Book Review: Chapter 1 of Meditation and the Initiation Process

Several of us have decided to dive into Volume 6 of a series on the Mind, written by Bodo Balsys.  This book, Meditation and the Initiation Process, is not an easy read; we’re aiming for one chapter a month.  This month, we’re tackling the Chapter 1 – Introduction.

Balsys is a scholar in Buddhism; he’s also a Theosophist.  Theosophy has a number of flavors; Christian theosophy is generally ascribed to have been founded by the German philosopher  Jakob Böhme.  The objective of theosophy is to understand the nature of divinity (ie, the eternal), as well as understanding the nature of the universe.  In 1875, the Theosophical Society was formed in New York – this group was very much interested in exploring esoteric knowledge but also encouraged comparative studies of multiple religions in an effort to seek the Truth.  (You can read more about this group in this Wikipedia article…)

What is the “Initiation Process”?  Another theosophist, Zachary Landsdowne, states that initiation refers to “an expansion of awareness that results from the person’s own effort, rather than being conferred on him by another” [Source:  The Chakras and Esoteric Healing].  

From the introduction,  I have two big take-aways.  One is that there’s value in finding the common themes and wisdom across religious and spiritual practices, but it requires a recognition that language and metaphors can be significantly different across traditions.  Second, there are no shortcuts to enlightenment, and that trying to take shortcuts can have unintended consequences.  

Theosophic Objectives

The premise of much of Balsys’s writing appears to be that the underlying wisdom in Christianity, Buddhism (and other religions) is the same, but expressed in different metaphors; these metaphors can only be fully understood by one who has deeply studied and developed their goal for universal good. In part of the introduction, he spends time showing how Christian language can be reinterpreted in a Buddhist model. One passage I appreciated notes that:

Whether one wishes to equate Mind with ‘Perfect Buddhahood’, or ‘God’, or abstract it in terms of ‘Space’ is a matter of personal predilection, for it is all of these things, as they are all symbols of the inexplicable. The concept of ‘God is (universal) Mind’ .. has a validity in relation to the knowable universe. It is the only facet of Deity that can be comprehended by our minds, being reflections of That Mind, moulded according to the patterning of Divine Mentation.

Balsys calls for healthy dialog between Christianity and Buddhism, noting that “The teachings of the Buddha and Jesus represent two views relating to gaining enlightenment, both of which are valid.  Where one religious stream is weak, the other fills in the gaps, when the texts are properly interpreted.”    He also praises the effectiveness of meditation techniques that have grown from Buddhist practices, and now notes that it is time to “adapt [them] appropriately to meet all the challenges of our modern era”.

Psychic Dangers and Precautions

Regarding the depth of spiritual practices, Balsys spends time reviewing the seven-chakra model and the characteristics associated with each chakra, and also discusses the dangers of “forcing” the opening of these chakras, especially of the Solar Plexus.  The Solar Plexus chakra is associated with personal will and power, and in esoteric traditions, is also the primary mechanism for telepathic and psychic capabilities.  It’s possible, according to Balsys, to “force” these capabilities through various techniques (via “drugs, dreams, or by .. ego-centered visualization techniques and ritualized magic”) so that the practitioner can access these psychic capabilities.  But he warns that:

“..there are hosts of psychic entities, disincarnate beings, mischievous nature spirits, psychic vampires, demons, and abominations of mind created by the dark side of human nature and by the forces of evil… People who foolishly tinker with psychics before they have the means to control such manifestations open the doorways to these forms.”

Problems can also arise with a teacher who, either intentionally or unintentionally, mentors the students in techniques, for example, that are advertised to focus on the Heart chakra but are actually engaging the Solar Plexus chakra.  Balsys notes that such a teacher is “karmically responsible for the results of his teachings if the student earnestly follows them.   Thus if those teachings produce psychic disaster then the teacher is doubly culpable, for the effect of erroneous or shortsighted upon the mind and emotions of the student, and for the disastrous manner in which they manifest.”

The safe path, then, is to focus on development of Love-Wisdom so that the practitioner is not deceived by ideas and sensations that could lead one astray. That is, to dedicate one’s life to selfless service and the elimination of ego-posturing.  This will let any capabilities develop naturally and will arise to serve the greater good, rather than serving the desires of an individual ego.

Some closing thoughts

There are several traditions of Buddhist practice; some are more oriented to a “religious” practice, with a belief in a pantheon of deities and realms.  Other practices are more oriented towards practices that develop the spiritual self, using the imagery as a “skillful means” to develop and grow.   

Balsys, through the language he employs, appears to be more in the former category.  For example, he refers to “the Council of Bodhisattvas”, Wrathful Dieties, etc. The one passage in the introduction that made me wince occurs at a point when Balsys falls into the trap of accusing modern science of having a conspiracy against “esoteric truth”.  Writing about the dark arts and Atlantis, he notes:

This civilization and flood is a myth to the present day materialists, who think in terms of intellectual development only, but is an esoteric reality to those that have developed the ability to revisit their past lives, meditatively or by means of trances, as for instance, the well known psychic seer Edgar Cayce.  It concerns part of the esoteric history of the earth, the evidence of which has been ruthlessly suppressed or ignored by modern materialistic science.  However the detail is found recorded in the archives of the spiritual Hierarchy (the White Brotherhood) of our planet.

My own practice is much more aligned with the latter approach (seeing these concepts as “skillful means”), combined with the belief that as beings living in a physical world, we can never fully comprehend the reality of divine nature.  Even the chakras are a representation of something that is experienced, and yet given there are many different mappings of the chakras across traditions, who can assert whether any one definition of the chakras is “true”?  My assertion is that recognizing these are concepts can be useful and helpful for people, and that’s enough.