The Heart of Freedom, part 2: Spiritual Practice & Its Benefits

Being a magician is a stage in the process of developing spiritually. It is not the height of development; in fact, it is only a step in the first part of the range of real human development.

~ Draja Mickaharic, from Practice of Magic: An Introductory Guide to the Art

Discussing the “benefits” of spiritual practice is a difficult thing. For one thing, those benefits are often very slow in arising, and usually take a lot of time to stabilize once they have arisen. Backsliding is notoriously easy in esoteric practice just as in changing one’s diet or exercise routine. For another thing, though, we are perhaps too obsessed with benefits in the first place. Everybody comes in the door wanting to know, “Truth sounds nice, and all, but what’s in it for me?”

As Mark Stavish of the Institute for Hermetic Studies recently remarked in an online comment concerning what he tells his students upon entering the classroom, “You have no rights, only obligations. I am here to speak to you about your obligations for this class. If you want to talk about rights, then tell it to the mountain.” The same that Mr. Stavish says of his classroom may be said of life in general, and goes double for the life of the soul. With the popular imagination captured every few years by something like The Secret , the Prosperity Gospel, or whatever the current iteration of New Thought goes by, it is easy for us to forget that no millennia-old tradition of spiritual training out there has ever taught that God is a vending machine into which we can feed the printed paper of “good thoughts” and receive back the many material conditions we believe will make us at last content with our lot. Those who have assiduously applied the practices of magic and genuine prayer know that it is entirely possible to gain materially by the mental progress which comes from spiritual labor, but the sacrifices made to achieve these things rarely permit that they will even-out to as much money and stuff as could be had by just working with intelligence and vigor in a career field. In other words, don’t turn to magic to make you rich, though it certainly may help the well-off to get more or the poor to survive and may help both to feel more stable and confident with whatever their level of income may be.

But, some may ask, doesn’t spirituality bring peace and happiness of its own sort, even apart from stuff and things? Yes, of that there can be no doubt. Remember, though, from my last post that the three great accomplishments—the Mahā-Siddhis, if you will—of peace, freedom, and happiness are like all other “occult powers”: tools. Peace, freedom, and happiness are not themselves liberation, but they are the most powerful tools we humans can apply en route to liberation. Peace and the equanimity which it brings are our armor and shield, freedom the sword we use to cut asunder whatever is useless, distracting, or harmful, and happiness supplies us the verve with which we wade into the battle. We can unpack even further.

Peace is not merely calm. Calm is easy; it happens when one is able to gain a bit of mental distance from a situation, which often happens quite by accident. The brain will even create calm in the face of trauma; we call this “shock”, thus showing that calm alone is not always either good or pleasant. Peace must be deeper than calm. Peace comes not just when the water of the pond is still, but when the garbage has been dredged from the bottom and removed and the pollutants carefully sifted from the water itself. Then, when the water goes still, we have not just calm but peace. The ecosystem restored, everything returned to its nature, there can be genuine equanimity: everything is seen for what it is and may be treated accordingly. Trash is seen as trash and tossed aside, not out of malice but because it simply does not belong. Peace can thus be seen as the faculty of mauna—inner silence, being a mind both clean and still.

Freedom is not the same as license, at least not in the sense of following the whims of hedonistic impulses. It is not, therefore, immorality but a specific sort of amorality. Morality has a role to play: it allows for the survival of social units at every scale and the more or less smooth operation of the individual within those social units (household, family, clan, town, county, region, state, province, nation, etc.). According even to Śrī Dattatreya in the Avadhūta Gīta, the Yogi may follow social and religious convention for the sake of both avoiding unnecessary conflict and encouraging the people in pursuing their own purification through those practices. Rules of morality therefore do have a place in genuine spirituality, and that place needs to be acknowledged and respected—but the Yogi is himself not necessarily obligated to follow those rules beyond a certain point. Freedom therefore implies responsibility, but also the capacity of budhi—a discriminating intellect capable of sifting through the contents of experience and picking out the gems from the grit without the burden of prejudice. Freedom is the ability to strike away what is harmful or useless within one’s own life. It is emphatically not doing whatever one wants without any thought to the consequences to oneself and others, but knowledge of what is good beyond the need for rules based in the organic trans-dualistic (dvaitādvaita) experience of Reality.

Finally, happiness is the dynamo which powers forward progress. It allows us to turn inward without fear of what we may find, as well as to turn outward without fear of being made separate. Happiness arises from the certain knowledge that Reality is one perfect living organism (parapinda, in the twilight language of Yogi-Guru Gorkhnāth) and that no part of that organism is ever separated from It. There is no mortal sin, no damnation, no irreversible error in the spiritual body of God—and there is no conceivable “outside of God” to be banished to for any infraction. Happiness is not yet the perfect realization of Śiva, but the perfume of that flower which arises as we make our approach.

While Grace and Power flows through every channel of the Path of Return, impelling us forward from the depths of each soul, responsibility is still the name of the game. As Śri Dhruvanāth, my own honored teacher now beyond the limits of his body, once told me: “The Śakti will meet you halfway, but the impetus to transform comes from you.” While there is much to be gained on the Path, there is also much work to be done, so I think it more useful to approach from that angle. To paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, the question is not what my spiritual practice will do for me but what I will do for my spiritual practice. The rewards will rise as surely as the Sun, but running after them apart from the great Journey itself is a fool’s errand down many a mental blind alley and psychic cul-de-sac.

11 thoughts on “The Heart of Freedom, part 2: Spiritual Practice & Its Benefits

  1. This is the best written and most worthwhile essay I’ve read for a long time. Truly superb. It should be given wider circulation than a blog. As this month’s editor for a small but decent philosophy e-journal, would you allow me to include it? I would consider it an honour.

  2. Pingback: The Heart of Freedom, part 3: What We Give Back – Peace Profound

  3. You say “Happiness arises from the certain knowledge that Reality is one perfect living organism (parapinda, in the twilight language of Yogi-Guru Gorkhnāth) and that no part of that organism is ever separated from It.”
    I have an issue with the last word “It.” If Reality is an “organism” then “It” fits. Yet Reality is more than livingness. Brahman is the ineffable the Ground of Being, the Godhead. Be-ing (with hyphen) is the Reality giving rise to organisms–physical presence. The word “Reality” (since capitalized) seems to have a divine/spiritual aspect that is partless and non-dual.

    I like the undercurrents of your writing. Very similar to mine. The “responsibility” aspect you stress in the article I call “ownership.”
    (I have joined the group today, now browsing to become familiar)

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

      As to my use of the word “It”, that word was chosen merely as linguistic convenience, and not in an attempt at indicating “essence”. In these matters, we are often unfortunately constrained by the limits of language. We can only do our best.

      • Only unorthodox to a modern Western reader. The author(s) of the Corpus Hermeticum would be quite comfortable with such usage, as would Sri Gorakhnath, Sri Matsyendranath, Sri Adiguru Dattatreya, members of many aboriginal American and Oceanic peoples, etc. Granted, some of them might choose other words (such as the Lakota “Wakan Tanka” or “Great Mystery), but the overall sense is quite similar. Still, “Reality” is a common translation of Brahman, Sivam, and similar terms from Sanskrit simply because it’s the closest thing to an all-encompassing word in English. It is also used in a lot of modern Hermetic discourse.

      • We may have to disagree about this. I do not believe that any of those names mentioned would say that Reality is an organism. It would not be true.

      • May I direct your attention to “Corpus Hermeticum” as translated in “The Way of Hermes” as well as “Philosophy of Gorakhnath” by Akshaya Kumar Banerjee, as well as “Meditations on the Tarot” (anonymously written). Disagree all you like, but the teachings have it otherwise, quite explicitly.

      • It’s okay. P, I know the Corpus H. I have never heard anyone suggest that Reality is comprised of a living organism. It would imply that Reality is entirely contained in space and time. A more accurate description would say ‘it’ is a living organism in the same way as a human being, viz. more than a living organism. Maybe it’s just a quibble over words but it seems an important one. My view would be, as canguralp notes, that Reality is ‘more than livingness’.

        I liked the essay a lot, as I noted, but there was this one quibble.

      • It is also worth making clear that all such language is non-literal anyhow. It falls into the category of twilight language. It is intended to bring out certain internal relationships more than “essence”. After all, Reality is rupārupya—with and without form.

  4. I concur: “reality” is “with and without form.” To assure which one we are referring to, the language pointedly must be sensitive. Commonly the divine is with Upper case letter “Reality” and the mundane with lower case “reality.”
    Gita VII:12 informs: “You must know that whatever belongs to the states of sattwa [goodness], rajas [passion] and tamas [darkness], proceeds from [M]e. They are contained in [M]e, but I am not in them.”
    The distinctions made here should drive the language we use. We cannot confound the formal (“whatever”) with the formless (“Me”).
    Thanks for your writing.

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