This quote from the introduction to, "The Perennial Philosophy" by Aldous Huxley, briefly describes the skeleton of the necessary groundwork that needs to be covered if one is to tread the spiritual path. He goes on to say that we do not know why this should be so. It is just one of those facts we have to accept, whether we like them or not, and however implausible and unlikely they may seem.
Recently, I said that if I were to be cast away on a desert island, the book that I quoted above would be one of my choices. At the time of making that choice it was not entirely clear to me why I should choose that particular book. Only later did it become apparent that I needed to re-read this anthology in some depth, and compare it with my own experiences. Why? The answer to that question would require that I lay out so many more questions, concerns and doubts before my readers that I must forgo such a task for fear of becoming bogged down in unnecessary detail. I will simply say, therefore, that it is not my intent merely to quote, second-hand, the spiritual experiences of others, but to compare them with my own in order to cast some light on my chosen way, to avoid certain pitfalls that may lie ahead, and finally quell any doubts I might have about the chosen route I follow. For time will always seem to be of the essence, and I will always have too little to waste.
Here I will deal with just one of the conditions mentioned by Huxley, that I must become pure in heart. The others I will deal with in due time. At first glance I would have to say that I really have no idea what it means to be pure of heart. Any hypothesis that I might advance about its possible meaning would seem to be contradicted by another, and in any case be as far from practicality as it is possible to get. And I am talking about me here, this admittedly flawed individual, for whom the whole idea of purity of heart would seem to be nothing short of a pipe dream.
"Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God." (Matthew 5:8)
The evangelist simply doesn't let up. At first sight it would appear that I fell at the first hurdle, and have continued to fall, no matter how many times I have attempted to clear that impossibly difficult obstacle. Is it even possible that purity of heart is something that I could ever experience?
But wait a moment! There is a tacit assumption here that there is a task that I must complete, and a reward that I will gain on the successful completion of that task. Yet Jesus, that first century master of religious philosophy, never said that. It is my ego that says it, along with the implied notion that I will fail. For reasons which lie beyond the scope of this essay, I can say that, regardless of any inability to define God, that divinity I will one day see, maybe in the guise of Truth. It will be noted, further, that I have avoided giving any definition to the word 'see'. Whatever is meant by 'see', it is clear to me that if the final clause of that beatitude is correct then purity of heart will follow, at night follows day. It may be that the desired purity of heart is already present. I simply will not, or do not recognise it. The reason for that is in all probability because 'seeing' is neither a physical sensation, nor the product of the thinking or feeling (i.e. emotion) functions. It lies far beyond the ego's ability to understand, and that is something my ego cannot tolerate. If I accept that impurity of heart and its implied failure is my lot, then I turn my face away from the spiritual path I wish to follow, and accept the rule of that false god, my ego.
Purity of heart, then, is not a goal that I must strive to achieve but a gift, or a grace, that comes with the earnest commitment to the spiritual path. I am certain that the gift of purity is one of those things that "will be added unto you." If I might echo Huxley, I do not know why this should be so. I only know this to be an experiential fact of my spiritual life.
When I first made a genuine commitment to my current path, I did not know any of this. All I did know was that I was in desperate straits, sick to the bottom of my soul. But I made a beginning, a fresh start which initially entailed dealing with certain preliminaries necessary, not only to be restored to spiritual health, but also to discover that there was indeed a path to the recovery of my sanity that was available. The earliest steps along my chosen path, although it wasn't clear at that time that I had made any such choice, was to follow that dictum pronounced by the ancients and their mystery religions, namely to "Know Thyself!" Although some people have felt the need to repeat that experience, I am thankful that by carrying out that procedure to the utter limits of my being, once only was sufficient for me. What I gained from that inner search was knowledge and understanding of myself, the wisdom (or more often perhaps) and futility of my choices and the hurts I had caused people. It was tough, but it was what I needed. Purity of heart came later as a result of the continued commitment to the way of life that I now follow.
It was whilst I was preparing this script that I remembered that some years ago, whilst undertaking a series of meditations on the question of what hurts I had caused people, and whether I had made sufficient amends for those hurts, the following imagery came to me. (This type of meditation is one that I have talked about here.)
".........Before me stood a high pyramid with many steps, like a series of platforms of ever-decreasing size. At the top, on a level with the faces of the forty two Lords of Karma, stood a lectern holding the closed Book of Life, and a high-backed chair. I passed before those mighty Lords, one at a time, as each asked me a question. To each I made answer. On the completion of their inaudible, gentle but penetrating interrogation, I stood at the lectern and asked a question of my own. Had sufficient amends been made? In answer, the cover of my Book of Life sprang open and the pages flipped over rapidly one by one as if driven by a strong wind. There were snatches of gold writing, but nothing that I could focus on, or even begin to understand. It seemed to have been written in a script unknown to me. In seconds the Book had closed once more. I sat and I waited.
After a while, blood began to seep from between the pages of the Book, running out onto the white-covered, altar-like table that the lectern had become. Then, what appeared to be a hazy cloud of golden stardust showered twinkling down onto the blood and absorbed it, leaving the table pristine clean once more.
The pyramid of steps had disappeared, to be replaced by an invisible path along which I hurried away, leaving the Lords of Karma in darkness. All that could be seen was a single, old figure with a light shining down upon him. I knelt before him and asked for forgiveness for all the hurt I had caused, not for my peace of mind but for the sakes of those who had been hurt. He blessed me, and I left that place........"
[Excerpt from my personal diaries]
Now of course this cleansing experience is very personal, and the imagery may be particular to me. Others will, no doubt, experience matters in a different way. But in the end the conclusion is clear. Purity of heart is not a precondition for the start of the spiritual life, but a gift which, nevertheless, is essential to the continuation of that life. Without that gift, it does not seem to be possible to apprehend, directly and immediately the nature of the one divine Reality.