A life is either all spiritual, or not spiritual at all.
--Thomas Merton,Thoughts in Solitude
In accepting Merton's quote as his mantra, the universal monk makes the commitment to the spiritual life. You either live by the law of the flesh, or by the law of the spirit, as Bede Griffiths expressed it in reference to a passage in the Hindu scriptures. One might get the impression from this that we have something of a choice in the matter, but in truth, spirituality is not so much an option as it is an imperative. The universal monk is that individual who has recognized and understood this imperative without qualification—has seized it and made it his own. Spirituality is the answer to the question Why?
The Society of Universal Monks is primarily a modern spiritual society of men seeking to find and follow their own unique spiritual path. It is open to any and all, regardless of age, inclination or persuasion, origins, politics, or faith. There exists no rigid hierarchy, no bureaucratic chain of command. The search for Truth and spiritual fulfillment is the only doctrine professed, the only monastic rule adhered to. Upon joining the society, the new monk is assigned a spiritual counselor and a proper course of instruction is determined, based on the novice’s philosophical and/or theological leanings. The Society of Universal Monks uses the handbook, “The Sanctified Life” as its manual, which is available through the Universal Gnostic Fellowship website, and is designed to assist in developing the new monk’s spiritual perspective and character.
The Society of Universal Monks can be said to be a working society as well: life is participation, and the universal monk participates fully. The universal monk makes his commitment to spirituality and takes complete responsibility for it. If he should stumble and fall, he picks himself up and continues on. He doesn't look back, he doesn't look ahead. He focuses on the path before him. He brings no staff, no cloaks. The only thing he carries with him is that which has become an inseparable and indispensable part of who and what he is: his approach to understanding. It is a discipline devoid of regimen, absent of rigidity; an art infinite in expression and style. It is the attitude of the spirit free of all attitude.
The universal monk seeks union--union with the Divine, the Tao, Brahman, the Absolute, the Inexpressible. Whatever the name, it is the One, the common ground of all great spiritual traditions—the Source—and it can be known. And that knowledge comes through a direct experience of it. The Society of Universal Monks, it is hoped, will serve to assist in bringing its adherents to that state of awareness.
The universal monk is a student of all faiths and philosophies, of all cultures. He waves no flag, he sings no anthem, he recognizes no borders. He travels in the realm of the Spirit and lives by its laws. He has transcended the excess baggage and trappings—the burdens we labor under when we serve only the flesh—and stopped being this or that. The universal monk simply is.
The search for Truth is, ultimately and unequivocally, a solitary one. The collective pursuit can only take us so far. The path inevitably narrows to a point where only we can pass through, leaving those accompanying us behind to seek their own place of passage. It is the greatest of paradoxes that when we are at last reunited with the One that is all things, and ourselves become one with all that Is, we are utterly alone in that experience. But, while the journey takes place within us, it is linked inseparably to our outward lives. How we live directly affects how we understand—and how much. We can not make a distinction between what we consider our everyday life, and that which we call our spiritual life. They are one and the same. Spirituality is not something to be practiced on occasion, not something to be recognized on appointed days or at appointed times and then prioritized and filed away for later. Spirituality is what we are. It is all that we have ever been or will ever be. The Society of Universal Monks was conceived as one means to open our eyes to this truth.
When determining which path to follow, be it this or any other, we must open our hearts and minds to all true paths, to all the wisdom of those who have gone before us. Every great teacher has a lesson. We must begin to use our minds for the purpose they were intended: to learn. Learning begets understanding, understanding leads to awareness, and awareness, inevitably, to illumination. It is hoped that The Society of Universal Monks will, in some small way, serve to facilitate the process.
We are all familiar with the old adage, Ignorance is bliss. Any one of us can recall some occasion when we probably would have been better off left in the dark, or so we believe. The path the universal monk traverses, if traversed sincerely, leads to an inevitable awareness of the Way of things. It is not, however, the culmination of the journey—only the beginning of a new one. A serious misconception exists concerning the state of spiritual illumination: it is not to be confused with spiritual perfection.
Spiritual illumination brings one to the state of experiential awareness of the Absolute—an actual, undeniable, empirical knowledge of the nature and ultimate Reality of the Divine. It does not, unfortunately, transform the newly illumined into saints or spiritual superheroes. There will be challenges, there will be obstacles, temptations, and the ubiquitous spells of confusion and frustration. We remain (often painfully) human.
Prior to the experience of illumination we are allowed to make mistakes, to wander off course, to become distracted. We are, after all, stumbling about in ignorance, feeling our way along blindly, trusting the pull of an unknown something we only sense the existence of. The luxury and license of that excuse is forever lost to us, however, once we cross over and step into the light.
The only way to ensure that our progress does not become regress is to take responsibility for it. Much of what was done unthinkingly must now be scrutinized minutely. It is not so much a matter of right or wrong behavior, of good versus bad, etc., as it is a matter of what was once seemingly appropriate having now become decidedly inappropriate. What had been acceptable when spiritually ignorant often evolves into the unacceptable when we reach a certain undeniable level of awareness. And only the individual monk can make that determination.
Hard questions must be asked, and answered objectively and honestly—an intense self-examination at this point is essential. If some inclination or indulgence no longer deserves a place in our lives, no matter how much pleasure or satisfaction we imagine it once gave us, it must be discarded. What detracts must now be denied, because now we know better. We can fool everyone but ourselves—and, most importantly, the Divine. We must be careful, though, not to indulge in renunciation and self-denial for their own sake. Only what is genuinely inappropriate need be abandoned or modified. Life is the Divine's gift to all—take care to enjoy it in the spirit it is given.
We make the choice to follow the spiritual path freely, we are never coerced. But, having once made the choice, and taken it to that point from which there is no turning back, we are obliged to accept complete responsibility for it. And for those who have experienced it, the Truth, it is the only direction left.
[ The Sanctified Life ]
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