Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Referring to spiritual teachers as being in ‘the Intermediate Zone’ is a concept that seems to have originated with Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), in a letter he wrote to a student. The idea he expressed was one of a hierarchy of attainment in spiritual teachers, focusing on the problems that come from incomplete realisation. Since we live in a world that loves to rank ideas, musicians, movies and, inevitably, spiritual instruction, his thoughts have come to the surface at such sites as http://www.kheper.net/topics/gurus/IMZ_guru.html or http://www3.telus.net/public/sarlo/RatingsC-E.htm.
The Intermediate Zone teachers, according to this system, are highly realised individuals who are still in the grip of strong personal or archetypal forces, which tend to skew their teaching. Examples typically cited are Chogyam Trungpa and Adi Da Samraj. This can mean they have strong negative effects on their entranced followers.
Aleister Crowley pops up in such listings as I just cited, and of course, he’s usually presented as the naughty imp: egomaniacal, abusive to his followers, and, naturally, misguided and only superficially enlightened, if that. Or, he crops up as an exponent (naturally, a deficient one) of ‘crazy wisdom,’ a label that I find explains or elucidates little. And again, he often shares this designation with Trungpa and Adi Da.
There’s no discussion (that I’ve seen) about the differences between To Mega Therion as the Prophet of the New Aeon, an office conferred on him, and one he actually resisted in numerous ways for two decades, and Aleister Crowley the teacher of the A.A.; for the two levels of the man or being, and the two functions, were widely spaced, if related.
To defend Crowley is to run afoul of the fact that he could be a jerk. He often (not always) saw the available disciples as a pool of sexual partners, and he was notorious for sponging off them, especially after the bankruptcy of his forties. Yet he never concealed his belief in the redeeming powers of sex, and nobody who came within his aura was unaware of this. “To know me is to love me,” could well have been astrally tattooed onto Crowley’s aura. And even a frequent critic of Crowley, Nick Farrell (http://www.nickfarrell.it) wrote last week about the virtual necessity for occult teachers to make a living of some kind off their occult work. I don’t wholly agree with Farrell on this, but then, my Temple’s current or foreseeable take wouldn’t support the lifestyle to which I’ve always wanted to become accustomed, so my attitude might be just sour grapes. Either way, his point is worth examining. Crowley wrote volumes, and for little material reward (since occult books make no-one much cash), and I see those who forked over to help him not as his gullible marks, but as people who helped significantly in the Work.
The guru rankers, in most cases, are besotted by teachers from Tibetan and Hindu traditions, where the teacher is conventionally isolated as a celibate in his ashram or lamasery, or at least by his or her vows. And in the West, we have the concept of saints who deny their own instincts to the end, so there’s no support for a Crowleyan or Farrellian perspective there.
Thelema, then, doesn’t fit the kinds of categories guru-rankers use, and applying Asian or classically Christian attitudes won’t get us far. “Tear down that lying spectre of the centuries,” says The Book of the Law (II, v. 52). “Veil not your vices in virtuous words: these vices are my service; ye do well, & I will reward you here and hereafter.” Which could be, and is, construed as an injunction to party till we puke. Yet it’s equally a pointer to the sacredness of all things, all experiences of life, and the fact that the form of spiritualised consciousness we call the Knowledge & Conversation embraces the entirety of our natures, and not just the non-naughty bits. Either you get this, or your squeamishness about yourself means you don’t.
Magick is the extrovert version of the processes followed in yogic meditation, especially as found in Advaita-Vedanta, the school of deconstructing the self-concept, which has a growing following these days. (Eckhart Tolle, Gangaji and other popular teachers represent this, even if some of them reject the actual label). Without ruling out the ultimate reality of the beings and forces invoked in magick, magicians are quite clear that the psychological and archetypal processes it stimulates and examines are the critical ones for the serious practitioner. The magical journey might be said to be complete at Ipsissimus, but how many people will travel that far? And even Crowley himself, who went through a 10=1 ceremony of Ipsissimus in 1922, clearly saw himself as in need of continual improvement to the end of his days, as his published letters from his last dozen years show. He saw his own failings and in his lighter moments, as in his wonderfully lucid Eight Lectures on Yoga, made fun of them.
The grade system in the A.A. and lesser initiated orders is a major support of teaching integrity among proponents of the tradition, and one most of Crowley’s critics (who rarely seem actually to have read him) seem unaware or unconcerned that it exists. By its very nature, it tells all committed practitioners that there’s still another step, or many steps, on the way. The all-or-nothing approach of the Self-denying Vedantists, almost as prevalent among the Vajrayana teachers, is approached differently by theurgists. There are too many stages, too many potential stumbles on the stairway to heaven, for a perceptive magician to mistake the latest and greatest realisation for the Ultimate.
Yes, there are people who become lazy or maybe disoriented after a major opening happens, and they set aside their self-discipline. Crowley himself did this after his Ceylon samadhi in 1901. But if the original aspiration is solid, we can instill in ourselves the pragmatic virtue of daily practice, and make it a lifelong habit. We still have to pass through Aurobindo’s Intermediate Zone at some point, and other hazards of ego inflation or archetypal overshadowing along the way, but we have an inner compass that takes us where we need to go. Additionally, the acknowledged presence of the Holy Guardian Angel as inner guru, offers at least one safeguard against thinking “There’s only Me here.”
Any of us starts out as a little kid in a home, with parents, siblings, pets that die on us, schooldays, friendships, rivalry and puberty all to be navigated. If none of that process leaves any scars along the way, then we’ve led a curiously sheltered life.
Now, add to this striving human, with his or her contradictions and complexes, an influx of spiritual force, and continue to multiply it over time. It always strains my credulity that anyone could achieve the spiritual heights without dragging some of the baggage along with them, because the illumination happens within this flawed vehicle. Perhaps the most illumined of the illumined truly cancel out their human foibles and accumulated karma: I just can’t imagine what such a person might be like. Because of this, I trust a lecherous, roistering Crowley more than I would somebody who “veils [their] vices in virtuous words.”
Thelema, despite being around for over a century, is still gearing up. At Crowley’s death in 1947 it looked like a quirky cult that would fade with its founder’s death, and it was another two decades before the work was picked up by a significant number of serious aspirants. A half-century later, there is a growing community of Adepti and teachers, and an increasing throng of people who are forming their lives around the concept of individual True Will. What will happen to the eastern traditions as the Aeon progresses is impossible to say, but they don’t offer models we can keep on copying into the future.
And just as critical as any teacher’s ability to teach is the student’s ability to learn. Our teachers, at some point, will show signs of that early-life baggage, and the residue of whatever experiences shaped them. The most fortunate students aren’t the ones who don’t face such disillusionment. Rather they’re the ones who look at how and why the experience affected them, and what it tells them about the yet-unseen corners of True Will.
Love is the law, love under will,