Three Stages in Spiritual Growth
Articles By Ezra Merrill
1. A Working Knowledge of Duality.
The discovery and exploration of duality seem to be basic to all conscious growth. As one's experience of the phenomenal world unfolds, one learns that it encompasses pairs of opposites which are without end warm and cold, soft and hard, sweet and bitter, and many more, most of which are associated with the basic reactions of pleasure and pain. One's early life, even before the development of conscious intelligence, is largely dominated by the attempt to discover and enjoy those experiences which are pleasurable and to avoid those which are painful.
Some psychologists describe this phase of development as controlled by the pleasure principle.
In seeking pleasure and avoiding pain one discovers casual relationships. The hot stove is pain to touch; one must avoid it on penalty of a burn. Somewhat more complicated, the candy which one likes can be had if one pleases the adult. These are laws which govern the enjoyment of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. One must discover them and learn to observe them. Gerald Heard has remarked that one must first know the God of Law before he can know the God of Love. Before the Soul can awaken and initiate the personality into the life of the Spirit, the personality must in the first instance learn discipline, discipline at the physical level to begin with and later discipline at the level of the emotions.
Another writer, Dr. M. Esther Harding, quotes an Eastern source to the effect that first one learns the law of cause and effect and then one learns the law of opposites. After the struggle for discipline, the long training in learning to achieve the good and avoid the evil, one's understanding of the opposites is considerably broadened and, finally, modified. One discovers two things first, that every supposed good or evil has its polar opposite which is at least latent in one's own experience, and, second, that each opposite is in fact a mixture of good and evil. This insight is a major contribution (though not an original discovery) of modern depth psychology to the development of individual self-knowledge and self acceptance. One achieves through hard struggle a reasonable facsimile of the virtuous character which has been his ideal, only to discover that the opposing qualities are still present, though probably disguised, in his nature, and that these repressed qualities are not entirely bad, nor, on the other hand, are the desired qualities entirely good. And so one is led to seek a middle way in which the opposites are held in a creative equilibrium. One tries to be true to his entire nature, with its negatives and its positives.
This accomplishment appears in prospect discouragingly difficult. How can one be the same time aggressive and submissive, creative and destructive, gentle and rough? For the person still deeply involved in life of the personality there is here indeed a baffling paradox. And, in fact, this Way is fully feasible only for the person whose point of reference is in a realm beyond the perspective of the personality and its three worlds. When the mind is dominated by what we call for convenience the Soul impulse, which is aspiration for fulfilment in a non-material unity outside, oneself the creative synthesis becomes possible in all departments of one's life.
It is in working out his reorientation that one discovers a new duality, the opposites of phenomenon and noumenon, form and essence. It is the working knowledge of this duality to which the text refers, and one is led to it by the evolutionary movement of the Soul using the mind as its instrument. A gradual disenchantment occurs in the personality as the discriminating mind discovers that the pleasure and pain experiences are always mixed and that, therefore, the goals of the personality are in fact illusory. With this realization the attachments of the personality weaken and at last the higher mind is freed, first to entertain the possibility of a realm of intangible reality substanding the phenomenal world, and, finally, to explore this realm. The form aspect of experience, formerly the one certainty, loses reality, maya is weakened, and one enters into the creative freedom of the Spirit.
2. The Soul-Personality Relationship.
Meditation involves chiefly the mind, service the physical body, aspiration the emotions. Each of these three personality vehicles must be correctly oriented before the soul-personality relationship can be established.
Of these three activities, the key one for the disciple is meditation, for the mind is the principle instrument of the soul as It draws the personality toward the long, upward Path of Return. Meditation is mental work, the development of though which is analytical and discriminative at the lower levels and synthesizing and unitive at the higher levels. It is through the thought process finally that the emotions are influenced, and then in turn the effect of the conditioned emotions at the physical-etheric level as well as at the level of the lower, concrete mind, strongly reinforces the work of the soul-intellect upon the whole personality.
Service involves the personality in an activity centred in a goal beyond the desire-aversion system of the personality. And because the whole personality is involved, the other vehicles, the emotions and mind, are influenced by this physical activity, as William James pointed out many years ago. In a considerable measure, one thinks and feels the way he acts. Thus at this lowest level of the personality it is possible, and necessary, to initiate action towards alignment with the Soul. To be sure, so long as the personality is unregenerated, the service will be imperfect, for it will be governed by imperfect, mixed motives. However, imperfection of the result does not dishonour the effort, nor, certainly, excuse one from responsibility for trying. On the contrary, just as the beginner at the piano must work at prolonged practice and try endlessly to correct his mistakes, so similarly must the disciple try continuously to purify his motives and improve his performances as a server.
In aspiration one succeeds in raising to a level above the personality the focus of his feelings. The emotional drive is transmuted from preoccupation with the lower desires of the personality to the creative, imaginative and self-giving promptings of the Spirit. It would seem, in fact, that the preliminary, tentative stirrings of the Soul are responsible in the first instance for developing aspiration. For it is the influence of aspiration at the start, whether or nor it is recognized as such, that the personality is induced to make the effort of meditation and service. Later, however, one the process has begun, the personality can contribute, joining in the work of the Soul toward the further growth and refinement of aspiration.
3. The Emergence of the Subjective Aspect is Our Goal.
This means that the goal of one's effort is the emergence of the Soul from its "capacity" in the personality. For a long time the extent of the Soul's direct influence over the personality is to have fertilized it, so to speak, with a potential for growth. In so doing the Soul has yielded its form life to the personality, and It remains consequently completely imprisoned in the personality during the prolonged process of personality development. Quiescent in its form aspect and heedless, as it were, of the activities of its captor host, the Soul remains as though deeply preoccupied during the involutionary phase. The personality, on the other hand, as if it had been granted complete autonomy, pursues its own development. This development is in the direction of refining and specializing its aptitudes and broadening and enriching its experience, until finally it has approximated the fulfilment of its potential as a personality.
It is at this point that there occurs a crises of development and following it an initiation into a new realm of existence where, for the first time, the Soul is overtly active in relation to the personality. For growth to stop with the flowering of the personality would be contrary to the principle which the Soul has implanted in the personality. It is the destiny of the personality, after it has reached its full development in the evolutionary phase, to yield back its autonomy to the Soul and finally to surrender itself to the Soul as Its instrument. This transformation, this death and rebirth, does not ordinarily happen abruptly, but rather it extends over a considerable period of time. It begins with parallel endeavour on the part of the Soul and the personality. On the one hand the Soul, unknown to the personality, is seeking to detach Itself from the personality as a preliminary to its struggle for control. The personality, where consciousness is still fully centred, is working at the same time toward that discipline and integration of its three vehicles which will ready them for later alignment with the Soul. Gradually the personality becomes increasingly aware of the Soul as it aspires increasingly toward union with It. Consciousness begins consequently to evolve upwards, so that awareness shifts back and forth Soul's attraction increases and the personality is able to overcome its own inner resistances and yield itself to the Soul. The Soul, the subjective aspect, has emerged victorious. One's consciousness, captured by the victor, functions at the level of the Soul in discerning meaning within form and in apprehending the vision of the free Spirit.
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