seeing life is but a motion of limbs, the beginning
whereof is in some principal part within; why may
we not say, that all automata (engines that move themselves
by springs and wheels as doth a watch) have an artificial
life? For what is the heart, but a spring; and the
nerves, but so many strings; and the joints, but so
many wheels, giving motion to the whole body, such
as was intended by the Artificer?
altogether mechanical, to what degree are we "machine",
and to what degree, are we "free being", and possessors
of "free will"? To what degree are we in control of
our own destiny, and to what degree are we "predestined"?
the signs of "man as machine" are everywhere. We see
"man as machine" on the individual level in our habits,
our addictions, our oedipal (and other archetypal) patterns; much
of our therapy is devoted to purchasing freedom from such past-regimented
patterns. We see "man as machine" on the global level
in centuries-old conflicts that are endlessly re-ignited by the
automatic reactivity of "an eye for an eye". It would
take a saint to be able to forgive the enemy who has just killed
foregoing the automatic impulse to vengeance, for the sake of a greater
many traditions suggest that
as reflected by saints, sages, and other realizers
increasing spiritual maturity
is what moves
us along the spectrum from the "machine" end toward
the "free being" end.
But how does one mature spiritually? To what degree can self-improvement
result in spiritual maturity?
Or is applying the metaphor of self-improvement to spiritual growth
like trying to lift oneself up by the bootstraps? Is help necessary?
What kind of help is required? The old maxim, "There but
for the Grace of God go I", provides a clue: perhaps apart
from circumstance, the only difference between myself and my less
fortunate brother who is a murderer is Grace:
help from the Greater Reality.
"A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on
by an outside force".
We often learn Newton's first law of motion in the context of
billiard balls on pool tables. But the same law is readily observed
in "man as machine". I tend to react to men in the same,
limited manner in which I tended to react to my own father. I
will continue to do so until something awakens me to what I am
doing, enables me to see alternatives, and assists me in establishing
those alternatives as part of a new, less restrictive pattern.
But human beings are rather more complex than billiard balls;
is required to overcome the force of habit or the trend of history.
Consider dieting as one example of attempting to overcome an addiction
(or any other deep pattern) via self-improvement. The mind idealistically
embraces the idea of losing weight, usually rallying itself around
some new technique for doing that; but the body remains a distinct
voice and force all the while. The mind may rule for a period;
but, come that moment in front of the chocolate shop, when that
delicious, sweet smell comes wafting out, and sensuously penetrates
the nasal passages
instantly, the stomach starts growling, and the body politic initiates
a coup d'etat, seizing the throne and commencing a food
binge that may last days, weeks, or months. When the mind "comes
to", it generally is perplexed about the failure of its program.
It vastly underestimated (and never was actually in a position
to overcome) the force and depth of the pattern it was attempting
A more apt metaphor for "man as machine" than the passive
billiard ball is "man as homeostatic
system": a pattern of activity which, even when
acted on by an outside force, will exert a counter-force,
in order to perpetuate the present pattern. Thermostats are built
to keep the house at a certain temperature homeostatically; a
fall below that temperature turns the heater on, while a restoration
to the status quo temperature turns the heater off. Just
so, upon persisting at a certain weight for a sufficient length
of time, the human body establishes that weight as a "set
point" which it vigorously works to restore should body weight
go lower (or higher).
On the basis of similar observations, thinkers as diverse as Montaigne,
Pavlov, Gurdjieff, and Hubert Benoit, concluded that what is possible
through self-improvement, or even improvement with the help of
other human beings more or less like ourselves, is severely limited.
the help we need for radical change or spiritual maturity, on
the one hand must overwhelm our homeostatic system in the manner
of a great "Outside Force"; and yet, on the other hand,
it must also pull the rug out from beneath deep patterns in the
manner of Something at an even greater depth (in accord with the
principles of depth psychology). The "Grace of God"
is a good name for Help which both overwhelms from without
An interesting aspect of many contemporary addiction treatment
programs (particularly twelve-step programs) are the steps in
which the addict acknowledges the powerlessness of "man as
machine" to relieve himself of his addiction, and accepts
the need for Grace, or the intervention of a Higher Power, in
his life. Just so, all the spiritual traditions of humankind are
oriented around the need for Grace, and the establishment of a
genuine connection with It, in order to grow not only humanly,
but spiritually. But once one intuits the need for Grace: Where
to find It? How to link up with It? How to benefit from It?
In Western religious traditions, Grace often is viewed as a theological
problem: we can readily identify those who got "It"
in a big way
from Jesus, to Teresa of Avila, to Moses and Mohammed. We even
have stories providing some details of how "It" came
to them. But, so far as we know, only a rare few among us are
genuine saints, sages, or Spiritual Masters. Up between the lines
of these stories sneaks our suspicion that, not only are we not
able to help or improve ourselves in any kind of truly radical
way; but maybe even the choice of linking up with that which could
make the difference is not in our hands either. Hence the thorny
theological conundrums about predestination:
if some are chosen by God to be recipients of Grace, are all the
rest of us simply spiritually damned, with not a thing we can
do about it (even though we spend a lifetime at spiritual practice)?
Curiously, the traditions of the East communicate an entirely
different picture: Grace is readily available! In the East, Grace
is not merely a synonym for "luck" or "good fortune".
Grace is not only a relative rarity for the predestined. Rather, Grace is a tangible
Spiritual Transmission from
the Greater Reality, accessible to anybody
who is interested, and willing to live the kind of life that supports
the steady reception of that Transmission. The living Spiritual Master (or Guru) is
the means by which one contacts that Spiritual Transmission. (As my Spiritual Master
"The Guru is that process that we mean by the term 'Grace'.") Unlike
miraculous visitations, which, by their nature, can only come
and go in the wink of a mind's eye, the human
Spiritual Master serves as a stable,
persistent bridge between the material world and the
Greater Reality, for the course of the Master's lifetime . . . and
we'll get to that a little later in this article.
In studying these Eastern traditions, one senses that the traditional
Western religious view may be hampered by its lack of a recently living
Spiritual Master who can provide a present-time demonstration
of Spiritual Transmission. In sharp contrast, the Indian tradition
holds that India has never experienced a time without either a
living Spiritual Master or a saint capable of Spiritual Transmission.
The Indian culture has always been one in which the view of the
Spiritual Master as the source of Grace is common knowledge, grounded
in somewhat less common experience. Those "in the know"
are able to point newcomers to the Spiritual Transmitters alive
in their time.
does that less common experience look like? It certainly has the characteristic,
necessary for transformation, of being an overwhelming "outside force".
When Jesus of Nazareth approached Peter and Andrew and said simply, "Come,
follow me", they dropped everything
work, family, possessions
to do just that. Granted, the story may have been recast in a simplified, mythic
form, and its real, historical details may have included painful goodbyes, financial
re-arrangements, and what not. But the essence
of the response to Jesus' Spiritual Transmission is captured well by: "they
straightaway left their nets and followed him." They were overwhelmed
by his Transmission. Everything their lives had been about before seemed profoundly
superficial in this revelation of a Greater Reality, communicated by the Grace
of the Spiritual Master.
from "The Calling of the Disciples"
Domenico Ghirlandaio (c. 1480)
Hindu tradition communicates a similar message through the story of Krishna and
the gopi cowherd women. Upon hearing Krishna's flute, the gopis simply left their
cattle to follow him. Like the disciples of Jesus, they dropped everything to
follow their Spiritual Master because of something transmitted by his presence
which completely overwhelmed them, and changed their sense of reality. Krishna's
Spiritual Transmission (symbolized by his flute) made these women ecstatic.
Flutes Under a Tree"
Kishangarh, opaque watercolor and gold on paper (c. 1690)
Binney 3rd Collection, 1990:747
per se is less emphasized in the stories of Jesus, the Christian
mystical tradition in toto is filled with it. Bernini's statue
Teresa of Avila in Divine Communion is a beautiful rendering
of her experience of ecstasy. Ecstasy as a result of Grace likewise
is a common theme in the reports from the Sufi and Hassidic traditions.
"The Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila"
Transmission appears in the stories surrounding Gautama the Buddha. On one occasion,
the Buddha said no word, but simply held up a flower. Most of his disciples were
puzzled. But Kasyapa smiled in response, "enlightened" on the spot;
the Buddha acknowledged that Kasyapa had indeed received his Transmission. The
point of the story is not the visible flower, but rather, the invisible Transmission
passing from Gautama to Kasyapa, translating him (in that moment, or perhaps henceforth)
into the "enlightened state". That Transmission is said to have initiated
the Zen Buddhist tradition. The Zen teaching has been passed on from Master to
disciple by direct Transmission ever since. The overt acts by which the Zen Master
interacts with the disciple
even unconventional ones such as hitting the disciple over the head with a stick,
throwing a rock at the disciple, and the like
can be more deeply understood in the manner of Gautama's flower. They are simply
pointers or aids to the Spiritual Transmission that is occurring.
and Gautama are no longer present "in the flesh". Nonetheless,
tangible Spiritual Transmission continues as a living reality.
When I found my Spiritual Master, Adi
Da Samraj, I was a university professor, living one of
the conventional lives of my time, even as the fishermen, Peter
and Andrew, or the gopi women cowherds, had been doing in their
time. But when I sat before my Master for the first time, his
Transmission literally opened up my heart
waves of love for him and for all beings came pouring from me
spontaneously, in response to the enormous love I tangibly felt
flowing from him to me.
By taking up a
way of life devoted to "tuning in" on that Transmission, my entire sense
of reality gradually has been transformed. On such a Grace-full basis (rather
than on the basis of self-conscious effort with my old sense of "material-only"
reality still intact), over time, the force of all the varieties of machine-like
patterning (emotional, mental, physical, psychic) that have placed limits on my
happiness has gradually diminished, through their non-use.
Like the disciples
of Jesus, or Krishna's gopi devotees, the secret of transformation in my case
has been overwhelming distraction by the Grace of the
Spiritual Master. As my Spiritual Master once humorously put it, while
his devotee is "away", distracted by the ecstasy of his Transmission,
the Master enters the devotee spiritually, and cleans up the place "like
a little old lady cleaning out a bird cage." This cleansing, or release of
old patterns, is not something the devotee does by effort; rather, the devotee
allows the Master (who, unlike the devotee, is in a position to know what he or
she is doing) to do the work.
"The Descent of the Holy Spirit"
Albrecht Durer (c. 1510)
In like manner,
the stories of Jesus's disciples communicate a graceful transformation
or "second birth" of weak, even cowardly men (the women
devotees seemed less so), into extraordinary men "filled
with the Spirit", able to endure incredible hardships (and
even horrific deaths) through their reception of their Master's
Spiritual Transmission (symbolized by the "Holy Spirit").
I have been writing from the viewpoint of Grace as a means for
Spiritual growth and, ultimately, for Spiritual Liberation. But
Grace is often sought for purely material help. Some of this is
due simply to the influence of our currently materialistic culture,
and a Western religious tradition that has placed more emphasis
on the visible here and now, than on the "hereafter"
(or, more accurately: the invisible "here and now").
But equally important is Maslow's hierarchy of needs: how can
we invest any serious energy or attention on Spiritual Realization,
when we are hungry, poor, sick, or at war? The "lower"
needs must be handled, if not before the higher needs, then at
the same time, in order for the spiritual practitioner to be freed
from having to invest too much time, energy, and attention in
caring for them.
Interestingly, the Grace of the Spiritual
Master has always been understood to not only serve the Spiritual liberation of
individuals, but also to have a beneficial effect on the world in ordinary terms.
The Christian tradition of caring for the sick, clothing the poor, and feeding
the hungry originated in the miraculous displays of Grace by Jesus: healings,
feeding the multitudes, etc. That these too were the result of Spiritual Transmission
is clear. For instance, in one incident, when a woman touches Jesus's robe and
is healed, it is reported that "Jesus felt the power go out from him",
indicating that a spontaneous Spiritual Transmission had caused her cure.
twentieth-century Indian Master, Ramana Maharshi, often was asked, "Why don't
you help the world?", apparently in response to the fact that he simply stayed
in or near his room all the time. Maharshi's answer was, "How do you know
I do not? A self-realized being cannot help benefitting the world. His very existence
is the highest good." He thus reflected the questioner's limited understanding
of Spiritual Transmission; the one who asked the question presumed that benefitting
the world requires physical proximity and visible action.
traditions suggest that the material world is arising in a Greater-Than-Material
Reality. Realize that Greater Reality (even only partially), and one will be able
to help the material world from the greater vantage point of its Source (or at
least closer to It). Asking a Spiritual Master why he or she is not out feeding
the hungry is a little like asking the staff of a cancer research institute why
they are not out treating the folks in their neighborhood for colds. Other doctors
are already doing just that! The opportunity represented by the Spiritual Master
and his or her Spiritual Transmission is rare.
beneficial effect of Spiritual Transmission on the world can take many forms.
The devotees of the Spiritual Master, Narayan Maharaj, believed his Spiritual
Transmission was instrumental in the final resolution of World War II. The Master
would read a detailed report every day on the war's progress. As the war continued,
leaving large numbers of soldiers wounded and dying, mysterious wounds would appear
on the Master's body, with no visible cause. As a result, he could neither walk
nor eat. Finally, on September 3, 1945, Maharaj was told that the British had
landed in Japan. He responded, "The war is over. My work is finished."
He died later that same day.
benefits on the material level are of limited spiritual value,
because they pass, and because we die. Every one of the people
that Jesus healed died later (even Lazarus). So obviously the
eradication of death could not have been the point of these miracles.
Thus Spiritual Masters have always sought to re-educate their
disciples into valuing more greatly that which is eternal (or
at least greater-than-material). For this reason, Masters warn
disciples away from the fascinations of miraculous powers in and
of themselves, because they only create temporary effects, and
thus can represent a diversion from the true but narrow course
leading to spiritual growth. To the extent that Spiritual Transmission
leads to a more peaceful world and better life conditions, and
thus, an environment more greatly conducive
to Spiritual life, its use is truly spiritually valuable.
But the seeking of Grace solely
for the sake of material gain has always been criticized by the
human sources of that Grace.
If the Spiritual Master is the means by which Grace enters tangibly
and stably into the world, what happens to that source of Grace
when the Spiritual Master dies? The answer depends completely
upon the Realization of the Spiritual Master's disciples. A tradition
remains Spiritually empowered because the Spiritual Realizer of
one generation transmits his or her Realization to the disciple
(or to an entire group of disciples), to the point where the disciple
(or group of disciples) attains the same Realization, and is capable
of serving as a vessel of Spiritual Transmission (from the original
Spiritual Master, now no longer humanly incarnate) for the next
generation. If the Realization "lessens" over the generations,
the tradition can eventually reach a point where it continues
to be socially viable but has become spiritually bankrupt; or
it may splinter into genuine but small spiritual flames here and
The Christian mystical tradition is a representative example
in sheer numbers of acknowledged saints, the tradition reached
its zenith between 1200 and 1700 AD; it has been diminishing ever
since. The dwindling numbers coincide with a general sense that
the Christian mystical tradition and many other such traditions
are dwindling, particularly with the global spread of a strongly
materialistic world view. Even the deeply spiritual culture of
India has been strongly affected by its newfound lust for technology
and material power, well-purposed toward eradicating the poverty
and political powerlessness it has suffered for ages, but often
at the cost of its spiritual heritage. India's surviving esoteric
traditions are now mostly scattered pockets of spirituality.
In some sense, then, the greatest gift for the world that a Spiritual
Master (past, present, or future) could leave
now or in the future
is the establishment of holy places, sacred teachings, and a community of truly practicing disciples, all of which together function to preserve
and even magnify the Spiritual Master's Transmission down through
the ages. In this context, we can read the symbol or metaphor of the Boddhisattva
in terms larger than a single individual. A true Boddhisattva for this
new millenium would be just such a living, Spiritually Transmitting culture and community,
materially established on a global scale sufficient to counter
the global sweep of materialism (through the direct Transmission of the greater-than-material Reality). Such a culture and community would communicate
the existence and availability of Grace to the world at large;
and it would persist in keeping Grace available in the world,
until it fulfills the duty of all Boddhisattvas
that is, until the last "separate being" is Awakened
out of the dream.
more on connecting with the present-time Transmission of a Spiritual Master,
you like these five-minute articles? We'll let you
know every time we add a new one - just add yourself
to our mailing