Morality and Ethics in Esotericism – Dirty Words in an Unclean World
by esotericist Mark Stavish
While it is generally agreed that our outer health, and even material circumstances, are a direct reflection of our inner wholeness, the connection of this idea in reality is a lot less simple for many in practice. Much, if not all of this difficulty comes from the notion that esotericism is a sort of ‘do it yourself’ process, in which practitioners can ‘pick what they like and leave the rest behind’. In reality, while that is fine to tell drug addicts and alcoholics in an NA or AA meeting and who are on the edge of total self-destruction (so anything is better than nothing) it is a lie when it comes teaching students who “of their own free will and accord” have placed themselves on a path of illumination.
In Kabbalah for Health and Wellness there is a discussion of the role of the Ten Commandments (as well as the two given by Jesus) in psychological and physical health so that inner realizations could take place. Somehow the knee-jerk rejection of anything rooted in Western culture took sway, and some neo-pagans reviewing the book seemed bent on criticizing this point rather than taking a step back and remembering that kabbalah is essentially Jewish, even when it is dressed up in late 19th and early 20th century polytheistic and reconstructionist metaphors. You can throw the baby out with the bathwater, but then in the end, you are left holding an empty bucket.
This desire to strip traditional teachings of any connection to their past is in no means limited to studies of kabbalah. American Buddhists are notorious for it as well. Like their Leftist, counter-culture, Sixties holdovers in the neo-pagan community, American Buddhists find it nearly impossible to sit down, shut up, listen, and change their point of view – even if for a moment – but instead insist on picking and choosing what moral and ethical precepts they like and which ones they don’t like. This is especially true when it comes to teachings against sexual license in general. This is further extended into the need to turn everything into a political and social movement rather than do the hard work of deconstructing and reconstructing themselves as individuals. It is as if the idea of actually being an individual – even for a moment – is too frightening to their entrenched collectivist ideology. “If it is good enough for me, then it is good enough for everyone” seems to be the motto of too many pathological reforms across many of the current spiritual groups in the United States, Europe and the Middle East.
Within Buddhism and its Tibetan predecessor, Bon, there are Ten Virtuous Deeds. Like the Ten Commandments for those who practice kabbalah, in any of its forms – Christian or Hermetic – the Ten Virtuous Deeds are not an option, but must be strictly followed.
These Ten Virtuous Deeds are:
- Avoiding taking another’s life, including animal and plants beings whenever possible.
- Practicing generosity.
- Being mindful, paying attention to what you are doing and what you are thinking of at any moment.
- Following moral discipline to overcome sexual misconduct.
- Telling truth and avoiding falsehood.
- Working to bring together friends who have separated, and not spreading rumors.
- Speaking peacefully and calmly and avoiding harsh language.
- Practicing – prayer, meditation, pilgrimages, and other works, rather than wasting time, particularly on gossip.
- Being free of evil thoughts towards others, generating love and kindness towards them rather than harmful thoughts.
- Being free from wrong views of the teachings one is receiving, particularly firmly realizing the truth of the law of karma (cause and result or effect), and firmly entering the spiritual pathway.
If we take a careful look at these non-optional moral and ethical requirements, we can see that they are in fact even more stringent than the so-called Ten Commandments found in Jewish scripture and adopted by the Christians. The Ten Commandments can be summarized into: put God first, don’t blaspheme, keep one day set aside for spiritual practice, don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t lie, don’t commit adultery, and don’t desire for what another person owns. The Egyptian Negative Confession to Truth or Maat is even more detailed, yet repeats the same themes. All of these guidelines are direct and to the point – if you want to know God, or experience enlightenment, then these are the rules you need to follow. And if these are too burdensome, then your journey will become a longer and more difficult one. The choice is up to you.
The simple truth is that only by following such guidelines, particularly when it is difficult, causes us material or social loss, and goes against our predisposed ego (self-pitying and self-limiting) image we cherish of our self, can we really say we are on the Path. Only with a firm commitment to organize our inner life and master the inner energies that run rampant within our psyche, can we hope to be open to deeper realizations and experiences we call spiritual, as well as to project that new found harmony as power and form in the material world.
We can either treat genuine and authentic spiritual teachings as a rich multi-course meal that has been laid out for us by a master chef and staff, or we can treat it like a buffet where we indulge our preferences and walk away having paid too much money for second or third rate food only to get indigestion.
For Western esotericism to survive and thrive in its own soil it must provide solid evidence that it is more than just a collection of occult and psychic thrill seekers, but has real and tangible means of living a healthy and happy life. Morality and ethics is the beginning and end of who we are and the litmus test of our spiritual path, for this shows how we treat others and ourselves.
The above article was first posted in VOXHERMES in February 2008.