The following is excerpted from Hidden Wisdom: The Secrets of the Western Esoteric Tradition, available from Disinfo.
The evolution of consciousness has given us not only the Cheops Pyramid, the Brandenburg Concertos, and the Theory of Relativity, but also the burning of witches, the Holocaust, and the bombing of Hiroshima. But that same evolution of consciousness gives us the potential to live peacefully and in harmony with the natural world in the future. Our evolution continues to offer us freedom of choice. We can consciously alter our behaviour by changing our values and attitudes to regain the spirituality and ecological awareness we have lost. –Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point
Under the pressures of the many crises that confront mankind at the beginning of the twenty-first century, people are thinking deeply, re-evaluating old conceptions and looking at the world with new eyes. Neither Teilhard nor Steiner would have claimed to be the only progenitors of this growing tide of intellectual and spiritual transformation; they simply played their formative and provocative parts in a cosmic process that was as old as man himself and that has come more and more into the open during the last hundred years or so. Following on from Blake and Swedenborg, the group of American writers known as the Transcendentalists continued the process during the mid-nineteenth century. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky strengthened and enlarged upon it. The esoteric revival in Europe, the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff and J. Krishnamurti, strengthened the rising tide of perception that had at its core the knowledge that mysticism and spirituality had real validity and a vital relevance to the modern age. P. W. Martin predicted in the 1950s that:
For the first time in history, the scientific spirit of inquiry is being turned upon the other side of consciousness. There is a good prospect that the discoveries can be held this time and so become no longer the lost secret, but the living heritage of man.
The "hippy" culture of the '60s demonstrated, albeit in a colorful and sometimes uncomfortable way, that the seeds of a "consciousness revolution" had been planted — however unlikely that may have seemed at the time. Psychedelic drugs, abused though they were, brought to public notice in a dramatic way the exciting possibility of a change in consciousness. The "mystical type" experiences resulting from uncontrolled drug abuse were highly dangerous and transitory, tending to produce effects which were psychologically overwhelming and impossible to integrate into normal life. Non-drug transformative methods have long since taken their place; the spiritually based, therapeutic twelve-step programs and the increasing use of ancient systems of meditation have become a worldwide phenomenon: prolonged study and spiritual discipline in the initiatory tradition have reappeared once more. Now all these are available to all who seek them. Many more people became engaged in this stimulating search than had indulged themselves in the illusory attractions of the drug culture. An ever-spreading nucleus of individuals has been created who have personally experienced a visionary self-transcendence and who, taking up the ideas of Steiner, Teilhard and others, know that they might be playing an essential role in the future of all human development.
William McLoughlin, the historian, claimed that the 1960s marked the beginning of America's fourth "great awakening" and that it represented a time of cultural dislocation and revitalization that would extend for three or more decades. It is not surprising that it was in America that this movement first established firm roots, for in the words of Leslie Fiedler, "To be American is precisely to imagine a destiny rather than inherit one." He also claimed that, "Americans have always been inhabitants of myth rather than of history." The counterculture that began to emerge during the 1960s was not restricted to the United States however; it spread rapidly through the new and vibrant, international "pop" culture to Europe, to countries such as France, Germany and England where there was already a growing, thinking, questioning, emergent group of middle class people, disenchanted and ill-at-ease with the emotional and spiritual desert that was the inevitable end product of the consumer society. Protest at the paucity of the spiritual rewards of an apparently successful capitalist society began to manifest itself as either a violent, destructive and unwelcome experiment that solved nothing, or as an intellectual and spiritual transformation that can bridge the gap between the old and the new.
The social activism of the 1960s and the consciousness revolution of the early 1970s moved towards a new and possibly historic synthesis: a revolutionary and outward transformation of society which actually results from an individual and spiritual form of internal transformation — change from the inside out. This can provide the means to achieve the more harmonious way of life that these troubled times demand of us: to gain the power to tell the greater from the lesser reality; to tell the eternally true from the false and illusory; and to be able to discern the sacred paradigm from the secular and purely material. This new sensibility is already manifest within an ever-expanding group of spiritually inspired seekers who create a growing pool of consciousness, which contains within it, an immense potential for the ultimate benefit of all mankind. While the spiritual quest is still developing the discrimination and discernment that is necessary, it is growing and flourishing so that we can indeed perceive that a genuine evolutionary transformation of human personality is already well under way.
This change in consciousness is as startling and epoch making as all those that preceded it. It has already created an intellectual climate characterized by a high moral idealism and a deep spiritual thirst, a growing sense of a truly global community and a new cultural synthesis that is in harmony with nature and with the Earth itself. The great task that now confronts us all as we stand upon the so-called "Aquarian frontier" is quite simply to seek a new ecology of the spirit. In this spiritual search it is not surprising that we have had to embark upon an historical and archaeological investigation into the origins and effects of mystical awareness itself in order to re-utilize spiritual perspectives effectively.
This new awakening of higher consciousness among a growing and influential segment of the population is being used to strike a distinctly new note in local, national and international political life, so that a climate is being created wherein the "old gnosis" — that ancient spiritual perception known as "hidden wisdom" — can be used like a warrior's sword against the aggression of destructive technologies. To assist in this process we each need to develop our own inherent spiritual faculties, for these are the keys not only to occult experience but also to the whole future evolution of the human race. Archbishop Desmond Tutu outlined the deceptively simple standards we need to achieve.
We find that we are placed in a delicate framework of vital relationships with the divine, with fellow human beings, and with the rest of creation. We violate nature only at our peril, and are meant to live as members of one family. This is the law of our being, and when we break this law things go disastrously wrong.
Revelation of this nature lies within all the great religious traditions, such as Buddhism:
We are in pursuit of an extensive and perfect freedom at its highest level. Perfect freedom is what we seek now — not in the future. Civilization is neither to have electric lights nor aeroplanes, nor to produce nuclear bombs. Civilization is to hold mutual affection and to respect each other.
To recover the common spiritual wisdom that lies at the heart of all the great religious traditions of East and West we need to let go of our dogmatic attitudes in religion, politics, economics, philosophy and the complex web of human relationships that these disciplines sustain. In the words of Meister Eckhart: "only those who dare to let go can dare to re-enter." A simple, yet demanding, precept that contains within it the vital key to our survival. Yet we need to do more than simply survive, we need to relate to one another and to the planet we all inhabit, according to the spiritual principles that sustained the first great civilizations that lasted for so long. If, as a result of our new spiritual awareness, we can return to the age-old spiritual tradition that understands humility as "earthiness" and respect for all of nature, then we have within us the living promise of a sustainable and balanced future. Albert Einstein once said "The most important function of art and science is to awaken the cosmic religious feeling and keep it alive." The new counterculture of the transformation of consciousness accomplishes precisely that function. Western thought, as a result of political imperialism acting in conjunction with religious, economic and intellectual domination, masked but did not destroy the "hidden wisdom" preserved by the initiates and Gnostics in Europe. Nor did it affect the spiritually based thinking that had sustained the great religions of the Far East.
In the last century Britain was given a rude awakening from her dreams of intellectual, political and spiritual superiority when the military might of the entire British Empire was irretrievably shaken by a small, insignificant looking man in a dhoti — a spiritually perceptive politician and leader who gained his objective, the independence of India, by peaceful, non-violent protest. Peaceful methods that he knew were both moral and effective. He was justly called the Mahatma — the great soul. In contrast to Western thought, which as a result of ignoring a "theology of blessing" has very few tactics for effecting peaceful social change, Eastern religious philosophies gave Gandhi all he needed.
For Gandhi Ji, to become divine is to become attuned in thought, feeling and act to the whole of creation … Dharma or morality cannot be ultimately divorced from Rta or cosmic order.
The effectiveness of Gandhi's spiritually based system of protest stimulated many in the Western world to similar action. The various civil rights movements in many Western countries adopted and modified his techniques. One such movement, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States, started from the proposition that "We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth as brothers." Now when we stand at the threshold of a new era of higher consciousness, how much more effective will be the impulse for change? The early roots of change, indeed the very process itself can often be difficult to discern in its early stages:
Time, events, or the unaided individual action of the mind will sometimes undermine or destroy an opinion without any sign of outward change … No conspiracy has been formed to make war on it, but its followers, one by one, noiselessly secede. As its opponents remain mute or only interchange their thoughts by stealth, they are themselves unaware for a long period that a great revolution has actually been effected.
The necessary conditions for change are the creation of a coherent minority who are profoundly committed to it; who firmly believe in their own distinctive principles, whether or not they are in error; and who operate in an era of sufficient perturbation and dissent to create the climate of change. Now open and widespread access to the literature and techniques of spiritual change of consciousness is there for all to use at will. The full richness of many religious cultures, the whole spectrum of worldwide mystical experience has become available to entire populations, both in their original form and in contemporary commentaries. Mystical literature is available in bookshops, at airport newsstands, in hardback erudite editions and in paperback. Courses are easily accessible offering instruction in a wide range of meditative and contemplative techniques; university extension courses, weekend seminars, Buddhist centers and Hindu ashrams abound; Theosophists and Anthroposophists thrive, lecture and publish. Highly effective and valid initiatory schools and colleges such the Beshara School, Ramtha's School of Enlightenment and the Sufi Centre in Scotland, offer pathways that help people connect to new sources of spiritual change, personal transformation, integration and growing harmony and unity. The modern information age itself is playing a vital role in this expanding process, which has accelerated exponentially with the development of the Internet.
A global constituency has arisen, formed of the spiritually aware among us who seek peace, non-violent change, justice and harmony within mankind and between man and the planet he inhabits. But before these voices can be heard, we must liberate ourselves from the tyranny of our own history. A history that is not only a record of those peaks of cultural achievement that Jacob Bronowski called the "Ascent of Man" — although they are contained within it — but one that is more accurately described as an ongoing catalogue of cumulative and ever-more destructive human errors that mankind has committed, driven by Western philosophy, to create the false ideals of the consumer society and the illusion of limitless growth. We have to unlearn fear, greed and distrust and abandon our overweening pride. That this is not merely possible but is in fact already underway, albeit in its early stages, has long been the subject of scholarly comment.
Human consciousness is crossing a threshold as mighty as the one from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. People are hungering and thirsting after experience that feels true to them on the inside, after so much hard work mapping the outer spaces of the physical world. They are gaining courage to ask for what they need; living interconnections, a sense of individual worth, shared opportunities … New symbols are rising: pictures of wholeness. Freedom sings within us as well as outside us … Sages seem to have foretold this "second coming." People don't want to feel stuck, they want to be able to change.
We have already progressed beyond the mere point of faith in the reality of spiritual experience, and are beginning to enter into an ever-widening spectrum of the hardheaded scientific validation of the essential truth of mystical vision. Mystical experience is in many ways the mirror image of science, providing a glimpse of what Teilhard described as the "withiness of things," the internal force of the mysteries that science vainly tries to examine from the outside. It is only since science became completely divorced from its essentially spiritual basis that mankind has abused it to the point of world destruction. For example, ancient mystics had correctly described the function of the pineal gland many centuries before modern medical science was in a position to confirm it. This puzzled the modern neuropsychologist, Karl Pibram, who asked, "How could ideas like this arise before we had the tools to understand them?" Other modern physicists were also puzzled by inexplicable strange and mysterious parallels between their findings and the age-old mystical descriptions of ultimate reality.
The startling similarities between modern quantum physics and the writings of the ancient Chinese mystics of the Tao and Buddhist traditions have fascinated a growing number of dedicated researchers. Fritjof Capra gave extensive and detailed elaboration of these strange "coincidental" parallels in his important work The Tao of Physics. He was not alone. Gary Zukav, in The Dancing Wu Li Masters, reinforced this growing awareness of the essential relationship between Eastern mystical philosophy and the emerging paradigm in late twentieth century physics. This search for truth was aided by further exploration along similar lines by David Ashe and Peter Hewitt of England who, in their book The Science of the Gods, explored various aspects of atomic theory derived from the work of Lord Kelvin. They developed it in a manner that tends to explain the basis of the flow of energy described by Chinese acupuncturists, but in acceptable modern scientific terms. They also offer a series of provocative hypotheses which may clarify the basis of the previously inexplicable phenomena known as the "paranormal." How can this be? In the twenty-first century when we appear to be reaching a peak of development of scientifically based technology is it possible, or even probable, that Teilhard, Steiner and Goethe were far more correct in their holistic, spiritual approach than the much vaunted, reductionist, Cartesian scientific community? The answer, which is becoming more obvious every day, is simply — Yes!
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