The Way of a Teacher|
I explore the function and understanding of the enlightened teacher. The function is the creation of a dialectical path to spirituality, and the understanding is the particular perspective of reality that the teacher propagates. Then I look at the purpose of the teacher.
First of all, I have to look at the concept of ‘dialectics’ and its application to mental processes.
I use the term ‘dialectics’ in the Hegelian sense. It represents a movement of thought through three stages. First there is the opening idea, the thesis ; then thought switches to the opposite conception, the antithesis. Finally both stages are blended together in the third stage, the synthesis. In moral ideas, if the thesis is a concept of goodness then the antithesis is a concept of badness. If the thesis represents some badness, the antithesis is that of some goodness. The synthesis is the resolution of the conflict.
A person"s evolutionary journey through life is always dialectical. To understand this statement, consider the effects of abreaction on a person.
First, the abreaction of guilt.
Initially we have the excitement, and then we have the resentment that opposes it. Finally we have the steady state of detachment when the contents of the excitement and the resentment phases no longer interest us. This abreactive process is a dialectical one.
Secondly, the abreaction of pride.
First there is the sorrow, then the bitterness which is the reaction to it. Finally there is the detachment. This abreaction is a dialectical one as well.
These ideas mean that abreaction generates dialectical change. Abreaction releases anxiety from the subconscious mind during the process of character transformation, and this release occurs by an oscillation between states of mind. Therefore the process of character transformation is a dialectical one.
Each person follows his own dialectical path as he encounters, and learns to surmount, the difficulties of living on Earth. A dialectical path means that whatever problems a person has, his particular path must provide an answer to those problems. Out of a negative situation must arise a positive one, whence the person can then synthesise them together so as to reach a higher understanding.
A standard aphorism that encapsulates this view is: ‘That by which man falls, is that by which man rises’. By learning from his mistakes so the person discovers what is right for him.
In my view, human evolution is the slow process of character transformation, the slow process of acquiring and developing self-consciousness. One of the principal means of achieving this is the process of abreaction. The deduction from this view is that human evolution is not a linear progression but a dialectical one. As the person swings between joy and resentment, sorrow and bitterness, it seems as though he follows a zigzag path. First two steps forward, then one step back ; at other times it is one step forward and then two steps back.
As with the individual, so with society : social abreaction generates dialectical social change. The contents of social abreaction are the new ideas of the age. The evolution of society depends on the generation of new ideas. Without fresh ideas a society will stagnate. All major ideas have a dialectical existence in history : by this I mean that all important ideas will generate opposition to themselves. Any major idea will produce both good effects and bad effects on society (or the thesis and the antithesis). The lessons that are learned from considering all these effects represent the synthesis. Both the good and the bad aspects of the idea have to be worked out before the idea’s usefulness is assimilated and exhausted.
I re-phrase these thoughts. Every good idea will produce bad effects as well as good ones (for example, the introduction of new technology often results in an increase of misery for the working masses). Every bad idea will produce good effects as well as bad ones (the good effects are correctives aimed at preventing, or perhaps just ameliorating, more badness). The final synthesis of an idea is the distillation from out of its goodness and badness of the lessons that it teaches. To gel with this pattern the evolutionary path has to be dialectical too.
Mode and Perspectivism
One day I came upon a phrase that I had not met before: ‘Whatever is known, is known in the mode of the knower’. Something can only be known if it can be fitted within the particular way that a person conceives reality, or some aspect of it. This is obviously true. My wisdom is related to the conditions of my experience (which revolves around my encounter with my subconscious mind). My wisdom arises so as to explain my experience. I interpret everything within the view of reality that I hold, and this interpretation becomes my truth.
Nietzsche called this view of knowledge perspectivism. The particular view of truth that the teacher accepts is determined by his tradition ; tradition shows him how to understand his experience. For example, if a tradition endorses the practice of ego-denial, then a teacher who comes out of that tradition will neither embrace nor understand anything that leads to ego-affirmation.
I bring these ideas on function and mode together by considering the lives of teachers like Buddha and Jesus. When a high-level teacher incarnates on earth, the forces acting on him from society mould his experience, and hence his mode of understanding. The significant problems that the teacher faces lead him to practise relevant answers. If these answers are to produce long-term solutions, they have to represent a practical synthesis of all the conflicting aspects of the problems. Then, when ready, he translates his developmental pattern into a process that is capable of being followed by others.
Therefore the mode of the enlightened teacher automatically produces a spiritual path suitable for his times. The inherent contradictions that are prominent in a society automatically determine the path of re-adjustment.
The new path is dialectically born !
The path to god takes its point of origin from the existing state of society. However, societies change and so therefore do the social forces that act on a teacher. Hence the mode of the enlightened teacher will change as society changes. So every main social era has its own intrinsic path. However, the path produced in one era is not necessarily of great value in succeeding eras, because the stresses in each of the social eras are different. The previous paths do not become useless ; they just become inefficient.
If the mode of the enlightened teacher is not relevant to the times, if it only offers past solutions to new problems, then the teacher will usually be ineffectual. This seems to have been the fate of Aurobindo.
Each society, each era, has its own problems. So the dialectical paths of evolution are different for each society. A major teacher is specific to a particular society and its particular problems. In general, I consider that a major teacher has a definite purpose.
A major teacher who inaugurates a new tradition sets a central spiritual task for all his followers to overcome and master, together with a particular interpretation of spiritual justice.
As an example I compare Buddhism with Christianity.
The central task that Buddha set his followers is the overcoming of the entrancement of earthly experience based on desire. The seeker has to master the technique of mindfulness so that he can use it in ordinary life when a situation threatens him with loss of control of himself, irrespective of whether the situation can be described as being good or bad. In the main, the practitioners of early Buddhism were advanced ascetics. The focus on Nirvana as the abode where suffering ceases is the particular interpretation of spiritual justice. Justice is enwrapped in the symbolism of sailing on the raft of Buddha to the shores of Nirvana.
The mission of Jesus was to reach the poor and the powerless, people at the beginning of their spiritual evolution. During the era of Roman political ascendancy his central teaching was that his followers should stay out of politics and turn within themselves. Therefore the task for the seeker was to develop a system of ethics. Ethical training is the core of Christian practice. The focus on heaven as the abode where sins are forgiven is the particular interpretation of spiritual justice. Justice is enwrapped in the symbolisms of vicarious atonement and justification by faith.
For the mystic of any religion, the emotional dynamics of his / her intense yearning for mystical union with god are pure love + guilt (mode of self-pity). The love gives intensity to life, whilst the self-pity enhances passivity. The love is often transient, whilst the self-pity is more lasting. Mystics do not realise that their central spiritual task is to rise above the entrancement with emotional experience. The focus on spiritual union with god as the benediction which annuls self-pity is the particular interpretation of spiritual justice. Justice is enwrapped in the symbolism of the ‘spiritual marriage’.
In past times, the focus of the evolutionary forces acting on humanity was mainly psychic : the great aim was the development of psychic abilities through the practice of meditation and concentration. In modern times, the focus is now primarily psychological. However, the psychological exploration of the subconscious and unconscious minds is too difficult for a single person to undertake. Therefore there have been several teachers who have begun this exploration, and no doubt there are many more to come.
In my view, the central spiritual task for modern times is the development of self-awareness. The particular conception of spiritual justice is that sorrow is unavoidable to psychological growth, since we all have to face our weaknesses and fears before we can diminish their influence. Whence, in order to rise above this sorrow, we have to practice acceptance of life. Justice is enwrapped in the ideals of detachment and equanimity.
Eastern views do not allow for particular interpretations of justice. This is because they see justice as karma. Karma is an external and objective form of justice, imposed on the person, and cannot be modified by subjectivity. These views are out of date and too limited ; they do not incorporate dialectical ideas that relate to the subconscious mind. What religious texts, whether Buddhist or Christian, miss out is the idea of an internal justice that motivates the seeker. The theory of karma may be influential in getting a seeker to change some of his views, but it is unlikely to motivate him.
A seeker’s interpretation of justice will not necessarily accord with the theory of objective karma. The subconscious mind is not impressed by objectivity. The subconscious mind always translates important aspects of the objective world into subjective components of its own world of subjectivity.
By translating objectivity into subjectivity the subconscious mind learns to create motivation, thereby stimulating the internal drive of the person. Each person cannot solve all his problems just by himself ; he can only solve some of them. Whence motivation becomes the means of using subjectivity to influence and shape objectivity. By changing the objective world (for example, by achieving goals that enable the person to choose his own lifestyle), so the person’s problems are likely to change as well.
A person may have many motivations, some of which will be more important than others. And some motivations, being subconscious ones, he is unlikely to be aware of. But when he commits himself to evolve beyond a worldview dominated by materialism, when he starts to practice an ethical and spiritual life, then he will sooner or later experience many difficulties. Obstacles to his idea of spirituality will increase in tandem to his increase in commitment. Then his major motivation, his major drive, becomes a search for justice. And this justice has to provide a solution to the sorrows and difficulties that he encounters.
The most powerful drive in a seeker who is dominated by suffering is nearly always a concern for justice, no matter in what way or in what words that person rationalises his drive. Peel away the confusion. Peel away the masque of language that covers his aspirations, and underneath will be found a particular interpretation of spiritual justice. Only when justice is satisfied can the seeker transfer his drive into the search for freedom.
Techniques originated by one religion can be adopted by other ones. But the interpretation of justice is specific to a society and is not necessarily relevant to other ones.
No teacher is more important than any other, since each teacher fulfils a different task from other teachers. The differences between teachers are automatically generated by the conditions of their respective births. Why is this ?
The path to enlightenment is one that requires countless incarnations to progress from the state of normal man to that of the saint and spiritual teacher. Conversely, all teachers have lived numerous life-times on Earth previous to their life as a teacher. All teachers, during their evolution, constantly experience self-absorption (a focus on subjectivity) in every life (since they have to develop their individuality and their power of meditation), but the social conditions of their births and childhoods change.
In my view there are two problems of rebirth for the teacher :
a) The actuality of self-absorption is constant over time and era.
b) The dominant characteristics of the parents reflect the existing values of society.
The characteristics that infancy problems imprint on the sensitive child are relative to the existing society, as represented by the values and aspirations of the parents. Therefore, by overcoming those problems of childhood conditioning specific to his time, the teacher automatically creates the right path required for his society and his era.
Conceptions of the Spiritual Life
Religions arise in specific situations but are taken to be eternal verities, independent of such specificity, by their followers throughout the ages. The history of Christianity radically illustrates the narrowness of this view.
Christianity dis-integrated rapidly from the nineteenth century onwards. Was this due to the impact of science, of materialism, of biblical criticism ? .
No. These were only the scenarios within which the crisis unfolded itself. In my view the crisis was due to the process of change as such. The dis-integration was that of the conceptualisation of the spiritual life. The framework of spiritual theories fell apart. No one in the Western world achieved high spiritual states of consciousness any longer. No one understood any more what spirituality meant.
There are two aspects to a religion : theory and practice.
c) The theory is the conceptualisation of the spiritual life and the consequent morality that it produces or endorses.
d) The practice is the method of attaining the goal of this spiritual view.
Now a religion will automatically degenerate if aspect (d) is absent, as it is in Christianity. Christianity has only prayer for its practice. Prayer is inadequate since it does not develop any abilities in the believer, and in addition the believer is not willing to experiment to find out which types of prayer are effective and which are not – experiments imply doubt and such doubt might undermine his faith. In this case, the morality of aspect (c) comes to fill aspect (d), that is, morality is seen to be the method of spiritual development and becomes dogmatically inflexible.
In a complete religion, aspect (d) will be more or less constant over time ; in India, for example, meditation with contemplation is a time-honoured practice. Whereas aspect (c) relates solely to society contemporary to it – it reflects the needs of that society. As society develops, and the conceptual vocabulary develops in tandem with it, then aspect (c) requires to be restated and reformulated in order to remain in harmony with mankind’s new abilities and new needs. Therefore an harmonious morality is always an evolving one. Morality is derived from the values built into language. As language changes so its included values change, and so morality changes as well.
The dis-integration of Christianity is only the dis-integration of a static, unchanging world-view that no longer relates to a perpetually-changing, dynamic world. The static view, whilst that is required at the time of its birth, is only of use so long as society has not developed sufficiently to become discordant with it.
The confusion over the old debate of science versus religion occurred because the rise of science was coincident with a dynamic speeding up of the process of change in the European consciousness. Science commandeered this process of change for its own glorification. This has misled people into believing that the dis-integration of Western religion was due to the rise of science.
The corollary to this analysis, as regards Christianity, is that since morality is derived from aspect (c), then as the static conceptual view dis-integrates then so too does the static moral view. In this situation, moral consensus is replaced by moral debate, doubt and uncertainty.
In any religion, a literal interpretation of the founder’s teachings finalises them into dogma. Dogma has its uses but by its very nature it cannot evolve. The translation of the founder’s teachings into symbolism allows for spiritual evolution. Symbols are dynamic, not static. Symbols are plastic and can be stretched in ways that are inspirational to the believer. Symbolic teachings can thus cater to the needs of any seeker, whether a beginner or a mature mind.
When teachings remain literal and do not become symbolic, then they remain valid as a guide to spiritual practices only whilst society is not too far developed from the society of the teacher. As contemporary society becomes remote from the founder’s society, in terms of evolutionary development, then a literal understanding loses its vitality, its relevance, and its meaning.
However, even symbolism has its limitations. Symbolism does not remove confusion and self-deception from a person"s mind. So symbolic interpretations can end up being just as misleading as dogmatic views. Symbolism is always only an intermediate way-station to the achievement of a realistic understanding of anything. For the spiritual seeker, symbolism has eventually to be decoded into its psychological and existential components.
Then the person can create his or her own unconfused synthesis of spirituality.
dogma is thesis
symbolism is antithesis
synthesis is a personal form of spirituality
Religion is no longer the transformative process that it once was. The stresses of modern times are too great for any religion to master. Nowadays religious ideals need to be under-pinned by an understanding of psychology. The method of psychological development, by empiricism and self-discovery, becomes the new method necessary for all directions of personal growth. Psychological development is the method for high-stress societies, whilst meditation is suitable only for low-stress societies.
The psychological method is needed as well as the religious (or the secular) practice of ethical standards: both are blended together to form the pattern of the person’s idealism.
The psychological method clarifies consciousness.
The ethical practice develops abilities.
Together they transform character.
In lieu of an internal method of psychological self-discovery, religion has to make do with an external one – of having suffering and pain inflicted on oneself by the world. The problem with the external one is that too much pain and suffering lead to the desire for peace (involving a withdrawal from society), and sometimes to the desires for martyrdom or self-destruction.
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Copyright © 2002 Ian Heath, owner of a map of psychological spirituality suitable for modern times.
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