This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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5.2. Master and Disciple

Means of transmission

One will always note in traditional civilizations the presence of a ‘priestly’ or Sacerdotal class which is responsible for the maintenance and transmissions of doctrine. This class will hold the highest place in society simply due to the fact that all other institutions and activities derive their purpose and direction from this doctrine as secondary applications of its teaching. In India the Brahmins therefore serve as custodians of the traditional doctrine, and their function is to preserve and to teach. Moreover, it must be insisted that due to the constant flux of actual conditions, a living, breathing class such as this is always necessary, and it is simply not possible to have a tradition without such an ‘elite’ dedicated to preserving it. This way of thinking will run contrary to the modern mentality which assumes that so long as the ‘data’ is recorded in some concrete way, then it can be had by anyone, and this is all that is necessary for its truth to be preserved. To have faith in a book alone, while denying its authorized interpreters, is to have faith in something which is dead, and would be immediately identified as an ‘idolatry of the book’ by an Eastern people, and is in fact identified as such by the Catholic Church in the West. To place something in writing is to freeze it in place and lock it into a certain form, and this form will always be susceptible to an indefinite number of interpretations, and while many of these could be true, thanks to the varying degrees of meaning which any scripture contains, most of them will be false. It is only thanks to the living element of the tradition that the truth is protected from distortion. In this way, we come to a central aspect of the tradition in India, which is the relationship between teacher and student, master and disciple.

The role of the guru

The relationship between disciple and master is one of spiritual filiation. The teacher is to the student’s ‘second birth’ what the biological father is to the first birth, these being the births of spirit and water, respectively. This notion of ‘spiritual fatherhood’ is what is conveyed through the word guru, which actually bears a secondary meaning of ‘ancestor.’ In the Arab world, the term shaykh, or ‘elder,’ bears a similar meaning. The role of the guru is to ensure the transmission of doctrine by facilitating its transmission to the next generation in an unbroken line. This has its analogy in the Catholic doctrine of Apostolic Succession, which affirms that a Church which cannot tie itself in a real way to the tradition cannot claim anything more than an ‘ideal’ affiliation with it. Protestants, then, would be considered Christian in ‘intention’ but nothing more, having denied the only principle which would allow them the access they desire. We will deal with these questions in greater detail when discussing initiation. To return again to the centrality of the guru, Easterners seem to be free of the notion that all things can be learned from books, and insist instead on a real relationship between student and teacher in order to ensure true understanding of the tradition in question. Westerners, come to think of it, do not even stop at considering books as good as teachers, but actually seem to suggest, at least by their behavior, that the teacher represents an unreliable element, something to be eliminated as much as possible in favor of ‘hard data’ such as can be stored in computers and referenced when needed. This is of course what happens when a society replaces the notion of ‘understanding’ with that of ‘memory’ and makes intelligence a mere matter of memorization of so many concepts; in this context, it would then be true to prefer the computer to the human. At any rate, in the East, the tradition is immaterial and the texts relating to it, however important they may be, are not confused with the knowledge they are meant to convey. Texts, any texts, are supports for the realization of truth; and this realization, even if it makes great use of texts, can only be ensured under the guidance of a master who has already completed the task.

Traditional teaching and Western education

Perhaps some of the confusion surrounding this subject is due to the Western idea of learning, reflected in the present ‘educational system,’  which attempts to disseminate knowledge to all individuals without any reference to their aptitudes. Hidden in this mentality is a view of knowledge that only considers as legitimate that which can be understood by all. This is the mentality behind the experimentalism that drives its science, and in fact the whole scientific method is designed to ensure that no knowledge will be accepted as real unless it can be demonstrated and its findings reproduced by the dullest of minds. Such a view of learning has no room for hierarchy and no allowance for diversity of aptitude, because it does not allow for the existence of truths that are accessible to a minority only while remaining out of the reach of others, with the result being that the necessity of a guru is incomprehensible; the guru discerns and adapts his teaching precisely to those differences in personality and aptitude which it has become to supreme goal of Western education to get around. Such are perhaps the inevitable results of the dogma of equality with which the East is not so obsessed. Finally, it should be mentioned that there is great danger in presenting certain ideas to unqualified minds; and this is why it was the belief in both the East and the West until the modern period that no education superior to a mediocre half-education, since a tenuous grasp of many concepts leads directly to their misapplication. We will not enter here into a discussion of the many ways which subtle and complex ideas, once disseminated to the masses who cannot really be expected to fully comprehend the idea in question, either in its causes or its effects, leads directly to social chaos. In this way, a refusal to acknowledge the reality of ignorance among the masses leads to an amplification of its negative effects. Consider the daily advertisements in the United States for pharmaceutical products, which, knowing that their audience cannot really understand the merits of their product, appeal to viewers using nothing but shallow superficial images of smiles, sunshine, and sensuality, and they end by simply telling the viewer to ask their doctor to give them whatever drug is in question. That this is able to happen, and that it strikes no one as odd, is shocking to an outside observers; but it is the natural result of a point of view that pretends that everyone is on equal mental footing, and that any and all can pronounce on any subject, whether it be who should be the next president or what prescriptions they ought to take. On the other hand, if the obvious incompetence of the masses on most things were merely acknowledged without prejudice, this ignorance could be neutralized without harming anyone’s dignity. If we have digressed here somewhat it is only to emphasize the vastness of the separation between the Western and Eastern attitudes toward learning and the individual. In the West, it is insisted that everyone and everyone have all that is available, and whether or not they understand it is something that only comes into focus when chaos erupts, and this they usually try to solve by the further indiscriminate dissemination of information, and so on. In the East, it is insisted that what knowledge one has, however little that may be, is true and properly assimilated in such a way that the individual can really be said to possess its truth. Beyond this, if he were stuffed with conceptions he hardly understood or didn’t understand at all, he would be degraded, since this is to leave him more ignorant than he was at the start. To return to the guru, he is the opposite of the Protestant who would give anyone and everyone a bible to interpret according to his whim, which would immediately send him plummeting into darkness and confusion. This is to degrade the soul, not to ‘save’ it. It is the role of the guru to ensure that the spiritual pupil is not degraded, that ignorance is eliminated, insofar as it can be depending on the individual pupil.

The upaguru as a prolongation of the guru

The guru is defined by qualifications because unlike the upaguru who may in fact be completely unconscious of the role he plays, the guru must be able to see into the possibilities and aptitudes of his disciples and in addition must know how to make use of circumstances of ever kind in order to develop these possibilities in his disciples. He may even engage in the manufacture of such circumstances in order to bring about the desired effect. In a sense, the upaguru can be understood as a prologation of the guru in the sense that the latter is capable of making use of people and things thereby rendering them upagurus in that situation.

Initiatic transmission and the qualities of the guru

There are situations where and individual who does not possess the qualities of the guru nonetheless is in a position to confer initiation. This is similar to what happens in sacramental theology where a priest who may or may not possess any exceptional qualities is permitted to confer grace upon the laity via the Eucharist. Although perhaps this is a stretch, it does help to illustrate such a case. Here the ‘transmitter’ of the spiritual influence is not a guru but instead plays the part of an upaguru, with the single reservation that when it is a question of initiation the upaguru must be fully conscious of what he does and the nature of his role. The point in mentioning this situation is to say that it is possible that initiation be conferred without the presence of an authentic guru.

The Buddha’s encounter with the Devas

To find a classical example of the upagrurus as unconscious participants in spiritual realization, we can refer to progressive realization of Gautama (the future Buddha). He encountered an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and then a monk, each of these conveying the message necessary to the realization his own ‘inner guru,’ which is nothing else but the Self. This is why it is said that these were each forms taken by the Devas in order to direct him on his journey. None of this is to say that these individual were mere illusions or apparitions, since what matters here is the effect and all of this could remain true without needing to deny the individual realities of the beings who played the role unconsciously.

The necessity of the guru

It has been suggested by some that a guru, that is to same a human guru, is absolutely necessary in order to attain Deliverance. Others say otherwise and tend toward the error of viewing the process of realization as a purely subjective thing without the necessity of any external supports, human or institutional. Obviously these are extreme views. To the first we can answer simply that in traditions where the guru plays a significant role, such as the Hindu, the guru is most valuable and necessary in the earliest stages of development. That is not to say the very beginning, and in most cases it is proper to make use of the most external and exoteric offerings of a religion before turning to a guru, but there is a great distance between the outer husk of exoteric practice and the core, and the guru operates in the middle, but more actively and more often in the more peripheral stages and less so in the final stages. We say this because the human guru is really only acting as a substitute for the inner guru, the Self, with which the disciple has not yet become capable of communicating directly. Once this begins to become possible, such as in those later stages, the guru becomes less necessary and ultimately not necessary at all.

Islamic initiation in the absence of a living guru

One instance in which the collective work combined with a spiritual influence takes the place of a living guru might be drawn from Islam. Here certain turuq are not directed by a true Shaykh as Spiritual Master, but only by Khulafa, who simply act as ‘transmitters’ of the influence; yet here the barakah of the founding Shaykh of the tariqah may for certain individuals make up for the absence of the living Shaykh, simply by the individual’s affiliation with the silsilah. The important point is that the ‘inner guru’ which is the Self is always present and capable of conferring whatever realization is appropriate to the case, whether the context is one of collective work undirected by a living guru or under the active direction of one living.

A note on qualifications

Regarding the notion that in order for a guru to be qualified he must have achieved Deliverance, the final goal of spiritual realization, we can say that this is nonsense. The guru has a simply goal before them, which is to guide the student toward a certain degree of realization, and the primary requirement (although not the only one) is that the guru has reached this degree themselves. Again, other requirements are there, but regarding the actual degree of realization attained by the guru, we can say that obviously they need not have ‘gone all the way’ and that if they have only traveled part of the way then this only limits how far they might direct others, since one cannot actively teach about what one does not know. At the point at which the disciple reaches the same degree as the guru, he would simply direct him to another.

The guru and the practice of exoterism

In order to head off another error regarding the proper role of the guru, we insist that the guru is not a replacement for attachment to a traditional form, and in fact the work done by a guru is undermined if attachment to a form is absent in the disciple. The guru themselves, it should go without saying, will always operate in accordance with the traditional form to which they are attached, and an ‘unattached’ guru is unimaginable and if one appears you can assume outright that he is a false teacher; but it cannot be stressed enough that the attachment of the master to a form does not replace the need on the part of the disciple to be likewise attached to the same form and to have performed all the rites that accompany that form on the exoteric level. This is because esoteric is not a ‘replacement’ for exoterism but is the pinnacle that sits above it and for which the exoteric aspect of the religion acts as a support: one should never imagine that associate for a guru can substitute for this as if discipleship were above and beyond forms–an absurdity because the only time one gets beyond forms is once Deliverance has been attained, at which point association with a guru would be pointless.

True and false spiritual teachers

When we speak of initiation, what we mean in its simplest terms is direct affiliation with an initiatic organization which accomplishes the transmission of the spiritual influence associated with that organization. This is distinct from what comes after–the initiatic teaching–which is the means used to render ‘effective’ what was at first only virtual. Affiliation is the basic condition and supply the ‘virtuality’ but it remains for this virtuality to become real for the individual in question.

It is with regard to this second part of the process that the spiritual master is active, and this is the much more difficult work. Affiliation in fact is a fairly easy thing to obtain, even if the initiatic organizations are generally degraded in our time. It is incumbent on the master to draw from the means available within the framework of the organization and to apply them in accordance with the possibilities and aptitudes of the initiate. It is the ability to accomplish this which makes him the true master, since it is possible for anyone to ‘go through the motions’ and the various means supplied by an organization, but these will have no effect if not applied at the proper time and in the proper way. The rite confers a virtuality, the master sees it become effective.

The first sign of a false teacher in the present age is one who advertises as ‘spiritual powers’ abilities that are actual of the psychic order. Here we have in mind the ability to know the thoughts and feelings of others through sensitivity and sympathy, but there is no limit to the variations that this might take, even extending to displays of ‘magic’ and telekinetic performances. As impressive and unusual as these things might be they work at a level that is not spiritual but psychic, and in this sense they do not prove any degree of spiritual realization in the person who performs them. On the contrary, it has been said that these abilities are usually the result of a stunted or deviated development and in that sense are indicators of sickness on the spiritual level.

We could embark on an investigation of all of the marks of a false spiritual teacher, but we think it most straightforward to insist on what we’ve already said as the most reliable and straightforward measure of the legitimacy of a popular or self-proclaimed master. The test is simply this: affiliation with an authentic traditional form. Anyone who is unattached cannot meet the basic requirements for the status of guru and attachment is always an easy thing to discover, since a master has no reason to hide it since it is the very support on which he stands. If he seems to hide it, you can safely suspect that he does not have it, and therefore cannot be who he says he is.

Self-initiation and affiliation with dead forms

One more remark on this question will suffice: we have said that attachment to an authentic tradition is the basic test of the spiritual teacher. We should add that this attachment must be to a still-extant tradition. The Pythagorean initiations, however real they may have been in their time, cannot have a reality today. The same is true of the Druidical ‘orders’ that claim to have accomplished so many ‘self-initiations.’ Anyone who claims ‘self-initiation’ or attachment to a non-existent tradition is deluded or lying, usually the former, since one who consciously lies is never near as convincing as the one who believes in his own errors. As sincere as these individuals may be, and although much of what they say has truth to it, they do not stand on solid ground and if they are affiliated with a spiritual influence it is not one with which you should want to come into contact, since the stabilizing conditions provided by the traditional form are the only means of making this contact safe and beneficial.

The function of the upaguru and the question of qualifications

One should avoid trying to define the upaguru in terms of any special qualifications: the term itself means ‘occasional instructor’ and anyone, depending on circumstance, might exercise this function. What matters is not so much the actor as what is affected by them, and it is not inconceivable that the same function could be performed by some lower being, such as an animal or even an inanimate object, although only a human being can perform the function in an active sense. In any case, the upaguru should accept responsibility for the situation as the result of karma, which is to say, simply the anterior causes of things which determine and ‘situate’ us within the events of our lives, and he will then interpret the event within the context of dharma, his ‘vocation,’ embracing it as such. If it seems like we’ve gone into too much detail on this point, and since this description could also be said of virtually any event in anyone’s life, this is only to emphasize that the upaguru is not an ‘office’ to be held but a function to be performed. This point becomes all the more important for those who may be called to perform this function for someone who is mentally or morally superior to themselves. If the function of ‘occasional teacher’ was equated with some type of qualification or superiority, then obviously this would be a mistake and the individual in such a position would have cause to hesitate and redirect anyone trying to solicit counsel from them; but we should insist with full force that because this function could conceivably be performed even by an inanimate object, it can be performed by a human being without respect to qualifications, with the success or failure depending only on the sincerity, humility, and courage with which one accepts it. In other words, once it becomes clear that counsel it being sought of you, the question of whether or not you are properly equipped has already been answered, and this remains true even if the performance of this function means nothing more than pointing the inquirer in the direction of a more adequate teacher or to some beneficial reading. Redirecting an inquirer should not, of course, be the first course, but is a legitimate response and is not necessarily an avoidance of the teaching function but is a normal part of it.

Superiority and inferiority in the occasional teacher

We just said that the exercise of the function of upaguru does not depend on mental, moral, or spiritual qualifications, and this is true in itself. However, we should this additional clarification: the relationship between teacher and student, however temporary and limited in scope that might be, does imply superiority of some kind, and the fact that spiritual counsel is being sought implies a recognition of that superiority. To accept these implications and to do one’s best to carry out this function does not imply any kind of pride or arrogance. It is simply a recognition of the complexities of human superiority and inferiority, illustrating that a person who is normally and in most respects inferior to another might, at a particular time and in a particular way, act from a position of superiority.

Attacks on the teaching office based on moral grounds

What was said immediately above provides an answer to one of the typical attacks made by Protestantism against the Catholic priesthood, or against sacred offices in general, on the basis of moral deficiencies in the individuals entrusted with these kinds of positions. Moral failure, however frequent or severe, does not change the nature of the function being performed. The reason for this is that the function is divine, and there is always a disproportion between the ‘humanity’ of the instrument being utilized and the transcendent nature of the function itself: if we demand that abilities and moral perfection of the person are proportionate to the function of the office, then no one could ever hold the office, and so it would immediately lose its efficacy. Thus, moral weakness is secondary, due to the weakness of the actor, and not essential to the validity of the office.

In fact, we can say that the morally weak man who exercises a divine function can in some respects do it even more effectively because his weakness as instrument serves to illustrate all the more powerfully the transcendence of the function. At any rate, the function always remains what it is, as ‘instituted by God,’ in a similar way as it is said that all political power, just or unjust, comes from God and that abuse of political power does not nullify the legitimacy of power in itself.

The legitimacy of the priesthood does not stand or fall on the basis of the conduct or qualifications of those individuals who participate in it and exercise its functions. The upaguru or ‘occasional teacher’ is not, of course, holding a priestly ‘office,’ and this should be acknowledged, but the same principle applies when it comes time to act in this role, and here as elsewhere moral qualifications do not factor in.

The futility of moral comparisons

For the same reason that sinners cannot invalidate a divine office, saints cannot legitimize one; in other words, it does no good to debate about the superiority of a religion or its doctrine on the basis of the moral strength or weakness of that religion’s adherents. Even if it could be easily demonstrated that the believers of one faith were without doubt morally superior to those of another faith (a demonstration that is for numerous reasons impossible), it would not matter.

The office of the guru

We can now refer to the case of the Master, or the guru in the full sense of the word. The guru differs from the upaguru in that he is assumed to be superior in a sense that is not temporary but permanent: this again does not rest, necessarily, on his saintliness, for one need not be a saint to be a guru, but rather on initiatic status through affiliation with a traditional order. This in turn is connected with a degree of spiritual realization which is personal and irrevocable. Here we mean irrevocable in the same way that a Catholic priest, once he has received sacred ordination, can never return to the lay state except outwardly, and even priests removed from the clerical state are removed from practice and released from theri obligations, but they do not cease to be what they became at ordination. We can also remark that the guru, due to his initiatic qualifications and his degree of realization, is a true ‘mouthpiece of the Self,’ and is in this way infallible.

A framework for imparting counsel

We now propose to lay out some principles to be followed when it comes to actually responding to solicitations for spiritual counsel. They will be framed in a practical way and could be employed by both the upaguru and the guru, although we have in mind primarily the upaguru since the case of the true guru does not lend itself to schematizing and these individuals tend to defy preconceptions by their nature. Although what follows could be good advice for them, we consider it beyond the scope of this work to pretend of offer it to such a one, and in reality such a one would never need it. Therefore, it is to the occasional teacher that we offer these reflections since he is more likely to have need of them when called to exercise such a function.

General allowances for emotional strain

It is of the utmost importance that one be prepared to discuss the most important matters in a spirit of detachment. In particular, when the person concerned is distressed or timid, it is all too easy to drive them back within themselves, since they know they take a risk in exposing themselves and are always prepared to go on the defensive.

Remember that anyone seriously pursuing spiritual answers will spend a great deal of time straddling the fence between ignorance and breakthrough on a particular question. Thus, an emotional response to an unfamiliar answer should not be taken as evidence that this person is hopeless or incapable or unwilling to accept the counsel offered: they are simply on the precipice where unsteadiness is to be expected. This analogy also presents an opportunity for a further warning: even if it appears that the individual could best be served by simply ‘shoving them over the edge’ of the precipice via some hard statement of truth, it is rare that this is the proper course of action. It is not necessary to soften every statement we make, but gentleness is the rule and hardness the exception. Irritability is symptomatic of strain, and strain is the condition to be expected of one who is striving for apprehension of spiritual truth. If you begin to display irritability and defensiveness, the individual seeking your counsel will, even if unconsciously, begin to sense that you are not really in the possession of the certainty he seeks, and he may just be correct. The signs of one in possession of certainty is the absence of fear, which expresses itself through patience, serenity, and sincerity.

Here we can point out a difference between the type of counsel we have in mind, disinterested and revolving around the needs of those seeking it, and the approach of contemporary evangelicals who might be tempted to situation their way of speaking within a traditional context where it has no place. I myself have experienced a number of times their attempts at proselytizing, which has no concern, except ‘theoretically,’ for the person being addressed, but where the end goal is within the evangelist and the evangelizing is more for their own edification than anyone else’s, and where any ‘converts’ are tallies–souls ‘won’ for Christ in a kind of combat. For this reason the evangelicals are experienced as aggressors not sought out but endured, with the result that anyone ‘on the fence’ about a particular matter is rudely shoved to one side or the other, for better or worse.

Regarding blunt answers, we point out a case where they are appropriate, and that is when it is discerned that the inquirer has already made up his mind and even though he approaches with humility, professing an open mind, he is really seeking validation of a decision already reached: he believes he knows already what you will say and what value it has for him, and simply wants to confirm himself in his judgements. In the modern era of ideology and pre-packaged systems, this is unfortunately a frequent case, all the more unfortunate because even if one’s answer is not the ‘expected’ response it is nonetheless pigeon-holed alongside ‘the opposition’ and is again utilized only to confirm the inquirer in his pre-judgements. Here it does no good for you or for him to try and adjust one’s firmness to an acceptable level because there is no acceptable level, and so a blunt response that is neither harsh nor soft but simply detached is the best way to bring things to the inevitable impasse.

The task of re-framing questions

Often the person seeking counsel will begin with some secondary matter, a question that opens a dialogue but does not reveal the nature of their real perplexity. It may take some time ‘beating around the bush’ before the real question comes out.

It will also happen that the first task is to carefully reframe the questions being posed. As many writers have already observed, some of the most difficult questions in the history of theological debate have been impossible to answer only because the questions themselves were improperly framed and contained some internal contradiction that was unfortunately never detected. Much dogma is the result of just this problem where the religious authority steps in to make a ruling against a heresy, not always because the heresy is demonstrably wrong but because the issue at hand is absurd and there is no way to put it to rest except through dogmatism. And of course this is completely appropriate for such situations and is not a mark against dogma but for it, since otherwise these questions could tear a religion to pieces. Returning to our present context, usually in the questions posed by the seeker there is an accidental merging of different orders, such as the confusion of the spiritual and the psychic, or the metaphysical with the theological, and so on. Once the question is re-framed, it is half-answered, sometimes wholly answered, since the confusions previously apparent are now dispelled

Traditional norms over personal experience

Although your natural inclinations might be to share your own personal experiences, this is not advisable. Instead try to base all your answers on traditional data. Your role in exercising this function is to be a mirror of the Self, and your personal idiosyncrasies and opinions can only dull the reflection that it is your purpose to shine in the face of the inquirer. Point them toward the traditional doctrine, correct their contradictions and confusions, and elaborate and draw correspondences when necessary. That is all you can and should do while always keeping an attitude of personal detachment at the center of the exchange. This not only ensures that you will not offer something that is appropriate to your nature but not theirs, but also helps prepare you for a situation where your claims are questions or rejected, since an attitude of detachment allows you to accept this without being troubled.

Due concern for emotional investment during correction

Anytime correction is called for, it is important to understand that anyone having his opinions rearranged will be knocked off balance and this brings with it disappointment and other emotions, all of them natural to the human condition and not at all blameworthy. You should be ready to allow for the seeker to regain his balance, and know that this is especially the case when the correction itself involved pointing out the intrusion of sentiment in a particular question, since a correction that relates to feelings will be all the more likely to provoke a response of the same kind.

Show sympathy without delving into personal histories

The simple fact that counsel is being sought is usually a sign of acute spiritual distress (if such a term is permissible). It is necessary to keep that in mind at all times and, as a result, to show as much sympathy as possible toward the person in this situation, however confident they might act. It is helpful to learn about the spiritual condition of the seeker, and attentiveness to small signs and the motivations behind questions will provide the necessary insights; but we must insist that imparting spiritual counsel in the relationship here envisioned is not at all similar to the function of psychiatrist or therapist. You are not ‘counselling’ in that sense and at that level. For the therapist, what the client is asking for is freedom from a given emotional affliction or advice on aspects mental hygiene and the correction of mental disorders. In that context it is absolutely necessary to delve into the experiences, traumas, and general background of the client. It is not the same for the upaguru, for in these cases what is asked for is knowledge of the highest order, and while this is knowledge ‘oneself’ it is only this in a secondary way: primarily it is knowledge of the Self, and the goal is to convey this knowledge without interference of any lower orders.

The role of a traditional framework

Spiritual realization in a vacuum is not something that should be pursued, even if it is conceivable that it could happen. Man is not pure spirit, but is also body and soul and he lives in the world and needs to develop his faculties accordingly. A traditional framework alone can provide the proper support for the right ordering of man and all his parts. That is why the pursuit of spiritual knowledge and development within a traditional framework is far and away the safest and most effective way to proceed, whichever framework that happens to be. We mention this here because when one is sought out for spiritual counsel, it is important to find out if the seeker is attached to an authentic traditional form or not. If attached, then the means provided by that form should take priority over other suggests and if possible the guidance provided should be drawn from that same form. The reason for this is that even if it might be appropriate to make use of correspondences between traditional forms, it is different when it comes to spiritual realization and the path to it, in which case the stabilizing and ‘unifying’ support of a single form is called for. Especially when the seeker is in a state of distress on some question, they should not be scattered unnecessarily by driving them to examine other forms. Here we can repeat what has been said by others: that one should not attempt to assemble at will elements of differing forms as if to create a traditional form that is of our own design. While it is true to say that each form taken as a whole is just as legitimate as any other, it is a dangerous error to graft together elements taken from different forms. Two things may be beneficial in themselves and in the proper context, and then become deadly when mixed. The traditions are all of a piece and that is their strength: taken apart and mixed they become at best ineffective and at worst an abomination. What, then, of the seeker who is not already attached to a traditional form? They should be urged in no uncertain terms to seek out and adopt one. As to which, they should be pointed to the form most easily accessible to them, since it would do little good to urge the seeker to attach themselves to the Pythagorean tradition, with which they could have no contact outside of a few books on the subject. Even a still-living form like Taoism would be an inadvisable choice for a Western man, first and foremost because of the mental differences between the West and the East, but also because Taoism, even if still present, has receded somewhat and a master of that form would, we think, be very difficult to find even in China.

Two types of corruption

When it comes to the choice of forms it should be taken for granted that they will all be subjection to corruption. This typically takes one of two forms: dilution or petrifaction. In the former, the forces of dispersion and lukewarmth take their toll, and contemporary Protestantism is one example of this. When petrification is in question, it is rather that the practices and institutions that go to form the life of the church become ossified and inflexible, so that even those who cling to forms cling to them like fat deposits in a sclerotic artery, and their very lethargy is what kills. This would be more the case with Catholicism which has remained true to its superficial elements while closing in on itself and becoming more uniform and rigid and incapable of responding in a decisive manner to changing conditions. We mention this not to unjustly disparage Christianity but only to show that corruption is normal and that a form should not be rejected because it displays one of these two tendencies, so long as the window to the Absolute provided by that tradition remains open and accessible.

Finding a guru in the modern context

No doubt the question floating at the back of the reader’s mind throughout the foregoing has been simply this: how does one find a spiritual master? The easiest way to answer this question is that unless one is somewhat advanced in their spiritual journey they should worry more about attachment to a traditional form than about the location of a spiritual master. The means provided by the form will take them quite far, and unless they are willing to travel that distance by that means it would not draw any benefit from contact with a master. That is to say, one must ‘pay the price of admission,’ and not just in the moral sense of ‘earning the right’ to consult a master, but rather as a matter of necessity in order to become adequate to the knowledge they seek.

Beyond that, the task of locating a master is made more difficult by the proliferation of self-styled imposters. Even if a master of authentic initiatory qualifications has been located, there remains the question of whether or not one possesses the qualifications to become a disciple. One must be accepted. After all, even if the knowledge of the guru is profound, he is but one man and must be careful to expend his energies in a way that is not wasteful: the warning against casting pearls before swine has many applications and in this case it is practical. In any case, here again the seeker should be urged to utilize the framework of the authentic tradition to which he is attached and which can provide the most reliable path toward a teacher.

In exceptional circumstances a person unattached to any traditional form might feel the desire to find a master, and may even find one, and in these cases it is entirely appropriate for the seeker, having discovered the ‘center’ of a traditional form, to work backwards and to adopt all of the external elements of that form. In other words, to become an adherent of the religion and its disciplines. This is the reverse of the normal process, but exceptions can always occur. The important point is that the form ought to be adopted and the fact that the master was engaged first does not do away with this need.