More on “consciousness” and the gathered meeting: personal consciousness, collective consciousness, and the Christ as siddha

September 28, 2013 § 3 Comments

I have not posted in a while—intense deadlines at work have been a distraction. But I have kept writing, only waiting for some time to confirm that these pieces were ready for publication. Here, I return to the theme of the gathered meeting. (Meanwhile, however, I am going on vacation tomorrow for a week. So I hope my readers will comment, if they feel so led, but I won’t be able to respond to your comments until I get back.)

In previous posts on this theme, I have asked how the Christ gathers the meeting, while I have circled an understanding of the Christ in terms of consciousness, a recurrent theme in this series. It’s time to look at “consciousness” itself more closely, especially as it might apply to our understanding of the gathered meeting and of the Christ. And here I am talking about both personal consciousness and collective consciousness.

Unfortunately, Christianity’s understanding of personal consciousness is primitive in the extreme. Being so theistic at its core, Christianity’s real strength lies in its understanding of personhood, of psychology, personality, feelings, will, and the religious dimension of human social systems (though, in this regard, I feel it has given unwarranted emphasis to the social systems of monarchy and the law and has only begun to focus on democracy and ecology). But I’m talking, not about personality or personal psychology, but about consciousness itself, the underlying miracle of the human being that is capable of self-understanding and transcendental communion.

And Christianity’s understanding of collective consciousness—well, such a thing hardly exists at all—only, as far as I know, in the work of Teilhard de Chardin. In fact, like me, Teilhard virtually defines the Christ in terms of collective consciousness. Teilhard deserves his own post(s), so I will defer a discussion of his work for now.

To understand more deeply the religious dimension of consciousness, we must look outside the Christian tradition, and especially to the East.

Some insights on the gathered meeting from yoga, the ancient Indian science of consciousness

I was an avid student of yoga for several years. My formal affiliation in those days was with Self Realization Fellowship, the organization founded to teach Kriya Yoga in North America by Paramahansa Yogananda, one of the great Indian gurus of the 20th century.

But I started with Transcendental Meditation, which was the Western world’s institution for another deeply respected school from India. And living within striking distance of New York in the 1960s and ‘70s gave me and my friends access to a number of other teachers based in the City, most notably, Ram Das and Hilda Charlton. Hilda Charlton held fairly regular satsangs in Manhattan and every time I went, Ram Das was there.

Hilda Charlton was a mildly gifted siddha yogi. A siddha yogi is an adept with the ability to psychically reach into a student’s consciousness and effect some spiritual transformation, to help the student’s spiritual progress along. Once when I attended one of her satsangs, she did some laying on of hands and she laid her hands on me.

When she touched me, I felt her presence and I felt a thrill, a jolt of awareness and joy. I don’t know how transforming it was. But it did blow my mind.

Such an experience has only limited spiritual value, if it does not demonstrably transform you. I can’t say that that experience changed me at all except to reinforce a faith in my practice. At the least, however, it suggests that a gifted teacher can posses psychic power. Such a teacher is called a siddha.

Siddha yoga emphasizes close relationship between teacher and student. Actual physical proximity is important, face-to-face encounter with the teacher, preferably living closely together in an ashram or community settlement, because just living in the presence of such a soul is transformative. And there are moments when the siddha’s power manifests, when she or he sees an opportunity to reach into you and grab a piece of your karma and set it straight, usually by yanking it out. The path of the siddha yoga devotee is one of extreme personal devotion and self-sacrifice. You are baring your soul to another in utmost faith. Sound familiar?

I think Jesus was a siddha. His ashram was a traveling ashram, instead of a settlement, which probably upped the level of commitment required even more.

I think of the story in the gospels of the Syro-Phoenician woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, and Jesus felt his power go out from him. Or again, the experience of the lame man at the healing pool in the gospel of John; or of Jesus healing the blind man by mixing his spittle with dust. In a wonderful book titled Jesus the Healer, the author looks at Jesus’ healing miracles from various angles, and has really interesting things to say about his parables as psychic koans, stories that reached into his listeners and opened a channel for him to transform them. And Jesus often knows what’s really going on inside his disciples.

The skeptic would say, of course, that what I experienced was no more than a form of hypnosis, the power of suggestion. This is a frequent explanation of Pentecostal experience, of “holy rollers” and faith healers. And in my case, with Hilda Charlton, they may be right; in fact, I suspect that they are right. But siddha yoga is real, siddhas do exist, and this reality confirms, at the very least, that a realm or medium exists in which interpersonal psychic/spiritual communication takes place.

I have been there, not only in gathered meetings for worship among Friends, but also in moments of communion while meditating with other meditators, as a student of yoga and as a student and teacher of Silva Mind Control. (I know, that’s a truly sinister sounding name, but actually a rather benign but remarkably effective pseudo-scientific, pop-psych self-help program. I taught Silva Mind Control for several years in the mid-1970s. More about that later.)

When I was a disciple of Yogananda, Yogananda was dead. He died in 1947, I think, the year I was born. But I was taught that we was still alive as a guru, that he still had the power to work with me as a student. His transformational autobiography, The Autobiography of a Yogi, is full of stories in which his own teachers going back several generations, continued to teach him, even though they were dead. Sound familiar?

Who’s to say that the Christ as siddha is not also still capable of gathering his people? (In fact, Yogananda himself considered Christ one of his teachers, having had mystical experience of Jesus, as he describes in The Autobiography.) Without direct experience, I can only conjecture. But I have had experience of the siddha galvanizing a community into a covered state of spiritual unity. Maybe that will be my next post.

But back to the gathered meeting and the relevance of what I’m discussing here. My experience of siddha yoga, and the faith and practice of siddha yoga, all suggest that there is a psycho-spiritual dimension in which direct communion between people, and between disciples and teachers, does exist. That, I believe, is the medium in which the gathered meeting takes place.

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