The title of this piece is rather ambitious. I’m not going to go in depth into this topic right now: I’m sure there is enough material on the topic to write a book about, which I might just end up writing. 😉 Just not today.
This view of individuals is linear: body, emotion, mind, something higher than mind, and the representative of the divine in each of us.
This scheme has the advantage of simplicity as well as fitting in with a straight forward linear view of spiritual growth. Frank Dyer, a frequent visitor of this blog, commented on my blog about theosophical organizational issues as follows recently. I quote it here because while I disagree, I would have agreed not too long ago.
One can be completely well adjusted by mental health standards and still be at a comparatively low level with respect to spiritual advancement. Let the mental health system take care of individuals who have mental health problems that interfere with their daily lives. Theosophy was never meant to address this. Once the individual has mastered the presenting mental health problem at least partially, then he or she may be ready to do Theosophical work.
Implicit in that quote is a view of spiritual growth which is linear: only the mentally well adjusted can go beyond that to something more spiritual. However, those with mental health problems often experience things that can only be called ‘spiritual’. So… is it really true that there’s mentally ill people, mentally healthy people, and spiritual people – and never shall the first and the latter meet?
I think that’s nonsense. Such a linear view does not correspond to my experience on the path, my reading of psychological literature or the deeper teachings I have gleaned from Blavatsky’s collected writings.
Funnily enough, I was already of that opinion, or something much like it, at the age of 21: I devised an eightfold constitution of man in which the eighth ingredient corresponded to what Blavatsky called the probationary stage of the path: when everything hidden inside will come out and some people go quite mad. This was also referred to as ‘pledge fever’.
On Frank’s side of the bargain however, we have Blavatsky stressing the following qualifications for spiritual discipleship (becoming a chela):
- Perfect physical health;
- Absolute mental and physical purity;
- Unselfishness of purpose; universal charity; pity for all animate beings;
- Truthfulness and unswerving faith in the law of Karma, independent of any power in nature that could interfere: a law whose course is not to be obstructed by any agency, not to be caused to deviate by prayer or propitiatory exoteric ceremonies;
- A courage undaunted in every emergency, even by peril to life;
- An intuitional perception of one’s being the vehicle of the manifested Avalokitesvara or Divine Atman (Spirit);
- Calm indifference for, but a just appreciation of everything that constitutes the objective and transitory world, in its relation with, and to, the invisible regions.
How is that relevant? Well, it relates to the central role in blavatsky’s esoteric teachings of the concept that people are ‘tested’. I interpret that as a psychological mill people go through when they are serious about the bodhisattva vow – surely an analogue to the third requirement here ‘unselfishness of purpose, universal charity, pity for all animate beings’. (The Text of the Pledge ES members took during Blavatsky’s time)
I take a few mental leaps to get to that conclusion, which I’d have to substantiate if that book ever gets written. For now however it suffices to note that this concept of being tested, and the risk of madness that it involves for the overly ambitious who don’t know themselves, hardly fits the neat view of the Theosophical Society as a place only the sane have any business in. The fact is, the line between sane and in need of help is not nearly as sharp as the psychologically naive might hope.
Frank is of course hardly alone in a linear view of spiritual development. Ken Wilber is equally guilty. The main difference? Ken Wilber thinks anybody who is serious on the spiritual path should go into therapy at some point. He also thinks people at all levels of spiritual development get breakthrough spiritual experiences. Now it’s not clear whether he talks about the same spiritual path as Blavatsky does, but it’s surely much alike.
I don’t agree with the part about everybody on the spiritual path needing therapy, but I’m not sure it’s for the right reasons and I challenge anybody who agrees with me with the following question:
Is it fear that stops you from considering therapy, or are you absolutely sure it would do you no good?
No, I don’t expect an answer in the comments. Personally I think the people who are sure therapy could have nothing to offer them are the most likely to benefit from it. The spiritual path does require a practical understanding of psychological processes and therapy is one way of getting that.
For the Blavatsky loving reader a few more details. A non-linear vision of the individual and their relation to the universe see The Inner Group Teachings of H.P. Blavatsky: To Her Personal Pupils (1890-91). Note that manas and buddhi are in the same level on p. 107 (though admittedly not in the majority of charts in the book), and that this is effectively a three dimensional view on the situation.
My late teen and early twenties selection of quotes in the esoteric studies guide. See particular w.q. Judge on being tested and Damodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical Movement.