In today’s world, scientists have made a great job of understanding how things work. But, the question of “why?” seems to have been largely forgotten. Mainstream education offers a purely materialistic approach to understanding the world. We are told that our physical brains create our life experience, and that death is the end of everything. We are told we live in a meaningless Universe in which everything, including us, was created by automatic chemical processes.
They may be a reason why we are given such a hopeless view of the world: it is certainly good for business. People with no sense of meaning are likely to value money above all else and try to cheer themselves up with endless products. Also, a population of people without purpose is very easy to control. A lot of our knowledge about the world comes from big corporations with vested interests. For example, a lot of our ideas about diet and nutrition have come from the food industry (e.g. we need lots of protein from meat). If we feel depressed, we may feel this is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain and reach for a prescription pill. This actually disrupts the normal working of the brain, enriches pharmaceutical companies, and stops us from understanding the real reasons for our emotions. Basically, we are given a false view of reality that suits those with the most power.
In the past, it was religions that controlled people by tightly controlling the information they were exposed to. Now scientists have taken on the same role. People believe many scientific theories that they have no understanding, just because science is considered to be an authority on what is true. This is not to say that scientific theories should be rejected, science has certainly revolutionised the world. But, we should understand the limits of science: examining and theorizing about the material world will only ever lead to more questions,
Neither our materialistic culture nor mainstream religion seems to be able to give any satisfactory answers to genuine spiritual seekers. So, it is no surprise that many have turned to the study of ancient cultures that had a very different view on things. Cultures like those of ancient Egypt were obsessed with spirituality, and they understood that many answers are to be found by looking within ourselves rather than through endless observation and theorizing about the external world. There were priests who had devoted their lives to spiritual practice, entering higher states of consciousness from which they could advise others. This type of genuine spirituality was popular throughout the ancient world and is a stark contrast to the religious dogma and scientific theorizing that can be found today.
So, to study the practices of ancient people can be useful, but we are not looking to become historians. We what to have real spiritual experiences. We need knowledge that can be applied, right now, to give us a deeper understanding of reality. It can be interesting to learn the names of all the Egyptian deities, and what each one represents, but this is just an intellectual understanding. It is possible to go much deeper than this and actually work with the deities. Modern religions may tell us that God is to be found in the heavens, very far away from us, but the opposite is true. The divine can be found within. In the ancient Egyptian tradition, each deity can be thought of as an aspect of the self that must be understood in order to make spiritual progress. For example, there is Imotep, who represents the truth; Maat who represents justice, and Khorisu (peace). If we are prepared to face painful truths about ourselves and the world, we make the correct moral judgments (justice). Only then can we find peace.
So, it is important to look beyond the surface of spiritual knowledge and get into the actual experience. Instead of studying the strange ideas of ancient people for the sake of curiosity, we can seek the universal truths that they uncovered. Many cultures understood that the spiritual journey is an inward journey, that starts with the question, “Who am I?”
To really learn something, we must unlearn: we must cut leave behind a lot of the false ideas that society has given us. Young children are very spiritual beings, there is even evidence they remember previous lives. As they grow up, they forget as they pick up the ideas of their society. As we have said, many of these ideas are false, and only serve those with power, so adults are often very disconnected from reality. When approaching spiritual knowledge, we need to become like children again. To unlearn takes courage, it means leaving the comfort zone. Our pride may make it hard for us to accept we have been wrong; it is hard for an adult to accept they may know less than a small child! But this is the humble attitude required if we are to really learn something.
As well as courage, discipline is needed. Looking inwards can bring us face to face with aspects of ourselves we do not like. To break old patterns and build new habits does not happen over-night. Chanting a mantra or doing a few affirmations will not be enough. We must develop a consistent practice. This may all sound quite serious, but it does not mean we should start taking ourselves seriously. If done correctly, spiritual practices will lead us to see the world with an increasingly childlike sense of wonder – the exact opposite of being too serious!
So, spiritual knowledge is not so easy to find in today’s world, and even when we do find it, it is not enough simply to study. We must develop the courage to look inwards, the humility to let go of our old ideas, and the discipline to stay on the path. Maybe this is not so easy, but it is well worth the effort once we start to realize just how magical and meaningful this world really is!
If you would like to learn more, Neter Vital is working in partnership with Cooperative Citizens of the World (CCW) to educate and inform through talks and publications. There is a talk every other Sunday at our store in Brixton, and CCW’s new magazine is available to buy here: