In the profusion of today's spiritual teachers and teachings, it is easy to forget the essence of the spiritual life and the true path to God.
AFREE SPIRITUAL MAGAZINE was sent to me yesterday. It is one of the leading New Age magazines here in the UK. I don't know why it was sent to me as I am not a subscriber, but when I opened it, out dropped a promotional leaflet for Richard Lawrence's "Realise Your Inner Potential" workshops. Lawrence is getting to be quite high profile here in the UK, and is even a component of "The Field" workshops and study course, where he is billed as "the UK's best-known healer" (what happened to Matthew Manning?) and an expert in psychic development.
What is not mentioned about Lawrence is that he is also head of the London branch of The Aetherius Society, a religious UFO cult. This organisation was founded in 1955 by a London taxi driver George King, who claimed as a result of intense yoga and meditation to have received cosmic communications from extraterrestrials, who appointed him the Voice of Interplanetary Parliament (based on Saturn). King quickly gained notoriety for his teachings and moved his headquarters to the warmer climes of Beverly Hills. At their peak, the Aetherius Society had several thousand members, but the group membership has been on the wane since King's death in 97.
There is nothing inherently wrong with cults, and even less so with The Aetherius Society which is very much service-oriented, focusing on helping individuals and humanity as a whole. However, a cult is a cult, and cults don't have the greatest press these days, and so Richard Lawrence keeps his relationship with and the nature of the Aetherius Society firmly in the background (those that I know who have attended his workshops were unaware and surprised to hear that he is in fact a cult leader).
You will find The Aetherius Society at the London Mind, Body, Spirit Festivals every year, not ostensibly recruiting new members, although like all cults this is no doubt the hidden agenda, but selling dousing pendulums and books that allow a person to develop psychic powers. Visiting their stand, one would never realize their true nature. But this is increasingly how many cults operate - they put on a friendly "New Age" and "healing" face to mask a deeper and often darker motive to emotionally entangle the unsuspecting into joining its organisation and thereby validating its worldview (and in the process, the identity and status of its founder).
And this is the central point; this is the single main reason why so many "spiritual teachers" are driven to find new recruits. They are driven by their own need to validate their beliefs and to justify their investment in opting for those particular beliefs. After all, what does the mind really have to validate beliefs? Ultimately, it comes down to an emotional choice or feeling, and we know how emotions and feelings can change. The world of spirit is not the objective place most would want it to be, and those who choose to believe that it is, are always desperately trying to defend their conceptual sandcastle form the rising tide of reality by using every opportunity to persuade others to collude with their fantasy. And people do collude: whole groups huddle together around what appear to others as the most ridiculous beliefs and practices, often headed by the most unsavoury of characters.
Identity of the leader is usually the focus of this collusion, and its corroboration the reason to hunt for new recruits. In the case of established cults (called religions), such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism, there is a wealth of tradition - their teachings have evolved and have been fine-tuned over centuries. This gives religions considerable authority to describe the spiritual landscape, and ensures that the teachings will always be bigger than its contemporary teachers. Their founders or their main exponents died long ago, allowing these spiritual leaders to attain a mythological status that only the long gone can maintain.
Contemporary cults (budding religions), however, do not have this luxury of tradition, and because their founding members tend to still be living, or at least in living memory, it is much harder for them to persuade others that they have the authority to describe the spiritual or hidden dimensions. For this reason, their leaders bestow upon themselves hugely inflated identities and graces in an effort to appropriate as much authority and respect as they can.
Examples abound, and the claims made, outrageous - gods on earth or avatars (Sai Baba, Franklin Jones, Meher Baba, Mataji, Swamiji); the return of Christ, the Messiah, Krishna, the Maitreya Buddha or Imam Mahdi (David Koresh, David icke, Sun Myung Moon, Ron Spencer, Benjamin Creme's Maitreya); extraterrestrial incarnations and appointments (Claude Vorilhon, Ron Hubbard, Drunvalo Melchizedek, George King); enlightened masters or bodhisattvas (Maharishi, Muktananda, Prem Rawat, Gurumayi, Andrew Cohen, John de Ruiter, Brandon Bays); mouthpieces for God (Neale Walsh, Brian Farnham, Elizabeth Prophet), or for the disembodied or aliens (numerous channels). All these claims set up the claimant as an authority, as someone the ordinary person should give their attention to. (Please note that inclusion as an example here does not imply fraudulence.)
Often, the list of titles bestowed upon contemporary "masters" can be as comical as they are grandiose. The followers of George King, for example, bestowed upon their leader (no doubt with strong encouragement from King himself) the title: Sir George King, OSP, PhD, ThD, DD, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Aetherius Churches, Prince Grand Master of the Mystical Order of St. Peter, HRH Prince De George King De Santori, and Founder President of the Aetherius Society. His books are still sold under the authorship of "Dr" George King. (Richard Lawrence, King's successor, also has the title "Dr" before his name, and so, no doubt, has inherited some of the King's titles.) These titles serve a vital role for the organisation, after all, who is going to devote their life to the spiritual teachings and practices of a London cabby?!
The issue here is not that these teachers and gurus are insincere: nearly all of them sincerely believe they are who they claim to be (some knew from a young age, whilst others have gradually inflated into these roles), and many have helped their followers in certain aspects of their spiritual development, although often not in ways directly intended. The real issue is that by teaching on an assumed authority that sets the teacher apart from ordinary humanity, these men and women do a disservice to our collective evolution — the message itself may be good, but the context in which it is conveyed is counterproductive. If each of us realized the damage that we do to our own spiritual development in accepting "outer" spiritual authority, we would walk away from our guru, teacher or master today.
Nobody has the authority to teach the inner spiritual landscape. Nobody can describe that landscape to us because it is something which, by its very nature, cannot be described, only experienced. And nobody can give us the gift of this experience because only we ourselves can do the experiencing. All a genuine teacher can do is to allow, by example, authenticity, humanity and open honesty to ripen within us, so that we have the qualities that are an absolute requirement to live a spiritual life. To teach humanity involves nothing more than great humanity, humility and human dignity. Everything else is just illusion.
So living a spiritual life is about living a human life; it is not about living a godly life. The human condition itself is divine, provided that we have the humility to walk "naked" in that humanity — no pretences, no titles, no assumed authority, just simple humanity. It sounds easy, but few in the Western world have the courage to actually do it. We all try to be something more, and in so trying we aspire to and conspire with those who seem to be something greater than ourselves. That is why so many are drawn to teachers with titles, impressive identities, strong messages, and special techniques. We are drawn to them because we do not understand the nature of true human divinity. We have forgotten that we ourselves, as humans, are made in the image of God.
When I think back to the men and women who have touched my life the most, they are always those who showed me the most humanity and the most humility. I have met many "important" men and women with an assortment of titles and identities, but whilst they have momentarily impressed me or held my interest, they have never put me in touch with what is genuine inside. That vital role has been left to the "nobodies" that have, often fleetingly, touched my life: the grandmother who told me stories of the miracles that she directly experienced; the old man in the hat who sat opposite me on the tube train for just a few minutes several years ago steeped in human dignity; the Franciscan monk that gave a talk at my high school; the stranger who helped me lift some heavy bags; the elderly woman with no hair walking with great dignity down the street; and the friends who have supported me through thick and thin. These have been my spiritual teachers, the rest are just entertainment.
We spend our lives trying to escape the human condition because we associate it with commonness, fragility, suffering, old age, sickness and death. We are so desperate to be special, to be above this human condition that we live in constant denial of our humanity. And so we are powerfully drawn to those who offer us an escape from that humanity, the gurus, spiritual masters, the personal development instructors and other individuals who beckon us towards a "superhuman" perspective. We have forgotten the gold that lies buried right here, and search for it in countless philosophies, meditation techniques, psychedelics, visualisations, readings and beliefs. As Jung describes in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams and Reflections, a Rabbi when asked how men and women spoke so easily spoke to God in days of old replied: "Only then could they stoop so low." You need to stoop to reach your humanity, something that is anathema to the hubris of modern men and women.
You will not learn humanity from most gurus and spiritual masters, and you will not learn it from personal development instructors. (Most personal development is actually classes in ego development: the construction of a powerful persona that can bring us all the things we want.) You will not learn it from the dowsers and channels, who believe that they have a unique and special access to God or the Divine. You will not learn humanity from meditating in a special way, or saying a secret mantra, or praying to a particular god. You will not find it in ancient sacred texts, or on the internet.
You learn humanity from ordinary and simple men, women and children who have nothing to be other than exactly what they are. They are the holy people - the guides to the gates of heaven. In modern society, it can be difficult finding these holy people, for when you do find them they are themselves the very last to know that they are holy. There is no self-proclamation, no grand announcement. No title. The miracles are the miracles of open heartedness, of pure humanity. You can recognize them from the light in their eyes, their raw authenticity, and the way they honour you by hiding nothing that is human. You feel fantastic around them.
So bin the promotional literature for any teacher who sets himself or herself as different from you, as special or superhuman. Bin it because it WILL damage you; it WILL delay your natural spiritual unfolding. Don't let the likes of Richard Lawrence bamboozle you into trading that humanity for a few psychic tricks and the allegence to his guru. The truth is that our humanity is our most precious gift, and we will only realize this when we see only the humanity in other people. As long as we focus on another's "specialness", we end up distorting our own humanity; denial of a teacher's ordinariness is a denial of our own. It is only in the realization of our own basic humanity, and that of every other person on this planet, that we truly become "wholey".
I would like to give the last word to James Leigh Hunt with his poem, Abou Ben Adhem:
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An Angel writing in a book of gold:
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said,
"What writest thou?" The Vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord
Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the Angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one who loves his fellow men."
The Angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And, lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest!