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Eastern and Western Spiritual Alternatives
Present-day scientific materialism presents a great challenge to
spiritual truth-seekers the world over. The purpose of this pamphlet is to
discuss the major alternatives to materialism which are available to present-day
Scientific materialism is based on the premise that nothing can
be known except that which is observed through the five senses or measured by
machines. Thus, materialism recognizes only the Physical World and its laws. It
originates from the theories of Charles Darwin, Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer,
Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels, among others.
These theories hold that man, as well as all life-forms that
exist on our planet, are the result of chemical forces which interact on a
haphazard manner. Thus, man is an accidental end-result, without any real
purpose for existence. Man's survival as a psychological organism requires
balance between the inner forces, which surge from the unconscious, and the
outer forces, which impinge from social and environmental sources. Although he
must try to gratify his inner urges without provoking a threat from without, he
has no direct control over either the inner or the outer forces.
The solution to the human dilemma, according to the logical
implications of materialism, is to control the inner urges through such things
as drugs and behavior modification and to control the outer forces through
direct manipulation of political, social, and economic structures.
With this concept of man, there is no individual responsibility
because, at any particular point in time, man is merely the result of factors
over which he has no control. As an example, man's behavior often is blame on
"genetics" or "education" or "poverty." In this
theory, man does not have an individual free will for which he can be held
responsible; he simply reacts to the inner and outer stimuli which he perceives.
If responsibility for man's destiny is placed on social institutions, rather
than on man himself, the intrinsic worth of the individual also is denied.
As the materialistic view has grown stronger and stronger,
especially in the Western World, there has been a corresponding increase in the
number of people who reject it. They have grown disillusioned at the
over-mechanized, over-intellectualized, de-humanized society which has resulted
from materialistic thought.
These truth-seekers perceive an intrinsic worth and integrity in
the individual human being--something of a transcendental nature. They feel that
people possess an individual free will which is not merely a response to social
or biological stimuli, but an independent assertion of the identity of the
individual. Also, they perceive that the Physical World is not all that
exists--that beyond outer appearances lie inner realities which are the cause of
what expresses itself outwardly.
LIBERAL AND CONSERVATIVE CHURCHES
Where can this group of truth-seekers go to find confirmation
for their beliefs? Many go to the churches in hopes of encountering a spiritual
answer for their inquiries. Some find solace there, but some do not. Of those
who leave the churches, many do so because they find in them the same
materialistic philosophy which they are trying to avoid, even though it may be
clothed with the appearance of spirituality.
In particular, there are two trends in churches today which are
likely to exemplify materialistic thought. One such trend is
"liberal." "Liberal" churches attempt to
"accommodate" themselves to the times by embracing the scientific,
materialistic view of man. To them, salvation is collective rather than
individual and is achieved by establishing a "Heaven-on-Earth" through
social, economic, or political reform. They seem to have forgotten Christ's
statement, "My kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36)
The other major trend is "conservative."
"Conservative" churches are likely to place a literal, historic, and
anthropomorphic interpretation on what are really spiritual experiences and
cosmic symbols. While insisting on the physical reality of things such as
Jonah's whale, they fail to perceive the spiritual reality behind such accounts.
Thus, they interpret the Bible in the same way that scientific materialism
interprets the Physical World: through the five senses.
In addition, most churches limit their concept of man to one
short life on Earth. The decisions he make here will affect his existence for
all eternity. Thus, one can understand why there are spiritual truth-seekers who
feel impelled to search elsewhere.
In the world today, there are two major alternatives to
materialism. One is through the wisdom of the East; the other is through the
wisdom of the West, or esoteric Christianity.
It may surprise some that there really are Wisdom Teachings in
the West. They may have thought that the popular, exoteric churches were all
that Christianity had to offer. Yet all major world religions have had their
deeper mystery teachings, and Christianity is no exception.
There are very basic differences in the Eastern and Western
approaches to materialism. According to the Eastern approach, the aspirant
strives for direct spiritual enlightenment through meditative exercises. The
goal is to attain illumination in the shortest time possible. In order to lead a
meditative life, it becomes necessary to withdraw from the material world, at
least to a certain extent. Therefore, non-Eastern people who espouse Eastern
ideals often join an ashram of form a community in which part of their time may
be spent in experiencing an awareness of God in all things.
Western Wisdom teaches an altogether different approach to
materialism. In the West, where materialism has reached its greatest strength,
there has developed a rational approach to the world which has brought about
great advances in understanding and using it. The advent of scientific thought
in the West brought to an end the ignorance and superstition of the Middle Ages
which caused untold misery and suffering. Therefore, Western Wisdom does not shy
away from scientific discoveries and materiality. Rather, it would use them for
spiritual purposes. In other words, whereas the Eastern approach advocates,
explicitly or implicitly, the withdrawal from the material world, the Western
Wisdom advocates work in and with the material world for the purpose of
spiritualizing it. Its motto is "Be ye in the world, but not of it."
Man, as a Spirit, has as his present field of activity the
Physical World, and has as his instrument a physical body. These are not
conditions to be shunned or avoided, for they are the results of the efforts of
an all-wise Creator. They are to be used so that man, the Spirit, can learn to
become a divine creative intelligence as is his Heavenly Father, able to create
on all levels of existence.
Having mentioned briefly the basic way in which the Eastern and
Western philosophies differ in regard to materialism,let us consider other
differences in these philosophies.
CONCEPT OF CHRIST
The crucial way in which the two philosophies differ is in their
concept of the Christ. Many Oriental teachings are silent on the subject. Some
Eastern philosophies, especially those which are promulgated in the West,
acknowledge Jesus as a great Teacher who attained Christ-consciousness, or
enlightenment, similar to that attained by Krishna or Buddha. They teach that
devotion to Jesus, to the exclusion of other great Teachers, unnecessarily
limits an aspirant to truth. If truth is universal, then Teachers thoughout
history are equally worthy of study. In fact, the more widely one studies from
different sources, the more likely one is to arrive at a fuller understanding of
The concept presented above indicates a lack of understanding
regarding the spiritual evolution of our planet. It is quite possible to arrive
at certain conclusions but, if one does not consider all the factors involved,
no matter how logical the conclusions may sound, they will be erroneous because
relevant factors have been left out.
The factor left out in the Eastern philosophies is the Christ.
Christ was not the man Jesus; He is not merely a lofty state of consciousness or
an abstract concept. Christ is a divine, self-conscious Being, the highest
Initiate of the archangelic life-wave. He is a representative of the Godhead:
the "Word" which "was made flesh and dwelt among us." (John
1:14) His incarnation in the body of Jesus was totally unique in the history of
the world. It enabled humanity to overcome the Physical World, transmute the
physical body, and eventually conquer death itself.
CHRIST, REGENT OF THE EARTH
Christ's entrance into the Earth at the time of the Crucifixion
made Him the Regent of the Earth. This event was the most important spiritual
impulse in the evolution of our planet. Previous to the coming of Christ, the
Regent of the Moon, Jehovah, had guided our planet from without. He took the
spiritual solar forces and reflected them indirectly to Earth, because mankind
was not yet able to withstand the direct spiritual rays from the Sun. He did so
by giving mankind tribal, national, and race religions, which include Buddhism,
Hinduism, Shintoism, Taoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, and all other
Oriental religions. At the coming of the Christ, mankind was given the first
direct spiritual impulse from the Sun. Ever since, the Christ Spirit incarnates
into our planet at the Autuman Equinox each year, is "born" in the
center of the Earth at Christmas, and "dies" and is
"resurrected" into the higher worlds at Easter, bringing an
increasingly stronger spiritual impulse from the Sun, the Source of all life and
light in our solar system. Such all-important cosmic events are too important to
be ignored by any philosophy which claims to lead men to God.
Only through the solar forces brought by the Christ can we hope
to enter into the etherealized condition of the Epoch to come. Even Eastern
people, after passing through a stage of materialism, eventually must take the
next step in their spiritual development and respond to the higher spiritual
vibrations of the Christ.
The concept of Oriental teachings concerning the Christ is
deficient. It is to be expected that the Mystery Teaching of Christianity
present a higher concept of the Christ than teachings from Eastern sources.
Not only is there a serious discrepancy between Eastern and
Western approaches concerning the central impulse development, but also the
methods of spiritual attainment are quite different.
THE WEDDING GARMENT
In the first place, the Western Teaching stresses physical
action as a method of spiritualizing the higher bodies of the individual. Every
action in harmony with the Christ impulse causes growth in the spiritual bodies.
For the Westerner, it is only through orderly, systematic work for the Christ in
the material world that he builds what Christ called "the Wedding
Garment" in one of his parables (Matt. 22:11) or what Paul called
"soma psuchicon" or "soul body." Meditation, dietary
changes, and chanting may sensitize Western bodies to the spiritual worlds, but
only work in materiality will cause the soul body to grow. It is essential that
the soul body be built if we are to pass into the etherealized Epoch to come.
Otherwise our future development will be retarded and we will become stragglers
In the second place, ther are great differences in the type of
exercises given for spiritual development. It is important that a distinction be
made between the two approaches, because the brain organization is different in
Eastern and Western bodies. The Eastern brain is especially adapted for
metaphysical thought, because the ethers of the etheric body are as yet loosely
interwoven with the physical body and are, therefore, passively receptive to
spiritual impacts. However, the lack of tight organization causes difficulty for
the individual Easterner in coping with and mastering the external world. On the
other hand, the Westerner has a brain organization well-suited for work in the
objective, material world. Because the ethers are closely interwoven in the
Westerner's brain, the Eatern methods of development tend to derange the
Westerner's faculties instead of spiritualizing them.
Bodily positions which cause etheric currents to course in
specific directions may be detrimental to a Westerner, but the most harmful
discipline for a Westerner to undertake is breathing exercises. Breathing
exercises can cause severe reactions: from susceptibility to infectious diseases
in some, to insanity and even death in others. Attempts to raise the spiritual
spinal fire and open the sense centers, or chakras, are difficult for Westerners
and would have severely deleterious results should they be accomplished without
adequate development of the spiritual bodies. The safest exercises for
Westerners are those given by the Mystery School relative to the Christian
Another major difference is the Western and Eastern views of
reincarnation, or rebirth. The Western students of the Mysteries agree with
their Eastern counterparts that human beings are reborn from age to age in
different bodies under varying circumstances. The point of difference seems to
be the purpose behind the fact of rebirth. The goal in the East is to escape
from the wheel of reincarnation by reaching a state of Nirvana, or
enlightenment. This state is attained by withdrawal from the material world and
dedication to the elimination of desires and actions. The idea is that by
refraining from every new cause, there eventually will be no more future karma
to pay off and, therefore, no reason to return to physical existence. It is for
this reason that the Eastern aspirant adapts a passive and disinterested
attitude toward life.
The Western aspirant, in contrast, sees material life as a
school of experience which must be mastered if he is to become a creator like
his Heavenly Father. Christ said, "He that believeth on me, the works that
I do shall he do..." (John 14:12). Rather than trying to be liberated from
the cycle of rebirth, the Western aspirant uses his sojourn in the material
world to the greatest spiritual advantage possible. Thus, he builds the soul
body and, in time, after having learned all the lessons the material world has
to offer, he becomes an Adept and rises above the Law of Rebirth. However, even
in that exalted state, he does not shirk his duty to his younger brothers, but
assumes a physical body with which to serve them. Even the Christ "took
upon himself the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of man."
(Phil. 2:7) Service in our present environment is the shortest, safest, and most
joyful road to God.
LAW OF CAUSE AND EFFECT
The Eastern philosophies emphasize the fact of karma, that is,
the Law of Cause and Effect. Each act we perform generates causes which later
come back to us. If we have committed evil in past lives, we must "pay
off" this evil in a later life by experiencing evil ourselves. This is why
Easterners lead lives of asceticism.
The Bible acknowledges this Law. "Whatever a man soweth, so
also shall he reap." (Gal. 6:7) The Christ, however, fulfilled and
superseded this Law with a new one: the Law of Grace. The Law of Grace affirms
that we do not have to suffer the consequences of our former acts if we so
repent of them that we would never commit them again. We then come under grace
through repentance and are "forgiven for our sins." The forgiveness of
sins, rather than the painful and laborious expiation of them, is unique to
MASTER OR FRIEND
Another great difference in the two approaches is that the
Mystery School for the Christian religion does not have masters or gurus. The
Western pupils have no master. The Christ said, "Greater love hath no man
than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Henceforth I call you
not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called
you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known
unto you." (John 15:14,16) There is a tremendous difference between the
position of a servant and that of a friend. The servant without any question
obeys the commands of his master, as the Oriental pupil obeys the commands of
his guru. However, the word "friend" implies equality.
Rather than remain dependent on outside sources, Western pupils
must stand alone and rely on their own inner forces. As a result, they develop
self- reliance, independence, and self-determination. If we are to become
creators in our own right, we must develop our own will-power, so that we can
apply it to help and heal others. Only someone who is strong himself can hope to
Both Eastern and Western spiritual aspirants must confront the
widespread growth of materialism, but the Christian Mystery School teaches that
Western methods are best for Western people. Furthermore, it teaches that the
Western approach eventually must be embraced by the Easterner. In the book
"The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception," Max Heindel states that esoteric
Christianity is destined to be the world-religion:
"Buddha, great, grand, and sublime, may be the Light of
Asia, but Christ will yet be acknowledged the Light of the World. As the Sun
outshines the brightest star in the heavens, dispels every vestige of darkness
and gives life and light to all beings, so, in a not too distant future, will
the true religion of Christ supersede and obliterate all other religions to the
eternal benefit of mankind."
This article was adapted from a pamphlet of the same name,
published by The Rosicrucian Fellowship.