Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Today I was going over Crowley’s biography with a friend of mine who comes for weekly Tarot classes. The key topic that came up was that whatever attainments the man had – the vision of brilliance in Ceylon after his basic yoga training, his K&C in China, his crossing of the Abyss in the North African desert, his passage to Magus during his American years in WWI, or his sense of failure after the Cefalu experiment – he always had to step back into a phase of darkness and futility. None of his biographies really present his inner landscape nor state of mind well after the period covered by his Confessions, so we have a less coherent account of his private concerns in the last 25 years of his life, but he was often publicly attacked and, of course, usually broke. He handled all this with relative grace, but hinted at times what a trial it could be, even if he always maintained ironic detachment from the attitudes that others projected onto him.
There’s a parallel here with his mentor, Allan Bennett, who easily attained to high Buddhist trances, starting in his late teens, before he had formal training of any kind. But according to Crowley, he began to feel that his samadhic trances were themselves obstacles to final realisation, and sought, as a bhikkhu in Burma, to transcend it. Like Crowley, he found his successes to be less thane he hoped they’d be.
To offer full disclosure, I could list here my own much lesser set of ‘attainments:’ visions and successful invocations, insights into reality and illusion, ideas I’ve been able to convey to others, but it’s not in the same league. And I also recognise the relentless persistence of my inner schmuck; somehow things always end up back at square one. Only my astral clothing, so to speak, seems actually different.
Bennett’s attitude offers a clue here. A sour and misanthropic man by personality – read his published writings if you don’t believe me – he was, according to Crowley, scrupulous in his own ethics, and refused to accept a second-best realisation. He was an all-or-nothing man.
Anything we discover or perceive in vision is still subject to mental distortion and projection. This is one of the first lessons we learn as we begin to open the inner worlds. Qabalah or whatever system we use is a means of addressing the underpinnings of the individual mind, but it still has to work through mind: it can’t go around it.
Truth – moksha, kensho, void, supernal consciousness, whatever you call it – is outside of mind with its self-referential structures and symbol-generation. That’s the mystically intense form of it, which we’ve all read about and hope to attain. But, to take Zen training as one example, the newly awakened monk is taught, over a period of years, to lose “the stink of Zen,” and integrate his insight into everyday life. And ‘everyday life’ has no clear definition, because it will include quite extreme circumstances and experiences.
But insight left or held stranded in a private headspace simply produces a resurgent ego, or at least disorientation. There is a broader context that goes beyond the specifics of life and activity. In fact, beyond all conceptual motions entirely.
In Thelema, we speak of Nuit as infinite potential, or the sum total of all possibilities, or “Infinite Space & the Infinite Stars thereof,” to quote the Book of the Law. She is all this and more, but we need to remember that Nuit is also emptiness. All the ‘stuff’ within Nuit is provisional, transitory, conditional. The actuality of Nuit-as-Nuit (if we dare get this wordy about it) is all about context, not substance.
Daily practice in Thelemic tradition – Liber Resh, meditation, magick – is about striving to re-engineer our lives. But the ground of things, which is no-ground-at-all, is timeless space, and unchangeable. Little by little, we begin to develop an appreciation that this is always present, the “that which remains” of Cap II, v 9. But it doesn’t come quickly, and apparent ‘attainment’ sometimes masks it for longer periods.
There’s no way of forcing the recognition. It wasn’t truly there for me till many years had passed, and it’s still a very tentative notion, something perceived at the limits of mind and consciousness. It moves in and out of awareness – mostly out. But if there is an encouraging idea in the vicissitudes of the Work, it’s that anything that we can say, claim or believe is going to fade out on us again, but our passage through and towards the not-Stuff is continuous.
And, on the good days anyway, we can see that all the rest is so much froth sitting on top of the pond.
Love is the law, love under will,