Friday, 12 September 2014

Purity of Heart

".........But the nature of this one [divine] Reality is such that it cannot be directly and immediately apprehended except by those who have chosen to fulfil certain conditions, making themselves loving, pure in heart, and poor in spirit........."

          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.


  1. From Chinese Confuciasm to Taoism, the mystical Indian derivations of Buddhism, Christianity and Jewish mysticism (to name a few) we have, what I think, is a wisdom stream, whose gifts are evident in the expression of respective charisma‘s. The aim to aspire to a “purity of heart”, to my way of thinking, cannot be some lofty unattainable or unsustainable edifice of super human endeavour, but rather, as you say, the acceptance of our gift (S) which are the charisma’s that make up who we are but need to be recognised and encouraged or acted upon. But, of course, they will differ between individuals. Your charisma‘s for instance are already evident to me, in the way you have eloquently communicated your deepest thoughts and fears, just as others make a contribution to make insightful comments. How do you know your are following your charisma(s)? Well that will differ for everyone but for me its confirmation comes from bursts of energy increases when engaging and is reinforced with positive feedback.
    Best wishes

  2. Well that's very interesting. It would never have occurred to me that I have charisms. I realise that commitment to christianity would not necessarily be a requirement, but even so.....

  3. Purity of heart, no idea what it is. Does a newborn have a pure heart and if so how long does it remain pure. Does our heart become impure through living? Do we revert to a pure heart by death?
    I also, like you Tom, have not much time left.
    As to amends being sufficient or not, I never thought they were because 'too late' came in the way. I came to the conclusion that forgiving myself instead of asking forgiveness from others is what I need to do. Still working at that.

  4. The question of making amends can be difficult, particularly if the person has died. Forgiving oneself can be the most difficult task of all. I think that in the end one needs to be willing to make amends, both to others and to oneself. If honest willingness is there, you can't ask for more.

  5. My understanding of "pure in heart" (I don't claim that this is the only interpretation) is that it implies a state of total receptivity, a willingness to let go of all of pre-existing concepts, regardless of how carefully or painfully one has accumulated them.

    Alistair Hardy, the professor who started the religious experience research unit in Oxford years ago, suggested trying an experiment for a month:
    adopting a state of mind like that of a faithful dog in relation to its beloved human: the "master/mistress" being God and the dog being you. Prof.Hardy didn't use the 'pure in heart' terminology but I felt that this is what he meant.
    Of course examined rationally such advice seems suspect if not downright dangerous. Abandoning our critical faculties in favour of naive credulity can obviously lead to all sorts of delusions and deceptions. But the dog's viewpoint is that her beloved human cannot possibly want to harm her, she trusts him/her absolutely.
    Thus the pure in heart.

  6. Tom
    But even so ……..granted, one could, given the extensive references conclude that charismas are mainly the province of Christianity. But consider its commonly used definition as in “gift of grace” to give rise to the prospect of the universal application- by way of example as evident in Hinduism, Islam, and in Buddhism, although the latter is representative of a slightly different form. As I understand it in Buddhism "a state" in terms of the use of the word “enlightenment” is something that can be obtained, in varying measures, by all who seek to participate in the meditative and contemplative practices. In that respect there are different outward personal measures or charisma’s evident externally from the Buddhists devotion, entirely consistent with the ideas proffered in Christianity.
    Best wishes

  7. Natalie; I agree with the opening sentence of your comment. The joy of that experience, from my point of view, is that that receptivity and willingness to let go is something that seems to steal up on oneself, without a great need to 'work at it'. I do believe in the idea that God can only really be observed out of the corner of one's eye, so to speak. There is no 'in yer face!' contact. And that is all part of the gift.

    Referring to the latter part of your comment, again I agree that one's critical faculties need to become honed, not dispensed with. But once again, I feel that the development of the 'eyes open' approach to the inner life is something that is given, a grace, rather than self-cultivated.

    Our experience with our much-loved Mol would certainly bear out what you say about a dog. Mind you, she did on occasion let us know that enough is enough. We never really minded that, so I guess the 'Boss' wouldn't either.

  8. Lindsay; Yes, the key is I think the devotion to meditative and contemplative practices, although I do think there is much more to contemplation than observing a practice. It never ceases to fill me with joy that all these gifts come without the intent to look for them. They do not require that we 'understand' them, only that we accept them with gratitude. Of course many of us do want to understand, but I see nothing detrimental to the life spiritual in that. Thank you again.

  9. Even here, now, that me, me, me wants to stop this acknowledgement of how impossibly inept it has been. It distracts and diverts and says analyse this more, then come back another time.

    Only at those times of struggle and finally abandonment of all logic has there been a glimpse of what love is, and what peace is. At those times, when it is almost impossible to write it, when, so grateful for that glimpse, it has been so tempting to stay there, and not ever come back, that is when my heart has felt right.

    It is for that reason, for grace when I was too tired and felt so very unworthy, that I know that a higher power surrounds us always, and no amount of human work is necessary or worthy enough to call It into our presence.

    Blessings and Love to you Tom

  10. Halle; That was an impassioned comment, straight from the heart. Bless you. You speak of an experience which not only leaves one breathless with wonder, but also humbled before a Presence which gives freely, so freely.

  11. I admire your honesty, Tom, as only through our willingness to be deeply honest can we become our true selves and find healing.

    Your description of the pyramid and the Lords Of Karma on the steps was quite wonderful. It seems to me the only way to attain to purity of heart is through forgiveness, forgiving ourselves can be the most difficult task of all.

  12. I'm not certain that purity of heart can be experienced any more than the surface of a lake can be visible without its reflection and refraction of the light around it. I'm not even sure such a virtue can be contained in a single life, or lifetime --still, we try to achieve it. This suggests a larger container than any one of us.

  13. Susan; I am so pleased that you enjoyed my inner visit to the Lords of Karma. I always feel hesitant about including experiences like that, perhaps because they go right to the heart of things.

    If it were not for my belief that honest intent counts for a very great deal, I would long ago have despaired of ever achieving that desired state of purity of heart, the result of acceptance and forgiveness, as well as making amends. Yet I have to say that it seems to be more often than not that the impurities become stirred up in me, and then I can only hope and have some faith.

  14. Geo; As I implied in my response to Susan, most of the time my consciousness (ego) seems to be all too aware of the lack of experience of purity. But that doesn't mean that such a state does not exist at some deeper/higher level of the spirit.

    As you say, 'still we try to achieve it', an activity, I believe, driven by honest intent. As for the rest of your intriguing comment, there is much there to think upon.