The lure of occultism
We were not born to perform magical stunts, nor were we born to be able to remember past lives or to foretell the future. We were born for one thing only and that is to discover what we really are in our deepest, innermost being, not just the crest of it.
Philosophy rejects such psychic, occult, mediumistic, or trance experiences when imagination runs unbraked into them, or emotion heaves hysterically in them. It is then time to stop the dangerous tendency by applying a firm will and cold reason. Philosophy welcomes only a single mystic experience–that of the Void (Nirvikalpa Samadhi), where every separate form and individual consciousness vanishes, whereas all other mystic experiences retain them. This is the difference.
The spiritualists, the occultists, and the psychic groups are far from the purest thought, for they are still preoccupied with the ego and with a subtle materialism which substitutes a subtler body for the material one but is just as illusory. However, they are steps on the way for spiritual children–stages to be passed through and outgrown.
Philosophy has no use for empty fancies, no time for mere self-deceptions. Therefore it refuses to dally in this illusory region which the inward-moving mind must cross through until it reaches solid ground. It will not give itself to psychism, occultism, or spiritism.
How simple is the path itself, how complex is the pseudo-path offered by occultism and exaggerated asceticism. “All that God asks of them,” writes Thomas Merton, “is to be quiet and keep themselves at peace, attentive to the secret work that He is beginning in their souls.”
You must learn to discriminate between what is psychic and what is spiritual. You will tend to lose power if you yield to that popular hankering after psychic and occult experiences. It is fascinating to have psychic claims, sensational experiences. Keep them in their place, however, which is second and subordinate. They have nothing to do with the Quest, which is to lead you above the realm of mind into spirit. Mind goes down deep into the subconscious and the Overmind; there psychic and occult experiences take place–not in the normal mind, certainly, but in the region of the planetary mind, the Overmind. Occult experiences will not give you any more peace, or reality. Do you want these? Then do not over-emphasize your occult experiences. Just observe them, but attach little importance to them. The important thing is to arrive at that state of being which never changes, which is eternal, which is God.
The mystic is on a loftier plane than the occultist and psychic. The various systems of occultism, theosophy, and psychism are all objective to the true Self of man, and hence distract him from the straight and narrow path. Yet they are useful and necessary for those egoistic and over-intellectualized natures who cannot aspire to the rarefied reaches of the real Truth. Everything–including the fascinating systems of knowledge and practice that comprise ancient and modern occult teachings–which distracts man from becoming the truly spiritual, distracts him from the real path. Only when all objective things and thoughts have disappeared into the subject, the self or the seer, can man achieve his highest purpose. All other activities simply cause him to stray from the highest truth. So I have abandoned the study and practice of occultism. I have given it up unwillingly, for the power it promises is not to be despised. Yet I recognize that my past is strewn with errors and mistakes. I imagined that a great personal experience of the psychic and mysterious side of Nature would bring me nearer Truth. As a fact, it has taken me farther from it. Once I enjoyed frequent glimpses of a great bliss and intense state of samadhi; then I was unfortunate enough to come into contact with theosophists and others of that ilk who subtly supplanted my real inward happiness with intellectual systems and theories upon which I was thenceforward to ponder. Alas! I was too young and too green to know what was happening. The bliss went before long; the samadhis stopped, and I was cast upon the shore of the Finite, an unhappy and problem-puzzled bit of human wreckage! No promise of wonderful initiations at some future time will lure me to trust my life into the care of a so-called guru who is either unable to or unwilling to give me a glimpse of the God-consciousness he claims to possess. I am not inclined to follow a trail which may land me somewhere out in the middle of the desert, bereft of reason, hope, and fortune.
At its best, psychism leads us into human fancies about the holy; at its worst, to the very lair of the devilish. The spiritual alone, in its true sense, can lead us into the veritably holy.
The essence of the matter is that the higher ultramystic experiences are not concerned with personal clairvoyant visions or clairaudient voices but with the raising of consciousness to an impersonal transcendent state wherein none of the relative phenomena of a space-time world can enter.
The quest is not jugglery. The most breath-taking feat of the conjurer will not prove the least insignificant of spiritual truths.
People spend half their lives in darkened rooms trying to establish communication with the “spirits,” with dubious and debatable results, when one-tenth of the time devoted to trying to establish communication with their OWN divine spirit would bring indubitable and delightful results.
There are countless thousands who, weak in faith and lacking in intuition, must perforce seek amid external things for proof of the soul. Spiritualism claims to give this proof. There are, of course, those who believe that the spiritualists have misinterpreted their experiences.
The seventh chapter of The Wisdom of the Overself contains some material which generally answers the questions of life after death. It is quite true that spiritualism has served the useful purpose of proving the existence of an afterlife. Nevertheless it is a dangerous matter to experiment with practically. It is far safer to limit investigation to a study of its literature. More specifically: (1) The quest of psychic experiences is definitely a stumbling block on the true path during the earlier stages. They are almost sure to lead the novice astray, may cause him to waste valuable years, and will sometimes harm him in various ways. Most attempts to establish contact with the astral world will either end in failure and deception or psychic injury. (2) Astral projection is neither wrong nor right but it should not be sought for its own sake. It develops naturally of itself to one who is highly advanced on the truly spiritual quest. But if novices prematurely seek it they are likely to harm themselves. In the end it will be found that spiritualism is only a stepping-stone to the higher mystical philosophy. It is of use as a halfway house for many Westerners, but one should not tarry here too long. The higher and lower teachings are like oil and water. They cannot be mixed together and one day you will have to make your choice between them if you wish to progress and not to remain stagnating.
These occult authors catalogue such a formidable list of necessary qualifications that it is likely to deter most people rather than attract them. One wonders whether the writers have succeeded in fulfilling their own standards. It is good however to remember that there are ways not so steep as theirs, that there are easier paths in existence in other lands than that of occultism. Genuine mysticism, true religion, or right philosophy: any of these can conduct one to the goal with less trouble and less danger than occultism.
There is a problem of mental unbalance and partial insanity in the modern world. Philosophy offers help, as it aims at securing complete sanity whereas most other guides cater to unbalance.
There is something which might be called the higher spiritualism which is on a higher level altogether than ordinary spiritualism. This has been found by an exhaustive study, both practical and theoretical. The higher spiritualism stands midway between the lower kind and mysticism proper. By mysticism is meant the endeavour to become possessed, not by any disembodied human entity, but by the divine Spirit, be it named God, Soul, Christ, Allah, Atman, or some other name which has been given to that which man knows to be the Divine. In the group of those who belong to this higher spiritualism can be included such men as Stainton Moses, who edited Light, the leading spiritualist journal in London, and Andrew Jackson Davis, the famous American clairvoyant. Their writings were admirable and much in Life and Its Manifestations is reminiscent of them in tone, idea, and atmosphere.
Occult or spiritistic practices which have served their purpose in convincing their student that materialism is false, should be abandoned if he wishes to make the best use of his limited period on earth. When such a point has been reached, he should turn his thoughts in the direction of seeking the Overself alone, or his life-period will be wasted.
If philosophy denies the authenticity of many occult, psychical, and religio-mystical experiences, it does not have to deny that they did occur. That need not be in dispute. But the danger of taking fancy for reality and a way-station for the terminus is very easy to fall into and must be pointed out. “Beware them who perceive the deep reality,” warned the Buddha in a statement which recalls for us the warning of Jesus about the straightness of the way to truth and that “Few there be that find it.” The prudent seeker will be on his guard not to succumb to the temptation of dallying in ego-flattering thrills.
Why should we surrender the simple clarity of true self-knowledge for the involved obscurity of occultism?
Philosophic spiritualism does not go far enough. Inspiration derived from any individual, disembodied and angelic though he might be, is not as fine as inspiration derived from the unindividuated Soul, which the best mystics seek. It is a step in the right direction, though.
It is as necessary to avoid pitfalls of superstition on one side as those of psychism on the other.
Everything that stimulates us to follow the quest is worth encouraging if its demerits be not too large; but everything which paralyses this aspiration is rendering a disservice to humanity.
The occult, and indeed all extraordinary happenings, attracts a far larger amount of interest than the mystical. For here the physical senses come into play and find satisfaction whereas in the mystical only the intuitive and the emotional faculties are engaged.
The majority are seekers after occultism. They thirst for powers that will give them an advantage over others. They seek to inflate their egos whereas the true disciples seek to flatten it.
Excessive addiction to supernormal mystic experiences or bizarre occult titillations leads to wrong views and draws the seeker to a wrong goal. The dignity of quiet philosophical study often appears to prove too frigid for those who revel in superstition and who seek the gaudy caricatures of truth rather than the austere truth itself.
Many people yearn to escape from the world of the flesh; many seek for psychic worlds full of magical half-shadows; many minds are turning into the narrow lanes of thought and wide roads of study indicated by the signposts of occultism and its kindred.
Many are called on the spiritual telephone exchange of life, but few get a clear connection!
Psychical derangements are common enough to keep the specialists busy. Mentally upset persons crop up everywhere, even on airplanes. We have seen insanity appear in high places and collect many followers. If anything can give sanity, it is the calm and balance of philosophy. But unless it is hidden behind magic and occultism, those who need it most are least attracted to it and least fit for it.
It is not a path suited to neurotic, weak, mentally odd, and emotionally sick persons. Such people are often attracted to mystical movements and ideas but they shrink from philosophic truth and discipline.
History shows that where people have had the opportunity to imbibe the highest truth, they still preferred occult sensationalism to it.
All this interest in and pursuit of occultism is merely an enlargement of the ego’s ordinary sphere. Why should a teacher of philosophy cater to that?
How many persons have imprisoned themselves in their own mental creations or auto-hypnotic fabrications at the very moment when they had the chance to experience the Spirit in all its purity! This could not have happened had they been prepared in character and purified in intellect by philosophy. Without this safeguard, the ego intervenes and corrupts the truth and keeps as much of its illusions as it can hold onto under that dazzling light.
Philosophy is not for the thrill-seekers–there are cults and groups, “isms” and practices which will better excite and satisfy them. Even on a higher level, the mystic’s, there is still a search, a longing, for “experiences.” In most cases such experiences are desired as escapes from the ego’s tensions and burdens, its insignificance or environment.