Questions: Prayer: The Old Testament and the Qabalah: Death: The Enlightenment of Jesus: Grace: The “Stock”
A talk given by Phiroz Mehta at the Convent of the Cenacle, Grayshott, Hampshire on 24th June 1982
Will you talk briefly about prayer and its relevance to the religious life?
When man begins to be aware of something which is the immensity, something much greater than him, something which fills him with awe and a feeling of reverence in addition, he tends to produce prayers. He recognises that power, or at least he imagines that power which he senses, as the power which gives him life and everything that is necessary for him, controls him, controls the world and the universe, and so on. So we have what we commonly call petitionary prayer, that is asking for something for oneself, something, not in the sense in which a child asks its parent to bring this, that or the other toy, but something which will fulfil his life, will certainly bring about the necessities of existence, take care of him, protect him and so on. That petitionary prayer probably extends later on to intercessionary prayer, prayer for the sake of his family, his friends, his tribe and so on. So to that degree petitionary and intercessionary prayer are related to the religious experience, the religious feeling and the religious life. There is then the other aspect, namely that prayer consists of hymns of praise, hymns of devotion, hymns of recognition, a deep inward recognition of that which is divine. Insofar as the person expresses his devotion, and that praise is an expression of his inward recognition that this power is something very real and so forth, it becomes prayer in a different sense from petitionary prayer. Also prayer is associated with bringing about a state of calm and peace within oneself. If one is in deep inward distress, not merely for material reasons or just superficially emotional reasons, when deep down within oneself there is questioning, there is confusion, there is fear, and so on, then the tendency is to pray for the solution of those problems and difficulties, to protect a loved one or something like that. Again when each person observes and considers the flow of thought and feeling in his daily life, he will see how often that flow of thought and feeling consists of fantasies which are evil running through the brain, fantasies of hate, destruction, revenge, and so on. It is very easy to feel that, even in so-called civilised, advanced people. Under such conditions the situation becomes so intolerable to oneself and hurtful to one’s good opinion of oneself, that one can take recourse to prayers and hymns and so on. They have a calming effect. But of course one must remember that the ultimate solution of such things lies right within oneself. People often say, “My prayers were answered, I do believe in a God which answers prayers.” The psychical atmosphere is filled with the formal religious feelings of one’s society, and that society may be a very large multitude, and the collective psychical atmosphere therefore has a certain amount of energy, like capital in a bank, which one can draw upon, so that prayer can bring about a response from that store of psychical energy in the atmosphere. That is why a good result is obtained when the person prays. Of course the person thinks that God, whatever his particular projection of God may be, has answered his prayer. As far as I am aware (which is not very much!), there is no individual God who answers prayers, he is so busy about his business that he does not bother about the noise of the earth! However the fact that results are obtained strengthens the religious feel, meaning thereby a sense of that which is the immensity, the source, the Transcendence itself, call it God, call it Brahman, call it anything you like. But there is that which is other than what our senses convey to us as sources of power, energy, healing and so on.
Then there is the art of prayer. You will find in The Heart of Religion something written about that, page 263, how to pray in the deep sense. If you do that, you can get some very extraordinary results.
Would you say that the Old Testament can only be understood by knowledge and workings of the Qabalah?
Yes, I definitely do think that the really deep understanding of the Old Testament is helped by knowledge and workings of the Qabalah, because the Qabalah really gives the key to the way in which the Old Testament has been written. Even the Hebrew in which the Old Testament is written is not a wholly adequate translation of the original Qabalistic teachings. As far as we know historically, it was Abraham who, going westwards in obedience to the Divine call which he felt, took the Qabalistic teachings with him. He went westwards towards Canaan. The Qabalistic teachings have been written in the Hebrew language in terms of what is called the letter-number code. Each letter of the Hebrew alphabet stands for a number, starting from 1 to 9. Aleph is 1, Bayt is 2, Ghimel is 3 and so on. Each of these letters and numbers is associated with, or rather I should say, represent profound metaphysical concepts which are the result of deep insight obtained through the practice of meditation in the deep sense, in the true sense, by the original founders of this system. The letter-number system is called the Gematria. If you read the Old Testament in the Hebrew characters, you will find that each letter has its particular number, and when you have got all the numbers together, almost in a sentence you get a whole philosophy, an extraordinary teaching,
It is an extraordinarily complex system, but it is not a complicated system. If it were complicated, it could be just a mess. It is a very complex system, complex in the sense that, say, a Bach fugue is a very complex composition. If one understands this and has the key to the significance of the letters and numbers, which stand for these deep metaphysical concepts, then the Old Testament becomes something quite extraordinary. The original Veda of India also had that kind of system attached to it. I have no special grounds for the belief, but I have the feeling that the original Veda and the Qabalah both originated somewhere in the Euphrates-Tigris region. The one went eastwards towards India, the other went westwards towards what is now Palestine. So if one knows these things and can get the genuine key to it all, then the Old Testament is certainly a wonderful source of spiritual wisdom and of course of psychological wisdom, because the Scriptures of the world purport, and they do, to tell you your own psychological purification and development, and they also relate that to the different states of consciousness you will go through in this psychological development. As the psyche becomes purified, the mode of awareness which you have undergoes changes until finally there is the supreme Enlightenment. You see, all words are troublesome. When you say Enlightenment, there is the idea of light, something astonishing, something shining. It is not like that. You become truly conscious in the profoundest sense of the word, that is, as far as human beings can become like that, because, by virtue of our psycho-physical constitution, there are limits to what the human can realize. Christs and Buddhas and Moseses and Zarathushtras and so on will be the ordinary people of humanity, provided we do not destroy ourselves before that happens. But it will be a very, very long time indeed.
What is the difference between mind and consciousness?
Essentially consciousness is mind lighted up. We, as we are, receive impressions through our senses. We also receive impressions by the uprising of memory and so forth within ourselves. Those are the mental phenomena which we experience, but when any of that is truly lighted up and is absolutely clear, consciousness is that lighted up activity. We have clear sightedness, clear hearing, because we may translate our experience, not only in terms of seeing the truth of it, but of hearing the truth of it, depending upon our particular constitution and our particular leaning, our bias, in the right sense of the word, bias not as a prejudice, but that is our bent, as we say. The thing is fully understood, quite clear, no difficulty. Of course in European languages I think consciousness does not convey things very clearly, that word consciousness is so inadequately used. In Sanskrit we really have very clear distinctions between them. We have manas and citta. If one spoke those languages one could have sort of a better feel of the true meaning of the difference between them.
“In the midst of life we are in death.” This Bible quotation is often taken to mean that we know not the day or the hour when our life may suddenly end. Can it be that, by seeing life as a process of growth and development spiritually, we also see that we die daily to the old self, and is this real meaning of the Bible words?
My own inclination would be to take that meaning as presented already, that by seeing life as a process of growth and development spiritually, we also see that we die daily to the old self, because the whole process of manifestation, of procedure, of development, is a process of change. In order that this, which holds good at this instant, is to change, it means that this must die to its present state, its present condition, in order to become the new condition. That is the whole point. So we looking at changes see them as the continuity of life, and we say, “Oh, he is still alive, he is improving, getting on and growing and maturing” and so forth. It involves death from instant to instant. It is death which is the portal which opens in order that this may change into the new life, the new state. Death occurs both with regressive change and with progressive change, until there comes a final end, final, not the absolute sense, but in a relative sense. It is final for that particular species or that particular type of manifestation in the universal process. So that is a final end. I do not know whether the Bible quotation really means that we know not the day or the hour when our life may suddenly end. In actual fact, even if one dies very peacefully and happily in bed or wherever it is, the actual phenomenon of death is a sudden process. One moment a person is alive, he takes in his last breath, as we say, and then the whole thing is ended completely. That is sudden.
Yet in one of the prayers, I think it is a Catholic prayer, it says, “God save us from sudden death.”
There is a very good reason for that. “Preserve us from sudden death in case…” Whenever death is approaching in the normal way, one is fully aware that “I am going.” There is a feeling of resignation, not resignation of the wrong sort but the right sort of resignation. “Right, now, let this happen.” You will notice that, with so many people who have suffered great illness or something like that, when the final death comes, the whole face is transformed and there is a peace that spreads into one. That is essential in order that absolution can take place. One will die absolved. I think that lies at the root of the Catholic teaching. So one does not die without the priest being there, with the Last Sacrament and the Absolution. So man dies in peace, he feels that nothing terrible is going to happen to him after that.
If the Enlightenment of Jesus happened after the Temptation in the wilderness, what then is the deep meaning of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection?
There are two points here on which I am quite ignorant: Did the Enlightenment take place after the Temptation? I don’t know. There are those who say that Enlightenment takes place just like that, suddenly. Yes, the actual final bursting out into light is a sudden thing, but it has been preceded by a long process of development, of growth, until the critical point is reached, and then, that’s it! So people who emphasize that critical point say that Enlightenment is sudden. I myself do not feel at all sympathetic to that idea. It is the power of Transcendence itself which is quietly working all the time, and if I the individual, the ordinary person, am in line with that process and allow it to take place gradually, then after a considerable gradual growth there is this sudden lighting up. I should imagine that with Jesus too this process of Enlightenment started long before. There was the whole development, the purification, the deeper and deeper insight into reality and then that final stage when consciousness burst out fully enlightened, literally lighted up. These things are extremely difficult to describe, but one can get the feel of it if one has experienced something of that sort at least sometime in one’s life. The wilderness of course is very significant indeed. You know how for instance Moses is in Horeb, the waste land. This waste land, I should imagine, sort of typifies the process of the dissolution of all the impedimenta which clog the psyche. That is the waste land, and it is all going away. Then finally when that process has gone far enough, perhaps very far, then suddenly there is the burning bush present and the voice comes out of the burning bush and declares itself to be YHWH-Elohim. (That is in the case of Moses). Moses is enlightened then really, he is in what I have called in The Heart of Religion the I-am state (ehyeh asher ehyeh) , that is what we call in Christian terms the complete unio mystica. “What then is the deep meaning of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection?” I think we had a really fine exposition of the Crucifixion this morning. The Resurrection is the rising up. St. Paul says in the 15th Chapter of I Corinthians, “It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption.” Just after that there is the verse, “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” I have presented it as the Primordial Creative Energy, because the Ultimate Power, or God, or whatever you like to name it, is creative energy. Everyone ascribes creative power first and foremost to the Supreme, to the Absolute, to the Ultimate. This creative energy is the origin of it all and it belongs to a plane which knows no limitation whatsoever. If an analogy might help, consider it this way: All that we know here and experience from the beginning right up to the supreme state for human beings is just one octave of existence. When for instance the Yogi says that he is able to enable Śakti to rise up and become one with Sahasrāra here, Śiva-Śakti are united. All that is the limit of fulfilment and development possible to the human species. That makes one octave. Beyond that are several octaves, we don’t know how many, I certainly don’t! I use the term Primordial Creative Energy meaning the ultimate beginnings. Beginning is a bad word because space, time and matter all come into being with the Big Bang. Until then there is no space and time, there is no container before that, there is only the contained, and that is indescribable because of the absence of a container. Therefore the Big Bang produces the container for this Primordial Energy, the contained, in order to manifest one octave of universal existence. The Resurrection means the rising up of the embodied Transcendence, that is what it means to me, I don’t know whether conventional Catholicism or any other religion would accept that. These are very difficult questions.
Please will you say a few words about Grace?
We all know the ordinary meaning of the word gracious, a gracious person, someone who is generous, giving, without being condescending, just naturally, spontaneously giving, the giver of good things. The giving of good things is Grace. I believe it is in that sense that the religions have talked of the Grace of God. In India, one of the Rg-Vedic Gods is Bhaga. Bhaga is the giver, the giver of good things. The Buddha is called Bhagava, and it is translated as the Fortunate One. He is the giver of good fortune, and the best fortune in Buddhist terms is the receiving through Grace of the dhamma, that is the greatest good fortune.
In your article on Death in The Middle Way you say, “When the five-khandā bundle dies, all the physical atoms composing the body return to the universal stock, all the psychical components likewise return to the aggregates, affecting and influencing the quality and properties of the stock.” Could you please tell us at what stage in manifestation the stock first appears?
To be quite truthful, I don’t know! I haven’t come across any calendar which tells me that! One may imagine that this stock, as far as it concerns human beings, appears when the psycho-physical organism comes into being, but when that came into being, the Lord knows! I don’t suppose he does even, because in these contexts what is time? We are here, we human beings are responsible for the psychical atmosphere that we have generated through the millennia. We are responsible for the changes which we introduce into the psychical atmosphere. The question goes on, “Is it what you call fundamental substance and does this stock become the building bricks of the next pulse or the next manifestation?” No. If by pulse you are referring to the phrase the pulse of creation in its supreme sense, that pulse is always new, it is non-repetitive. People regard the pulse of creation and the production of a new universe somewhat after the fashion of rearranging the furniture in the room, using the old stuff. No, primordial creative activity is totally new all the time. I have to use the word pulse because there is no word in the language which can express this without bringing in the feeling of time. The word pulse also brings in the feeling of time, but time as we know it just does not exists. This pulse of creation is Action in Eternity. The ultimate cosmos is something infinitely beyond the cosmos that we can examine, observe and talk about and so forth, and that ultimate Totality comes into being in Eternity where there is no time. Everything happens immediately, that is the extraordinary part of it. In fact it is reflected in what scientists have said about the Big Bang. From the initial moment of time, which they call the Singularity, (within 1 divided by 1 with 43 noughts after it of a second), suddenly most of the universe has come into being. That is reflected in material terms, but material which is not yet solid or liquid. It is entirely in terms of the sub-atomic particles and nuclei of the various chemical elements. So it is very difficult to say anything about questions of this sort really.