Manly P. Hall on the False Light of New Age Spirituality
from “A Monthly Letter”, April 1st, 1936
The field of popular metaphysics is now a battlefield of competitive isms. There is no code of fair play among the merchants of pseudo-religion/spirituality. Metaphysical movements frequently sacrifice integrity upon the altar of success. It was once observed by a prominent business man that it takes a great deal of advertising to sell an inferior product, and nearly all over-advertised products are inferior.
Fakery and elaborate promises always go hand in hand. Fakery generally follows the line of least resistance. Nearly all people want to be beautiful. In this department metaphysics and cosmetics share the spoil. Nearly everyone wants to have a dominating, powerful, magnetic personality. Nearly everyone desires to be a citizen of distinction in his own community. The poor desire money, the moderately comfortable desire wealth, and the wealthy desire more wealth. The sick want to be well, the lame, the halt and the blind want to be relieved of their infirmities. These desires taken together are a fertile field for an individual with the exploiting instinct.
People fundamentally honest, in either material or spiritual matters, are not easily fooled. It is the streak of dishonesty in human nature that makes fraud profitable. People desiring something they have not earned are almost certain to lose in their effort to get it. It is the stupidity and cupidity of millions that sustain corruption in every department of society, and religion/spirituality cannot remain pure and undefiled while the men who make up the belief are in themselves corrupt.
Many metaphysicians have come to me with their tales of woe, of how they only wanted the Elixir of Life, the Philosopher’s Stone, and the secret of eternal wealth; that it had been promised to them in ten easy lessons at the ridiculously low sum of twenty-five dollars, and that they had been viciously cheated by a nasty man who could not deliver the goods.
Universal law is as immutable as the seasons, as inevitable as the course of the stars, and no metaphysical maestro is going to alter these inevitables in ten lessons or in ten million lessons. The law of cause and effect is as inevitable as day and night, as certain as the tides, and as constant as the ages. This law says that ‘as ye sow, so shall ye reap’. What you earn comes to you, what you have not earned can never be yours, and neither god nor man can alter the complexion of these facts.
There is no teaching more dangerous than that of special dispensation and special privileges. There are no such things in the universe and anyone claiming to be able to administer them is either self-deluded or fraudulent. If there be one thing constant in the universe it is law. This law is the hope of the wise, the firm rock upon which the informed build their philosophy of life. It is a fatal day for the truth-seeker when he lets some pseudo-mahatma talk him out of the realization of universal integrity.
Now let us see something of the truth of the situation. What are the material results of a life dedicated to a spiritual code of action? Of course we are referring now to a life. This does not mean a few weeks of instruction or ten simple lessons. It means exactly what the words themselves mean- a lifetime, year after year lived honestly and intelligently.
A man is not spiritualized because he reads books, or because he studies with some famous teacher, even if that teacher is bona fide. He is not spiritual because he knows spiritual people, or because he recites a few platitudes morning and evening, or because he goes into the silence, or because he prays a formula, or because he chants Sanskrit, or because he pays dues to a metaphysical organization, or because he has been “initiated” into some mystical cult.
He is only a spiritual person because year after year he lives a spiritualized, philosophical life. There is an old saying common to the clergy, that the parishioners want to go to heaven on the coat-tails of the ministry, and there are a great many people who believe that their spiritual salvation is all worked out because they have joined an organization with advanced views, or because they believe in Reincarnation and Karma, or because they love animals.
Some think they work out their eternal destiny with diet. Others strive to breathe their way into a divine state. Others use packages of appropriate herbs gathered by a “mahatma,” on the top of the Himalayas, sold at a dollar a package to the believers.
Religion [Spirituality/Esotericism] is not a fancy process of mechanical exercises or affirmations. It is not some thing that you-rub on. It is something you live day by day. Religion is the improvement of the self by a constant course of self-discipline, called the philosophic life. It is something to be lived, not talked about; something to be practiced, not affirmed. The great metaphysical systems of the past have descended to us in a fragmentary condition due to the centuries of theological blight that nearly destroyed classical philosophy. Pythagoras and Plato were metaphysicians, so were Buddha and Confucius, but their metaphysics has little in common with the popular brand.
To study metaphysics in the hope of curing a stomach ache, or of attaining cosmic consciousness, or increasing the income, is to be guilty of sacrilege to say the least, or possibly better, absurdity and effrontery.
The ages have sought for truth. Hundreds of millions have lived to achieve it and millions have died for it. Heroes, martyrs, sages, saints and prophets, and demigods of forgotten ages, are the priests of this great house. The gates of this sanctuary are to be approached only with reverence. The ancient road that leads to it is worn smooth with the footsteps of uncounted multitudes, and the modern metaphysician of today is so incapable of perceiving even dimly the immensity and sanctity of this science, that he confuses this divine program with a business mens’ cooperative luncheon club, or a local clinic.
The Ancient Wisdom offers nothing to a disciple of the Great Work but the opportunity to improve himself by a consistent program of intelligently directed effort. No individual is ready for a religious, spiritual or philosophical life while he has to be induced into the process of being good by promises of material reward. Wise men study philosophy, not so they will remain young forever, but that they may grow old wisely. No man studies the Ancient Wisdom teachings with a view to increasing his personal wealth, because philosophy, if anything, will probably separate him from what he now has.
Philosophy makes men rich not in out ward possessions but in inward consciousness. Philosophy stores up treasures within, where thieves cannot steal nor time corrupt.
The law and the prophets are misquoted and mistranslated in an effort to make them justify the foolish belief that God wants all men to be healthy, happy and rich whether they live well or not. As a matter of fact, the universe has no particular interest in man’s happiness, any more than man is moved deeply by the state of comfort or discomfort that may exist in a beehive or ant-hill.
In order to be happy, man must live well. He must be honest to his world, honest to himself, and conscious of the purpose for his own existence. If man keeps the laws of life, lives intelligently and nobly, and uses his mind for the perfection of his inward nature and for the assistance of others, he is entitled to a reasonable amount of happiness. In fact, if he does these things, he is happy and is not spending his time looking around for platitudinous solutions to his imperfections.
The same principle applies to the problem of wealth. Nature has not decreed nor the universe foreordained that man should be wealthy; in fact the whole theory of wealth is of human fabrication, for nature stores up what it needs and man accumulates what he does not need.
Wealth is the heaviest responsibility that an individual has to carry in this world, and right decision concerning its use is one of the heaviest causes of Karma. It is a constant temptation and binds the individual to a host of responsibilities and decisions. It takes up a vast amount of time and renders the mind confused and wearied and unfitted for philosophical study.
True metaphysics is concerned with universal facts, with the divine life of man that extends far beyond this mortal sphere. True metaphysics is life under law, man flowing through the universe upon the currents of divine law like a ship moved by the great currents of the ocean. The wise man does not desire to escape from law but rather aspires to perfect harmony with it. Any metaphysical teacher, therefore, who would tempt man’s mind away from the acceptance of those universal principles which sustain the world is guilty of the promulgation of false doctrines. There has never been any of the great Mystery Schools that ever promised power, enlightenment or security until after the individual perfected the virtues within himself.
It must be evident that a group of people gathered from all parts of a community, with no effort made to discriminate between their varying degrees of undevelopment, can never be promised any spiritual advantage by any metaphysical teacher or organization. Metaphysics is all inward chemistry, philosophical chemistry, based on the principle: the better we are, the more we can know. If we are not anything in ourselves, it is humanly impossible for any being, human or divine, to impress upon us the realization of truths beyond the state of our own development.
There is no exception to this, there is no way of avoiding, evading or escaping this fundamental metaphysical fact.
Any effort to force conditions which are not merited comes under the heading of Black Magic or sorcery. A sorcerer is simply a person who uses the mechanical processes of the will in an effort to force out of nature things or conditions not merited under the law of Karma. By hypnosis, by the exercise of will power, by formulas, it is sometimes possible to temporarily here in the physical world force the semblance of unjustified conditions.
A man can steal by metaphysical means just the same as he might rob a bank or forge a name, or in some other harmful way come into possession of that which is not his own, but the mere fact that it can be accomplished in such a manner does not justify the process nor make right the wrong principle which is involved.
By the malicious use of will power and animal magnetism the law of cause and effect can apparently be nullified for a short time. But again the mere fact that it can be accomplished does not establish the integrity of such a process. The only way in which any individual can honestly possess what he desires is to earn or deserve that thing.
Again there are no exceptions.
When some metaphysician stands up and tells you that he has a private way with the universe by which he can justify the misuse of power, only very foolish people will pay any attention to him. Black magic is not philosophy any more than bank robbery is ethics. If the whole problem is lifted to a metaphysical level, untrained minds are very apt to lose sight of values and proportions.
Metaphysical black magic has flourished for many thousands of years, for there always has been and will probably continue to be for an indefinite period of time a class of people who desire to possess without the labor of acquiring by legitimate means. No one can be morally dishonest and at the same time pretend to be spiritual or philosophical. On the other hand it would be wrong to say that man’s spiritual efforts, when wisely and honestly directed, are not rewarded in a wholly adequate way.
Wisdom bestows a security far beyond that of wealth, gives inward peace and outward patience. It clears the mind of innumerable false values that clutter up the reasoning of the majority, it frees thought to contemplate the real. Philosophy rewards men with a coinage of its own, it gives them that which they have earned and which the world cannot take from them.
Wisdom is its own reward and those who possess it can never be humiliated, impoverished or degraded. Wisdom is not of this world but of the secret world that lies behind. The rewards of wisdom are not of this world but also of that secret place which is the abode of wisdom.
Wise men retire from worldliness to dwell in the presence of truth and in this achieve the rational end for which the human fabric was devised. Hence we cannot say that the quest for truth is all struggle and no result, for with each small gain we make within ourselves there is an appropriate extension of consciousness and enlightenment in our natures. The only thing is that we must learn not to think of philosophy in terms of dollars and cents, of real estate and of mortgages. Philosophy does not pay us in dollars because they are not of the world of philosophy.
Man has an erroneous idea that by unfolding consciousness he can become one of the princes of the earth, possessing all material things and an object of universal admiration.
Religion/Spirituality is not super-salesmanship, nor is it a substitute for the doctor, the dentist and the grocer. The work of religion is to give man inner character, not outer opulence. It often follows that man’s material conditions are improved by his religion, but it also frequently follows that materially he remains an insignificant figure. It is a terrible mistake to use spiritual means in an effort to accomplish material ends. It is a distinct prostitution of that which is too fine and too noble to be so perverted and contaminated.
The honest-minded metaphysician should avoid, as he would the plague, teachers and teachings which promise him freedom from the physical responsibilities of life and the famous “peace, power and plenty” psychology of the inflated 20’s.
These problems affect the beginner who must seek for truth through one of those jarring sects that make up the metaphysical-religious field of today. It may be a disappointment to some to realize that religion as aphorism or platitude is not a substitute for living, working and thinking, but this discovery must finally be made, once made, becomes the guiding star in the quest for real and permanent values.
Gone are the noble masters of that elder day. Only their shadows have descended to us, a few fragments of their words, a story, a fable. These alone bind us to the great philosophical institutions of the past. We live in a material generation and our minds have become used to the idea of interpreting everything on a cash basis. The abstract wealth of beauty, of dream, of vision, of hope and aspiration, of ethics and logic all this is beyond the appreciation of the average man of today.
The underlying materialistic psychology of the age contributes much to religious fraud. We attempt to establish our theologies on the profit system. The whole world today is envisioning a period to come when money will not be the sovereign factor in our thoughts and lives. We are beginning to realize the limitations of wealth and that money is only useful to the degree that it can contribute to our opportunity to improve our inward selves. Today money can secure leisure but cannot guarantee the intelligent use of leisure. It can purchase education but education is bankrupt as far as ethical and aesthetic values are concerned.
What all men are really seeking is some form of inner contentment or tranquillity that can give them courage over outer circumstances. Philosophy bestows the strength of right decision, it gives resistance to temptation, and leveling all extremes of action, reduces wealth and poverty to a common state, elevating only truth to a position of first importance.
We all desire to be better than we are. There are millions of people in this country who want to understand the principles of the mystic life. In their hearts these people are willing but their viewpoints are distorted by false teachings and in adequate understanding. To these people must come the realization that honesty is the beginning of wisdom and that without honesty no great spirituality can be accomplished.
Honesty should have its beginning in the realization that we have no right to anything we have not earned. What we have we must use wisely, what we have not we must earn. All the theological prayers of the ages put together have not the constructive power of one nobly executed action or one profoundly realized truth. To pray for things we have not earned is dishonest; to pray to be relieved of evils we have not mastered is dishonest; to desire anything that is not merited is unphilosophical.
The competition of creeds may leave us upon the horns of a dilemma, but of one thing we can be sure, regardless of our creeds or our beliefs-the spiritual life begins with right action. Honesty is the first step towards truth. Self-control, inward tranquillity, detachment from possession, balance of emotion-all these virtues are absolutely necessary to the understanding of any religious, spiritual or philosophical system.
“To those people who simply pry into the occult from mere curiosity, we have nothing to say. They will obtain just as much as they deserve, and nothing more. “Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you” is equally as true today, in relation to esoteric knowledge, as it was 2000 years ago. It invariably presupposes that the supplicator and the knocker are in real earnest, and that they seek only to satisfy the deep yearnings of the immortal soul.
The doorkeeper, or guardian of the temple of truth is as mute as a granite rock to all others. They may supplicate, they may shout and bawl until they are hoarse, they may knock and buffet the door until they rouse a nation with their clamour, and if they approach in any other spirit than [earnest desire to satisfy the deep yearnings of the immortal soul], it is all to no purpose. We can never take the Kingdom of Heaven by storm.
Those students who are unable to comprehend the sublime import of the mighty system of cycles and periods would preferably be occupied in eschewing occult studies for the adoption of others adapted to their sphere of thought. They must remain contented until the time arrives when conditions are evolved in the scale of the succeeding human races, conditions which will permit of the expansive budding and blossoming of their soul’s now latent attributes.
There is no such thing in the entire cosmos as equality. There is, instead a hierarchy, not as something tyrannical, and especially not based on birth, riches, or the power of the stronger, but as a “sacred authority” sanctioned by the nature of things. There is only one royalty, one aristocracy: that of intelligence. This alone can lead to cosmic equilibrium and happiness.
There are also numerous students who, although being in a condition suitable for the perception of truth, and for the true significance of nature’s grand mysteries, are yet totally unqualified for the perception of this knowledge, owing to their natural but terrible elemental affinity. The result of this fearful psychical condition is that the occult powers which they might develop, would be used for purposes of a purely selfish and worldly nature.
It is quite a minority of this class who can grasp any actual power, for upon the contrary they frequently become the very dupes and slaves of the powers they so ardently seek to control.
To all such we fervently and solemnly say: abandon all thoughts of spirit-intercourse, flee from occultism, and spiritualism, as you would from a pestilence, and may the divine guardians of the human race preserve your souls from the bottomless abyss, upon the brink of which you may possibly have been unconsciously reposing.”
– “The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor: Initiatic and Historical Documents of an Order of Practical Occultism” by Joscelyn Godwin
“Men (women) usually work and carry on their affairs from the ordinary motives of the vital being, need, desire of wealth or success or position of power or fame or the activity and the pleasure of manifesting their capacities, and they succeed or fail according to their capability, power of work and the good or bad fortune which the result of their (conditioned) nature and their Karma.
When one takes up the yoga [work towards Awakening, union with the Divine] and wishes to consecrate one’s life to the Divine, these ordinary motives of the vital being have no longer their full and free play; they have to replaced by another, a mainly psychic (soul) and spiritual motive, which will enable the sadhak (spiritual seeker) with the same force as before, no longer for himself, but for the Divine.
The only work that spiritually purifies is that which is done without personal motives, without desire for fame or public recognition or worldly greatness, without insistence on one’s mental motives or vital lusts and demands or physical preferences, without vanity or crude self-assertion or claim for position or prestige, done for the sake of the Divine alone. All work done in an egoistic spirit, however “good” for people in the world of the Ignorance is of no avail to the seeker [and will keep the door to the Divine shut].
I do not mean philanthropy or the service of humanity or all the rest of the things – moral or idealistic – which the mind of man substitutes for the deeper truth of works. I mean by work action done for the Divine and more and more in union with Divine, merging one’s will with Divine Will. Naturally this is not easy at the beginning, any more than deep meditation and luminous knowledge are easy or even true love. But like the others it has to be begun in the right spirit and attitude, with the right will in you, then the rest will come.
One becomes liberated from the shackles of the outer nature; one becomes aware of one’s inner being and sees the outer as an instrument; one feels the universal Force doing one’s works and the Self watching or witness but free; one feels all works taken from one and done by the Divine Power acting from behind the heart. By constant referring of all one’s will and works to the Divine, true [embodied] love and adoration grow, the psychic being [individualized soul/true self] comes forward.
Finally, Works, Love and Knowledge go together and self-perfection becomes possible – what we call the transformation of the nature. These results certainly do not all come at once; they come more or less slowly, more or less completely according to the condition and growth of the being. There is no royal road to divine realization.
All this insistence upon action is absurd if one has not the light by which to act. The advocates of action think that by human intellect and energy, making an always new rush, everything can be put right; the present state of the world after a development of the intellect and a stupendous output of energy for which there is no historical parallel is a signal proof of the emptiness of the illusion under which they labour.
It is only by a change of consciousness that the true basis of life can be discovered: from within outward. But within does not mean some quarter inch behind the surface. One must go deep and find the soul, the (true) Self [behind the masks of the conditioned personality], the Divine Reality within us and only then can life become a true expression of what we can be instead of a blind and always repeated confused blur of the inadequate and imperfect thing we were.
The choice is between remaining in the old jumble and groping about in the hope of stumbling on some discovery or standing back and seeing the Light within till we discover and can build the Godhead within and without us.”
– Sri Aurobindo, The Integral Yoga