Where Have All The Adepts Gone? And Other Lessons from My Ill Spent Youth, Part Two
Last week I received a phone call from a former student. I hear from him every so many years and we speak for about an hour catching up. During the conversation he asked, “So, where the hell are all the enlightened people?” An interesting way to phrase the question, so I followed it up with, “What do you mean?” It turns out that he was searching. After having achieved many of his professional goals he was looking, in his own words, “for something to do”. That is, something beyond the day to day. This is common among people who are new to the path, but he had over twenty-years of experience in several groups as well as solitary practice.
The conversation went back and forth, with the sum of it being, he was looking for a magical group to join, something more than the often social entities that exist, but was not looking for a teacher. Now, this was the confusing part, as the initial part of the discussion was, “Where are the ‘enlightened people’?”
My question to him being, “What does it matter if you are not looking for a teacher to help you in your progress?” This was followed up with, “And if you do want someone to help you, what are you bringing to the table?”
So my friend and one-time student was a bit confused. On one hand he wanted to be in the company of a qualified teacher and with others doing occult work that had defined purpose and definite results, but he did not really know why, or what he was willing to do to be a part of it.
I pointed out to him, “You are asking me where these adepts are, this means there is the assumption that I know one or more of them, that I have some association with ‘enlightened people’ and that I can and would direct you towards them.” At one point early on I asked him, “How would you know an enlightened person if you met them?” This was met with silence. Now this is an important question, because having a goal means that you have to know when it is accomplished. So, how can we recognize enlightenment?
The answer is only with some difficulty. While it is easy to recognize what we think or believe enlightenment is like, actually recognizing it in its many diverse expressions is another thing.
Again I asked my friend, “Even if you met an enlightened adept, whatever that is, why should they have anything to do with you? What do you offer? Why spend time with you?”
This was the hard question. The assumption is that enlightened beings are all “sweetness and light” with the appearance of someone’s grandfather or monk, without a care in the world. They selflessly help those around them without concern for themselves. While there is a modest amount of truth to this, it is for the most part self-serving nonsense.
If you want like-minded companionship around ‘spiritual issues’ there are many groups to achieve that. If you are looking for esoteric or spiritual instruction, likewise, there are many groups of various types to achieve that as well. But, if you want personal association with an adept – a teacher, a mentor – of some level, one who understands the nature of their own mind and its multitude of manifestations, much more will be required from you. This is no different than in art, medicine, sports, or any area of activity where a high level of personal attention is required to reach the pinnacles of participation and self-expression.
If we look at the lives of adepts of the past we see that each of them, like us, had agendas. They helped many who came across their path, but they did not help everyone simply because they could. Jesus said, “The poor will always be with you” and to “shake the dust from your feet” and leave alone those who did not care to hear the ‘good news’. Buddhism, despite claims to poverty and renunciation from its first days has Shakyamuni simply refusing to teach anyone believing there was no one able to grasp what he had to teach. Then, only after the gods beg him to reconsider does he do so. This is telling in itself, yet once we leave legend behind we find Shakyamuni actively courting royal favors and patronage for the building and support of monastic institutions and temples – something that later reached near perfection in Tibet. Very often this support came in the form of serfdom, a polite word for slavery, wherein monasteries were built on land given to a famous teacher, and along with the land came the peasants around it whom they taxed as well as required offering from for teachings and the performance of ritual services.
Cagliostro may have helped the poor but he associated with the wealthiest of France’s ruling circles in order to do so. That means, they paid him cash for his services or performed favors in return. Manly P. Hall did not hesitate to take on the leadership of a successful and prosperous New Thought church when he arrived in Los Angeles, wherefrom he ingratiated himself into the emerging film industry elite as well as Southern California oil money – the source of his wealth and ability to write, lecture, and travel as creator and head of the Philosophical Research Society. Harvey Spencer Lewis, founder and first Imperator of the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC) never let a good public relations opportunity go to waste as that is what allowed his movement to grown in reputation and strength. Associations or at least the suggestion of association, with the world’s wealthy and powerful were no small part of that image. Helena Petrova Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society moved in and out of circles of wealth as well, always in need of patronage for her work. And of course we see Israel Regardie and Kenneth Grant both worked for Crowley for free simply to be near Uncle Al and learn what they could as a result. Similarly, Joseph Lisiewski was a close student, associate, and friend with Regardie and Frater Albertus. This was not because he asked to be, but because he was able to be – that is, he performed numerous chores, experiments, rituals, and laborious errands for them – all at his own expense, as the duties of such an apprenticeship.
In short, if you wanted more than a passing nod, social pleasantries, or general membership in the organizations these people were a part of, you had to have something to offer, and you had to be willing to offer it without being asked. It is often said that if you want to learn you must be willing to serve, but what constitutes service is not clearly defined. It is, in fact, whatever is asked of you. One assumes that if a person seeks the instruction of someone who can assist them in reaching the depths of self-awakening then they have carefully observed their proposed teacher for a period of time, have stated to themselves that “I would like to be more like him or her.” A relationship has slowly been entered into with trust build over time as a result of patience is the foundation of that relationship. Too often the teacher-student relationship is rushed into, built on fantasies and assumptions, and then when injuries occur the student blames their self-selected teacher rather than themselves for allowing their own delusions be the source of their decisions rather than experience, questions, and facts.
Generally, real teachers are not quick to take on personal students as it requires a relationship – a relationship that is difficult and dangerous for both parties. Real teachers also make demands on their students, demands that force the student to demonstrate their sincerity to the Path through service to the teacher’s vision, as well as other students, and humanity in general.
This relationship is transformative, that is, the student moves from the large mass of seekers (even if within a specific movement or organization) into the domain of a disciple. As the name implies, discipline is required. This discipline is not that of seated concentration and self-questioning, as that was done in days in what some call the outer court, probationers, body of students, or some such term. Instead, this relationship demands action, activity that pushes the student to their psychological limits, demonstrates the efficacy of the methods presented, and moves the vision of the teacher forward – whatever that vision happens to be – as that is in many ways a private matter between teacher and student.
Failure to grasp the intimacy of this relationship and its destructive power is the source of many failures, or set-backs on the path. Willingness to embrace its destructive power and to be destroyed by it so that you can rebuild yourself is the key to its successful application.
We see the twelve disciples leaving their homes to follow Jesus and to teach, suffer, and die in his name. We see Marpa demanding that Milarepa build and demolish three stone towers before he would teach him. Or maybe Lisiewski who built and shipped a furnace to Albertus for use in some special alchemical work, and photocopied the entire Crowley collection housed at Penn State University and mailed it to Regardie for his research. Are you willing to follow in their footsteps?
These questions are important and critical to answer if you want to move forward on the path under the tutelage of a teacher who while ‘not perfect’ (even if you could recognize such ‘perfection’ if you saw it) has demonstrated an understanding and successful application of the methods of the path you desire to walk.
No one gets the attention of an adept for their own sake, but only because of what they may become, what acts they may perform in the immediate and distant future that assist in reducing the ignorance and suffering of others. To paraphrase Goethe once again, “Neither God nor the Devil has use of a lazy man”. But self-serving, vain, prideful, ambitious, and more, yes, both God and the Devil, or even an adept can put these to good use.