Wednesday 27 May 2020

Initiation is a red herring (or red pill?) (Same with 'enlightenment'.)

One of the many aspects of Rudolf Steiner that annoy me (!) is when he harps-on about 'initiation' to a grossly excessive degree. I don't think this is helpful, and is indeed misleading - as is the related concept of 'enlightenment'.

What both of these seem to hinge-upon is the idea of a once-and-for-all breakthrough - whereby a person reaches a level of insight and understanding and from that point Is Transformed. Things are never the same again. His life is henceforward raised to a new and higher plane.

The false and misleading aspects of such ideas is that they are assumed to be permanent. The person is initiated, is enlightened - and that's that. The heavy-lifting has-been-done, from now onward he is a Different Person.


This may well have been possible and happened in the past and in other places; but I don't see anything to suggest it is possible or actually happens here-and-now.

On the contrary; those who claim (whether explicitly or implicitly) experiences of initiation and enlightenment are (it turns-out!) just like everybody else; they are not qualitatively raised, they operate in a not-significantly-different way.

We may seek special holiness, we may seek an initiate, we may seek an enlightened man in this modern world - but we will not find any such. Or, when something like this is found, it will emerge that the person has 'always been like that': in other words, innate constitution, not experiential initiation, was the cause of the difference.


I regard experiences of initiation and enlightenment as experiences like any other: that is, we need to learn-from them.

But we should not expect such experiences to 'transform' us; should not expect a life-long change in our mortal selves.

We should Not expect that such experiences will re-shape our minds and memories, change our thinking and feeling, solve our problems, raise us beyond former concerns. This will not happen - but even if it did happen, it would all be washed-away at death, or before death - by degeneration or disease.


The value of initiation and enlightenment experiences is like the value of any other experience in this, our mortal life; which is that we hope to learn from experiences such that we may benefit in our eternal (Heavenly, resurrected) life. Initiation or enlightenment may be more intense experiences than most; but they are 'just' mortal experiences - therefore transitory...

Except that 'just' experiences are potentially of ultimate, permanent and vital importance; they are, indeed, why you and I are still-alive now; rather than just incarnating and dying straight away whether in the womb or soon after birth (as have most people in human history).

In sum: initiation is something we need actively to learn-from; it is not something we are passively transformed-by. 


As such; initiation/ enlightenment is a part of the evolutionary development of human consciousness towards becoming more a matter of active choice; and where we are free to learn or not; free to acknowledge reality or to deny it.

Free to choose to see-through the false world and acknowledge the vastly larger scope of divine truth; or free to choose to live-within almost any manufactured virtuality - for example by making the choice passively to surrender to external control by external (media) inputs... 

9 comments:

William Wildblood said...

Three cheers for this. I used to think initiation and enlightenment were real life-transforming things but you quickly find that all so-called initiates and enlightened people are just people with the usual pluses and minuses and sometimes a lot more minuses. In over 40 years of spiritual search I've never heard of an enlightened person who really was such though there are many claimants. It may be that these states existed in the past and I do believe that initiation might be a thing in the spiritual world. But look at the meaning of the word which derives from to begin so an initiate is someone who is beginning a new stage which he must, as you say, actively seek to develop and grow into.

Enlightenment is a purely Eastern concept which does not translate to the West. Initiation comes from the mystery religions which were superseded by Christianity in which the esoteric was brought out into the open so there was no place for initiates.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - As always I am pleased/ relieved to have confirmation from you, with all your experience in these matters!

I am rather 'harping on' myself, about this kind of stuff; because I think so many people - including Christians - have a basically mistaken understanding about the nature and purpose of this mortal life.

For example, in Charles Williams's theology (I can't offhand remember whether it was He Came Down From Heaven or The Descent of the Dove; their is an agonised passage about the disappointment that Christian conversion does not (or seldom) succeed in making a New Man of us - we 'merely' pour new wine into the same old bottle.

The 'lack of solid progress' is frustrating, if we assume that solid progress is the goal.

But if we understand our life as learning - but not learning in our mortal brain-memories, but learning in our eternal souls; then we can see that God would not want anyone to 'solve' mortal life once and for all (unless they really had exhausted all its valuable learning possibilities). It is better that each day brings new challenges, so long as we remain able to learn from them.

James Higham said...

There’s a degree of dishonesty in this with cults, even the global ones - those who reach their 33rd degree or wherever are not demonstrably better people in the least, often more Palpatine in nature. I’ve met one or two.

Faculty X said...

Inlightenment is an inner experience, that of inner light.

It's not something that is really to be judged by others for its merits as an increaser of social value or what is seen as a better person. That's confusing the map with the territory!

It was rare enough by all accounts in the East.

Among today's Westerners consciousness and powers of concentration and sensitivity are so degraded that examining the research claims of Yogis has become almost impossible. But what they wrote was true.


Bruce Charlton said...

@FX - My concern is with the West - the East has a separate destiny.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

As someone who moves in Buddhist circles and knows several "enlightened" people, and as a former initiate into the mysteries of the Mormon temple, I agree entirely with your assessment.

lgude said...

As someone who has experienced what WIlliam James called a 'conversion experience' in his Varieties of Religious Experience I will say simply that I think of my life as before and after that experience which took place at the age of 67 - about 10 years ago. James' lectures are over 100 years old but are refreshing in their straightforward discussion of what was then a commonplace human experience. One of the important takeaways from James is that some of these experiences are lasting, others not. In our own time I am reminded of Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman who had a 'Born Again' experience in his teens and eventually became agnostic. However I emphatically agree that my work over the past 10 years has been to discovering and correcting my "basically mistaken understanding about the nature and purpose of this mortal life".

Mr. Andrew said...

Christianity is rejected by some ( I was one) for this illusionary enlightenment. Just taste the Dragon’s blood, or whatever, and be transformed into a Superman! It is an idea that definitely appeals to the modern mind. We want to just take a pill to have our disease cured, buy the right product for happiness, etc. A simple passive transformation where the hard work is done for us.

Now Christianity does appear to offer that. The work is done not by an unknown third party or process, but a Man we must love. The blood is of God Himself and spiritually transforming, but it is not one and done. It requires taking up a cross, carrying it daily, repenting daily, succeeding in not selling our Lord out for some silver or social pressure. There is no worldly glory and praise for your enlightened Superman state, but instead to succeed in everyday struggles like dirty diapers, obnoxious neighbors, doing dishes, etc. Sounds terribly mundane and boring in contrast.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MA - Nowadays, the big problem seems to be that most people apparently don't even want what Jesus offered - resurrected eternal life in Heaven. They don't even get as far as being seduced away by silver or social pressure.