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The Grandeur of A Sage:   A  Plotinian View

by Peter Holleran

   "There is one master to whom the seeker is predestined to come and before whom he is predestined to bow before all others." (1)

   "And somewhere, sometime, for every man who sincerely seeks, there must come a Guide, merely because this personal opening of the gate is part of Nature's program." (1a)
     - Paul Brunton

   "If one feels that he is not able to love his master as he desires, it really means that he still loves his master deeply, but that he is not yet satisfied with the love he gives him. That is all. This dissatisfaction with the depth of one's love for his master is the nature of true love; and it will never disappear." (1b) - Atmananda Krishnamenon

   It might be argued that the purpose of philosophy, religion, prayer, devotion, and yoga is entirely and most fundamentally a practical one: to help the individual overcome his sense of alienation from the natural world, the Spirit, and the ultimate condition of Reality. Modern man labors under a burden that more 'primitive' man did not yet carry, namely, a hypnotic state of consciousness in which body and mind, as well as psyche and world, are increasingly felt as more and more distinct and separate. This 'neurosis' is further cemented into place by the dominant world view of scientific materialism, which argues for the cool, abstract power of reasoning and observation by the wholly detached observer, who shuns any participation in the psychic domain as if it were the very source of evil and illusion. Those pioneers of the spirit who have done battle with this point of view in the past, and to a lesser extent today, have more often than not been subject to persecution and ridicule, or, at the very least, condescending compassion from those who consider them unfortunate victims of mental delusion. "Questors are strange," we have been reminded by PB. Yet the search for that "something else" which will heal the being from its disease of separation continues, unconsciously in most (witness the seeking for self-fulfillment in common society) and consciously in others (those who practice some form of religious or spiritual discipline).

   It is said that the infant in each incarnation is often born in a relatively radiant condition, but as time goes on and psychic 'shocks' accumulate, the accompanying 'elementals' or 'thought-forms carried over from passed lives that have a lot to do with one's inherited karmic disposition come alive and shape the personality, as it interacts with the environment, and the personality develops. By the age of two a sense of an inward 'I' or subjective self (ego) develops. By approximately ages seven, fourteen and twenty-one the physical, emotional, and mental/intentional bodies are fully shaped (what Plotinus called 'the animate'), and one's predestined karmic mould is in place. At this time, in many cases, one's deeper soul qualities and conscious-being aspect, if any, come into play and those destined for it develop spiritual leanings of different kinds, with progress fast or slow depending on one's background. Yet "Shades of the prison house have closed about the growing boy", as Wordsworth said, and the feeling of being an ego separable from and enclosed within the body is one's predominant feeling. One feels trapped and afraid, and on this basis pursues, in most cases, either of two possible courses. The first, and the option most commonly chosen in the past in the West, is to exploit the field of experience of the body-mind on the gross, physical plane in an attempt to feel fulfilled, non-threatened, and free of discomfort. The second, and the option until more recently more chosen in the East, is to exploit the field of experience of the body-mind on the subtle planes (of ascended spirituality or mysticism) in order to feel free of and not-threatened by the conditional reality itself. The being has historically rolled between these two alternatives, unaware that either choice rests on the assumption of a fundamental error, that of already assuming the identity of a separate self associated with (or even identical to) the body-mind. It is ironical that the very spiritual paths which exploit the fear of death as a motivator for the aspirant to seek the eternal and formless realms within, are often most guilty of being full of fear of life or embodiment, which fear itself prevents the opening of the heart and the realization of Oneness.

   The worldly man very often believes he is identical to the body-mind, but he generally assumes, at least subconsciously, that he is a separate entity from the body-mind, who must use or do something to or with the body-mind in order to be fulfilled or free of distress. It only takes the most preliminary consideration, however, to grasp that the terminal option of self-exploitation is fruitless, if only because of the inevitable fact of death. The other, religious and spiritual, option, however, is supported by powerful archtypal images, and needs profound inspection in order to be understood. The guiding principles of "the way" are three, and they are the basis for the inevitable development and transcendance of various stages. The first principle is the absolute need for an irreducible insight into the mechanics of the ego, for without this all that follows is experienced falsely. "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it." The activity of ego must be undone in every moment in order for that which is to be seen from the vantage point of truth. The spiritual or subtle planes may be “real" or relatively real, whether ‘eternal’ or created, but the ego or ego-soul (the inner "I") is not real, since it is not an entity in itself, but inherently “empty”, a product of false identification with thought, a self-reflexive activity or gesture of attention. This way of putting it is only a half truth, as the ego is an evolutionary development, a self-reference in the mind, that is necessary for our growth. it helps guide a free flow of intelligence back and forth between the soul and the personality. it is only a problem when it completely usurps role of the soul as the ultimate King of the whole system. The first task of the aspirant on the spiritual quest is to understand himself and gain insight into the activity and nature of the ego, more specifically, egoity, and allow that which exists prior to this mistaken identity to be revealed. This is primary, not the motivated pursuit of a desired end-state, conceived prior to ego-transcendence. The difference is most profound.

   Goethe states:

   “Und so lang du das nicht hast,
   Dieses: stirb und werde,
   Bist du nur ein truber Gast
   Auf der denklen Erde.”

   (West-ostlicher Divan)

   (“As long as you do not know how to die and come to life again,
you are but a sorry traveler on this dark earth.”

   Jesus said:

   “Truly, truly, I say to you unless a grain
   of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone;
   but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
(John 12:24)

   Insight into this primary event or activity is the single most glaring omission from the spiritual practice of most individuals throughout history and the single most significant shortcoming of most traditional spiritual teachings as well. This critical insight has rarely been fully identified before, although its essence has appeared sporadically in Ch’an or Zen and high dharmic texts such as the Lankavatara Sutra, which speaks of the necessity of a fundamental "turnabout in the deep seat of understanding" in order for the awakening of the intuition of truth to be possible. Without the irreducible insight at the core of the separate self that the fundamental distress that motivates one's search is self-generated, one remains bound to the destiny of the 'born-being', pursuing various alternative goals that are themselves based on prior exclusive identification with the body-mind and ego-'I'.

   The mystical path of ascent is perhaps the most common archtypal spiritual path. One is encouraged to radically separate from the body-mind and climb the 'ladder' of spiritual ascent from the physical world to the highest divine realm or plane of consciousness. This is certainly possible for the emanated soul.Yet a select group of advanced spiritual texts and unique teachers argue for a divine realization of an unconditional nature, requiring neither ascent nor separation from the body-mind for its attainment. Being already the case, they maintain, it is even incorrect to say that it is 'attained', for if the ego is transcended or seen as having no inherent unchanging substance, who is there to attain it? While this is a clever use of language, the ordeal involved is quite profound.

   Without the clarification and guidance of enlightened sources of teaching and awakening spiritual transmission, however, the scriptures and illumined commentaries are not easily understood or interpreted. Yet man's extremity is God's opportunity, and the inspiring words of the sage Ramana Maharshi tell us that "God or Guru never forsakes those who have surrendered themselves." (2)

   The second key principle of the way, then, is the need for surrender or submission of self to the reality to which it is awakened by its self-understanding and by grace. A creative ordeal must be passed through before the individual can, as the mystics of the Church describe it, "surrender in the arms of love," and be restored to a non-egoic or separative relationship with the Universe. The lust for life, or separative existence with all of its motivating tendencies, is strong, and is confronted by Truth or reality at times in a form of “holy war“. The Lankavatara Sutra, once again, speaks of an "inconceivable transformation-death of the Bodhisattva's individualized will control", pointing to the powerful egoic force or illusion that perpetuates the bound state. Following this, "when earnest disciples have gotten rid of all their evil habit-energy and been able to realize the twofold egolessness, then they will not be intoxicated by the bliss of the Samadhis and will be awakened into the super-realm of the good non-outflowings" (Ch VII, p.320, in Dwight Goddard, A Buddhist Bible). "Realization of the twofold egolessness" I here take to mean the realization of both Emptiness and Interdependent Origination, or the Witness self and a state of non-clinging or outer detachment, or stated more positively, non-separation. One then dwells in the halcyon state of the fullness of sahaj, and is no longer attracted by the exclusive mystical stages of ecstasy which at an earlier stage before his ego-death or fall through hopelessness as a separate being enthralled him.

   Needless to say the latter is a profound state. The quest or the way is profoundly real. The changes it evokes and requires are not merely psychological or mental but at the depths of one's very being, asking everything of a man. One must adopt an experimental attitude and listen wholeheartedly to what the teachers have to say until the intuition of truth awakens. Then one has no other recourse but to surrender to that truth and devote one's entire life to it until every aspect of the being is transformed or conformed to that truth.

   The third and senior great principle is that the way is made plain in its entirety most effectively through relationship with the guru, teacher, or master who has himself fulfilled the way. At some point personal contact has always been considered most efficacious, if not essential.

   "Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15: 4-5)

   "Should the Lord so ordain, then, 0 Nanak!
   A person may take the path of self-surrender.
   Blessed indeed is one who surrenders at the feet of the Satguru;
   Standing near Truth he revels in Truth and easily merges in Truth."

   Through such a spiritual relationship with a free Soul the struggling aspirant is quickened in his receptivity and intuition. The "sun" of the awakened Soul shines upon him and he begins to awaken from his slumber. Out of the cauldron of the revelation of his egoity, the illusion of self-effort eventually fades into a distant memory and he gradually comes into his true Self. Consciousness, brought from the brain, as it were, into the heart, causes the ego as we know it to disappear, and the way is opened further, free of egoic seeking (often interpreted erroneously as "divine nostalgia"), in direct communion with the transmitted grace.

   In the midst of the confusing mass of teachings and traditions many different schemas of levels and stages of development are found. A number of schools use a strict septenary reckoning in assessing these stages. Often this is expressed in terms of an ascending hierarchy of planes of existence, such as physical, astral, mental, causal, Buddhic, Monadic, and Atmic in Theosophy, or Pind, And, Brahm/Par-Brahm, Sach Khand, Alakh, Agam, and Anami in Sant Mat. Meher Baba and Sri Aurobindo proposed a similar seven-plane system.

   Contrasting with these schools is a stream of teaching exemplified by realizers such as Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta, Papaji, Paul Brunton, and Atmananda, who while not necessarily disavowing the existence of these planes, nevertheless classify the majority of them under the category of subtle or cosmic, with the true causal realm being reserved for the stage wherein the ego is transcended in its source condition, generally termed the Heart. This class of teachers as a whole emphasize the necessity of realization of the transcendental Self before the exploration of subtle realms, and, in fact, claim that such exploration and the, whole "inner tour" may not be necessary at all. Ohers say that while they are not necessary, when one has attained to realization of the ground of Being their development is all but inevitable. Among these teachers there are significant differences but a common factor among them is their advocacy of the cultivation of the ‘intuition of enlightenment’, which frees one from the hypnotic vision of separateness, and allows all experience that may arise to be free and non-binding.

   The sense of an inward self for those of us who are not born mystics fundamentally arises from our bodily recoil (or recoil of the subtle body in conjunction with the gross body) from the born condition. Prior to such fearful identification with that which seems interior to the body (which effectively consolidates by the age of two, with variations) , most or many of us exist in a "relatively radiant condition". In Love's Body, author Norman O. Brown argues that “to have a soul separate from the body is to have the sense of a body separate from other bodies”. When such bodily recoil relaxes, the stress-created feeling of an inward self dissolves as well, along with the anxious motivation to escape the domain of the descended life. We become capable of love, and in that disposition may eventually realize that, rather than the soul or self exclusively existing within the body, the body, mind, and world more accurately also arise within the infinite Soul or Self. This realization is superior to that of the ordinary yogi or mystic, bound to the ancient dualistic model of the cosmos, who conceives his freedom only as lying within, and for whom the world confronts him like a sword when in a normal extroverted condition. It has thus been said by sages, that in truth, “you do not enter worlds, you become them." “The mystery of life is solved by dissolving yourself into it," said Kirpal Singh. "One who truly renounces' actually merges into the world," spoke Ramana Maharshi. The essential point is this: the subjective identification with the ego must go; it is an unnecessary addition to reality.

   Experience arises continually, and in the midst of one's growing intuition of the non-egoic Truth many forms of experience, exhalted and mundane, appear before one to test one's understanding and to realign the body-mind to that Truth. Many of these have been taken to be the ultimate reality.

   It is not simply that we are born and need to return to the unborn, but, rather, in most cases, that we have not yet been fully born. Once again, we exist in a state of bodily recoil from life largely responsible along with identification with the I-thought for the creation of our sense of subjective existence as a separate ego. This may be even more so the case for many spiritual seekers, who share the fear of death with everyday humanity but often have more than their share of a fear of life and long for the comfort of the realms within. Rather than assume that this subjective sense of being an encapsulated ego is real, however, we must, through self-understanding and love, be released from the bodily recoil from life and allow the incarnation of the spiritual process, of true understanding, to take place. The first signs of this are often a relaxation of the knots in the head, heart, and navel, which Aurobindo called “Psychicisation,” which then may allow the apparent descent of the life-current in the body. This is not necessary or required, only possible. One becomes relatively more full of life, emotionally converted to love, and no longer suffering the cramp of neurotic confinement. At some point this process may proceed or lead to the beginnings of mystical ascent, but not as a motivated attempt to escape bodily life. It is just that more and more structures of the body-mind may awaken on the basis of the intuited presence of the spirit or consciousness. That is also not necessary, however, for a true awakening.

   Traditional mystical schools generally have taught methods of achieving devotional communion or union with the divine via the process of meditative absorption in the life-current (variously termed shakti, Holy Spirit, etc.). The divine spoken of by these schools is, at least initially, conceived of, however, as an other, or God-apart. Therefore, union with such a god is not really possible, or, as Adyashanti said, “when the illusion of you is in deep harmony with the universe, the experience of union may occur, but that is not the same as experience of the One." Christian mysticism, except in its highest forms, is an example of such a teaching. The aspirant purifies himself through prayer and good works so that he may be able to receive the holy spirit. He aspires to communion with God, although generally this is not considered possible during life to the degree that it might be experienced after death. Union with his creator-God is not considered a real option for him, due to his fixation on bodily based identity, and it has even been considered a form of blasphemy. Sikhism, also, except in its higher dimension as shabd yoga, is another example of such a school. Communion with the life-current conceived theistically (ie., God as something other than the soul and known over against it) is taught, founded in a devotional life filled with good works and righteousness.

   In shabd yoga and other higher forms of pure mysticism, one is taught to penetrate beyond the "veil of incarnation", or the externally projected life of the descended, gross bodily personality, to explore the subtle ascended dimensions of the body-mind, above the ajna center in the braincore and upwards to and far beyond the sahasrar or "thousand-petalled lotus" at the crown. The problem of incorporating the world into one's realization is not generally emphasized, and it is presumed to be tackled later after the completion of the mystic stages. This further fulfillment seems to have been recognized by the greatest adepts in the line, such as Rumi, Nanak, and Kabir.

   In another path of realization, that of sages, one for the most part bypasses the process of ascent and awakens 'horizontally' at the heart to the position of consciousness itself, or the source of attention and the separates self- sense, exclusive of objective phenomena or the world. One transcends cosmic conceptions of God to realize the divine as the transcendental source of body, mind, and world. It was to this condition that Ramana Maharshi was spontaneously awakened in the famous event that occured in his seventeenth year, This is jnana samadhi, which might be considered "jnana-nirvikalpa samadhi at the heart".

   Such a samadhi moves the individual towards stable realization of the Witness consciousness in daily life, but even here, as was the case with conventional nirvikalpa samadhi, one may feel or conceive the need to re-enter jnana samadhi in order to enjoy or hold onto his realization, and this is a limitation one must yet pass beyond. In the Tripura Rahasya, an advanced text often recommended by Ramana Maharshi, Queen Hemalehka criticizes her husband for making just this error. The yogi or saint who realizes Nirvikalpa Samadhi and the sage who attains jnana samadhi still need to gain insight into the "Buddha nature" itself. Their realization, while profound from the ordinary point of view, is still potentially (if not informed by non-dual insight) a negative (or exclusive, contradictable, and non-permanent) freedom: a freedom from (birth and death, samsara, manifestation, bondage, maya), and not freedom, simply. The practitioner has yet to reconcile the dualities of Self/not Self, form/formlessness, and One/many into a higher synthesis, prior to any conceivable dualism or sense of problem. He has "buried himself in Emptiness", as The Transmission of the Lamp, a Chinese text, states, become "liberated" but not fully Enlightened. This need not be negative, if the process continues to its fulfillment in the stage of sahaj. Here one not only knows he is empty of self, but that that emptiness is also the nature of everything else, and that he is THAT. This is moving from the Witness self to the Overself, or Soul, and from a relative peace to positive joy.

   When stably realized, here one is forever continually and unconditionally awake to the divine reality. One abides in the "natural state", prior to and in waking, dreaming, and sleeping, birth, death, and any and all previously assumed illusions or limitations. Body, mind, and world are all known or "recognized" as arising in and as consciousness itself, in this irreduceable and uncontradictable state. This condition of sahaj has been described as like being simultaneously in nirvikalpa samadhi and jnana samadhi while still alive in the conditional plane. But it is simply to be what you are. It is said to be sometimes accompanied by the reawakening of a structure in consciousness known as amrita nadi, the "immortal nerve", which is said to be the regenerated pathway of the transcendental heart and its conscious light at and above the sahasrar, uniting the Self and its shakti or energy in a single intensity of Sat-Chit-Ananda. Only in this stage are all contradictions undone and lesser points of view gone beyond. This is the condition called "everyday mind" in Ch'an Buddhism, "ordinary mind" in the Tibetan Maha Ati tradition, and the "hidden teaching beyond yoga" by Paul Brunton. It is reality itself, the "natural state", prior to every limiting gesture of attention and the separate seIf.

   This stage is called God-Realization by some mystics and yogis. The word God lends itself to many interpretations, however, as what is specifically implied here, say philosophers Paul Brunton and Anthony Damiani, is not union or identity with Brahman or Absolute God (the "One") on the part of the individual jiva. What is signified by Divine Self-Realization is actually re-union or identification of the individual with (or transcendence of the individual in) his divine Self, or Soul, which might also be considered to be the true Atman. Brunton and Damiani assert that from this position the Divine Soul which is a man's true Being can intuitively or directly know that of which it is part but not the whole: the aspect or dimension of God called the Absolute Soul or Universal Soul, and that from which the Absolute Soul dervies its being, called the Intellectual Principle by Plotinus. This in turn is the first derivation from the One Absolute, which is nameless and formless and basically unspeakable.

   According to this philosophy - that of Plotinus - there are Three Primal Hypostases, or aspects of a Divine Trinity. The first of these, the One, is Absolute God. It has no attributes except that it may be said that it is the first and only Absolute Principle. From the One procedes the Intellectual principle, which could be called the Logos or Godhead, or, in some systems, God. The Intellectual Principle is One-in-Many: One and Indivisible in Itself but through its only derivative, the Absolute Soul, responsible for the coming into being of everything else. The Absolute Soul is One-and-Many, containing an infinite number of individual Divine Souls. The Divine Soul is Consciousness Itself, the source condition of an individual's perception or experience of body, mind, and world (and, therefore, since nothing is experienced or even unknowable outside of one's conscious experience of it, the source condition of an individual's body, mind, and world themselves). This divine Soul is infinite and all-pervading, and while not realizable exclusively apart from body, mind, and world (that is, not realizable only that way), nevertheless does exist independently from body, mind, and world and thus in a realm, so to speak, of its own, say certain Masters, such as those of the Sant Mat tradition. There exist countless divine Souls in this realized condition, in some sense individual but with no sense whatsoever of any kind of separation at all. The drops of pure Consciousness can directly intuit the Absolute Soul in which they inhere as drops of an ocean or rays of the sun, and they can also directly intuit the Divine Principle that eternally gives them birth (the Intellectual Principle, which is One, without divisions) and thus in this state, according to Anthony Damiani, the Soul knows that God is. But it is not, in strict philosophical terms, God, although it can be said to be Divine. Further than this a man can not go, says Damiani, and still be human. He states:

   "The sage unites with his soul and he's permanently soul. He can get a glimpse of the Intellectual Principle but he cannot become or be the Intellectual Principle. He must return and be soul. He will always be soul. You, I, and everyone else. So the higher glimpse is not your glimpse of the soul, but the soul's experience of the Intellectual Principle. wnen you achieve identity with the soul, you can get a glimpse of that Void. You can call it the Intellectual Principle or you can call it be Absolute Soul in the Intellectual Principle. It doesn't matter what you call it, because the One, the Intellectual Principle, and the Absolute Soul of Plotinus - those three Primal Hypostases together - can be considered as the Void Mind...So in other words, you could know that God is after you have achieved union with the soul. Before that, all that you could know are the contents of the soul, and the soul itself." (4)

   PB writes of this realization:

   "One feels gathered into the depths of the silence, enfolded by it and then, hidden within it, intuits the mysterious inexplicable invisible and higher power which must remain forever nameless."

   "The stillness is the godlike part of every human being."
(i.e., the Overself)

   "The spirit (Brahman) is NOT the stillness, but is found by humans who are in the precondition of stillness. The latter is their human reaction to Brahman's presence coming into their field of awareness."

   Parmahansa Yogananda may have been pointing to something like this when he wrote:

   “When he re-identifies with his soul as individualized ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new Bliss, he then merges with the all-pervading ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever new Bliss of Spirit - even as a droplet returns to the sea. Still, that individuality is never lost; that portion of Spirit eternally retains its “memory” of that individual existence.” (5)

   “In the Absolute every I Am is preserved and glorified,” said Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj.

   The realization of anything more than the divine Soul can not be imagined or possibly even conceived from the egoic point of view. The separate egoic being must dissolve or resolve or be undone in the realization of the divine Soul or consciousness itself before that conscious being itself can partake of the ultimate mysteries.

   Why is it that the divine Self realized in sahaj samadhi is not God or the Absolute itself? The reason, given above in part, is that the "ray is not the Sun,” nor is the drop the entire ocean. The consciousness realized in sahaj samadhi is the true divine source of body, mind, and world, but only for that individual. If somehow one divine Soul merged into the Absolute the experience of body, mind, and world would still exist for other beings because their divine Souls would still exist. That the World-lmage continues to be projected and experienced by numberless individual minds after the enlightenment of any one individual is proof that the divine Soul is not God. This is so even though it is true that nothing is experienced outside the medium of the consciousness that is the Soul. It is also true that nothing manifest exists outside of the Soul, but it is true for me, and it is also true for you, and it is true for everyone else. Nothing exists for me outside of my own consciousness; it is truly the source condition of all of ‘my’ experience, including the apparent “I”, which is witnessed by consciousness. For you, however, the source condition of all experience is your own consciousness, or divine Soul. Soul is paradoxically One-and-many as Plotinus wrote, emanated by that which is One-in-many (the Intellectual Principle).

   Our experiences may be similar, but they are not identical. We are One, insofar as we are points in the Divine Mind or One Great “Sun”, but we are distinct (but inseparable) points - a paradox indeed. The experiences are similar because there is God, with one Universal Soul and one Universal Mind in which all individual Divine Souls and individual minds participate, but they are distinct because your experience is yours and mine is mine. God is the unity which encompasses all experiences and all Souls. Therefore, the Absolute Soul in the Intellectual Principle is capable of infinite division without lessening itself, and while each divine Soul is itself infinite and not separable from the divine Soul of another (in anything like the way the body or psyche are separable) it is nevertheless not the All. And the testimony of ancient doctrine is that out of the unspeakable One comes a Divine Principle which is itself indivisible and which is the source of an Absolute or Universal Soul which is One-and-Many, containing an infinite number of Souls which are paradoxically inseparable from each other except as they appear in their (apparent) descent (or the descent of an apparent projection or emanation or ray of each Soul) into the conditional worlds (worlds which themselves derive from the Soul in as much as the Soul is 'part of' the ('part-less') Absolute Soul in the Intellectual Principle).

   What this is saying this side of ineffable Paradox is that an enlightened Master's greatness, when evident, lies not in his being or becoming absolute God per se, but that, having realized and become united with his divine Soul, he is in a position of directly reflecting or receiving the Divine Principle that is the "father" of his own Being or Soul (which Soul, as stated, although cosmic and infinite, is not God itself, but only a Ray of the Absolute Soul). The transcendental divine samadhi of an Awakened Being provides the inherent, direct Self-cognition of Consciousness Itself, which Self-cognition, Anthony Damiani points out, always includes the recognition of its principle, or "where" its essence or being comes from (or derives its existence). In this case the Sage or Satguru remains all important because out of his perpetual, inherent sensitivity to the Divine Principle from which his Self or Soul derives its essence he can, therefore, imbibe something of the attributes of that Divinity (the Absolute Soul in the Intellectual Principle), and therefore share in its powers, chief among them being the ability to effect the awakening of other Souls through divine identification with them, through one means or another. This spiritual aid is reflected in the Buddhist Mahayana doctrine of Parinamana, similar to the Christian teaching of atonement, wherein the Tathagata, Saint, or Sage can take away the negative karma of others or even impart some of his powers to them aiding in their attainment of enlightenment. According to D.T. Suzuki,

   "If anybody does anything good, its merit is sure to come back to the doer himself - this is the doctrine of Karma; but according to the Mahayana the recipient need not always be the doer himself, he may be anybody, he may be the whole world; merit being of universal character can be transferred upon anything the doer wishes. This transferability is known as the doctrine of Parinamana, the turning over of one's good work to somebody else. This idea comes from the philosophical teaching of Interpenetration upheld in the Avatamsaka.” (6)

   Thus, the divinely realized one is important because he stands as that Consciousness - the divine Soul (Overself, Atman, etc.) - that is really outside, beyond, or prior to the ego-I. The divine Soul or Self is not inside the body, as previously mentioned; rather, from the point of view of truth it is more correct to say that the body arises in the Soul, and that the Soul is beyond or outside oneself. Much of what is seemingly “within” is the sense of self created by egoity, recoil, and false identification.The potential advantage the true Master represents comes from the fact that one may, in order to awaken from the cramp of of self and realize the divine Soul, Self, or consciousness itself, associate with that agency which on all levels exists beyond, outside, and prior to oneself (or one's assumed sense of self) in order to avoid the inevitable trap of egoity or self-centered attention. The Awakened Master, where he exists, reflects and transmits the divine principle he has realized on all levels of body, mind, and Soul, and therefore is a fit object for one's contemplative devotion, when based on enlightened understanding. The SatGuru, being wholy Soul, or consciousness itself, exists in a unique condition and is an inestimable advantage for beings aspiring to realize the same ccndition. It is of no lesser significance to say that he has not become identical to the absolute Divinity, for from the point of view of the ego or separate personality to realize the divine Soul or Self is God-Realization. Nevertheless, the individual divine Soul is not identical to the Absolute Soul, it is distinct from that (but not radically other than that, since it is of the same nature). And the Absolute or Universal Soul is said to derive (prior to time and space, being a Divine derivation) from a higher or more senior principle which is in turn the first and only derivative of the One Absolute.

   These are asserted by sages to be divine matters, beyond the least trace of egoity, separation, or "difference". What this means is that mysteries concerning this Divine “Trinity" may not be fathomed untll realization of and union with one’s divine Soul; It is enough to grasp at the outset that the transcendentally awakened spiritual master is an important means for unenlightened beings to reawaken to the state Consciousness itself), and that until the Soul is regained by such means there is no realization of God in any ultimate sense.

   In some traditional devotional paths, the true Master has been considered to be the Divine Being in person. Now, in terms of the teaching under consideration, how can this be so? The sage, awakened in permanent unity with his infinite divine Soul, is capable of receiving the revelation that God is. Yet this does not mean that he considers his Soul, cosmic and infinite though it may be, to be God. Even Ramana said that he remained a devotee, but in the perfect sense, devoted to the Absolute Soul in the Intellectual Principle in which his divine Soul found its being. Such would be the answer of Plotinus, Paul Brunton, or Anthony Damiani. It is suggested by these teachings of philosophy, however, that the whole of the Intellectual Principle (or Godhead, Logos, Word, etc.) paradoxically operates in its entlrety through each divine Soul. This astounding revelation proclaims that not just a part but all of God operates through each infinite divine Soul. If this is so then one can sense that the Godman is a Godman indeed, particularly if he is in permanent unity with his Soul in the fullness of his spiritual evolution. His stature is even greater if one accepts the possibility that he may have acquired divinely-fitted life vehicles through many incarnations of spiritual evolution. In this regard theosophy tells us that the bodies of the Adept are much more organized and resplendent than those of even the advanced disciple. A.E. Powell states:

   "The causal body of an Adept or Master has enormously increased in size, and shines with a sun-like splendour far beyond all lmagination in its glorious loveliness ... the causal body is sometimes 'called the "auric egg" ... (it) is known also as the Augoeides, the glorified man; it is not an image of any one of his past vehicles, but contains within itself the essence of all that was best in each of them. It thus indicates, more or less perfectly, as through experience it grows, what the Deity means that man shall be. For, as we have seen, by observation of the causal vehicle it is possible to see the stage of evolution which the man has reached." (7)

   I realize that some teachers would rip claims like these to shreds, and it is recognized that we are dealing with relative truths within a non-dual universe. Yet “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio,” said the great bard. So we will continue, in spite of the advaitic headwinds. In theosophical terminology the Ego, capitalized, is the true man, the first "downpouring", as it were, of the Monad or Divine Soul into the planes of matter. The ego is clothed in the causal body for the entire length of its evolution extending through countless incarnations. It is therefore a “deeper personality”, or collection of skhandas in Buddhist terms, that do reincarnate and are attached to the ego by a “seed atom in the heart”. It grows and evolves through life after life, approximating ever more closely the archtype of man:

   "The glorified form within the causal body is an approach to the archtype, and comes nearer to it as man develops. The human form appears to be the model for the highest evolution in this particular system." (8)

   When the consciousness of a man raises to the buddhic and atmic levels, this causal body is said to become no longer necessary, unless the being has work to do on the lower planes, either for himself or for ‘others’. Thus, the Master would be distinguished even among those who are awakened, on the one hand by his permanent unity with his divine Soul (and thus unobstructed reception of the Godhead), and also by the highly evolved nature of his vehicles (for only one so evolved could, so to speak, bring the divinity down into the planes of nature for the sake of the liberation of other beings). Such individuals are extremely rare, perhaps even non-existent on this earth at any one time. Such a Master is unique in that he is capable of activating the Soul, that is, his hridaya-shakti can draw one, at least temporarily by way of a glimpse, to divine awakening itself, rather than only to stimulated forms of experience in the gross and subtle dimensions, which is the province of lesser teachers. The highest among sages is in a class by himself. He has realized that which is prior to the apparent divorce of consciousness from its own inherent radiance or energy (that is, he has realized the divine Soul, the ultimate subjectless-objectless source of consciousness in and as which body, mind, and world arise) and he exists in the paradox of Eternal identity-relationship with the One Being that is to be realized. Little more can be said of this state, and all of the philosophy in the world (not excluding that painstakingly detailed here) will not diminish the ultimacy of his realization and the advantage it represents to sentient beings. So his lofty state (and our own potential realization) may as well be called “God"-Realization, for it is the ultimate Divine realization available to man in the fulIness of hls spiritual sacrifice.

   “Do you think the scriptures contain all the secrets of spiritual practice? These are handed down secretly through a succession of Gurus and disciples.” - Swami Vivekananda

   “The panacea for all ills and the only way to win God’s grace is perfect surrender in all humility a the feet of the Master Soul.” - Kirpal Singh (9)

   Why has this been maintained? Because in the encounter with a sage, sooner or later, something's gotta give!

   “It is next to impossible to ascertain the Truth without the guidance of a teacher. This is the ancient tradition of the east and it will have to become the modern tradition of the west. There is no escape. The explanation of this statement lies in the subtle nature of the truth....To say that no teacher is necessary is to set one up as a teacher by that very statement....If "dead" illuminati can help the world as readily as those who are among us in the flesh, I would like to ask those who believe this why Ramakrishna uttered the following pathetic plaint as he lay dying in Cossipore: "Had this body been allowed to last a little longer, many more people would have become spiritually awakened." No, it is more rational to believe that a living illuminate is needed, that one who has flung off the physical body has no further concerns with the physical world, and that he whose consciousness is in the Real, uses the world (in the form of a body) to save those whose consciousness is in the world." - Paul Brunton (10)

   “Without the help of a SadGuru or a spiritual preceptor, spiritual or yogic practices will bear no fruit. One cannot attain the state of Non-Duality without the aid of a spiritual teacher. Moreover, SadGuru quickens the process of evolution and helps for the speedy attainment of God.” - Sri Upasani Baba Maharaj

   “The shaikhs of the Path have declared the following about the necessity of having a master, “He who has no spiritual master has no religion.” - Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh

   Q: Can a personal God be a Guru?
   A: ‘I say no.’ Because a personal God is nothing but a concept. Truth is beyond all concepts. Truth by itself can never be your Gurru; because, looked at from the standpoint of Truth, there is nothing else existing by its side. Truth knows no duality. Therefore, only one who has realized the Truth can be a Guru and take you from the relative sphere to the Absolute. Hence the necessity of a living Guru. A personal God cannot help you in the matter.” (Shri Atmananda, Notes on Spiritual Discourses, #184)


   “A sage who has left his mortal coil can never be a Guru to a new aspirant.” (Ibid, # 315)

   “The modern man thinks that the concept of Guru has outlived its day. There is much free-thinking and free-reasoning. This is because he lacks a knowledge of what life means, what its purpose is. it is because he is ignorant of what a significant role the Guru has in helping to work out life’s supreme purpose. The ignorance of the ordinary man is truly appalling...The vital importance of the deep inner significance of the Guru-tattva is completely lost to him. This is indeed a great loss. It has to be remedied. Mankind must reflect and try to understand the role of a preceptor in working out the individual’s spirtual evolution.” - Swami Sivananda

   “Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the father which hath sent me draw him.” The omniscient God brings shallow seekers in contact with lesser teachings and spiritual books, from these they derive some benefit commensurate with their degree of spiritual desire and understanding. But deep seekers of God are brought by Him into contact with fully realized gurus who are able to commune with God and to serve as channels in imparting divine guidance. It is their duty to introduce the devotee to God. So it is ultimately God who brings together guru and disciple, but there is also a desire on their part to come together. Through earnest spiritual longing the disciple, perhaps unconsciously at first, seeks the guru - one who can lead him to God. And the true guru, when he intuitively knows a disciple sent by God, makes an effort to draw him, and goes out of his way to help him. The true disciple, finding a true guru, becomes magnetically attracted to him and recognizes him as the one sent by God. This is the law.” - Paramhansa Yogananda (Journey to Self-Realization, p. 186-197)

   “O Friend! sit near one who knows the condition of thy heart. Rest a while under the shade of a tree that is laden with fresh and fragrant flowers. Loiter not in the market place from shop to shop, as idlers do. Go straight to one who has a store of honey with him.” - Maulana Rumi

   “Devotion to God keeps one entangled in this life - just consider gravely. But devotion to the Master carries one back to God.” - Kabir

   “God doesn’t easily appear in the heart of a man who feels himself to be his own master. But God can be seen the moment His grace descends.” - Sri Ramakrishna (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, p. 174)

   "What is this twofold power that sustains the Bodhisattvas? The one is the power by which they are sustained to go through the Samadhis and Samapattis, while the other is the power whereby the Buddhas manifest themselves in person before the Bodhisattvas and baptise them with their own hands...This is in order to make them avoid the evil ones, karma, and passions, to keep them away from the Dhyana and stage of Sravakahood, to have them realise the stage of Tathagatahood, and to make them grow in the truth and experience already attained. For this reason, Mahamati, the fully Enlightened Ones sustain with their power the Bodhisattva-Mahasattvas...Thus it is said: The sustaining power is purified by the Buddhas' vows; in the baptism, Samadhis, etc., from the first to the tenth stage, the Bodhisattvas are in the embrace of the Buddhas." - Lankavatara Sutra (11)

   Edward Salim Michael affirmatively states:

   "An ardent seeker who has the rare chance to meet a serious master and true spiritual teaching must deeply appreciate his good fortune and rapidly realize the imperative need for him to devote himself wholly to the quest for his Divine Source, endeavoring to free himself from bondage to any external condition or thing on which he has become dependent to "feel" himself. He should exhort himself to try to understand the real sense of his temporary earthly existence, refraining from wasting it in fleeting pleasures or unprofitable activities, and apply himself with all his might and sincerity exclusively to the struggle for the transformation of himself, the repayment of his karmic debts, and the accomplishment of his destiny." (12)

   There are those who point out the other side to such an approach, that of overmuch seriousness about oneself, with its concomitant reinforcement of ego, a danger all of its own. They therefore often advocate a path of 'no effort'. However, such a view usually forgets that the effort required of the beginner habituated to an ordinary life is essential and different from the more subtle 'non-effort' effort of the advanced person, who must use all his intuition and continuing sincerity to determine how much vigilance he must still employ versus how much he needs to rely on and surrender to the inner movement of grace which beckons him to sink into the depths of himself. This is learned only through many failures, repeated striving and silent inquiry. It is a process of maturation.

   The above, then, is the glorious vision, the great Ideal. How wondrous if it were an actuality. Where, one may well ask, however, are suchlike sages today? PB opined years ago that the age of great godmen was behind us. Even where sages appear, who among them has the capability to enlighten masses of people in simple fashion? Such has never been the case, for such depends on masses of ripe disciples. Even Ramakrishna, Jesus, or Buddha could not do such a thing, for any and all. As compassionate as they were, they would certainly have done so if it were possible. This leaves us with three things to consider: (1) the path is very hard, and few complete it; (2) the saints and sages were/are limited in their abilities, although still supremely helpful and worthy of our honor and respect; and (3) a contemporary view, that the path is often conceived incorrectly, and in fact, “deconstruction” rather than a great effort of “construction” is the order of the day. We may never attain a “divine” or immortal “light” body, perfection in yoga, be free of pain, or always in bliss, but awakening is possible and always has been, if we can only get out of our own way. This third point of view, while not in conflict with the first two, is currently in vogue as witnessed by the growth of many emerging non-dual teachers and students. Years ago, masters of such a persuasion usually emphasized that it came after at least a modicum of the fulfillment of the mental and emotional purification through the disciplines of yoga and meditation - granting the strength of mind-stilling and equipoise to pursue successful vichara or inquiry into truth - while many teachers today point to it as an alternative path in itself. Whether this is truly possible or not is for the reader to determine for himself. It most likely depends on the condition of the student. Anyway, three examples of such a view present themselves for our consideration. First, from the Lankavatara Sutra:

   “If they only realized it, they are already in the Tathagata’s Nirvana, for, in Noble Wisdom, all things are in Nirvana from the beginning.”

   Ch’an master, Shen Hui, from his “Sermon on Sudden Awakening”:

   “What does self-deception mean? You, who have assembled at this place today, are craving for riches and the pleasures of intercourse with males and females; you are thinking of gardens and houses. This is the coarse form of self-decepton. To believe that it must be discarded is the fine form of self-deception. That you do not know.

   What is the fine form of self-deception? When you hear someone speaking of bodhi you think you must have that bodhi; and so when you hear one speaking of Nirvana, that emptiness, that purity, that samadhi. These are all self-deception; these are fetters, heresies. With that deception in mind you cannot attain salvation. If unaware of the fact that you are saved, that you are guiltless from the very beginning without anything additional required - you think of leaving the world and abiding in Nirvana, this Nirvana becomes a fetter binding you to life; in the same way purity, emptiness, samadhi become fetters. Such thoughts impede your progress to bodhi...”

   And finally, Master Hsi-Yun, my personal favorite:

   “The knowledge of many things cannot compare with giving up the search. The sage is one who puts himself outside the range of objectivity. There are not different kinds of minds, and there is no doctrine which can be taught.”

   The seeker is thus seemingly faced with a choice between two apparent roads of departure. While a true guru is a precious gift, the quest also seems to require that one find his unique, individual way to the courtyard of his heart. PB takes the middle road and states:

   "Enlightenment, philosophically found, is both an experience and an understanding."

   "Enlightenment is both a bestowal by grace and achievement by self."

   He also gives a few caveats regarding the value of a sage. Paramount is that the higher power (God/Isvara/World-Mind) uses him as an agent of grace:

   "Even in the case of those who take guidance of a guru, it should not be forgotten that if development advances sufficiently the pupil must start somewhere to be his own teacher, must start looking for, and finding, the inner guru - his own soul. A sincere competent guru would demand this." (14)

   "The service of a guide is helpful to beginners to direct their way, to point out where it lies, and - if the guide is inspired, if the students are sufficiently receptive, if their personal karma is favourable, and if the World-Mind uses the guide for the purpose - to give them the important experience of a Glimpse." (15)

   From either perspective, it appears that without enlightened help the path does at times seem an utterly hopeless task. Therefore,

   "Life is an arduous struggle for most people, but much more so for such a one who is always the hated target for the unseen powers of darkness. Do not hesitate to send him your silent humble blessing, therefore, and remember that Nature will not waste it. The enemies you are now struggling against within yourself he has already conquered, but the enemies he is now struggling against are beyond your present experience. He has won the right to sit by a hearth of peace. If he has made the greatest renunciation and does not do so it is for your sake and for the sake of others like you." (16)

   Perhaps the following prayer from the poet-saint Kabir, beloved of the camps of both jnana and bhakti (17), may be a fitting way to end this article:

   “The Ocean of life is too deep to be measured and sketched,
   With thy mercy, O merciful One, I may get a footing.
   Full of evil, I have nothing to boast of and am hard of heart,
   But perfect as my Master is, he can land me ashore.
   O my perfect Master, take a firm hold of me,
   And lead me to the goal with no break on the way.
   Grant me the gift of devotion, O my Munificent One!
   I wish for naught else, save a ceaseless service unto Thee.
   Master! Thou art generous and merciful,
   I am drowning in mid-stream, take me over to the shore."

                                            “MAY ALL BEINGS LIVE AND DIE IN SUPREME PEACE."

1. Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, Vol. 16, (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications), 5.125
1a. Ibid, Vol. 1, 6.132

   It seems that sooner or later spiritual masters, saints and sages, say everything. Contrast this quote with the following one, also from PB:

   “It is quite possible to open the doors of inner being without the aid of a teacher. One’s own higher self will give him all the guidance he needs, provided he has sufficient faith in its existence and its assistance.” (Vol. 14, 3.120)

At times Ramana Maharishi said suchlike things, too, that with sufficient faith “even a stone could be one’s teacher.” (With the caveat that this faith might also eventually lead him to a divine guide inwardly or outwardly. And one might ask “why would one not want this?”).

1b.Nitya Tripta, ed., Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shree Atmananda, Vol. II, (1953-1959) (Trivandrum, India: The Reddiar Press, 1963), p.
2. Maharshi's Gosple (Tiruvannamalai, India: Sri Ramanasramam, 8th ed., 1969), p. 38
3. Kirpal Singh, Godman (Delhi: Ruhani Satsang, 1971) p. 181
4. Anthony Damiani, Looking Into Mind (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1990), p. 201-202
4a. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 15, Part 2, 4.2,4,5
5. Paramhansa Yogananda, Journey to Self-Realization (Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship, 1997), p. 186-187
6. D. T. Suzuki, trans., The Lankavatara Sutra (Boulder, CO: Prajna Press, 1978), p. xli
7. A.E. Powell, The Causal Body (Wheaton, Illinois: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1978), p. 100-101
8. Ibid, p. 101
9. Kirpal Singh, p. cit.,
10. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, 4.209)
11. D.T. Suzuki, op. cit., p. 89-90
12. David Salim Michael, The Law of Attention (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2010), p. 138
13. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, Part 1, 2.7-9
14. Ibid, Vol. 11, 7.53
15. Ibid, 7.55
16. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, Part 1, 3.552
17. Non-dual sage Robert Adams was fond of quoting the example of a man who for forty years did nothing but hold a fan for Ramana Maharshi. One day the man dropped dead, and Ramana turned and said, "He's not coming back."