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Awakening the World
A Global Dimension to Spiritual Practice
By Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee
The Golden Sufi CenterCopyright © 2006 The Golden Sufi Center
All rights reserved.
The First Step
I saw my Lord in my dreams and I asked, "How am I to find You?" He replied, "Leave yourself and come!" Bâyezîd Bistâmî
Take one step away from yourself and — Behold — the path. Abû Sa'îd ibn Abî-l-Khayr
The first step on the spiritual path is in many ways the most radical and the most difficult. It is to recognize that it is not about "me" — the journey Home, the journey back to God, is the journey of the soul and not the ego, not the "I." We are not the pilgrim on the path but an obstacle to the real journey in which the soul or Self, the substance within the heart of hearts, returns to the Source which it never left.
How can we understand this when all we know is the ego? We see our life through the eyes of the ego: our life is about us. At the beginning we can only see the spiritual journey in the framework of the ego and its values, and so we easily imagine this journey as a process of spiritual self-improvement leading to a deeper and more fulfilling life. Added to this is our Western obsession with the individual self. The values of our culture are about individual fulfillment, whether on a material, sexual, or emotional level. We easily project these values onto the spiritual journey, and merely create a more elevated image of fulfillment. We not only want to be emotionally or sexually fulfilled; we also want "spiritual fulfillment," which we imagine to be a more deeply meaningful life. Into this dream of spiritual fulfillment we may project our images of having a guided life or a spiritually meaningful relationship, of being accepted or loved; maybe we even project the myth of "enlightenment." We cannot see beyond the horizon of ourself.
This initial image of the journey is understandable: how can we imagine something beyond ourself when the world of the ego is all that we know, when the eyes of the ego are our only means of seeing? But sadly, this image of the journey is also reflected to us by much contemporary "spiritual" literature and teaching, which promise such fulfillment. We are told that we can enjoy the fullness of life through living in the present moment; we are instructed how to love ourselves, even how to have enlightened sex. And so the spiritual world is contracted into the values of the ego and remains centered on ourself.
But is this all that we can understand? Are we so conditioned by a culture that focuses on self-gratification that we can only be attracted by further images of self-fulfillment? No longer focusing on a better material life, we may aspire towards spiritual goals, not realizing that we have just recreated a different form of self-interest, and still remain imprisoned by the ego and its endless cycle of unmet needs. Do we have to remain with these familiar patterns to comfort us? Or are we prepared to acknowledge that this greatest adventure may not be about us?
Our culture both subtly and overtly denies us the teachings and tools that can free us from its self-obsessive grip. We give so much of our lives to its demands of material prosperity that consume our time and energy. Do we also have to surrender our souls to the image of spiritual prosperity? What about the ancient truth that we can go beyond the ego with its seductions and desires, that we can escape from this maya? Do we dare to glimpse the vast nature of a journey that can take us far beyond our small self-centered world?
ACCESSING THE POWER OF THE DIVINE
At the present time there is another vital dimension to this question. We are aware that this is a moment of global crisis, that our current collective values, the corporate forces of materialism and greed, are destroying our planet. We may sense that spiritual awareness has an important part to play in healing and transforming our world, and that we have a real responsibility to create change before these forces irrevocably destroy both the outer and inner worlds. But how can we access our spiritual power and potential to create change when we approach spirituality with the same self-centered values that have created our global predicament?
The very nature of the ego is to see itself as separate: the development of the ego is what creates our sense of a separate self as the child becomes separate from the mother. But the ego also separates us from the divine and its all-pervading oneness. It is our basic identification with the ego that denies us access to our innate spiritual wisdom and power. This is why real spiritual paths teach us to renounce or surrender the ego and why so many present spiritual teachings are subtly corruptive — by promising us the illusion of individual fulfillment, they keep us trapped within the ego and thus deny us access to what is real. If we stay within the values of the ego, we only have access to the energy and vision of the ego, its patterns of illusion. The world cannot be healed by a spiritual illusion. But it can be healed by the real power of the divine that is within each of us.
Only the divine can heal and transform the world — the forces of antagonism in the world are too powerfully constellated for us to resolve on our own; the patterns of greed that are draining the lifeblood of the planet and destroying its ecosystem are too firmly entrenched. But we cannot have access to the energy of the divine unless we step beyond our ego-self.
The power of the divine can be understood in many different ways. It is the light of the Self, the sacred forces in creation, the real joy of life, the energy of our eternal nature, our love for God and His love for us. True spiritual traditions that look beyond the ego connect us with this power and then teach us how to bring it into life: how to live from the divine center of ourself in the midst of everyday life. They teach us how to be of service to the divine and not to the desires of the ego. These spiritual traditions also teach us that sacrifice is part of the journey. We have to "die before we die": surrender the values of the ego in order to embrace the larger dimension of the Self. Without this attitude of surrender or sacrifice there can be no real journey, nor can we live a life of true service.
With the correct attitude of spiritual service we can go beyond the ego and its limitations, and step into the dimension of our divine nature, the Self. In order to bring this quality into life, the divine needs our participation: we are the guardians of the planet. We need to work with its energy for the well-being of the whole.
Our ego-oriented life has created a fragmented world of conflict, with different factions striving for dominance. We have to compete and struggle, caught in the images of winners and losers and all of the other dramas of dualism. In this world, we have to look out for ourself because no one else will. In our separateness we also often feel alone and isolated, impotent to effect real change. Moreover, it is partly due to our self-created illusion of our separateness from the earth that we are destroying our own ecosystem. If we realized how intrinsically we are connected to the earth, we would never treat it so badly.
Once we step outside of the illusion of our own separate self, a radically different picture emerges. Our divine nature exists in a dimension of oneness. Unlike the ego, which always looks out for its own self-interest, the Self reflects a vision of oneness, in which each individual part is nourished according to its real need. A glimpse of the Self gives us a sense of an interconnected oneness in which nothing is separate: everything is an expression of a oneness that is dynamically alive. Every person, every stone is this oneness; everything is connected and interdependent. Our individual Self is the Universal Self and it is all a living organism of light and love.
When we live with a conscious awareness of our intrinsic oneness, we bring this oneness into our collective consciousness, which is dying through the illusion of separation. Our light is the light of the world; our divine consciousness is the spiritual consciousness of the world — nothing is separate. And the energy and awareness of the divine are within each of us, are each of us. When we turn away from the ego and its desires, we know that we embody this sacred substance. And we are also life, hungry for what is sacred. In the dynamic interconnected whole, we are the in-breath and out-breath of life — a life that is not just physical existence, but a multidimensional living organism of light and love. We are the spiritual lifeblood of the planet and we need to honor this dimension of life, this quality of oneness that is present within everything.
GLOBAL ONENESS AND SELF-INTEREST
We need the power of the divine with its vision of oneness in order to step from our isolated consciousness into an understanding of global wholeness. Through the eyes of the Self we discover that we are part of an interdependent physical and spiritual ecosystem in which each part nourishes and supports the whole. Our survival and evolution will depend upon our understanding the interrelationships between the parts and how they dynamically work together. The Self contains the seeds of this understanding because it always sees everything as a reflection of the whole. Our divine nature is the oneness of the world, which is also the oneness of God. Through a creative relationship with our higher nature we can bring an understanding of oneness into our lives, learn to live according to its principles and knowledge.
Oneness is not an abstract idea but a living expression of the divine. The oneness of all of life is a reflection of His oneness, a manifestation of the oneness that is within our own heart and soul. And just as humanity has been given and also developed a body of knowledge of how to work with our inner divine nature — how to transform ourself and realize our higher consciousness, we are also being given access now to a knowledge of how oneness works in the world. It is essential that we discover our access to this higher knowledge of life, so that life itself can be transformed. We have denied the divine nature of all of creation for too long. We have separated matter and spirit and through the power of this collective attitude have starved the world. We need to return the potency of the spirit to the world and understand how this living being really functions. We need to regain an understanding of the spiritual principles that underlie creation and how to work with these principles.
This knowledge of oneness is waiting to be accessed. It is present within the spiritual body of the earth, just as our own higher wisdom is present in our higher consciousness. But this knowledge cannot be accessed by a consciousness that is focused on the ego. It will only reveal itself to a consciousness that looks to the well-being of the whole. Sadly, because so much contemporary spiritual teaching focuses solely on our individual spiritual well-being, many people are denied access to this knowledge. They do not even know that it exists. That is why it is essential that we take the first step and recognize how we limit and isolate ourselves. In the words of al-Hallâj, "The first step is to cease isolating ourself from God."
Divine wholeness is waiting to be lived. It includes every cell of creation, the wisdom within every plant and animal. It is a deep instinctual knowing about how the world works as a living, breathing spiritual being. And it is very practical. This is not an idealistic spiritual theory but a knowing that belongs to the basic principles of life: everything is sacred and is an expression of the Creator. There is a balance and harmony within all of creation that can be discovered and lived. In this balance the real needs of life are met, even though many of our self-induced desires will have to be sacrificed. The world is not here to give us what we want: the world is an expression of divine oneness that needs us to help it to realize its full potential.
We need to regain the wisdom of previous cultures that understood that we are here to work with the divine within life. We have been given the responsibility to help creation to evolve, to be co-creators in the deepest sense. Recognizing this spiritual and ecological responsibility belongs to the next step in our collective evolution. It is partly in order to learn this that we have constellated such a precipitous global situation. Only when we take real responsibility for our planet can we avert our present ecological disaster.
This is a major shift that humanity has to make, and the global dimension of our present problems, whether ecological or terrorist, points to the need to shift into a global awareness. And yet the forces that resist any real change have drawn us into fear and isolationism. This is the real battle that is being fought. We vitally need the knowledge of oneness, but the patterns that deny us this knowledge are being reinforced. Global communication, the internet, and satellite television connecct us to the whole world. But collectively we seem unable to step beyond our self-interest and embrace the oneness of life and the world. Of course there is a price for this step. In the West we will have to lose many of the privileges we have taken for ourselves. We might have to sacrifice our dominance and the greed we disguise as consumerism.
THE SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLES WITHIN LIFE
The higher principles within life are waiting to be discovered and used. As a living spiritual being, the world can function in ways that are hidden to us at present. When we see the world through the prism of our self-centered material consciousness, we are unaware of its real nature and potential. The work of those who have been given the gift and responsibility of a spiritual awareness is to become attuned to the higher potential of life. Spiritual seekers have always been pioneers, going beyond the surface values of the collective to explore a deeper reality. We have sensed or experienced dimensions within ourself that are beyond the physical, and our dreams and visions have told us how these dimensions can transform our life. Now we need to bring this awareness into the arena of global oneness, to step aside from focusing on our individual development and recognize this larger stage. Just as there is hidden knowledge and spiritual potential within each of us, there are similar qualities within the spiritual body of the earth, and it is for us to discover them — to be receptive to their unveiling.
The world is not going to be saved by politicians or corporations, but by those in service to the divine that is within themselves and within the world. Higher knowledge has always come from within, but it needs those committed to this revelation to bring it into life, to unite the inner and outer and awaken the world to its spiritual nature. Our eyes can see the plight of our world, the problems we have created. Our hearts and higher consciousness can be attuned to divine oneness and the harmony and peace that are within. Bringing together these different levels of awareness enables the inner to influence the outer.
During the past era our focus has been on a transcendent, often disembodied spirituality. As a result we have forgotten the very practical nature of our true self. In the dimension of oneness everything is included. There is nothing higher or lower, nothing that is not sacred. Spiritual knowledge belongs to the whole of life, to each cell of creation. The soul is present within the whole body of each of us and also within the body of the earth. Spiritual principles offer us a very practical way to work with the energies of life.
Our culture, based upon science and technology, may appear to present us with a tangible, definable world divorced from the vagaries of the spirit. But we have forgotten that the father of our Western culture — Parmenides, the man who invented logic, the basis of our reasoning — was a mystic who received his teaching from the Goddess. Spirituality is a science of how things really are. It helps us to understand the essence of things. A spiritual understanding attunes us not only to the real meaning of our life, but also to how life comes into existence and to the forces behind creation. A transcendent divinity may require abstract metaphysics, but once we return the divine to its rightful place within creation, spirituality becomes something very different: a practical way to work with the divine energy that is within creation, a way to use this energy to benefit all of life.
But before we can be given this spiritual knowledge we have to develop the correct receptive attitude. We need to expand our spiritual consciousness from the microcosm of our own inner journey into the macrocosm of life's unfolding. We can achieve this realization at the end of the inner journey, when we discover that our individual Self is the Universal Self. Or we can make this shift through a simple expansion of consciousness that acknowledges the global dimension to oneness: We are a part of the whole of life. Nothing is separate. What is within us is within the world. Within our spiritual consciousness are the secrets not only of our own awakening but of the awakening of the planet.
Excerpted from Awakening the World by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. Copyright © 2006 The Golden Sufi Center. Excerpted by permission of The Golden Sufi Center.
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