The Need For Spiritual Discernment
by Steve S.
Creator of In Another Life
At the outset, I should say that I am really not a New Age person. My route has been a little different. When I was in my late teens, in the early 1970's, and once I was finished with my initial exploration of drugs, I began studying the scriptures of the main religions, and then the lives and teachings of a handful of more contemporary spiritual figures, looking for the esoteric truths they had in common. I began with the assumption that they were each describing the same Reality and the same inner experiences, but that they presented it from different angles, according to the culture and the audience they were addressing.
Somehow, I instinctively knew that I wanted to focus in on the most genuine teachers and the most accurate teachings. Having gotten an intuitive sense of the particular quality of teaching in the scriptures, I looked for that same quality in the contemporary masters. This seemed natural to me, but I have since found that it isn't so for everyone.
So, 30 years later as I survey the metaphysical and New Age scene, I am encouraged at how respect for the esoteric has grown since that time, but I also see a need for discrimination.
Discrimination has become a bad word, made synonymous in popular usage with prejudice. I think this is significant, and points to a comprehensive social trend. Discrimination, in its "unripe" form, is almost always accompanied by judgementalism. Judgementalism has for centuries been the predominant tone of religion in Western society. In the 1970's, when I began my spiritual search, there was a general rebellion against the "establishment", and that included a reaction against narrow-mindedness and judgementalism. Discrimination, in the sense of intuitive spiritual discernment, went out, like the baby being thrown out with the bathwater.
As I see it, the need is to find a balance between open-mindedness and discrimination - and not just a balance on the same level, but on a higher level. If we retain the same type of discrimination we had before, which was distorted by judgementalism - and try to mix it with the same type of open-mindedness we have now - we will simply bounce back and forth between irreconcilable opposites. The trick is to be open-minded (i.e., tolerant, understanding, and compassionate) in a way that naturally includes being discriminating; and to be discriminating (i.e., wise, responsible and discerning) in a way that naturally includes being open-minded.
I'm going to suggest several key principles of discrimination as seen from this vantage point.
1) recognizing genuine spiritual masters
2) correct valuation
3) understanding the purpose of life
4) the polestar of love
5) recognizing the action of the ego
6) everybody's right/everybody's wrong
1) Being able to discern genuine spiritual masters from both self-deluded teachers and deliberate frauds, is an essential element in developing discrimination, because these masters' lives and teachings form the standard by which everything else is evaluated. Many attempts have been made to codify the recognizable signs of a genuine spiritual master. I think it comes with "seasoning" from past-life experience, and, from the other side, it comes when the master himself permits himself to be recognized by you. I'm not sure there's much else helpful to be said about it. It's like the seal pup and mother recognizing each other on that island crammed with thousands of seals. The most I can say is that the genuine master is like a clear window into the Infinite. In a very real sense there is "no-one home". His teachings hit home like thunder, and you sense that it's coming from inside you, that they are awakening something you've always known. There is no sense of philosophy or struggling with conceptual models. Note that a fraudulent teacher often steals the language of a genuine one, so you have that further complication in the matter. In this case the teachings will resonate, but something won't feel quite right. If a parrot is taught to sing an opera, parts of it will sound beautiful, but it will still, after all, be a parrot singing an opera.
2) Correct valuation means to have a clear, intuitive sense of the relative value of things in relation to Truth. There is no relative truth without absolute Truth. If you think about it, the whole idea of relative truth standing alone is an absurdity, an inherent contradiction. A branch cut off from the tree withers and turns brown. Relative truths cut off from absolute Truth behave similarly. The trick is, what is absolute Truth? Is it an "ism", a belief system, a book? Truth, the masters say, is what abides permanently. What abides permanently is Existence itself, and this is beyond the reach of the intellect. So your practical options are, realize it yourself, or as a second-best option, study the lives and teachings of those you discern to have realized it (you can see how this whole subject becomes a huge Catch-22).
Correct valuation involves seeing how each "branch" relates to the "tree". Not just with dry intellect, but with the whole heart and mind. It sounds abstract but it isn't. In fact, each lesson of discernment of correct valuation represents a karmic life-lesson that might take several lifetimes to master. Take, for example, the right valuation of romantic relationships. How many lifetimes does it take for a person to come to this understanding-and how many times does that understanding evolve? At the early stages a person might value a romantic partner as an object to be exploited. Later on, as an encounter to be respected, and then, as a partner to be cherished. But then perhaps, this understanding might evolve further still, when it is seen that romantic love is a symbol of Divine Love. Right valuation, then, evolves with a person's spiritual unfoldment, at least as it appears to me (I am not a spiritual master and so I am making educated guesses and interpretations which go only so far as my understanding of what I've read and heard.)
3) Spiritual discrimination requires an understanding of the purpose of life. I'll just give one brief example to illustrate how important this is. If one interprets that the purpose of life is paradise, to live forever in linear time in paradise, then one's discernment of spiritual matters is influenced accordingly. Certainly things look very spiritual and important, including the specific attributes of the astral realm where this paradise is said to exist. If, however, one interprets that the purpose of life is to consciously realize the Truth, to return to the Source of life and existence (which is far beyond the experience of paradise), then one evaluates what is spiritual in a very different light. Within this assumption, if anything having to do with the astral realm has direct bearing on realizing the Truth, then it is considered spiritually significant. But if it doesn't, it is considered relatively insignificant.
4) Love is the prime ingredient in spirituality and in spiritual discernment. But then one has to discern what love is and isn't, and again, our discussion becomes circular. To get a sense of what love is, in the spiritual realm, one has to encounter or study a master who has it, and one has to be able to respond to it. No substitutes will do, and again, no real advice can be given in this area. I can relate a story from my childhood. My father took me on a party fishing boat, where maybe 30 fishermen let down their lines hoping to catch fish like grouper and snapper. I was five years old at the time. Every time my sinker bumped the bottom, I thought I had a fish. My father kept telling me, "When you get a fish, you'll know." Several hours later, I did hook a five-pound red snapper. My Dad was right, and I could never have hauled up that fish without his help. Recognizing and responding to a master who has real spiritual love is like that.
5) Much has been written on the action of the ego, which I won't repeat here. Suffice it to say that one needs to become very well-acquainted with the ego's tricks, and one needs to respect the skill of this adversary, in oneself and others. Armed with this knowledge, and coupled with an inner relationship with the polestar of love, you will have the two prime ingredients for spiritual discrimination. To put this into practical terms, suppose a teacher confronts you with the option to have sex and couches it in spiritual terms. Using your two weapons of discernment, you check to see whose ego is getting fed-yours, the teacher's, or both-and you compare the option inwardly against the intuitive standard of spiritual love. If egos are getting fed and spiritual love (as opposed to excitement or lust) is going into hiding, that's an indication. Further, it's a good idea to become well-acquainted with all the ego defense mechanisms and tactics. In this example, do you see various types of rationalization or denial going on? If so, better look a little more deeply.
6) Here's a difficult principle, especially in Western society. Everybody's partly right. And everybody is also partly wrong. Nobody has the whole truth (except the Realized master), and nobody's without some part of it. This understanding derives from the metaphysical principle of manifestation, and the law, "As above, so below". Everything in the manifested/reflected universe expresses some degree of the Truth. Everything in this manifested/reflected universe likewise expresses some aspect of the Truth. Here, in the world we experience, from the standpoint of our individual egos, each of us has something valid to say. But that doesn't necessarily mean it is all equally valid. Take the example we've used before, of the branches and the tree. All branches are connected to the tree, and are meaningless when dissociated from the tree. But there are huge stout branches, supporting many smaller ones, and there are tiny branches. Spiritual discernment means determining what kind of branch you are looking at and what its relation is to the "Tree" is. This is not just an intellectual process-it requires a blending of head and heart, it is an intuitive process. The correct attitude is that everybody is progressing toward the Truth, and that each has his story to tell and his part of the larger story to unfold. But keep in mind that this unfolding takes many lifetimes (as in millions of incarnations), and so not everyone's story is toward the end of the book. Some people's stories are in the middle, and some in the first few chapters. A few people, the genuine saints and yogis, are on the final chapters, and a very few genuine Realized masters have closed the book and stuck around strictly for our benefit. Discern who they are, respect them and study their lives, and the rest falls into place.
Steve Sakellarios has studied reincarnation in conjunction with Eastern philosophy and comparative religion since his late teens, around 1973. He began
studying the Western research in earnest about three years ago for the documentary and website titled "In Another
Life." He has a masters in Counseling and Human Systems from FSU (1981), during which time he studied the hospice movement and taught a free class on "death & dying". He served on the board of
an organization which started the first hospice in Tallahaseee, FL. Email Steve at email@example.com.
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