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Stairway to the Stars

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The book provides an introduction to mystical philosophy and the concept of inner development by looking at a number of its great schools. Mystics concur in saying that we are in some way "asleep" and must recognise this to awaken. A considerable attempt to identify the nature of this "sleep" is made in the earlier part of the book, with the particular help of the teaching of Gurdjieff. Also studied are ways of the past and present, including the Mystery Schools, Gnosticism, Alchemy, Zen, the Fourth Way, and the Way of the Sufi. It is also made apparent that the Way of Jesus, until it was overlaid by "Christianity", was once understood as one of these "waves" or teachings for the development of human being and consciousness. The resonance of this teaching with all other mystical teachings is a significant theme. The purpose of the book is to inspire the reader to ascend the "Stairway to the Stars"!

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CHAPTER ONE: Prelude

ePub

We are born, we live, we die. Not really understanding what these experiences really mean. We come—we know not whence? We stay—we know not why? And we go—we know not whither?

But while we are here, whatever and wherever ‘here’ really is, we live, or believe we live—whatever we mean by that. For indeed it may be, as the Sufi mystics claim, that ‘It is a fundamental mistake of man’s to think that he is alive—when he has merely fallen asleep in Life’s waiting room.’

Nevertheless, we do experience something, the state and experiences we call ‘life’, with all its joys and sorrows, sunsets and sunrises, storms and calms, delights and disturbances, dreams, and its sleeps. For are there not times when each of us feels that sense of being asleep—which the mystics might be referring to—when we have more than a suspicion that we are not really awake, that life is tinged with unreality, that we live as but a shadow of our self, and see only ‘Through a glass, darkly, but never face to face’?

O what can ail thee, Knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.

 

CHAPTER TWO: The message of the mystic

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From time immemorial, certain men and women appear to have developed their consciousness far beyond the ‘normal’ level or state which the rest of humanity has taken for granted as ‘life’. These are the mystics. They are of all times and places, of the East as well as the West. They emerge from every religion or none. For theirs is a spiritual rather than a religious quest. Religion, derived from the Latin ‘religio’—to bind—does just that, confusing morality with spirituality, doctrine with development. It is not belief that matters to the mystic, but experience—personal, inner experience. Then belief is replaced by knowledge—direct spiritual knowledge.

The true mystics are not culture-bound. They have gone ‘beyond’. They may well have to take into consideration the prevailing culture for purposes of communication. But their message is for mankind. Or more accurately, for those human beings who are seeking, those who will listen. In the words of one mystical master, ‘those who have ears to hear’. It is the ultimate human message, from ultimate human beings. It is the deep calling to the deep in us. If our hearts can but hear!

 

CHAPTER THREE: Towards the recognition of sleep

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Mystics might say we are asleep—but why should we believe them? After all, we all know what sleep is—it is what we do at night when we lie in bed. And in the morning we wake, get up, dress, and then proceed to do all the many, varied and often complicated things that occupy our ‘waking hours’. How can we possibly be asleep if we can constantly and successfully perform such activities as hold conversations, cross roads, read books, bring up children, and keep our jobs?

This is a perfectly fair question, based as it is on a fair assumption. It does indeed seem that we are awake on the criterion of what we do and achieve in our daily life. Everything appears to support that belief, or rather, as the mystic would say, conspires to maintain that notion. Yet it is surprising what ‘real’ sleepwalkers can in fact do in their sleep (apart from going up and down stairs safely). Some have held intelligent conversations—which they have entirely forgotten later. There is even a report of someone coming down from his bedroom to play a fairly difficult piece on the piano before an audience of his friends, who had been talking late. He remembered nothing of his performance in the morning.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: The meaning of esotericism

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A proper understanding of ‘esotericism’ is essential in the discussion of higher human development. Because of the confusion and misunderstanding that surrounds this concept, it is necessary to clarify its meaning.

‘Esoteric’ means ‘inner’. It comes from the Greek word ‘esoteros’, ‘inner’, and ‘esos’, ‘in’. From the developmental point of view, ‘inner’ means guidance, work, and growth related to inner perception. Inner also means hidden, not necessarily deliberately, but because of its very nature—being accessible only to the inner faculties, and, by virtue of such nature, out of sight of and thus inaccessible to, outer or exoteric perception. ‘Exoteric’ is derived from the Greek ‘exoteros’ meaning ‘outer’ and ‘exos’, ‘out’. Something esoteric is thus beyond the perception of the outer, veiled to its view, and in this sense, ‘secret’.

The concept of secret in this sense is expressed by Louis Palmer in his unusual book ‘Adventures in Afghanistan’, when with regard to his encounter in that country with the Dervish or Sufi teaching he says:

 

CHAPTER FIVE: The inner circle of humanity

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It is clear that esotericism implies and requires the existence of higher human beings, an esoteric community, a guiding inner circle of humanity who produce, direct and sustain the education of the race. The inner teaching requires inner teachers. With them it is organically connected. For such knowledge depends on being, higher being, for its very existence. It is thus being-knowledge. It originates with, and is sustained by, beings of a certain nature, who project it downwards through a descending sequence of other beings until it reaches the recipient level of ordinary humanity. This is Jacob’s Ladder. From the inner community comes the inner help by which we can ascend it. The way is indeed a living way. And cannot be otherwise.

The necessity for such help from intermediaries between man and God in the spiritual ascent from Earth to Heaven is well expressed by René Daumal, the narrator of the extraordinary expedition which attempted the climb of that Mountain of mountains ‘whose solitary summit reaches the sphere of eternity, yet whose base spreads out in manifold foothills into the world of mortals’—the colossal Mount Analogue*:

 

CHAPTER SIX: The way

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It is clear from what has been said that ‘the way’ and the esoteric community who create and administer it are fused, organically connected—in some sense one. From them does it emanate, through them does it exist. For the way is a way of being, through being, to being. This is a subtle concept, without which the essential nature of the way cannot be understood. We are talking about nothing less than the transmission of very being, from higher to lower, teacher to pupil—a constant flow of being and becoming. It is literally a living way.

The term which the Sufis use for the way expresses this very well. This is ‘tariqa-sufiyya’ meaning ‘the way of being a Sufi’, or Sufi-ism. There can be no Sufism without Sufis. Wisdom is a living essence in the living wise. And ‘tariqa’ means both ‘path’—the way that is travelled, followed; and also the way in the sense of ‘method’. It is relevant to recall that the original pupils of Jesus always referred to their teaching as ‘the way’. It was not until AD 45 that the term ‘Christian’ was first produced (Acts 11:26), and ‘Christianity’ very much later.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: The mystery schools

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At the heart of many an ancient culture, in its most mysterious centre, was the Mystery Cult. This was its hidden house of power whose rays influenced and infused its art and thought, informing and shaping the surrounding cultural environment in ways unknown and unseen by the vast majority of its own inhabitants, and even less suspected by the remote researcher of today.

It is clear that for ancient Greece, the Mysteries of Eleusis long performed this role. Many of its leading figures, including Socrates and Plato, admitted their initiation at, and thus connection with, this school. Having discussed the variety of expressions of Greek creativity in art, architecture, music and philosophy in his extraordinary work ‘The Theory of Celestial Influence’ the thinker Rodney Collin observes, ‘Yet behind this diversity we sense one informing source, some hidden centre of vitality which is suggested but never revealed by the strange role of the Eleusinian Mysteries ...’. While the esoteric historian Ernest Scott concludes, ‘It is not the divergence of the Greek schools that is remarkable, but the overlap of their insights.’

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: The Gnostics

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During the early centuries of the Christian era, a rich and strange profusion of Gnostic societies or schools mysteriously manifested and iridescently irrupted throughout the Near and Middle East. Those which have been called Christian Gnostics, claimed to possess a secret connection with the original teachings of Jesus and regarded themselves as the inheritors of an esoteric Christian tradition unknown by, and incomprehensible to, the orthodox—as did the Valentinians, Carpocratians and Basilideans. But other schools, like the Naasenes, the Barbelites and the Ophites, indicate no obvious relationship with Christianity, and we do not know the source from which they spring. It may indeed be that their common origin was extra-historical.

The Gnostics sought ‘Gnosis’, which means ‘knowledge’. This was not knowledge in the usual sense, but transcendental or mystical knowledge available only through spiritual illumination arrived at as a result of special effort and education. One would then become a ‘Knower’, possessed of a permanent state of knowing, a higher level of perception, and thus be able to fully and consciously participate in the Life of the Universe. This was the Gnostic quest.

 

CHAPTER NINE: The art of alchemy

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‘A urum nostrum non est aurum vulgare’, claimed the Alchemists—‘Our gold is not common gold.’ So if the Alchemists of the Middle Ages were not, as is usually assumed, concerned with the production of ordinary gold from base metals like lead or iron, what kind of gold did they seek to make?

The answer is bright and shining inner gold, the gold from which souls are made, no less—‘sophic’ gold, as they called it. From heavy, leaden, ordinary man they sought to fashion light, golden, spiritual man—beginning with themselves. For the first work of the true alchemist was to refine and transmute his own very self from coarse to fine, from lower to higher; and then to help others to effect the same change.

Without the guidance of the already golden man, a ‘changed one’, without his mastery, the transmutation could not be achieved. As a member of the alchemical fraternity told Helvetius of the Hague in 1666, ‘Nay, without the communication of a true adept philosopher not one student can find the way to prepare this great magistry.’ The student, too, had to be of a certain quality, ‘Scarce three in one million canst be candidates for the Work of Holy Alkimy.’ says Thomas Norton in his ‘Ordinall of Alkimy’ (1477).

 

CHAPTER TEN: Zen

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Zen. This short word with its sudden, sharp, sound conveys something of what it means. It is said to be derived from ‘dhyana’, Sanskrit for ‘meditation’, becoming ‘ch’an’ in China. But the Japanese expression ‘Zen’, which it received when it reached that culture toward the end of the twelfth century with the founding of the Rinzai School there by Eisai in 1191 AD, is infused with a peculiar implosive power and directness of trajectory—as of an arrow abruptly shot from a bowstring—which is the very essence of Zen. It well expresses the distinctive quality of the ‘koan’, the shock-question or question-shock technique to defeat and break through one’s ordinary consciousness, which is used by the Sudden or Rinzai School.

Though Zen is often regarded as a form of Buddhism, that is certainly not the impression received when one looks openly and directly at this particular teaching. It is clearly very different from, and runs counter in every way to, the soulless and vacuous abstractionism, the arid and cumbersome pseudo-intellectuality of Buddhism as it has come to us, weighed down with its heavy edifice of doctrine and dogma.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Gurdjieff, enemy of sleep

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There can be no doubt that it was the work of George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff to make a very significant contribution to the esoteric education and development of Western man, or more accurately, a number of Western men and women, during the first half of the twentieth century. He died in 1949, having helped, by his great abilities and truly remarkable efforts, his students to shake off some of their sleep and to increase their consciousness.

Nevertheless, his disciples recognised by common assent that not one of them had reached that state of full awakening that they had sought, and which was the ultimate object of his teaching.

Thus no successor to Gurdjieff was, or indeed could be, appointed. Whether by intention or accident, the teaching was incomplete. Without the teacher nothing further could be done.

However, some of his students did not recognise that, despite Gurdjieff’s clear warnings and indications on the subject, either appointing themselves or accepting others as ‘teachers’. But the more discerning of them realised that their only hope of further progress lay in finding and contacting the Source which had educated and sent them Gurdjieff.

 

CHAPTER TWELVE: The way of the sufi

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Sufism is an ancient yet timeless Teaching, which, according to its custodians, has always been with us in one form or another. Its origin can either be regarded as lost in the mists of antiquity, operating in forgotten cultures we know not of, or, more truly, always above and always within, emerging from eternity, from the timeless, from time to time, into time. ‘Our wine existed before the grape and the vine’ claims the Sufi poet Ibn el-Farid; while the master Hujwiri in his classic eleventh century text, ‘Revelation of the Veiled’ maintains: ‘Sufism has no history as other things have a history. It can be said to have existed always.’

Sufism, therefore, is not ‘Islamic mysticism’. It existed before the coming and outside the confines of Islam. It would be more correct to say that Islamic mysticism is simply a particular, culturally-oriented, projection of Sufism. ‘Sufism has been known under many names, to all peoples from the beginning of human times.’ states the contemporary Sufi master and historian, Idries Shah. ‘The Sufi entity is a community and an organism ... Its function as a school and a leaven in societies has enabled it to develop and flourish again and again in the most diverse cultures.’ Shah here calls attention to an important and subtle concept. The Sufi school is an organism, not an organisation. It works as a living leaven hidden and growing in the very heart of a culture, infusing and influencing it from within. We recall that Jesus uses the same metaphor: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven ...’ (Matthew 13:33).

 

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