Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Magician's Paradox: Balancing Power and Enlightenment

Power is the double-edged sword of the magician, the paradox which we continuously suffer for the mastery of our path. One one hand, as one increases in skill and purity one increases their power and the ability to use it for deeper spiritual exploration. On the other hand this power can easily begin to corrupt what one has accomplished, viciously tearing apart any hard-earned progress we may have achieved. If you have studied magic, I can almost guarantee that you have inhaled the luscious scent of this vexatious rose, equally intoxicating, purifying, and devilish. We find ourselves teetering on the edge trying to harness that power yet always risking falling onto its deadly blade . How can we walk the thin line which if crossed successfully will bring with it fulfillment, enlightenment, and joy without falling into the depths that will completely devour us, leaving us as an empty shell, slaves to our lesser selves rather than masters of the elements and of metals? To begin our exploration of this topic lets look at another tradition and one of its key texts, The Yoga Sutras.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is one of the most important and widely studied texts of the Vedic system, which in contemporary time has become more widely known in the West. It discusses and describes the state of yoga (union) and the process one's consciousness goes through to achieve it through the practice of the "eight limbs" of the Yoga system. Most people have only read or studied the first two chapters but the last two are equally as important, albiet wrapped in more mystery than most Westerners are willing to explore. Chapter Three of the Yoga Sutras discusses the subject of the Siddhis, supernatural powers which are attained as a result of one's spiritual progress. These include (but are not limited to) levitation, mastery over the elements, invisibility, divine hearing, the ability to walk through walls, and flying through space. The Yoga Sutras expounds on this topic by saying that these abilities will naturally arise out of the practice of Samayama which is the bringing together of dharana (steady orientation of the mind), dhyana (meditation, effortless awareness at the point of attention), and samadhi (one's awareness appearing as the pure object of meditation, devoid of even the thought of itself). As Samyama becomes firmer, cognition of the subtle strata of the universe becomes more and more lucid. Thus, by bringing ones awareness to these subtle layers of the universe one can gain control and knowledge over them. However, it is through this state of Samyama that the light of fully enlivened consciousness arises, thus making it essential to full enlightenment, although not yet its final state.

Let's look at this state a little more closely. On one hand the person begins to experience the subtle strata of the universe, the underlying fabric of creation. On the other hand the light of fully enlivened consciousness is arising. Here the consciousness begins to illuminate itself, and begins to reflect its own light onto itself. As a result of being in touch with such a subtle layer of existence the yogi may begin to experience Siddhis or supernatural powers. These can occur spontaneously, but as the Yoga Sutras explains one may be able to invoke a particular power such as levitation by bringing one's awareness to that particular layer of the strata. However, at this point the yogi is still not completely free from his ego, and thus this can be a very dangerous state of consciousness. Imagine being able to walk through walls, create fire at a touch, or fly through space? Would you be drawn to explore this further? Even if you told yourself you wouldn't think of yourself as better than another because you have attained this state or allow these powers to feed your ego, can you imagine how easily these powers could become a distraction? Because of this it is warned that they yogi continue to adamantly practice non-attachment, for it is through non-attachment, (even to the idea of non-attachment) that absolute freedom is attained.

Now the magician takes a bit of a different route. Instead of experiencing powers as a result of enlightenment he seeks to gain powers in magic as a way towards enlightenment. He uses his powers to explore deeper levels of purification, to invoke beings of a higher vibration, and to raise his consciousness into higher parts of the Tree of Life. But, the same problem can still arise, this disease of attachment to ego and power. The number of ego-driven people on this path is an often discussed topic...well of course! Most people are not prepared to handle the magical powers that are given to them, which is why the fathers of our traditions always stressed living life most piously when practicing magic. If we look at the yogi, we can see that even he, at this extremely purified state is in danger of much more in danger are we at a lower level?

This doesn't mean that we should stop practicing magic, for this path is holy and effective. But, we must recognize the subtle interplay of power and how it is affecting our consciousness. We also must be strong enough to admit when the intoxicating essence of power is beginning to taint and destroy our lives and our work. Furthermore we must remember that it is not for these powers that we are following this path...but for the enlightenment that comes through following this path of which the powers can be used to help complete our Work. By following the concept of non-attachment we can give ourselves a great step-up in this area. Non-attachment allows us to keep our egos separate from the fruits of our labors, from the special powers we may attain, and from the positions of power we may receive in our groups. In essence non-attachment is an act of humility, the one gift of the spirit which opens the door fully for the grace of the Divine.

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