Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Charged as I am with running this Temple (in reality, overseeing a group of people who actually run it), I spend a lot of time wondering just what a mystery school should be. My conclusions about this change all the time.
Right now, I’m reading a book on Dzogchen (Original Perfection by Vairotsana, translated and annotated by the modern Tibetan scholar and Nyingma practitioner, Keith Dowman), and the author and translator see any effort at gradual progress towards a goal as delusory. The Dzogchen approach is resolutely non-dual, whereas I’ve spent decades in a dualistic practice, albeit one that accepts that everything resolves itself out of duality to Emptiness at some point. Or, 2=0, as Aleister Crowley put it succinctly.
The question that’s perhaps most significant here is, just what is a ‘mystery’ in the context of a school of mysteries? Why don’t we simply lay out the facts, and avoid anything mysterious at all?
To which, the short answer is, “Because what we do works.” Or to quote The Book of the Law, “Success is your proof; courage is your armour.” (III, v.46).
With all our symbols, our lists of correspondences, and our ceremonies with their cumulative force and evocative language, we are aiming to trigger threshold experiences, and if all the details are spelled out in advance, it won’t work. This isn’t a conscious process at all; you can’t think or reason your way to reality in its deepest sense, even if reason and thinking are useful for assessing what that reality is once it’s glimpsed or attained. And even the Dzogchen people, if I read Dowman’s references to initiation aright, use rather similar methods of training to us.
I long ago developed a wary skepticism about “direct perception” schools, because we all need to develop the ability to strive. That phrase I quoted above, “courage is your armour,” is one of the most important in the Book to my mind, because confidence is the key factor for anyone who wants to explore spiritual realms. We need successes: the little visions, the expansions or awareness and the relaxation of tensions arising from false perceptions. We need to pose those “Yes, but what if … ?” types of questions until the point where someone or something makes us see how each question in itself inadequately addresses reality.
Learning to trust in ourselves is one of the main gifts a mystery school can confer. Very few schools, I suspect, confer full enlightenment on their students, but many good ones bring people to the point where they can fly solo toward that goal, their anxieties and uncertainties set aside. A school should teach us not just to expect the unexpected, but to be braced to welcome it.
Last week, I tried writing a post on Joseph Campbell’s work with myth. I didn’t get too far, because I’ve read him only spottily, and couldn’t fake it, given the gaps in my knowledge. But his concept of almost all myths being some form of the hero’s quest applies directly to what mystery schools do. We drill people in basic concepts, adding a few teasers to hold their interest. Over time, the work becomes richer and more complex, and eventually, the student is told, in essence, “Call if you need anything.” By this point, ritual skill, plus general grasp of symbolic systems and the many-sided characteristics of symbols, should be sufficient that the student can largely follow the trail on his own.
Thus, the mystery school provides the first stage of the hero’s quest, when the rough edges are knocked off, and the would-be hero’s skills are honed. From here on, the hero-aspirant should have acquired sufficient confidence – or courage, as our Book says – to roll with the punches, and to assist his own growth by teaching those coming up behind him.
The living mystery, the apparent goal of the heroic quest, often arises out of the very issues that previously wouldn’t resolve themselves. The mental tendency that can’t be shifted, the recurrent doubt that won’t reveal its roots, or the philosophical issue that has no sure resolution (“Is the HGA real or a fantasy?”): these all gradually yield to a sudden insight or, more usually, to an intuitive knowing that, over time, robs them out of their intensity and meaning. But the mystery itself then assumes the quality of meaning.
Mystery, once revealed, doesn’t clarify so much as reveal new territories to explore and understand. Mystery is never ‘explained,’ because it transcends those categories of rational thought that had us caught up in anxieties and problems about explanations in the first place. It includes them but stands outside of them.
The hero’s mystery-derived skill defeats apparent superior force, which is finally seen to be merely brute force based in fear or ignorance, not power rooted in truth. He places his trust in a certainty that goes beyond his own doubts. His success is his proof, but it follows his having made his courage – his confidence – his armour. And while in retrospect he might decide it was his reason that made him switch attitudes, in reality reason has only confirmed a shift that was made, in essence, before the conscious self tried to take credit for it.
Mystery is what we are, what we aim for, and the means by which we achieve it. The fact that it’s impenetrable to intellect is its root, which is non-duality, and it only appears to refer to a this-or-that scenario. The non-dual, the Zero, is irreducible, and thus indestructible. And, if we ponder it, that’s how and why our mysteries can confer courage to armour the timid or confused, and lead the persistent student to the Light he seeks.
Love is the law, love under will.