Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Spiritual and material virtue, part I

Take for example behaving honestly and fairly with an associate. One person can behave honestly and fairly with someone else in order to seem honest and fair for the sake of self and to gain respect; another person can do the same for the sake of worldly profit; a third for reward and credit; a fourth to curry friendship; a fifth out of fear of the law and loss of reputation and office; a sixth to enlist people in his or her cause, even if it is an evil one; a seventh in order to mislead; and others for still other reasons. But even though all of their deeds look good (for behaving honestly and fairly toward a colleague is good), still they are evil because they are not done for the sake of honesty and fairness, not because these qualities are loved, but for the sake of oneself and the world, because these are loved. The honesty and fairness are servants of this love, like the servants of a household whom their lord demeans and dismisses when they do not serve.

Emmanuel SwedenborgHeaven and Hell, pg. 513 (new century edition)

Some objectively horrible events in my personal life caused me to observe to my wife not so long ago that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who decide what is right, and then figure out how to manage the costs, and those who decide how much something will cost, and then make a decision on whether or not to do what is right.

 Swedenborg's description here applies to the latter kind of person: they are materialists, and each thing that takes place in their lives is loved only as a thing.  What is good and what is right doesn't matter to them; what matters to them is what they can get. In every instance, their greatest interest is in gaining things for themselves, of indulging in the material. This is a picture of a life lived wholly in the natural, as opposed to spiritual, world. It is all about transactions, and getting the most out of them. Make no mistake about it – every one of us has this person in us, and it is our sacred duty to learn how to resist that as best we can.

Temptation is always a line drawn between the natural and spiritual world. In the natural world, the material is valued; and in the spiritual world, from the beginning, higher principles are put first. We are thrown into the material world and expected to make choices about which world we truly care about. The temptations of the material world are enormous; and it is nearly impossible for any of us to remain indifferent to them. We forget that everything we do will ultimately be revealed after we die; and we think that we can conceal our lust, our greed, and our selfishness as we pursue the many temptations that are put around us.

But what we are and what we love is inscribed in us, and added to what are called the Akashic records after we die. We are books that life is written in; this is something that both Swedenborg and Gurdjieff said about us. And insofar as the book is a book about grasping, desire, and materiality, it represents nothing more than squabbling over temporary things that will inevitably decay.  Hence Christ's advice to put our treasures up in heaven.

In the end, the summary of our intention and its direction are what rule our souls: if our intention is towards the material, we go down. If our intention is towards the spiritual, we go up.  There is nothing arbitrary or relative about this; one direction is in the direction of selfishness, the other one is in the direction of love. And, applying the logical translation, what Jeanne de Salzmann meant when she said that everything must either go up or down — nothing can remain in the same place — was that every action always tends towards selfishness or towards unselfishness, that is, love.

No action can be taken that is indifferent, that follows neither direction.

Interestingly, when we read Meister Eckhart, we see that he understands an indifference towards worldly things is essential. This sounds like a copout; but it isn't. Indifference towards worldly things is not a static condition; it is a recognition that the spiritual is superior, and actually constitutes a move in the direction of the spiritual, that is, towards love. Every movement toward selfishness, greed, and the material world is a movement away from the love of God, of heaven, of humanity, of the spirit, soul, and of other Being. Every movement away from these material things — every movement that is even indifferent to them, which is already a move that resists temptation — is a movement back in the direction of heaven.

The point of angelic impressions received through sensation is to help us turn our hearts towards the good, away from the material. And this doesn't mean that we don't engage with the material; it means that we begin to understand the real value is always the inner value. And, ah! What a terrible struggle that is, isn't it?

The sensation of an angelic presence, of love, is an essential help in this direction. My teacher, Betty Brown, certainly understood the organic sense of being — she spent years helping to bring me to it — and she insisted over and over again, long before I understood, that we had real, personal angels watching over us.

It was not a theoretical proposition or a belief for her; and eventually, I understood exactly what she meant. But this is not an easy thing to come to. Human beings rarely sense the angels who watch over them; and this is because of the material temptations that distract us from the spiritual well-being and inner glory that ought to be our birthright.


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