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Editor, John Evans
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Easter Mysticism: The evolution of consciousness

Library Angel It’s Eastertide, so let’s see if there’s anything new to be found in religion — which can be a touch boring at times.

The old platitudes of Christianity fail to impress the majority of people for most of the time. The same goes for most other “faiths”.

Is there a different way of looking at them?

Biology understands evolution as a random physical system which eventually created the human body — almost by chance. It scarcely pays attention to the evolution of consciousness, except as a by-product of physicality. An afterthought, if you like.

The world is a very different organism than that. Time is continuously created as a field in which the evolution of consciousness can take place. Indeed, that seems to be the sole reason for time to exist at all.

Speculating further, our human role is to function as the eyes and ears of the originating mind so that it can become conscious of itself.

In Meister Eckhart’s resonant phrase, “The eye with which I see God is the eye with which God sees me” — a sentence as profound as anything ever uttered or written.

The physical world we know is part of a continuum of existence based on consciousness, or spirit, if you’d prefer. Once we accept that mind precedes and therefore creates matter, all then is mind.

At that point, mind can be experienced as matter, and we can begin to imagine realms of being other than our own. The phrase “infinite possibilities” rises unbidden.

We all exist in time, even if we don’t know exactly what time is. We can only describe time using mechanical comparisons — a clock, for example. But that doesn’t touch the essence of it.

Time is indistinguishable from consciousness in the sense that the passing of time is the product of consciousness.

In the end, everything manifests as consciousness, which is the heart and soul of existence. Without knowing that you exist, what else exists?

Ultimately, consciousness is what we call God, even if we don’t know it.

We should therefore respect and revere our own consciousness as part of, and indistinguishable from, God. Without, of course, imagining that we are God!

Life was never meant to be easy.

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Coming soon: Practical Mysticism: A different way of looking at the world.

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Midweek Mysticism: Is Pope Francis a mystic?

God

I had written a piece on “the contemplative” for this slot, but was then deflected by Damian Thompson’s very interesting Telegraph article on Pope Francis’s latest pronouncements in The Joy of the Gospel, which have a bearing on the subject.

Damian Thompson writes: “[The document] says that traditional styles of worship are not necessarily suitable for newly evangelised non-Western people, or the modern world in general; and, in a passage that will truly trouble some conservatives, it raises the possibility that non-Christian religions are performing God’s work, enriching souls albeit imperfectly.”

Despite the “albeit imperfectly” — a very Christian declaration of superiority — it does at last recognise that religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism and the best of non-religious mysticism, do have a profound understanding of the practical means of attaining a definite response from the Almighty, and not just the emotional outpourings of traditional church services.

Pope Francis writes: “Non-Christians, by God’s gracious initiative, when they are faithful to their own consciences, can live ‘justified by the grace of God’.”

He continues: “… due to the sacramental dimension of sanctifying grace, God’s working in them tends to produce signs and rites, sacred expressions which in turn bring others to a communitarian experience of journeying towards God.”

The word communitarian strikes a false note here since most mysticism is intensely personal in nature, even if performed in a group. Lusty church singing drives away the most advanced forms of spiritual experience, for earthly emotion is incompatible with the heights of contemplative practice.

Here’s another “wrong end of the stick” moment: “While these [non-church practices] lack the meaning and efficacy of the sacraments instituted by Christ, they can be channels which the Holy Spirit raises up in order to liberate non-Christians from atheistic immanentism or from purely individual religious experiences.”

Well, you can’t blame a chap for supporting his own football team.

Francis is certainly true to his calling: “Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.”

Don’t spare the rod, Your Holiness, against “obsessions and procedures.” It is often well deserved.

Thompson writes that he “is haunted by Francis’s insistence that reality is more important than ideas”, and it does seem to be a significant advance on conformity. As the Pope puts it, “This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom.”

It’s hard to be objective and disagree with that. However, arcane theology raises its sticklebacked head: “… adoration is what is most important: the whole community together look at the altar where the sacrifice is celebrated and adore.”

As Anglican-raised, but now a much more broadly based student of mysticism, I gag at that in several ways. How can you adore an idea, an invisible being that most people never get to encounter? Moreover, how is it possible to “celebrate and adore” a vicious sacrifice? Buddhists widely regard passages like that as barbaric and they are right.

Francis has made a lunge for modernity, but he’s still stuck in the old rhetorical language of his church which few outside it will countenance.

But he’s made a start and that’s welcome. Thompson writes: “… surely we’re going to see a shift away from some of the familiar structures and practices of Catholicism.”

We certainly live in revolutionary times.

John Evans

To be published: Mystology: A different way of looking at the world. Also a website, mystology.com

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Midweek Mysticism: Christian mystics may have influenced Zen

UPDATED
Just as
there are two kinds of scientist: those who work from established knowledge; and others who seek to expand that knowledge-base through cutting-edge research, so there are two sorts of religionist: ones who deal uncritically in scripture, while others set out to push the boundaries of faith into areas of personal experience — mystics.

Zen Art
A typical example of mystical Zen art

Scriptural ministers are found conducting services on church premises and otherwise organising fetes and local social occasions. The spiritual adventurer, by contrast, is a mystic who will generally only accept what he can know personally.

In biblical times this division was clear-cut. The mystics were called Gnostics: the knowers. The conventional books were passed down to us by what we call the Catholic Church. Much Gnostic literature is only now coming to light in Egypt, hidden away in urns in bone-dry caves and burial plots.

In 1945 at Nag Hammadi, the biggest cache of manuscripts was discovered by simple Arab farmers. It was lucky that so much survived their rough handling — some were used as kindling on cooking fires.

What was unusual about this hoard was the number of Jewish/Christian gospels discovered. The Gospels of Thomas, Mary (Magdalene), Philip, Truth, and other manuscripts were seen largely intact for the first time since the beginning of the second millenium. They were all activist documents, that is, written in Gnostic terms by mystics.

Some were characterised by a wholly new vocabulary and religious viewpoint. In Gnosticism not all are saved, even by Jesus and his rather theatrical death. In this it resembles Buddhism in which people go round the wheel of life many times until they are ready to rise to the Buddha realm.

In other books, Jesus is not a saviour at all. He rather looks down on his clod-hopping “disciples” but recognises the divine in the soul of his closest friend, Judas Iscariot.

Yes, Judas, the same fellow who takes money from the authorities to betray Jesus by identifying him with a kiss. In the recently discovered Gospel of Judas, the old “villain” is lauded by Jesus in these terms: “You will exceed all of [the other disciples]. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.”

This is wonderfully mystical. Jesus’s body is not divine, just the flesh that clothes his soul. It’s also authentic. How many mystics, who know what lies beyond death, yearn to be rid of the decaying carcass that “clothes them”? For them, the problem of human life is not sin but ignorance.

That is also a centrepiece of the Buddha’s message. Not coincidentally, I’m sure, the Apostle Thomas, whose Gospel is one of the Gnostic hoard, is said to have gone to the Madras area in the south of India where he founded a Christian-like cult. His tomb is believed to have been found there and his message influenced the southern form of Buddhism, later promulgated by Bodhidharma, who took it to China around 500 AD, where it flourished as Zen.

It seems then, that the most mystical form of Judeo/Christianity went around the world and could account for some of the remarkable conformity of view of many offshoots of religion that sought knowledge rather than doctrine (see One Simple Thing). We don’t have precise dates for these occasions, so can’t say which tradition influenced the rest most.

A couple of points to end with: the distinguished scholar of early Christianity Bart D. Ehrman, writes of the Gospel of Judas, “Here is a book that turns the theology of traditional Christianity on its head and reverses everything we ever thought about the nature of true Christianity … [T]he truth is not taught by the other disciples of Jesus and their pro-orthodox successors. The Christian leaders are blind to the truth, which was given only in secret revelations to the one disciple they had all agreed to despise: Judas Iscariot, the betrayer.”

I have to say, psychologically and mystically it makes much more sense than the story, as told in the four Gospels, manipulated into shape by the servant of Rome, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, which now form the core of The New Testament.

How it influenced the development of Zen through Thomas, if true, is one of the great untold stories.

Appendix: Belief and knowing
Belief seems to be essential to all peoples. Modern materialist pseudo-religions, such as secularism and scientism, are belief-systems too because their supporters believe in their own views, contrary to other people’s experience.

The problem we have in our scientific age is that our brains play such a large role in the modern world, we mistake them for our minds. The brain is a fantastic tool, like a hammer, a wheel or a knife. Since the European Enlightenment, we’ve been taught to identify with it completely. The result is that most developed humans are trapped in their own heads. Their worldview is limited by what the brain can do and what it perceives.

Everything perceptible beyond the brainview is dismissed as “myth”, fantasy and decidedly primitive. Richard Dawkins, riding on the back of a seemingly ambivalent Darwin, is the high priest of this message.

The alternative biologist Rupert Sheldrake, writes about “extended mind”, showing us the obvious fact that our minds extend well beyond our heads. It doesn’t take much introspection to arrive at that result.

We call explorers of extended mind — more accurately, consciousness — mystics, folk with their heads in the clouds. It’s a term of abuse to scientists. Yet mystics are scientists too, working in areas designated untouchable by the materialists.

Religion is man’s response to the ancient mystical message — that which lies beyond the cage of our brainview. Religion, like philosophy, has followed the worst of science slavishly down its tubular path. It has become an artificial construct, dependent on old, much-edited texts and a lot of wishful thinking. It is a dramatist’s creation, not a God’s.

Organised religions have caused more violence than almost any other aspect of human life. They are widely seen as the economic and political exploitation of who we really are, some more than others.

The mystic knows “God” as the sea of awareness that lies at the heart of everybody’s consciousness, the essence of Being. We rise and fall within it, share its characteristics — even its immortality.

We can be made to believe anything, but only through direct experience can we know the truth. Thus mysticism is empirical in nature, if only anecdotally. You are not a mystic unless you have experienced some of the truth personally. This can’t be turned on at will, or easily demonstrated in a laboratory setting. As a result this field of knowledge will always fail the repeatability test of science, unless, of course, it happens to you.

It is difficult to write about serious mystical encounters because they are experienced by individuals, not crowds. They are not public performances, or moments that can be shared socially. They don’t make news. No one understands someone else’s spiritual experience. And yet, at the same time, this is the field of gold we all share – the very ground and basis of our existence.

John Evans

Coming soon: Mystology: A different way of looking at the world. Also a website, mystology.com.

Author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

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Holy Week Mysticism: How Christianity became hard-Left

Priest Simplifications, taken at face value, often throw light on current conditions. So let’s start with one.

Christianity, representing the West, is about “doing good”. Buddhism, representing the East, is about “being good”.

You might think that comes to the same thing, but there’s a universe of difference between them.

Doing good is outgoing and active and involves “care in the community”, working for the downtrodden, taking a “leadership role”.

Being good could be expressed linguistically as “being God”. It is a visceral thing involving body and mind working together, seeking alignment with the highest state of Being.

Thus, Buddhism has given rise to war-free mysticism, spirituality, mindfulness and meditation, while Christianity has spawned the many forms of socialism.

Without putting too fine a point on it, Buddhism is Right-wing (in its real sense of non-interference), Christianity is Left-wing.

Am I shocking you? I do hope so.

“Faith, hope and charity” is all about us in our physical manifestation. Buddhist “mindfulness” takes us beyond the bodily envelope to a spiritual transformation. I could express the point in dozens of ways, but I’ll stick to what popped up on this morning’s Today programme on BBC’s Radio 4.

The main interview was between the incomparable John Humphrys, who gets better with age, and an NHS baked-bean counter called David Behan*, who seems to have an “inspectorate” role in the myth-making machine known as the Health Service.

Behan might be said to be an example of the post-Christian attitude of do-goodery-becomes-mind-game on a heroic scale. He spoke in machine code, an automaton in human form.

Every complaint that’s reported to the appropriate personnel is referred to an in-house process comprising a large team of robots acting out a gigantic manual of approved practices.

Meanwhile, the sick and the elderly suffer horribly in silence — the forgotten ones on the career paths of socialist sociopaths.

Humphrys struggled in vain to reconnect him with the reality of suffering and pain and woeful neglect that is endemic in our State medical system. Behan just prattled on in the approved language of his methodology. In the circumstances, it was hard work to stay tuned.

The news that David Miliband is giving up “doing politics” came as a surge of relief to those of us who shrink from this inhuman modern manifestation of the words of Jesus of Nazareth. A man who has done nothing else in life — are you listening Labour MPs? — is not going to be very good even at “doing” his specialist subject.

The final item on today’s Today, dealt with the latest method of “brain training” (there we go again!) called Mindfulness, which is apparently taking our schools by storm and soothing the savage breasts of overwrought students.

There was no mention that mindfulness is a Buddhist practice that goes all the way back to the Mindfulness Sutra of Gautama Buddha, dating some 600 years before the word “Christianity” was invented by St. Paul to impress the Romans.

Isn’t it strange that a simple technique for “being good” is now used, without attribution, to assist in the 21st-century practice of cramming “skills” — minus knowledge — into young heads as a means of preparing them for life as servants of the State?

The tragedy is, these “kids” will never grow up to BE GOOD.

* David Behan CBE is Chief Executive of the Care Quality Commission and was previously the DoH’s Director General of Social Care, Local Government and Care Partnerships.

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Coming up: Mystology: A different way of looking at the world. Also a website, mystology.com.

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Midweek Mysticism: Are you Born Again?

Afterlife

Born Again is an intriguing and evocative phrase in the Christian pantheon. It arises from the Baptist version of the faith and traces its origins back to John the Baptist in the New Testament, in particular to the scene in the Gospels when Jesus is “baptised” in the River Jordan by what seems to be the leader of a mystery school, so typical of the period.

Immediately after he was baptised, as he was praying, the heavens opened and a dove came down and rested on Jesus. It was the Spirit of God in the form of a bird that had come down to show who Jesus was. Jesus saw it and John also saw the dove. Suddenly there was a voice from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”.

This account, with its burst of light, the dove and a voice, has all the hallmarks of a mystery rite, presided over by an adept, and accords with specific states known to manifest in such a context.

Born again lives on today in the southern states of America, where being a born again Christian is a settled part of the religious heritage of the Old South.

This ceremony is now widely imitated in churches around the world. In modern times, a Born-Again Christian is someone who has been baptised into a Baptist church or another denomination, usually by two burly men dunking them in a river and declaring the dunkee “born again”, a mere shadow of the ancient procedure.

I was “Christened” into the Church of England as an infant when a Vicar put a finger into a font of “holy water” and traced a cross on my forehead, a sad case of reductionism.

The emergence from water to air imitates the action of birth. Modern clergy are often ignorant about real spiritual states and resort to play-acting rather than the initiations found in the ancient mystery schools and in the solitary practices of genuine mystics.

But what does it mean? Are people really born again? The truth has its origins in ancient Egypt, with echoes of it living on in the higher degrees of masonic rituals, in the spontaneous, or induced, mystical states of mystics, and in near-death experiences (NDEs), widely reported in hospitals.

Here’s how it’s presented in my book The Eternal Quest for Immortality — Is it staring you in the face?: “The process involves the emergence of something alive, though not physical, from out of the body. There is a distinct “plop” or shock as it happens. The living body remains unaware that the separated part has gone, temporarily in the cases we are describing. This “soul” is the personal consciousness and is therefore the essence of a person. It is the part that survives bodily dissolution at death. The undisputed fact that it can leave a living body shows that anecdotal reports of the soul departing a person in pain and distress, as in near-death experiences, are true. Death is not the fearful thing it seems to outside observers. It’s as if a lifeboat removes consciousness from the worst aspects of physical shut-down.”

In ancient Greece, young soldiers were put through a process leading to this experience as a means of removing all fear of death. The tiny force of Greeks who sacrificed themselves against the vast armies of the Persian king Xerxes at the Battle of Thermopylae, gives a sense of their fearlessness in the face of assured extinction.

In his book A Search in Secret Egypt (1935), Paul Brunton illustrated how the mystery schools precipitated this mystical state in their candidates. According to Brunton, the candidate was taken to a chamber deep inside one of the pyramids, tied to a sarcophagus and left in total darkness in the sealed room overnight. You can imagine the terror of the situation, even if you were not claustrophobic or afraid of the dark.

Fear was the essence of the practice. So horrific was the experience that the personal consciousness (soul) springs out of the bodily envelope into a place of supreme calm, where darkness doesn’t exist.

This is the after-death state, the Bardo of the Tibetans and for which all cultures have a special name. In the Far East the experience is called “a showing of the nature of reality”, demonstrating its temporary nature. Dante calls it Purgatory — you can’t get away from sin in Roman Catholicism.

Many commentators wonder why modern Christian denominations in the West are declining so fast that they are being ignored in favour of secular governance and more mystical philosophies.

The reason is obvious: churches have become meeting places for the nostalgic, and comfort stations for the elderly. All the life and living truth has been sucked out of them, as science replaces genuine mysticism in public discourse.

Religion will only become relevant again when the real story behind the much edited texts of antiquity is told without the concealments. Total honesty is the only way to resurrect the original meaning. That is Syntagma’s mission statement.

Christianity in particular must be Born Again!

To round off this discussion, here’s a link to my own experience of the state. If you read Syntagma regularly, you have probably come across it before and are excused: Consciousness after death

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Coming up: Mystology: A different way of looking at the world. Also a website, mystology.com.

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