Meeting The Masters Revisited and Revised
When I wrote my earlier book my primary aim was to recount the story of my experiences with the spiritual beings who instructed me. I thought the fact of their existence and what they had to say might be of interest to many people frustrated by the dead end of modernism. I sought to present this in the context of the best of Western and Eastern (and theistic and non-theistic) spiritual approaches in order to arrive at a more universal perspective that reconciled these by focusing on their higher, unifying essence. I realised they weren't fully reconcilable but I don't think that, at the time, I fully appreciated the extent of the differences between them.
The main part of the book still stands. The strictly factual part that describes my encounter with the Masters, their words and their teachings and my reactions as a spiritual apprentice, is what it was. However my metaphysical understanding has changed a little and if I wrote the book now I would put the more theoretical parts in a slightly different way with less emphasis on the identity of mystical traditions and more on what I consider to be the deeper truths revealed through Christ. Thus I would place the non-dualistic and Buddhist points of view, which are fundamentally the same, at a different level of truth to the idea I have been describing which sees the destiny of the soul as to be made one with God in a union in which individual identity is transformed or transfigured but retained rather than being seen as unreal or illusionary and consequently rejected in favour of an unqualified pure consciousness, without difference admitted in any way. I would lay greater stress on the love of God as the supreme spiritual path with knowledge, as in intuitive understanding that the soul and divine ground are one reality, a preliminary but incomplete on its own approach that can take the disciple a long way but not all the way to the final goal. I would put a personal relationship and union with God at a more advanced stage than self-sufficient oneness with the uncreated part of one's being which is the goal in Buddhism and advaita. And I would further stress that the aim of the spiritual disciple should not be enlightenment but the sanctification of the soul, achievable only through the grace of God which grace can only be properly received and merited after lengthy purification of the fallen self.
As a matter of fact, most of this was already plainly implied in the book as, for instance, in the passage about the absence of God in Buddhism or comments about there being a duality beyond non-duality. I also mentioned that the Masters were more like wise abbots of a Christian monastery than present day teachers of enlightenment (a word they never used). However it was not spelled out quite as unequivocally as it might have been as I wished to be more inclusive in my approach at the time and was also less clear in my own mind about the difference between the impersonal absolute as the ground of pure being and the Creator God. Coming to an understanding of the meaning of the Trinity as the ultimate truth of things has helped clarify matters for me, particularly as to how oneness and difference can be completely reconciled in a higher union in God with no loss to either. It does seem to be that only a Trinitarian metaphysics, or something like it, can really account for reality as it is and do no violence to the integrity of either the One or the Many, either the uncreated source of all or creation.
I once assumed that all mystical traditions described more or less the same thing which was the union of the soul with God. They just put this in different ways depending on where they were coming from. Because my spiritual training was with the Masters, as described in the book, I refracted everything through that prism and didn't pay sufficient attention to the fact that different traditions do actually say different things and have different goals. I read books about the various religions and studied some of the writings of the great mystics and philosophers, both ancient and modern, but tended to assume that any differences were at the level of expression only. I now see that they are not all describing the same thing and that some do have a more restricted point of view than others. Also, that some come from human attempts to know truth while others have revelation from above at their core.
As the Masters never told me what to think from a philosophical or theological perspective, but focused entirely on practical instruction on how to be, I did not take my metaphysics directly from them. They were only concerned with inner change and development and did not point me towards any outer spiritual teachings, letting me sort that out for myself. However their words and their presence definitely point to a certain form of truth, and that is the form in which love and humility are the primary spiritual virtues; indeed one in which virtue itself rather than knowledge is the primary spiritual quality. And true virtue only comes from one place, that is aligning oneself with the will of God. So the Masters demonstrated the full truth of the transformation of the individual soul into a divine union with God. Think of us as messengers from God, they said. And so they were. Ceaselessly active on his behalf. There was no question of them resting in some state of blissful inactivity which an unqualified non-dualistic reality would necessarily imply. If there is no reality in creation why bother with it?
I don't reject anything I wrote in the book (which is first and foremost about my experience with the Masters), but I feel that my theological understanding has become more nuanced now. Strangely enough, it has become so since being challenged by non-dualists after a post of mine (The Non-Duality Trap) was put on a non-duality website. This led me to consider the implications of pure non-duality more deeply which made me realise that my assumptions about it were incorrect. It is quite dissimilar to Christian mysticism. Its rejection of God and the individual are, I now believe, deeply flawed for reasons I have given at various points in this book.
So what I am saying is that, pace Buddhism and advaita, individuality is important. The Masters have certainly transcended identification with the limited individual aspect of their being as they are one with God who is the centre of their lives, but individuality remains. In fact, it is more developed than it is in most of us, who, in comparison, are only half-formed individuals. A heaven of identikit saints would be a sort of hell, wouldn't it?
Most of all what I would now insist on is the reality of God. This might seem a strange thing to say when talking about spiritual matters. But more and more I have noticed a tendency in present day spirituality, or attempts at spirituality I might say, to take God out of the spiritual equation whether as a lesser reality than pure absolute being or as not existing in any true form at all. This is a great error. God exists and he exists in a personal form though I am not saying that is all there is to him. God will always remain a mystery in his essence. Nevertheless God as a Person is absolutely real for personhood is not a limitation on being, as erroneously thought by the non-dualists. It is the very essence of being. Besides which, if God is not a Person then goodness, beauty, and even truth in any comprehensible form, are all only relatively real which, in effect, means they are not real at all. God cannot be limited in any way but to envision him as an abstraction of pure being or infinite energy or the like seems to me to be much more of a limitation than to say that he is a Person. And without this personal side nothing really matters or has meaning for it is the personal that give life its savour, joy and, most of all, its love. This is why modernism, which is founded on the active denial of God, is basically anti-life. It is, in fact, nothing less than a death cult.
To say that God is a person does not mean he is just an object to us, something or someone 'out there'. That could never be for he is the essence of personhood, the very 'I' behind all 'I'ness, the archetypal person from whom we borrow our person-ness or individuality which is given to us from him and reflects his. But he has created this world of multiple beings who are one in their being, his being, but many in expression and quality, uniquely theirs though given by him. So in this created world, both heaven and earth, oneness and multiplicity exist together like harmony and melody, and God is both the Supreme Father, in terms of creation, and life itself in terms of pure spirit above form. But, and this is the point, both of these must be known if we are to encompass the fullness of reality.
So the only parts of my earlier book that I would amend now are those that say or imply that God as Person is somehow lower or less real than the Impersonal Absolute. I always struggled with this intuitively (if that were the case then where did the original 'I' come from in the first place, what was love, what was goodness, why were the Masters so individual and why did they speak of higher Masters, i.e. point to a hierarchy even in heaven?), and it was not a teaching that the Masters themselves ever gave. However the weight of metaphysical authority, particularly that of the East, appeared to affirm it, and it can be seen as just an extreme form of the fact of oneness. But an understanding of the nature of the Trinity, seeing how there is difference even at the deepest level of unity, has given a better metaphysical foundation for my intuitive sense of how things are.
There is perhaps one minor point I should clear up. When the Masters said that one should forget the personal self and merge with the universal self this might appear to support the idea of abandoning the sense of being an individual and becoming one with the absolute. So in a way it does but it does not mean giving up individuality. As I have said, the Masters themselves were full individuals. The only difficulty here is on a verbal level. Personal can refer to the reality of the person and this was an idea that the Masters fully supported. They demonstrated the truth of it. However it can also refer to the personality in the sense of the separate rather than individual self, me and mine rather than I, and it is this idea of himself as a separate being that the disciple is asked to renounce. Not the idea of himself as an individual. God created us as individuals and does not demand suicide but self-transcendence. Forget the personal self does not mean deny you are an individual but don't identify with your separate, self-enclosed individuality. Know yourself to be a spark of the divine, fully one with your Creator.
Incidentally, in case of misunderstanding, I am not saying here that our approach to God should exclusively be on a personal or dualistic level and that the practices and attitudes associated with a formless or apophatic approach to truth are invalid. I believe that each should be balanced by the other for a comprehensive understanding just as love should be balanced with wisdom. The Masters counseled both prayer and meditation for the disciple and this points to the need to take both a personal dualistic and an impersonal non-dualistic approach into account as we walk the spiritual path. Either on its own is incomplete even if the truth is that the ultimate aim of God is that he may have a personal relationship with us and that we may become gods ourselves. He did not create souls merely for them to be reabsorbed back into his being, eternally resting in the darkness of the Godhead as though they had never been. He did so in order that they might add to the glory of being through multiplication and joyous communion between all parts of it. He is a giver not a taker.