In my callow youth I was very much focused on the practical aspects of magic and spirituality. I would scrutinise any potential literary purchases with a careful eye – those that did not contain practical instructions were destined to enter the ‘maybe later’ category. This reflected both my own search for inner workings (as detailed in this post) and the emphasis on orthopraxy within the magical traditions.
This very understandable focus on practice within magic contrasts the development of western Christianity’s focus on creed and orthodoxy since the Renaissance. Christians believe and magicians do – so the story goes. Of course, there are plenty of Christians, such as the Eastern Orthodox, who have a strong orthopraxis element. And interestingly, there are a number of magicians who adhere to certain aspects of their tradition (such as Secret Chiefs) via trust and faith without direct experience. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Now a heavy focus on practice alone can be a problem in itself. It took me a while (and many sighs from my teacher) to realise this, even though the nub of the matter is contained in this pithy saying I heard when a teenager:
Though a robe be washed a thousand times, how can it be clean if it is washed in dirty water?
This was described to me as a ‘Buddhist’ aphorism, though it’s just as likely to have stemmed from Rampaism for all I know. Here the various methods of practice are the ways to wash our clothes and the water is the context, the motivation and environment in which we practice. So, no matter how many times we practice, no matter what techniques we use, if our motivation and ideas are wrong or undeveloped we will not transform.
This is something I fairly hammer home in By Names and Images, repeating it several times, as I have seen the results of not understanding this principle far too many times in the magical community. To quote that old veteran of the esoteric, Gareth Knight:
To avoid unbalanced conditions of the astral light it is not sufficient simply to perform particular banishing formulae; what is required is the tranquillity of mind and heart that comes from stable outer life relationships and a selfless dedication.
I therefore get a little concerned when I hear of the heavy focus on practice, with people desiring more ‘advanced’ practices (secret, naturally) that they assume will ‘develop’ them further, ‘advance’ their understanding and raise their grade. Or something like that. I have known and know several folk who stay in dysfunctional groups because their leader has a promised advanced techniques in the next grade as a carrot. Since the publication of my book I have been corresponding with a few magicians in this exact situation, hopefully bringing a different perspective to the matter. The trick of course is to look at those promising the ‘advanced’ techniques and see if they show signs of being deeply transformed… or not? Look at their writings, their actions, the presence of compassion and tolerance in their lives… or not.
Now spiritual techniques are wonderful, and there certainly are junior, intermediate and ‘advanced’ forms, the latter type one would not use with novices. However, techniques themselves are not enough. Cutting and pasting from elsewhere:
Put simply, spiritual unfoldment is not the same as ecstasy or altered states of awareness nor is it brought on or developed solely by repeated experiences of the same. Other qualities, such as discipline, morality, compassion, altruism, introspection, and community service are required.
It is in this context we should read this article: Anders Behring Breivik used meditation to kill – he’s not the first.
Some readers of this blog may also be surprised to know that that icon of hatred, bigotry and murder, the late Ayatollah Khomeini was an accomplished and respected practitioner of Islamic mysticism, Irfan.
Meditation is not enough. Mysticism is not enough. Magic – even the most intense and ‘powerful’ advanced, secret-third-order-sex-magic – is not enough. The writer of the above article comes at the problem from a Buddhist perspective.
… the Buddha made right understanding the first item in his eightfold path because he knew that everyone is guided by a worldview and underlying beliefs. His teachings seek to reshape those views so they eliminate attachment and support liberation. Ultimately, that includes attachment to doctrines, but discarding them too soon means that pre-existing beliefs and prevailing opinion go unchallenged.
Right understanding. This is not a practice, but an attitude, a focal point, a giving up of the ego’s sovereignty. It is the neophyte in the Inner Light tradition declaring ‘I desire to know in order to serve‘. Nuff said?