On Human Perfection

In reading

Richard Kirby's

The Mission of Mysticism

I found that it has its main theme in common with the main/title theme of a book by Stephen R Covey called

The Divine Center, Why We Need a Life Centered on God & Christ & How We Attain It

Richard Kirby wrote The Mission of Mysticism (London, SPCK, 1979) and I bought it so very long ago that I totally forgot it existed until I cleaned out my books preparing for a serious move. So serious that I sold and gave to charity almost all my books.

But Richard Kirby’s book, much to my surprise, survived the carnage in a corner of a closet and so showed up in the final cleanup operation.

Kismet?  Maybe.  So I decided to read this book and find out after the insanity of moving was past.

The move was finally over. The insanity remains. So I started reading Kirby anyway.

I liked the start of the book, its Part One, because it was very ecumenical and eclectic. At the same time it was unabashedly Christ-centered. This caused some cognitive dissonance on my part, how can all paths be good paths as Kirby claims if in his final analysis Christ is the only one who shows humans the way to become Christ-like? Kirby says becoming Christ-like is becoming like Christ, attaining a state of perfection.

I should not have been surprised at this Christ-centered sub-theme underlying Kirby’s primary theme, since the publisher, SPCK, is located in Holy Trinity Church in London. What is Kirby’s primary theme? Mysticism is setting us on the path to evolve from homo sapiens to homo Christus, a race of perfected beings following Christ’s example, treading his path.

OK fine, there is no attempt to hide this sub-theme, it occurs, it gets repeated, and once past Part One it takes over as the primary theme. I found the theme New Agey with a Christian twist. I found it to be a somewhat irritating theme, especially toward the end of the book where he suggests advances in biology will allow mature mystics to influence our continuing evolution and thus mystics will help bioengineer this new species of homo Christus, perfection will be coded into their DNA!

I was somewhat offended by this while idea, it reminded me of the Lebensborn project of the Nazis, a selective breeding program to preserve Aryan traits and help further develop the master race. Often the single women participants were impregnated by the greatest exemplars of pure Aryan stock: the leadership of the SS. This Lebensborn photo in the Google archives is a slightly sensationalized reenactment for a film on the topic.  Sensationalized?  Yes, it turns out that being blond and blue eyed were not as important as being able to prove Aryan ancestry.  But you get the idea:

Why do I contaminate what Kirby is proposing with only the purest of mystical-religious motives with this Nazi attempt at bio-engineering? Well, as in the Nazi experiment, an elite selects itself to pick the traits of perfection reflected in itself.

I do not trust even a mystical elite that is piously and honestly seeking only to have humans all become Christ-like with the power to determine what is humanly perfect. I'd rather continue to leave human nature's evolution up to chance in the DNA lottery.  It got us this far, as a species.

Not all mystics are Christians, but that is not a measure Kirby goes by. All that is necessary for a true mystic to participate is to consider Christ's life to have been one that was lived perfectly.  I would imagine that there are true mystics who may even consider Christ to have been an exemplary person whom they count among their number, but who would not necessarily go so far as to agree that his was the perfectly lived life.  Do we eliminate them from the trait-selection committee? Talk about an elitist religious litmus test!

Would they put into the DNA the likelihood that one would lose one's temper and get physically abusive with money changers providing a real service, perhaps at a steep price, that lets visitors buy the sacrifices they have traveled to take into the temple as part of their worship?

Would they put into the DNA the tendency to be rude to one's mother if she is questioning you about your activities and plans?

Would they put into the DNA the desire to dedicate oneself to the service of one's God-concept at the expense of the very human desires for loving, pairing off into marriage, and having children?

Did Jesus marry and have offspring as some would now have us believe? Kirby is definitely not in that camp, but is he right about this life lived so long ago? That Jesus was in love with Mary Magdalene seems well supported in apocryphal gospels that are about as old as the accepted gospels, but the latter do not mention it.

What it boils down to even today is a two-thousand-year-old question about what sources about this perfectly-lived life are trustworthy, and what sources are not? The whole idea smells very bad, in my opinion. So after leaving Part One, I did not enjoy this book much and started skipping around to just get the gist of it.

I'll repeat that Part One I very much enjoyed because of its eclectic and generic description of the individual’s path to enlightenment, or soul-perfection.  As Kirby outlines the steps and progress-markers, I was recognizing some of these markers on pages 50 through 56 and was feeling rather good about my own progressions through the preliminaries:

Along the way is a state of being in which it is apparent at every glance and move that every little thing and every form of being has its divinity and light and goodness. Good.  Since this has been my experience for some time I was feeling rather pleased, bordering on smug, until I came to this little gem that said I wasn’t at my endpoint yet. There is farther to go. There is a final, or third nirvana (p. 56):

Five more fetters must be broken: the first two are attachment to life, whether in form or formles, that is to say, attachment to any limiting form of love. But in the nirvana of the self the vision of the whole is attained; it is seen that there are no particulars, that truly all is one, and not just metaphorically. Leaves are not separate from a tree, because without a tree there can be no leaves. So with people. We are all one. The third and fourth fetters are pride in the power of consciousness and agitation from outside on account of love, and the fifth fetter is ignorance.

When ignorance of the Self is overcome, the man realizes that he is not only his mortal body or his instrument the mind; but he is not consciousness either. He is that beyond of the consciousness. . . .

. . . it is the mission of mysticism to convey all men to that third nirvana - and its beyond through Christ.

This momentarily lost me with the suggestion that there is a “limiting form of love.” I quickly decided that what he means is impure, selfish love, and let it go.

Letting go of the body is a thoroughly Christian idea except with the Mormons who see the body as the ultimate vehicle for containing our eternal personalities as perfected men and women, Gods and gods (the G and g are a criticism, not a typo).

Letting go of confusing self with mind, and letting go of pride in mind –or intellect as I call it– is something I have finally mastered. Or so I believe.

Am I proud? No, relieved. My mantra is: “I am not my intellect, my intellect is important because it allows me to be effective in this world, but it is not me, it is my tool.” Kirby would fully approve.

So what is next? Giving up the idea that I am not consciousness, that at my root I am that which is beyond consciousness? I’m afraid I do not have the mind-power to digest this. I believed Rumi when he said that consciousness is the ocean out of which I was dropped into this world, and to which I will return. I believe that when my drop of consciousness dissolves back into that ocean, I am no longer discernible as a separate entity. It is, literally, the end of “me” and I am OK with that. Whatever reality is, I am OK with it.  What choice do I have?

What this does remind me of is the arguments I used to have with my late father during my believing-Mormon days when I argued for the persistence of the individual, even physically, into eternity.  He argued that it was necessary to give up this self-focused notion in order to see clearly how the flow of life out of -and back into- its Source really works, how the universe really works. Maybe my father was in third-nirvana-stage and I was then still struggling to get to second-base? (Metaphor purposely mixed.)

I have since turned quite completely to the annihilation of the self idea, my father would approve, but I like and am comofortable with the version of the idea as it was expressed by Rumi. We drops rejoin the ocean and the ocean keeps splitting off new drops.  (The Rumi poem I keep getting comfort from is at the end of this linked page.)

Life as this particular, individual sentient being we now know and love (hopefully) as "me" is a one-time gift from the universe. Universal Mother Nature does not keep on giving us life upon life, as religions suggest, not to us as individuals.  So write the poem that is your life for yourself, during every today that is given you, because you are guaranteed no tomorrows.

OK, back to business. The foregoing description of the need to distance one’s soul from hungering for love and attachments to do with love made me somewhat suspicious. Maybe Kirby’s attitude is like Paul’s in the New Testament, who suggested it was the lot of some to marry but if one wanted to be perfect in Christ . . . then you would want to be like he is, you would remain unattached.

So I skipped ahead to see what Kirby had to say about sex and mystical states and he acknowledged that the opinions varied to every imaginable extreme on this topic, with some seeking nirvana through sexual pleasure and its very temporary states of selfless oblivion, and others choosing celibacy as a way to deny themselves and purify themselves. This is on pages 97-99. Kirby’s discussion, like Paul’s, allows for married copulation but . . . “some pious married souls will reserve sexual congress for occasional procreative acts” . . . (p. 98):

. . . in the earlier stages of the spiritual way it is possible to enfold sexuality as a physical act into the embracing spiritual quest. Plato’s divine vision of inter-sex relations points the way: if sexual intercourse is genuinely the carnal expression of the partners’ mutual love, then the physical act will be sanctified, for in loving the spouse it is God himself who is being loved. The compatibility of the act with the spiritual life will be in direct proportion to the spirituality of the love expressed by the act. No doubt this is one reason against adultery: any sexual action based on lust rather than love cannot help but take its author further from God.

There is more stuff about fidelity to a spouse symbolizing ones spiritual fidelity to God. But at this point I have to ask myself: what about those trapped in a loveless marriage? They may be adulterous to save themselves emotionally, seeking to satisfy the innate human need for the soul-food of love, not to just get a quick bite of a lust-snack. I was surprised at how parochial this viewpoint of Kirby's is. It is what one expects from a classical theologian. Kirby is not one of those, he just sounds like one.

And where is the love in the “occasional procreative acts” of the “pious”? Excuse me, but it is largely missing, or at least of secondary importance, if the ‘higher’ motive is only to impregnate, to do one's duty.

I actually like his treatment of adolescent sexuality, and the goodness of coming into maturity with a good understanding of the nature of the sexual experience, but I found this statement to be bizarrely androcentric –male centered– on page 99:

. . . it is probable that for a man to have perfect self-understanding, he must have experienced for himself the nature of the sexual experience; and this should be something which is part of his education, in the care of wise teachers.

Say what?! What happened to the true expression of love in the soulful embrace of one’s spouse, one’s legitimate object of affection?  So now we have wise teachers introduce us to sexual experience to enahnce our sexual self-understanding?  I am surprised, but maybe it all folds into the life-vision Kirby espouses as long as a man learns from the sexual experience that he does not need it after all, and then moves on to a life of woman-less perfection.

The very next paragraph after this startling statement about sexual experience as beneficial education for man, brings down the now expected hammer of celibacy on page 99:

But the mystic, who inhabits the farther reaches of the path, will, and must, follow the Christian mystics to the destiny which one day all mankind will embrace: the spiritual marriage, to which end all his vital forces, sexual or otherwise, will be directed and perfectly maintained. The mystic is the man who has renounced all earthly embraces for the perfect union with God in the unitive life of nirvana.

This book is addressed to men. There is no real effort to have ‘man’ mean any member of the human race, not as far as I can see. Not in the writings of this author in this book even though he cites several very well known and accomplished women mystics with approval. They are women and know what they are talking about from their own experience. So Kirby’s androcentrism just looks like, and feels like, misogyny in several places, but it was probably not intended to be.

[NOTE: I received a critical response {linked here} on this set of observations from an online reader and very wise woman, and in light of her critique admit that I misinterpreted Kirby and was unfair to him.]

I skipped through the book from the start of Chapter 6 onward, only reading what looked interesting. Much of it was indeed interesting. But not satisfying, not giving me what I was seeking.

I was seeking nuggets of insight that I may apply in my life to reach upward to that third level of nirvana. Finding no such nuggets, I gave up. Maybe at my rapidly advancing age I ought to just relax and enjoy whatever attachments and loving embraces life still offers me.

I have a sad feeling about all those who forgo the pleasures of love, emotional and physical, in this life for some perfect future state that I belive will never come.  I buy into Rumi's version and vision: they will lose themselves as individuals as their little drop of sentience falls back into the ocean of consciousness.

But that is a good thing. That way they cease to be individuals before they have a chance to feel regret for having passed up the most wonderful experience available to a human being while still human: the deep, soul-stirring experience of sharing mutual love, in all its available manifestations, with a fellow temporary traveler on this planet.

And if that is how it is, then So Be It.  There is no separate reality except in our minds and imaginations which is a separate reality based on faith, which Paul says is the 'evidence' for the reality of the eternity envisioned by the believer, a reality that cannot be proven except in our own hearts.

Kirby’s main theme reminded me very much of some of Stephen R. Covey early religious books, the ones he wrote before he became the world’s guru on achieving success. Covey was then a writer of religious books centered on his faith as a Latter-day Saint (Mormon). During the time I was a believing Mormon, I was very much influenced, inspired would not be overstating the case, by two of his books: The Spiritual Roots of Human Relations (Deseret Book, 1988), and The Divine Center, Why We Need a Life Centered on God & Christ & How We Attain It (Bookcraft, 1996, 13th printing of a 1982 original!).

He was already a successful behavioral scientist and author within his own community, which was already a worldwide community, before he moved into the effort that made him broadly famous: motivating the world’s leaders, professionals, families, and everyone else, to become more effective in life.  I like and have benefitted from Covey's writings.

At the end of his The Divine Center, in Chapter 10, is his prescription for living a God-centered life. In the steps he outlines, it is almost as an afterthought that he mentions success in improving interpersonal relations in all walks of life, from one's family to one's workplace. That chapter almost seems like an intimation of his next genre of books, the “7-Steps” series that made him a worldwide phenomenon.

I thoroughly enjoyed his 7-Steps of Highly Effective People, Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (Free Press, 2004 and other years), especially when my employer signed me up for a seminar on the subject and introduced us to the Franklin-Covey day-planning system, a version of which I still use, a number of years later. It makes you think at the start of each day about what would be good to accomplish on that day. Wonderful idea!

Even now, no longer a Mormon believer, or even a Christian believer, I can set-aside the Mormon/Christian-specific symbolism in these two Covey books (as I did in the first 5 chapters of Kirby’s book) and yet still feel the wisdom in the observations and recommendations made by Covey. After the Mission of Mysticism reading, and scanning, I looked for and returned to portions of The Divine Center that I thought carried the very same theme as the The Mission of Mysticism book did: humans are destined to become perfect, divine, like Christ.

In a perverse way I found solace in the idea that Covey hints at: follow your own inner source and the path it sets you on. Of course Covey strongly implied that before you follow that inner source, you must assure that this source is God-centered in the way he prescribes for you to achieve God-centeredness. But to me, I had followed the same steps already, just in a generic sense, and was indeed already feeling centered on my own Source. That Source would probably not be called God by Covey, at least he would not acknowledge it as his God.

It has been suggested to me by throughtful Mormons that I am navigating by a light coming from within me, my own light. But if I have a Divine Center, is that not the source of that light after all? Well-meaning faithful Mormon believers seriously suggested that the light within me, the one illuminating my path, the path I was enthused about following, the path that did not follow their God's prescribed path, was in fact Satanic. The light of darkness was illuminating and enthusing me.

I obviously did not and do not agree.  I understand, however, because at one point in my past I would have felt the same way: this is the one true path, right here, and if you are happily dancing away from it, claiming a new path with a new light, then it obviously is a false path, leading to eternal damnation and destruction.  Your light source is therefore God’s arch-enemy, the Evil One.  I belived that at one time.

So how does Covey’s The Divine Center remind me of Kirby's Mysticim book? I’ll give just two instances:

Covey’s page 83 discloses a

. . . great truth that we are begotten children of our Eternal Father and therefore capable of becoming like him.

The emphasis on these words are in the original. Another place where I saw a coming together of these two books was on page 177 where Covey discusses the need to be the same person no matter where you are or what uniform you wear at the moment:

A life centered on God, . . . makes all of life sacred. It is like a spiritual umbrella which integrates and fuses every compartment of life into a unified whole. Even so-called secular activities, when viewed in this way, are made sacred. No other center is capable of forming a solid security base through a true map of one’s worth. No other center is constantly present to guide us to true wisdom and ultimate power.

I could multiply this type of citation to a dozen, but the point is that I could also offer you parallel citations from Kirby's The Mission of Mysticism book. It is the same primary theme in both books!

But now I want to move off into another space, my own experience with respect to a part of the “. . .” material I left out of above citation. The words I left out are a references to an inferior way of being effective in the world, albeit a very, very common one that entails living a compartmentalized life as a way of reacting to the different expectations placed on us by our different roles in life.

Covey, on page 177, describes it this way:

One very common reactive pattern is to live in compartments. In that case one’s behavior is based largely on the role expectations in each compartment—father, mother, leader, teacher, Church worker, lawyer, doctor, public official, carpenter, salesman, assembly-line worker, upholsterer, researcher, and so on. But each of these compartments carries its own value system, in which case the person may find himself meeting different expectations and living by different values based on the role or the environment he is in at any particular time.

Yes, I noticed the near-androcentricity of the language, but at least he mentioned “mother” in the list, suggesting this was not meant for “man” alone. His point is that once one centers one’s being on God, all of these disparate value systems are replaced by one, your own inner value system flowing from your own Divine Center.

Because this was not the page to go into it, Covey does not here explain that a typical way of coping with this typical way of living in compartments is to assume a range of masks, one for each compartment. How often have you heard something like “she is a real cold witch in front of the class, but if you could get to know her personally you would see this is not how she really is, she is a very warm and caring person at heart.” How sad, a compartmentalized life, complete with masks!

Covey does address masks, on his pages 156-157 citing an anonymous source at considerable length that says -in part- under the title “Please . . . Hear What I’m Not Saying”:

Don’t be fooled by me. Don’t be fooled by the mask I wear. For I wear a mask, I wear a thousand masks, masks that I’m afraid to take off, and none of them is me. Pretending is an art that is second nature with me, but don’t be fooled.

I give the impression that I’m secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without; that confidence is my name and coolness is my game; that the waters are calm and that I’m in command and I need no one. But don’t believe it, please don’t.

My surface may seem smooth, but my surface is my mask, my ever-varying and ever-concealing mask. Beneath lies no smugness, no coolness. No complacence. Beneath dwells the real me, in confusion, in fear, in loneliness. But I hide this; I don’t want anybody to know it. I panic at the thought of my weakness being exposed. That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind, a nonchalant sophisticated facade to help me pretend, to shield me from the glance that knows. But such a glance is precisely my salvation. My only salvation. And I know it. It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself, from mt own self-built prison walls, from the barriers that I so painstakingly erect. But I don’t tell you this. I don’t dare. I’m afraid to.

The quote continues in a similarly dramatic fashion, with more good insights at this common behavior, this common way of being, and then asks the reader/listener for help:

. . . You have to help me by holding out your hand, even when that’s the last thing I seem to want or need. Each time you are kind and gentle and encouraging, each time you try to understand because you really care, my heart begins to grow wings. Very small wings. Very feeble wings. But wings. With your sensitivity and sympathy and your power of understanding, I can make it. You can breathe life into me. It will not be easy for you. A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls. But love is stronger than strong walls, and therein lies my hope. Please try to beat down those walls with firm hands, but with gentle hands, for a child is very sensitive, and I am a child.

Who am I, you may wonder. For I am every man, every woman, every child. . .every human you meet.

Covey offers this within the topic of learning “empathy” and suggests “it communicates the tender feelings and the self-protective mechanisms of many people who hide their true feelings and need our empathy to bring them out.”

I am sorry he does not follow this recommendation with a good deal of caution: this is a highly stylized way of looking at the masks problem. Most adults and teenagers with well developed masks and compartmentalizing walls are not aware of the need for, or the desirability of, any sort of change in themselves. They believe their own lies, because they see them as their own reality!  It IS their reality, no matter how false in terms of how the world really is.

Covey makes a big deal in this book of this tendency to create our own reality. It is what his Chapter One is all about! It is where this book begins! He should have returned to that theme here: it is very few who are ready to break down the walls that enclose them in their own version of reality. It is NOT anywhere close to every human you meet!

If you take the words in this citation literally, and try to act on it and invade others’ personal space with whatever words or actions seem to you to be good for them, you will have a difficult life of continual rejection. If you take this stylized view of the state of humanity as pertaining to all humans, except yourself, you are likely living behind your own wall of excessive self-esteem and are suffering from a considerable overdose of self-veneration.  As would-be emotional physicians, we must first heal ourselves.

But, that said, the citation does describe what happened to me in 1995 when I changed, with careful, loving, and yet at the same time harsh and painful coaching and continual challenging of my factual assertions about myself from a very mature soul.  But I was ready, and searching.  After this operation I literally became a different person, I came to know and then became myself, one person for all situations. Prior to 1995 I had tested my personality and was a proud introvert, proud since that was typical for a scientists, my favorite compartment. In 1996, I retested and was an extrovert! This was a few months after I decided to open my life experiences to the world, to let it all hang out, on a website. Prior to 1995 I would never have considered a web site in which I told the truth about the very personal things I have learned from life.

The new me and the wise person that helped me become myself are now good friends, exchanging a very occasional email.  

All is as it should be, as the The Mission of Mysticism book suggests is realized by those with a higher-level of mystic insight. Of course I am not on that level yet. It makes me angry, and that is an unallowed emotion in the true mystic, the The Mission of Mysticism book suggests.  When we realize that at any given time and place “all is as it should be” we can turn away from scenes of horro after a war or a natural disater, or neglect the obviously unfair and intolerable physical conditions and needs of masses of others.

Kirby suggests that a mature mystic can even accept these tragedies unemotionally because all is as it should be.  I am not in that place, I am easily crushed by my oversensitive, perhaps, sense of empathy.  I suffer inside when I am helpless at the sight of suffering and depravation, which I agree with Kirby helps no one.

Covey does not go where Kirby goes on this issue. Covey suggests that empathy is a good emotion, one that ought to be cultivated along the way to becoming God-centered, since God is empathetic (his claim, not mine, on his page 152, but let's not go there):


Compassion, a vital part of true Christian love, consists of a depth of feeling fro others who are in distress of difficulty. To express this loving feeling, I suggest we need to empathize with the other person, to truly listen with an open mind and heart . . . .

Covey goes on to explain how empathy leads to understanding, respecting, even revering another human being. Covey suggests that true empathy means listening to another without passing judgment, and helping them.

I like that approach better than turning away and thinking in my heart: 'this person’s suffering is exactly what this person needs at this time.' Turning away is something I still may do, but now it is because I sense my own inability to be of any real help. There is much emotional and/or physical suffering in people that needs experienced counseling, something I am not able to provide.

But there is another reason to be selective and cautious where empathy is concerned.  There are a few persons among us who have either wittingly or unwittingly cultivated a mask of suffering, who advertise a desire to change and ask for help to do so.

But, whether intentionally or not it really is a snare to entrap the empathic person who seems capable and seems to have their life together. The empathic/compassionate person is brought in close enough to feed on their love and the life-energy that it brings. There may be a deep inner desire to have this person help them change, but it gets lost in the drama being created, which becomes the only outcome and has to end at some point because the empathic person has been drained, and a new source of derived life is needed.

Such persons need professional help, otherwise they will spend their lives serially using up and changing hosts like parasites.

I wish Covey would have, somewhere in his The Divine Center discussion of empathy and compassion, quoted Christ’s “Be wise as serpents, but harmless as doves.” It is important to not neglect the wise part of that saying. Protect yourself: love freely, but love wisely.

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