I love to see my name in print, so I had to do some imaginative visualizing when the September 2005 issue of “Spiritual Link” arrived in the mail a few days ago. My essay, “Become One to know the One,” was the first main article in the issue, but Spiritual Link doesn’t print the names of authors.
Well, let’s make that some authors. Readers were told that the poem on page 2 was by Bulleh Shah and the two quotations on page 9 that I included at the end of my piece were by Charan Singh. However, all the stuff on pages 4 to 9 that I wrote gave the appearance of being channeled or manifesting out of the ether.
I probably sound egotistical. That wouldn’t be surprising, since I am egotistical. As is everyone who has an ego, which certainly includes me. And that’s my point. I was happy to write this article for Spiritual Link, a magazine published by Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB)—the India-headquartered religious organization to which I’ve belonged for some thirty-five years.
It isn’t a lack of recognition that bothers me. It’s the lack of naturalness that bothers me. As I’ve said before, I use RSSB as an example of what is wrong about religions because it is the religious group that I’m most familiar with. So here’s an example of how a religion forces the naturalness of spirituality into artificial contours.
Name. No name. What’s the big deal? It doesn’t matter, in one sense. Yet, in another sense, it does. For this policy of enforced anonymity among contributors to the magazine is a symptom of a disease that afflicts almost all religious paths. Namely, believing that spirituality is an outward appearance rather than an inward actualization.
RSSB doesn’t print names of contributors because it believes that doing so would make the authors more egotistical. As if losing one’s ego has anything to do with losing one’s name. If this were the case I’d have become “X” a long time ago, thereby obviating the need for all the daily meditation I’ve put in over the years.
This morning I was reading Thomas Merton’s book, “New Seeds of Contemplation.” Here’s some of what Father Merton says about humility:
A humble man is not disturbed by praise. Since he is no longer concerned with himself, and since he knows where the good that is in him comes from, he does not refuse praise, because it belongs to the God he loves, and in receiving it he keeps nothing for himself but gives it all, with great joy, to his God.
…The humble man receives praise the way a clean window takes the light of the sun. The truer and more intense the light is, the less you see of the glass…There is danger that men in monasteries will go to such elaborate lengths to be humble, with the humility they have learned from a book, that they will make true humility impossible.
How can you be humble if you are always paying attention to yourself? True humility excludes self-consciousness, but false humility intensifies our awareness of ourselves to such a point that we are crippled, and can no longer make any movement or perform any action without putting to work a whole complex mechanism of apologies and formulas of self-accusation.
I’ve been to RSSB gatherings where I’ve thanked someone for giving me a cup of coffee and a doughnut. Instead of the volunteer simply saying, “You’re welcome,” I hear: “Oh no, brother. Please don’t thank me. I’m doing everything on behalf of the guru. He is the real doer, not me. I am just an instrument in his hands.”
I think to myself, “Hmmmm. This humble selfless instrument standing before me sure sounds like a self-willed someone, given the lengthy response I got to my pithy ‘thank you.’” Why can’t religious people act as naturally as non-religious people?
People have names. Authors of articles should be named. That’s the natural thing to do. If a magazine is going to connect the names of supposedly egoless “saints” such as Bulleh Shah, Tukaram, Charan Singh, and Thomas a Kempis with their writings, then the names of decidedly egoist non-saint authors such as myself surely should be printed.
For it makes much more sense to leave anonymous the writings of someone who is considered to have become the One, or God, for they will have left behind the trappings of an individual identity. I haven’t. So it gave me a strange feeling to open up the magazine and see that my nameless article gave the impression of having spontaneously sprung out of nowhere, while I remember all too well the effort it took me to bring it into being.
Most of the article came verbatim from a chapter in my book about Plotinus, “Vision is Veracity.” It’s probably my favorite chapter. I just changed a few lines and added some quotations from Charan Singh. I wanted to show that when you strip unessential dogma from the RSSB teachings, you’re left with a philosophy that bears a close resemblance to Plotinus’ mystical Neoplatonism.
If you want to know God, you have to know as God knows. That’s Plotinus’ spirituality in a nutshell. Nobody else can do that knowing for you. You’ve got to know for yourself. It’s direct spiritual experience that the mystic is after, not (as the Persian mystic Rumi puts it) “transmitted news.” There aren’t any shortcuts to direct experience, because that is the shortcut.
It doesn’t matter what name you call yourself or others call you. You can’t fake spiritual experience by acting like you’re merged with God—“I’m nothing; He is everything”—when you really haven’t. Honest egotism will get you a lot farther than dishonest humility, because like is attracted to like: I’m confident that Truth with a capable “T” resonates within our being when we’re true to ourselves.
An excerpt from my article is in a continuation to this post. You can read the whole thing in this PDF file:
From a spiritual perspective the light by which we see matter, whether some natural illumination or a manmade radiance, really is nothing but darkness, for physical light is itself material. Matter can be illumined by matter but not known by matter. So the mystic seeks to be united with the medium, pure consciousness, that is the foundation of all knowing.
This means going far beyond the boundaries of what is familiar. To be spiritual doesn’t mean moving this way or that along the customary dimensions of everyday life: time and space. We can’t know God by becoming as small and insignificant as an atom or by becoming as large and momentous as the universe. Spirit and the One do not lie in a particular direction, nor is divinity realized by having more or less of anything possessed now.
Returning to the One means embracing mystery, cultivating another way of seeing, leaving aside visions and becoming sight.
Carried off, as it were, by the wave of the Spirit itself, lifted up high by it, as if it were swollen, “he suddenly saw, without seeing how.” But this spectacle, filling the eyes with light, did not cause some other object to be seen by its means; rather, what was seen was light itself.
It is not that there were two things within it: on the one hand a visible object, and on the other its light, nor was there the Spirit and then what is thought by the Spirit; there is only a dazzling light, which engenders all these things later on.–Plotinus
There, in the higher reaches of the spiritual world, the light that dazzles the soul doesn’t illuminate anything, for manyness has not yet emanated from oneness. Here, in the physical world, we see things that are separate from the light that makes seeing possible. But when all separateness and multiplicity have been eliminated from the soul, what remains is awareness of the conscious power that produces separateness and multiplicity: Spirit, the creative energy of the One.
Such is to be experienced, for it cannot be spoken about.
For this reason the vision is hard to put into words. For how could one announce that [vision] as another when he did not see, there when he had the vision, another, but one with himself?--Plotinus
Those who have been able to realize higher truths, and seemingly Plotinus is among this exalted company, know what they know. They tell us how to reach the spiritual heights but cannot bring divinity down to our level, for the One is far removed from many.
Becoming One is the only way of knowing the One.