I decided to take a quick break from re-reading all of Thomas Troward’s works of genius by picking up something a little more lightweight. James Allen fills that niche perfectly for me, as many of his books can be read in one sitting, and are suitable for virtually any audience. But even though he’s at the lighter end of classic spiritual thought, make no mistake: this man got it. I thought this particular chapter worth quoting in full – it is the second of his lovely book on virtue and integrity, Above Life’s Turmoil. It succinctly covers two of my pet subjects – the new age error of luxury and riches being an aim of the spiritual life, and the error that all truth immediately becomes crystal clear in the spiritual world. Allen writes:
“Immortality is here and now, and is not a speculative something beyond the grave. It is a lucid state of consciousness in which the sensations of the body, the varying and unrestful states of mind, and the circumstances and events of life are seen to be of a fleeting and therefore of an illusory character.
Immortality does not belong to time, and will never be found in time; it belongs to Eternity; and just as time is here and now, so is Eternity here and now, and a man may find that Eternity and establish in it, if he will overcome the self that derives its life from the unsatisfying and perishable things of time.
Whilst a man remains immersed in sensation, desire, and the passing events of his day-by-day existence, and regards those sensations, desires, and passing events as of the essence of himself, he can have no knowledge of immortality. The thing which such a man desires, and which he mistakes for immortality, is persistence; that is, a continous succession of sensations and events in time. Living in, loving and clinging to, the things which stimulate and minister to his immediate gratification, and realising no state of consciousness above and independent of this, he thirsts for its continuance, and strives to banish the thought that he will at last have to part from those earthly luxuries and delights to which he has become enslaved, and which he regards as being inseparable from himself.
Persistence is the antithesis of immortality; and to be absorbed in it is spiritual death. Its very nature is change, impermanence. It is a continual living and dying. The death of the body can never bestow upon a man immortality. Spirits are not different from men, and live their little feverish life of broken consciousness, and are still immersed in change and mortality. The mortal man, he who thirsts for the persistence of his pleasure-loving personality is still mortal after death, and only lives another life with a beginning and an end without memory of the past, or knowledge of the future.
The immortal man is he who has detached himself from the things of time by having ascended into that state of consciousness which is fixed and unvariable, and is not affected by passing events and sensations. Human life consists of an ever-moving procession of events, and in this procession the mortal man is immersed, and he is carried along with it; and being so carried along, he has no knowledge of what is behind and before him. The immortal man is he who has stepped out of this procession, and he stands by unmoved and watches it; and from his fixed place he sees both the before, the behind and the middle of the moving thing called life. No longer identifying himself with the sensations and fluctuations of the personality, or with the outward changes which make up the life in time, he has become the passionless spectator of his own destiny and of the destinies of the men and nations.
The mortal man, also, is one who is caught in a dream, and he neither knows that he was formerly awake, nor that he will wake again; he is a dreamer without knowledge, nothing more. The immortal man is as one who has awakened out of his dream, and he knows that his dream was not an enduring reality, but a passing illusion. He is a man with knowledge, the knowledge of both states - that of persistence, and that of immortality - and is in full possession of himself.
The mortal man lives in the time or world state of consciousness which begins and ends; the immortal man lives in the cosmic or heaven state of consciousness, in which there is neither beginning nor end, but an eternal now. Such a man remains poised and steadfast under all changes, and the death of his body will not in any way interrupt the eternal consciousness in which he abides. Of such a one it is said, “He shall not taste of death”, because he has stepped out of the stream of mortality, and established himself in the abode of Truth. Bodies, personalities, nations, and worlds pass away, but Truth remains, and its glory is undimmed by time. The immortal man, then, is he who has conquered himself; who no longer identifies himself with the self-seeking forces of the personality, but who has trained himself to direct those forces with the hand of a master, and so has brought them into harmony with the causal energy and source of all things. The fret and fever of life has ceased, doubt and fear are cast out, and death is not for him who has realised the fadeless splendour of that life of Truth by adjusting heart and mind to the eternal and unchangeable verities.”
I encourage you to read the entire book. It is not long, and it is a sweet remedy for the modern angel cards and Law of Attraction fluff that passes for genuine spiritual teaching. Spirituality is a process of profound growth – an ascent into a higher state of life – not simply a bag of tricks to make our life more bearable or more enjoyable. In society’s rebellion against organised religion it has completely forgotten the absolute necessity of regulating our conduct in order to achieve any sort of true spiritual advancement. Even though relatively few people are now swayed by the threats of organised religion, the underlying spiritual truth remains the same as it ever was: virtue raises us up and empowers us spiritually, while vice beats us down and enslaves us.
“Do what thou wilt” simply doesn’t cut it. “Do what thou wilt, but don’t hurt anyone” is scarcely any better. The latter leads us invariably away from honest self enquiry and towards that misguided mantra of the modern spiritually complacent man: “But I’m a good person… If everyone were like me...”
Allen’s book goes on to make this point eloquently, and not by means of guilt and shame – but by showing us how virtue paves the way for our ascent into states above persistence; and by giving us a taste of how glorious life is for the ascended man.