by Mark Stavish
Edited by Alfred DeStefano, III
Sadhu states that the great difference he experienced between Western occultism and Eastern mysticism was simply the goal. The goal of Ramana Maharshi was self-awareness, or self-realization. This was clearly stated from the beginning and exhibited in the person of Maharshi himself. While talked about, or more often talked around, the goal of spiritual awareness in modern Western occult schools is more often couched in terms of super-human capabilities. The failure to grasp the essential point that any superhuman abilities, accomplishments, or siddhis must first work in and through us is too often ignored at great peril to those who seek them without first seeking to understand themselves.
While much talk is given to the importance of psychotherapy and self-examination in many prominent Western schools, this is for the most part just talk, as it is nearly impossible to enforce it uniformly given the way modern schools are structured – for the most part, they are distance-learning environments wherein there is little contact with someone who can actually demonstrate the effectiveness of the teachings, whether they claim occult powers or not.
Sadhu criticizes the schools of his day, pre- and post-World War Two Europe; many of those schools rightly deserve it. Yet I find his criticism of the “mail-order schools” a bit disingenuous, as if he is trying to have his cake and eat it, too. Sadhu never states having been a member of any of the groups of the period that he is condemning, but relies upon the somewhat tired crutch of “tradition” or appeal to an invisible authority that we are simply expected to trust on “its” word alone. Having met many people who benefited from organizations like these, I find blanket condemnation unfair, particularly in this case, born of a combination of zealous idealism and personal ignorance.
Many do not know it, but this was a charge that was also leveled at Frater Albertus. Albertus can rightly be called the single most important alchemist of the twentieth century. It is his organized and public work that revived alchemy as a laboratory practice and upon which later movements – including Dubuis’s organization The Philosophers of Nature – were built. What is not known is that Albertus made teachings and lodgings available at little or no cost to SOME students. But this had to be paid for. As the legend goes, when Albertus sought to create Paralabs, a source for commercial production of spagyric products, “the Masters pulled their support” as “alchemy was not to be commercialized.” So, as we are told, Albertus’s school eventually collapsed in the United States with his death.
But where were those Masters who pulled their support? Did they step in to fill the void? Did they even exist? Or is it simply more idealistic moralizing that keeps any real progress from taking place while an imagined one is encouraged and embraced? Did those Masters arrive on the scene to clean up the chemicals left behind, pay the remaining bills, assist his family? Idealism is a nice guide but a terrible master. Only the truth can set us free. To know the truth we must pay attention to what is happening right in front of us, not what we THINK is happening or what SHOULD be happening, but what IS happening and WHO is making it happen and HOW and WHY.
As many Tibetan Lamas will say, “The Lama is more important to you than the Buddha. While the Buddha lived and taught, he is gone, and it is the Lama who is with you now.” We all must work with what we have before us – rarely is that a perfectly realized spiritual teacher or the ability to go to India to find one. There is also the question of those Western adepts he failed to meet, or failed to recognize if he did meet them? One cannot complain about the chaff if the wheat is nowhere to be found. While Sadhu states that he never saw a true spiritual master running a business, it is clear that the Masters he met – Aurobindo and Ramana Maharshi – had people running the daily business of their ashrams for them – and quite successfully, too, as it appears that wealthy donors made the entire enterprise possible. (At no time does Sadhu mention who paid for his food or lodging while on this quest for a true friend and guide on the Path.) It is important to pay as much attention to what is not said as to what is, if we are to gain a deeper understanding of spiritual biographies…and not turn them into hagiographies.
What makes Sri Ramana Maharshi a person of great significance is both his teachings and his exemplary embodiment of them. His influence was vast, starting with Paul Brunton, moving to Mouni Sadhu, and even reaching out and including British occultist Kenneth Grant. Discussion of Ramana Maharshi occupies over half the essays in Grant’s collection At the Feet of the Guru, wherein he writes:
“It is to the end that we may free ourselves from the glistening webs of thought whereby we have so surely chained ourselves, that Bhagavan brought us the incalculable gift of His life on earth as Sri Ramana. Asking “Who Am I?”; stepping outside of the canvas at all times with unceasing vigilance and watchfulness; we may bring to birth that Unutterable Compassion for all being which He manifested before the eyes of all, thus living the truth of the Sage Milarepa’s words: ‘If ye realise the Voidness, Compassion will arise within your hearts’.” (Guru, 31)
Readers familiar with Grant will see in these words another occultist and ritualist advocating a path of direct perception and realization as the summit of spiritual practice.
Jean Dubuis (coming out of the same period of pre- and post-World War Two esotericism) advocated a path similar to that of Ramana Maharshi’s, only within the framework of alchemy and Qabala. He stated that self-awareness and awakening was the purpose of the Work. From this, occult powers would naturally follow, but in themselves were not to be directly sought out. First arises self-knowledge; with that the powers automatically come and there is no danger of misuse or error. But Dubuis was not a guru in the sense of Maharshi; he actively sought to distance himself from any such perceptions, constantly pushing people back upon their own resources.
But that, as we see, is a path for the few – and it is a dangerous path as well. In the end, we need to see living, working, and effective examples of the Path we have chosen. Without them and their lives as examples, as guideposts along the way, we run the serious risk of self-delusion and error. In fact, Dubuis was vocal about this, strongly advocating that we focus on our own awareness and not on creating new religions, proselytizing for old ones, or on seeking to reform the world through great political action. As for tangible tests of our abilities, Dubuis would say, “When we can heal at a distance we have an awakening in Tiphareth. When we can control the Elements, we will have an awakening in Chesed. Until then, focus on your path and not on reforming others.”
Dubuis and Sadhu also mention something rarely talked about in contemporary esoteric circles until very recently: the time in which we live. While Dubuis taught openly and often about the “Initiation of the Nadir” and the dual aspects of Involution and Evolution as understood in relation to the Path of Return, Sadhu stated that it was the idea of the Kali Yuga as taught by his Indian Master that allowed him the intellectual freedom to grasp the current spiritual – and with it, human – state of affairs.
So then, what are we to do? The best that we can, as that is all we can ever do. Even with a teacher, be it a perfect Master of the Mystic Arts, or someone simply further along the path than ourselves, all they can do is teach with words and examples. It is up to us through devotion and will (or, to put it simply, an unwavering desire) to undertake the work and see it through to the end. In the end, we must be honest with ourselves and others about the choices we have made and the results we have achieved.
Next week we will present a simple practice for self-awareness and illustrate how the various levels of practice need not require that we abandon one for the other, but in reality can build up, support, and be integrated into a single approach to practice. To assist you in this study we encourage you to read the first few chapters of Words of My Teachers and Unfolding the Rose: Illumination in Western Esotericism, both of which are available from www.amazon.com using the following link:
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