Lecture VIII 16th June, 1939
We will leave the East today and come to a new chapter in the history of the development and application of the great problem of active imagination.
After our long journey in the East, we will turn Westwards and return to our own Europe.
This is no easy transition.
The actual voyage from India to Europe takes about three weeks in these days, but the spiritual journey from the eastern to the western point of view takes much longer and is a very different matter.
In spite of the apparent abstraction, the eastern point of view is essentially observant and philosophical.
There is no cramp or torture.
The inner processes are watched, as we should watch a drama on the stage.
The Yogin remains in a quiet, peaceful condition and allows the inner process to develop in him, according to its own laws, and to change and transform him as it wills.
It grows, develops, blossoms and unfolds, and the Yogin consents to this process taking place in him and through him.
He watches the visions and experiences them in his own body, but he does not feel morally responsible for them, and we never hear the word conscience mentioned.
The moral question is seldom raised, mistakes are regarded rather in the light of technical errors.
Buddhism is a highly ethical religion but its ethical point of view is exceedingly human.
If a man becomes a monk and finds he is unable to keep his vow of celibacy, he is allowed to become a laybrother and to live outside the walls of, but still in connection with, the monastery.
When something goes wrong in a human life through the individual’s own imperfection, it is regarded as a sign of a heavy karma; and if he is unable to deal with the difficulty in this life, it is hoped that he will do better in the next incarnation.
A heavy karma entails a difficult life, but every karma also contains the opportunity of overcoming the obstacle, and mistakes are gradually surmounted through recurring existences.
So the Buddha went through numberless preliminary stages before he became the Buddha, like an ancient tree which grows gradually through the centuries and at last reaches its highest perfection.
In the West we encounter a very peculiar religious and philosophical situation, and we must go back into its history in order to understand how it came about.
I am going to take the “Exercitia Spiritualia” of IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA as a parallel to the eastern texts which we have been studying.
The “exercitia” were written as late as the 16th century but a long religious and philosophical history precedes them.
The effort to bring about a transformation in the human psyche is of primeval origin.
We find traces of such attempts in all primitive religions, in the West as well as in the East.
The initiation ceremonies, with their tortures and tests, are all magic preparations, undertaken at puberty and other stages of human existence, to bring about a certain spiritual transformation.
These primitive stages developed gradually into the mysteries of antiquity.
Perhaps the best known of these are the celebrated Eleusinian Mysteries.
This mystery cult, with its magic and religious initiations, flourished throughout antiquity and lingered on as late as 622 A.D. when it was dissolved by a Byzantine edict.
Apparently it vanished entirely, very few traces remain, so that we really know exceedingly little of the actual content of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
The little we know is what we can gather from the allusions in various writers, and from remnants which have been found through excavation.
The main idea seems to have been the idea of transformation: human consciousness had to be changed until it was capable of experiencing the feeling of immortality while still in this life.
We find similar initiations in the Egyptian Isis Mysteries, in fact it is probable that the Eleusinian Mysteries originated in Egypt.
The writings of Plutarch give us a valuable insight into certain later aspects of these Egyptian mysteries.
And Apuleius’ ancient and famous story, “The Golden Ass”, is really a mystery throughout, and the end contains an excellent description of the process of transformation, even to complete enlightenment.
There were many other mystery cults, based on the process of initiation, such as the Samothracean cults of the Cabiri and of Demeter.
All these flowed together early in our era and formed, with Neo-Platonism, the so-called Hellenistic Syncretism which is a conglomeration of many variations of religions and philosophies.
H. Leisegang’s writings show vividly the numberless traces left by many peculiar spiritual movements.
It was from this soil that Christianity was born.
The idea that Christianity dropped from Heaven as a direct revelation is an historical forgery.
Its essential content is rich in philosophical ideas which reach back beyond Plato and Pythagoras.
We find traces of similar spiritual movements in Judaism but the dogmatic attitude of the Rabbis largely obliterated them.
The only exception is the Cabbala which is really Gnostic.
There is still a sect in existence, near Basra and Kut-el-Amara in Mesopotamia, the Mandaeans, called the Christians of John the Baptist, who are in possession of original Gnostic writings.
A Neo-Platonic sect lingered on in Baghdad till the middle of the 11th century when it was stamped out by Islam.
These mystery cults disappeared almost entirely in the West, they flowed into Christianity.
So we need not be surprised to find attempts to produce a spiritual transformation very early in the history of Christianity itself.
Philo of Alexandria in his book “De vita contemplativa” describes pre-Christian monasteries which served later as models for the early Christian monasteries in Egypt and elsewhere.
The purpose of such monasteries was to provide a sanctuary, where efforts to obtain a thorough spiritual transformation could be undertaken in peace.
There was no system or method in these early endeavours but the Middle Ages produced a quantity of books and tracts, directions for meditation and prayer, which contain more and more method and system.
Two examples are “The Little Golden Book” by Peter of Alacantra and “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis who died in 1471.
The latter is exceedingly well known.
There is also a more recent and very interesting little work: “Moyen tres facile de faire orais on” by Madame Guyon whose confessor was the celebrated Abbe Fenelon.
“Oraison” is understood here as meditation.
All these instructions contain the analysis of the writer’s experience of the spiritual life and lay down directions for prayer and meditation in the form of different stages to be followed.
These correspond to the ancient mysteries where a similar sequence was observed.
Jacob’s ladder was sometimes used as a suitable symbol for the steps which led to the mystical union with God.
These books, which were especially handbooks for the monks who dedicated their lives to these spiritual exercises, did not only contain directions as to the time, the place, and the mode of the exercises, they also prescribed the “materia meditandi”.
The Middle Ages were flooded with such literature of which the writings of the Victorines, especially those of Hugo de St. Victor (1096-1141), are a good example.
He describes an interesting dialogue between himself and his soul.
These inner conversations between man and his soul, his good angel, or his God are very typical for the western attitude towards meditation and very far removed from that of the East: we are much more personal. Ignatius of Loyola adopted this idea and a spiritual exercise would often be followed by a colloquy, a conversation with a divine figure.
In the 13th century the rules laid down for meditation became much more systematic, and the term “spiritual exercises” appeared. In the 14th century the real text books came on the scene, in which the steps to be followed were very definitely prescribed.
The purpose of these exercises was to develop human consciousness on strict lines, step by step, till it reached complete perfection in the mystical union with the Deity.
Originally these exercises were carried out in three stages, but soon their number grew and multiplied.
In some texts there are as many as forty.
At the end of the 14th century, when a moral and intellectual critique began to creep in to the monasteries, a kind of spiritual reformation took place.
It started in Holland, a Dutchman, Gerard de Groote and his pupil, Florent Radewijns, founded an organisation under the name of “The Brethren of Community Life”.
The movement was also called the “Devotio Moderna”.
The “Devoti”, as they were called, strove to develop a deep inner piety and they had a great influence on Roman Catholicism and later on Protestantism.
The ” Imitatio Christi ” by Thomas a Kempis, with its delicate and subtle atmosphere of spiritual contemplation, is a good example of the attitude of the Devoti, who produced a considerable number of remarkable documents.
In the 15th century the movement of the Devoti developed considerably and became one of the most popular spiritual movements of the time.
A number of remarkable personalities joined it, and it took a most active part in a thorough reformation of the monasteries, which were then falling into disrepute.
In Germany Johann Busch (1399-1479) worked with great zeal, in France Jean Mauburnus and in Italy Ludovico Barbo, the author of “Ad monachos Sanctae Justinae de Padua. Modus meditandi et orandi”.
(To the monks of St. Justin of Padua, method of meditation and prayer.)
Barbo undertook the reform of the Benedictine monasteries and of Monte Cassino itself.
He then turned his attention to Spain, which was too far away from Europe in those days to have been much influenced by this spiritual development, so it is thanks to Barbo that
Ignatius of Loyola came into contact with the movement.
In 1442 Barbo and his monks came to Montserrat, near Barcelona.
He was made abbot of this monastery, which was to become famous through its connection with Ignatius.
Barbo reformed the monastery energetically, but it fell back under his worldly-minded successor.
Montserrat was, however, destined to find another reformer in the abbot Cisneros, who came from Valladolid which was then a principal centre of the Devoti.
This energetic and far-seeing man was to become the teacher of Ignatius.
Cisneros brought back some of the literature of the “Devotio moderna” from a journey he made to France: “Libellus de spiritualibus ascensionibus” (Little book on spiritual ascensions) by Gerard Zerbolt
and “Rosetum spiritualium exercitiorum” (Rose-garden of spiritual exercises) by Jean Mauburnus among others.
It was in the monastery of Montserrat that Ignatius, then Don Inigo, was to become acquainted with the movement of the Devoti through Cisneros’ own book “Et ercitatorio della vida espiritual”
(Exercises of the spiritual life).
The spirit of exercising and drilling, of which we are so fond in the West, comes into full play in this book.
The order loving Abbot was glad to give it to the pious foreign pilgrims, who came to the monastery knowing little of discipline and in great need of being drilled into shape.
Cisneros’ book is mainly a combination of various passages from the earlier writings of the Devoti.
But a new note of a military character was sounded: the exercises were to be carried out in thirty days.
Each day, during the thirty, there was a new spiritual order of the day.
These exercises were usually undertaken in solitude, perhaps in some hermitage in the neighbourhood of the monastery.
Such hermitages were also to be found near the ancient monasteries but the new element is to be found in the method and rule to which meditation was subjected.
It is no wonder that this almost military discipline, and Cisneros’ book, should have been congenial to the young Don Inigo, when he stayed at the monastery of Montserrat, for he was a soldier
through and through.
I will give you an example of these strictly regulated exercises which had to be carried out in four weeks.
This example falls into three parts, or three ways, the fourth week being devoted to reinforcement.
First meek Via purgatiua. (The Way of Purification.)
Second meek Via illuminatiua. (The Way of Illumination.)
Third meek Via unitatiua. (The Way of Union – i.e. with God.)
Fourth meek Contemplation of the Life and Passion of our Lord, as a support to the foregoing contemplations.
The line of thought is already absolutely technical.
The goal must be reached in the prescribed time with a tremendous effort of the will.
This is characteristic of the West, there is nothing of the kind in the East.
These three stages are also to be found in Hermetic Philosophy, the secret philosophy of alchemy, which existed side by side with religion but which was never openly recognised as a spiritual activity.
Cisneros prescribes the daily meditations as follows:
First Week The Way of Purification
Monday. Sin. [Personal and general sinfulness.]
Tuesday. Death. [Including my own death.]
Wednesday. Hell. [i.e. I am in Hell.]
Thursday. The Last Judgment
Friday. The Passion of Christ.
Saturday. The Sorrows of Mary.
Sunday. The Heavenly Glory.
The idea is that I, the dark abandoned animal, can yet see the Heavenly Glory
Second Week The Way of Illumination
Monday The Benefits of Creation. [Of existence generally.]
Tuesday. The Benefits of Grace. [We hope for God’s Grace.]
Wednesday. The Benefits of the Summons. [Called to be the children of God, the idea of the Elect.]
Thursday. The Justification. [Before God.]
Friday. Special Gifts.
Saturday. God’s Guidance. [Which we are under.]
In these exercises individual experience has been replaced by technique: I must have a positive attitude towards the works of creation, and towards the Creator
who is the maker of all good things .
I must be glad that I am alive, and filled with God’s grace and called, as the elect, to lead a meaningful life, justified by God.
I must be glad that I have special gifts and that I do not walk in the dark but am led by the hand of God.
The third week is spent exclusively in contemplating God.
Third Week –The Way of Union
Monday. God – The Source and Origin of all created Things.
Tuesday. God – The Beauty of the Universe.
Wednesday. God – Glory and Honour of the World.
Thursday. God – All love.
Friday. God – Law and Order of the Universe
Saturday. God – The most serene Guide.
Sunday. God –The all-sufficient Bestower.
God as the Beauty of the Universe, manifest in his works, is the theologia naturalis, which is exclusively Catholic and has not been accepted by Protestantism.
This series of meditations is the technically correct substitute for individual experience of the mystical union.
The union with God is promised if the exercises are correctly carried out.
We found the same idea in Buddhism: Buddha would enter into the Yogin as the result of the Yoga meditation.
But in this western exercise a definite time, four weeks, is set in which the goal should be reached. Pages 153-157