In the ultra-materialistic West many of us have the sense that our normal everyday lives seem disconnected from anything we might consider spiritual. However even here and now there are those who feel an ‘inner something’ drawing them to look further and deeper into the spiritual side of things. There has never been a time when men and women have not been aware of this ‘something within’. Though the terminology varies, all the leading religions, spiritual philosophies and traditions have something to say about it.
The mystical traditions in particular speak of those who have experienced contact or even union with the spirit of God within themselves. Some traditions identify this inner spirit with the higher self, the real individual ego. We can read of the great mystics who’ve been ‘gathered up to God in a cloud of light’, or of those inspired seers, illuminated by the light within, who henceforth know wisdom and love beyond the measure of normal men. The ‘something within’ is often represented by the mystic traditions as a kind of junction with the divine, a mysterious spark from the fire of God. It is characterised here as the master within.
To some seekers the steepness of the path to such mystical experiences can be discouraging. They somehow seem out of reach, destined for some perhaps, but surely not possible for them. Consequently they give the so-called mystical life a wide berth; they lower their sights and cut their cloth to a more modest pattern. And for the few who do press on undaunted there are so many conflicting and complex route maps on offer that it’s not surprising that the majority get lost almost before they start. Consequently they see neither hide nor hair of any master within. So to make clearer the road ahead it may be helpful to consider some basics. By circumventing the details we can try to establish a few fundamentals, one or two guiding principles that might point in the right direction.
It’s not really surprising that we sometimes doubt our ability to sense this inner self. For many of us in the West a great deal of the doubt we allow to form within our minds is the result of being over-influenced by the materialistic thinking of modern Science. But this is a mistake, for Science is very far from discovering the hidden depths of even our material nature, and should certainly not be considered the authority when it comes to the spiritual.
“Man has to awaken to wonder – and so perhaps do peoples. Science is a way of sending him to sleep again.” (Wittgenstein)
Impressive as Science may be in its own sphere, the tools available to it – extensions of our bodily senses – are incapable of detecting or measuring the subtler and more elusive realms of the spirit. They can take us to the threshold and no further. To travel beyond the threshold we must find a way to quieten and then transcend the physical body and its senses. And what the tools of Science have discovered seems to confirm that the world of our bodily senses is an illusion. If our senses were organised differently the material world and all it contains would appear very different, but in itself would not have changed at all. No, the physical senses do not present us with the true picture, and have always been mistrusted by the mystic seeker.
And further, Science now teaches that matter itself is not as we previously thought a thing at all, at least in the way we have tended to think of it, but appears to be a vibrating sea of energy in varying states and conditions. In the light of these developments it’s not surprising that some of the braver scientists are becoming interested in the parallels between quantum physics and some of the principles established by the founders of our ancient traditions of belief. However those in the mainstream continue to steadfastly look the other way. But in spite of them it’s clear that we should look not to Science but to the religious and mystical traditions if we wish to learn more about the master within.
“The senses’ light draws us earthward
God’s Light calls us heavenward” (Rumi)
Various schools of psychologists have also contributed to the doubts. However even they have demonstrated how often our basic instinctive nature unbeknown to our normal consciousness affects much of what we think and do. Why then should we be surprised if it turns out that unseen influences also enter into our conscious minds from above, contrasting with those that rise up from the lower? From the mystic’s perspective the task is to become more receptive to these higher influences and to trace them to their source in the very centre of his being.
So perhaps the first gem to be mined from the treasure chest of the mystic teachings is ‘do not doubt’. For according to all the best authorities, ancient and modern, doubt is like a dark and insidious cloud, a barrier that shuts out the light within, limiting what we might otherwise achieve.
“Our doubts are traitors,
and make us lose the good we oft might win,
by fearing to attempt.” (Shakespeare)
Though we shouldn’t doubt our ability to find the light within at any time, a moment’s thought will convince most that the mountain of Self is not scaled in a single step, in a single life on earth, or in several such lives. The process is a long and gradual one, so the sooner we start the better.
But before we get too disheartened by the prospect of the road ahead we should take time to consider that if we’re now actively seeking the ancient way of return then we must have already spent many, many lives gathering the prior experiences necessary for such an important development to have taken place. An analogy might make things clearer. The growth of a great civilisation unfolds often sporadically from generation to generation, from century to century. The achievements of Egypt thousands of years before our era for example needed earlier periods of development stretching back many more thousands of years into a period which for our historians is now lost. In similar fashion it’s likely that our current personal quest is no more than the ‘picking up again’ of a search for greater meaning in life that began long before our present incarnation. And in contrast to the limited scope of our modern historical perspectives, the mystical traditions insist that none of our previous achievements are ever lost to us – if we know where and how to look.
Down through the centuries the terms used to denote the master within have been many if not countless. The ancient traditions have also used many different metaphors to describe the process of discovering the place wherein he dwells. Various journeys, voyages, pilgrimages, quests, transmutations and so on were used by the ancients to symbolise the progress of the mystical search. Some of them represented it as akin to climbing a ladder. And the subsequent testimony of all the greatest mystics suggests that while the ladder stretches even to the very kingdom of God, its lower rungs are wherever we are, in the here and now. This is important. If the first gem to be gathered in is ‘do not doubt your ability to discover the master within’ then the next must surely be ‘he is closer to us than we sometimes realise’.
What we might think of as the unselfish, healthy, vibrant side of our nature, the positive, seeking side, are the lower rungs on the ladder that lead to and indirectly are our own master within. Often an inner word of warning, an inspiring thought, or an appreciation of true beauty can be traced to their origin in a higher part of our selves of which we are not normally conscious. The aspiring mystic needs only to recognise these higher elements already existing in his nature, to identify their source as the master within, and then use them to take the next step up the ladder. It sounds simple; and in essence it is simple. However everyone who has ever tried it agrees that while it may be simple, it is far from easy. The problem seems to be that the other side of our nature, the negative, selfish, doubting and fearful side, interferes with the process.
This brings us to the third of our gems from the treasury. Before we can make the connection with the master within complete and unbreakable we must learn how to control the worst aspects of our lower selves. The measure of our inner control and peace is the measure of our capacity to contact the master within. It is the first and most important step on the path from where we are in the here and now to where he dwells in the unseen centre of our being. From the standpoint of the here and now, or our normal, everyday consciousness, until inner control and balance is fully established, then the master within remains more or less dormant and is unable to function properly or bring what he has to bring to our material lives. So long as we are unable to control our lower passions and vices, our fears and anxieties, then the full measure of his assistance in the here and now must remain withheld.
While in other traditions connections are made to Krishna, Horus and so on, mystics writing in the Christian tradition associate the master within with Christ. The mystic life for them is a gradual unfolding of the Christ within, whose influence upon their lives increases as they establish inner control and peace. Eventually when we’re ready and the necessary preparations are complete, the Christ, or master within awakens.
“It is that in every man there is a latent Christ. The touch of the Divine Spirit wakens that Christ within and brings Him into union with the Christ above.” (Campbell)
Whether we prefer to call the master within Christ or some other name does not really matter. However we choose to refer to him, all the questions we may have about the great adventure called life are resolved by his light. From the mystic’s point of view it’s only from the master within that each of us can discover our destiny as well as our true nature and place in the scheme of things. It’s only through him that we can find our true purpose in life, over and above the various material duties and responsibilities we all have.
Such was the change to their lives it’s not surprising that each of the Christian mystics who recorded their inner reception of the light of Christ considered themselves reborn as a new kind of man; that a miracle had happened, that they had been saved by the grace of God, and that they had been led from darkness unto light.
“And within the soul of every man is found the Christ Principle, striving ever to elevate and lift up the individual toward that realization of the Real Self − and this is what “redemption” and “salvation” really means.” (Atkinson)
Christ the redeemer was a fact proven to them beyond any doubt by their own inner transformation. From that day onwards He was the sun of their being, the light and the life within, the Saviour, the Lord of Heaven and Prince of Peace enthroned in the centre of their mystic heart. He was indeed the Master Within.
“And when the Heart of Man awakes, The Heavens open wide, The Veil is torn, the Mind is raised And sails away on fervid Wings . . . Or swoons in Ecstasy.” (Michaud)