The development of the work
The aspirant will receive personal knowledge from within, as apart from mere teaching from without, only to the extent that he has inwardly prepared himself to receive it. The fruits of the quest cannot be separated from the disciplines of the quest. He is considered capable of grasping philosophic truth when, either now or in a previous existence, he has to some degree purified his understanding by self-discipline, introverted it by meditation, and tranquillized it by reflection. When his mind has habituated itself to this kind of keen, abstract thinking and in some measure has developed the capacity to rest absorbed in its own tranquil centre, when the emotions have purified themselves of personal and animal taints, he has prepared himself for the highest kind of knowledge. For then he is able to use this highly concentrated, well purified, efficiently serene consciousness as an instrument with which to engage himself in a quest to understand in true perspective what the ego really is and to look deep into the nature of the mind itself. For then his self-examination will be free from the emotional distortions, the materialistic impediments of the unpurified, unstilled, and unconcentrated consciousness. The truth about his own existence and the world's existence can then be seen as never before.
When the changes in habit come unbidden as the natural result of a more sensitive nature, a deeper outlook, a more compassionate heart, they come rightly. There is then less strain, less likelihood of lapse than when they come artificially or prematurely or through someone else's insistent pressure.
The setting of rules and the chalking out of a path are only for beginners. When a man has made sufficient advance to become aware of inner promptings from his higher self, he should allow them to become active in guiding him and should let them take him freely on his spiritual life course.
A true spirituality is not aware of itself and therefore is not portentous and heavy. It is "natural."
How increasingly difficult and dangerous the path becomes with every advance and how fragile is the attainment of the fourth, fifth, and especially sixth degrees is pictured by the Tibetan Masters who liken the disciple to a snake climbing upward inside a hollow bamboo tube. It can just barely turn around and a single slip may easily throw it all the way down to the bottom of the tube again.
Only at a well-advanced stage does the disciple begin to comprehend that his true work is not to develop qualities or achieve tasks, to evolve character or attain goals but to get rid of hindrances and pull aside veils. He has to desert the false self and uncover the true self.
If the seeker finds himself called upon by his higher ideals or by the necessities of his quest to make a decision involving financial sacrifice to the point of leaving himself with insufficient resources, he need have no fear about the ultimate issue. His higher self will permit him to fall into grievous want only if such a condition is really essential to the particular phase of spiritual discipline his ego needs just then. Otherwise it will use its power to protect him and to compensate him, for it can always adjust financial conditions more favourably by releasing portions of good karma to ensure his support.
The practice of systematic self-discipline will bring a man more and more to complete self-reliance and free him more and more from dependence upon sources outside himself.
Once the transition period comes to an end, a subtle change enters into his attitude toward the old habits. They lose their tempting quality and instead begin to acquire a repelling one. This feeling will increase and become firmly established.
A mind permeated with such lofty thoughts, constantly renewed by such lofty ideals, gradually empties itself of the baser ones--or rejects them if they appear.
Shen-Hui declared, in a sermon, that Enlightenment came as suddenly as a baby's birth. But what about the nine long months of development which precedes the birth?
This is the severe apprenticeship which philosophy requires, the progressive discipline which it imposes. Nor could it ask less, if it is to win the unshatterable poise and impeccable mind which provide the correct atmosphere for its last and highest revelations of truth.
If the changeover is suddenly made, it will be heroic, violent, forceful. But those of a different temperament, who make it gradually, will necessarily make it gently, peaceably, cautiously.
What is right at an early stage of development may not be right at a later one. The fitness of an ethos depends also on its time and place. It is better to define the concrete task of the moment rather than revel in abstract phrases about the distant future.
There are two occasions when it is necessary to define one's aims to and for one's self. The first is when one starts out to seek their realization. The second is when what one believes to be the realization itself is in sight.
The path is a progressive one and therefore the recognition of response to his prayer for enlightenment will be progressive also. At first he will have doubts and uncertainties about the response, but if he perseveres with his efforts it will become clearer and clearer--provided he makes proper use of the help which has been given him. His desire for spiritual attainment is not in the same class with all the earthly desires. It is aspiration and therefore entitled eventually to Grace.
He who wishes to pursue truth to its farther extent, which a man will usually do only under a concentrated compulsion from within--that is to say, under a driving urge from his higher self--will travel quicker than others but must expect to pay a heavier price than others.
The problem of philosophic attainment is one which man cannot solve by his own unaided powers. Like a tiny sailing boat which needs both oars and a sail for its propulsion, he needs both self-effort and grace for his progress. To rely on either alone is a mistake. If he cannot attain by his own strivings, neither is the Overself likely to grant its grace without them.
There is a proper time for all acts and attitudes. The improper time to drop mystical technique and quit meditational exercises is when you are still a novice, still aware only of thoughts and emotions on the ordinary plane. The proper time to abandon set practices is when you are a proficient, when you have become adequately aware of the divine presence. Then you need engage yourself only in a single and simple effort: to persevere in paying attention to this presence so as to sustain and stretch out the welcome intervals of its realization.
Those who have matured in the Quest, who have gone beyond the early fluctuations and confusions, who have found some equipoise beyond the adolescent reactions with their ardours and despairs, are alone entitled to, will be readier for its higher metaphysical revelations.
Hence the more he becomes aware of these frailties, the more he should discipline himself to get rid of them--otherwise the forces he has invoked will bring the pressures of pain upon him to effect this end. This is the first hidden purpose of the "dark night." The second is to develop the neglected parts of his human make-up and thus bring his personality into a safe balance. The light which originally dawned in his soul successfully illumined his emotions. He felt goodwill towards all men, nay all living creatures. But this illumination did not bestow practical wisdom or higher knowledge, did not affect his intelligence. Hence the light has still to shine down into the neglected regions of his personality. They are not automatically perfected. For the higher Self always seeks to enlighten the whole of the man. Hence the threefold-path character of the work of this quest. He may have to build more intellect or develop more will, for instance. He has to reorganize his whole personality, in short. The emotional perfecting is easiest and occurs first; the intellectual is harder and occurs second; the moral reeducation through right actions is hardest of all and occurs last. He has gained right feeling. He has yet to gain right insight. But this cannot be got without the co-operation of the full man, of all his faculties. So the higher Self turns towards his intellect and transforms it into intelligence, towards his will and transforms it into active moral work. This process, however, takes years. When all this preparation has matured him, the dark night will suddenly, even unexpectedly, come to an end and he will receive the long-sought illumination.
Such is the commoner form of the "dark night of the soul." A rarer and sadder kind may come, not to novices but to the highly advanced ones who are already within sight of their goal. For it is just here, when he has only one more step to take before the end is successfully reached, that all may be lost and he may fall headlong from this great height. The Biblical phrase, "Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall," is appropriate here. This terrible lapse is explained by the adepts as always being possible and especially probable when the sixth or penultimate stage of their seven-staged path is attained. Hence they call this the stage of "carefulness," because the mystic must now be extremely careful to preserve the delicate inward condition he has developed. He must guard this position perseveringly for a sufficiently long period and then the final, complete, and permanent merger into divine existence will be achieved.
Before he reaches a certain stage he will necessarily have to seek guidance from without, from books and teachers, because of his uncertainty, lack of confidence, and ignorance. But after he reaches it, it will be wiser and safer for him to seek guidance from within. The higher self will impart all the knowledge he needs, as and when he needs it.
He feels distant, bloodless, aloof, unemotional. The world appears as if in a dream, seems unreal on awakening. He is unable to take it seriously, to be moved by its sights with any feeling let alone with passion's force. He is indifferent to its drama. Life in it is a weary round. The description of these feelings corresponds to the Dark Night of the Soul.
The desire to get at the soul must become so predominant and so anxious that a continuous tension is created within him.
Whatever regime he follows, a time will come when momentous changes will become necessary in it. They may be dictated by external events, contacts, or environments. Or they may be quite voluntary, made under a compulsion rising from within himself.
If he makes sufficient advance, the time will come when he will look with horror and detestation upon the smug attitudes of his early spiritual life and the smug acts of his early spiritual career.
The experience of being gripped and physically shaken by some extraordinary power will also occur at certain intervals along this path. This is not to be feared but rather to be welcomed. It always signifies a descent of grace and is a herald of coming progress of some kind or other.
When the intervening stages of approach have been passed through one by one, truths which once seemed incredible now appear quite credible.
Those first appearances of the soul's presence must be carefully guarded and assiduously nursed. They are symbolized by the Christ-babe which has to grow until it is mature in virtue and wisdom.
When he feels the gentle coming of the presence of the higher self, at this point he must train himself in the art of keeping completely passive. He will discover that it is endeavouring actually to ensoul him, to take possession of him as a disembodied spirit is supposed to take possession of a living medium. His task now is purely negative; it is to offer no resistance to the endeavour but to let it have the fullest possible sway over him. The preliminary phases of his progress are over. Hitherto it was mostly his own efforts upon which he had to rely. Now, however, it is the Overself which will be the active agent in his development. All that is henceforth asked of him is that he remain passive, otherwise he may disturb the holy work by the interference of his blind ignorant self-will. His advance at this point no longer depends on his own striving.
In time, when the beginning state is well past, he will become intellectually free. There will be no theories, no ideologies to hold him captive and colour his judgements. This is not because he realizes how the widening of his study, outlook, knowledge, development, has produced a succession of varied theories but also because he is coming nearer to truth, which exhilarates and liberates the mind.
Again and again one hears from aspirants that in the heat of the day's activity, in the turmoil of the day's business, and under the pressure of the day's work they tend to forget the Quest. At the beginner's stage this is inevitable; he has to attend to these other matters, and if he is to attend to them properly, effectively, and efficiently they need his whole mind. This is why the practice of having withdrawal periods each day for meditation, for study, or for relaxation is so well advised. It is only when a more advanced stage of the quest is brought under consideration that the matter becomes really serious. The aspirant is then trying to practise thought-control as often as he can. He is trying to practise self-awareness and he is trying to practise spiritual remembrance. But still he finds that what he's doing tends to carry his mind away from all these practices so that he forgets the quest. What he has been practising has not been wasted: it will bring its fruit in due course, but it is not enough to give him the success he seeks. The reason is that all this inner activity has been taking place in the realm of thought; he substitutes aspirational thoughts for the worldly ones from time to time. The way out is to deepen both his knowledge of mentalism and his practice of meditation. If he does not do this, he may split his personality and become a mere dreamer.
It is a matter of levels: at the beginning effort is necessary and efficacious. Its nature and result will of course be governed by the fixed conditions of his inner and outer life. But later, at the proficient's level, with its newly awakened recognition of the ego's presence in all this, he lets up, practises Lao Tzu's "Way of non-doing," abandons the old customary attitude.
Any form which can still be useful to the growth of others, or helpful for their support, should be thrown away only by the man who has finished the Quest. If these others throw it away also, out of imitation of such a man, they will only harm themselves and create anarchy in the domain of spiritual seeking.
If one has the capacity to make progress and to tune in to the True Divinity, he must--if he is to continue and not become sidetracked--renounce all interest in mediumistic or other so-called spiritualistic practices. Such an individual should strive to better his own character, cultivate his intuition, and increase his knowledge about the higher laws by studying inspired and reliable books.
That mysticism has its dangers is frankly admitted; and certain individuals should be warned of the seriousness of these dangers, otherwise they may later suffer mental disorders. First, at a certain stage, meditation can be overdone. When this has happened, it is advisable for the individual to withdraw from the practice altogether for several weeks at least, and devote his attention to practical, day-to-day activities in order to acquire better balance. Second, fasting at a particular stage of his development should be avoided, since it can open the way to a mediumistic condition and to the possible influence of mischievous entities. Any person thus affected by fasting definitely should not attempt it until such time as he has met with one much further along the Path than he is.
A time will arise when the student may feel it advisable to go away for a period of intensive meditation. It is imperative that he should learn that, such being his feelings, he has done quite enough meditating for his stage of development. It is not wise to overdo meditation.
What he needs now is to balance all the many profits hitherto gained from his meditating by bringing them into intellectual life. Although he may rightly believe the intellectual life to be inferior in value to the mystical life of meditation, nevertheless, it has its place and is needed for balanced development. It is necessary to stimulate the thinking faculties and critical judgement.
Therefore, the aspirant should study from a purely intellectual point-of-view all those teachings which he formerly grasped from an intuitional or emotional viewpoint alone. If he does anything at all in the devotional line, at this time, it should be Prayer.
When a seeker has developed sufficient mystical intuition, it becomes necessary for him to balance up by cultivating intellectual understanding. In this way he will be able to deal more effectively with the problems of the present age. At first, his progress in the new direction may seem slow and disappointing; but he should be cheered to know that he is, in fact, working and co-operating with Higher Forces. There is Infinite Intelligence always at work on this planet, and the seeker's own sense of being, motivated as it is by his individual intelligence, is a microcosmic facsimile of the Great Cosmic Workings. One day he will see the whole of the picture, not just the lower part of it, and he will understand that it is his own Overself which has brought him to--and led him safely through--the disheartening experiences of his present incarnation.
It may become necessary for the individual to withdraw for a time from his studies and meditation, in order to devote all his attention to problems of a worldly nature and to finding a way out of them. It is quite possible that these problems carry with them a special significance which is intended to develop the practical side of the student's nature as well as to dispel certain fantastic notions. Once he has resolved the problem and taken its message to heart, it will be permissible for him to resume his mystical studies.
Such actions as fits of weeping, accompanied by intense yearning, are, for many aspirants, emotional upheavals of an agonizing kind; but, fortunately, neither the demonstration nor the suffering lasts long. They are usually followed by a feeling of deep peace and surrender, which helps to loosen the hold on life-long, worldly characteristics that may be impeding one's spiritual progress.
The condition of spiritual dryness about which he may complain is a common phenomenon in the mystical life. It arises from various causes but he need not doubt that it will pass away.
If he once has an experience of his divine soul he should remember that this was because it is always there, always inside of him, and has never left him. Let him but stick to the Quest, and the experience will recur at the proper time.
It is through meeting and understanding the difficulties on the path, through facing and mastering them, that we grow. Each of us in this world lives in a state of continuous struggle, whatever outward appearances to the contrary may suggest. Repose is for the dead alone--and then only for a limited time. We must study the lessons behind every experience, painful or pleasant, that karma brings. We lose nothing except what is well worth losing if we frankly acknowledge past errors. Only vanity or selfishness can stand in the way of such acknowledgement. Earthly life is after all a transient means to an enduring end. The worth or worthlessness of its experiences lies not in any particular external form, but in the development of consciousness and character to which they lead. Only after time has cooled down the fires of passion and cleared the mists of self-interest are most people able to perceive that these mental developments are the essential and residual significance of their human fortunes. With the seeker after truth, the period of meditation must be devoted, at least in part, to arriving at such perceptions even in the midst of life's events.
It is not possible for a student to know the changes which are going on in his subconscious mind and which will eventually break through into his consciousness at some time. If he feels he is failing in some way through his attachment to material things, the very recognition of this is itself a sign that he has half-progressed out of this condition and is not satisfied to remain inside these attachments. Of course, the struggle to free himself from them is at its worst when he does not have the feeling of the Divine Presence. But when that feeling comes the struggle itself will automatically begin to die down.
He should not worry about his lapses from meditation or his inability to study deep books. There is a time for all things and the keynote for such a period is action. He can take up further meditation and study again later.
The integral ideal of our path is threefold: (a) meditation, (b) reflection, and (c) action. The passing over from one phase of development which has been over-emphasized to another which has been neglected is necessarily a period of upheaval, depression, and unsettlement. But it draws to an end. After the storm comes peace.
A teacher may inform his pupil that it is unnecessary to read any more for the time being. This is not an injunction to stop reading but a hint that the next step forward will not arise out of the reading itself. The fact that he finds new inspiration in the books does not alter the truth of this hint. For the change that has come arose within his mind first and enabled him to find fresh material to digest in these books. If this inner change had not first started into activity, the books would have remained the same as before to his conscious mind. The spiritual movement starts in the subconsciousness first and later breaks through into the everyday consciousness. This is merely an academic point. What really matters is that he should become aware of progress.
Feelings of inward peace, moral elevation, and divine presence are immeasurably more valuable and significant than visions.
Sometimes, at a certain stage of development, a reorientation of outward life does become necessary. The aspirant must then study the situation to see how this can be worked out satisfactorily for all concerned, remembering that the wishes and feelings of those who share his life must also be considered and respected.
A time will arise when nearly all questions constitute an intellectual probing, which, in many cases, defeats the purpose of spiritual progress. It is better to wait patiently for the individual's own development to bring what is really needed at each stage.
The blind gropings of those early days give place, after many years, to the clear-sighted steps of these later ones. The completion of his quest now becomes an impending event; the quintessence of all his experience now expresses itself in this fullness of being and knowing which is almost at hand.
Little by little, at a pace so slow that the movement is hardly noticeable, his mind will give entrance to thoughts that seem to come creeping from some source other than itself, for they are thoughts irrelevant to his reasonings and inconsistent with his convictions. They are indeed intuitions. If he submits to their leading, if he surrenders his faith to them, if he drops his blind resistances, all will be well with him. He will be guided out of darkness into light, out of materiality into spirituality, out of black despair into sublime hope.
A few years earlier these defects would have excited little attention. It is because he is now more morally advanced that he is so dismayed by them. Therefore, there is cause here for a little satisfaction surely.
If weeping comes, be it in sound or in silence, it will not be to express unhappiness nor to express joy. For it is very important, and on a deeper, more mysterious, level. So let it continue if it chooses.
These formal patterns of behaviour set forth as examples to learn and imitate are, after all, mainly for undeveloped or immature beginners. They are commandments to be obeyed. But evolved maturer types may not really need them, because they instinctively act in such a way.
The imposition from outside of any rule or regime or discipline is rarely successful in its results unless it gains the assent of the innermost feeling or intuitive mind.
There will come a time when this early need of explicit instruction is felt less and less, when what he already knows must be worked out more and more.
The timetable of a seeker's advance depends on several factors, but without doubt the most important of them all is the strength of the longing within his heart for the Highest.
He must pass through the Egyptian pylons of self-subdual and enter the straight and narrow path beyond them.
When the acceptance of these truths becomes instinctive, even if it remains inarticulate, he will begin to gather strength from them, to feel that the little structure of his life has nothing less than cosmic support beneath it.
There is a time in his progress when he should put aside all intellectual problems for the time being and concentrate on the two most important tenets of mystical philosophy. They are: that man in his deepest being is an immortal soul, and that there is a path whereby he may discover it for himself.
Desire and peace, passion and repose, will alternate in his heart like the sun and moon.
When he has gone through some training in yoga or meditation, he is fit to ascertain Truth . . . emotionally and mentally fit. His mind can be held for a long time on a single theme without wandering; he can concentrate his thoughts upon the pursuit of Truth to the exclusion of everything else. His power of attention is made needle-sharp and brought under control. Thus equipped, he can begin to find Truth.
Everything up till now was but preparation. With this extraordinary sharpness of intelligence and attentiveness, he has next to discriminate between pure Consciousness per se, and everything that merely forms the content of consciousness. For Consciousness is the ultimate, as science is beginning vaguely to see. With concentrated, sharpened mind he can pierce into his deepest self and then endeavour to understand it; he can also pierce into the external world of matter and understand that too. Unthwarted by the illusions of the ordinary man, who takes what his eyes see for granted, he can probe beneath appearances. And when he can at last see the Truth, his spiritual ignorance falls away of its own accord and can never come back to him again, any more than a man who has awakened from dreaming can relapse back into his original dream.
Thus, the actual finding of Truth, which is the same as Nirvana, Self-Knowledge, Liberation, is really a work of brief duration--perhaps a matter of minutes--whereas the preparation and equipment of oneself to find it must take many incarnations.
If this presentation sounds unorthodox, he will find that in chapter 13, verse 2, of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna distinctly asserts that both the knowledge of the Kshetrajna and Kshetra are required before a man may be deemed to possess the truth. In plain English, this merely means that he must know both himself and his body. But as the body is a part of the external physical world and represents it in miniature, the meaning must be extended to include the whole physical world. Merely going inwards and enjoying emotional ecstasies will not do. It may make him happy, but it does not give the whole truth. He has to come outside again, and lo and behold! there is the material world confronting him--yet not understood.
If however, the yogi takes his sharpened, concentrative mind and applies it to such understanding, he discovers that the world of matter is ultimately space and that all material forms are merely ideas in his mind. He discovers, too, that his inmost self is one with this space, because it is formless. He perceives the unity of all life and he has found Truth, the whole Truth. This is maha-yoga, the higher path that awaits every yogi or mystic, and which alone leads to Truth.
The working of Grace
You may believe in a religion, but it is not enough to believe in philosophy; you have also to learn it. Nor can it be learnt through the head alone, it has also to be learnt through the heart and the will. Therefore, do not expect to master it within a few years but allot your whole lifetime for this task.
Lao Tzu said, "Do nothing by self-will but rather conform to heaven's will, and everything will be done for you." The whole of the quest may be summed up as an attempt to put these wise words into practice. However, the quest is not a thing of a moment or a day; it extends through many years, nay, through a whole lifetime. Therefore, merely to learn how to "do nothing" is itself a long task, if it is to be truly done and if we are not to deceive ourselves.
To take such sentences from Lao Tzu's book as, "The way undertakes no activities, and yet there is nothing left undone," and to assume, as so many Western commentators assume, that it means complete retirement from the world as a way of life because everything will be done by the Higher Power is to confuse the minds of aspirants. The virtue and power lie not in the retirement but in the linking up with the higher force which flows through the adept, a force which is unable to flow through the beginner. To take another sentence from Lao Tzu, "The Sage manages his affairs without assertion and spreads his doctrine without words," would again be foolish or dangerous if applied to the beginner. It is natural for the ego to assert itself and it will continue to do so even if he retires from the world. Only when the ego loses the power to rule the affairs of a man does the Overself step in and rule them for him, but this position is not reached merely by saying or wishing that it should be reached. It represents the culmination of a lifelong struggle. Then again, unless a man has become completely united with the force which lies within the depths of silence, he must necessarily depend upon words to spread a doctrine: only the adept who has united himself with that force, which is immeasurably more powerful than the intellect, can afford to remain silent with the perfect confidence that the doctrine will spread despite it.
Essay: The Progressive Stages of the Quest (The Working of Grace) "On the day of life's surrender I shall die desiring Thee; I shall yield my spirit craving of Thy street the dust to be."
--Humamud Din (Fourteenth-century Persian mystic)
In these poetic lines is expressed the lengths to which the mystic must be willing to go to obtain Grace.
Only if a man falls in love with his soul as deeply as he has ever done with a woman will he even stand a chance of finding it. Incessant yearning for the higher self, in a spirit of religious devotion, is one of the indispensable aspects of the fourfold integral quest. The note of yearning for this realization must sound through all his prayer and worship, concentration and meditation. Sometimes the longing for God may affect him even physically with abrupt dynamic force, shaking his whole body, and agitating his whole nervous system. A merely formal practice of meditation is quite insufficient although not quite useless. For without the yearning the advent of Grace is unlikely, and without Grace there can never be any realization of the Overself.
The very fact that a man has consciously begun the quest is itself a manifestation of Grace, for he has begun to seek the Overself only because the Overself's own working has begun to make it plain to him, through the sense of unbearable separation from it, that the right moment for this has arrived. The aspirant should therefore take heart and feel hope. He is not really walking alone. The very love which has awakened within him for the Overself is a reflection of the love which is being shown towards him.
Thus the very search upon which he has embarked, the studies he is making, and the meditations he is practising are all inspired by the Overself from the beginning and sustained by it to the end. The Overself is already at work even before he begins to seek it. Indeed he has taken to the quest in unconscious obedience to the divine prompting. And that prompting is the first movement of Grace. Even when he believes that he is doing these things for himself, it is really Grace that is opening the heart and enlightening the mind from behind the scenes.
Man's initiative pushes on toward the goal, whilst divine Grace draws him to it. Both forces must combine if the process is to be completed and crowned with success. Yet that which originally made the goal attractive to him and inspired him with faith in it and thus gave rise to his efforts, was itself the Grace. In this sense Paul's words, "For by Grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves," become more intelligible.
The Grace of God is no respecter of persons or places. It comes to the heart that desires it most whether that heart be in the body of a king or of a commoner, a man of action or a recluse. John Bunyan the poor tinker, immured in Bedford gaol, saw a Light denied to many kings and tried to write it down in his book Pilgrim's Progress. Jacob Boehme, working at his cobbler's bench in Seideburg, was thrice illumined and gleaned secrets which he claimed were unknown to the universities of his time.
If a man has conscientiously followed this fourfold path, if he has practised mystical meditation and metaphysical reflection, purification of character and unselfish service, and yet seems to be remote from the goal, what is he to do? He has then to follow the admonition of Jesus: "Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you." He has literally to ask for Grace out of the deep anguish of his heart. We are all poor. He is indeed discerning who realizes this and becomes a beggar, imploring of God for Grace.
He must pray first to be liberated from the heavy thraldom of the senses, the desires, and the thoughts. He must pray next for the conscious presence of the Overself. He should pray silently and deeply in the solitude of his own heart. He should pray with concentrated emotion and tight-held mind. His yearning for such liberation and such presence must be unquestionably sincere and unquestionably strong. He should begin and close--and even fill if he wishes--his hour of meditation with such noble prayers. He must do this day after day, week after week. For the Overself is not merely a concept, but a living reality, the power behind all his other and lesser powers.
No aspirant who is sincere and sensitive will be left entirely without help. It may appear during temptation when the lower nature may find itself unexpectedly curbed by a powerful idea working strongly against it. He may find in a book just that for which he has been waiting and which at this particular time will definitely help him on his way. The particular help he needs at a particular stage will come naturally. It may take the form of a change in outward circumstances or a meeting with a more developed person, of a printed book or a written letter, of a sudden unexpected emotional inspiration or an illuminating intellectual intuition. Nor is it necessary to travel to the farthest point before being able to gather the fruits. Long before this, he will begin to enjoy the flavour of peace, hope, knowledge, and divine transcendence.
In the moment that a man willingly deserts his habitual standpoint under a trying situation and substitutes this higher one, in that moment he receives Grace. With this reception a miracle is performed and the evil of the lower standpoint is permanently expelled from his character. The situation itself both put him to the proof and gave him his chance.
The factuality of Grace does not cancel out the need of moral choice and personal effort. It would be a great mistake to stamp human effort as useless in the quest and to proclaim human inability to achieve its own salvation as complete. For if it is true that Divine Grace alone can bring the quest to a successful terminus, it is likewise true that human effort must precede and thus invoke the descent of Grace. What is needed to call down Grace is, first, a humility that is utter and complete, deeply earnest and absolutely sincere, secondly, an offering of self to the Overself, a dedication of earthly being to spiritual essence, and, thirdly, a daily practice of devotional exercise. The practices will eventually yield experiences, the aspirations will eventually bring assistance. The mysterious intrusion of Grace may change the course of events. It introduces new possibilities, a different current of destiny.
Our need of salvation, of overcoming the inherently sinful and ignorant nature of ego, isolated from true consciousness as it is, is greater than we ever comprehend. For our life, being so largely egotistic, is ignorant and sinful--a wandering from one blunder to another, one sin to another. This salvation is by the Overself's saving power, for which we must seek its Grace, approaching it with the childlike humility of which Jesus spoke. No man is so down, so sinful, so weak, or so beaten that he may not make a fresh start. Let him adopt a childlike attitude, placing himself in the hands of his higher self, imploring it for guidance and Grace. He should repeat this at least daily, and even oftener. Then let him patiently wait and carefully watch for the intuitive response during the course of the following weeks or months. He need not mind his faults. Let him offer himself, just as he is, to the God, or Soul, he seeks. It is not indifferent nor remote.
The forgiveness of sins is a fact. Those who deny this deny their own experience. Can they separate from the moon its light? Then how can they separate forgiveness from love? Do they not see a mother forgive her child a hundred times even though she reproves and chastises it?
If the retribution of sins is a cosmic law, so also is the remission of sins. We must take the two at once, and together, if we would understand the mystery aright.
We humans are fallible beings prone to commit errors. If we do not become penitents and break with our past, it is better that we should be left to the natural consequences of our wrong-doing than that we should be forgiven prematurely.
The value of repentance is that it is the first step to set us free from a regrettable past; of amendment, that it is the last step to do so. There must be a contrite consciousness that to live in ego is to live in ignorance and sin. This sin is not the breaking of social conventions. There must be penitent understanding that we are born in sin because we are born in ego and hence need redemption and salvation. It is useless to seek forgiveness without first being thoroughly repentant. There must also be an opening up of the mind to the truth about one's sinfulness, besides repentance, an understanding of the lesson behind this particular experience of its result.
This primary attribute is extolled in the world's religio-mystical literature. "Despair not of Allah's mercy," says the Koran. "What are my sins compared with Thy mercy? They are but as a cobweb before the wind," wrote an early Russian mystic, Dmitri of Rostov. "Those who surrender to me, even be they of sinful nature, shall understand the highest path," says the Bhagavad Gita.
Yes, there is forgiveness because there is God's love. Jesus was not mistaken when he preached this doctrine, but it is not a fact for all men alike. Profound penitence and sincere amendment are prerequisite conditions to calling it forth. It was one of the special tasks of Jesus to make known that compassion (or love, as the original word was translated) is a primary attribute of God and that Grace, pardon, and redemption are consequently primary features of God's active relation to man. When Jesus promised the repentant thief that he would be forgiven, Jesus was not deceiving the thief or deluding himself. He was telling the truth.
The Divine being what it is, how could it contradict its own nature if compassion had no place in its qualities? The connection between the benignity which every mystic feels in its presence and the compassion which Jesus ascribed to that presence, is organic and inseparable.
The discovery that the forgiveness of sins is a sacred fact should fill us with inexpressible joy. For it is the discovery that there is compassionate love at the heart of the universe.
We may suppress sins by personal effort but we can eradicate and overcome them by the Overself's Grace alone. If we ask only that the external results of our sin be forgiven, be sure they won't. But if we also strive to cleanse our character from the internal evil that caused the sin, forgiveness may well be ours.
The aspirant's best hope lies in repentance. But if he fails to recognize this, if he remains with unbowed head and unregenerate heart, the way forward will likewise remain stony and painful. The admission that he is fallible and weak will be wrung from him by the punishments of nature if he will not yield it by the perceptions of conscience. The first value of repentance is that it makes a break with an outworn past. The second value is that it opens the way to a fresh start. Past mistakes cannot be erased but future ones can be avoided. The man that he was must fill him with regrets; the man that he seeks to be with hopes. He must become keenly conscious of his own sinfulness. The clumsy handiwork of his spiritual adolescence will appall him whenever he meditates upon its defects. His thought must distrust and purge itself of these faults. He will at certain periods feel impelled to reproach himself for faults shown, wrongs done, and sins committed during the past. This impulse should be obeyed. His attitude must so change that he is not merely ready but even eager to undo the wrongs that he has done and to make restitution for the harm that he has caused.
We do not get at the Real by our own efforts alone nor does it come to us by its own volition alone. Effort that springs from the self and Grace that springs from beyond it are two things essential to success in this quest. The first we can all provide, but the second only the Overself can provide. Man was once told by someone who knew, "The Spirit bloweth where it listeth." Thus it is neither contradictory nor antithetic to say that human effort and human dependence upon Divine Grace are both needed. For there is a kind of reciprocal action between them. This reciprocal working of Grace is a beautiful fact. The subconscious invitation from the Overself begets the conscious invocation of it as an automatic response. When the ego feels attracted towards its sacred source, there is an equivalent attraction on the Overself's part towards the ego itself. Never doubt that the Divine always reciprocates this attraction to it of the human self. Neither the latter's past history nor present character can alter that blessed hope-bringing fact. Grace is the final, glorious, and authentic proof that it is not only man that is seeking God, but also God that is ever waiting for man.
The Grace is a heavenly superhuman gift. Those who have never felt it and consequently rush into incautious denial of its existence are to be pitied. Those who flout the possibility and deny the need of a helping Grace can be only those who have become victims of a cast-iron intellectual system which could not consistently give a place to it.
It was a flaming experience of Grace which changed Saul, the bitter opponent, into Paul, the ardent apostle.
This is the paradox, that although a man must try to conquer himself if he would attain the Overself, he cannot succeed in this undertaking except by the Overself's own power--that is, by the Grace "which burns the straw of desires" as Mahopanishad poetically puts it. It is certain that such an attainment is beyond his ordinary strength.
All that the ego can do is to create the necessary conditions out of which enlightenment generally arises, but it cannot create this enlightenment itself. By self-purification, by constant aspiration, by regular meditation, by profound study, and by an altruistic attitude in practical life, it does what is prerequisite. But all this is like tapping at the door of the Overself. Only the latter's Grace can open it in the end.
The will has its part in this process, but it is not the only part. Sooner or later he will discover that he can go forward no farther in its sole dependence, and that he must seek help from something beyond himself. He must indeed call for Grace to act upon him. The need of obtaining help from outside his ordinary self and from beyond his ordinary resources in this tremendous struggle becomes urgent. It is indeed a need of Grace. Fortunately for him this Grace is available, although it may not be so on his own terms.
At a certain stage he must learn to "let go" more and allow the Overself to possess him, rather than strain to possess something which he believes to be still eluding him. Every aspirant who has passed it will remember how he leapt ahead when he made this discovery.
At another stage, the Overself, whose Grace was the initial impetus to all his efforts, steps forward, as it were, and begins to reveal its presence and working more openly. The aspirant becomes conscious of this with awe, reverence, and thankfulness. He must learn to attend vigilantly to these inward promptings of Divine Grace. They are like sunbeams that fructify the earth.
With the descent of Grace, all the anguish and ugly memories of the seeker's past and the frustrations of the present are miraculously sponged out by the Overself's unseen and healing hand. He knows that a new element has entered into his field of consciousness, and he will unmistakably feel from that moment a blessed quickening of inner life. When his own personal effort subsides, a further effort begins on his behalf by a higher power. Without any move on his own part, Grace begins to do for him what he could not do for himself, and under its beneficent operation he will find his higher will strengthening, his moral attitude improving, and his spiritual aspiration increasing.
The consciousness of being under the control of a higher influence will become unmistakable to him. The conviction that it is achieving moral victories for him which he could not have achieved by his ordinary self, will become implanted in him. A series of remarkable experiences will confirm the fact that some beneficent power has invaded his personality and is ennobling, elevating, inspiring, and guiding it. An exultant freedom takes possession of him. It displaces all his emotional forebodings and personal burdens.
Grace is received, not achieved. A man must be willing to let its influx move freely through his heart; he must not obstruct its working nor impede its ruling by any break in his own self-surrender. He can possess Grace only when he lets it possess him.
Philosophy affirms the existence of Grace, that what the most strenuous self-activity cannot gain may be put in our hands as a divine gift.
As at the beginning, so at the end of this path, the unveiling of the Overself is not an act of any human will. Only the Divine Will--that is, only its own Grace--can bring about the final all-revealing act, whose sustained consciousness turns the aspirant into an adept.
In seeking the Overself, the earnest aspirant must seek it with heartfelt love. Indeed, his whole quest must be ardently imbued with this feeling. Can he love the Divine purely and disinterestedly for its own sake? This is the question he must ask himself. If this devotional love is to be something more than frothy feeling, it will have to affect and redeem the will. It will have to heighten the sense of, and obedience to, moral duty. Because of this devotion to something which transcends his selfish interests, he can no longer seek his selfish advantage at the expense of others. His aim will be not only to love the soul but to understand it, not only to hear its voice in meditation but to live out its promptings in action.
Whether the world was brought into existence as lila, a theatrical show, as one important Hindu theology says, or as a universal joke, as some important Western metaphysicians conclude, it still remains that the humans in it must suffer; whether they are puppets in a play or victims of divine fun, sooner or later they have to endure loss, illness, bereavement, and death. The practical attitude is then to minimize the suffering where possible and where self-caused, on the physical level, and to develop inner strength, composure, and understanding on the emotional-mental one so as to be less vulnerable. This is to apply philosophy.