Discussion Questions Set 1

(Comments, Set 1, Set 2)


The content of the discussion section is provided as commentary upon fundamental questions of spiritual practice, to aid in bridging the gap between the personal and the principial domains. If we are to serve as witnesses to the Sophia Perennis, which holds that the keys of sacred traditional wisdom, if adequately reinterpreted in our day, are as relevant as ever, then we would indeed be providing a great service if we could illustrate how representative individuals have integrated this wisdom into their lives.  Please see our important comments about the Discussion Section, and make your own remarks.
1. Briefly encapsulate your own life as leading to your spiritual quest. what is your spiritual practice, and how did you come to it?
Marty Glass (a.k.a Harry Woods Pal) -  Marty always knew there had to be some kind of overall Answer, a Truth and he spent his early years in search of it, embracing and discarding one specious solution after another (Art, Revolution, Humanism, Romance) until he found what he was looking for in religion in general and the religion of India in particular. The main prerequisite identity is “seeker of the Truth.” This, in turn, depends upon a visceral intuitive certainty that Truth exists, a certainty originating, perhaps, in childhood upbringing, but ultimately traceable to the mystery of Grace.
Robert Anthony Bolton - My spiritual practice is a mixture of things. Outwardly, I do what might be expected of an ordinary Christian, to which I add prayer, based mainly on the Rosary, and spiritual reading. My pursuit of truth goes on at the same time, as an expression of what I believe. This free interaction is a development of a way of life which began almost by accident during my teens. Sorry if it sounds a bit humdrum.
Charles Upton - I was raised a Catholic in an essentially pre-Vatican II church, which gave me three things: first, a sense of the sacred, by which I mean an Absolute Truth which is also a Supreme Being; second, an understanding that the sacred can be expressed through a unified worldview; and third, a knowledge of how Absolute Truth can be channeled through an ancient tradition.

Leaving the Church at 17, I took the "counterculture course": experimentation with psychedelic drugs, Eastern spiritual practices and psychic powers, as well as an extensive study of world mythology and comparative religion. This left me with a wider knowledge of religion and metaphysics and a more direct knowledge of psychic and spiritual states. It also left me psychically imbalanced and spiritually damaged.

My present spiritual practice is traditional Sufism, which I came to by the grace of God.

John Ahmed Herlihy - I remember myself as a devout child. It seems that my "spiritual instincts" were still finely tuned in the manner of all young children who have newly "fallen from Heaven" and who are still close to the Source of all Truth or what I have called elsewhere "truth's Truth". I remember that heightened consciousness of my childhood as a true seeker's experience that I make efforts to recapture even to this day. An example may serve to illustrate my point. When I was ten years old, I inherited a paper route from my two older brothers that for two reasons I hated with all my heart. It gave me my first taste of hard work at an early age and it interfered with my near fanatic desire to attend daily Mass. I rose at 5:00 a.m. and had just enough time to do the paper route and get myself to 7:00 o'clock Mass at the local church which was a 15 minute bicycle ride away. One day, on a cold, dark, wintry morning before dawn, I slept late. When I realized that I didn't have enough time to deliver the papers and attend Mass, I burst into inconsolable tears that I remember to this day as an initiation into the world of true spiritual desire that has never left me. Later in life, I became a lecturer in English, went to the Middle East in the 70s to work as a lecturer in English and became a Muslim and followed that the Islamic traditions for more than 25 years now. When asked, however, about my spiritual quest, its origin and life-long pursuit, I remember this first, initiatory "gift of tears" and thank God for its enduring grace. 
2. Is your path or religion the only way to achieve spiritual goals or salvation, or are there other paths? What gives your path, or other paths, the capacity to lead us to our spiritual goals?
Marty Glass(a.k.a. Harry Woods Pal) - There are many Paths. Each religion is a path, and there are countless variations of emphasis within each religion. The diversity of Paths is a response to the diversity of spiritual temperaments.  
Robert Anthony Bolton -  I do not claim that my religion is the only path to salvation, unlike some devout people who brand religions and spiritual practices other than their own as invalid, simply because they look as though they would not work for themselves. To know that other faiths are not valid, rejected by God, one would have to know things about the inside of other souls which must be beyond our grasp. However, I do not extend such tolerance to the neo-pagan cults which flourish today, because they are concocted from written sources, not from any kind of revelation. There is a place for private religion, but it has to be founded on revealed religion. I think we have to receive grace if our pursuit of wisdom is to be profitable spiritually.
Charles Upton - My spiritual path -- Sufism -- is not the only path to salvation or realization; others exist within different traditions. On the other hand, there is only one Path -- and if my path were not the Path, it would be worse than useless. There are as many paths to God as there are individual travelers, yet each path is precisely the Path itself. And the matrix which connects my individual path to the Path itself, is Tradition -- in my specific case, Islam, as revealed by God through the Holy Koran.

The Path has the power to lead us to God because it is a gift of God. Only what has come from Him can lead back to Him. And the living bridge between His Infinity and my nothingness is my Pir, my spiritual Master.

John Ahmed Herlihy - I believe there are two paths that could be called the Greater Path and the lesser path. The lesser path is the individual one, my path and the path of every individual on earth, in keeping with the Islamic tradition of the Prophet Mohammed who said that there are as many paths are there are individual souls. This path amounts to the personal soul experience, however that may manifest and in whatever manner that may express itself within a person's life. It is a path that everyone takes by virtue of his or her existence and from which no one can escape. The Greater Path comes from God and returns one to God. It is the Way of Christ, the Tao of Existence and the Straight Path of Islam. It is the merging of the individual path with the Greater Path that aligns us with the truth and leads us out of ourselves and back to the Source of all existence.

Jim Mangianello - Of course there are many ways to achieve spiritual goals. I am deeply fond of the practice I use and teach, The Good Life Process because it delivers special results: movement into the boundless non-dual awareness of the Heart and connection with depth and meaning. With other words it honors both spirit and soul. Too often spiritual practitioners try to wax a dirty floor with their practices; they try to bypass their difficulties and confusion by transcending them. This is a dead end that causes a lot of pain and suffering. I know, it's responsible for the madness associated with most spiritual scenes, especially those imported from the East.

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3. In your life, who are the most important spiritual figures, and what are the most important texts, either secular or of a religious nature? How have they influenced your life?
Marty Glass (a.k.a. Harry Woods Pal) - In my life spiritual texts were of far greater significance than "spiritual figures." And for the simple reason that in the texts I found the Truth, stated in words and capable of confirmation in direct experience when the techniques of realization, also presented clearly in the texts, were practiced with deadly serious intent. The texts were the fountainhead and Source; whatever "spiritual figures" knew and had learned could only have been derived from the texts, from the Teaching, Holy Writ and inspired commentary, so it made sense to Marty to go directly to the Source where the Truth could be found in its pure form. However his attitude may be interpreted, Marty was never impressed by people, always suspicious and ultimately indifferent to their claims and the claims of their groupies, since he knew all about people, being one himself. 
Robert Anthony Bolton - The spiritual figures and texts that have most influenced me are Plato, the Philokalia, C.S. Lewis, Edwyn Bevan, Thomas Traherne, G.K. Chesterton, Plotinus, Leibniz, Thomas Taylor (his translations of Neoplatonists), John Mitchell, and Guenon and Schuon. I would add A.D. Sertillanges, whose book, The Intellectual Life, is a vital guide to combining the life of truth with the life of (Christian) faith. These have always been a source of inspiration to me, and I find them inexhaustible.
Charles Upton - Before the Path found me, my most important spiritual figures were William Blake and my own mythopoetic, Blakean rendition of Jesus Christ. My first mentor was Lew Welch, a Beat Generation poet, who did all he could to "initiate" me without himself being initiated, and succeeded at least in confronting me with my spiritual potentials for good and evil, by introducing me both to Sufi initiate Samuel Lewis, and sorcerer Carlos Castaneda.

The most important spiritual figures in my present life are the prophets, sages, saints and avatars of all world wisdom traditions -- and the living Pole them, for me, is my spiritual Master, who is a manifestation of the baraka (grace) of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. On the intellectual level (by "intellectual", in this context, I mean -- roughly speaking -- something higher than the mental but lower than the spiritual), my greatest influence has been the "Traditionalist" master Frithjof Schuon, and the other writers of the Traditionalist school. They have given me my first stable worldview since Catholicism, a doctrine which has put every belief, every insight, and every experience of my life into a single unified whole. Schuon was a great master, but he is not my master; so his influence on me is limited to the ideas he expresses in his books, as well as flashes of intellectual intuition provided by his baraka, which my own Master has (apparently) been generous enough to allow me to benefit from. I have also taken great spiritual consolation from the relics and intercession of our local saint here in the San Francisco Bay Area, John Maximovich -- Russian Orthodox Archbishop, theologian, wonderworker, and fool-for-Christ.

John Ahmed Herlihy - In my youth, I was an avid reader of the lives of the saints. They inspired me to develop the formative spiritual aspirations with their single-mindedness, their devotion, and their implicit faith in God to help them find themselves and fulfill their destiny. The intensity of it all filled me with spiritual wonder and awe. Texts of both a secular and a religious nature have also greatly influenced me and I have been an avid reader all my life once I graduated from the lives of the saints. On the secular level, the great works of literature have had a profound influence on my mentality and my approach to life generally. To read through the works of a Dostoyevsky, a Thomas Mann, or a Herman Melville is to learn about the profound experience of life through the eyes of a great literary master. On the religious level, I have been guided by the renown traditional writers of our time such as Frithjof Schuon, Martin Lings and René Guénon whose collective body of work has given definition and shape to the spiritual wilderness of our time. Finally, as a Muslim, I rely on the Quran as a source of knowledge and as a means of worship. The Quran, as Divine Discourse and Revelatory Word, remains the ultimate source of a higher knowledge that could not otherwise be known and serves the Muslims as the well-spring of all morality and ethics. As a means of worship, it opens the door to a spiritual experience that permits a person to transcend his or her limitations and approach the true knowledge of the Reality as a Truth and a Presence.
4. A great deal is said by traditionalist writers about the decadence of the West and the loss of guiding principles and a sense of the sacred. How then do we live meaningful lives? How do you reconcile your spiritual experience with the demands of the modern world in which you must live?
Marty Glass(a.k.a. Harry Woods Pal) - We adjust to the decadence of the world. What other choice is there? Hold on to the Truth, practice daily, pray and meditate, repeat the mantras, love people, love the world, have no pretensions, do not wear your piety on your sleeve (better if no one even knows you're "religious"), go to work, maintain your vehicle, have fun with your children, keep the faith with your friends, fulfill all your worldly responsibilities, make people laugh, always have in mind their disengagement from the world, be compassionate, walk this razor blade and be able to say, from the depths of your heart, "The whole ***** world can kiss ****!"
Robert Anthony Bolton - We live meaningful lives by our scale of priorities. Many activities which could mean spiritual failure if they were our top priorities could be benign enough if our effort is focused on life's true purpose, even if not much time is available for it. The center of gravity is everything. In the end it prevails, and forms our self-definition.
Charles Upton - Yes, the West is decadent -- but so is the world. I reconcile my spiritual experience with the modern world in which I must live by doing what it takes to survive in this world; by trying to keep abreast of the decadence as it hurtles ahead, so that I don't inadvertently buy into it; by praying to God to protect me from it; and by trying my best to keep my attention on God while letting the world go its way. As it says in the Koran, "All is perishing except His Face". This, of course, has always been true, but it's easier to see it now, and this in itself is a powerful grace. As my Master says, "Asceticism is less necessary in the modern world than it was in earlier times, because to live in the modern world is asceticism." To know that "all is perishing" is to let everything go and cling to God -- and the fruit of this detachment is to see how (also in the words of the Koran), "Wherever you turn, there is the Face of God." Slowly, God willing, this vision may be coming to me. I believe this might be true because the world, while continually becoming more frightening, now frightens me a little less all the time. But I have no way of knowing my own spiritual station with any certainty; only God and my Master can answer that question -- and I have mostly given up asking it.
John Ahmed Herlihy - I know no other world but the modern world, at least none other than the existential reality that I am confronted with every day. Therefore I don't try to run away from it and have no expectation of escape. Much has been written and said during these times about the Kali Yuga and the decadence of the West as a sign of the impending end for which I am grateful because it has also raised my consciousness concerning the concept of the Final End and its multiple implications both negative and positive. The guiding principles, however, have not been lost. They are still with us and still available to those with the ability to recognize them for what they truly are. We still have the great world revelations that serve as the genuine sources of knowledge. We still enjoy the legacy of countless lamas, sheiks, gurus and saints who have testified in their writings and in their lives to the truth of the one and eternal God. We still have the traditional and spiritual writers who shape our spiritual perceptions and we still have the spiritual masters and guides who set the right example and lead the way. The sense of the sacred, however, is an individual responsibility. No one can just hand it over to us as a gift. It must be earned through persistent effort and realized through spiritual practice. Whether we live in the ancient, traditional, medieval, or modern world, our sense of the sacred and our perception of the truth is our sole responsibility. That is why the image of the Day of Judgement is so powerful and so enduring.
5. In relation to our historical times, what challenges, obstacles or difficulties have you faced in your spiritual quest, if any? What factors made your search difficult, or not so difficult?
 Marty Glass (a.k.a. Harry Woods Pal) -  The main challenge is the virtual absence, in the world of human affairs, of any reminders of heaven, the reminders which abounded in any traditional or indigenous society. You have to keep it going on your own steam. Intensity of spiritual practice! That's the whole secret. The incomprehension of friends can be an occasional cause of sorrow, and the inevitable misunderstandings that arise from having a "secret life in God." We will appear "eccentric." But that's part of the game. Mindfulness, discretion, tact and, perhaps above all, the discovery and cultivation in yourself of the ordinary person, of everything you have in common with ordinary people: humility, in other words. (Not the potential for dissipation that we share in common, of course, but the ordinary decency and fidelity: the virtues.)
Robert Anthony Bolton - The greatest difficulty is that of making one's purpose in life understood by other people, and of finding others who have chosen the same way. Occasional help from those who have gone further on this path than oneself can be vital, and it is effective without need for agreement on matters of detail.
Charles Upton - One of my main obstacles has been lack of discretion -- digging up the seedling to see if it's grown any since the last time I almost killed it. And in relation to this historical moment, my main obstacle has probably been the false belief that I have many spiritual options, and plenty of time to explore them. Of course the illusion of "plenty of time" is not particular to our own age; it's the perennial sin of complacency, which is one aspect of the sin of pride.
John Ahmed Herlihy - I can only speak for myself, but I wouldn't be surprised if everyone ultimately passes through some kind of "dark night of the soul". Spiritual awareness and a heightened sense of faith does not and should not come easily. It may in fact me to our advantage that we live in a world of polarity whose interplay of opposites actually serves to heighten their respective meaning. We know success through failure; understand human goodness through the evil alternative; we experience the true value of hope through an impending despair. I have returned from the brink a number of times in my life to find myself a better, stronger and more enlightened person because of the obstacles, hardships and difficulties that have littered my path. I do not run from them for they are as much a part of my destiny as the happiness and fulfillment toward which we all strive. We learn from our mistakes and grow through adversity. What more could anyone ask for than that the darkness reveals the light?
6. What hazards or guideposts should people look for as they navigate the contemporary spiritual landscape in search of their own paths?
Marty Glass (a.k.a. Harry Woods Pal) - The "contemporary spiritual landscape," as it is described in the question, is loaded with pitfalls, land mines, treachery, snipers in every tree, deceit, mirages, bullshit, sappy sentimentalism, false claims, well-intentioned fools, and all manner of mumbo-jumbo. Dangerous! Perilous! Avoid like the plague anyone who tells you it's easier than you think! (I believe that was the title of a book.) Avoid like the plague anyone who preaches that "Science" and "Religion" are saying the same thing! This "argument" is a device of the sleepless Archfiend, the Adversary! Most Buddhist groups, from what I can see from the outside, are pretty safe, but watch out for the singles groups masquerading as "dharma centers." A lot of that kind of thing goes on. "Buddhism" can become a "line" for men: SNAGS, or "sensitive new age guys." Watch out for strong feminist emphases in religious claimants; these people usually have something other than Spirit on their minds, an alternative priority which, however just may be its claims in other areas, is not the point. The list of hazards could be prolonged indefinitely. Look at the world through narrowed eyes! That's what I tried to teach my five children. Go to the Sources. Ultimately, and with no shadow of a doubt, you are alone on your spiritual Path, alone with God, and your own experience, in the solitude of your shrine, is your ultimate appeal. Your sincerity before heaven will never fail you.
Robert Anthony Bolton - Regrettably, hazards have to include personal relationships, because a lack of common values can make them a hindrance. One should not shrink from trying to cope with solitude and using it well, especially as this can lead to friendships with others who can do likewise!
Charles Upton - The Traditionalists often quote a North African marabout who once said, "The doors to Heaven and Hell are wide open, from now to the end of the age." It's easier than ever to go straight to Hell, but also easier to attract Divine Mercy. Pride and vanity grease the slide to Hell; the recognition of our radical poverty and absolute need for God's grace opens the doors to Mercy. Love is present Paradise and leads to Paradise; hatred leads to Hell, and is present Hell. (As Jean Cocteau once said -- a strange voice to quote on a site like this, some may say -- "I love love; I hate hatred." May this truth have profited him to eternal life.)

Hazards: Mass vulgarity and attraction to sleaze and violence; terrible emotional coldness hidden under a veil of vicious glamour; the replacement of the goal of self-transcendence with the quest for magical power on the part of so many people; the general slander against true God-given doctrine and spiritual practice, particularly in the case of Christianity, but with Islam a close second; the destruction of religious faith and the intuition of higher spiritual realities by materialistic science and quasi-magical scientism (Scientism: the transformation of science from a method of knowing material nature into an ideology which claims that only material nature exists); the proliferation of hundreds of false or incomplete occult and psychological belief-systems masquerading as spiritualities -- belief-systems based on material and psychic knowledge alone, not on true spiritual doctrine and insight; the inability of so many people to distinguish the psychic level from the spiritual one; the general openness of the mass body-mind to psychic experience, coupled with a collective resistance to the Spirit; the belief that religion or spirituality are here to fulfill my own felt needs -- a false belief which replaces the understanding that God requires of me all I hope for, all I am, my whole life, and my full death, and that the Good He has in store for me is inconceivably greater than anything I could put down on my worldly or even my spiritual wish-list: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, the reward God has prepared for those who love Him"; the belief that only belief is real, that there is no such thing as Truth.

Guideposts: Deep, spontaneous remorse in the face of our limitations and failures -- a remorse which immediately turns into gratitude. An intuition that there are people around us immensely more wise and loving and courageous than we are. Respect for those in whom we see such virtues (like William Blake said, "The most sublime act is to put another before you"). Attraction to the great world wisdom traditions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity -- to basically adult spiritualities. A sense that there is such a thing as Absolute Truth, Love, Beauty and Power -- and that this Supreme Reality knows us. A sense that the spiritual life requires a total transformation and transcendence of our ego-self, plus a real hankering to get on with this transformation. A realization that, since the road is long -- a whole lifetime long -- one had best start now. A willingness to admit one's real needs, aspirations, virtues, vices and potentials without making too much of it. A will to do whatever it takes to bridge the gap between one's individual peculiarities and a long-established Path which has produced heroes, saints and sages, without denying either side in the name of the other. A willingness to search for knowledgeable people and ask serious questions. A willingness to stop asking questions at one point, and simply listen, both to outer advice and to the inner promptings of the Spirit. A will to submit one's spiritual life to Divine guidance, while realizing that, in the words of the Koran, God shows us His signs both "on the horizons" (through circumstances and events) and "in our souls" (through feelings, insights and intuitions).

And a reading list? The Bible; the Koran; the Bhagavad-gita; the Upanishads; the Brahma-sutra; the Dhammapada; The One-hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa; The Tibetan Book of the Dead; the I Ching; the Tao Te Ching; the Chuang Tzu; Dante; Meister Eckhart; The Philokalia; The Cloud of Unknowing; the Zohar; Ibn 'Arabi; Rumi; Shankara; Nagarjuna; Plotinus; and then the Traditionalist writers: René Guénon; Ananda Coomaraswamy; Frithjof Schuon (particularly these first three); Titus Burckhardt; Martin Lings; James Cutsinger; Whitall Perry (especially his Treasury of Traditional Wisdom); Seyyed Hossein Nasr (especially Knowledge and the Sacred); Leo Schaya; Henry Corbin; Charles LeGai Eaton; Lord Northbourne; and Wolfgang Smith. The three best introductory books are probably The World's Religions, Forgotten Truth and Beyond the Post-modern Mind, by Huston Smith.

John Ahmed Herlihy - Perhaps the greatest hazard confronting the people of our time who are in search of their own unique path is the fact that the "contemporary spiritual landscape" is no longer spiritual in the true sense of the word. The word "spiritual" must be reflective of the world of the Spirit rather than merely the spirit of this world. It must be the embodiment of the knowledge of a higher Reality that has the explanatory power to lead us out of ourselves and beyond the contingencies of the world as we know and experience it. And it must have the capacity to bring about the realization and internalization of that knowledge within our souls and our very beings. I am not sure that what we call the contemporary spiritual landscape has the ability to do that any longer, possibly because it has degenerated into a spiritual wilderness of no return. Yet, the guideposts still exist in the form of Revelation, the signs of Nature, and the symbolic image of Man, who can become his own revelation insofar as he is the human image and mirror reflection of the Supreme Being and the Ultimate Truth.

Jim Manganiello - I think the major hazard is a two fold paradox: 1) the spiritual path is much harder than we can imagine and 2) the spiritual path is much easier than we can imagine. It all depends on our location, view and reality.

A related hazard is to become a serf to a spiritual teacher and to betray oneself with taking loyalty oaths and making courtier bleats. Most spiritual teachers do not embody what they teach and most need to to face themselves more honestly. 

If we overvalue ourselves and approach spirituality from ego, we are doomed to a harsh series of lessons and perhaps residency in the lunatic asylum. Spirituality is not user friendly; there is indeed peril on the path and most of us mistake glossy photos of a gourmet meal for the meal itself.

If we undervalue ourselves we miss the magic that already exists within us that can be quite easily accessed through an open and tender Heart. To recognize the divinity within us and to humbly embrace it in awe-ful love is to call forth grace and unspeakable inner guidance on the path.

(Comments, Set 1, Set 2)


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