Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 17: The Religious Urge > Chapter 3: Religion As Preparatory
Religion As Preparatory
The religious life, if earnestly followed and conscientiously sustained, carries the devotee only part of the way towards worship of, and communion with, God. It is only a preparatory school. For both morally and intellectually it is a kind of compromise, yielding to a certain degree of the lower nature's rule and accepting beliefs that violate reason. This satisfies him only because he has not made perfect purity and perfect truth his standards.
To deny the immense value of the ordinary religion in its own place and to those who have yet to gain its rewards would be to break off the lower rungs of the ladder whereby men must climb to what is the ultimate goal of all religion.
The general line of inner development for the human race is in the first stage right action, which includes duty, service, responsibility. In the second stage religious devotion appears. This engenders worship of the higher power, moral improvement, holy communion. The third stage is mystical and involves practice of meditation to get a more intimate communion. The fourth stage is the awakening of need to understand truth and know reality. Its completed product is the sage, who includes in himself the civilized man, the religionist, the mystic, and the philosopher.
Organizations are for most people the only way of receiving religious help or acquiring religious belief. This, however, does not mean that they will always remain so, for a time comes when they are seen for what they are--elementary stages usually, intermediary stages sometimes.
When a man comes to the attitude that it is not sufficient for him to receive religion at second hand as a creed or a conviction, when he must receive it directly as an actual experience in his own life, when he can pray with Flemish Thomas à Kempis, "Let it not be Moses or the Prophets that speak to me, but speak thyself," he is ready to move up from the first and lowest grade to the second and middle one. Such a one will then put himself in a position--which he did not occupy before--of being able to move forward to the central point of all religion, which is the personal revelation of the Overself, God's Deputy, in the heart of the individual man.
The sceptic, the anthropologist, and the philosopher of Bertrand Russell's type say that religion arose because primitive man was terrified by the destructive powers of Nature and endeavoured to propitiate them or their personifications by worship and prayer. They say further that civilized man, having achieved some measure of control over natural forces, feels far less in need of religious practices. This is an erroneous view. Religions were instituted by sages who saw their need as a preparatory means of educating men's minds for the higher truths of science and philosophy.
Codified religion is not the final truth. It is but the vestibule of Mysticism, which is the vestibule of Philosophy, which is the vestibule of Truth. He who tarries in any vestibule is a sluggard, unfit for entrance into the innermost chamber where Truth's treasure lies.
Religion as popularly organized, with priesthoods and hierarchs, vestments and incense, ceremonials and rites, liturgies and scriptures, churches and temples, is an excellent first step for most people but not for all people.
The religious path is only a way leading at its end to the still higher mystical path. It does not bring its followers directly into the presence of God, as they believe, but rather to the beginning of a further way which alone can do so.
Yet the worship that is given by the multitude to an imagined God is not without value. It is an initiation, a preparation, and a training for the worship that will one day be given to the real God. It is an archway through which they pass on their way to philosophic worship.
The ancient division of men into three grades of spiritual development was expressed variously in different countries. In India, the Bhagavad Gita placed lowest the man whose mentality was inert and dull, next the man whose understanding was coloured by emotion or distorted by passion, and highest the man of clear and balanced intelligence.
The ceremonies and beliefs of institutional religions are useful, even necessary, on the level of consciousness for which those religions have been created; but they do not assist the mind to rise to the higher levels of metaphysical and, especially, philosophical religion. For these are concerned with a far higher quality.
The Ultimate meaning and social significance of religion will be hidden from us so long as we do not understand that it represents the appeal to the first of the three stages of growth in human mentality. The latter begins with the primitive, arrives at the civilized, and finishes with the philosophic stage. We have only to study the fruits of anthropological research to become aware of this truth. Ultimate truth being beyond the intellectual range of savage society, its wiser leaders unfolded a faith suited to their followers' capacity and needs, a faith which worked perfectly well and was indeed the best faith for such people. It ill becomes us to sneer at their superstitions, therefore, merely because we are totally unable to place ourselves into sympathetic relationship with their primitive environment. Their beliefs became superstitions only when those who led them did not realize that capacity for change and growth must be allowed for when the tribes had outgrown their first faith. Therefore, such esotericism does not mean that the masses are condemned to wear forever the badge of intellectual backwardness.
A man on the second level will not be able to accept the ideas or practices of a man who lives higher up on the third one. It would be unreasonable to expect such acceptance.
It is as erroneous to take the popular form of a religion as being all there is to it, as to take the symbolic statements of that form in a literal sense. Deeper than this form is a mystical layer and deeper still a philosophic lore.
The mission of religion is to take mankind through the first stage of the road to spiritual self-fulfilment. It can succeed in this mission only as it leads its adherents to regard religion more and more as a personal matter, less and less as a corporate one.
It is not enough for one's religious faith to be fervent; it ought also be intelligent.
Simple minds can be taught to accept the symbols of religion as realities and the metaphors of its dogmas as truths, but cultivated minds submit with difficulty.
All religion rests ultimately in some kind of revelation--that is, on the appeal to faith. The first impulsive reply of modern man must be to doubt.
The reality in religion is true, but what too often passes for religion may be quite untrue. Doubt of what is false in it may be faith in, and consequent upon worship of, the real Deity.
The capacity to defy religious superstition is needed if a man is to discover religious truth.
The abatement of faith in a particular sacerdotal organization is not alarming in itself, but the abatement of faith in the Supreme Power which works for righteousness is indeed alarming. How many people have forsaken institutionalized religion not because they have lost faith in the existence of the Supreme Power but because they have lost faith in the representative character of the institution itself, not because they do not feel the need of religion but because they feel the need of a purer and better religion? If they have not found any other creed to replace the one they have outgrown, they may still turn for inward solace directly to the Supreme Power itself.
One may have truly religious feelings yet still be critical of a religious environment which practises hypocrisy or supports superstition.
Although organized religion is rendering a great and necessary service to the mass of people, there are still a few individuals who need a somewhat deeper understanding of the truth which such religion is teaching. If they pursue their enquiries they will not only be able to gain this understanding but also be rewarded by inner peace.
At a certain distance along the way, the institution or organization which may have helped him in the past now bars his way. Instead of serving his highest purpose it arouses questions, doubts, criticisms.
If he is sufficiently developed as a human being, he finds himself wondering at this existence of his and of his world. And if he becomes serious enough to look around for the answers which others have given to his questions, he can easily become bewildered by the contradictory results.
The traditional ancient historical religion into which a man is born, and which he accepts unquestioningly, is comforting and secure in his young days. But with adult maturity and the intellect coming more into play, his faith may become disturbed.
Questions about the assumptions of religion, uncertainties about its fulfilment of promises, doubts, and distresses may cause him many a pang during this difficult period.
The religious devotee does not care to trouble himself with such questions but all the same he cannot keep them out for all time. The human mind is so constructed that under the pressure of experience or the nurturings of evolution it desires, nay even demands, to know. Both desire and demand may be feeble at first and limited in extent. But they will emerge as inevitably as bud and leaf emerge, and find troubling utterance.
Those whose hearts could receive a nobler faith, whose heads could absorb a truer one, need not remain captives to an inferior one.
A philosophically based religion would give all its worshippers a chance to move up higher whenever they wished, felt ready, or began to express doubts.
There are two ways open: either advance into another religion or sect, or sink a shaft into the religion already held and go down deeper and deeper until its ultimate Source is found.
The type of religion which seeks to frighten men by the ever-burning fires of hell is for the naïve. Tradition supports it but education destroys it. By education we do not here mean the memorizing of opinions but the unfolding of the capacity to think rightly.
As man's intelligence develops he needs to be fed with religious nutriment beyond the simpler forms and faiths of popular religion. If this is not offered he becomes indifferent or atheist.
When religious faith is shattered by some distressing event of the personal life, this very loss may lead to gain. For it may be a prelude to a deepening and enriching of that faith.
People seek to escape from the soul's solitariness by keeping close to mass organizations, including even the religious ones of traditional churches. Here they find shelter and gregarious comfort. But a day comes when crisis crashes through the one and disturbs the other. Once again they are left alone with the soul.
He must look upon the elaborate ceremonials and simple dogmas as a cradle where his growth began, his limbs first extended themselves. But he cannot stay in the cradle forever if he is to become a youth and an adult.
Religious devotion, worship, aspiration, start a man on the way by occupying his feelings. But a time may come when he may wish also to know and understand more about the mysterious object of his devotion. It is then that he must prepare to get into deep waters, must hold his breath and take the plunge into philosophic thought.
There is no need for anyone to leave his own religion, but there is a need for him to go deeper into it.
The human being cannot be kept forever in the child state, neither physically nor mentally, neither in the home nor in the church. This must be recognized if society is to have fewer problems, less friction, more understanding, and more harmony.
The concrete image for worship was originally given for all those who needed something physically visible and touchable to hold their attention and keep it fixed on the idea of God. It was a means of fostering concentration. The masses were helped thereby. For others it was a useful reminder. But more developed minds who are able to grasp a metaphysical or abstract idea, as well as those who feel quite cool to external rites and constantly repeated ceremonies, need not let the less developed ones tyrannize over them and make them hypocritically worship, or take part in, what bores them utterly. They may claim their freedom and replace the idol by the sacred Idea, substitute for the rite an inner reverence for the Higher Power.
When a movement's inner life hardens into an organization, when its teaching petrifies into a formulated dogmatic creed, when its advocates and elders and guides become parasites on all the others, it may be time to quit.
We may give up hollow religious rites, if they have become meaningless and repugnant to us, and yet we need not give up religion itself. The two are distinct.
It is better to go one's own spiritual way and walk at one's own private pace than to tread the path of an organized church in steps set for us by professional priests.
To insist on primitive forms of religion being offered to, and honoured by, those who have reached the threshold of mental maturity, is like insisting on grown-up men playing with toys or grown women with dolls.
When the questions concern the spiritual meaning of life, the spiritual techniques of communion, or the spiritual nature of man, and when they are strongly and earnestly felt, it is the pressure of the answer itself working upon the mind from within that is forcing the questions into the focus of attention. It may take years before the man can unite the two, however.
Those who go to church for reasons of social conformity or self-interest, not for reasons of inner need, are on a lower level of evolution than those who refuse to go to church at all because their intellect cannot bring itself to believe in what is taught there.
Whether to conform to orthodox religion or make an open break with it must depend partly on the prompting he intuitively feels and partly on his family, social, and business circumstances. If a rupture might do external harm and create great friction, and if he does not feel a strong urge to make a break, then why do so? In that case it would not be hypocrisy to conform but simple prudence. The world being what it is, it is not possible to live in it and yet achieve complete independence. On the other hand, if the intuitive leading takes him away from obedience to these practices then he should obey conscience.
The legal, official, and conventional nature of established churches mesmerizes the great mass of people into the belief that here only is the truth, and that outside them lies false religion. The man who is beginning to hear the call of his higher self may often need to resist the power of this mass-suggestion.
That which appears as enlightening Truth to one man appears as dangerous heresy to another man. These are not mere differences of opinion but of evolutionary growth.
So far as established religion limits the evil-doing of its followers, it renders a useful social service. But this does not help those who, so far from needing such bounds set upon their deeds, are positively active in doing good. Still less does it help the few who have felt the urge to seek the Spirit's absolute truth above all the things of this world.
We may accept much that is given out by a man, a religion, or a teaching without sanctioning everything else that comes from the same source. All of it is not necessarily wisdom and virtue.
Few men can accept their traditional religion in its entirety; they accept it only in part.
Those who venture beyond the boundaries of established orthodoxy are justified in their exodus if they feel insufficiently or improperly nourished within those boundaries.
The free man will not take kindly to rigidly binding dogmas, may even come to feel spiritually suffocated by them.
The masses have their ready-made religion; the seeker must form his own.
Doubt has shaken the belief in a merciful and benevolent Deity but has not much shaken belief in the Deity's existence.
The rise to a higher level from a hollow, merely formal and outward religious life to a simple childlike trust in, and inward devotion to, God is excellent. But those who are unable to put aside their intellects so easily may ask for something more.
The Christian who has outgrown conceptions of an elementary nature and needs more substantial spiritual food is faced with his own special situation and religious difficulties. He must begin to get for himself some glimpse of the True Self by way of personal experience.
It is no sin on the part of any man but rather an intellectual duty critically to investigate for himself the formalized systems of unyielding dogma which, in the name of tradition, claim his belief.
It was a Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Mr. O.W. Holmes, who wrote in a private letter with reference to the orthodox religious doctrines which had been inculcated in him in his mid-nineteenth-century childhood: "But how can one pretend to believe what seems to him childish and devoid alike of historical and rational foundations?" The intellectual eminence which had brought this man to such a high position brought him also to such a questioning.
The religious individualist who is unwilling to put his mind under the yoke of any organization, who is unaffiliated with any group, has at least as much chance to find truth as the members of such organizations and groups and, as history shows, most probably a better one.
Inner worship is superior
We must distinguish between the ritualistic forms of outward religion and the mental and transmental states, the emotional and intuitional experiences of inward religion.
People who turn away from religion, even if they believe vaguely that there is a God, because the distance between both is immeasurable, may be startled to learn that God is also very near, is indeed within themselves.
True Spirituality is an inward state; mere religiosity an outward one.
Enshrined in the secrecy of everyman's Holy of Holies, hidden in the depths of his heart, there is a point where he may find his indestructible link with God.
The kind of religious worship which is expressed through outer things, through physical rituals, objects, sounds and processions and movements, is intended chiefly for those people who cannot practise the inner worship of silent moveless meditation. The first is easier but the other is superior.
The only value of theology is a negative but still useful one: to tell the student to ascend higher and give himself up to the practice of advanced thought-free mystical meditation.
The public demonstration of one's religion in church or temple does not appeal to all temperaments. Some can find holiest feelings only in private. Those in the first group should not attempt to impose their will on the others. Those in the second group should not despise the followers of conventional communion. More understanding between the two may be hard to arrive at, but more tolerance would be a sign that the personal religious feeling is authentic.
Men who imagine that if they take part in the ritual of a cult they have done their religious duty are dangerously self-illusioned. By attaching such a narrow meaning to such a noble word, they degrade religion. We have progressed in religion to the extent that whereas ancient man sacrificed the animal outside him upon the altar of God-worship, modern man understands that he has to sacrifice the animal inside him. The external forms of religion are not its final forms. Jesus ordered one convert to worship "in spirit and in truth," that is, internally. The two phases of worship--external and internal--are not on the same level; one is a higher development of the other.
A fourteenth-century German churchman, John Tauler, said: "Let the common people run about and hear all they can, that they may not fall into despair or unbelief; but know that all who would be God's, inwardly and outwardly, turn to themselves and retire within."
There is a vast difference between the man for whom religion means an organization, a numbered group, attendance at a formal ceremony, a set of creedal beliefs, and an official authority on matters of right or wrong--and the man for whom it means a vivid inner experience, enlightening and pacifying, joyous and gracious.
A man must find holiness in his own mind before he can find it in any place, be it church, ashram, monastery, or temple. He must love it so much that he constantly thinks about it, or thinks about it so much that he begins to love it, before he can find its real quality anywhere.
Set forms of prayer, fixed formulas, and ready-worded phrases are for the multitudes who have little capacity for creating their own. It makes the going easier for them when they are told or taught what to say. But those who have more capacity should not feel themselves bound so rigidly: they should feel themselves free to express their devotional feelings in their own way and own words.
In the deep stillness we learn no creed, are taught no dogma. Only outside it, only among quarrelling men, are we saddled with the one and strapped down with the other.
So long as they look for the sources of religious truth, power, hope, and goodness outside themselves, so long will they have to suffer from the imperfections and limitations of such sources.
The man who wants something broader than the pettiness of most religious creeds, nobler than most religious ethics, truer than most religious teaching, will have to step out of every religious cage and look where Jesus told him to look--within himself.
Those who formerly could not bring themselves to believe that God exists are dumbfounded when they discover that He not only exists but even exists within themselves.
Men go on pilgrimage to this or that holy place, city, man, or monastery. But in the end, after all these outer journeys, they will have to make the inner journey to the divine deputy dwelling in their own hearts.
Too often religion amounts to coddling the ego of the believers and worshippers, both in its existence in this world and in the next one. This merely creates illusions that will later have to be struggled against for release.
The man who accepts doctrines, obeys commandments, follows blindly, shifts responsibility to the organization of which he is a member. But his attempt fails. The karma is not only collective but personal. The man as an individual cannot escape.
No religion today can claim to be the sole and true inheritor of its Prophet's message. There is no unity in any of them; there is plenty of dissension and sectarianism when it comes to definitions, creeds, and observances. This really means that the individual follower, in relying on tradition to support him here, is trying to push off--unconsciously perhaps--his personal responsibility for his acceptance of it. But it remains there still!
When he no longer looks only to the established tradition offered him by others but also and more deeply into his own inner consciousness, he is then following the way pointed to by Jesus and Buddha and Lao Tzu. For this is how and where the soul reveals itself.
If many like to share their religious emotions with others in full public view, they are entitled to do so. But if this activity is done with the desire to be seen, to be admired in approval, to this extent the emotion is adulterated and rendered worthless, because it is ego-worshipping instead of God-worshipping.
Those who believe they honour a religion by attending its services and ceremonies are not seldom deceiving themselves. It is they themselves who are honoured by the contact.
Men and women go to church, mosque, synagogue, or temple, ostensibly to worship the higher power; but what is the good, if when they are there their thoughts are preoccupied with their personal affairs and are thus not really in the church or holy building, but in their egos? They might as well have stayed at home if they don't intend to make an effort to let go and to look up.
It is nonsense to assert that people who come together for worship touch a stronger holiness than those who pray alone. What happens is that two forces are at work: first, the power of society, of public opinion, and the crowd to incite and shame them into attending open services where they see and are seen; second, a central place or building reserved for such visible worship and heard prayer suggests that divine influence is active there.
The way in which some people flock to join organized groups is often an indication on their part of some unconscious or unexpressed doubt, for it is an indication of their need to strengthen their faith by getting the support of numbers. But this is only a spurious support because the faith is inside them, whereas the group is outside!
We can truly worship God without ever entering a religious building, opening a religious book, or professing a religious membership.
Prayer which is private and individual is superior in quality and sincerer in tone than prayer which is public and collective.
Religion will gain in honesty and lose in hypocrisy, society will gain in peaceableness and lose in quarrelsomeness, when religion itself becomes a private affair--so private that even two friends of different faiths will ordinarily neither display their interest in nor talk about them. Their reverence will then express itself just as well and even more sincerely in private religion than in public worship.
If prayers are merely said by rote, mechanically or perfunctorily, little or nothing need be expected from them.
The dogma, ritual, creed, and sacramental worship of religion exist only to lead up to this inner phase: they are not ends in themselves.
The beautifully carved figure which was to have acted as a symbol to men of their higher possibilities and as a reminder of their duty to realize them, becomes over-worshipped, its correct use forgotten and true place misconceived. In this manner materialism penetrates religion, as it does in several other ways.
Whether a man accords his allegiance to Salt Lake City or to Rome, to the Mormon revelation or the Catholic credo, is really of more importance to the institutions involved than to the man himself. For in the end his salvation depends on what he is rather than on what the institution is.
When Jesus said, "Knock and it shall be opened to you," he meant knock at the door within yourself. No amount of knocking at the doors of organizations outside yourself will bring this result.
The altar at which he humbly prays is deep within his mind; the god to which he gives reverent homage is there.
Too many people have been mistaught by religion to evade their obligations and to deny their responsibilities by trying to put them into God's hands merely because it is unpleasant or uncomfortable to the ego to deal with them themselves.
The more importance is placed upon the inner life by a religion, the less is development given to ritualism.
If you depend too much on the external, you will become weaker to the same extent internally.
It has been observed that most religious hymns are about ourselves, few only are about God.
They worship their own ego and call it God!
It is only by relegating religion from being a public to being a private affair that those two typical religious nuisances--intolerance of other beliefs and interference with other people's lives--can be got rid of.
We must take a higher position than ordinary religion offers and come face to face with the mystery that is Mentalism. The nonbeing of the universe, the nonduality even of the soul may be too mathematical a conclusion for our finite minds; but that this matterless world and all that happens in it is like a dream is something to be received and remembered at all times. We are important only to ourselves, not to God. All our whining and praying, chanting and praising, gathering together and imagining that this or that duty is required of us is mere theatre-play: Mind makes it all. In this discovery we roll up the stage and return to the paradox of what we really are--Consciousness!
Mysticism and religion
Mysticism is religion come to flower. The yearning for security against fears, which religious belief and ceremony satisfy in an elementary way, is still further and much more fully satisfied by mystical experience in an advanced way.
When religion is of the socially visible, publicly attended kind, it serves the people in a limited way. When it is of an extremely private, quiet silent meditative kind, it penetrates their mystical essence.
Faith in the soul is the first step and is provided by religion. Knowledge of the soul is the second step, and is provided by mysticism.
The religionist has a vague intuitive feeling that there is something higher than the daily round, someone behind the universe, and some kind of existence after death. The mystic has developed this intuition into definite insight into his own relation to this mystery: he knows he has a soul.
Religion was devised to assist the masses. Mysticism was designed to assist the individual. When religion has led a man to the threshold of deeper truths behind its own, its task is done. Its real value is attained in mysticism. Henceforth, the practice of mystical exercises can alone assure his further spiritual progress. For mysticism does not rest upon the shifting sands of faith or the uncertain gravel of argument, but upon the solid rock of experience. The first great move forward in his spiritual life occurs when he moves from religion to mysticism, when he no longer has to go into some stone building or to some paid mediator to feel reverential towards God, but into himself. Mysticism is for the man who is not in a hurry, who is willing to work persistently and to wait patiently for consciousness of his divine soul. The others who have not the time for this and who therefore resort to religion must live by faith, not by consciousness. The man who wishes to rise from sincere faith and traditional belief in the soul to practical demonstration and personal experience of it must rise from religion to mysticism. Mysticism seeks to establish direct contact with the divine soul, without the mediation of any man and without the use of any external instrument. Hence it must seek inward and nowhere else. Hence, too, the ordinary forms and methods of religion are not necessary to it and must be dropped. When the mystic finds the divine presence enlightening and strengthening him from within, he cannot be blamed for placing little value upon sacramental ceremonies which claim to achieve this from without. Nor is he censurable if he comes to regard church attendance as unnecessary and sacramental salvation as illusory. If a man can find within himself the divine presence, divine inspiration, and divine guidance, what need has he of church organization? It can be useful only to one who lacks them.
If the transition from religion to mysticism is to be conveniently made, it must be gradually made. But this can be done only if the teachers of religion themselves approve and promote the transition. But if they do not, if they want to keep religion imprisoned in ecclesiastic jail-irons, if they persist in a patriarchal attitude which indiscriminately regards every member of their flock as an intellectual infant who never grows up, the transition will happen all the same. Only it will then happen abruptly and after religion itself has been discarded either for cynical atheism or for bewildered apathy.
Religion brings the truth to him only in part and, too often, in symbol--only from outside himself and by secondhand revelation. Mysticism brings him to the truth from inside himself and by personal experience.
Without this mystical dimension, religion lies at its most elementary level.
Under the half-dead conservatism of religious tradition and dogmas there lie concealed a group of profound truths and ulterior meanings. They are needed today much more than those relics are needed. Yet the irony is that the men who teach those traditions have all the prestige of great institutions to support them whereas the mystic who perceives those undisclosed truths stands alone and has little or no prestige. So the masses continue to echo the empty babble of their religious leaders, or else repudiate religion altogether and become either indifferent or hostile to it.
Valuable and respected as the Catholic mystics were as guides to mystical knowledge and practice, most of them still remain biased and unscientific guides. Allowance must be made for this difference of attitude with which they approach the subject, from that with which a modern mind--freed from prejudice, superstition, and organizational ties--approaches it. Even so outstanding and leading a mystic as Saint John of the Cross, who is considered to have reached the goal of complete union, limited his reading to four or five books, of which one was Contra Haereses, and confined his writing by his proclaimed intention "not to depart from the sound sense and doctrine of our Holy Mother the Catholic Church."
Mysticism is not to be confused with any religion. Mysticism can drop all the religions from its hold and yet be unaffected. No religion can help the true mystic, but he can help any religion with which he cares to establish contact. His presence alone inside any fold will give it more than a momentary grandeur and cause men to look on an old Church with new respect. This is why mysticism can stand on its own feet, and why it does not need the doubtful legends and theatrical liturgies of institutional religion.
When a man has outgrown the tutelage of religion and tired of the barren negative period of agnosticism which succeeds it, he is ripe for the tutelage of mysticism.
We must not confuse the truly mystical life with either a religious one or an ethical one. The latter two are merely elementary and preparatory to the former.
The assertion that, in certain cases, heresy can be true religion and orthodoxy false, may seem incredible to those who have not the necessary evidence to prove it. Yet Buddha and Jesus and Muhammed were, in their time, heretics. How many others have died unknown, canonized as saints or revered as sages in the minds and remembrances of only a small number of persons? And how many of them, had it been their mission to declare themselves openly, would have been rejected, calumniated, or persecuted?
Mysticism is larger than religion and ought not to be confounded with it; yet paradoxically it takes in religion and does not deny it. It fulfils and consummates religion and does not retard it.
A sincere Church would do everything to encourage, and nothing to hinder, its members taking to the mystical quest. For this would be the best sign that it honestly sought to consummate its own work for the individual benefit rather than its own.
More than three hundred years ago, a wonderful little woman took the Galilean at his word. She put all her emotional strength into aspiration and meditation and succeeded in achieving an exalted state by practising a simple method. When her own heavenly peace was sufficiently stabilized, she began to think of others, of how she could help them attain it too. She was not so selfish as to be satisfied with her own satisfaction alone. So she journeyed from city to city and from village to village in religious yet religionless France, lighting the candles of human faith with a divine taper. Such was the spiritual darkness of the time that her success was immediate, and such was her own Christlike power that it was amazing. Crowds flocked gladly to her side, listened eagerly to her words, and endeavoured faithfully to follow her instructions. Her doctrine came to be called "Quietism" because she showed people how to quieten their personal thoughts and emotions and thus become aware of the impersonal heaven behind them, the kingdom within. She was no heretic. She drew frequently from Jesus' own recorded words to explain or illustrate her teaching. Yet she did not speak from dead pulpits in churches but from living ones in the fields. The clergy became seriously alarmed. Such activities could not be countenanced, they said. They petitioned the authorities against her, as the Jewish priests had once petitioned the Roman authorities against Jesus. She was thrown into prison and the jailer turned his key on her dismal abode, where she was shut in for a long period of years. Such was the story of poor Madame Guyon.
She was also denounced by the Church, as were her followers, for having fallen into the sin of spiritual pride. This was because of the assertion that outward practices and ritualistic acts were no longer needed by those who could find inspiration within. This teaching is quite correct but politically wrong. Out of respect for, or fear of, the Church's great power in those times, as well as out of consideration for the mass of people who were still unable to rise above their dependence on such outward ceremonies, Madame Guyon could have worked longer if she had worked quietly and privately, not openly and publicly. She could have instructed her followers, first, not to talk about the teaching to any person who was not ready for it, and second, not to communicate it even to those who were ready without the safeguard of complete secrecy.
Do you wish to penetrate to the essence of this episode? Here it is. A bishop of that time naïvely let the cat out of his theological bag! He said: "This woman may teach primitive Christianity--but if people find God everywhere what is to become of us?"
"What is to become of us?" Six short words but what a tremendous commentary they contain! When religion was about to become a living actuality in the lives of common people whose hearts were moved by the enlightening words of Mme. Guyon through personal realization of its loftiest truth, when it was ready to inspire them from hour to hour with inward peace and outward nobility, the official exponents of Christianity interfered and prevented it because of their selfish fears! They did not see and perceive the ultimate danger to themselves, and the immediate shame on their teaching, of such a situation. Well may the thinker have repeated the poet's lines about the mills of the Gods grinding slow but exceedingly small, for when the French Revolution broke out and spread its ugly malignant fury over the land, when the so-called Goddess of Reason was set up on her throne in the very midst of Notre Dame Cathedral, and when all France was rocking in the great upheaval which retributive destiny and rebellious demagogues had conspired to bring upon her, fifty thousand French priests fled from persecution, imprisonment, and even death. To appear on the streets of Paris in those days wearing the cleric's garb was to court the punishment of death itself.
The mystical phase is to be acquired without dropping the religious phase, although he may wish to modify it.
If religion is to save what is best in itself, it must not only set its house in order but must admit the mystical practices into its system of instruction. It must become less exteriorized and more interiorized, more mystical. Stone-built sanctuaries are many in every town and village of the land. But those that truly light the mind are few. Yet there is one with doors wide open to all, great enough to include every city in the country yet narrow enough to exclude the dull materialist, the ruthlessly cruel, and the poisonously selfish. This is the sanctuary of the inner Self. From this mystical standpoint the institutional side of every religion is its least important side. To understand a religion in this way we must first become heretics; we must cast off conventional views which blind the mind's eyes. We need no longer worry ourselves over the hotly debated question of whether or not Christ was born of a virgin mother, for instance, but we do need to give our time and thought to finding that which Christ represents within ourselves. Christ can live again within our hearts, as he himself taught, which means we must look for him inside ourselves much more than inside a Church building.
The disuse of outward sacraments and the distaste for church organization which mark the life-history of several mystics, come from the vigour and independence with which they must shield the growing plant of inner life, and from the reorientation of trust with which they turn from all man-made things to God alone.
When spiritual yearnings become more insistent but perhaps more indefinable, it may be that the mystical depths of religion are calling him away from its shallow surfaces.
The mystic unfolds his higher individuality. The more he does so, the more he tends to draw away from the organization which acts as custodian of his outer religion.
Fanatical religion killed Hypatia, conventional religion lynched Pythagoras, respectable religion poisoned Socrates, authority-worshipping religion crucified Jesus.
It is historical fact that a number of those who successfully deepen their spiritual life by contemplation practice may develop anti-ritualistic attitudes. This is why mystics have been tolerated, even venerated, and alternately treated as heretics and persecuted.
Ecclesiastic hierarchies do not welcome, even discourage, the claim to personal inspiration in their own times. A fresh revelation of deific power is regarded as a fresh danger. For the new voice may be listened to in place of the old parrot-like repetitions!
Because time brings to instituted religions growth, and that brings power, success, wealth, and prestige--with all their corruptions and infidelities--all religions' principles need to be periodically re-established. This is why contemporary mystics and prophets are always needed and why they should be given a hearing.
So long as so many of the authorized guardians of religion fail to appreciate the fact that mysticism is the very core of their doctrine, so long will they lack the glowing inspiration, the broadening view, and the beneficial strength which religion at its best can and ought to give.
What the religious man feels by instinct or faith, the mystical man knows by experience or revelation.
It remains a historical fact that the man who has discovered truth finds more opposition within the formal established church of his religion than outside it, more who will accept it among laymen than among professional ministers and theologians. This is regrettable, because the latter ought to be the first to welcome his discovery. But organizational ego, plus personal timidity or cowardice, get in the way.
So long as people are overwhelmed by the official prestige of established churches and overawed by their historic tradition, so long will it be futile to expect wide recognition of, and proper honour for, the authentic revelations of a true contemporary mystic.
The individual mystic's lack of status is regrettable but expectable. For it is the penalty he must pay for refusing to be overawed by the dogmas current in his time and the traditions inherited from his people's past. What chance has this teaching when its adherents form only a small unrecognized entirely scattered cult whereas the adherents of orthodoxy are numbered by the million, and even those of unorthodoxy are numbered by the thousand or hundred? Must all importance, all truth, all significance in religion be limited to organized groups alone? Are there no inspired persons and no ordinary individuals who do not choose to belong to any such groups at all? Why should orthodoxy and unorthodoxy, merely because they are organized into churches and labelled as denominations, alone represent the voice of religion?
The inspired individual who has climbed Sinai on his own feet and received the Tablets of God's Law with his own hands has merely a small fraction of the power, influence, and prestige of the be-robed representative of organized religion, who knows God only at second hand and through others, who has no inspiration with which to bless men and no real power to save them.
What is the difference between Quietism and Mysticism? Quietism is Roman Catholic and seems to have been solely devotional-mantra, repetition japa singing, ascetical in order to find personal salvation, whereas Mysticism is a generic term for all religions and seems to be positive living in God plus illumination.
So long as official religions held the highest places, so long the Enlightened, the knowers and the seers, were left to walk alone or to think in secret or to stifle their words.
There are austere anti-mystic theologians just as there are hidebound anti-mystic ecclesiastics.
The devotional life of religion finds its culmination in the meditative life of mysticism. Devotion can be practised en masse but meditation is best done in solitude. Religion can be organized but mysticism is best left to the individual.
If we mix the mystical with the religious standpoint, the result will be confusion and misunderstanding. They must be kept apart and in their proper places.
Those who have touched the mystical level in what they have deeply believed and deeply experienced are much less likely to be dogmatic, narrow religionists.
The gulf between ritualistic religion and mystical religion is the gulf between a metaphor and a fact.
It would be sheer folly for even an organized form of mysticism to compete with organized religion. The votaries of mysticism are and will remain a minor group. But insofar as their challenge acts as a successful irritant, they may help orthodox religion to improve itself.
The Roman Catholic Bishop of Cochin told me a few years ago that he disapproved of mysticism because it could very easily lead, and had historically led, to intellectual and spiritual anarchy and was therefore dangerous. Another Roman Catholic, G.K. Chesterton, the brilliant English author and journalist, told me nearly thirty years ago that he disapproved of mysticism because it could very easily lead to moral anarchy and evil behaviour, and had indeed done so. Yet both men were quite willing to accept mysticism provided it was fenced around by the limitations and regulations, the dogmatic definitions and supervisory direction imposed by their Church.
It is the constant contention of ecclesiastical authorities that mystics who find sufficient guidance and teaching in waiting upon the inner light, who disregard all outward supports, expose themselves to deception and error and the Church to anarchy and disintegration. Their contention is correct enough. Nevertheless the argument is not adequate enough to prohibit the practice of mysticism altogether. For, on the first count, the mystic can be taught how to protect himself against these perils. On the second one, not many people are willing or ready to become mystics and there are more than enough left to keep the Church busy while those who are ready can still be helped by the Church.
This insistence on the rigorous following of external forms, together with this neglecting of the internal spirit which should be the main object of those forms, is more harmful in the mystical world than in the religious one.
That which religion worships as from a distance, mysticism communes with as an intimate.
Many believe, some suspect, but few know that there is a divine soul in man.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.