Thursday, March 26, 2015

Karma Yoga 2.0

As many of you are aware, there are four forms of traditional yoga: Jhana, Bhakti, Raja, and Karma, that form the foundation for the various yogic practices. These four areas of practice the means of practice that we can use to achieve union with our ideal, and thereby, spiritual awakening. Jhana Yoga is realization through study that reveals to us wisdom. Bhakti Yoga is realization through devotion to an ideal, be it in the form of the teacher (hence the practice of Guru Yoga) as well as an ideal, giving rise to many of the missionary forms of religious and spiritual practice. Raja Yoga is a methodical study of the mind as well as karma, or “cause and effect”. It is directly experiential and aimed at the very essence of being like a laser beam. While Jhana Yoga uses our intellect as the tool for awakening, Bhakti yoga uses our emotions, with Raja Yoga using the nature of mind itself, Karma Yoga uses the body and its effects as the tool and the path.

Karma Yoga is described as the “yoga of work”. This means that the person undertaking Karma Yoga consciously undertakes a task as a means of furthering their illumination, and that of others, even though the fruits from that labor will be very material in their expression. For example, it is very common for attendees at a Buddhist retreat center to pay their daily fees for room, board, and teachings, and still undertake a variety of chores to maintain the facility. Cutting grass, helping prepare meals, building maintenance, and cleaning the temple are all aspects of Karma Yoga. Some will even list it on their retreat schedules as such.

However, for those who cannot attend these kinds of events, but still wish to support their teacher, lodge, or school in some fashion, what can they do? Technology has made volunteering easier, particularly in the area of creating publications, videos, and educational tools. Reliable international shipping is also a powerful tool for the creation, transportation, and utilization of various ritual tools, works of art, and highly rare and valuable specialty items connected to the Work. Thus, it is very easy for someone in Thailand to send me, in the eastern United States of America, several pounds of antimony for alchemical work, or someone in Europe to send rare esoteric texts. Modern technology has freed us from the need to be physically present, or within a few hours distance, to be of assistance to the spiritual teachers, groups, and movements that are of assistance to us on our Path of Return.

This ease is not without its own problems however, the principle one being that 'ease of contact' is also 'superficiality of contact'. Or as the saying goes, “Easy come, easy go”. It is not uncommon for esoteric relationships to be more like serial dating than courtships. Everything is hot and heavy in the beginning, and then as reality sets in, the need to keep the emotional and sexual intensity at an all-time high kicks in, and off the student goes, to a new lover, a new teacher, school, or path.

For those who do stay and develop a meaningful, healthy, and mature relationship with their teachers and fellow students, the path becomes very much like marriage with its ups and downs, but for the most part, both parties are in it until the end. This means that both parties are demonstrating respect for what each others roles are in the relationship. While clearly not one of equals – at least not for a while – each knows that the other brings something meaningful and needed to other party.

Yet the needs must be proportional the roles and responsibilities.

If the teacher needs to teach, more than the student needs to learn, then the relationship is doomed from the start. Then, the student does not have a mature individual as a spiritual friend, guide, and drill instructor, but instead, an individual who so desperately needs the approval of others that the only way they can find it is through the highly subjective world of appearing knowledgeable about 'spirituality'. I know this sounds harsh, but that is the way it is. For the first few years, the student must desire the company of the teacher, a company that can be at times very demanding and even torturous, more than the teacher needs whatever it is the student brings to them. For in the beginning, all the student can bring is their body, their wealth, and the promise or potential of it being forged into a tool of awakening.

In one of her writings on Tibetan Buddhism, Janet Gyatso stated, “Lamas need adoring students.”

I think this is very true, and it can also be said for many involved in Western esoteric movements as well. It provides a fresh impetus to the teachings and motivation to the teacher. Students who are too enamored with their teacher are really unable to understand this, as they cannot see through their own projections long enough to gimps the truth. At some point, too many teachers are unwilling to remove the glamor, to pull back the curtain so reality can be glimpsed as it has a proven track record of negatively impacting the year end financial statements. Instead, students find their attention and energies being overtly and excessively directed towards building and construction projects, outreach, and of course the proselytizing and fund raising activities that accompany them.

This is not to condemn planning, growth, and maintenance programs, but to point out that these are but one-quarter of the work, and devotion to the ideal, the teacher, and teachings represented is but one-quarter of the work. The remaining half of our work is personal study and practice. It is this half that is really most critical as it is in theory the reason we are attracted to spiritual work to begin with. Only when combined, do these four qualities or means of practice, give a balance and harmony to one's individual growth while simultaneously supporting the teacher, group, or lodge.

How Much Is Enough?
Two hours a week in volunteer work is about 2 ½ weeks of volunteer time a year. One hour a week would be half of that. So, if you are leading a study group, preparing for one or two events a year, or assisting in on-going maintenance, this would easily absorb that time. Thus, one can say their karma yoga duties are fulfilled. If one is contributing a sum of money equal to one or two weeks of earnings (after taxes is fine) that would also be a fulfillment of one's sense of karma yoga. At an income of $50,000 per year, that would be a donation of approximately $600 and $1,200 per year, or $50 to $100 per month over and above whatever one's annual dues or affiliation costs. Of course, one is free to figure out whatever percentage for donating they like, this was used to illustrate the point.

This then leads us to the important point of how do we know if we are overextending ourselves?

  1. Is your involvement effecting your ability to pay your bills?
  2. Is your involvement encouraging you to do more so that you can express and become more in your personal life, or is it all aimed at the teacher or group?
  3. Is the group encouraging involvement to the detriment of your personal practice?
  4. Is the ideal of self-sacrifice held out over self-expression of our talents and deepest potential?
  5. Do you enjoy what you are doing for the group?
  6. Do you volunteer because you want to help and support, or out of a sense of pressure or the desire to be recognized as being special?
  7. What you would do with your time and resources if you were not supporting the teacher, group, or lodge?

While not exhaustive, the above questions are meant to focus our attention on the “why” of our group involvement and support rather than the “how”. In the end, the 'how' is about the sustainability of the organization. This sustainability is either through direct cash donations, money raised through recruitment or fund raising, and savings on cash expenditures from members donating their services.

So, while we are not asking you to put a price tag on everything you do, we are asking you to recognize the cost of your involvement so that you can make healthy and positive choices that move your spiritual practice forward and not side-track or even derail it.

This also means you need to know what you get in return for your efforts.

Does this get you some sense of importance?

Easier access to the Lama or Guru?

Promotion in the ranks?

What is the actual benefit or lessons learned, that you receive from volunteering for your organization or movement of choice?

Be careful about false promises, such as special initiations, wealth rituals or practices, audiences with dignitaries, a new funny hat, or a better seat at the table. The worst of lies however, is when we are told that our work and sacrifice will be witnessed by the Unseen Masters, the Unknown Superiors, and we will be rewarded by them at some future date and time. Such are bribes aimed at increasing one's sense of self-importance rather than genuine signs of spiritual awakening. The two can go together, but it is rare and difficult to find them paired. In short, we must work and volunteer because we want to, and not because we feel we must or need to participate in such a manner.

This also means we need to take a good hard look at our relationship to the teacher, the teachings, and community to which we are a member. It does not exist for us alone, and if we treat it as a commodity, that is fine, but then do not be surprised if in return you are not allowed entrance without having bought your ticket. 

So, look at your involvement with your teachers, teachings, and community of practitioners and ask yourself if you have a healthy or unhealthy relationship with them? Are you pulling your own weight and ensuring the health and continuity of the movement for future generations? Is your idealism and altruism being abused under the guise of self-sacrifice and service to the greater good? Or as one fellow likes to remind me, is the phrase and idealism of karma yoga being used as a euphemism for “indentured servitude”?

As was stated in Light on the Path - A Study Guide for Qabala, Alchemy & Astrology, no one ever tells a volunteer when to stop, so remember that it is alright to say “No” when asked to do something. Volunteering of one's time, talent, and treasure must be done freely, otherwise it is coercion and conscription and whatever good that can be achieved by it is already limited. Encourage, but do not force, or pressure others to help in whatever way they can. This way, each will find their right place at “the Table of the Lord”.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Are You Certifiable? Buyer Beware in the Spiritual Marketplace
One of the most common topics of discussion that has arisen over the last four or five years is the explosion in various programs offering certifications in various esoteric, spiritual, and holistic practices. It seems that telling your potential client base that you are “Certified” is increasingly common and taken by both consumers and would be teachers as a testimony to competency. However, this simply is not true in most instances, and many of these certificates are not worth the time it took to print them. For example, I am familiar with several women locally teaching meditation classes. Last year they had no interest in meditation or any spiritual discipline at all. Now, after taking their six-week they are a “Certified Meditation Instructor”. Take it for what it is worth. Yes, they can talk you through the practice, but knowing them as I do, I would not count on them for the needed instruction – instruction based in experience – for when the crises hits. In fact, in discussions with them I have been told that meditation and spiritual practice “should be crises free”. I kid you not.

There is also the current “certified yoga instructor” machinery out there. Churning out “instructors” who have never heard of pranayama, know the basics of meditation, or understand the limits of human physiology across the life-span. Thus, injuries happen, both of the physical kind and the psychological as psychic centers are awakened when stress is released, and suddenly, you have someone crying in the middle of your yoga studio, having neurotic ideation, or even what can be diagnosed as psychotic episodes because the instructor was incompetent. Intentionally incompetent? I doubt it? They probably believed the sales pitch they were given and passed on to their students. But “the path to hell is paved with good intentions”, and good intentions do not protect one from being stupid or injured as a result. What does it mean to be certified? What does it mean this person actually knows and is capable of imparting to me or others? 

The same is true in astrology. I have read numerous predictions by “certified financial and business astrologers” who were incapable of giving a single piece of advice in their column or blog other than to purchase financial products off of them. Mundane astrology is difficult. It requires a specific chart for a specific location. Thus, generalities about eclipses, such as our upcoming one on March 20th, are like most generalities – worthless for being anything other than a generality. The effect of the eclipse will be stronger in those areas where it is strongest, weakest where it is weakest, and a non-event where it does not occur. To understand things in detail requires details, like comparing two or more charts, and not general commentary. The same is true with natal charts.
This leads me to answer publicly a question I have often been asked, and that is, “How many students have you initiated over the years?” I have lead or participated in many initiations, but those number of students who I have initiated by my own authority is few. By doing so I was stating that they have the heart and mind to teach others either individually or in the formal setting of a temple, and can act as a 'friend and guide' to those who come to them. They are not perfect, nor in possession of great mystic powers, they are simply solid people who can be relied upon to help others on the Path of Return. If they do not know the answer they know how to find it. They are, reliable. How many have I said this about? Over the last fifteen years it has been a total of six men and women.
In Light on the Path – A Study Guide for Qabala, Alchemy & Astrology there is a section that briefly addresses this notion of 'certification' and learning support being offered by the Institute for Hermetic Studies. It is a total of one paragraph in length. The reason is simple: the Institute for Hermetic Studies would very much like your trust and support in allowing us to be your “authority of choice” in these matters. We very much would like to have a small army of certified students and instructors across the globe who can be counted on to provide solid, reliable, and helpful instruction in the Hermetic Arts and Sciences. However, this is not the primary or even secondary mission of the Institute or purpose for writing Light on the Path. In fact, it is quite the opposite. In Light on the Path an outline of study for four or more years was provided, complete with extensive questions and tests for students and group leaders so they can self-assess themselves. You see, we want people to read and use Light on the Path as their guide of choice for both independent and small group practice. What does this have to do with certification? Very simple. If someone is certified by the Institute for Hermetic Studies they are being tested on everything that is in that book. So, you know what they are supposed to know. Now, if you want to be quizzed by us and sent a certificate that verifies your knowledge in those areas listed in Light on the Path we can arrange for that to be done. However, if you don't that is fine as well. In the end, what matters is that you study and practice an effective path, and, that you know what questions to ask of those who would jockey for your trust and dollars in the guise of your spiritual guide. In Light on the Path some answers to these questions have been provided to assist you in refining your journey – and hopefully that of others - on the Path of Return.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Knowing When To Stop 
The following comments below have been previous posted separately and are being placed together as they address the same activity – the use and abuse of idealism in spiritual groups and how to avoid becoming a victim of it.
Far too many religious, spiritual, esoteric, humanitarian, and 'altruistic' organizations and movements are little more than Leviathans that live of the life blood of their true believers and spit out their remains into the waste heap of the qlippoth when they are done digesting them. This is the 'egregore' phenomena that Jean Dubuis warned about. Organizations need to be a means to Illumination, not an end in and of themselves if they are to be true to their ideals. Look for the gap between what is said and what is done. If it is small, or can be crossed in a single step you are very lucky. If the gap requires a stretch to cross, then be alert. If the gap cannot be crossed without building a bridge then wear a parachute for when that bridge of faith you have built collapses, or find another Path.
Often connected to this abuse of students in what I like to call, “Utopia Myopia”.

Simple put, those who can do great things do them.
Those who cannot do great things but wish to, seek to serve a great person. 

Those who want to serve a great person but cannot do so directly seek to serve a great cause. 

Herein lies the Path to Perdition, or as they say, "The path to Hell is paved with good intentions." 

The volunteer is often the 'true believer' and rarely is the volunteer told when to stop and get on with their life, as volunteering for the cause is their life. In fact,... it is more important than life itself. This kind of myopic thinking is often found in spiritual movements, and the greater the idealism, the grander the vision, the more destructive the actions of those who 'serve' it. They often loose sight that all spiritual vehicles are just schools, and it is important that students graduate with real life skills and not just get 'passed through' or 'stay forever'. Many seek to work for or live at spiritual centers, thinking that this is the solution to all of their problems. There they will find people of a 'higher calling' who are without ambition, and seek only to 'serve' whatever the cause happens to be. Of course it rarely works out this way, and he utopian heaven on earth slowly turns into a living hell, or at least a purgatory, wherein their foolish idealism is stripped from them like the sin it is [remember, sin means to miss the point], and they either return to the world wiser than before, or fall victim to a trap of their own making. Walking the fine line between idealism and practicality must not be an excuse for crass manipulation of people. The ability to walk this line is the sign of a good teacher - be they recognized as one or not - or a good student. Pay attention! Be Awake! The goal should be to "know thyself and you will know the gods" first and foremost. Everything after that is about the corporation, be that good, bad, or indifferent.
In Light on the Path – A Study Guide for Alchemy, Qabala & Astrology there is a section of advice on the establishing and running of study groups and independent lodges. Here are two point relevent to the upcoming year.

7. Learn When to Say “No”
It is rare for a group or organizational leader to tell a volunteer to stop. In fact, what often happens is those seeking identity and meaning in their lives become involved in volunteer activities and then let it consume them. Their personal lives, careers, family and even health can break-down through an over abundance of enthusiasm for “the cause” - whatever that cause maybe. Leaders need to pay careful attention to not taking on too much and to delegate duties, and they also need to look out for members to be sure that too much is not being expected of them in return. Go slow, take it easy, check your results, and “make haste slowly” to avoid burnout.

8. Preparing for the Path of the Hermit
No one comes to the Path for the best of reasons, all come, in one form or another, for what they can get from it – power, health, self-confidence, a purpose to their life – and each in turn must learn how to serve and assist others if they are to achieve their goal. Anyone who has participated in an esoteric group, regardless of what it may be, will often tell you that the experiences they had – good, bad or indifferent – were among some of the most important experiences of their life. Intense relationships are formed in the cauldron of ritual. Personal demons are brought to the surface to be exorcised and integrated as latent and potential powers and abilities are recognized and manifested. It is easy to make one's lodge, circle, or group the center point of one's life – and as we have show, to the detriment rather than benefit of the equally important but more mundane aspect of daily living. 

For those who serve as leaders it is easy to become dishearten, cynical and jaded – yet it is enthusiasm, encouragement, and joy that we must constantly cultivate in ourselves and in others. To avoid over identification with one's group and role in that group, it is important to train each member for their inevitable separation from the organization. This separation may be temporary or permanent (such as relocation or death) but it will happen, and for the individual and group to benefit from this separation, it must be planned for and done successfully.
To this end, any member who has been in the group for seven years should take a sabbatical of their choice in their eighth year. They may attend group meetings, but are forbidden to participate in any active role. This is a year of rest and reflection. They may choose not to attend, but will be welcomed back when their year is over. Members who have been active for ten or twelve years are to take the year off from group activities and are to avoid any contact with group members. They are to undertake a magical retreat during this period. This Path of the Hermit will prepare them for being of greater service to their fellow Travelers when they return. 
Of course other possibilities exist and it is up to each group, its leadership and members, to decide who best to meet everyone's needs as they travel the Path of Return together. In this way, the seeds planted now will continue to grow and bear fruit not just for this generation, but for generations to come.”

Please consider the points above and in future posts we will examine additional ones from the material found in Light on the Path

Spiritual Study Groups: Are the Inmates Running the Asylum?
When we speak of spiritual growth or unfoldment what we are really discussing is our degree of understanding our own mind. Why this is important is because when we are talking about 'enlightenment' or 'illumination' what we are really pointing to is our own degree of mental clarity or mental health. This is important to understand because there can be no genuine enlightenment and there not be a corresponding degree of mental health or wholeness. This does not mean that spiritual practices cannot be traumatic, in fact, they should be. The trauma is not a result of the practice, but of the practice pointing out to us where our neurotic tendencies and habits reside and how they are activated. By knowing this we can dissolve or deactivate them and thereby remove a block to our relaxed and natural state of mind we call enlightenment. If your path is too smooth you are doing something wrong. If your path is too rocky then you are doing something wrong. If your path has its peaks and valley, along with stretches of calm plateaus, then you are probably doing something correctly. 
This is also the very reason why there can be no such thing as collective enlightenment. Each person must work with their own mind and its contents. Others can help us, and we can help others, but our help is limited by our own actual degree of mental health and wholeness. All too often we find people who find something that is good for them – at least for the moment – who then want to share it, or rather force it upon the world. This need for collectivism is itself a neurotic function of the individual's failure to grasp the limitations of their own actual degree of inner awakening. While it is important to work with a group so that we can see our strengths and weaknesses manifest with others who may be in a position to help us, it is important to realize that the group is not the work, nor the result of it. The spiritual community, as far as human beings are concerned, is a workshop of ideas. Not all workshops produce the same quality of goods. So, pick your friends carefully, and your spiritual friends even more carefully. If the 'inmates are running the asylum' then you must seriously question the quality of spiritual instruction and awakening that can take place for you within that group.
Remember, in the end it is all about your understanding of yourself, and your ability to actualize fully and completely your own inner potential. Spiritual practice is a solitary path taken by individuals who may or may not chose to walk and work together for a period of time and mutual support (this is what churches, schools, lodges, and orders are for), but it is not a collective enterprise wherein all members are considered equal regardless of their degree of active participation in their own inner life. Each of us will reap what we sow, and not reap the work or rewards of the other. It can be no other way, otherwise there would be no need for spiritual instruction and practice, as the singular enlightenment of one would be the de facto enlightenment of us all. 
For more information on how to organize a spiritual study and practice group see: