Is it possible to transmit mystical knowledge and spiritual power from one person to another? There are many religious and spiritual traditions which have “lineages” and “transmissions” of authority from guru to disciple, and on for generations. As with most things, I think the answer is yes and no. It depends on what we mean by transmit, or transfer, and discerning this can be difficult.
I’ve noted many times in my writings how the mystical experience is an expressly private experience. That intuitive knowledge only comes through direct, intimate, first-hand, personal, immediate experience in it, in one’s own consciousness. That is the only way it is known in truth. It cannot be known second-hand, from someone else, at least not as it is in its fullest truth. It is not like a consensual scientific truth that people may all verify “out there,” and someone just has to show you. This “limitation” is because of the nature of the experience itself, which is of one’s own deepest Self in the Divine, of one’s own consciousness. This is an internal truth. No one else can communicate to you your own divine Self. Only you can come to know you as you are, for yourself, in yourself.
So why all the lineages, transmissions, lines of authority, priesthoods, ordinations, certificates, titles, degrees, powers? I wrote about the nature of ordinations and priesthoods once before. True spiritual power I think comes in the direct mystical experience of the Divine. Consciousness is opened to Divine realities, often in extremely powerful revelatory and insightful moments, and one seems to be filled to overflowing with the power and knowledge of God. One sees God in the depths of the soul itself, and is saturated with that Godliness and the Spirit of Life, Being, and clarity of vision.
A person who has had this kind of experience may be said to have “spiritual power.” They may have what we could call “priesthood,” experiential knowledge and understanding. They have experienced the power of God within themselves, directly, personally. God has in a way “ordained” them, touched them, graced them, opened its Self to them, unveiled its Self to them, Beloved them. This powerful opening of consciousness seems to compel those people to pass along that insight and knowledge to others, by helping them also come into that same intuitive knowledge and power of the Divine Self, and its transcendent Love. This is where lineages and transmissions seem to start. These people want all to receive it, to receive the same outpouring of Spirit and direct Divine insight and understanding.
The one who has had experience directly in God knows, at least somewhat, through personal experience how to enter into that intuitive knowledge and experience. They may impart that “Way” to others. They may teach others how to enter into that Divine Presence. They may guide others to that Presence. They may help them, walk with them, dialectically talk with them, pray with them, show them how to practice contemplative practices, they may instruct them in how to overcome their ego-mind, give them exercises that will challenge their ego or mind, use skillful or expedient means that are stepping stones to that ultimate truth, they may show them what to do and how to know, not what to know. They act as a high priest, a shaman, a hierophant, one who guides another into those Divine Mysteries. In this way they may “transfer” that spiritual knowledge to the disciple. But note, they are not really doing it. It’s not coming from them, per se. They are showing the disciple the Way that they may know it for themself, so that God may reveal it to them.
I think Jesus was this kind of “high priest” as it talks about in Hebrews 4. He guided others into the direct knowing of their divine Self at-one in God, the Christ Self. He helped them to see this transfiguration in themself, as God revealed it in them. Here are a few scriptures that seem to indicate this.
In the event of the Mount of Transfiguration, it notes how Peter, James, and John were with Jesus on the mount. They say they saw Jesus transfigured. But it also says that a cloud came and covered them. They “entered into the cloud” (Luke 9:34). And it was in this cloud that they heard the voice saying “This is my Son.” Jesus seems to have been introducing them into that mystical cloud of unknowing, that direct experience of their Sonship in God. But it was not Jesus that gave it to them, but God, or it was not direct. It was God’s “voice” that said “This is my Son,” and I think it referred to all that were in that “cloud,” their oneness which was and is Christ.
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On another occasion, Jesus asked his disciples who others said that he was (Matthew 16:13-20). They replied that people said he was John the Baptist, Jeremiah, or Elijah. Then Jesus asked them who they thought he was. Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then said, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” Peter recognized the Christ in Jesus, that his true identity, his true Self, was Christ. But this was not something that Jesus merely told him, or “transferred” to him. God had revealed it to Peter, directly. And it was by such direct revelation of the at-one Christ nature that Jesus said the gathering of God’s people would be built or fulfilled. Note how he did not say it would be by man passing it along to man—”flesh and blood” had “not revealed it.”
On another occasion Jesus was perhaps even more explicit. In his severe criticism of the Pharisees in his own Judaism, he said:
[The Pharisees] love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.-Matthew 23:6-12
Note how Jesus seems to have referred to the Messiah (Christ) in the third person here. It was not merely Jesus. He did not say that “you have one instructor, which is me.” No, this One was “in heaven,” it was found in contemplative states of consciousness, in nondual unitive states, in Christ Consciousness. That was the true teacher, the true “head,” as Paul also spoke about (e.g. Eph. 4:15). The true Guru is internal, inward, inside of one’s own consciousness, and is that Consciousness in its pure unconditioned undefiled unformed infinite essence.
People can act as shepherds, guides, facilitators, wise men or women, seers, prophets, teachers, gurus, people who have experience in the Divine consciousness, who can help others come into that Presence for themselves. Sometimes the spiritual consciousness and presence in such people is very evident, to such a great degree that it seems to almost radiate from their countenance. Their faces seem to shine. Love seems to pour out of them. They are profoundly open, compassionate, and present to the immediate now. And even by the mere touch of such a person, people can sense profound changes, and the melting away of error in them. This is perhaps where the tradition of the “laying on of hands” came from. It was the power of physical touch, body to body, skin to skin, which seemed to also transfer something of spirit to spirit, connecting spirit to spirit, which is One Spirit. A connection was made at a deep level, perhaps even triggering an opening of consciousness in the receiver, and a shedding of ego. Perhaps this is what happened in such cases as the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment (Matt. 9:20). She instantly felt “healed” through touching a spiritual master. I do think this happens, to an extent. But I think it is more rare than we think.
Unfortunately I think this genuine “spiritual touch” has easily and overwhelmingly been corrupted in many traditions, such that the transmission of spiritual power and mystical knowledge is now like going through an academic course of study and instruction and afterwards receiving ordination upon graduation. Of course, that may be exactly where the academy came from, from the scholastic tradition which emerged from the monasteries, as I wrote about years ago when I was still a member of the LDS Church, Hugh Nibley’s infamous “black robes of a false priesthood.” Ironically, LDS Mormonism is also deeply entrenched in such lineages of authority, and “false priesthoods,” but I could not see this in my tradition at the time, and neither could Hugh Nibley, it seems. It seemed to me that the LDS had the only true power, in exclusivity! And I felt quite proud of myself and my tradition for having been ordained to its “high priesthood,” with a lineage that I could trace all the way back to Jesus himself. But I had no such power, not really. It was a facade, a fake, a mask, a substitute, an imitation of Godliness.
The genuine spiritual power is often lost, egos take over, proclaiming they have exclusive knowledge, secret knowledge that only they could pass on to others, if you only came under their instruction, gave them your time and money, received a new name and secret key word from them alone, and perhaps even a touch on the head, or a secret handshake. If you surrendered yourself fully to the guru, to the priest, to this other human, only then could you know what they did, only then could you know God and belong to the exclusive club/church/in-group/organization/party/degree. Then you knew you had made it, you had received the “priesthood of God,” spiritual power, mystical knowledge, and could continue the tradition in the same way, person to person.
I think many of these kinds of lineages and transmissions in the world today may be corrupted by ego. They are not actually transmitting any genuine mystical knowledge or spiritual power. They draw near to God with their lips, but their hearts (inner consciousness) are from God. They have a form of godliness, but they deny the actual power. The true power. Which is only had in direct mystical experience in one’s own Self. Again, can such masters truly open their students/disciples to genuine spiritual and mystical states of consciousness? Yes, but I don’t think it happens as often as the existence of such “lineages” suggests. Many priests or teachers do not have any such direct experience themselves, as Richard Rohr notes:
…“priests” might talk of new realms but never lead us out of the old realm where we are still largely trapped and addicted; they have little personal knowledge of the further journey.-Richard Rohr, The Three Boxes
And, even worse, they may actively block, prevent, or obscure such paths to direct mystical experience, so as to maintain their own power and control (Matt. 23:13). They become the intermediary between the disciple and God, and there is no direct communion allowed. As Carl Jung once noted,
One of the main functions of organized religion is to protect people against a direct experience of God.-Carl Jung
There may have been times in various traditions, and even today, where people truly are imbued with such spiritual power, who know from direct personal mystical experience, and pass along that knowledge by guiding others into their own direct mystical experiences, and thus indirectly “transmit” power, the same Divine power they had experienced themselves. But the power always comes from God, from direct experiences of pure consciousness, in the mystical experience, flowing from the Divine. It never comes from another human being, and anyone who says it does I think is mistaken, and may be selling a false priesthood. It’s an imitation of the real thing. True spiritual power is only experienced in the Presence of God or Ultimate Reality, that state of consciousness which reveals the Ground of Being, the nondual unity of the Whole, the oneness of Self in God, the Beloved, Love its Self, in the Self, the Christ Self, the Buddha-nature, the al-Insan al-Kamil, the Atman at-one in Brahman, the Tao, the Messiah.
But lineages are enticing to the ego, both to the giver and receiver. Transmissions of power are very desirable. We like to think that another human being can simply give us the power of God, this spiritual knowledge and authority. How wonderful would it be if that were true. We could simply proselytize and transform the world. But it is not often so easy, because true spiritual gifts are not given or received that way, person to person. There must be a shift in consciousness in the one who would receive such knowledge, a metanoia of consciousness, to perceive such power, and experience such Presence. There is no other way of receiving it. All other forms of “receiving it” are symbols, metaphors, forms, but they are not the real thing. They are merely shadows of things to come (Col. 2:17; Heb. 8:5, 10:1). But they can often inflate the ego, unfortunately, making people think, both teacher and student, that they have great knowledge and power, that they are “better” than others, “chosen,” that they should have control over others, and so the ego deceives itself. The ego likes to deceive itself, it blinds itself, it walks in its own veiled darkness, thinking it is the Light.
How can we tell true teachers, genuine gurus, authentic spiritual wisdom guides? I think by their fruits we may know them. Are they selfless, egoless, unconcerned about their own self? Are they open, transparent, real? Do they want to wield power over you, or rather to help guide you into the Presence of the Divine and know God for yourself? Do they have a deep yearning for you to become what they are themself, to “know” just as they do, to experience God as they have so experienced? Are they humble? Do they demand that their views are the only absolute truth, or are they inclusive of a plurality of perspectives beyond their own? Do they ask you to simply trust them, or do they encourage you to find out for yourself, directly, not only to “confirm” what they’ve taught you, but to actually know it fully for yourself in the Divine? Are they radically loving? When you look into their eyes does it seem like you can see right through them to their soul? Do they exude gratitude, apology, and forgiveness? Do they care tremendously about money, material things, outward forms, buildings, and ceremonies, or rather are they more concerned with the inner journey, the inner consciousness path, inner transformations of your being? Are they compassionate, empathetic, suffering with you, feeling as you feel, sorrowing when you are sad, and rejoicing in your joy? These are perhaps some ways that we can discern.
God or Ultimate Reality is the only One who ultimately gives all spiritual knowledge, mystical power and wisdom, who is the Source of all genuine Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. No one else “holds” this power on the Earth. It’s not something anyone can “hold.” Humans can’t contain it, they can’t grasp it, they can’t control it. It only comes through direct experience, through transformations of being, through great love or great suffering, through states of mystical contemplative consciousness which unveil it.
I like these thoughts by the Mormon prophet-mystic Joseph Smith on this subject:
…the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and… the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness.
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man [sic].
Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.
Hence many are called, but few are chosen.
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;
That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.
Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.-Doctrine & Covenants 121:36-45
What do you think about lineages, transmissions, lines of authority, priesthoods, etc.? Please share your thoughts with us.