The Perfect Practice for the Age of Twilight
by Mark Stavish
“There is no part of me that is not of the gods!”
Regular readers may have noticed that this topic was addressed seven years ago; here we update it for you so as to continue with our philosophy and practice of addressing some of the more difficult themes associated with contemporary esotericism. It does no good to affirm that all is “sweetness and light” while ignoring the shadows of our individual and collective psyches, for it is within that darkness that the keys to our liberation can be found – sleeping like Snow White, tenaciously guarded by the “Seven Dwarves” of the underworld and waiting to be awakened by the Prince from above.
In the beginning, God said, “Let there be light, and there was light,” which means, “in the beginning there was darkness, and light came from the darkness” – a disturbing and unnerving thought for too many in contemporary New Age and occult circles (save some of the more twisted Gothic and Left-Hand-Wannabes who get off on mutilating themselves under the delusion that they are being “individuals”).
The truth is (and both alchemy and magic will verify this) it is in darkness that real power, knowledge, and wisdom are found – as darkness tests who we really are and not just what we think we are. Darkness has no mercy. It is not kind, it is not generous, it is not selfless. From the perspective of the human ego, darkness is cold, hard, impersonal, and self-centered. It is like the earth our fairy tale dwarves labor within. It is – as the monotheistic religions have described it – evil. Here it should be no surprise that many monotheistic religions have had a difficult time with physical reality, alternating between calling it a “damned prison house of the soul” and “God's finest creation” along with a host of variations between these two extremes.
Yet, none of this should be a surprise, living as we do in the last “days” of the Kali Yuga, the Age of Iron, of Death and Destruction. If we look at the writings of Julius Evola, Alain Danielou, and others of the “Traditionalist” genre we see that, for them, access to genuine and true esoteric teachings and initiation is nearly impossible, and has been for a very long time, including all of what we think of as the modern era.
As we advance through the Age of Conflicts, our virtues deteriorate and are replaced with irresponsibility, corruption, and egoism. The sciences, originally the preserve of those who knew how to use them wisely, are given over to men who have not the discernment to avoid misuse. Instead of trying to realize fully his own nature and role in society, each man tries to take the place of others more qualified than he. In the resulting social disorder, hierarchies are based on ambition rather than efficacy. The good soldier becomes an odious tyrant, the good craftsman an incapable minister, the prince a corrupt businessman, the scholar a servile employee.
The interior and spiritual life becomes separated from knowledge, while religion becomes blind and belief an instrument of persecution. All the religions born during the Age of Conflicts have the same social revolutionary character, and their often aberrant dogmas serve as an instrument for the dominion of the temporal power. Only mystics, isolating themselves from the world, know by intuition how to reestablish contact with eternal realities, but they are usually ignored or persecuted.
– Alain Danielou
Virtue, Success, Pleasure,
Liberation (Inner Traditions)
What a thought... All we need to do is look at the media today – even more so than when the above paragraphs were written by Danielou, or when I first quoted them seven years ago. We are constantly promised a technological utopia that never arrives, while the ultra-wealthy have fantasies of eternal life by transferring their consciousness into a robot, or by transplanting their head onto a healthy new body. There is no effort beyond raising the extensive funds needed for this endeavor because it is assumed that technology can and will solve all our problems, even that of death.
Religions (and this includes alternative and many traditional ones that have been transplanted to the West) have degenerated into self-serving political entities devoid of any real spiritual content. Learning and practice of austerities have been replaced by morality; then morality is replaced by the false ethics of moralizing. This continues the downward slide into political and social action, wherein any connection or understanding of the individual mind and the inexorable law of cause and effect (karma) is lost, ignored, or simply parroted as a chant to justify theft, imprisonment, and murder.
When spirituality becomes anything other than the means of understanding one's own mind, it is doomed.
Which means that for the entire period of recorded history humanity has been laboring under the false impression of its spiritual and psychic prowess. Even those traditions that have demonstrated value in this dysfunctional age – such as Buddhism, some aspects of Christianity, Sufi doctrines, and various schools of kabbalistic mysticism – all have one thing in common:
They are essentially mystical and devotional paths. They are Paths of the Heart.
Yet the obvious question is, “What is the path of the heart?” It is the direct way, the way of surrender to an ideal in the form of a personal meditational deity. It is what you know yourself to be deep down inside, behind or beneath the sediment of fear, doubt, self-centeredness, and habituated attachments. It is the Path of Fire, the fire of the heart that burns away all that is not needed. It is the fire that gives rise to our awareness of the omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent powers of Light, Life, and Love within and around us.
This fire is best encountered on its own terms: in the dark, in the form of a candle, a cauldron, or fire pit, within which our thoughts, words, and deeds can be cast as offerings and we can be made pure. Proximity to the fire is very beneficial, as any alchemist knows – but be careful. Fire is a living thing, and, as our teacher, it will awaken the fires deep inside our body, energy structures, and mind if we ask it to. We must tend the fire, devote ourselves to the fire, worship the fire, and above all else, internalize it. For this reason, the psychic centers most commonly associated with Fire are also the ones that we must continually pay attention to each day. These centers offer the key to purification and its attendant realizations and accomplishments.
This is also a solitary path. This is the true and authentic Path of the Hermit.
While much can be done in group settings, and even in public forums, the most important aspect of this Path is its solitary nature. The willingness to be alone with our own thoughts, our own external and internal fires, and to identify with that divine quality or power that we most enjoy and and can devote ourselves to worshiping and serving. Then, and only then, are the seeds within our psyche matured enough to reach out and connect with the “mother plant” or greater archetype of our ideal, and its cosmic totality.
Possibly one of the best known practices of this kind is the “Jesus Prayer” used by both lay and ordained Orthodox Christians. Even Israel Regardie in his work The One Year Manual (also published as Twelve Steps to Spiritual Enlightenment) mentioned this simple and effective technique for stilling the mind and entering into the deepest part of yourself.
Like all methods of training the mind, over time the Jesus Prayer changed from the simple directions of focusing one's mind on God across the day (while silently repeating “Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me”) into a more concrete system. This system included some aspects of Neo-Platonism as well. In the book, On Guarding the Heart, Saint Nikephoros writes:
You know that what we breathe is air. When we exhale it, it is for the heart's sake, for the heart is the source of life and warmth for the body. The heart draws towards itself the air inhaled when breathing, so that by discharging some of its heat when the air is exhaled it may maintain an even temperature...[When praying] Seat yourself, then, concentrate your intellect, and lead it into the respiratory passage through which your breath passes into your heart. Put pressure on your intellect and compel it to descend with your inhaled breath into our heart. ...once it [intellect] becomes accustomed to remaining there, it can no longer bear to be outside the heart. For the kingdom of heaven is within us; and when the intellect concentrates its attention in the heart and through pure prayer searches there for the kingdom of heaven, all external things become abominable...when your intellect is firmly established in your heart, it must not remain silent and idle; it should constantly repeat and meditate on the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,” and should never stop doing this. For this prayer protects the intellect from distractions, renders it impregnable to diabolic attacks, and every day increases its love and desire for God... If you continue to do this for some time, it will assuredly open for you the entrance to your heart in the way we have explained...
This notion of protecting the mind is identical to several descriptions of the role of mantra in Indian and Tibetan yoga. The term mantrayoga or mantrayana is sometimes used in place of Vajrayana in Tibetan Buddhism. The Nyingma school is sometimes referred to as the “singing school” because of their constant singing of prayer and use of mantra. In The Prayer of Jesus we read this description of the method. Students of Dzogchen, the ninth and highest yana or vehicle in Nyingma Vajrayana, will find it of particular interest:
And now here is the central passage of the work. In order to pray, one must close the door of one's cell, place oneself in a state of quiet, sit down, and press one's chin against the chest, look towards the middle of the stomach, restrain one's breathing, make a mental effort to find the “heart's source,” while repeating “the epiclesis of Jesus Christ.” At the beginning, one experiences only difficulty and obscurity, but soon one notices a kind of light. Henceforth, as soon as an evil thought arises, and even before it appears and takes form, it is expelled and destroyed.
Only by directly accessing our inner self, cultivating love for oneself – for one's ideal in the form of divinity – and for others, can we reconnect with the eternal truths that have been obscured for five millennia. The Jesus Prayer is a particularly powerful example of this practice, and can be taken as is, or used as a model for formulation of devotion to another divine ideal. In Light on the Path – A Study Guide for Qabala, Alchemy & Astrology, a detailed example of this form of practice is given so that students of Hermeticism may discover for themselves directly the value of devotional practice. “The Liturgy of Hermes – In Praise of the Lord of Light” (appendix two of Light on the Path) has proven itself to many students to be a perfect example of this practice in a Hermetic framework: instead of “Jesus Christ have mercy on me” as the central phrase, one can substitute “Tahuti [Thoth] protecteth the whole of me.”
Even as we live in this Dark Age, there is still hope. It is only in relation to darkness that our light can shine, that we can know what we have truly come to Be. It is often stated that this is the best time for those seeking inner awakening, as a single day’s work towards Illumination in the Age of Conflict is worth months' or even years' worth of work in previous ages.
This love for ourselves must be understood for what it is – our true self; that is, the innocent nature of our being. The importance of devotional practices such as the Jesus Prayer, the Abramelin Operation, Guru Yoga, or Assumption of the Godform reside in their fulfillment of two aims simultaneously: they reduce and eventually eliminate our false and limited sense of self, and bridge the gap between the concrete world of daily experience and the powerful abstraction of the formless and absolute nature of the base of all being. Therefore, what is important is that each of us recognize those ideals to which we are most drawn and formulate as the center of our worship the deity or saint that most closely embodies these ideals, that we may embody the Thought, Word, and Deed of our chosen deity or saint. If done properly, this will also allow us the means whereby we can experience both the strengths and weaknesses of our personal biases and work through them, thereby eliminating the karmic seeds that drew us in that direction. In Vajrayana this is done in the Generation and Completion Stages of practice (similar to Assumption of the Godform), culminating in the practices of Dzogchen – or direct experience of the light of our being and the cosmos as a whole.
This method is simple and direct, and like the occult paths of magic and alchemy in the West, or Tantra in the East, is a shorter and more direct route than the traditional paths of simply moralizing and avoiding sin. As St. Gregory of Sinai (1255-1346) wrote in On Contemplative Life and Prayer:
There are two ways of finding the activity [energy] of the [Holy] Spirit that was received sacramentally in Holy Baptism – by observance of the commandments and at the price of long efforts, we may achieve in a general way a revelation of this gift...[or] It is revealed in a life of obedience to a spiritual father, by the methodic and continual calling upon the Lord Jesus, that is, by the remembrance of God. The first way is longer, the second is very short, provided that the soul has learned to dig the ground courageously and perseveringly in search of the hidden gold.
It must be pointed out that in this practice a “spiritual father” is both a heavenly one and a mundane one, that of our “friend and guide” on the path, our teacher or guru. The teacher acts as a guide, an example, and above all, a source of inspiration that carries us onward in our practice long after physical contact with the teacher has ceased. This inspiration may take place slowly over months or years, or happen in as short a period of time as a few days or even hours. The stories of the eighty-four mahasiddhas are examples of this kind of powerful inspiration: short and simple instructions, carried out diligently by the student, that lead to the highest of realizations and psychic accomplishments of occult powers or “charism” in the New Testament – a divinely conveyed gift or power of divine grace. Many of these human beings who would later become known as the “Mahasiddhas” spent very little time with their gurus and were given practices that were simple to undertake. They achieved enlightenment through the power of their confidence in their teacher, the teachings, and themselves – their ability to carry out the practice with diligence and faith. There is nothing that keeps us from being like these “Great Accomplished Ones” or filled with such spiritual light that it shines visibly to others – like the Egyptian hermits or the monks of Mount Athos – except our own commitment to the Work. In the end, it is we who either free ourselves by choosing the Path of the Hermit, or keep ourselves bound to the Wheel of Fortune.
In addition, there is also a unique alchemical aspect to this style of practice: it transforms our sensations and emotions into the fuel of spiritual (i.e., psychic) fire. The French alchemist Jean Dubuis stated many times that each of the four classical Elements of Earth, Water, Air, and Fire represent a particular path or style of practice. He stated clearly that laboratory alchemy belongs to the domain of Earth, rituals such as in modern qabala belong to the domain of Water, complex breathing practices as well as certain types of magic that rely on sound – such as Enochian – belong to the realm of Air, and Fire is the element or quality that is essential for burning away the dross that inhibits awakening or progress in any of them. Each of the paths has its own dangers, but Fire is essential for awakening; thus, it is imperative to go and work as directly with the Fire element as possible. To this end, Dubuis produced the work The Experience of Eternity in which his astro-talismanic-alchemical process is given in detail. Many of you reading this have successfully worked with this tool for inner awakening.
In his book Aghora II – Kundalini, Dr. Robert Svoboda gives the following dialogue between himself and his mentor Vimalananda:
The essence of Tantra is purification of the Five Elements, to awaken the Kundalini Shakti, which is your own personal shakti (power, energy). Any spiritual practice, in any religion, is basically some process or other of awakening Kundalini, and Kundalini can only be awakened once the Elements in your body have become purified. Do you understand?
He further elaborated:
For now, just think about the Five Elements. You can make spiritual progress by worshiping any one of these Elements, but I think it is best to worship the Fire Element. Worshiping Earth may take you eons, because the chief characteristic of Earth is its stability. Worship of Water is unwise nowadays because Water is the main substance which makes up the body, and most of us identify too strongly with the body anyway. Worshiping Air is likely to make you seriously unstable, and there are difficulties in worshiping the Ether Element also. I think Fire is the best.
To this he added,
I have always treated my fire as my beloved friend...When you worship anything, even a rock, you will always get a better result if you personify it. Fire is no different. Give it a personality and then you can love it, play with it... All sadhana (the collective name for any method of spiritual development)...is just the preliminaries for falling in love with your deity.
Let each of us, regardless of the ideal we decide to incarnate in our very being as a living deity, the holy name we use for remembrance of our Self, or the flame we use to light the inner fire of Awakening, remember and imitate in our own fashion the words of St. Gregory of Palamas:
Not only should we ourselves, in accordance with God's will, pray unceasingly in the Name of Jesus Christ, but we are bound to reveal it and teach it to others, to everyone in general, religious and secular, learned and simple, men, women, and children, and to inspire them all to prayer without ceasing.
In closing, let us further remember the promise of Hermes as it is written in the Corpus Hermeticum, “You can even become a god if you want, for it is possible. Therefore want and understand and believe and love: then you have become it.”
Additional information on the role of devotion in spiritual practice can be found in Light on the Path – A Study Guide for Qabala, Alchemy & Astrology (IHS vol. 1), The Inner Way – The Power of Prayer and Belief in Spiritual Practice (IHS vol. 2), and Kabbalah for Health and Wellness.
“The Desert Fathers and the Taoist Sages and the Sannyasins and the early Sufis knew quite well what was going on in the respective societies of their times; that's why they elected to leave those societies behind, either internally, through detachment and apatheia [“without suffering” – to not be disturbed by passions], or externally as well, by heading for the hills. Their raison d'etre, like that of every true renunciate, is succinctly expressed in the following lines from the Ramayana:
In the first age of the world men crossed the ocean of existence by their spirit alone.
In the second age sacrifice and rituals began, and then Rama lived, and by giving their every action to him men lived well their ways.
Now in our age what is there to do but worship Rama's feet?
But, my friend, the last age of this world shall be the best, for then no act has any worth, all is useless...except only to say RAMA.
The future will read this. Therefore, I tell them:
When all is in ruin around you, just say Rama. We have gone from the spiritual to the passionate. Next will come Ignorance. Universal war.
Say Rama and win! Your time cannot touch you.
The 'first age' in the Hindu conception is the age of sattva, of Knowledge; its appropriate spiritual Way is jnana-yoga. The 'second age' is the age of the rajas, of Passion; its appropriate Way is karma-yoga. The last age is the age of the tamas, of Ignorance; its appropriate Way is bhakti-yoga. All three of these margas or sacred paths are possible in every age, as Ramana Maharshi...demonstrated. But our times are darker than his were. The one called to walk the path of jnana in these final days of the Kali-yuga may also be called, as we have said above, to understand This World, al-Dunya [the temporal world], as an engineered control system, especially as he or she – like almost everyone – has become involved with it; the ones who are born and remain innocent of worldliness are few and far between. In these times, to become conscious of how we are being controlled and terrorized is, precisely, to deconstruct the ego, or the greater part of it. It is to vomit out the World, to undergo the catharsisposited by the Greek tragedians, to 'die before you die.' … And, sometimes, the world just leaves you; this indicates that God, who is a jealous God, wants you for Himself.”
- Charles Upton
Vectors of the Counter-Initiation:
The Course and Destiny of Inverted Spirituality