Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Speaking of Psychic Encounters With Dead Gurus

Last night I had an amusing dream of conversing with Neem Keroli Baba. We were in the backseat of a car and I looked over and saw Neem Keroli sitting next to me, and I thought, wow, I ought to take advantage of this and ask him the Big Question. So I leaned over and asked, "What is the best course for me to take towards realization?" I made it really clear in emphasizing "for me", that I wasn't looking for just general advice, but something specific for me right now in my current state. He looked a bit surprised at the question, and examined me up and down rather thoroughly to see if I was really serious about realization before answering. He finally seemed satisfied and said that the most important thing for me to do was to rely entirely on grace. I should surrender to grace, and let grace take me wherever it would. He indicated that it would probably even take me somewhere far away in the world, even in purely physical terms. I asked if that meant India, and he said maybe. It sounded like he didn't want to give me too much info, as that would defeat the purpose of relying on grace.

I asked him about Lakshmana and Saradama, and he said they were good people but he didn't really think they were my Gurus. He suggested that there might be someone else in the general vicinity of Arunachula who might be good to see, but he wouldn't offer a name or place. He just said something about monkey Gurus, which made me wonder if there was a Hanuman connection. Then I told him I had been involved with Adi Da for over twenty-five years, and he just laughed and repeated, "Twenty-five years? That must have taken its toll!" He said something like, another ten and I'd really have been wrecked.

He also recommended that I do a little yoga and some fasting, particularly before my trip. By this time we had arrived at our destination and were sitting down at a table and eating a meal, and the conversation continue on for a while. The great thing about Neem Keroli Baba was just how relaxed and ordinary he was, and how humorous his take on things was. His message about grace was simply spot on and exactly in line with my own recent considerations about practice.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mature Surrender and Submission to the Guru's Instruction

The fun and games with Elias continues in his latest post. I think I have to make clear that the personal issues in this thread are really quite peripheral as far as I am concerned. As much as Elias feels obligated to disparage me, it doesn't produce any ill feelings on my part, and I think I understand that even Elias doesn't really mean much of what he says. It's just the defensive reaction in him speaking. I've understood for a very long time that Elias can dish out criticism with the best of them, but he really can't take it. Merely disagreeing with Elias is the quickest way to get on his bad side and be labeled as a spiritual miscreant or munchkin who clearly has no understanding of spirituality and is probably an enemy of freedom. It's a very FOX News approach to spiritual debate. But it also makes for some lively interactions as long as one doesn't take it personally. Which I don't.

I should also make it clear that though I describe Elias as something of a "spiritual narcissist", this doesn't make him an altogether bad or un-spiritual person. It's just an unfortunate personal trait that tends to undermine his ability to relate to others, and I think it also interferes with his understanding of spirituality altogether. But that doesn't mean Elias is some kind of monster. He's really a very kind and generous person who genuinely wishes the best for people, including me. He genuinely thinks I'm badly mistaken in my understanding of things, and that I really do have an authoritarian bias that interferes with my own ability to understand the spiritual process. And in that respect, he's at least partially right, in that I certainly was involved with Adi Da for over 25 years and made many compromises with his authoritarian point of view, before ultimately rejecting it for good. So I've got a fair amount of experience with both authoritarian Gurus like Adi Da, and anti-authoritarian teachers like J. Krishnamurti (my first introduction to spiritual life) and non-authoritarian Gurus like Ramana Maharshi, who was one of my earliest "esoteric" spiritual contacts, and whom I would now consider my primary spiritual "source", if not a formal teacher or Guru.

Spiritual narcissism is something we can all suffer from, and it takes many forms. Elias just seems to suffer from it a bit more than most, and it takes a form in him that is not that hard to see. But it's also relatively harmless, in that Elias doesn't do much more than pound his own soapbox and hold firmly to his own views, while criticizing those who disagree with him. No real harm there. He's not actually abusing anyone, he's not collecting money, charging for his "teachings", browbeating disciples, or even having any to begin with. So there's really nothing go on there which anyone should be warned about. At worst it just makes for some aggravating dialogs, in that he simply can't acknowledge any criticism or comprehend how anyone could disagree with him in good faith, unless they were severely deluded and unconsciously opposed to Spirit and God. Most people who have interacted with Elias online or who have followed his forums are aware of this. If they agree with Elias or praise him, he's their best friend, but if he starts to disagree or criticize, it's the back of the hand.

Knowing this, I think it's best to just pick from Elias' thoughts some of the more interesting opportunities to discuss spiritual matters that present themselves, and to ignore the personal criticism as superfluous. Still, it's a little hard to discuss the issue of spiritual authority, obediance, and submission with someone who rejects all these, and yet simultaneously resents his own spiritual authority being rejected and criticized by others. Kind of funny, really. We end up with lines like these:

The consequences of mistakenly dismissing an advanced yogi or avadhut can be disastrous, spiritually speaking. :P  
Smiley face aside, is Elias really presenting himself here as an advanced yogi or avadhut, and does he think this makes him a spiritual authority whose ideas should be revered rather than criticized? Are we to accept his "teachings" on the basis of his alleged authoritative status as a yogi? And if so, what does that say about his alleged rejection of authority? For my part, I don't go in for arguing from authority. I do go on for arguing from evidence and logic, however. I also reject the notion of arguing from merely personal experience, in that we cannot expect others to accept our own personal experience as conclusive, without much supporting evidence and reasonable argument. Which is one reason I don't like to use my own personal experience as an argument. My personal experience may have led to me to form various ideas about the spiritual process, but that only matters to other people if those ideas stand on their own, and are confirmed by others, or at least correspond to a fairly large tradition of experience apart from my own subjective opinion.

In any case, the issue of authority and personal experience is always an interesting one, because I think all of us are looking for the right balance there. No one but a spiritual narcissist would entirely rely on their own subjective experience, and yet no one but a cult follower would reject their own subjective experience either. Fortunately, these are not our only choices.

The problem with Elias' arguments in this response are that he sees only these two choices before us. We can either be childish cult-followers who blindly and simplistically do as they are told, or we can adolescently reject authority and strike out on our own. Real esotericism of course involves neither approach. It requires a mature individual who has grown past this sort of dichotomous inner conflict. Esotericism requires some pretty substantial human maturity as a prerequisite. It doesn't require any particular age, but an attitude that is neither childish nor adolescent. Obviously Ramana at age 16 was a highly mature individual in his basic sense for life, even if still quite inexperienced in the worldly sense of things.

The child and the adolescent are both struggling with the issue of authority and how to relate to it. The child is often comforted by the presence of authority and does whatever he can to please those in authority. His conflicts with authority are in the setting of limits by authority, which at times frustrates him, but as most people who have experience with children know, setting limits actually makes them feel more secure than having no limits at all. The adolescent, on the other hand, resents those limits, rejects them, and feels contempt for the child who follows them. On the other hand, the adolescent also wants to be an authority himself, and teenagers can actually be the most authoritarian leaders and followers of them all. What actually goes on in him is a cyclic wave function  cresting on authoritarian leadership and ebbing with the following of authoritarian leaders. This makes adolescents in some respects the most "cultic" of all types, worse even than the childish types, who are really just looking for comfort rather than power.

Neither of these paths lead to esoteric spirituality however. And to be fair to Elias, I don't think he's advocating a purely adolescent spiritual ideology himself. He does want to be an authority some of  them time, but at other times he wants to reject authority. He's looking for a more mature approach, and the compromise he's created is one that might be called "spiritual friendship". In this mode, one looks at traditional spiritual authority figures as simple friends, or as he has often called them "his buds". And in many respects this is certainly a better approach than being constantly intimidated by spiritual authority and feeling that one has to bow and scrape before them. There's even a lot of good traditional precedent for this approach. In the Tibetan tradition, for example, beginners are encouraged to approach the Guru and think of him merely as a "spiritual friend". One encounters similar attitudes in many Hindu teachers as well, including Nisargadatta, Ramana, Papaji, etc. Of course, even Da at one time advocated this approach, before abandoning it in favor of a kind of absolute authoritarianism.

The approach of "spiritual friendship" is a very good way for a beginner to enter into the spiritual process without activating the childish and adolescent patterns of human immaturity. It allows the beginning devotee to cultivate a relationship with the Guru that purifies those tendencies and lets them be outgrown, while also cultivating respect, trust, and mature devotion towards the Guru. However, if the relationship never matures beyond this stage, there is little in the way of genuine spiritual growth beyond the basics. Human growth, sure, and even spiritual understanding of the fundamentals certainly. But the genuine esoteric process requires something far more profound than mere spiritual friendship. It requires a profound recognition of the Guru, and a profound surrender to the Guru and his grace.

The beginnings of spiritual practice involve this growing friendship with the Guru, and the cultivation of trust, faith, respect and devotion. On the basis of these, one listens to and respond to the Guru's teaching, not as a childish slave or as an adolescent do-it-yourself rebel, but by learning the benefits through genuine application of his instructions and practice. At a certain point, this recognition and response to the Guru becomes profound and deep. The Guru is recognized as the Self, and one's response is surrender to the Self. The Guru is understood and literally seen as a transparent vehicle of the Self, and the Guru's role is understood as the Self's outer agent helping to point the devotee towards the inner Guru. It's not that only the inner Guru is the "esoteric" Guru. The outer Guru is also. The esoteric relationship depends on grasping that both are simply two sides of the same coin, and that what joins them together is the profound process of deep and abiding surrender to the Self.

Esotericism really kicks into gear when this lesson of surrender is learned, and the devotee actually practices it without holding back. Primarily, this means learning to surrender directly to the Self. But it also means having faith in the Guru as the guide to this surrender, and the pointer who keeps directing our attention back to the Self. This of course requires a Guru who has transcended ego and is himself surrendered to the Self, such that he doesn't direct the devotee's attention merely to himself, but always towards the Self, even if using his own body and mind as ways of instructing the devotee in this process. This is why the esoteric relationship to the Guru requires a high degree of maturity on both the part of Guru and devotee, and why if that is not present, the process gets disturbed and corrupted. This is why both Guru and devotee need to be tested to ensure that the process is genuine and not being subverted for egoic purposes.

Genuine surrender to the Guru does, indeed, require complete submission and obedience on the part of the devotee, but it also requires the same of the Guru. In some respects, however, it is the failings of the devotee that are more consequential, contrary to what most people think. A failed or incompletely surrendered Guru can indeed lead people astray, but if the devotee's devotional intent is true, he will mature even in the midst of a relationship to a corrupt Guru. As Papaji used to say, the real problem is always with false devotees rather than with false Gurus. Even someone as extreme as Da could only survive by exploiting the false needs and desires of his devotees, whereas their genuine needs and desires for spiritual growth could not be thwarted even when his instruction was faulty. I can testify to that personally, in both respects.

There is no way to underestimate the central importance of surrender to the esoteric spiritual process. Surrender is, essentially, the whole of the esoteric process. Giving oneself up to God and Self is what esotericism is about. That is how the ego is transcended. One cannot transcend the ego otherwise. How one arrives at surrender is always going to be different in the details, but in the general disposition it is always the same. In relation to the genuine Guru, it is always going to involve surrender and obediance to his instruction. There is simply no way around this. One might, in the case of a very mature devotee like Ramana, have no human Guru and thus no human instruction to follow, but nevertheless the same surrender must be practiced, and made absolute. That is what Ramana did in his famous death experience. He totally surrendered to the death process that was spontaneously initiated by his Guru, Arunachula. And that total surrender to the Self became total realization of the Self in short order.

The same process occurs more slowly in the case of less mature people. Ramana's devotees, for example, understood how important it was to surrender to him and obey his instruction. It wasn't just childish and immature devotees who did this. Quite the opposite, it was the mature ones who did. In fact, immature devotees can't really do as the Guru says, because they often don't even understand what he is instructing them to do. They have to mature in the basics first to even get a grasp for it. And so a good deal of human maturity is required just to obey and surrender to the Guru.

Unfortunately, this esoteric principle is also easily exploited by less than genuine Gurus and their less than genuine devotees. Knowing of this famous principle of esoteric practice, unscrupulous Gurus will often demand strict and unyielding obediance from their devotees, and immature devotees will be attracted to authoritarian Gurus who will indulge them in parental fantasies of completely trustworthy authorities. The result is a parody of the esoteric process, made into a farce that generally discredits the whole of spirituality for some people who observe these abuses. And thus the real esoteric process remains a "secret" even when its principles are openly espoused.

Elias, unfortunately, is only able to see the parody and thus rejects the whole principle of submission, surrender, and obediance to the Guru. This is a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But by rejecting this profound traditional understanding of the esoteric process, Elias is unwittingly rejecting genuine esotericism itself. Instead, he's perpetually stuck in the "spiritual friendship" stage of practice, but confusing that preliminary process with genuine esotericism itself.

As for Da himself, and the prospect of having an esoteric relationship to him, Elias has these objections to my views:

...he says that this desired relationship must be paid for, by embracing "the formal disciplines and practices." Third he says it's Da's "perogative to say how people could relate to him" -- I assume he means "esoterically" -- as if Da or any other being could build and maintain a separation on the esoteric planes of consciousness and being!
First off, it's Da who says anyone who wants an esoteric relationship with him must embrace "the formal disciplines and practices", not me. I'm not making my own assertion about this, I'm just pointing to Da's own endlessly repeated instruction about this. And yes, it is up to Da how he wants to relate to devotees, both humanly and spiritually. If he requires all those formal obligations to be fulfilled, that's his business. It's not for Elias or me to tell him what to do, not that he'd listen anyway. And yes indeed, Da certainly can, like anyone else, build and maintain separation on the subtle and deeper planes of existence, just as they do here. If there were no separation on these subtler planes, there wouldn't be any separation here either. The illusion of separate self begins on the most subtle level of all (often referred to as the "causal" plane), and that means that wherever the ego is found, there will be the illusion of separation. The purpose of the Guru is to help dissolve that illusion and illuminate the truth, but until that process is complete, there will be the illusion of separation even in the subtlest of realms. Which is why genuine esotericism requires that we surrender completely to the Guru and Self. There is no plane of manifest existence that is free from ego and separation, unless we surrender on that plane, and all planes. This is why the spiritual process requires everything from us, and total surrender. And that is why it also requires grace, because such total surrender is simply impossible through self-effort and individual insight. It requires the magnetic power of the Self's attractive grace, most often given through the agency of a Guru, to draw us beyond self into this surrendered disposition.

The problem with Da, in my view at least, is that he hadn't fully surrendered his ego, and thus he ended up perpetuating a subtle thread of separation and egotism that eventually pervaded and corrupted his own teachings and his relationship with his devotees. Rather than leading devotees to surrender to the Self, he led them to surrender to his own ego, thus created a corrupt cycle that eventually toxified the entire gathering. He used the traditional principles of  the Guru-devotee relationship to justify this egoic process, by equating his own egoic self with the Divine Self, until there was no way for his immature devotees to see the error of their ways. It's not that Da was entirely wrong, of course. He grasped a lot of the traditional and true aspects of the spiritual process. He just ended up turning them towards himself, rather than towards the inner Guru of the devotee, and thus made the whole process ineffective at the deeper levels. That didn't make it ineffective in some general sense. Indeed, many devotees benefited from some aspects of his teaching and spiritual influence. But that process was generally thwarted and turned inside out by his own subtle ego. It would not have been so bad if Da had been aware that he still had some ego to transcend and had applied himself to that process. Not all Gurus have to be completely enlightened to be of great help to devotees. But they do have to be aware of their own incompleteness to ensure that they don't undermine the spiritual process in others. Da couldn't do this, like I say, because of his own spiritual narcissism which wouldn't allow him to admit error or correct himself, and which led him to view all critics and "dissidents" as the enemy, possessed by evil forces or otherwise incapable of genuine esoteric practice.

Elias bears some resemblance to Da in that respect, in a far more minor way. But I'll say that at least Da understood something about how the genuine esoteric process works, even if he ended up perverting it. Elias saw that perversion, and rejected it, but didn't understand what it was a perversion of. He didn't grasp that there really is a genuine unperverted esoteric process that involves surrender, submission, and obediance to the Guru's instruction. In his view, all of that is poisonous and should be rejected. Here we disagree. I think it's a failure of discrimination on Elias' part, and he thinks it's because I'm still sympathetic to an authoritarian approach to spirituality. At a certain point, there's little sense in arguing the matter, we are clearly both going to see things as we will. So it's up to others to simply ponder these matters and come to their own conclusions, and act accordingly.

One thing Elias brings up is the fact that he did belong to Adidam for a few years, and did serve and obey to some degree back then. He wants this to be taken into account as a basis for having an esoteric relationship to Da. Well, not according to Da. As he said about a million times, he's the first person  who will know is someone is genuinely relating him esoterically, and he didn't find that anyone was doing so back in the early 1980s when Elias was around. Nor, even much later, except for a couple of his kanyas. Occasionally he would form an "esoteric order" of some kind, and let people practice in it for a while, but invariably he would declare them all to be frauds and bust them down to the "exoteric" levels of practice.

One thing that should be clear about Da's own teaching is that to enter into the esoteric orders of practice it requires not just complete obedience and surrender, but what he calls "hearing", which is a whole other matter for discussion. Suffice it to say that "hearing" to Da requires a profound understanding of the core issues of Da's own teaching, particularly the "recognition of narcissus" as the core principle of one' s own egoic life, and thus the active renunciation of that principle. Unless Elias has "heard" Da's teaching in this respect, he couldn't, by Da's own definition, be involved in the esoteric relationship to him. And of course, Da hardly acknowledged anyone as having genuinely and fundamentally "heard" his teaching. The sign of that "hearing", in Da's view, was precisely this kind of total submission, surrender, and obedience to his every instruction. That should be abundantly clear to anyone at all familiar with Da's actual teaching and what the spiritual relationship to him required. Whether that would be a worthwhile thing to submit to is another story. It's Da's story, and he stuck with it throughout his life, both outwardly and inwardly. The cultism of Adidam applies to all the "esoteric" planes as well, in other words. There's really no escaping it.

But that won't stop some diehard seekers from trying to escape it, by creating for themselves some version of Adidam, or some fantasy relationship to Adi Da, that allows them to relate to him in their own preferred manner and call it "esoteric".  They don't seem to grasp Da's profound commitment to cultism at every level of his life and relationship to devotees. Elias doesn't seem to grasp how pervasive Da's cultism was, and can't imagine that Da would be cultic even at the most esoterically "deep" levels of the psyche. But yes, he was and is. Astonishing, yes, but true. Of course, this shouldn't really be much of a surprise. Cultism isn't confined to the gross planes of existence, it exists everywhere the ego exists.

Oh, and one other thing Elias gets wrong about me: the accusation that I am a "constipated" thinker. I think almost anyone who's ever read my blog or forum postings knows that precisely the opposite is the case. I suffering from what can only be described as "diarhetic flatulence" of the mind. I mean honestly, look at how I let it rip without any seeming end to it. The walls are splattered with bowel matter. This is a case of nearly pathological flatulence. There seems to be no known cure. How Elias could describe me as constipated simply defies explanation.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Intuition Grounded in Reality

Following up on my latest responses to Elias, he re-posts his own questions about my view on conditional and unconditional experience and views, which as it happens was part of what I had in mind to talk about but left out the other night.

The "notion" of limitation vs. un-limitation again rears its head! What is this "beyond all limits" that is somehow so unable to exist simultaneously with "conditionality" that it must add more "disciplined limits" to the game of life?

The singular problem with this type of oppositional rhetoric is that it lacks awareness and comprehension of the attribute of intuition. It is entirely spoken from the sensory or "vital" side of life, and it deals with the fairly common tendency in the West to view Eastern spirituality in terms of body yoga and the "problems" presented by the exoteric psyche.
Along these lines, I also want to respond to Elias' confusion about the difference between discipline and suppression, which he seems to think are the same thing.

To address the general issue first, I am not suggesting that conditionality and the unconditional don't or can't exist simultaneously. Nor am I suggesting that we need to add some "extra" discipline to life. The point is simply that all conditional experience is limited, and thus it naturally requires that limits be placed on it. One has to recognize that one can't eat cake and ice cream all day. One can't have sex as often as one desires with whomever one desires. One has to understand that every conditional experience, every conditional object, every conditional desire (or aversion) is naturally limited and one can't expect to get anything more than a limited result from it. So there's a natural discipline and limit that one places on such things, or one literally ends up unhealthy and degraded, even in the limited sense.

Likewise, one can't expect that discipline will do anything for you other than find a healthy medium within the limits of this world. Discipline won't enlighten anyone, and it won't destroy anyone either, unless pursued as an end in itself that is supposed to produce unlimited results. And it's true that some people do approach discipline in the same way that some pursue desire itself. They think that finding the perfect disciplined balance of energies and body and mind is going to result in unlimited happiness or realization. Many in various spiritual traditions pursue discipline for this purpose, and in this manner, and wind up frustrated or delusional in the process. And many may use discipline in a suppressive manner in the process, suppressing desires in an effort to reach a state of unconditional desirelessness, suppressing sex or appetite or greed or whatever desires tend to capture their attention in order find that state that is beyond desire. But this never works either. Disciplining conditional experience as a method for achieving the unconditional works no better than unregulated desire for conditional experience does.

This doesn't mean one rejects discipline altogether. Discipline is necessary and natural to life, and it's necessary and natural to spiritual life as well. It's just that one has to understand that discipline will not produce anything more than an intelligently self-regulated life of basic human maturity. It won't produce unconditional realization. It's an expression of a basic intelligence about conditional matters, that one shouldn't expect anything other than conditional results from them. One doesn't invest one's heart in such things, one doesn't pursue them with the expectation that they will lead to anything but more limitation, one simply accepts them as they are, grateful for whatever results comes one's way, but not expecting anything more than a limited result in the first place.

This is very important because it allows us to give our hearts unconditionally to That which is unlimited and unconditional rather than to become confused by the pursuit of conditional experiences. It's simply a question of "looking for unconditional love in the right place", which means locating the true Heart, the true Self, and not confusing That with any conditional object, experience, or search. And that's the real value to discipline in the spiritual process. The human benefits of right discipline ought to be obvious enough, but the spiritual benefits are indirect, in that it simply leaves our attention free to find the genuinely unlimited, unconditional nature of our real Self, rather than to become endlessly distracted by conditional seeking. Once limited things are understood to be limited, one only engages them for limited purposes. Whereas the unlimited purpose of spiritual practice is to realize the unconditional reality and nature that is at the very heart of our being. That is the only area in which our desiring should be unlimited, because the heart, the Self, truly is unlimited. Which is why genuine desire for the unconditional is actually encouraged in traditional spiritual esotericism, unlike any conditional desire. Our real and true desire is not actually for conditional things, that is just what we seem to be given. Our real desire is for unconditional reality, without limits, and this is an infinite desire that is satisfied only by That which is infinite.

Infinite desire only becomes problematic when the object of that desiring is limited and conditional. That creates unavoidable frustration and suffering. That creates an endless cycle of desiring, attainment, disillusionment, and the search for new desires. That cycle is endless because our root desire is infinite. The basic solution to this problem is to recognize the limited nature of conditional seeking, and to recognize the unlimited nature of the unconditional Self, and to see that this is the only proper pursuit of our unlimited desiring. We can let the body's natural desiring find its natural limits and its natural discipline within the realm of nature, as is appropriate to it. And we can let the heart's unconditional desiring find its natural fulfillment in the infinite realm of the Spirit, which is its natural condition and environment. The mixing of the two leads to confusion and frustration and much ill-health and suffering, whereas the ability to discriminate between the two leads to right spiritual practice. 

So this is why all conditional life and seeking must be disciplined, and why that discipline shouldn't be pursued for some higher purpose, other than to free ourselves from the attention-traps that seeking creates. This doesn't mean that one ignores one's conditional or bodily needs or basic desires. One just doesn't invest one's heart in such things, expecting results that are impossible to obtain. One is "realistic" about such matters. And likewise, one does invest one's heart in That which is truly unconditional and infinite. That is being "Realistic" in the higher sense.

Genuine esoteric practice requires this understanding to be in place. It doesn't require ascetical discipline or suppression of desire, it merely requires a genuinely realistic (and Realistic) understanding of the nature of things. As long as attention is bound up in conditional views and conditional seeking, one is going to have a very hard time locating the true Heart, the Self, and investing oneself in it without limitation. Not only will one tend to pursue limited things with the ardor of the unlimited, one will confuse and mistake the limited for a "sign" of the unlimited. One will project one's desiring for the infinite upon limited and finite things and symbols and experiences, both gross and subtle. One will mistake psychic reality for unlimited and infinite truth. But the truth about the psyche is that it is all limited.

Elias likes to describe the psyche as some infinite field of infinite experience, but like the gross world, the psyche is itself limited, and can only produce limited results, no matter how dedicated our search for the unlimited in it is. Elias likes to bring up Jung's psychological theories of the psyche, and his use of the term "Self" to indicate that Jung was pursuing the same wisdom as can be found in Advaitic literature, for example. But Jung's "Self" is merely the self that is found in the psyche. It's a limited, psychological self, not the unlimited and unconditional heart. It's still a worthy goal of conditional existence, to develop a full,, integrated, and healthy psyche, don't get me wrong. I think Jung has a lot to offer in that limited sense. But it is, indeed, a limited offering, and should be understood as such and not confused with the unlimited nature of the true Heart, the true Self. Jung was himself hostile to such notions, and part of that was a healthy hostility to the conflating of the infinite with the conditional, which can produce some pathologically unsound psychological results. And this is just what I'm talking about as the mistaken path of conflating conditional and unconditional matters.

If one pursues a Jungian path of psychological integration, this is fine and good, but one shouldn't confuse this with the unconditional Self spoken of in Advaita. The conditional self of Jung's psychology has real limits, and requires real disciplines, as well as real opening and real understanding. But the understanding of the psychological Self also requires the acceptance of the basic conditional limits of the psyche, and the fact that it is not infinite or unconditional. So it's not the field by which we should unleash our unconditional desiring for the infinite. If we do that, we start to deify various psychological archetypes and processes in the psyche, not recognizing their limits, and thus becoming trapped in what should really just be an ordinary exercise of psychological health.

Elias likes to make a big deal of his own intuitive faculties, and accuse me of "lacking imagination" and being suppressed in my intuitive abilities. Which I have to say is really just more projection and inflation at work. My own experience of writing on this blog is of relying almost entirely on personal intuition. I hardly think of what I'm going to say except in the vaguest sense, I just let my intuition guide me every step of the way, in every word that comes out of my hands. So it's kind of hilarious for me to hear Elias accuse me of lacking an intuitive capacity. I live most of my life on an intuitive level, and consider everything else just secondary fuel for my own intuitive feelings about things. The fact that I can write discursively has nothing to do with a lack of intuition or imagination. This world is nothing but imagination, in my view, and so there's literally no choice  but to rely on imagination to get through even the most ordinary of tasks.

Which brings me to another point I was wanting to make about the imagination. Earlier I was writing about the problems that can arise when one's self-image departs from reality, or is taken to be the real Self. Even on the psychological level, this can produce serious narcissistic problems, because we begin to live in the imaginative world of the self-image rather than in the "real" world of the body. I made mention of the problems that occur when we create not just an alternative self-image and live from that perspective rather than from the body's perspective, and also of the problems that occur when the imagination projects this image onto the world itself, and starts to live based on the imaginative images of the world we have in our minds rather than on the sensory-based experience of the body. I think it's important that I describe that in more detail.

We have the word "narcissist" to refer to someone who lives in their own self-image, but we don't have a ready word for those who live in a world of internal imagery and symbolism itself. The same imaginative faculty that allows us to create internal self-images and work with them creatively in our minds also allows us to create an internal image of the world itself, and creatively work with that as well. This imaginative faculty allows us to create vast codings of imagery and information at an internal level which we can work with and create from. However, problems arise here as well when these images start to take on a life of their own and we prefer them to the world of the body and sensory experience. This has in fact become a huge problem throughout the world, particularly in advanced societies that rely to a greater and greater degree on technological and symbolic manipulation of information.

Language itself is an internalized symbolic image system that refers to the sensory world, but can become a world all its own to us, even a substitute for the real world. Words are of course not "real", they are merely symbols that point to something real. The value of the word "tree" comes from the actual experience of a tree. And yet, of course, there's also the internal experience of "tree" that we each hold in our minds, through not merely memory, but through the creative manipulation of memories and sensations and emotional feelings. Poetry relies on this creative manipulation of internal images associated with words to produce feelings in us that are not necessarily present when we simply look at a tree. But we value it nonetheless because we value those internal feelings as much as we do external perceptions. And yet problems arise when we become fixated on these internal symbols to the exclusion of sensory experience, or substitute the one for the other.

One thing Elias seems to ignore is the fact that even discursive, rational language is also "imaginative". Anything that relies on language and symbols and concepts is imaginative. It's not just artists who are imaginative. Virtually every intelligent pursuit in modern life occurs on a symbolic basis of language. Science, for example, has an huge imaginative edge to it. But it grounds that imaginative sense in observation and data. And that's why science is in some respects the most "realistic" modern paradigm. It uses vast resources of creative imagination and symbolic language, from mathematics to computer languages, to create all kinds of amazing things, but it always grounds that imagination in the sensory world of experience and data. That kind of feedback is important.

Elias' personal story of his intuitive journey is interesting and even sympathetic, but I have to mention one small matter that he seems not to notice. He mentions how "I would always know the hidden truth of a matter, and in the case of my parents that often as not led to a scolding." It's sad that Elias faced that kind of traumatic suppression from his parents, but it's also worth noting the claim here of virtual infallibility. I think we all know that no one is infallible, and no one's intuition "always knows the hidden truth of a matter". Those of us who have long experience with Elias know that he often has a good intuitive grasp on things. But we also know that he often is wildly wrong and distorted in his intuitions. Perhaps at one point he really was infallible and his parents scolded him into fallibility, but I think it's more likely that what we are seeing here is a simple retreat by a child into a world of his own intuitive feelings, in which he is "always right". This is one of the benefits of the imagination. It allows children who are being suppressed to find an escape, a place where they can be "right" rather than always wrong, and it would appear that Elias, like many of us, made use of this form of self-protection.

But as adults, it's important to shed our childhood methods of self-protection and recognize that we are quite fallible people, and that even our intuitive abilities are filled will flaws and mistakes. This doesn't mean that we should abandon them. To the contrary, we should only abandon the expectation, as well as the presumption, that our intuition is always right. We can never actually grow in our intuitive abilities without real world feedback that tells us when we have gone astray, as well as when we are confirmed in being correct. If we simply affirm every intuitive feeling we have and presume it is correct, we never allow ourselves to evolve based on real world feedback. Elias, for example, has often been wrong about a great many people and things over the years, and yet when criticized he is invariably defensive and unable to acknowledge any errors and ususally attacks his critics. I don't want to compare him to Da in this respect, in that the scale and circumstances are quite different, but there's at least the basic similarity in attitude, which derives from this need to preserve a childhood fantasy of being omniscient and infallible.

It's a common problem many of us have, myself included. Fortunately, there's a real corrective for it, in the recognition that even intuition is a limited function of a limited psyche, prone to error like everything else, and that it needs to be disciplined through intelligent feedback mechanisms in order to grow properly and not take over the mind and life. The way to do that is to let the intuition fly, and yet respond to feedback as well in the world outside our own mind. That's basically what I try to do with my own writings on this blog and on previous forums. Not always successfully, but I certainly try. Perhaps I just have a more scientific bent than Elias, and a desire to ground my intuitions in real experience and data.

Speaking of science, I've been wanting to write about a lot of very interesting modern scientific theories going around these days in the physics world. Maybe I'll get to that at some point. But in relation to this whole business of "living in symbolic language", it's interesting to note that virtually all computer languages are built upon the essential machine language of modern microchips, which is actually a simplified form of ancient Sanskrit grammar. Hard as it might be to believe, when the early creators of computers were looking for a symbolic language system to encode information intelligently, they examined many different possible systems, and the best grammar they could come up with was Panini's Sanskri. So every time you use a computer, or virtually any electronic device that uses electronic chip instructions, you are "speaking Sanskrit". This should set more than a few minds on fire with the implications.

Esotericism Means Submission to the Guru's Instruction

In the ongoing exchange with Elias, he is beginning to backpeddle to our original point of contention:

It seems to me that Broken Yogi has quietly drifted away from the proposition that began this discussion -- that one can have a genuine esoteric relationship with a guru without being involved formally with that guru. 
Actually, the original proposition that began this discussion was Elias' claim that one can have an esoteric spiritual relationship with Adi Da without being a formal member of Adidam and doing as he says, which of course includes submission to all his instructions, disciplines, and practices. That's quite a different discussion from the general notion Elias is now putting forth. I can understand why, in that Adi Da couldn't have been more explicit and clear about the need for anyone who wishes to approach him to do so through the formal relationship offered by the entire Adidam apparatus. It's understandable that Elias might object to this, since those requirements really do include a lot of absurd things that no genuine Guru would ask of his devotees, but that's another story. If this is how Adi Da wants to do it, that's his business. And insisting that Da ought to do things differently is going to fall on deaf ears, both in the subtle realms as it did here on earth.

Elias of course claims that despite Da's own clear teaching about this requirement, he and many others have had an esoteric relationship with Da for many years. Again, this goes back to differing definitions of what "esoteric" means. Elias seems to think that having some kind of genuine psychic contact with Da counts as "esoteric", when it certainly doesn't in Da's book, nor does that even fulfill the traditional definition of an esoteric relationship to a Guru. As I've mentioned, tons of people have had an active psychic relationship with Da and have had all kinds of intuitive sensitivity to his "transmission" and communication and so on. This is all a dime a dozen, nothing terribly special or unique, and certainly not "esoteric". It's still quite "exoteric", despite the psychic quality of these kinds of contacts. I mean, my very first contact with even a poster of Da was a psychic awakening, and my first walk into his bookstore center in San Francisco was a clear psychic contact, and so was reading the first lines of his books, and so was my experience that evening when I called out to Da and asked him to come to me as a sign of our spiritual relationship. (And yes, he did come).

Now, to Elias, that all seems to him to be an "esoteric relationship". And I guess to the average spiritual seeker, that's all "esoteric" means. Some kind of spiritual exchange of energy and consciousness tangibly felt and understood as such. Well, not really even close. That's still just the exoteric level of spiritual life. It's not esoteric, and not even the beginning of genuine esotericism. It's just common psychism, which is certainly important to be sure, but contains only the vaguest possibility of developing a genuine esoteric relationship to a Guru. It's important to some degree, but in some respects it can be a distraction from the more important elements of the Guru-devotee relationship, which has most to do with the emotional and existential response the devotee has to this initial psychic contact rather than to any psychic content itself.

One can "hang out" in the exoteric psychic relationship with a Guru for a very long time, and delude oneself into thinking that this is an "esoteric" relationship, and that those devotees who are spending their time fulfilling the Guru's explicit instructions are just too dense or spiritually unaware to "get" this esoteric relationship. But here the charges of immaturity and delusion are generally just projections of stunted spiritual development and an inability to get past the fascinating dimensions of the psyche. Because the real relationship to the Guru comes when one submits to the Guru, whole bodily, with all one's being. And as Da correctly understood, this involves real submission to the Guru, meaning real submission to his instruction and practices and whatever he deems necessary. Esotericism isn't a way to bypass this submission, its only made possible by this submission. Without that submission, even one's psychic relationship to the Guru will remain exoteric and generally ineffective. By which I mean, the ego of the devotee won't be much transcended, it will even be fed and inflated by the devotee's false approach and his self-indulgent attitude.

The Guru-devotee relationship is primarily about ego-transcendence, and this means genuine surrender to the Guru. This surrender of course involves the whole psyche, not just some outer bodily service and submission to various practices, but that's just the point - the "whole psyche" includes all aspects of conscious life, including bodily and social and cultural aspects, not just some inner feelings one has about the Guru. Which is why Da was correct to require full submission to his instructions and all the formal practices and disciplines for genuine esoteric practice. The problem with Da is the truly absurd requirements he made of devotees through those disciplines and practices and instruction, most of which would drive any genuinely serious spiritual practitioner far away and raise so many red flags they'd likely never come back. One simply doesn't find the genuine Gurus of the traditions making the kinds of formal requirements Da made, and thus one can't honestly describe him as a genuine Guru. One can just say that while Da understood something about the Guru-devotee relationship, he also corrupted and exploited that relationship, rendering it essentially ineffective.

So there's two basic ways the Guru-devotee relationship can be rendered ineffective. One is for the devotee to refuse to submit to the Guru and his instruction, and the other is for the Guru to exploit that submission through false and self-serving instruction. The fact that in Adidam both sides of this equation were way out of whack essentially assured everyone that very little genuine esoteric growth would occur in Adidam, and that virtually everyone would remain an exoteric "beginner".

Elias would like to think that because he has a lot of psychic experience under his belt, and ways of psychically "contacting" Adi Da, that he is able to have an esoteric relationship to him. Well, no. Again, this is just Elias' spiritual ego talking, thinking that because he's got all this psychic and intuitive development going, that makes him "esoteric". But it simply doesn't work that way. All the psychic development in the world won't get you through that "inner door" to the esoteric world of the Guru-devotee relationship. Why? Because for one thing, the psyche is just the exoteric level of experience. The real domain of esotericism is found in the heart, in primal consciousness, in real love, and the only path through that door is total submission. Not just partial submission of some part of the mind or the body or psyche. The word "heart" doesn't refer to some psychic center one can contact by exoteric means. It refers to the very core of our Being. And that is what the relationship to the Guru is about. The Guru isn't just some guy with really powerful psychic and intuitive abilities. He's simply a transparent vehicle of the Self, the very Being, the Heart. He's someone who has utterly surrendered himself to God, and that is why he can act as Guru and instruct others in the process of surrender to the power and presence of Grace that is active in him.

Now, it's certainly true that this genuine esoteric relationship to the Guru doesn't have be a "formal" one, certainly not in the crazy Scientology-based system developed by Adi Da. There are some Gurus who have formal relationships with devotees, who grant Guru-diksha or Guru-kripa, and even have some kind of monastic order. And in those cases, there certainly are requirements for the submission to the Guru's instruction. But in the case of most genuine Gurus, those instructions are not terribly confusing or difficult. We of course do have famous examples of really difficult Guru-devotee relationships, like the classic story of Marpa and Milarepa, but that kind of thing is very rare, and is generally meant only to illustrate a principle, not to serve as a guideline for how the relationship generally proceeds. In most cases, fulfilment of basic disciplines and practices are rather easy for the serious practitioner, and no hedging or reluctance is either encountered or tolerated. The traditional devotee understands quite well from the cultural traditions they grow up in what is expected in the Guru-devotee relationship, and that it would be absurd to expect or claim esoteric maturity without fulfilling the Guru's instructions.

Of course, there certainly are examples of very informal encounters between Gurus and their devotees, but in virtually all such cases, the devotee responds  with total surrender to the Guru, not with the punk attitude we so often encounter among westerners that they don't need to go through any real surrender because they have some kind of "esoteric sensitivity" to the Guru. Wherever we do find ripe or precocious devotees who are ready to go directly into the esoteric dimension of practice, we also find devotees who are fully submitted to the instruction of their Guru.

A famous example would be that of Hui Neng, the Sixth Patriarch of Zen, who had a spontaneous awakening into the esoteric process merely by hearing the Lotus Sutra read aloud. He found himself drawn directly to the monastery of the Fifth Patriach, and asked to join even though he was illiterate and had very little obvious preparation. The Fifth Patriach was asked what to do with him, and he instantly recognized Hui Neng's spiritual awakening, and rather than draw attention to this, he had Hui Neng sent to tend to the pigs on the outskirts of the monastery grounds. And Hui Neng simply did as he was told. He didn't object and tell everyone that he was a true esoteric practitioner who ought to be treated with respect and veneration. He just submitted to his Guru, and gladly followed his instruction, and tended to the pigs. And as it turned out, this was just what he needed.

All the Guru-devotee traditions are filled with stories about devotees submitting to their Guru's instructions, and I don't know of any where some guy just claims on his own to be the esoteric devotee of a Guru while yet refusing to follow that Guru's instructions. This kind of thing is just laughed at as a total absurdity. It's simply a self-contradictory oxymoron.

Of course, people do have all kinds of spiritual experiences in relationship to great Guru figures around the world. People obviously have profound experiences of Jesus, of Buddha, Krishna, Rama, and so on. But once again, it's also understood that these experiences only become genuine esoteric relationship for those who submit to the instruction of scripture, or whose spontaneous surrender shows all the signs described in those scriptures of genuine submission. Anyone can have a vision of Krishna, but very few actually surrender to the instruction and practices associated with those traditions. The same with Jesus. Or even Ramana. Many people have had profound experiential contact with Ramana, including both Elias and myself. But that contact is not in itself the sign of an esoteric relationship to Ramana. The esoteric relationship to Ramana is only possible for those who genuinely surrender to his instruction and take on the path he taught and demonstrated. No genuine esoteric devotee of Ramana would object to any of that, only an exoteric pretender would balk at such a notion, or ridicule such expectations as only for "exoteric" practitioners who aren't up to the "esoteric" process. Again, it's a case of projection.

If one reads the stories of Ramana's real esoteric devotees, one finds profound examples of genuine submission to his instruction and unquestioning surrender to his practices and disciplines. As mentioned before, Annamalai's biography is entitiled "Living by the Words of Bhagavan" for a very good reason. That phrase summarizes the whole of his esoteric practice. The same story in one form or another is told by Muruganar, Sadhu Om, Poonja Swami, and countless others.

On the other hand, Ramana didn't have "formal" devotees. He didn't like that whole world of formal practice and didn't even call himself a Guru, and didn't give diksha. So in that sense there's clearly no requirement for a formal relationship to a Guru. But that's not the issue. What matter is that the devotee submit to the Guru's instruction in full, and not pick and choose or reject it in favor of some imaginary "esoteric" relationship to him. I think you will find that principle upheld everywhere the genuine esoteric relationship to the Guru is found in the traditions, regardless of how it plays out.

With Da the same principles hold, regardless of his actual qualifications as a Guru or the effectiveness of his instruction. Whatever Da's real esoteric relationship with devotees might have been had they been able to fulfill his instruction, is something that only such devotees could really describe. Guys like Elias, or Zensun, or any of the other peripheral types who think they have the esoteric chops to relate to Adi Da while ignoring his actual instructions, simply have no clue as to what that would be like. Those who at least spent some serious time in Adidam actually trying to live his disciplines and fulfill his instructions might have some notion of what that might be like, but I'm not sure if anyone in Adidam got very far with that. Maybe Sukhapur did. But the general impression I get is that it was simply a case of chasing the tiger's tail. There was no real there there, because Da's instructions for the most part simply weren't a sound springboard for genuine esotericism, and his own corrupted character sabotaged whatever genuine spiritual intuitions and capacities he had. A shame, really, but that's why there's been so little effective spirituality coming out of Adidam. It's not as if there was ever much emphasis on unconditional love in the actual practice within Adidam, especially in Adi Da's inner circles, regardless of what claims were made or lip service paid.

The sad truth is that most everyone in Adidam had, at best, an exoteric "psychic" relationship to Da, and not a fully esoteric "heart-relationship" to him. Of course, even in that dimension one's submission to the disciplines and practices is what deepens the relationship, not trying to practice "esoterically". Which is why Da emphasised surrender and submission to his actual instruction so strongly. So people experienced only as much of that esoteric relationship as they actually submitted to through those disciplines and practices. One's mileage and experience certainly varied. The problem of course lay in that so much of Da's instruction just made no sense and had little spiritual value and shouldn't have been followed in any case. Those who tried often just tied themselves in knots. The macho crowd of yes-men who applauded Da's every move would excuse this by any number of explanations, such as that Da was simply trying to "break" his devotees, and that if anyone had really and truly followed Da's instructions, great things would have resulted. But since no one did, one is left merely with an empty claim that has no evidentiary proof behind it. Is there anyone in Adidam who can actually verify the practice he gave? Apparently no one.

Can Elias or Zensun or other peripheral Adidam types verify Adi Da's bonafides? No, not really. Unless they actually do go ahead and submit fully to his instruction, which of course they never will, because they consider that sort of thing to be only for the "exoteric" crowd. Which is the basic giveaway to the true situation here. These are people who want to talk the talk without walking the walk. That's a very popular sport in the spiritual scene. You can find people like that everywhere, not just in Adidam. In fact, there's a whole lot of such people associated with Ramana, or Papaji, or the whole neo-Advaita movement - people who think they don't actually have to fulfill the practices and instructions given, but just sort of vaguely intuit the non-dual reality, and then simply assume that's all they need to do to claim esoteric relationships and even enlightenment by the Grace of the Guru. But the truth is that none of that is in the least bit to be taken seriously. Anyone who claims esoteric understanding without demonstrating profoundly humbling submission and surrender to their Guru's instruction or scriptural tradition is just jiving themselves and maybe a few gullible others. Even those who do have to be carefully examined, but those who don't aren't even worth the trouble.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Esotericism and Unconditional Love

Elias has some new posts up over at Lightmind responding to my last blog entries. The first is a response to my incomprehension of his statement that "Something in [BY's] mind is set against the Self as the property and native state of every individual." The second is a response to my last blog post Esoteric Submission To Limitation and the Unlimited.

My first reaction to reading these posts is, nothing to see here. It's not just the gratuitous personal criticism, it's the absence of any real understanding of esoteric process. Not that Tom doesn't have some genuine spiritual experience and a lifetime of pondering these things. It's just that, like Da himself, much of this is negated by what I have previously called "spiritual narcissism", which ends up inverting both spiritual understanding and spiritual values until they are hardly recognizable, either in word or in Spirit.

To understand what Elias is up to, and where he makes his mistakes, it's important to understand the distinction between spiritual narcissism and genuine spiritual esotericism. The distinction is often lost in the general confusion of popular spiritual discussion. Spiritual narcissists are quite common - in fact, we could really classify almost everyone as a spiritual narcissist to some degree, it's just that some people go overboard with it and lose themselves in their own self-imagery.

The way I understand narcissism in general is that it revolves around the abuse of the internal process of self-imagery and self-imagination. All of us have self-images of ourselves, and all of us make use of those self-images in both ordinary and exceptional ways. It's part of the psychological structure of the human cognitive process. And it has a role to play in the spiritual process as well. It's intrinsic to the entire process of identification with form, whether human or otherwise, and it demonstrates how "mind" relates to form through imagery.

In short, once we identify with our human form, we also create an image of that form in our minds, and that image becomes an important aspect of our sense of identity. But this process is not limited to the human form. It also occurs in relation to our spiritual forms and body as well, and we form spiritual self-images that aren't necessarily connected to the physical body, except to the degree that our spiritual and physical bodies are connected.

The process of human incarnation, as I've described before, is essentially a bio-spiritual fusion of our spiritual bodies and "self" with the physical body and its "self". The connection between the two is not magical, it's a very down-to-earth process of growing connectivity on both a neural and a subtle level between these two bodies. In the course of growing those connections there are all kinds of problems that can arise, all kinds of confused feedback and mirroring can occur, one prominent aspect of which is the phenomena of "spiritual narcissism", in which one's self-image becomes inflated and confused by the flow of spiritual and bodily energies and awareness that naturally occurs in the course of self-aware living.

In the process of incarnating, the sense of self becomes a bit mangled, so to speak. What are we as human beings? Are we the physical body, or a spiritual self? In a very real sense, there are two competing senses of self at work in us, in that the physical body is an intelligent but rather limited being with its own self-image, based on the body and the limited characteristics of the physical world, and the subtle body is a much more intelligent and creative being with its own self-image, based on the far more expansive nature of the subtle body and the subtle worlds. There's a basic conflict between these two selves and their corresponding self-images, and one of the major challenges of incarnation in the physical body and world is to coordinate these two properly. That's no small task, as I think we can see from the vast confusion in the world over these matters, at all levels, morally, ethically, spiritually, religiously, psychologically, socially, and so on.

Self-imagery is an inevitable consequence of identification with any body or world, because identification creates a mirroring process in consciousness, and this carries forth into the actual structure of the brain or nervous system of any body we seem to have, whether it is physical or subtle in nature. This is meant to be a helpful process, allowing us to work through some of our problems in an internal, imaginative, and symbolic sense. Creativity is virtually impossible without the imaginative process of internal imagery, which naturally involves creating images of not only the whole world, but of ourselves, and then working with these images in a manner to fashion genuine "technological" advances in our physical and spiritual experience.

There's a natural feedback mechanism that keeps this process of imagination from departing too far from the realities of body and world, however, and it's very important that this feedback mechanism remain healthy and functional, or the imagination can lead us into a lot of delusions and trouble. The feedback mechanism is essentially a grounding of observation and imagination in real experience, constantly disciplining our internal imagery through "reality checks" that correct us if we are creating images that don't correspond to our experience, and thus preventing ourselves from turning these images into illusions that we think are real in and of themselves. And that is the problem with spiritual narcissism. It tends to create a self-image that is increasingly disconnected from the body and world, either gross or subtle, and we begin to live in and through the self-image, rather than through direct experience. This is how inflated (and also deflated) self-images come into being and literally begin to "possess" our sense of self. It isn't necessarily a sign of spiritual immaturity or lack of spiritual experience. In fact it can be a result of an excess of spiritual experience that we may have difficulty processing and understanding.

My understanding of Da's problems are not of someone who lacks genuine spiritual experience, or even a lack of genuine esoteric experience and understanding. However, I do see someone who was overwhelmed by his own spiritual experience, and could no longer form a genuinely healthy self-image, but who instead began to live in and through his self-image, and in the process lost track of the genuine esoteric process that lies beyond self-imagery and world-imagery. That is in part why Da is such a tragic figure, rather than merely a comical one. He strove for the heights, and actually achieved considerable spiritual understanding and experience, but could not go beyond the problems of self-imagery, and "fell", like Icarus, through the error of hubris, excessive pride, which really means, "lost in one's own self-imagery".

Alexander Lowen, author of "Narcissism: Denial of the True Self", describes psychological narcissism as a distortion of the self-development process, in which the young child, faced with the various traumas of living in a threatening world of physical limitations, including the limitation of the body itself, begins to retreat into the world of their imagination, and forms an alternative self-image, and even an alternative world, that exists largely in their internal imagination, and is only partially responsive to the outer world of experience, and tends to favor the internal over the external, to the degree of trying to shape the external to re-create the world of their imagination in it. This can create a precarious imbalance between the bodily self, the imaginative self, and the spiritual self, which is in large part connected to the physical self through the higher cognitive processes of the imagination and other symbolic means. Because the spiritual self and the physical self both form "self-images" in the mind, there is a competitive process that occurs inside each of us for the creation of a "true self". Trying to reconcile these two self-senses into a single self-image can be particularly difficult and can create many tensions and distortions, and all kinds of illusions and delusions.

Examining the existential challenges of incarnation in this way can help us see that there's great creative potential in the process. The whole world of art and creativity is, essentially, a spiritual process of integrating physical and subtle worlds through the imaginative faculties of the mind. The process of creating an internal self-image and an internalized image of the world itself requires that human beings merge and fuse the physical and subtle realms of experience, and our own physical and subtle bodies, into a single self-sense and world-sense. This is difficult because one can't get full and direct feedback from either direction that fully matches up with the fused self-sense thus created. The physical world doesn't give us a full picture of our spiritual nature, and the spirit world don't fully grasp or comprehend either the positive nature or the basic limitations of the physical world. This is why religions have so many body-negative presumptions, for example. It's easy to form an image of the physical realm as being spiritually "fallen" or impure or disgusting from a subtle-mind point of view, just as it's possible to form a spiritually idealistic view of the physical realm that doesn't take into account its real limitations and character. Being able to understand and communicate properly between the two worlds and the two minds is a problem of translation, not just of language, but of even the deeper cognitive divides between them. It's a creative problem, even a problem of creativity itself, because that very process has many pitfalls in it. 

Lowen pointed out that the process of using self-imagery and creating an internal world can also become pathologically distorted if one is using the imaginative process as a means of escaping from the limitations of the physical world and one's physical relations, such as parents, family, society, even the body itself. The narcissist is someone who tends more and more to live in and through the self-image, rather than through the realities of the body itself. In his view, the self-image is supposed to correspond very closely to the body, and when it departs from the body, we get narcissistic problems. However, Lowen doesn't take into account the true human existential situation, which involves the fact of spiritual incarnation, that we are a fusion of both spiritual and physical bodies, and that our self-imagery is complicated by this. So it's not entirely true that our self-image should correspond to the physical body and its realities. It must also correspond to our spiritual body and its realities as well, and thus take both into account in the creation of an accurate self-image.

That is the essential need for our self-image - that it accurately reflect both our physical and spiritual natures, and our real development in both physical and spiritual processes, as well as in the process of integrating the two. We may have a highly developed spiritual nature, and even a well-developed physical body, but if the two are not properly integrated, then we suffer that lack of integration. One of the ways that integration can go wrong is if we become narcissistically obsessed with our own self-image, and place more importance on the development of this self-image than on the actual development of an integrated body-mind. That, after all, is the only real purpose of the self-image - to facilitate the creative integration of physical and subtle bodies and worlds. When the self-image begins to supplant the actual life of the body, and become both a path and a goal in itself, we are getting into trouble. And when it just plain takes over, we have rampant spiritual narcissism on the loose.

When I say that everyone suffers to some degree from spiritual narcissism, I am merely pointing out that no one's process of spiritual integration is perfect. There are always going to be discrepancies and the need for reality checks to keep us in a healthy developmental loop. But for most people those discrepancies are relatively minor and the reality checks relatively small. But there's always the risk of going overboard in any number of directions, resulting in a self-image that is wildly distorted from our physical or spiritual realities. Sometimes this is just a result of immaturity, and sometimes its a result of major risk-taking, of someone trying to leapfrog over their limitations and over-estimating the importance of the self-image in the process.

Da was one of those fellows who was willing to risk it all for the sake of attempting something really big. At least in his imagination he was. And in fact, he was really quite talented and powerful, both spiritually and physically. Unfortunately, he was not able to find a peace with the limitations he encountered in both dimensions, and this not only frustrated him greatly, it led him to depart from the realities of those limitations and to embrace instead the world of his own self-imagery and world-imagery, creating a "spiritual reality" of his own that was certainly very real to him, but which was itself a pathological distortion of the spiritual process. It's hardly unique in that respect. There's all kinds of spiritual and religious paths that contain these kinds of distortions in them, from all kinds of sources. In fact, you could say that virtually all spiritual and religious paths contain these distortions, and that for this reason spiritual practice is a bit like walking through a mine-field (or mind-field) filled with all kinds of subtle bombs ready to blow up in our faces. This can hardly be avoided and must simply be endured to some extent. We are not perfect, our teachers have not been perfect, and history is far from perfect. The important thing is not to gripe about this, but to learn from it.

So, what then is the esoteric process of spiritual realization? One thing I hope is clear from this description is that the genuine esoteric process of non-dual realization is something quite different from this kind of spiritual integration of the subtle and physical bodies and worlds. Often, the two can become confused. But I think it's strikingly obvious that spiritual integration is a dualistic process. That doesn't make it bad or wrong, it just means that it's dualistic in nature, and shouldn't be confused with non-dualism. Non-dualism isn't at odds with this dualistic process. In fact, before non-dualism can even be considered or approached, some kind of developmental process must be relatively mature in the individual, there must be some real spiritual integration in the person, or they are simply going to be too confused to understand non-dualism or engage in its esoteric approach. Likewise, an understanding of the fallacy of spiritual narcissism must also be in place, or they will fall into that trap and its illusions all too easily.

One problem such people will face is that they will confuse esotericism with some purely "inner" process, and see exotericism as an insignificant "outer" process. This divide between the two is a product of both the lack of functional integration in the individual, but even more importantly, a lack of understanding of the esoteric process itself. The narcissist in us tends to think that "inner" means "in the realm of internal imagery". and that "inner self" means this internal  self-image we create in our minds. So when they encounter non-dual teachings about the Self, they think that this involves a developmental process of creating a more and more inclusive and spiritually activated inner self-image. They don't understand that the Self being referred to is not a Self-image, some process in our minds that helps us integrate our various functional bodies and worlds. The Self in non-dual teachings refers to That Being that is beyond not just the physical, but the spiritual realms and bodies, that total Being within which all those world appear. The imaginative self-image cannot even begin to approach that Being and it simply cannot create an image of it, because it is beyond all form. It can't even create an image of "formlessness", because that Being is beyond even formlessness, which is simply a concept in the mind we create in opposition to the concept of form.

The reality of the Self is thus, as Nagarjuna said in his famous four-fold negation, "Neither existent nor non-existent, neither form nor formless". What is a self-imagist to do in the face of such instruction? Well, this is where the rubber meets the road, and where real esotericism begins.

Describing the real esoteric process is difficult, because words are essentially images, they are symbolic means of representing thoughts, images, ideas, concepts, and so on. Whereas the esoteric process goes beyond all of that. In strictly formal terms, it's a "negative process", in that it strips all these concepts and ideas and images from our minds, and leaves us bereft of them. What it puts in place, in positive terms, is not describable as an image or concept. It can only be indirectly referred to by such means. But that is not because it is intangible, but because it is so directly real that it bypasses the indirect methods of imagery and experience itself. So the non-dual esoteric process is simply not an exercise of the imaginative faculties, physical or subtle, and it isn't advanced by self-imagery or world-imagery. It isn't at war with these either, or even the least bit hostile to them. As Guadapada said, "non-dualism is not in conflict with any other viewpoint or practice". But neither is it the same as them either. Having a strong and powerful self-image is not necessary for non-dual esotericism, nor is it necessarily a detriment, unless one thinks that the process is one involving one's self-image.

The non-dual approach to self-identification is one of confounding ourselves, and confounding our very self-sense at its core. Non-dual esotericism recognizes that all self-imagery is essentially a form of vanity, and in vain, in that our real and true Self is not described by any of it. Self-imagery has a functional value in the process of incarnation, as mentioned earlier, but none of that is genuinely "esoteric" spirituality. Those who think esotericism is about the integration of the physical and subtle are mistaken. It's esoteric in a relative sense, in that it's certainly more esoteric than your average guy who's just not into spiritual things, but even ordinary guys are actually involved in this same spiritual process of integration whether they think of it in those terms or not, and many of them can be more adept at it than those who talk big and create grandiose spiritual self-images of themselves.

This is why Elias' perspective on the issue of ownership, and specifically his claim that the Self is the rightful property of every individual, is a sign of a spiritually narcissistic confusion about the nature of the Self. This kind of statement can only make sense if Elias is referring to the "self-image" we create in our minds about ourselves, and about God and Self and so on. That self-image is, indeed, our own property. But that image we have of ourselves, or of the Self, or of God, is not the same as either our true Self or God. To mistake the image we have formed in our minds for the reality beyond the mind is a tragic error with some rather grave consequences, one of which is that it locks us out of the genuine esoteric process, and keeps us locked into the self-fabricated world of self-imagery and self-imagination, which is a form of suffering all its own.

The true Self is not our property at all, it is our true Nature and Being. We as individuals do no own the Self.  In the realm of useful spiritual metaphors for understanding our relationship to the Self, this is just an inversion of the true relationship. If one is to speak of "ownership" in this respect, it can apply only to the Self "owning" us, or owning all the world and all beings. But even that is a fairly awkward and misleading formulation, in that the Self isn't the kind of being or form that could "own" anything at all. And we are certainly incapable of "owning" the Self. So I not only remain unconvinced that there's any value in Elias' formulation, I think its real value lies in the clear example it gives us of the kinds of inverted understanding that spiritual narcissism leads to.

It's a fairly natural inversion. In the same way that looking at an image of ourselves in the mirror gives us an inverted sense of ourselves, in that left is switched with right, spiritual narcissism creates its own understanding of the spiritual process in an inverted fashion that creates images of reality that are inverted through and through. It may see with some clarity, but it inverts what it sees into an image that is actually in conflict with the reality of the spiritual process, unless we correct for that inversion. So we end up saying absurd things like "we own the Self" that gets it all backwards and upside down.

The actual esoteric process allows us to retire the self-image to a purely functional status that has no greater meaning in the esoteric sense. The purpose of the esoteric process is to develop a direct relationship with the Self, not to form images of it in the mind, and then claim to be "Self-realized" based on those images. The more images the mind holds, the less open it is to the esoteric process. The existence of such images is not the problem, but the holding onto them is, the identification of those images with the true Self. So one of the primary principles of genuine esoteric spirituality is the letting go of all images, and all sense of "ownership" and identification.

What is ownership but a form of identification with form? The Self can't own anything, because the Self has no form. When we speak of ourselves as owning things, we aren't really speaking of our true Self. We are merely speaking of the body-mind that we identify with. The body can own things, but the Self cannot. The Self neither owns, nor can it be owned. It is free. Elias claims that owning things does not make you unfree, but it does, because it means one has identified with a limitation, a body, and claims that body as one's property. And of course I think we all know that being owned does not make us free either, as any slave can tell you. But it's not just slaves that lose their freedom by being owned, it's their masters who lose their freedom by owning them. Both have created a relationship in which our real freedom has been abandoned for the sake of ownership and identification with the body-mind. And of course much conflict ensues from that.

This is very much what goes on when we say that we own God, or that we own the Self. When we speak of "my God", or "my Self", we invariably have some sense of identity and ownership at stake. It gets more obvious when we talk of "my religion" or "my country", or "my body". A whole lot of conflict and war goes on because of that sense of ownership and identification. Which is not to say that the body can't functionally own things. Non-dualism is not much concerned with the functional characteristics of bodily life, which involves all kinds of practical issues of ownership. There's certainly a respected place in Sanatana Dharma for those who renounce possessions and live the renunciate life a of monk, but it's not considered a necessity, or even recommended for everyone. To the contrary, most of the Upanishadic sages were forest-dwelling rishis with wives and families and businesses and a fairly active life, but guided by an inner sense of renunciation.

Ramana Maharshi frequently spoke of this inner sense of renunciation, especially when devotees asked him to bless their desire to take formal sanyas. He denied that blessing to virtually everyone who asked for it, because he felt that for most people it was deluding, that real renunciation was of the mind, not of the body, that it meant renunciation of the egoic sense of self, which included the egoic sense of being the owner and the doer. Real esotericism begins, Ramana felt, when one makes this inner gesture of renunciation, and lets the outer life fall into line with that.

But there's more to it than even this. The true estoeric process begins with a re-orientation to an even deeper understanding of the outer world of experience than occurs through the process of incarnation and integration of physical and subtle bodies and selves. To Ramana the only genuine "inner" is the very Self, and everything object to or witnessed by the Self, both physical and subtle, was the "outer" world, the product of the false, egoic self. To Ramana, all worlds, both physical and subtle, were created by the ego, rather than vice-versa. Even the "Creator-God", which Ramana considered "the first illusion", is in reality just the primal form of the ego, not a truly non-dual understanding of God.

Ramana saw the process of perception in the opposite manner than we do. He saw perception as a process of projection, in which the egoic mind creates a world to perceive, projects it outwardly into an observable form, and then inverts that projection into a perception, as if there really were a world out there to perceive. This creates the illusion of an independent and objective world, with ourselves as a body-mind within that world, which is constantly verified by us in the process of perception, when in reality is it nothing more than the mind's own "virtual reality" feedback loop, akin to the world of The Matrix.

The esoteric process is a way of correcting for these inversions of attentionand the creations of the illusion of a "world" that are at the heart of what we might call "universal narcissism". The esoteric process is able to "catch" the mind in this process of creating images that become worlds to us, and interrupts the process of calling them "real". Instead, they are seen as projections of the mind, of an even deeper order than the process of incarnation itself and its imaginative self-imagery.

How is the esoteric process able to do that? Must we become supermen to be able to cut through all this maya being created moment to moment? Again, the opposite is the case. The theories and imagery of the spiritual narcissist creates the idea of the "spiritual hero", some great soul who is able to penetrate through all illusions, smash the demons, free the princess, and re-establish the sacred order. Adi Da was infatuated with playing out such a role, and frequently referring to himself as the "Vira", or spiritual hero, a unique capacity that only the rarest of souls had. But this is just more of the spiritual narcissism that distorts our understanding of the esoteric process.

To understand that process, we might, in the spirit of the Christian holiday season, look to the teachings of Jesus for some clues. In particular, we could look at sayings of his such as "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God." To the common understanding, this seems to be an inverted statement. Shouldn't it be the rich in spirit who see God? What's all this about being "poor in spirit"? Well, this is where the genuine esoteric viewpoint departs from the narcissistic viewpoint. Because the genuine esoteric viewpoint acknowledges that we do not "own" the spirit. Quite the contrary. The spiritual narcissist, on the other hand, is immensely proud of his spiritual accomplishments, his spiritual experiences, his empowerments and abilities. He experiences the spirit as something that he "owns", as something he can possess and make use of, even manipulate and profit from. And for a time this may even seem so. Even "just so".But it is an illusion which leads to a great "fall".

The genuine esoteric process doesn't just teach about non-ownership as a concept, or as a rule of behavior, it teaches it as a spiritual reality, through and through. One becomes "bereft" of spirit in the process. One "falls" from spirit even, and becomes "poor in spirit". When one accepts this not merely as a concept, but as one's genuine spiritual reality, then the esoteric process awakens. This can happen in any moment in which one has "let go" of one's ownership stake in oneself and in God, Self, and Spirit. These are the moments of genuine spiritual crisis and awakening. They are often moments of profound inner self-inspection and even despair. They have no "content", even if sometimes we associate content with them. There is often a profound infilling of the spirit in these moments, but it is not an ownership of the spirit that we are brought into, but a surrender to the spirit.

They are also moments of freedom from the illusion of ownership and imagery, which occurs when we "break", fall apart so to speak, and cannot be "put back together", like Humpty-Dumpty. That is what "broken yogi" refers to. Like many, I have fallen, broken, and can't be put back together. That is a feature, not a bug, however. It's part of the life-long process of understanding genuine esotericism, which is only available to those who are broken, not those who are rich and powerful in spirit, who think they have it all going on. What is necessary is to learn how to remain broken all the time, to break down completely, and never to be put back together again. Most people don't like that process, and find ways to bypass it or steer around it or create a way to turn it into a convention of the ego, and put ourselves back together as "esotericists" with special knowledge and experience that the slugs or munchkins out there don't have. There's no end to the ways these things can be distorted and perverted through spiritual narcissism, except to end the narcissism itself.

They have no "content", even if sometimes we associate content with them. There is often a profound infilling of the spirit in these moments, but it is not an ownership of the spirit that we are brought into, rather a surrender to the spirit.

And that is the real point of esoteric awakening. It is always a moment of surrender of self to Spirit, to God, to Self. It's never a moment of triumph and victory, of gaining power over Spirit, God, or Self. It is a bowing down, a humbling of oneself before God, Self, and Spirit. Why? Because God and Self and Spirit are of the very nature of humility itself, not of triumph.

One of the esoteric secrets Ramana Maharshi taught was that God was the humblest of all beings, and that is how he became "God" in the first place. His notion of God is of utter, transcendental humility, not powerful self-aggrandizing hubris. The spiritual narcissists have it all inverted. The real power of God comes from his humility, his bowing down before all things, not his arrogance and strength. His true strength is his humility, his lack of ego, and that is how he became God. Likewise, all esoteric practitioners realize God through their humility, through their surrender, through their seeing through the false ego of self-imagery and self-projection, and bowing down before reality. This process is one of no longer protecting or promoting ego in all its form, not just the internal self-imagery, but even through the external projected self-imagery of worlds and their creative processes. The esoteric process surrenders all these and relates to the "outer" world in a very different fashion.

Jesus' primary esoteric teaching was of unconditional love. Spiritual narcissists tend to overlook the real meaning of his teachings, regarding much of this teaching about unconditional as mere outer social morality, and emphasize instead some kind of otherworldly experiences that one can have through mystical means and which, by pursing them, we are "saved" and become like Christ in the process. But this inverts once again the real meaning here. Unconditional love of all others, and acceptance of all as equal in God, is the key to the esoteric process, not mystical experience. In fact, genuine mystical experience is only gained access to through this practice of unconditional love, and is not possible without it.

Likewise, acceptance of whatever happens to us as the blessing of God, as something we should be thankful for regardless of whether it appears positive or negative, is the key to esoteric practice in relation to the world. This is because in reality we are all equal in God, and all that happens really is God's doing, not our own, and we need to be thankful to God for every aspect of it, not just the parts we find pleasurable or desirable.

To awaken to unconditional love one really does have to learn how to love all others, and that means all others. That's the "price" of esotericism. And that love is not hidden away in some purely "inward" sense. When Jesus was asked, "how should we know your real disciples and tell them from the false ones?", he said simply "You will know them by their love". In other words, it ought to be obvious in the way they lived and acted in all the ordinary aspects of life. And furthermore, this was the way to become "like Christ". Jesus' esoteric instruction was "to love others as I have loved you, unconditionally". He lived what he taught, he loved others unconditionally, with complete humility and surrender, and it was by this demonstration that people could recognize him as God. And in that sense, he was God, not through some mystical avataric nonsense, but simply by loving unconditionally. Because God is love, the Self is love, and the esoteric process of knowing God is simply one of surrendering to and living by that love, as that love, in relation to everything around you and in you, including your own Self. That is how one comes to know one's true Self, through unconditional surrender and love. That is how one becomes "Christ-like", not through some heroic rising above the slugs and munchkins. In Christ, there are no slugs or munchkins.

The esoteric process is really just this simple. Self-enquiry is nothing other than this. The esoteric relationship to the Guru is nothing more than this surrender, of learning to simply love unconditionally. It requires renunciation, yes. It requires that we become "poor in spirit" as well, with no defense and utter dependence on grace. We don't get to own grace or manipulate it as we wish. We are given over to it. We are the lowest of the low in the process, with no protected ego, deliberately surrendering ego into this process of unconditional love and acceptance. And this carries into our very living.

Nisargadatta was once asked how do we realize, and he said it was not enough just to understand or enquire of the Self, and grasp that the Self is our real nature and reality, we need to actually live as if this is so. And that means to see all others as our very Self and love all others as our Self. To love unconditionally, to surrender in total humility, and to allow grace to guide our lives. This is not easy to do, especially if we are enamoured of the ideas and self-imagery and God-imagery of the common or even "esoteric" forms of spiritual narcissism. But it is necessary all the more because of that. Which simply means we have to surrender these false notions and truly surrender in all humility and gratitude before the grace of the Self.

The esoteric relationship to the Guru is entirely about this process of surrender and submission to the living reality of unconditional love and gratitude. Many assume that these things are just some kind of exoteric social recommendation, but it is far more than that. It's the esoteric process itself, lived in relation to the Grace of the Guru. In that process, the devotee surrenders not only his sense of having "possessions" to the Guru, but all sense of "ownership" and responsibility for his suffering itself. He surrenders his worries, his concerns, and all the burdens of the ego to the Guru. And in turn the Guru surrenders these to God, and becomes the vehicle of God's Grace.

There's a beautiful message from Ramana I came across recently that almost perfectly describes this process:

Ramana's Promises

My devotees have the qualifications to rejoice abundantly, like children of an emperor.

Abandon the drama [of the world] and seek the Self within. Remaining within, I will protect you, [ensuring] that no harm befalls you.

If you inquire and know me, the indweller, in that state there will be no reason for you to worry about the world.

For the cruel disease of burning samsara to end, the correct regimen is to entrust all your burdens on me.

In order that your needless anxieties cease, make sure that all your burdens are placed on me through the brave act of depending totally on grace.

If you completely surrender all your responsibilities to me, I will accept them as mine and manage them.

When bearing the entire burden remains my responsibility, why do you have any worries?

Long ago you offered your body, possessions and soul to me, making them mine, so why do you still regard these things as 'I' and 'mine' and associate yourself with them?

Seek my grace within the Heart. I will drive away your darkness and show you the light. This is my responsibility.
More later.