The Crown of Life


Some Modern Movements

    The first impact of science on the West seems to have been to undermine religion. Christianity, having developed into a complex and rigid institution with a dogmatic framework, was in no position to adjust itself to the demands made by the new knowledge available from science. The result was unavoidable; a head-on collision between the two, which left religion shaken, and science firmly entrenched. However, as we have already suggested in an earlier chapter, the physical sciences by themselves cannot explain life completely or even adequately. When the outer sciences have had their say, certain unknown problems of being remain to baffle and trouble the mind of man. The last century has seen the emergence of many a movement that has sought, in some way or other, to point toward an inner life, that science at least to a degree tended to discount. Modern India has been the birthplace of many religious movements, but for the most part they have been by way of a revival of what the ancients already knew, be it the Vedantism of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo, or Ramana Maharshi or, as we have already examined in some detail, the various Indian yogic systems. However, it may be fruitful to glance at some of the movements prevalent in the West, movements that often converge on Eastern traditions and are affected by them.

Roscrucianism, Theosophy and "I Am" Activity

    Even while Christianity held unquestioned sway in Europe, certain heterodox schools of mysticism flourished in a small way alongside it, Rosicrucianism being one of the earliest. However, these continued as secret societies which were looked upon with suspicion by the general public. But when institutional Christianity began to suffer at the hands of science, they suddenly acquired an importance that they never had before. Men whose faith in Christianity had been shaken by Darwin and Huxley but who could not accept the mechanistic view of the Universe, turned to these societies in the hope of arriving at a more satisfying explanation of life. Many took to the tenets of Rosicrucianism while others, seeking their inspiration from the East, founded the Theosophical movement. Still others, claiming to be guided by St. Germain, have developed what is called the "I Am" Activity. These movements do not claim to be religions in the traditional sense, even though they have their own codes. They are rather occult societies which share in common a belief that human life is guided and directed by unseen Cosmic Beings or Mystical Brotherhoods. These Beings cannot be met directly in this physical world; they either live in remote mountain fastnesses or work from a plane higher than the earthly one. However, one may, by believing in them and by following a particular discipline, lend oneself to their influence and benefit thereby. Though they all imply, in one way or another, the ultimate unity of life, in practice they seem to touch it at its fringes. The most a disciple may hope to do is to get in direct touch with one of the Cosmic Beings, but that state in which the soul becomes one with the Source of Time and the Timeless, of which the great Masters have spoken, is seldom treated as a practical possibility. Again, since one seeks guidance not from a human being like oneself, who has realized the Infinite, but from visionary beings whom one may never meet, the kind of detailed instruction and step by step guidance in every field of life, which is an essential feature of the Surat Shabd Yoga, is also missing. However, each in its own way seeks to carry human evolution a step further, and the step taken is certainly not a mean one. Thus, Madam Blavatsky, writing in The Voice of the Silence, speaks of a fairly advanced mystic experience when describing the inner Sound:

The first is the nightingale's sweet voice chanting a song of parting to its mate. The second comes as a sound of silver cymbals of the Dhyanis awakening the twinkling star. The next is plaint-melodies of the ocean spirit imprisoned in its shell. And this is followed by the chant of Vina. The fifth, like the sound of a bamboo flute shrills in the ears. It changes into a triumphant blast. The last vibrates like the dull rumbling of thunder clouds.

Christian Science and Subud

    The Christian Science movement is yet another heterodox Western movement, but it differs from those that we have already noticed in its shift of emphasis. Though it implies a mystical base, yet in practice it is not very much concerned with it. It seeks to interpret Christ's life in its own light, focusing its attention simply on the miracles performed by him. It argues that God, or the Truth, is good, and that all evil and disease are but a result of losing contact with this Inner Power. He who can be put in touch with it can be cured of all disease, and Christian Science has tended to concentrate its attention on this end. The result has been that it has become more a study of health than one of spiritual evolution, and the line between healing through auto-suggestion and hypnotic suggestion, and healing (as Christian Science claims) through the power of Truth is not always easy to draw. Many have even questioned the nature of the motives of its founder, Mrs. Mary Baker Eddy. But of one thing one can be certain: that even if the cures effected by Christian Science spring from a spiritual source, the agents are not its conscious masters, are not in direct and conscious contact with the higher power, but act as its unconscious instruments.
    Though it would be rash to class with Christian Science Subud or Soshiel Bodhi Dharm, founded by the Indonesian mystic teacher Pak Subeh, which has now become an international movement, yet one may with some justice notice a similar trend. The mystic base in the case of Subud is much more important than in that of Christian Science, yet is often directed toward the same end. It seeks, through following a certain course of exercises called Latihan, to put its followers in touch with hidden psychic powers. It does not seem to enhance consciousness directly but enriches it indirectly through increasing one's powers of intuition. Whether one looks at the experiences of Mohammad Raufe or those of John Bennett, one realizes that in the case of Subud, a person may serve as a medium for higher spiritual forces, curing people of diseases, without becoming a conscious co-worker. The result is that instead of progressing to higher and still higher planes of consciousness, until one merges with the Infinite, one tends to cultivate a passive receptivity to psychic powers which may not necessarily be of the higher kind. Many disciples during Latihan reproduce strange animal or bird experiences--a far cry from the Nirvikalp Samadhi or the Sehaj Samadhi spoken of by the greatest mystics.

Spiritism and spiritualism

    Last but not the least, we must distinguish spirituality from spiritism and spiritualism, as spirituality is quite different from both of them. Spiritism inculcates a belief in the existence of disembodied spirits apart from matter, which are believed by those who believe in spiritism to haunt either the nether regions as ghosts or evil spirits, or even as angels or good spirits in the lower astral regions. At times, they even become interested in the individual human affairs, and for the fulfillment of long-cherished but unfulfilled desires, try to seek gratification by all sorts of tricks, and those who dabble in the Black Art claim and profess to exercise power over them through magical incantations. But none of the Master's disciples need bother about them, as no evil influence can come near one who is in communion with the holy Word, for it is said:

The Great Angel of Death is an invincible foe,
But he too fears to come near one in communion with the Word.
He flies far out and away from the chants of the divine Harmony,
Lest he fall a victim to the wrath of the Lord.
    Spiritualism goes one step further than spiritism. It is a belief in the survival of the human personality after physical death, and the possibility of communication between the living and the dead. The advocates of spiritualism very often hold seances for getting into communication with so-called spirits. Their modus operandi is by mediumship, for they work through some sort of medium, maybe a planchette for planchette writing, a table for table rapping, or even a human being who is rendered unconscious so that the spirit called may make use of his body and communicate through it. This relationship generally works between just the physical or earth plane and the lowest sub-astral planes known as magnetic fields. The results that follow from such communications are very limited in scope, mostly unreliable and extremely harmful to the medium, who suffers a terrible loss at times by deprivation of his intelligence. The Masters of spirituality, therefore, strongly condemn the practice of spiritualism. Their contact and intercourse with the spiritual regions right to the mansion of the Lord (Sach Khand) are direct and they come and go at their sweet will and pleasure, without any let or hindrance and independent of the subjective process of mediumship.
    While their approach is quite normal, natural, direct and constructive, the spiritualist on the other hand works subjectively, indirectly, and mediately through a process which is fraught with dangers and risks both to himself and to the medium. Spiritualism, apart from the knowledge of survival of spirits after death, adds little to our experience and offers nothing of substance in the way of spirituality.

Hypnosis and mesmerism

    The above remarks apply equally to hypnosis and mesmerism, in both of which a person with a stronger will power tries to influence those with weaker stamina by means of passes of hand or gestures coupled with a riveted attention on the subject. In certain ailments, like hysteria, etc., some physicians also make use of these processes and are able temporarily to effect cures and alleviate pains and aches for which they are not able to find a proper remedy.
    Spirituality, on the contrary, is the science of the soul, and consequently, it deals with all the aspects of the soul, where it resides in the human body, its relationship with the body and with the mind, how it seemingly acts and reacts through and on the senses, its real nature, and how it can be separated from all its finitizing adjuncts. It describes the spiritual journey with its wealth of spiritual planes and sub-planes, the spiritual powers and possibilities and their intrinsic worth. Spirituality discloses what the holy Word is and how to commune with It, tells us that the ultimate goal is Self-realization and God-realization, or the union of the soul with the Over-soul, and teaches how it can be achieved by means of Surat Shabd Yoga or the Path of the Sound Current, as described in the foregoing pages.

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