall come to the Light, not just those he favours or who favour him. His grace is always there, but men must be able to recognize him and accept it. He is always ready to share his experience of the divine ever-presence with everyone, but not everyone is ready to receive it. In short, grace is what comes to you from an inspired book, or a blessed letter, or a few moments of relaxation.
To expect help to come to us through God when it should and could come to us only through man, is one fallacy. To expect it to come through some "master" when it should and could come only from oneself, is another.
It is possible for someone to make Grace a living presence either through divine utterance or through extraordinary quietness.
Grace is not imparted by any sacrament of any church, although sometimes the state of mind engendered by intense faith in such a sacrament may open the believer to such impartation. The Quakers have several instances in their history of having received grace, yet they have no sacraments.
Whether he be a recipient of the Overself's healing grace, or its teaching grace, or its protective grace, the source remains one and the same.
Whatever and whoever an adept brings into the Overself's light will eventually be conquered by that light.
Grace may be willed and yet not manifest; may not even be thought of, and yet manifest. Someone hears the sound of a sage's voice, and lo! he begins to feel an inner glow without the sage seeking to do anything or knowing what is occurring.
No man has the right or capacity to dispense grace, but some men may sometimes be used by the higher power in effecting its own dispensations.
I do not use the term grace in the narrow sense given it by one of the world religions, that it flows to recipients only through the outward sacraments and ritualized communions of that Church, but in the wide sense that philosophy gives it.
It was not Christ's death that brought his grace into the human world, but his life.
It is not the teacher's business to impose his own will on the other, but to help the introduction and working of Grace in the other.
No words can re-create these moments of grace so well as music. Think of the blessed gift which mankind has received through such works as Handel's Messiah and Bach's Christmas Oratorio.
There has been too much abuse of the idea of special channels of grace and too many claimants have made unwarranted declarations.
Each time he deliberately holds loving thought towards anyone--whether disciple or not--he extends grace to that person.
Although the glimpse is the chief form taken by Grace, it would be a mistake to believe that it is the only form. There are other and different ones.
The man who fervently believes that Christ has the power to forgive his sins is not wrong. But his interpretation of his forgiver is wrong. The Christ who can do this for him must be a living power, not a dead historical personage. And that power is his own Christ-self, that is, Overself.
We do not mean by grace that lasting union with the Overself can be given from without by the favour of another man.
A master must use words to impart his teaching but he need not use them to impart his Grace.
The translator into German of The Wisdom of the Overself went to Egypt for a three-week rest to avoid nervous collapse after the death of a most beloved person, who she believed was her twin soul. While she was staying at a hotel in Luxor, various shoeshine men came there and sat outside, offering their services to guests. One day an elderly Arab appeared among them, with a striking face and an even more striking radiation of tranquillity. She was so drawn to him that she let him polish her shoes in preference to the one who usually did them. When he finished she paid him four piasters (which was double the normal payment), because she felt so comforted by his presence. He immediately returned half the money to her, saying, "The Lord will look after the needs of tomorrow. Two piasters are enough for today." He never came again to the hotel, but she constantly thought of him and his peace, to have something to save her from utter despair. After she had returned to Europe still grieving and depressed, he appeared to her in a dream surrounded by light and blessed her. When she awoke, his mental image still seemed there, but it said, "This is the last time I shall come to you. From now on you must take care of yourself." He never reappeared, but she slowly recovered thereafter.
That grace can come only through the benison of a minister appointed by some church, and no other channel, is mere superstition. It can come through any man who is inspired, or any book written by such a man, even if he dwells outside all churches. If a parson or a priest has himself entered into the source of Light, he can become a channel for it, but not otherwise.
This belief in a master's grace appears in Moorish countries of North Africa, where it is said in spiritual circles that the more time spent in the company of one who is blessed with spiritual power, the more do we absorb some of his power in the reflected form of "baraka."
Another channel for grace's manifestation is through circumstances. These may provide the right surroundings, the right persons, and the right happenings for it.
It is not for him to know in advance in what form the revelation will come, whether it will be an intuition, a strong pressure, a dream, or a particular happening, words read in a book, a phrase dropped from someone's lips, a mood engendered by music, art, Nature.
No Maharishee, no Aurobindo, no Saint Francis can save you. It is the Holy Spirit which saves man by its Grace. The ministrations of these men may kindle faith and quiet the mind, may help you to prepare the right conditions and offer a focus for your concentration, but they offer no guarantee of salvation. It is highly important not to forget this, not to deify man and neglect the true God who must come to you directly and act upon you directly.
Karma and forgiveness
Some have difficulty in understanding the exact place in the scheme of things of Grace. If they believe in the law of recompense, there seems to be no room left for the law of Grace. It is true that man must amend his conduct and correct his faults; that no escape from these necessary duties can be found. But they can be done alone or they can be done with the thought, remembrance, and help of the Overself. This second course introduces the possibility of Grace. It can enter only if the first has been followed and only if the aspiration has succeeded in lifting the consciousness to the Overself. A moment's contact will suffice for this purpose. What happens then is that the inner change is then completed and the remaining, unfulfilled karmic consequence is then annulled. There is no giving of "something for nothing" here, no breakdown of the law of recompense. The ego must use its will to repent and amend itself, in any case.
The forgiveness of sin is no myth, but it can become a fact only after the sinner has done penance and sought purification.
He who has himself sinned and suffered for his sin, who has attained inner understanding of it and made repentant atonement for it, who has then felt in his heart the benign grace of being forgiven--such a person can easily extend pardon to those who wrong him and compassion to those who wrong themselves by wronging others.
There are three types of Grace: firstly, that which has the appearance of Grace but which actually descends out of past good karma and is entirely self-earned; secondly, that which a Master gives to disciples or aspirants when the proper external and internal circumstances exist--this is in the nature of a temporary glimpse only but is useful because it gives a glimpse of the goal, a sense of the right direction, and inspiring encouragement to continue on the Quest; thirdly, when a man attains the fullest degree of realization, he is enabled in some cases to modify overhanging negative karma or in others to negate it because he has mastered the particular lessons that needed to be learned. This is particularly evident when the Hand of God removes obstructions in the path of his work. The philosophic conception of Grace shows it to be just and reasonable. It is indeed quite different from the orthodox religious belief about it, a belief which regards it as an arbitrary intervention by the Higher Power for the benefit of its human favourites.
By this grace the past's errors may be forgotten so that the present's healing may be accepted. In the joy of this grace, the misery of old mistakes may be banished forever. Do not return to the past--live only in the eternal Now--in its peace, love, wisdom, and strength.
We have the authority of Lao Tzu that there is such a thing as pardon. He says: "For what did the ancients so much prize this Tao? Was it not because by it those who had sinned might escape?"
Would forgiveness be an impossible nullification of the law of karma? Is there no way out of one karmic consequence leading to and creating a further one in an endless and hopeless series? I believe an answer to the first question has been given by Jesus, and to the second by Aeschylus. Matt. 12:31: "Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men," was Jesus' clear statement. As for the difficult problem propounded by the second question, consider the solution suggested by Aeschylus: "Only in the thought of Zeus, whatever Zeus may be." Karma must operate automatically, but the Power behind karma knows all things, controls all things, controls even karma itself, knows and understands when forgiveness is desirable. No human mind can fathom that Power; hence Aeschylus adds the qualifying phrase, "whatever Zeus may be." Forgiveness does not destroy the law of karma; it complements the work of that law. "All of us mortals need forgiveness. We live not as we would but as we can," wrote Menander nearly four hundred years before Jesus' time.
The notion of grace as given out in popular religion was helpful perhaps to the masses but needs a large revision for the philosophic seekers. It is not granted at the whim of a Personal God nor solely after deserving labours for it. It is rather more like a steady permanent emanation from a man's own Overself, always available, but of which he must partake by himself. If at times it seems to intervene specially on his behalf, that is an appearance due to the immense wisdom in timing the release of a particular good karma.
Just as this generation has lived to see the experience of gravity upset by the weightlessness experiences of spacemen, so in all the generations there have been those who have found the experience of karma upset by grace and its forgiveness.
When the ego's total submission is rewarded by the Overself's holy Grace, he is granted pardon for the blackest past and his sins are truly forgiven him.
Grace will shatter the power of an evil past.
To make the result dependent on Grace alone would be to deny the existence and power of the universal law of recompense. The need of effort can only be ignored by those who fail to see that it plays an indispensable part in all evolution, from the lowly physical to the lofty spiritual.
Who can tell the miraculous power of the Overself? Its Grace may lift the most degraded of men into the most exalted.
A man who has sinned, erred, or been mistaken much and wakened up at last to what he has been doing, will instinctively seek first for affectionate understanding and sympathetic forgiveness. The more he has strayed, the more he needs them.
It is not possible to have the punishment of past errors remitted until we ourselves let them go by taking their lessons fully and fairly to heart.
Buddha found himself in a land where degenerate priestcraft had cunningly persuaded the masses to believe that every sin could be expiated, and its present or future effects in destiny circumvented, by some paid-for ritual, sacrifice, or magic. He tried to raise the moral level of his people by denying the pardon of sin and affirming the rigorous governance of karmic law, the strict unalterability of unseen justice. Jesus, on the contrary, found himself in a land where religion proclaimed harshly, "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." He too tried to raise the moral level of his people. But a wisdom not less than Buddha's made him meet the situation by stressing forgiveness of sins and the mercy of God. "The law of recompense brings every man his due and no external religious form can change its working" is, in effect, the gist of much Buddhist teaching. "True," Jesus might have said, "but there is also the law of love, God's love, for those who have the faith to invoke it and the will to obey it." Let us grant that both the prophets were right if we consider the different groups they were addressing, and that both gave the kind of help that was most needed by each group. Let no one deny to divinity a virtue which is possessed by humanity. The higher self's response to the ego's penitence is certain. And such response may stretch all the way to complete forgiveness of sins.
The failure to appreciate the role of grace because of faith in the law of karma is as deplorable as the tendency to exaggerate it because of faith in a personal deity.
Such is the wonder of grace that the worst sinner who falls to the lowest depths may thereafter rise to the loftiest heights. Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna have plainly said so.
Those who believe that the universe is governed by law and that human life, as a part of it, must also be governed by law, find it hard to believe in the forgiveness of sins, and the doctrine of Grace of which it is a part. But let them consider this: that if the man fails to appropriate the lesson and to amend his conduct, if he lapses back into the old sins again, then their forgiveness automatically lapses too. The law of recompense is not negated by his forgiveness but its own working is modified by the parallel working of a higher law.
The Overself acts through inexorable law, yes, but love is part of the law. Grace violates no principle but rather fulfils the highest principle.
Grace can be a ripening of karma, or a response to a direct appeal to a higher power, or can come through a saint's appeals. Faith in the Power is rewarded by grace. If the appeal fails, adverse karma must be too strong. Materialists do not make such appeals, so they receive no Grace unless the accumulation of good deeds brings good karma.
Lift up your eyes from the ground to the sun of a justified hope. We have it on the authority of Jesus that there is mercy or forgiveness for the worst sinners if they set about obtaining it in the right way. And as you do not come anywhere near that category, surely there is some hope and some help for you too.
The notion that we must qualify for Grace before we can receive it may not, apparently, hold true in some cases. But even there the laws of reincarnation and recompense will supply the missing connections.
There is hope for all because there is Grace for all. No man is so sinful that he cannot find forgiveness, cleansing, and renewal.
The power of the Other
Where is the hope for mankind if there is no Grace, only karma? If it took so many ages to collect the karmic burden we now carry, then it will take a similar period to disengage from it--the forbidding task will continue throughout every reincarnation until the man dies again and again--unless the individual collector, the ego, is no longer here to claim it. But to cancel its own existence is impossible by its own efforts, yet possible by its non-effort, its surrender, its letting in the Higher Power, by no longer claiming its personal identity. The coming in, when actualized, is Grace for it is not his doing.
The aspirant who depends solely on his own unaided efforts at self-improvement will nevertheless one day feel the need of an outside power to bestow what he cannot get by himself. The task he has undertaken cannot be perfectly done or completely done by himself alone. He will eventually have to go down on his knees and beg for Grace. The ego cannot save itself. Why? Because secretly it does not want to do so, for that would mean its own extinction. So unless he forces it to seek for Grace, all his endeavours will bring him only a partial result, never a fully satisfactory one. Those who say that the idea of Grace violates the concept of universal law do not look into it deeply enough. For then they would see that, on the contrary, it fulfils the law of the individual mind's effort, which they believe in, by complementing it with the law of the Universal Mind's activity inside the individual, which they ought also to believe in. God cannot be separated from man. The latter does not live in a vacuum.
The destiny of the ego is to be lifted up into the Overself, and there end itself or, more correctly, transcend itself. But because it will not willingly bring its own life to a cessation, some power from outside must intervene to effect the lifting up. That power is Grace and this is the reason why the appearance of Grace is imperative. Despite all its aspirations and prayers, its protestations and self-accusations, the ego does not want the final ascension.
The case for Grace is that only the Overself can tell us what the Overself is, can teach us about itself. The ego-intellect cannot do so; the senses certainly cannot; and ordinary experience seems far from it.
No man can render himself so independent of bodily appetites and human desires that they cannot sway his judgements or decisions, unless he is inwardly supported and strengthened by grace.
The "me" is in us, and attempts to destroy it and to remove its existence from consciousness yield here and there only to reappear later. Only grace can effectively overcome its tyranny. Surrender to the Overself by constantly turning toward it ends the struggle and brings peace. The ego then lies, obeisant, the victim and no longer the victor.
It does not lie within man's power to gain more than a glimpse of this diviner life. If he is to be established firmly and lastingly in it, then a descent of grace is absolutely necessary. Artificial methods will never bring this about. Rites and sacrifices and magical performances, puzzling over Zen koans or poring over the newest books, will never bring it.
The closer he comes to the Overself, the more actively is the Grace able to operate on him. The reason for this lies in the very nature of Grace, since it is nothing other than a benign force emanating from the Overself. It is always there but is prevented by the dominance of the animal nature and the ego from entering his awareness. When this dominance is sufficiently broken down, the Grace comes into play more and more frequently, both through Glimpses and otherwise.
The Holy Spirit's light alone can open his understanding and that of those around him.
Grace acts as a catalytic agent. Where a man is unable to liberate himself from the animal and the ego, it assists him to do so. Where rule of the mechanical responses of his senses, his glands, and his unconscious complexes holds him captive to an established pattern, it sets him free.
Nothing that you do can bring about this wonderful transformation, for it is not the result of effort. It does not depend on the power of your will or the strength of your desire. It is something which can only be done to you, not by you. It is the result of your absorption by another and higher Force. It depends on Grace. It is more elusive yet more satisfying than anything else in life.
Most things may be acquired by violent effort, but not Grace.
It is the power of the Other which pulls him upward out of his attachments to body and earth, cajoling him to do what he cannot do of himself--let go. This power, when so felt, we call grace.
Let him leave some room in his calculations for grace. The conquest of self, and certainly the negation of self, must in the end be a gift of the Lord.
When the ego knows that it is beaten, when it gives up its strivings, efforts, and goals, when it lies prostrate and calls out to the higher Power in despair or surrender, there is then a chance that the Grace will appear. However, lest there be any misunderstanding on this point, it must be said that this is only one way for Grace to appear, and there are other ways not so unhappy and much more joyous.
Where man fails, Grace succeeds. Where his ego laughs at all his efforts to dislodge it, he has to surrender it in humility before the guru or God, whose grace alone can do what his own act cannot do.
It is not within the power of man to finish either the purificatory work or its illumination-sequel: his Overself, by its action within his psyche, must bring that about. This activating power is grace.
Grace is not a fruit which can be artificially forced. It must be left to ripen of itself.
What he is unable to attain by all his efforts will, if he is blessed by Grace, be given him unexpectedly and suddenly when all desire for it has lulled.
Grace is a necessity before the ego can go up in the blaze of divine energy.
What Grace does is to draw the man's attention away from himself, from his ego, to the Overself.
Since grace does not depend immediately and directly on the man himself, on what he thinks and does, he cannot make a glimpse happen by any act of will. At best he can draw nearer the source of this experience.
Many have failed to disidentify themselves from their thoughts, despite all attempts. This shows its difficulty, not its impossibility. In such cases, grace alone will liberate them from their thought-chains.
When the ego is sufficiently crushed by its frustrations or failures--and sooner or later this may happen to most of us--it will turn, either openly or secretly, to the admission that it needs outside help. And what other help can it then find than Grace, whether mediated directly from the Overself or indirectly through a master?
The ego, the personal limited self, cannot lift itself into the Higher Self, and if the student at times has felt dismally powerless to make progress by self-effort, he will have learned the priceless lesson of the need of Grace.
He cannot take any virtue to himself because he did not make the change by himself. It was a gift--the gift of Grace.
The supreme effect of Grace, its most valuable benefit, is when its touch causes the man to forfeit his ego-dominance, when it takes away the personal obstruction to the Overself.
Only when the ego, thwarted and disappointed, hurt and suffering, finds that it cannot sufficiently change its own character, is it ready to beg, out of its helplessness, for Grace. So long as it believed that by its own power it could do so, it failed. And the way to ask for Grace is to sit perfectly still, to do nothing at all, since all previous doing failed.
Since the very "I" which seeks the truth and practises the meditation is itself so illusory, it cannot attain what it seeks or even practise with success, unless it also receives help from a higher source. Only two such sources are possible. The first and best is the Overself's direct grace. This must be asked for, begged for, and wept for. The next best is the grace of a master who has himself entered into truth-consciousness.
He may come at length to the disconcerting conclusion that his spiritual hopes would never be fulfilled. But in doing this he is not allowing for the unknown X-factor, the higher and mysterious Overself.
The revelation which brings one's own consciousness into coincidence with the Overself comes only by Grace.
When a man's strivings mature, the insight dawns of itself. Yet he cannot tell which day this is to be, cannot precipitate the wondrous event by his own will. For this depends on grace.
We need the power it gives, the understanding it bestows, and the solace it brings.
If he insists on clinging to the ego, he makes it impossible to know truth, approach God, or experience the timelessness of reality. Only an outer intervention can then help him, only the Grace coming direct or through some human channel.
"By him is He realized to whom He is full of grace," says the Katha Upanishad.
The significance of self-effort
Just as we have to look at the world in the twofold way of its immediate and ultimate understanding, so we have to find enlightenment in a twofold way through our own self-creative efforts and through the reception of Grace.
Grace is the hidden power at work along with his spirit's aspiration and his efforts at discipline. This does not mean that it will continue to work if he drops both aspiration and effort. It may, but more often it will not.
It seems a tiring and endless task, this, of tracking down the ego and struggling with it in its own lair. No sooner have we given ourselves the satisfaction of believing that we have reached its last lair and fought the last struggle than it reappears once again, and we have to begin once more. Can we never hope to finish this task? Is the satisfaction of victory always to be a premature one? When such a mood of powerlessness overwhelms us utterly, we begin at last to cast all further hope for victory upon Grace alone. We know that we cannot save ourselves and we look to the higher power. We realize that self-effort is absolutely necessary to our salvation, but we discover later that it is not enough for our salvation. We have to be humbled to the ground in humility and helplessness before Grace will appear and itself finish the work which we have started.
It is important to note that in the Bhagavad Gita the introduction of the subject of Grace and its actual descent upon the disciple Arjuna come only at the very end of the book--after Arjuna, by patient discipleship, has really earned it. Without Grace there is no entry. We may strive and weep, but unless the Grace falls on us we cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven. How and when it should come depends partly upon our karma, partly upon our yearning, and partly upon the channel which God uses.
The passing over into higher consciousness cannot be attained by the will of any man, yet it cannot be attained without the will of man. Both grace and effort are needed.
If all his efforts are concentrated on self-improvement, then the circle of his thinking will be a small and limited one. The petty will become over-important in his own eyes and the insignificant will become full of meaning. It is needful to balance the one attitude with another--surrender to and faith in the power of Grace.
Constant self-effort can thin down the egoism but not eliminate it. That final act is impossible because the ego will not willingly slay itself. What self-effort does is to prepare the way for the further force which can slay it and thus makes the operation timely and its success possible. What it further does is to improve intelligence and intuition and to ameliorate the character, which also prepares the individual and attracts those forces. They are nothing else than the pardoning, healing, and, especially, the transforming powers of Grace.
To make any spiritual venture explicitly efficacious and to bring it to complete success, certain conditions must first be fulfilled. Most of them can be provided by the venturer himself but a few of them must come from outside himself. These are grace and favourable destiny.
However much he exerts his intellect he cannot reach the final revelation, the clearest enlightenment, for this is a gift of grace.
While he patiently waits with surrendered will for the oncoming of divine Grace, he directs conscious effort to improve himself and thus, incidentally, deserves it.
It is not by special intervention that the divine grace appears in his life. For it was there all the time, and behind all his struggles, as a constant unbroken radiation from the Overself. But those struggles were like the hoisting of sails on a ship. Once up, they are able to catch the wind and propulsion begins automatically.
Only the double viewpoint does justice to the double truth that both personal effort and bestowed grace are needed, or that both ego and Overself are present.
When your efforts have brought you to a certain point, then only do they get pushed aside or slowly drawn away by another power--your higher Self. What really happens is that the energy or power which you are using spontaneously ignites. It is that which enables you to do, to get done, to achieve. The all-important point is that the active power is not your own will, but is really a direct visitation of what we must call Grace. It is strongly felt, this experience of the higher power or higher Self.
A man can look to his own knowledge and his own actions to carry him a long distance on this path, but in the end he must look to grace for final results.
He cannot bring this enlightenment into being--much less into permanent being--by his own willpower. It can only come to him. But although striving for it may probably end in failure, the masses' indifference to it is worse. For whereas he will at least be open to recognize and accept it when it does happen to come, their doors of perception will be shut to it, or, bewildered and frightened, they will run away from it.
Man has no power of his own to command Grace but he does have the power to turn away from smug satisfaction with his own ego and throw himself at the feet of the Overself--the source of Grace.
He who told us to note the lilies of the field also told us the parable of the talents. Whatever the divine Grace brings us, it brings it through our personal effort.
When he becomes acutely aware both of the sacred duty of self-improvement and of the pitiful weakness which he brings to it, the need of getting the redeeming and transforming power of Grace follows logically. He is then psychologically ready to receive it. He cannot draw Grace to himself but can only invoke and await it.
In the end, and after we have tried sufficiently long and hard, we find that the knot of self cannot be untied. It is then that we have to call on grace and let it work on us, doing nothing more than to give our consent and to accept its methods.
It is a simple error to attribute to grace what properly belongs to his own nature, but it is spiritual arrogance to attribute to his own power what properly belongs to Grace.
If he fails but persists despite the failures, one day he will find himself suddenly possessed of the power to win, the power to achieve what had hitherto seemed impossible for his limited ability. This gift--for it is nothing else--is Grace.
If grace had to depend solely on human merit, if it had to be fully worked for and earned, it would no longer be grace. It really depends on the mysterious will of the higher power. But this is not to say that it comes by the caprice of the higher power. If a man puts himself into a sufficiently receptive attitude, and if he applies the admonition "Be still and know that I am God," he is doing something to attract grace.
When he has worked and worked upon himself as well as he is able, but comes in the end to acknowledge that success in getting rid of his weaknesses is beyond his power, he is ready to realize the need of Grace. And if it comes--for which such realization is essential--he will discover that final success is easy and, sometimes, even instantaneous with Grace.
If he thinks that the result depends wholly upon his personal endeavours after holiness, he is wrong. But if he does little or nothing to control himself because he waits for the Grace of God or the help of a master to come into his life, he is also wrong.
The idea of conquering his own lower nature solely by his own efforts does not allow any room for Grace. It would be better to find a more balanced approach. He needs to learn in his efforts that they cannot of themselves bring all he seeks. The first step to attract Grace is to humble himself in prayer and to confess his weakness.
When he has passed successfully through the last trial, overcome the last temptation, and made the last sacrifice of his ego, the reward will be near at hand. The Overself's Grace will become plain, tangible, and wholly embracing.
Belief in the reality of Grace and hope of its coming are excellent. But they are not to be turned into alibis for spiritual sloth and moral sin.
The strength needed for sustained mystical contemplation must come at first from his own ego's persistence but will come in the end from the Overself's Grace.
Although personal effort and the will toward self-mastery do much to advance him on this quest, it is grace, and grace alone, which can advance him to the goal in the last stages or assist him out of an impasse in the earlier ones.
First, he must attempt to lift himself upwards, taking the needed time and making the needed effort. Then he will feel that some other force is lifting him gratuitously--this is the reaction, Grace.
To come into the consciousness of the Overself is an event which can happen only by grace. Yet there is a relation between it and the effort which preceded it, even though it is not an exact, definite, and universally valid relation.
We must exert our own will and strength to prepare the way for, and make us receptive to, the divine grace. Thus the one complements the other; both are necessary parts of the World-Idea.
Jesus has said that it is Grace which starts and keeps a man on the way to God, even though his heart and will have to make their effort also. Ramana Maharshi confirmed this statement.
How can the ego's self-effort bring about the grand illumination? It can only clear the way for it, cleanse the vehicle of it, and remove the weaknesses that shut it out. But the light of wisdom is a property of the innermost being--the Soul--and therefore this alone can bring it to a man. How can the ego give or attain something which belongs to the Overself? It cannot. Only the divine can give the divine. That is to say, only by grace can illumination be attained, no matter how ardently he labours for it.
No man is excluded from that first touch of Grace which puts him upon the Quest. All may receive it and, in the end, all do. But we see everywhere around us the abundant evidence that he will not be ready for it until he has had enough experience of the world, enough frustration and disappointment to make him pause and to make him humbler.
The aspirant who cries out in despair that he is unable either to make progress or to get a mystical experience and that Grace seems absent or indifferent does not understand that he has within himself, as every man has, a place which is the abode of Grace. When I say every man, I mean every human being--which includes the vast multitudes of non-aspirants too. Just as the exhausted athlete may with some patience find what he calls his second wind, so the man whose thought, feeling, will, and aspiration are exhausted may find his interior deeper resource; but this requires patience and passivity. The need to hope, to wait, and to be passive is the most important of all.
Some Questers become depressed and discouraged when they learn that grace is the final essential ingredient for success on the Quest. This seems to put the issue out of their hands and to make it a matter of luck. They are taking too negative an attitude. It is true that grace is not subject to their command, but the atmosphere which attracts it, the conditions in which it can most easily enter, are subject to him.
God's Grace is the spark which must fall into human effort to make it finally effective.
We may wander about and wait for Grace to come or we may follow a disciplined way of working for it.
If the Overself's Grace does not come to the help of a man, all his exertions will be fruitless. But, on the other hand, if he does not exert himself, it is unlikely that the Grace will come at all.
His part is to open a way, remove obstructions, gain concentration, so that the Overself's grace can reach him. The union of both activities produces the result.
He is not asked to free himself from all feeling, nor to throw out all desire, but to attain a measure of calm. This can come through a twofold source. First, he must learn and cultivate self-control. Second, his aspiration and purification must succeed in attracting grace.
Preparing for grace
The fact of Grace being an unpredictable descent from above does not mean that we are entirely helpless in the matter, that there is nothing we can do about it. We can at least prepare ourselves both to attract Grace and to respond aright when it does come. We can cleanse our hearts, train our minds, discipline our bodies, and foster altruistic service even now. And then every cry we send out to invoke grace will be supported and emphasized by these preparations.
When his strongest passion is to make real the presence of the Soul and when he demonstrates this by the strivings and sacrifices of his whole life, he is not far from the visitation of Grace.
Let him feel even in the very heat of this world's activity that his Guardian Angel is ever with him, that it is not farther away than his own inmost heart. Let him nurture this unshakeable faith, for it is true. Let him make it the basis of all his conduct, try to ennoble and purify his character incessantly, and turn every failing into a stepping-stone for a further rise. The quest winds through ups and downs, so he must make despair a short-lived thing and hope an unkillable one. Success will not depend on his own personal endeavours alone, although they are indispensable; it is also a matter of Grace and this he can get by unremitting prayer, addressed to whatever higher power he believes in most, and by the compassion of his guide.
If he wants the grace he must do something to earn it, such as attend to the wastage of time on trivial or even harmful (because negative) gossip and activities; purify his character; study the revelations of sages; reflect on the course of his life; practise mind-stilling and emotional discipline.
When the Quest becomes the most important activity in a man's life, even more important than his worldly welfare, then is Grace likely to become a reality rather than a theory in his life too.
The commonest way, the most usual way, of attracting grace was indicated by the Carthusian monk Guiges, more than eight hundred years ago: "It would be a rare exception to gain [the degree of] contemplation without prayer. . . . Prayer gains the grace of God."
Swami Ramdas gives the advice that the way to get Grace is to pray for it. The philosophical point of view is that one must both pray and pay for it.
It is said that grace is given only to a few chosen persons and that no matter how hard a man works on himself, unless he is fortunate enough to receive it, the illumination he wants will evade him. This teaching sounds depressing because it seems to put us at the mercy of caprice, favouritism, or arbitrariness. But the mystery of grace is not so mysterious as that. We are all children of God: there are no special favourites. Grace can come to all who seek it, but they must first make themselves ready to receive it. If they thirst, hunger, and seek with their whole heart and body, and if in addition they make the gestures of penance, self-denial, and purification both to prove their sincerity and to help achieve this readiness, it is inconceivable that the grace will not come to them in the end.
It is deeply sacred, yet could only have been brought forth through the ardent seekings and intense sufferings of a very human being.
A man must first recognize his weaknesses, admit his deficiencies, and deplore his shortcomings if Grace is to come to him. By that act and attitude of self-abasement he takes the first step to opening the door of his inner being to its presence. This is a necessary procedure but it is still only a first step. The second is to call out for help--whether to God or man--and to keep on calling. The third step is to get to work upon himself unremittingly and amend or elevate his character.
By forgiving those who have harmed us, we put ourselves in the position of earning forgiveness for the harm we ourselves have done.
The need for this purification arises from the need to remove obstructions to the inflow of the blessed feeling of Grace, the light of new understanding, and the current of higher will.
Those who are asking the Overself to give them its greatest blessing, its grace, should ask themselves what they have been willing to give the Overself--how much time, love, self-sacrifice, and self-discipline.
These repeated prayers and constant aspirations, these daily meditations and frequent studies, will in time generate a mental atmosphere of receptivity to the light which is being shed upon him by the Grace. The light may come from outside through a man or a book, or it may come from inside through an intuition or an experience.
It is true that Grace is something which must be given to a man from a source higher and other than himself. But it is also true that certain efforts made by him may attract this gift sooner than it would otherwise have come. Those efforts are: constant prayer, periodical fasting.
The man who has the courage to be his own bitterest critic, who has the balance to be so without falling into paralysing depression as a result, who uses his self-analysis so constructively that every shortcoming is the object of constant remedial attention--he is the man who is preparing a way for the advent of Grace.
Grace is always being offered, in a general way, but we do not see the offer; we are blind and so pass it by. How can we reverse this condition and acquire sight? By preparing proper conditions. First, mark off a period of each day--a short period to begin with--for retreat from the ordinary out-going way of living. Give up this period to in-going, to meditation. Come out of the world for a few minutes.
The pursuit of virtue and the practice of self-control, the acceptance of responsibility for one's inner life--these things are as necessary as grace, and help to attract it.
Whoever invokes the Overself's Grace ought to be informed that he is also invoking a long period of self-improving toil and self-purifying affliction necessary to fit him to receive that Grace.
He may fall into dismay at times but should never let it become despair. This helps grace to come.
The fact is that the higher power dispenses grace to all, but not all are able, willing, or ready to receive it, not all can recognize it and so many pass it by. This is why men must first work upon themselves as a preparation.
What can anyone do to get Grace? He can do three things: first, want it ardently; second, prepare within himself the conditions which invite and do not obstruct it; third, meet a Master.
The conditions which help to make Grace possible include first, a simpler life than that of modern thing-ridden civilization; second, communion with, and veneration of, Nature.
The ultimate secret of Grace has never been solved by those who do not know that previous reincarnations contribute to it. Some men receive it only after years of burning aspiration and toil but others, like Francis of Assisi, receive it while unprepared and unaspiring. The ordinary candidate cannot afford to take any chance in this matter, cannot risk wasting a lifetime waiting for the unlikely visitation of Grace. He had better offer his all, dedicate his life, and surrender his loves to one all-consuming passion for the Overself, if he wants the power of Grace to flow into him. If he is unable to give himself so totally, let him do the next best thing, which is to find someone who has himself been granted the divine Grace and who has become inwardly transformed by it. Let him become such a man's disciple, and he will then have a better chance of Grace descending on him than he would have had if he walked alone.
The gift of grace is ever available--but on terms--yet few care to benefit by it. This is for different reasons with each person. However, it may be summarized by saying that the effort to lift self out of self is too hard and so is not only not made, but also not desired.
The aspiration which mounts upward from his heart is answered by the grace which descends downward into it.
If he makes himself worthy of grace, he need not worry about whether he will ever receive it. His earnest strivings will sooner or later merit it. And this is the best way to render its bestowal a likely happening.
Grace needs a prepared mind to receive it, a self-controlled life to accept it, an aspiring heart to attract it.
If he tries to fulfil these conditions of sincere self-preparation, and if he tries to practise service, compassion, and kindliness, Grace will come and its meaning will be found. For Grace holds a significance that is very close to love, to unselfish love. What he has given to others will be returned to him by the law of recompense.
Those who seek grace should do something to deserve it. Let them practise forgiveness of others who have injured them; let them extend mercy to anyone in their power or needing help from them; let them stop slaughtering innocent animals. This will really be as if they were granting grace themselves. What they give to others, they may expect to receive themselves.
It has been said that the Short Path is absolutely necessary because the ego on the Long Path cannot by all its own efforts attain enlightenment. The higher individuality must come into play, and that entry onto the scene is called grace. This does not mean an arbitrary intervention, favouring one person and repulsing another. It comes by itself when the proper conditions have been prepared for it, by the opening or surrender of the self, by the turning of the whole being to its source. This openness, surrender, or passivity to the Other is not to be attained by quietening the thoughts alone. The mind is open then but it has to be opened to the highest, directed to the highest, aspiring to the highest. Otherwise, there is the mere passivity of the medium, or of the thought-reader, without the divine presence.
If grace is tardy in coming, look to the ego's willingness to follow the path chalked out for it, whether by outer guide or inner voice. Has he been unwilling to obey the higher will when it conflicted with his own?
The Grace comes into his mind when thoughts are still and quiet, and into his life when ego is stilled and relinquished.
If he cannot compel or command grace, he can at least ask, work, and prepare for it. For if he is not prepared properly by understanding he may not be willing to submit when it does come, if the form it takes is not to his liking.
Grace, from a source above and beyond himself, is the last answer to all his questions, the last solvent of all his problems, when his own intellect fails with the one and his own management cannot cope with the other. And the first prayerful call for the gift must go forth by way of silencing the confusion within himself and stilling the tumult within his mind. The ego must recognize its own natural untrustworthiness and must pause, stop its persistent activity, in passive meditation.
Two things are required of a man before Grace will manifest itself in him. One is the capacity to receive it. The other is the co-operation with it. For the first, he must humble the ego; for the second, he must purify it.
When a man feels the authentic urge to walk a certain way, but cannot see how it will be possible either because of outer circumstances or of inner emotions, let him trust and obey it. For if he does so, the Grace of the Overself will manipulate these circumstances or alter his feelings accordingly. But it will do this so as to lead to his further growth and real need, not for satisfaction of his personal desires or his supposed wants. Let him accept its leading, not the ego's blindness.
The real bar to the entry of grace is simply the preoccupation of his thoughts with himself. For then the Overself must leave him to his cares.
If there is any law connected with grace, it is that as we give love to the Overself so do we get grace from it. But that love must be so intense, so great, that we willingly sacrifice time and thought to it in a measure which shows how much it means to us. In short, we must give more in order to receive more. And love is the best thing we can give.
The student may throw himself with full assurance on the mercy of the Higher Power, ask for forgiveness of past error, and pray for the descent of Grace. He will be knocking very loudly at the door of the Overself, and gradually he will find that his own weakness was but the shadow of coming strength, his own helplessness but the precursor of coming Grace.
In all spiritual situations where some help, light, or protection is sought, allow for the X-factor--grace. Try to invoke it by entering the silence, keeping the entire self bodily and inwardly still.
Confession is a good practice when it is a sincere honest recognition that certain actions of the past were wrong actions, whether they were merely imprudent or wholly evil; that they ought never to have been committed; and that if faced by similar situations again he will try his utmost not to commit them. Remorse, penitence, and a desire to make amends are the emotional feelings which ought to accompany the intellectual recognition if it is to have effective value in the future. According to custom, there are three ways in which confession can be made. There is the way of certain religions, which enjoin the presence of an ordained priest. This is useful mainly to adherents of these religions who can bring themselves to have faith in both the dogmas and the priests. But whether done in a religious atmosphere or not, confession to another person possesses worth only if that other is really of a spiritual status superior to the sinner's own and not merely claiming or pretending it. If this safeguard is present, then confession releases the tension of secretly held sins. Secondly, there is the way of some sects and cults, which enjoin the presence of a group. This too is useful only to fellow believers, and useful in a very limited way. It offers emotional relief. But it degenerates all too easily into egoistic exhibitionism. It is certainly much less desirable than the first way. Private confession done in solitude and directed toward one's own higher Self is the third way. If the sinner experiences a feeling of being inwardly cleansed, and subsequently shows no tendency to repeat the sin, he may know that his confession has been effective and that the Overself's Grace has come to him in response to the act. It is a mistake to believe, however, that a single act of confession is all that is needed. It may be, but most often such response comes only as the climax of a series of such acts. It is also a mistake to believe that any confession has any value if the sinner's ego is not abjectly humiliated and made to feel not only its foolishness and unworthiness but also its dependence on the higher power for help in attaining wisdom and self-mastery.
He needs the humility to admit that it is only as the Overself permits itself to be known that it is known at all. That is to say, it is only by grace that this blessed event ever happens.
When Christ called his hearers to repentance, he did not mean that they should leave their present state of "sin" and return to a previous state supposedly virtuous. He meant that they should leave the old altogether and go forward into something entirely new.
Few men find their way to the real prayer for Grace before they find their hearts broken, their minds contrite.
In his reception of grace, whether during the temporary mystic state or during an entire life period, he needs to be perfectly passive, unresistant, if he is to absorb all the benefit. Nevertheless, a certain kind of activity must be apparent in the early stage when he must take part in the operation by putting down the ego and its desires, attitudes, or clingings.
When a man begins to see the error of his ways, to repent greatly and lament deeply about them, it is a sign that Grace is beginning to work within him. But how far the Grace will go and whether it will carry him into a religious conversion or still farther, into a mystical experience, no one can predict.
Endorsement of the moral value of confession should not be mistaken as an endorsement of the institutional value of absolution. There are churches which require confession from their believers and which give absolution in return. The kind of confession philosophy advocates is secret, private, individual, and made in the depth of one's own heart, quite silently. The kind of absolution philosophy recognizes is grace given by the individual's own higher Self, just as silently and as secretly as the confession itself should be made. No church and no man has the power to absolve him from his sins, but only his higher self.
When the ego is willing to let its own tyranny be cancelled--and it never does so unless it has been crushed to the ground by the fates or by philosophy--when it comes to the end of its tether and gives up, the grace of the Overself is the response.
We should not egotistically interfere with the working of grace when it comes but should let ourselves be borne unresistingly and, as it were, helplessly upon its gentle current.
Some Oriental mystics of the Near Eastern Islamic faith often used a phrase in their talks with me that captured my attention but evaded their definition. It is easy to see why this was so. The phrase was "the opening of the heart." What this means can only be known by a personal experience. The intellect may talk and write about it but the end product will be hollow words unless the feelings talk or write about it themselves. For the experience of opening a door to the entry of grace and love must be felt personally.
Having done all he could do by his own strivings, being aware that he has travelled so far by the power of self-dependence, he now realizes that he can do no more except throw himself humbly on the Grace. He must wait patiently for its coming to complete, by its power transcending his own, what has thus been started.
Sorrow for a wrong course of life, the resolve to abandon it, and the readiness to make definite amendments are prerequisites to secure Grace.
As the desires depart, they leave the heart vacant for tenancy by the Overself.
We must make way for the Overself if we desire its presence. But we can do so only by pushing aside the objects, the conditions, and the beings who block the path into our consciousness, through our attachment to them. Removing them will not fulfil this purpose but severing the attachments will fulfil it.
It is not the lack of grace that really accounts for our situation, but the lack of our co-operation with the ever-existing grace.
In the end Nature will respond to his aspiration. Patience must be cultivated.
When he can come to this point and say, "Without this inner life and light, I am nothing," when he reverses the world's values and seeks the Value-less, he is ready for the initiation by Grace.
The internal work of Grace is only possible if the aspirant assents to the direction it is taking and supports the transformation it is effecting. If it is severing him from an attachment which he is unwilling to abandon and if he withholds his consent, the Grace itself may be forced to withdraw. The same may happen if he clings to a desire from which it seeks to free him.
If no one in this world can achieve perfection but only approach it, the personal realization of this fact at the proper time and after many efforts will lead to a deep humility and surrender. This may open the door of one's being to Grace, and thence to the beatific experience of the Overself, the Ever-Perfect.
Let Grace in by responding positively to the Teaching and by letting go of the ego.
Grace is not a one-way operation. It is not, as a few erroneously believe, getting something free. There is nothing free anywhere. For when the Grace starts to operate it will also start to dispel those negative qualities which obstruct it. They will resist, but if you adopt the correct attitude of self-surrender and are willing to let them go, they will not be able to resist long. But if you hold on to them because they seem a part of yourself, or because they seem "natural," then either the Grace will withdraw or it will lead you into circumstances and situations that remove the obstructions forcibly, and consequently painfully.
There is a point where self-effort must cease and self-abasement must begin. Not to recognize it is to show conceit and hinder Grace.
The highest object of worship, devotion, reverence--what the Hindus name Bhakti--is that which is given to the World-Mind--what Hindus call Ishvara. But remember always that you are present within It and It is ever present within you. So the source of grace is in you too. Silence the ego, be still, and glimpse the fact that grace is the response to devotion that goes deep enough to approach the stillness, is sincere enough to put ego aside. Help is no farther off than your own heart. Hope on!
The mysterious Presence
The divine grace brings a man not what he asks but what he needs. The two are sometimes the same but sometimes not. It is only with the wise that they always coincide; with others they may stand in sharp conflict.
Even if a man does not respond to it, the divine presence in the world is itself a grace. Even if he is quite unaware of its being in his heart, his centre, its guidance and the intuitive thoughts which may arise are manifestations of grace.
There is a difference of opinion about the alleged inaccessibility of the Overself. Among those who call themselves mystics in the West and yogis in the East, some claim that every man may justifiably hold the hope of penetrating to the transcendental realm of Overself, provided he will give the necessary time and effort. But others claim that the certainty which attends scientific processes is not found here, that a man may spend a lifetime in searching after God and fail in the end. This uncertainty of result is absent from standardized laboratory processes and present only in experimental ones. There is a mystery here, both in the object and the operation of the search. It cannot be solved by the intellect, for it is the mystery of Grace.
In the early stages of spiritual progress, Grace may show itself in the bestowal of ecstatic emotions. This encourages him to pursue the Quest and to know that he is so far pursuing it rightly. But the purpose gained, the blissful states will eventually pass away, as they must. He will then falsely imagine that he has lost Grace, that he has left undone something he should have done or done something he should not have done. The true fact is that it is Grace itself which has brought this loss about, as constituting his next stage of progress, even though it affords no pleasure to his conscious mind, but only pain. His belief that he has lost the direct contact with the higher power which he formerly enjoyed is wrong: his actual contact was only an indirect one, for his emotions were then occupied with themselves and with their pleasure in the experience. He is being separated from them so that he may be emptied of every desire and utterly humbled in his ego, and thus made ready for the time when joy, once regained, will never leave him again. For he is now on the threshold of the soul's dark night. In that state there is also a work being done for him by Grace, but it is deep in the subconscious mind far beyond his sight and beyond his control.
Indeed, the hour may come when, purified from the ego's partiality, he will kiss the cross that brought him such agony and when, healed of his blindness, he will see that it was a gift from loving hands, not a curse from evil lips. He will see too that in his former insistence on clinging to a lower standpoint, there was no other way of arousing him to the need and value of a higher one than the way of unloosed suffering. But at last the wound has healed perfectly leaving him, as a scar of remembrance, greatly increased wisdom.
There is an incalculable factor in this game of self with Overself, an unpredictable element in this quest--the Grace!
As he pores reminiscently over the book of his past history, he will come to see how Grace entered into it by denying him some thing that he then ardently desired but whose acquisition would later have been a calamity or an affliction.
If outer events bring him to a position where he can bear them no longer and force him to cry out to the higher power in helplessness for relief, or if inner feelings bring humiliation and recognition of his dependence on that power, this crushing of the ego may open the door to grace.
The Overself's grace meets us just at the point where our need is greatest, but not necessarily the one we acknowledge as such. We must learn to let it do what it wants to do, not necessarily what we want it to do.
When the Overself's Grace is the real activating agent that is stirring up his petition, the coming event has cast its shadow before. When this is the case, the meaning of Emerson's cryptic sentence, "What we pray to ourselves for is always granted," becomes luminously revealed.
If he could penetrate into the so-called unconscious levels of his mind, he might find, to his utter amazement, that his enemies, critics, or domestic thorns-in-the-flesh are the very answer to his prayer for Grace. They fully become so, however, only when he recognizes them as such, when he perceives what duty or what self-discipline they give him the chance to practise.
The grace is bestowed in spite of his negative qualities, in spite of his ego's assertiveness: no one knows why or when it first reaches him.
Rufus Jones, eminent Quaker, made such a study and had to conclude, "There is a mystery about spiritual awakenings which will always remain unexplained." Nevertheless those who have studied the working of Grace with the added equipment of the philosophic and esoteric knowledge which he lacked find it more explicable, although still somewhat unpredictable.
The connection between the manifestation of grace and the kind of person to whom it comes is sometimes inexplicable. It comes not at all, or it comes sporadically, or it comes so completely that he is changed forever.
We dare not leave Grace out of our reckonings. Yet, because it is such an incalculable factor, we cannot put it in!
The passage from an earthly attitude to a spiritual one is accompanied either by intense suffering or by intense joy but always by intense feeling.
The longer grace is withheld, the more is it appreciated when finally vouchsafed.
It is not often easy to discern the why and wherefore of its operations and manifestations. Grace does not conform to human expectations, human reasonings, or human modes. It would not be divine if it always did that.
The course of each individual quest, its ecstasies and sufferings, is not easily predictable. The factors of karma and Grace are always present and their operation in different life situations may always be different and cannot be foreseen.
Grace may be granted at any unexpected time. We supply the channel but do not determine the means.
Although all this working of Grace takes place outside the level of ordinary consciousness--whether above or beneath it is a matter of the point of view--nevertheless it influences that consciousness far more than most people suspect.
The advent of Grace is so unpredictable that we dare not even say that Grace will come into action only after a man consciously and deliberately seeks God and practises self-purification. We may only say that it is more likely to come to him then.
In our own time the case of Aldous Huxley shows how a scientific agnostic is moved unwillingly toward the intellectual acceptance of truth. The case of Simone Weil shows how a Marxist materialist is moved just as unwillingly to an even farther distance--the direct experience of what she had to call God and the utter submission of the ego which permanently followed that experience. Both cases illustrate the mysterious and unpredictable character of Grace.
It is a mystery of Grace that it will come looking for one who is not pursuing truth, not looking for holiness, not even stumbling towards any interest in spirituality. And it will capture that person so completely that the character will totally change, as in Francis of Assisi's case, or the world view will totally change, as in Simone Weil's case.
The Overself can work in him--without his knowledge or help--to unfold, balance, or integrate him.
Grace happens. But to whom, when, and where, cannot be said with certainty, at best only with probability.
It is possible to chart out a course for man whereby he may move step by step towards the discovery of his own divine Overself, and with it the beauty and dignity in life. But it is not possible to say at what point in his movement the working of Grace will manifest itself.
Many who ask for Grace would be shocked to hear that the troubles which may have followed their request were actually the very form in which the higher power granted the Grace to them.
The influx comes at its own sweet will: he cannot grasp at it. It has to happen of itself. This enforces a full measure of humbleness and a wide stretch of patience on his part.
In a dozen different places Jacob Boehme declares that his wonderful illumination was a gift of Grace and that he had done nothing to deserve it. Although in a few other places he balanced this declaration with the idea that he was being used as a serving vessel from which others could draw the teaching given him, the fact remains that he did not aspire to be the recipient of a revelation and was astounded when it came.
The Grace works from his centre outward, transforming him from within, and therefore its earliest operation is unknown to his everyday mind.
The workings of Grace cannot always be judged by their temporary emotional effects. It depends on the particular circumstances, special needs, and evolutionary stage of a man as to whether these effects will be joyous or melancholy. But in the end, and when he enters into the actual consciousness of the sacred Overself, he will feel intense happiness.
Sometimes we are pushed to perform deeds which turn out to be our finest ones, or our most fortunate ones, although at the time we did not know this. Who is the pusher? In those cases it is either karma or grace.
Sometimes the Overself does its recondite work in the arid desolation of "the soul's dark night" but sometimes in the rapturous awakening to the new life of spring.
The psychological laws governing the inner development of spiritual seekers often seem to operate in most mysterious ways. The very power whose presence he may think has been denied him--Grace--is taking care of him even when he is not conscious of this fact. The more the anguish, at such a time, the more the Higher Self is squeezing the ego. The more he seems to be alone and forsaken, the closer the Higher Self may be drawing him to Itself.
Grace breathes where it will. It does not necessarily follow the lines set by man's expectation, prayer, or desire.
The Overself's grace will be secretly active within and without him long before it shows itself openly to him.
The grace may be barely felt, may come on slowly for many months, so that when he does become aware of its activity, the final stage is all he sees and knows.
Those who will not pause to philosophize about life are sometimes forced to do so by illness or distress. Although this brings suffering to the ego, to the aspirant it brings grace, latent in him.
The effect may not show itself immediately; in most cases it cannot, for most people are insensitive. But in such cases it will show itself eventually.
Grace has no favourites. Its working is characterized by its own mysterious laws. Do not expect it in return for faith alone, nor for just effort alone. Try both.
Because grace is an element in this enterprise, the question where will he stand in ten years' time is not answerable.
He may be disappointed because he is not more consciously aware of being helped. The forms which spiritual help takes may not always be easily recognizable because they may not conform to his wishes and expectations. Moreover, the kind of help given in this manner may require a period of time to elapse between its entry on the subconscious level and its manifestation on the conscious level. This period varies in actual experience with different individuals, from a few days to a number of years. Its exact duration is unpredictable because it is individual in each case. God alone knows what it is, but its final eruption is sure.
He may know that the work of Grace has begun when he feels an active drawing from within which wakes him from sleep and which recurs in the day, urging him to practise his devotions, his recollections, his prayers, or his meditations. It leads him from his surface consciousness to his inner being, a movement which slowly goes back in ever-deepening exploration and discovery of himself.
A certain momentum will be imparted to his aspirations. During all this time the spiritual forces have been slowly maturing in mental regions below consciousness. Their eruption will be sudden and violent.
The weeping, begging, and worshipping through which the seeker passes is a result of Grace which occurred when, deciding to give up the ego, he felt a great peace. It is an emotional upheaval of an agonizing kind but it soon passes. He will then feel much calmer, more aspiring, and less worldly in character. This permanent change is a reorientation of the love forces; the Sufis call it "the overturning of the cup of the heart." In view of its being both auspicious and beneficial, he should not worry about it, but be patient and have hope.
The force which becomes active in his meditation--and which is associated with Grace--will also become active in waking him up from sleep in the morning, or even earlier. It will lead him immediately into the thought and practice of loving devotion to the higher self. He may even dream of doing his practice during the night. This will fill him with great joy. The force itself is a transforming one.
All he can do is to accept the inner gift when it is offered, which is not so easy or simple a feat as it sounds. Too many people brush it off because its beginnings are so delicate, so faint, as not to point at all plainly to their glorious consequences.
A shadow cast by the light of oncoming Grace sometimes appears as a fit of weeping. Without outer cause, the tears stream without stop or else sadness wells up without mitigation. But most often the cause does exist.
If a man misses the chance when grace is offered him internally by impersonal leadings or externally by a personal master, he will have to wait several years before the possibility of its recurrence can arise, if it does arise at all. In the same form, unobstructed by the disadvantages accumulated during the years, it can never arise again. Therefore it behooves him to be heedful that spiritual opportunity does not pass him by unrecognized or unseized. In this affair, the heart is often a better guide than the head, for the intellect doubts and wavers where intuition inclines and impels.
If this happens, if he surrenders himself unreservedly to the first faint growth of Grace within his innermost heart, then its blessing will eventually fructify gloriously.
The sudden, unexpected, and violent agitation of the diaphragm for a few moments may be a favourable phenomenon. It signifies a visitation of Grace from the Overself, a visitation which is the precursor of coming intellectual change and spiritual redirection.
It is one sign of coming Grace when he begins to despise himself for his weaknesses, when he begins to criticize his lower nature to the point of hating it.
When the Grace at last overcomes the inner resistance of the ego, the latter breaks down and the eyes often break into tears.
The simple working of inward Grace is the essential mystical experience; the extraordinary clairvoyant accompaniments are not.
Saint Thomas Aquinas: "Whoever receives Grace knows by experiencing a certain sweetness, which is not experienced by one who does not receive it."
It is most important to recognize what is happening--a visitation of Grace--and to respond to it at once. This means that everything else must be dropped without delay.
True sacredness is not something which anyone can pick up in his hands, examine, and identify at once. It is impalpable, as subtle and as delicate as perfume.
When Grace takes the form of spiritual enlightenment, it may catch him unawares, enter his consciousness unexpectedly, and release him abruptly from the protracted tensions of the quest.
The awakening to spiritual need, although often productive of longing and sadness, is also often a sign of the preliminary working of Grace.
Sometimes the Grace is felt psychically as a spiritual current actually pouring in through the head, although its posture may be inwardly shaped to the upturned tilt at one time or the bowed depression at another time.
When his aspiration rises to an overpowering intensity, it is a sign that Grace is not so far off.
Let us look for those wonderful moments when grace has been bestowed and peace has been felt. Let us stop all this busy business awhile, and stand still. Let us listen for awhile for then we may hear the Word which God is forever speaking to man.
In its presence it is easier to cast off some of the cares of life and, for the more practised, even feel some inner calm. Such moods are spiritual in the finer meanings of the word.
The wonderful effect of profound sleep is not only the recovery of the physical body's energy but much more the man's return to himself, his spiritual self, the pure universal consciousness. Note that all this happens without any effort on his part, without any use of the personal will. It is all done to him. Grace acts in the same way.
When the grace descends, whether from some action or attitude of one's self, or apparently without cause from outside one's self, if it is authentic, it will seem for the brief while that it lasts as if one has touched eternity, as if life and consciousness are without beginning and without end. It is a state of absolute contentment, complete fulfilment.
I dislike the word "bliss"--so often used in translating ananda. Surely "beatitude" is the word measuring more clearly the experienced feeling.
He may be one of the fortunate ones who can call down upon themselves the workings of Grace. When he feels the urge to weep for no apparent reason he should not resist, as it is a sign of the working of Grace upon him. The more he yields to this urge the more quickly will he progress. This is an important manifestation although its inner significance will not be understood by the materialistic world.
The seeker need not be worried about frequent weeping spells, but must be patient and have hope. Such actions assist him in bringing about permanent changes for the better in his character.
He is aware that a new force, more powerful than his own normally is, has risen up and taken command of his whole being.
When he reaches this stage, he will cease to waver, either in allegiance to the doctrine or in practice of the discipline. He will be steadfast.
The need to be alert against negative suggestions, to guard himself mentally against divergent or degrading ideas, exists for a time but not for all time. When Grace begins its operation, the danger from these sources vanishes, for the possibility of his being attracted by or open to them itself vanishes. The Grace enfolds him like a mantle.
As the light of Grace begins to fall upon him, he becomes aware of the tendencies and propensities, the motives and desires which obstruct or oppose the awakening into awareness of the Overself.
If it is individual effort which has to make the long journey from ignorance to illumination, it is divine Grace which has secretly and silently to lead the way for it.
Grace settles the intellect on a higher level and stabilizes the emotions with a worthier ideal.
If his mastery of self is established on well-earned and well-worked-for inward grace more than on outward will, then it is well sealed and cannot break down, cannot be wrecked by the lusts and hates, the greeds and passions which agitate ordinary humanity.
Grace works magically on the man who opens himself humbly and sensitively to receive it. His personal feelings undergo a transformation into their higher impersonal octaves. His very weaknesses provoke occasions for gaining effortlessly their opposite virtues. His selfish desires are turned by Grace's alchemy into spiritual aspirations.
The man's effort must be met by the Overself's Grace. What he does attracts what the Overself gives. This he can understand. But what he seldom knows, and finds hard to understand, is that in certain cases the aspiration which impels such effort is itself impelled by Grace.
Wherever you read in history of a religious martyr who was filled with supernatural serenity in the midst of terrible torture, be sure that he was supported by the Overself. The consciousness of his divine soul had, by its grace, become stronger than the consciousness of his earthly body. If you wish, you may call it a kind of mesmerism, but it is a divine and not a human mesmerism.
There will be moments when a tendency to sin will suddenly be checked by an invading power which will work against the lower will.
When the power of Grace descends into his heart, no evil passion or lower emotion can resist it. They, and their accompanying desires, fade and then fall away of themselves.
From that time he will feel increasingly yet intermittently that a force other than his own is working within him, enlightening his mind and ennobling his character. The Overself's Grace has descended on him.
His innate tendencies may still be there for a time--they constitute his karma--but the grace keeps them in check.
With the coming of Grace, his development takes on a life of its own and is no longer to be measured in direct ratio to his effort.
After the descent of grace, he feels lifted by a power stronger than his own above the stormy passions and unpleasant greeds, the petty egotisms and ugly hatreds which agitate the mass of mankind.
He experiences a veritable rebirth, an inspiring renewal of all his being, a feeling of liberation from darkness, weakness, and moral blindness.
He may watch the working of Grace in its varied manifestations both within himself and in his personal relationships.
Grace is a powerful stimulus. It descends from a higher source, urges us to perfect our nature, equips us to complete it. Thus we are lifted up to its own higher level.
That enlightenment is a transfiguring event which not only revolutionizes general outlook but also changes moral character, there is testimony enough for anyone in the archives of mystical biography. The old self is laid aside as too imperfect, the old weaknesses are drowned in the overwhelming tide of Grace which pours through the man and his life.
The truth is that the Overself's power has worked upon him in advance of his own endeavours. The urge to seek a close and conscious relationship with it, the decision to enter upon the quest--these very thoughts stemmed from its hidden and active influence.
The emptied and stilled mind opens the way for the grasp of divine grace. The latter may then gather us up into its fold, leaving behind the ego's conceit and the body's passion. But when it is time for us to return to the world's nervous restlessness, to its tumult and jarring noise, we find how far humanity has fallen.
The ineffable peace and exquisite harmony which take hold of his heart are the first results of grace.
In the end all this aspiration supported by practical effort attracts Grace. He finds that he is not alone, that in becoming its recipient not only is a glimpse vouchsafed him but also some part of him has now an unassailable faith no matter what vacillations, questionings, or lapses the strains of life, the moods of ill health, or the changes of fortune may do to his thoughts for a time.
A new understanding has been gained. It is a possession that may be kept, with care, as long as he lives. Of how many other possessions may this be said?
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.