Monday, 2 October 2017

Gareth Knight and Experience of the Inner Worlds

Gareth Knight is a highly respected writer on the occult who works, roughly speaking, in the tradition of Dion Fortune, see here and here. His book Experience of the Inner Worlds is an excellent overview of Western esotericism from a Christian perspective and is recommended to readers of this blog who might be interested in such a subject. Those who shy away from the word 'occult' should know that it really just refers to the inner side of creation and is no more concerned with black magic than any other science of which it might be considered a branch. So exploring this path could, potentially, lead you into trouble, especially if pride and ambition are involved, but in itself it is neutral. All depends on purity of intent. That having been said, you could still say that the game is not worth the candle and you could well be right. When it comes down to it only one thing matters and that is, of course, seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven.

The part of the book I want to draw attention to here, though, is purely religious in content. It concerns the stages of ascent on the spiritual path as they are expressed in terms of Sufism, though really they are more or less exactly the same in Christianity. Who influenced whom in this respect is an interesting question and not one I am qualified to answer though I would always point to the Gospels as a primary source for the ideas expressed here. I do believe that the Sufis inherited the idea of love from the Christians since there is not much for them to go on in that regard in their holy book. In my view Islam was a return to Old Testament ideas of religion and thus several steps down in spiritual terms from Christianity and the New Testament, never mind its misunderstanding and rejection of Christ as the Son of God. Sufism was an attempt to correct that and to introduce a mysticism of love to a religion of law. That's why it's still regarded with suspicion within orthodox Muslim circles.

The stages are as follows:

Conversion and repentance. 
This is the necessary first step. It is the acknowledgement that we have not been walking in the light of God and the determination to change our ways. Conversion is not just adopting a new belief system. It means a complete uprooting of our old ways of thinking and doing, and an opening up of the heart and mind to hitherto denied realities. Repentance means a deep and sincere regret of our previous sinful ways based on a real recognition of them and how they are an insult to our Maker. This is not self-hatred for at the same time we accept that we are made in God's image so that when we turn to him we can start to become like him. That is a long journey though. There is no point being deceived on that account and thinking conversion and repentance are anything more than the start of a road that leads uphill and through some very hard terrain before we get to the top of the mountain. Nevertheless the beginning of a journey is in many ways the most important part.

Fear of the Lord.
This is fear in the sense of the overwhelming recognition of the power and glory of the Creator and the appreciation that he is the source of our being. So not fear as in being frightened but a recognition that there is something so far above us as to make our own little ego insignificant. Again, though, this is a matter of insight into reality so it includes the knowledge that we are loved and treasured for ourselves, though not so much for our personality (as we judge it in this world ) but our unique individuality.

Detachment.
This is the understanding that God is reality and this world subsists entirely in him. He should be the focus of our thoughts and desires not anything that lies in the created world and is not him. We do not have to reject creation but we do have to see it as secondary. So detachment means not having idols of any kind, not setting our thoughts or desires on objects which can be physical or mental. We seek the Subject.

Poverty,
This is letting go of worldly concerns and being content with little and sometimes even nothing. It is connected to detachment and it leads to freedom. Ultimately we will find that we have access to everything but to reach that stage we must learn to desire nothing. This word desire sometimes causes misunderstanding. A person quite devoid of desire is dead. Desire is immature love. So enjoyment of God's gifts is not wrong at all, but it should be a non-grasping desire that is able to enjoy spontaneously without seeking to repeat or prolong the experience or reduce it to egotistic self-seeking or satisfaction. 

Patience. 
Patience means acceptance of God's will and knowing that where you are and what you experience is what you need here and now. It is waiting on God's good time and not trying to force his hand. It is being able to live in the moment without trying to turn that into the future. Really it is knowing that God is always with you even if you can't see or feel him, and so all will be well.

Self-surrender.
Give yourself entirely to God.This is the precursor to union. You must let go of self, holding nothing back, and open your heart fully to God, your Creator. It is a kind of self-emptying but not in the sense of an annihilation or denial of self but of a gift of self. You are returning what God gave you to him and he will give it back filled with himself.

Union with God.
The final stage of the spiritual journey. The union of the individual soul with the Universal Soul. But it is not an abstract thing as that might suggest and nor is it an absorption, a 'dewdrop slipping into the shining sea'. Or rather the dewdrop does slip into the sea but it retains its 'dewdropness', and the sea is not a vast cosmic ocean of impersonal life but the living God of love and goodness and truth. Thus the fruits of incarnation and experience of the material world are retained not simply let go and abandoned as though they had never been. The self, purified and transformed, is united with God and the journey from spirit to matter and back to spirit is complete but the individual self remains as a glorified new creation. The end is the beginning but with all the benefits of the journey made between the two. Initial oneness is made more by its transformation into relationship.

Those are the stages in the spiritual journey according to the mystical path of Sufism with my commentaries on them. I would say the Christian way is no different but I would also say that a Christian theology makes more sense of this path of love than the Islamic one and has probably been a strong influence on it.



2 comments:

John Fitzgerald said...

Experience of the Inner Worlds is a great book - a profoundly Chrusticentruc exploration of the Western Mystery Tradition.

John Fitzgerald said...

Sorry, I meant 'Christocentric'!