Ramana Maharshi at his ashram in India
It is all too easy to take mysticism less than literally, to imagine that it's "only psychological,” by implication sub-reality.
Following after the Divine Light experience, described earlier, the next episode is usually Seeing into the nature of Reality
, an out-of-body view of your immediate surroundings.
This extraordinary experience occurs suddenly and, if you are not expecting it, can be a little disorienting: "What happened? Why was I floating above my body? Am I dead?"
The answer is most emphatically No! You have been chosen to be at the cutting edge of humanity's exploration of the real world -- not the physical one given to us by science.
While you are in this state, the body and senses continue doing what they were doing in complete ignorance of the event taking place beyond them. The subject "sees" but not with human eyes, which are seeing the normal world. It is a completely separate faculty which remains totally in the background in our normal lives, but which may explain many types of extrasensory perception.
And, yet, the mystic -- which is what he now is -- remembers what happened during the encounter, while the bodily thoughts and emotions fail to register it, having been left behind during the experience.
We spend much of our lives sunk deep into our thoughts and feelings, mostly unaware that there is a realm beyond them which watches over us and gives us a glimpse of our immortality. We get to know that realm through direct experience and the growth of our human potential.
To understand this better, let's take a brief look at the life of one of the 20th century's greatest sages, Ramana Maharshi.
That there is “nothing but [God]” is the central premise from which Advaita Vedanta takes its source. All else flows from this austere statement. Vedanta's greatest modern exponent, Ramana Maharshi, (1879 - 1950) continually emphasised the point to visitors at his ashram in Southern India.
“That silent Self alone is God; Self alone is the individual soul. Self alone is this ancient world.” The mind
is only a collection of thoughts, a pale reflection of God's; and the mind distorts the light of God into the appearance of the world.
It is as if a piece of ornamental glass, irregular and multi-coloured, had been inserted between us and the pure, white light of the force that made us. The kaleidoscopic dazzle of hues refracted through it make up our world. The glass is the mind and the ego (the "I" sense) which gives rise to it.
It is the role of mystics, and religion at its best, to convince us of this reality and direct our efforts along the simplest path for achieving our own experience of it.
The admittance of other matters, or complications, for example: rituals, multiple deities, institutional hierarchies or the working of wonders, are the result of ego activity and lead us away from the goal not towards it.
By this definition of religion: non-dual, simple and direct, Ramana's life was exemplary.
Author of: The Eternal Quest for Immortality
Coming soon: Practical Mysticism: A different way of looking at the world
Russell Brand has an interesting observation in The Guardian
. Referring to the death of fellow funny man Robin Williams he writes of "the all-encompassing sadness of the world."
It's undoubtedly a law of life or, at the very least, a truism, that too much of anything, whether it be mood or activity, triggers its opposite in the human mind.
Nature has an instinct towards balance, compensating for any excess by reaching for the contrary. Thus an endless diet of comedy shows on television is sure to reduce us to misery in the end.
I only have to listen to a minute or two of the raucous canned laughter that often accompanies them to sink into a welcome gloom.
We are not built for too much of anything, however compelling or interesting at first. Nothing induces laughter more than several back-to-back renditions of Pagliacci's despairing aria.
The long face of the clown is not a stereotype for nothing.
It follows that Russell Brand's "all-encompassing sadness of the world" will, in time, reappear as hilarity.
And sure enough ...
* * * * *
I've just had an email from David Cameron. Well ... not precisely from the PM, but Conservative Central Office promoting the Tory party.
I'm sure you are terribly interested so here's how it begins:
I'm passionate about the United Kingdom.
Working together, our family of nations has achieved so much over the years. Our armed forces have defeated dictators and defended freedom, our inventions have shaped the modern world, and our businesses export to every corner of the globe while creating jobs at home. And if we keep working together, even brighter days lie ahead for all of us.
Dear oh dear, who writes this stuff?
It is, of course, a plea for Scotland not to vote for independence.
But, hold on! If it's so viscerally important, why did he grant a referendum in the first place? I must say, the decision left me speechless.
The Scots are nothing if not rebellious. Give them half a chance at biffing the English and the conclusion is foregone.
There's only one consolation in a Yes vote. We could at last ditch that unspeakably awful name, "United Kingdom" (Youkay) and return to the glories of "Great Britain".
You know, it might be worth encouraging our northern neighbours to think positive and vote Yes!
at the sky at night," you might reply, "there is our bit of the Universe."
Fair enough, that's reasonably logical and easy to understand, but does it answer the question? I don't think it gets anywhere close.
The Universe is certainly impressive. To call it "big" is somewhat underwhelming given the scale of it. There are plenty of scientists on TV screens at the moment asking questions like: "What brought the building blocks of life to Earth to enable human life to evolve?"
Ask yourself, why would it need something from somewhere else to do the job? Is our little corner so limited as to require extra-terrestrial forces to create it? This planet is teeming with life.
If you drill down into solid matter to atomic level, hardly anything physical seems to exist. Even atoms break down into vast empty spaces with the occasional tiny dot to represent matter, and you can be sure that the dots disappear at some point. Solid matter is clearly nothing of the sort.
Nevertheless, comets are the flavour of the moment as the prime movers of life, especially with a European spacecraft latching onto one after a 10-year journey across the Solar System. Naturally, there are high hopes that all will be revealed in due course.
Now, I don't want to be a spoilsport, especially as the voyage cost vast amounts of our money, but doesn't anyone think
What is the governing factor of all life -- wherever it emerges? Consciousness, of course. That is the magic ingredient. Without consciousness, nothing could exist at all. Consciousness is not just the heart of life, it's the essence of it. ... Don't worry! I'm not going to get all religious on you. This is logical.
So let's begin with consciousness itself. Another word for it is "awareness." To be aware is to be conscious. And awareness is the main signifier of life ... and living.
That is so obvious it's hardly worth saying, but is rarely articulated. We take it for granted as if it hardly exists. Awareness/consciousness is the real miracle of life. Without it, there would be nothing at all. No us, no universe, no anything. A profound Zero!
So what actually created this universe, assuming that it needed creating at all? We have many words for it, mostly magical and mystical to hide our desperate ignorance.
Let us simply say that without consciousness there would be nothing. Awareness is both the creator and the thing itself. Is there any need to go further than that?
Probably not, but that's not our human way. Most of us want to know who owns this awareness and why it exists.
Now that's the biggest mystery of all.
Continuing the discussion
from the last piece on "assisted dying", the assertion here is that genuine mystics lack all fear of death.
While others quake and quail at the mere mention of the "D" word, the mystic sails on towards its inevitable arrival with, as Hollywood might put it "a song in his heart".
I must make the distinction though between death itself, which is easy, and the pain of dying, which might be considerable. We are none of us immune from that, although I believe mystics can rise above it in startling ways.
There are many explanations for pain in this context. The most persuasive is the Hindu idea of Karma, a pay-back for all our deliberate ghastliness in the present incarnation. I'm not sure I totally go along with that, preferring the Christian notion of redemption -- although that might be self-deception. In the end only real experience will guide you to the truth.
The genuine mystic will receive at least two extraordinary experiences before being shunted off this mortal coil: the Divine Light experience (see my description here: The Comforter
) which will change him (or her) forever and set him up for the next stage: Seeing into the nature of reality.
This is an out-of-body experience which walks him through the death process. Read an account of it here: The act of dying as a living experience
That then is the aim of the spiritual adept: to get both initiations before the end comes. Is there any more than that? It may be that he is charged with passing on this "good news" to those with ears to hear and eyes to see.
All this information is available in some splendid books out there, but I'm convinced they will only come into your consciousness if you are ready to understand them and, more to the point, ready to act upon them by receiving their message directly through spiritual experience.
If you turn away from this topic in fear (and many do) or with a snort of contempt, you are not ready yet.
Stick to Pythagoras' Theorem.
To be published: Practical Mysticism: A different way of looking at the world.
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It's the topic
of the moment thanks to a new Bill going through Parliament. I believe, however, there's a lot of it going on now ... silently.
The present block on this practice is that anyone doing the assisting is liable to be charged with murder.
The current legal and moral discussions refer to medical professionals administering the fatal dose. It's not yet clear how this would (or will) be done and what administrative procedures would be written into the law.
When my mother was 80 and in hospital after suffering a number of devastating strokes, she could only speak in gobbledygook, but was otherwise aware. Knowing how much she was suffering, I told the excellent head nurse that we all wished it could be over, by whatever means it took. She just nodded.
After we returned from lunch, she led me aside and said that our mother had just peacefully passed away. I was never more grateful for anything in my life.
We don't need a bureaucratic law, just simple compassion and understanding. I hope if ever I'm in the same situation, such a nurse or doctor will be on hand, whatever the law may say.
The professionals should not be hampered by ill-considered laws made by sometimes ignorant politicians or religious fanatics, often of the Christian kind.
There is also the opposite case. We in England had Harold Shipman, a British Doctor who killed more than two hundred of his patients for money.
There have been a handful of those, but I believe the evidence shows that people requesting this service, whether for themselves or others, are acting out of overwhelming compassion and need.
I know. I've been there.
Coming soon to a bookseller near you: Practical Mysticism: A different way of looking at the world.
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