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The Intermediate Zone

The pathway of the mystical goal is strewn with human wreckage. Why? Several reasons would be needed to give a complete answer but one of the most important is this: Between the state of ordinary man and the state of the matured mystic there lies a perilous and deceptive psychological region which has been given various names in mystical literature. It has been called the astral plane, the intermediate zone, the hall of illusion, and so on. The early efforts of all aspirants in concentration, meditation, self-conquest, and study, bring them into this region. But once here their egoism becomes stimulated by the subtle forces they have evoked, their emotional nature becomes more sensitive and more fluid, their imaginative power becomes more active and is less restrained. The consequence of failure to negotiate these changes properly is swollen vanity, superstitious credulity, emotions run riot, and imagination gone wild. The safeguards against all this are first, submission to the philosophic discipline and second, submission to competent guidance.

During the early stages of the meditator's career, ecstasies, visions, and messages may manifest themselves. He may accept the encouragement they bring to his feelings, but he should not accept the communications they make to his mind without screening them severely. It is easy for the ego to fall into self-flattering moods as a consequence of such experiences, and to pass from them into spiritual pride and vanity. But even if he succeeds in critically judging them, he must still remember and keep in mind that they, and even the emotional raptures, pertain only to these early stages and that he must become indifferent to and detached from them in the later ones. Otherwise, they will hinder his further development and cause him to stagnate.

These powers are latent in all men but active in few. To seek them before we have sought the divine Soul itself is a premature, unwise, and often dangerous enterprise.

All occult experiences and spirit visions are mental, and not spiritual, in the sense that the mind has various latent powers which pertain to the ego, not the Overself. The question of which is real can be answered differently according to standpoint. He need not trouble about the occult side, which would be a degeneration for him. His chief aim must be to realize pure B-e-i-n-g, not to see or experience anything outside it. Only after this has been done is it safe or wise to concern himself with anything occult.

While the aspirant is still unbalanced in personality, undeveloped in capacity, and uninformed in attitude, his psychical "experiences" are not likely to be of much real value or importance. Yet, precisely because of this immaturity of his, he will exaggerate their value and magnify their importance. One consequence of this is that they may not only obstruct but even harm his progress if he dwells on them. Hence a competent teacher will discourage most talk about them. He wants to hear that the aspirant has begun to overcome an unworthy impulse, not that he has "seen" some mystical vision.

It is natural for beginners to become excited or enthusiastic about the psychic phenomena but to let them be overvalued or misunderstood is dangerous to further progress.

He must not misdirect his intelligence at the bidding of his thirst for occult powers, nor his devotion at the bidding of his yearning for a teacher. He must not befog his outlook by acquired antipathies and picked-up prejudices. He must beware of the neuroticism which often passes for mysticism.

The beginner should not seek communications, messages, oracles, predictions, or impressions from the divine. He inevitably lacks the capacity and knowledge to discriminate between those that come from the true divine and those that come from the pseudo-divine. Because the first class is rare but the second common, he is more likely to be deceived than inspired. This kind of effort may lead to dangerous results.

What novices regard as psychic gifts are more often psychic ills. What they regard as spiritual development is more often spiritual affliction. They are the victims of their visions. Farther from God and nearer to madness leads the path of their heard voices and automatic writings.

Temptation begins when he becomes aware, through phenomena occurring in his presence or by his thought, that occult powers are developing within him. He may then come to regard himself as an extraordinary superman--which is nonsense--or as a somewhat imperfect channel.

It is just as possible to use these occult powers evilly as it is to use them beneficently. Indeed it is more possible. Therefore the way to them is guarded vigilantly, both by Nature and by those who hold the necessary knowledge.

Emotional vapourings may, at this early stage, be mistaken for authentic inspirations; even neurotic ravings may be welcomed as sacred revelations. Their content may even be partially or totally false.

He who would avoid unknown terrors should reject the pursuit of occult powers and the courting of invisible spirits, until he understands what he is doing. Let him learn before he moves, know light and shadow.

All occult development should be shunned until the character has been thoroughly changed, the emotions purified, the will hardened, and superstitions removed by knowledge. It may then come by itself as a resultant by-product of advanced mystical practices in meditation. In this way it will come safely and prove useful. In any other way, moral and mental deterioration may ensue, personal dangers may be incurred, while general futility may be the end of all.

The practices of psychism and occultism, with their pursuit of psychical and occult powers, have this peril: that unless the seeker is quite well informed he may be led astray from the correct path if he is at a lower stage, or be kept too preoccupied with his own ego (or extensions of it) if at a higher one. What might be useful adjuncts to a sage could become snares to a seeker.

The reason why the Yogi is called upon to reject the miracle-making powers which he earns is that unless he does so he is stopped in his onward progress to the Highest. He must go on and on until he gains the latter; "Neti, neti"--"Not this, not that"--must be his constant exclamation when new privileges of a superhuman kind are presented to him. In brief, he is not to be satisfied nor to stand still until he reaches his Goal. But once he has won his way to the truly spiritual plane of being, he can then safely turn around and pick up and use every occult power by which he has hitherto refused to become ensnared.

These mysterious unrealized powers in man can only be safely developed by an adept in philosophy, by a man who has already the knowledge to understand what he is really doing and the character to do it without danger to himself or others.

The siddhis represent the occult powers. They have no spiritual function, as they are on a lower level, although men who have attained spiritual realization may find themselves in possession of such powers. But also men who are not so interested in spiritual realization as in realizing their personal ambitions may deliberately seek and develop such powers.

He must understand that if he is clairvoyant and easily has visions, he is actually hindered in his progress at a certain stage, whereas this will become a great and helpful asset when he is more advanced. To get through to the higher consciousness these powers of clairvoyant vision must die down in him for a period and he must therefore co-operate and try to assist this process by the effort of deliberately willed self-repression.

A time may come when he may seek to get rid of those occult powers which, formerly, he sought so eagerly.

It is necessary to remember that a power which has been given may later be withdrawn.

If a student is devoted to the lofty ideal of finding what is finest in life, Nature mercifully withdraws possession of these supernormal powers from him after he has become, through his own short but startling personal experiences, both conscious and convinced of the wonderful power of Mind.

Then, of their own accord, they are mysteriously if slowly restored to him. During all this time they have preserved matured and perfected themselves through the unconscious workings of mind. Consequently he gains a superior form of them, as it were. Whereas before they were fragmentary fitful and sporadic, now they are ripe and forever to hand; whereas before they were vague and dreamlike, now they are precise and sharp. Nevertheless, the more authentic his possession of them is, the less will he speak of their existence. For several reasons--practical, prudential, and mystical--it is an unwritten law that they shall be owned and used in silence. Another reason for this silence is, however, almost ethical. These perfected powers arise when the ego is sunk, because they are powers belonging to the universal Mind, not to the ego. Hence to the degree that he identifies himself with the universal Mind he begins to manifest these miraculous powers. Because they are pertaining to universal Mind he cannot honestly say they are his. But neither can he honestly deny their presence in him. It is better, therefore, to keep silent about them.

In other cases, where the initial motive is low and unscrupulous but the patience to prolong meditation is high and determined, the loss of these powers comes much later. The man who is interested in merely gaining these powers for his own personal and selfish aggrandizement is entitled to receive what he has worked for. But his motive may not only cause him to injure others and thus bring down the eventual retribution of karma upon him, but also cause him to fall afoul of malignant invisible forces. A Mongolian philosopher with whom I once discussed the topic of developing occult powers dryly remarked that a man who tried deliberately to do so before being prepared by moral, mystical, and metaphysical disciplines was to be compared to an infant lying helplessly on its back liable to all kinds of dangers against which it had no shield.

That is not to say, however, that there are not strange faculties lying latent in the human mind. On the contrary, because mentalism is a fact in Nature, most successful yogis discover that some extraordinary faculties automatically arise in them. They offer a fascinating field of exploration to a properly trained competent investigator who has not only mastered the subject in a rational manner, and knows enough of the dangers and risks attending it, not only disciplined his mind and desires through the scientific, metaphysical, and yogic courses, but also consciously brought his ego within the framework of universal being. But amateurs who invade this field through motives of mere curiosity or immoral exploitation sooner or later discover that it becomes a region either of sheer time-wasting or else of grave danger. Even the best of men will find his way through this field with the utmost difficulty, while for most dilettanti it is an undertaking which is usually foredoomed to failure. In any case these powers not only are hard to get but may prove dangerous when gotten.

Psychic powers may develop of themselves as a consequence of mystical self-culture but should not be sought as its end. The first way is safe, the second is dangerous.

Tests, ordeals, temptations

The psychic experiences that may come to him on the Quest may be important preliminary phases in which some truths are passed on from the Overself in the form of mental pictures. Such a probationary period is usually filled with tests and ordeals, temptations and tribulations. In this connection, the events themselves are important to his personal life; but his reactions to them are what is important to his spiritual life.

Mysticism and meditation are but stages on the way up; their value lies in forming the fineness of mind, concentration of thought, and abstractedness of mood which are required to reach the higher stage. Of themselves they cannot bring us into truth or realization. If correctly practised they shape the mental instrument, or if incorrectly done they damage it. Hence all visions, psychic experiences, and occult initiations experienced in this stage are not only transient but of no real worth in themselves, while many are quite imaginary or the result of suggestion, however real to the experience for the moment.

Before we can reach the reality we have to cross a world of fanciful imagination and time-wasting delusions.

It is an unfortunate fact that some pilgrims become afflicted, either for a while or for a whole lifetime, with a mild madness. Their insanity is too mild to stop them from carrying on with their ordinary business of living, but it is sufficiently developed to make them waste time and energy in the pursuit of vain phantoms and absurd fantasies. If it takes the form of a hunger for occult phenomena or a desire to get spiritually transformed without working for it, they usually fall victim to some charlatan or imposter who aggravates their sickness and spoils their chances of recovery. If it takes some other form it is because they do not bring to the Quest sufficient practical judgement, emotional stability, and logical capacity. Such persons should abstain from meditation and limit their devotional exercises to prayer. They should greatly curb their mystical studies and give themselves up to the duller work of improving themselves. This work is absolutely necessary as a prerequisite to entering the real Quest; otherwise they will merely follow a hallucinatory one.

Another danger on the quest is a kind of mild madness during the long phase when occult phenomena are sought everywhere, esoteric interpretations are read into everything, and entry into the Overself is expected every day. No natural cause, no physical explanation will be accepted for any event if a supernatural one can be found. The worldly career may be marked by foolish acts which not only harm the actor, but, unwittingly, sometimes others too. Possessions may be squandered, opportunities thrown away, and false friends cultivated.

They begin to see their persecution by evil spirits and to feel the opposition by adverse forces, at every turn. But, in fact, the only enmity they have to endure is that which they fearfully imagine into existence.

It is by trying, aspiring, daring, that the latent creative forces in us are called into activity. Occultism teaches that all kinds of hindering and hostile forces surround us to drag us down. But if a man believes an influence or person or thing or environment to be hostile, if he thinks it will make it impossible for him to progress, then it may well be so; he will not progress. What occultism teaches is true, but it is not necessary to burden oneself with doubt and pessimism. There is also a higher truth.

There exist murky regions, lower worlds, which are best left alone, uninvaded, and not made visible by misguided efforts to become "clairvoyant."

If his feet remain solidly planted on earth, if his emotion does not outrun reason, if respect for fact is not failing, and if balance is kept always, he is in no danger of verging on that mild insanity or of entering that cloudy cuckoo-land which afflicts too many mystics.

Between his present stage and the ultimate goal, there lies a misty world of fantasies, illusions, snares, absurdities, and dangers. Here he may become as utterly confused about truth as beyond it he will become utterly convinced.

For some persons these are perilous studies: incipient madness finds in them its sun and water.

Danger signals, protective measures

Between the clear-cut solidity of the outer life in the sense-world and the impalpable delicacy of the inner life in the divine spirit, there is a region which many aspirants have to cross, but which a few succeed in avoiding. This is a region of illusion, fantasy, and psychism, where the ego uses its most cunning devices to entrap his emotions and entangle his passions, weaves its most specious flattery to seduce his intellect and imagination. On this part of his journey sensuality assumes the subtlest forms, fancy weaves the strangest occult experiences. Vanity receives the greatest encouragement through oracular or mission-bestowing messages, and unbalance is heightened to the pitch of neuroticism, hysteria, or even insanity. In this psychical stage of his development where error masquerades as truth, he will unconsciously impose upon the world of reality forms which properly belong to the world of sense. Here visions and messages, experiences and phenomena, things seen, heard, or touched by the imagination will constitute a subtle materialism designed to lead him astray. He must protect himself by drawing upon a strong, impartial self-criticism and self-denial, a strong, impersonal intelligence, and by seeking the counsel of a competent guide.

One's personal mystic experience is an important, perhaps the most important, test of the truth; but it should not stand alone. It needs to be checked by other standards. And it should be kept in the direction of the true and highest goal--discovery of the Soul. It should be kept away from the direction of occult phenomena. Psychic experience is something heard or felt or seen or touched--it is a sense-contact and belongs to the body's realm. The senses may deceive a man--or be used to deceive him! For such experiences involve the same five senses, albeit in another dimension, and need even more checking than physical ones. They belong to a road that is beset with temptations illusions and deceptions but in any case it is not "the straight and narrow path" to the kingdom of heaven. Psychism easily leads to a feeding and fattening of the ego, whose vanity glories in "powers" which it can show off to impress other people or even use to exploit them for its own benefit.

The dangers of letting his attention and energy be drawn aside from the main quest into psychic, occult, and mediumistic activities must be looked for in their early beginnings. It is then that they are easier to deal with. It is then that he must be vigilant and hard with himself, for the cost of going astray into these temptations is heavy.

It is true that to analyse with scientific detachment these most intimate and precious experiences, visions, and messages could, if imprudently done, easily destroy their value or prevent their recurrence. Yet this is precisely what he has to do if he is to protect himself against illusions.

He must learn to discriminate between what is genuine and what is false, what is good and what is evil, if he is to pick his way through this deceitful region.

If he can catch any of these psychic manifestations at the very moment when they begin, that is the best time to prevent their arisal altogether, for then they are at their weakest. That is the proper time to nip them in the bud.

The region of prophetic visions, clairaudient voices, and predictive messages opens up a veritable pit of possible illusions to the mystic. He must beware of the sights and scenes, the self-glorifying revelations which may present themselves to the mind during meditation. He would be better employed chasing such phantasmagorias from the mind rather than seeking to attract them! The mystic must put a stern check upon his imagination if he wishes to pass safely through his apprenticeship. The last word is that the course of meditation may or may not be accompanied by these occult phenomena. Neither does their addition improve the value of the mystic experience nor does their non-existence lessen it. Where they are genuine and authentic communications from the Overself, their value lies rather in personal but transient satisfaction or in immediate but momentary help.

A sincere motive is praiseworthy but not enough to give complete protection for untried, untempted, inexperienced innocence against these psychic and other dangers. It cannot be a substitute for cautious prudence, critical judgement, and psychical knowledge.

The intellectual weakness which permits such credulity must be removed if truth is ever to be found.

Humility is willing to question the reality of the figures it thinks it is seeing, but conceit is not.

Open-eyed observation and clear-headed enquiry will supply the true facts where fantastic imagination and psychic tendencies will largely misrepresent them.

We must make no pretensions to secrets which we do not possess. Since what we do not know is so much more than what we do know, it is better to be humble and straightforwardly to say, "I do not know." It is then possible to learn, to amend our ignorance; but once we pose as holding a knowledge which in fact we do not hold, we put up the shutters of the mind and doom ourselves to continued darkness.

He must endeavour to understand what has occurred, seeking to substantiate his understanding by scientific methods. Not that there are no genuine manifestations of this order; there are. Telepathy and telementation, clairvoyance and clairaudience, revelation and inspiration are actual facts in Nature, which means that they are not really supernatural but are spontaneous workings of little-known powers of the human mind. But they happen much less frequently than occultists believe, and what mostly passes for them are the workings of disordered impressions and philosophically untrained thoughts.

The man who exhibits repeated credulity thereby shows his unfitness for the highest truth. The seeker must not only not practise self-deception but must not let others practise deception on him.

All that is recondite, unusual, occult, and strange may attract a man but it may not serve him unless he finds a compensating attraction in what is holy, aspirational, divine, exalting, sublime, and wide. Without that it may disserve him.

Those who have to deal with physical things whose manufacture depends on precise measurements or practical skills cannot afford to work carelessly, think nebulously, or lose themselves in false or misty imaginings out of relation with the crude realities--certainly no carpenter and no engineer dare do so. Yet so-called religious mystics, occultists, and psychics do, for there is no way to show up their errors.

Those who give themselves to these studies do not necessarily suffer a diminution of their intellectual integrity or emotional balance, although a proportion do. This is because they are already neurotic, hysteric, or irrational types. Such a person should first attend, or get a psychologist to attend, to the restoration of mind or character, and leave mysticism alone until this is done.

A student should try to use his will to stop any psychic development. He should change his posture the instant he is aware of it: not remain lying down, but either prop himself up in bed or get up and walk around.

If he seeks power at all, he does so not to establish it over others but over himself.

These experiences and revelations are to be received humbly, or they will become a source of harm rather than benefit, of swollen rather than attenuated ego.

"You are seeking," Cleon said, "for what is not of the world you live in, and you do not know how to judge soundly of what is under your eyes."--Thucydides

One danger of occult experience, if outside the philosophical training, is its inflation of the ego, causing the man to regard himself too highly and to appraise his spiritual position beyond its real one.

By this rigid discipline, the seeker is safeguarded from the danger of walking into his own mental creations under the belief that he is walking into spiritual reality. But those who have not undergone this discipline quickly fall into self-deception and stop there. They do not know that they have to pass through and beyond these mental creations if they would reach the reality behind them.

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