Conversion and Initiation

Thomas

So it goes ...
Veteran Member
Messages
14,074
Reaction score
4,078
Points
108
Location
London UK
Religious conversion has long since entered the public domain, as it were, to define the process of 'adopting' a religion, or 'leaving' one to 'join' another.

In fact 'conversion' as such is not common to all religions. The Greek religions, and many of the wisdom traditions, including the Hermetic orders, are primarily initiatic.

The concept of conversion is derived from the Greek 'metanoia', meaning 'change of mind' (however one should be open to the idea of this in reference to the 'heart-intellect' rather than the 'head-intellect'), famously preached by St Paul.

The Mystery Religions were all initiatic - in fact the origin of the word 'Mystery' is from the Greek verb muein - to initiate. The initiate were called the mystai. 'Muse' comes from the same verb.

There were Greater and Lesser Mysteries, but the cults themselves were, or became, largely familial. A rich family would have its own version of a given cult, and membership of more than one cult was according to how much you could afford.

The difference in emphasis is significant. Christian catechumen were 'initiated' into the new religion, but those who went forward were elected from among the catechumenate themselves, who looked not for a degree of knowledge, but of being, a 'change of heart'. The catechumen was then introduced into the Christian Mystery - the Celebration of the Eucharist.

I am not saying that 'conversion' does not apply to other religions, but that it has a special understanding in Christianity.

(Note: Islam considers not con-version but re-version to one's proper nature in the recognition of Allah.)

Just some thoughts...

Thomas
(NB - St Paul in Corinthians tackled the issue of initiation v conversion head to head, after the Greek convert Apollos began to lead the community astray, into an artificial hierarchy of knowledge.)
 
Thomas said:
Religious conversion has long since entered the public domain, as it were, to define the process of 'adopting' a religion, or 'leaving' one to 'join' another.

In fact 'conversion' as such is not common to all religions. The Greek religions, and many of the wisdom traditions, including the Hermetic orders, are primarily initiatic.

The concept of conversion is derived from the Greek 'metanoia', meaning 'change of mind' (however one should be open to the idea of this in reference to the 'heart-intellect' rather than the 'head-intellect'), famously preached by St Paul.

The Mystery Religions were all initiatic - in fact the origin of the word 'Mystery' is from the Greek verb muein - to initiate. The initiate were called the mystai. 'Muse' comes from the same verb.

There were Greater and Lesser Mysteries, but the cults themselves were, or became, largely familial. A rich family would have its own version of a given cult, and membership of more than one cult was according to how much you could afford.

The difference in emphasis is significant. Christian catechumen were 'initiated' into the new religion, but those who went forward were elected from among the catechumenate themselves, who looked not for a degree of knowledge, but of being, a 'change of heart'. The catechumen was then introduced into the Christian Mystery - the Celebration of the Eucharist.

I am not saying that 'conversion' does not apply to other religions, but that it has a special understanding in Christianity.

(Note: Islam considers not con-version but re-version to one's proper nature in the recognition of Allah.)

Just some thoughts...

Thomas
(NB - St Paul in Corinthians tackled the issue of initiation v conversion head to head, after the Greek convert Apollos began to lead the community astray, into an artificial hierarchy of knowledge.)

I think that anytime an individual "converts", it is due to something within that rings true to what they are hearing/experiencing/learned. Eyes and ears open wide. But most importantly, the heart becomes maleable, to the "cause", what ever that "cause" may be.

Does this mean it is correct and true? Not always. Hence the difficulty in keeping one within one's own fold, let alone attracting another to the fold...

my thoughts

v/r

Q
 
I'm not sure why the Christian view of "conversion" need to be given special meaning over others - isn't Christianity primarily initiative anyway, through the process of baptism?
 
I said:
I'm not sure why the Christian view of "conversion" need to be given special meaning over others - isn't Christianity primarily initiative anyway, through the process of baptism?
I think Thomas is referring to "sacred secrets," which are actually right out in the open in the Christian Eucharist. In the Christian tradition, it is not a guru that teaches us, but the Holy Spirit that reminds us of the things we have learned and how they apply in the "inner teaching."
 
Hi Brian -

I think Seattlegal has hit the nail on the head.

I think the notion of 'conversion' is post-Christian - or perhaps even a 'Christian notion', as it were. Before that the focus was initiation, but not conversion ... no big deal, just an historical musing, that's all.

(Whilst on this topic, the notion of 'a mystic' as is commonly understood did not come into play until about the 17th century (a very interesting time in which the human perception of self changed significantly).

Then, as said, a mystic was an initiate - it doesn't signify any particular gift or charism. One could argue that one cannot be a mystic in the proper sense without being an initiate, nor without total adherence to the creed into which one is initiated - but today everyone wants to be a mystic, and woe betide anyone who suggests that it's not something one can be just because one chooses to ... but this is an aside.)

One might say that in initiatic religions, one is initiated into what one did not know, and then a 'change of heart' is expected in light of new information - knowledge determines being.

In Christianity the change of heart comes first, before one is initiated into the 'Disciplina Arcane' or allowed entry into the Mystery. This is the priority of faith over knowledge which is conditional of full Christian being - as Christian being transcends the realms of knowledge per se.

It also determines the efficacy of the Sacraments as determined by faith, therefore no amount of knowledge will make them more or less effective, therefore knowledge is not conditional of being a Christian.

"Christian Esoterism" - the Secret Doctrine of Christianity - was codified into the Creed, which was not explained until after baptism. Whilst the Creed usually dates from Nicea (325) there is evidence that both Tertullian in North Africa and Irenaeus in France were teaching essentially the same credal prayer a hundred years previously, which would suggest a common doctrine in place during if not before the 2nd century.

All this was secret, and there are references in the Fathers of such, but the whole thing was blown wide open, as it were, by the Arian dispute, when the Secret Doctrine became the talking point of the market place.

Thomas
 
A few words about Initiation in two other traditions, which I think will show that we are speaking of a universal experience:

In the Hindu tradition, stages of the initiatory path are given as follows: Parivrajaka, Kutichaka, Hamsa, Paramahamsa, Asekha. These Sanskrit terms translate roughly as `Wanderer,' `He who builds a hut,' `Swan,' `Great Swan,' and `Non-learner.' The explanation is that, having fulfilled the responsibilities of familial duty, one becomes a sannyasin, the devotee or ascetic. To successfully orient oneself to the spiritual quest will result in the aspirant becoming a Wanderer, as s/he is no longer anchored, or rooted, in the world of outward, material pursuits - or any of our usual, mundane affairs.

Progress of a certain degree warrants the designation of Hut-builder, since it is safe to say that such a person has attained to a good measure of peace and purity, and is rightly oriented to the outward world. The epitome of this stage is immortalized in W. Somerset Maugham's Razor's Edge in the character of Larry, played by Tyrone Power in the 1946 movie (and later by Bill Murray in an excellent remake). Such a man, is a man of Service, and is understood in Western Initiatic traditions as well as East to be a true disciple, the world server. Please see the movie, if you haven't. ;)

Swan and Great Swan suggest the gracefulness with which those who have mastered the mortal mind, and the higher mental faculties, respectively, can be observed to move through the world.

Asekha means that this individual has no more to learn. S/he is no longer bound by karma, and will only incarnate again on this planet if this is the chosen path of service. Other paths lead elsewhere. They are, equally, the demonstration of pefect love - in whatever sphere the Asekha find himself. Earth has a long history, a record and a living Testament - of the activity of these.

The term gotrabhu indicates that a student has become ready - at whatever stage of the spiritual path - to advance. The fact that even such a distinct word exists to indicate this, seems significant. Likewise, the term Maggo indicates the early stages after initiation, where we struggle with the various fetters & hindrances that all students must confront ... who have attained to whatever stage we are considering. Phala means fruit, or result, which comes after we have overcome the challenges of Maggo ... and Bhavagga as the third stage, meaning culmination, suggests that the disciple is ready to perform satisfactorily the work of the current stage of the path. Once s/he is gotrabhu, another initiation can occur.

All of these terms are Sanskrit, as are the indications of various fetters to be tackled along the spiritual path ... such as Sakkayaditthi -- the delusion of self, Vichikichchha -- doubt or uncertainty , and Silabbataparamasa -- superstition. However, the Path of Initiation is universal. As such, these exact same stages of the path are taught in Buddhism, but given different designations, or symbolisms. For example, the first four stages of the path are termed Srotapanni, Sakridagamin, Anagamin, Arhat ... meaning `Stream Entrant,' Once-returner,' `Never-returner,' and `Worthy.'

The Stream-Entrant, as anyone familiar with Buddhism will recall, relates to the key metaphor of the Stream, and recurs frequently in the sutras. One has entered the spiritual stream, and can be thankful to have found the current - even if this proves not to be the "free ride" that some might have expected. ;)

Once-returner and never-returner are designations that suggest that such an individual is obviously nearing the end of the long, long cycle of incarnation. Perhaps it will take several lives, but the appellation is at least a key.

To have become Worthy, in terms of Initiatory standing, means that one is an arhat ... also found as rahat, arhan, and lohan. Traditionally, the Buddha is supposed to have had 900 of them, yet that would seem to have indicated his charge - and the fruits of his teaching the Dharma, future-tense, rather than an actual condition 2600 years ago. Surely, an arhat, the paramahamsa, is as yet rare to behold, though I sometimes wonder if perhaps every major city might be home to one. I hope so.

The teachings concerning the stages of Initiation are ancient, finding place in every religious system, and taught in the Mystery Traditions as Thomas expounds. Certainly one can send away for a nifty piece of paper nowadays with a nice gold seal stating one's spiritual accomplishment, if that is what one wishes. Or one can study online, or take any variety of classes, and no doubt include among one's accomplishments the "attaining of initiation" according to one school or another. Elaborate ceremonies exist, I am sure, and I do not for a moment doubt the objectivity or real transfer of power/energies that may occur at some of these. For the skeptic, or anyone who is convinced that there is no more to this subject than fluff, I recommend open-minded investigation of one of the more exoteric initiatory ceremonies, the Kalachakra Initiation, of Tibetan Buddhism. Alex Berzin has an excellent book on the subject. And yet, that is a public, and an exoteric ceremony ...

The reality of an inner, metaphysical process of Initiation, governing our entire spiritual unfoldment from the moment we enter the Human Kingdom, until the attainment of our final Liberation/Salvation ... is something that I have come to accept simply de facto. Not everyone seeks to tread the later stages of this path, as we are discussing in this thread ... but I think the crucial statement was made by Thomas, thus:
"In Christianity the change of heart comes first, before one is initiated into the 'Disciplina Arcane' or allowed entry into the Mystery."
I couldn't agree more wholeheartedly, yet I would submit that inasmuch as Initiation is Universal ... applying to all aspirants to the Mysteries (regardless of outward trappings) ... perhaps the statement could read this way:
The change of heart comes first, before one is initiated, or allowed entry into the Mystery.
Those seeking some form of recognition, or who are pursuing advancement for advancement's sake ... will find the doorway of initiation barred, just as those who have chosen to forget self in the service of others ... will find that it ever stands open, and wide. It is this self-forgetfulness which constitutes the "narrow gate."

And Christ Himself, as I have come to understand Him, taught us this way. He showed us the Five Stages of the Initiatory Path, in which the inner conversion is key (as Paul knew well):
  1. The Birth at Bethlehem (and of the Christ Within)
  2. The Baptism at Jordan, and the walking on water (purity of character)
  3. The Transfiguration, in which the entire personality is consecrated to & by Spirit
  4. The Renunciation, in which the personality is laid down, via sacrifice
  5. The Resurrection & Ascension, in which Spirit is exalted over form, and Divinity manifests triumphantly
My finding is that the continuity of Revelation has moved forward, and schools which specifically prepare students for the conscious treading of the spiritual path can be found here and now, in America, in the UK, in Australia and New Zealand, in Europe, in Russia, and by all who seek, in every country. It is the true, inner conversion of the heart - which readies the student for initiation ... drawing him or her to the spiritual path in the first place. As s/he advances, the Hephaestian fires do temper both the heart, and the intellect, and all of our various qualities and faculties, forging us into new beings altogether. Some of those who have already crossed the bridge ahead of us, have pointed out - that the prior self they once knew, and the present self which they have become ... are forever separated by an abyss, or chasm. We are not meant to wander forever - on this side of the abyss. No longer lost, I trust we all at least agree that the road stretches for miles and miles ahead ...

And paths converge - like the roots of the Mighty Yggdrasil. :)

Namaskar,

andrew
 
I used to often wonder why the initiatic ascent, such paths as Andrew has detailed for us here, has no immediate nor even discreet reference within the Christian Tradition. Is it missing? Or is it other?

Certainly the Sacraments of the Church (sacrament is the Latin translation of the Greek mysterium) were originally two - Baptism and Eucharist - and comprising the object of the Christian Mysteries they have their initiatic aspect ... but then the question, why only two?

I have come to understand that in almost every aspect Christian echews, as much as it is able, formalism, or formal structures within the theological sphere. Rather, the Christian ascent is ordered to a different dynamic - not so much an ascent, an emergence of the spiritual self above and beyond the backdrop of the phenomenal world, but an absolute submergence of the self in the 'Divine Darkness' of a Dionysius or an Eckhart ... the Mystical Vine of a Bonaventure ... or the Mystical Body of Christ, as expounded by St Paul.

Thus the 'principial' Sacraments are two - the first being Baptism, signifying commencement, and the last being the Eucharist, signifying the unity of self with its founding principle - Jesus Christ.

The Christian Life is lived in the tension between these two, the Alpha and the Omega, and it is this vision that subsumes all stages in between. They are present, but they are not the point of being a Christian – nor are they the measure of Being in Christ – they are not the 'one thing needful' nor the 'better part', the goal of a Christian life.

The life in Christ is all that matters.

And the measure between the Alpha and the Omega is love.

As The Beatles would say:
"All you need is love ... love is all there is."

Of course, this only makes sense if one accepts Christ as Christianity beholds Him:

"Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether [they be] thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
And he is before all things, and by him all things consist."
Colossians 1:15-17

It is the Christians' identification of self as being founded in Christ which makes him equal with all of creation, likewise founded. Thus he looks not to 'thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers' but rather only to Christ Himself:

"For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Romans 8:38-39

Thomas
 
It occurs to me, on further thought - that I'm not sure that Buddha, nor Christ, nor Mohammed, actually detailed the stages of ascent in any strict formal fashion - rather it is what we make of it - they are a human attempt to provide some cohesive and coherent structure to what is happening - else how else can one navigate, with no compass, no chart, no marks? No sign of where one has come from, or where one is headed ...

Andrew can shed more light, Im sure?

As I consider it, the Christian Tradition actually contains a number of diverse 'patterns of discernment' - from Jacob's Ladder to the Ladder of John Climacus (required reading during lent in Eastern monasticism).

The Ascent of the Soul in Bonaventure, the stages of prayer in St Theresa, the poetry of St John of the Cross ...

... and of course Bunyan, Dante, et al ...

Whilst i consider all there forms or patterns peripheral, or secondary, to the Main Event, as it were, nevertheless it is my firm conviction that many of the ills that affect this current age are due to the lack of structure by which man can place himself, in a meaningful way, in a meaningful cosmos (science strips both man and cosmos of its essential meaning whilst revelling in its ephemeral glories) - the rites of passage that are a constituent part of every traditional culture are progressively being stripped away by modernism.

Thomas
 
Thomas, I think you have just spoken to some of the dangers of the level playing field which we all seem to desire (in most ways), yet upon which - frankly, I do not think we are all ready to "play ball." The symbol which immediately resonates with me upon mention, is that of Jacob's Ladder. It is so proverbial, crystalline in its imagery, that we are almost apt to overlook its signficance. The notion that kindred souls might occupy a very similar position, on the same rung of the ladder as it were, is a familiar one. And I have always delighted in finding that despite (or even because of?) the greatest of diversity ... one whom I might not otherwise have even thought to call brother - turns out to occupy the same position on the ladder, as I do. What of those on the rungs below, as well as on the rungs above? I like to fathom that the meanest of us all, is yet climbing the same ladder, while the Greatest among us, yet maintains His position at the top - for our benefit ...
"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (Matthew 25:40)
(this seems to speak volumes about the very nature of the Ladder itself)
Both Initiaton and Conversion are experiences that appear to me to be Universal, yet the varying traditions characterize them differently - and if the Great Teachers presented them, it was obviously woven into the greater thread of their Revelation. The Buddha's metaphor of the Stream, is so much at the heart of Buddhism, that I find it difficult to imagine the presentation any other way. The title Paramahamsa, just as Mahatama, yogi, or rishi ... is part & parcel of the Hindu world, and the caste system itself might even be evidence of the (vastly) imperfect reflection - of the different stages of the path, as they find their way into outward societal structure.

Yet I think the clearest example we have of the Initiatory Path ... is the life of Christ Himself, who enacted for us the stages with which every Christian is intimately acquainted. It is the very fiber of Christianity. It is both the man and message, and we are always in danger of over-objectification if we attempt to separate these. This is part of the power of the living symbolism of the Christ ... and it is why, even with a completely different avenue of approach, and perhaps orientation - to some extent, I still think the Inner Truth is one and the same. Yes, for all, ultimately, but that is something only a High Initiate could fully understand. For me, there is a triumph, of sorts, simply in the acknowledgement that there might even be said `Initiates.' At least, personally, this was part of the opening of a door - without whose opening, my life would be in darkness.

But light is relative. It is not a simple duality, even if this illusion underlies, colors and conditions so much of our thinking, and activity. The relative illumination which might be afforded by the opening of one door, is as yet nothing in comparison with the Greater Revelation which lies within the portal ahead. I should change my profile pic, temporily, in reflection of this idea. The blinding brilliance, is - both paradoxically, and yet of necessity - a darkness, as you point out, Thomas. Blinding light, or blinding darkness, they are exactly the same. Beyond, is the unknown - which must remain this way for us, until we cross the threshold. And I think it is the testimony, and the Testament, provided by those who have gone ahead ... which can at least help to assure us - that it is worth the journey, that the splendor of the world beyond, is all that we have hoped for, and more! :)

As a footnote
, the other image that leapt out was the Interior Castle, although I have not made it all the way through. Still, I should think there rooms enough therein, to encompass every living being, at every stage of the spiritual path. My understanding of the Initiatory Path is that, although we can speak of its various main stages, we should not forget that each day is an Initiation - the greatest of all, and a Mystery that none of us as yet can fathom. It is a Grand Cycle, but not one of mindless or pointless repetition. Each day is an entirely new creation, and I suspect that only the High Initiate, sharing it with St. Paul, and saying, "I die daily," is properly prepared to appreciate the inner Splendour. In the outer worlds, the Beauty is by no means veiled, but there is also the whisper, Et in Arcadia, Ego. :(

I guess another footnote, but one that seems worth emphasizing, is the common expression, Born again in Christ, or Second Birth through Christ. As it is usually said here in the Bible Belt, I'm Born Again, brother! Amen! :D What does this mean?

Personally, I am aware of two directions that one could run with it. One is this: The Forerunner indicated that while he baptized with water, Christ would baptize with Fire and the Holy Spirit. Certainly, at least in my own understanding, this is a reference to Initiation. Fire, in a spiritual sense, is the Burning Ground of purification, whose outward symbol is the Baptism by water. Water, after all, is symbolic of the emotional nature - everything from desire to passion, from yearning to sentiment. Consecrated in & to spiritual service, the purified personality (emotional nature especially) successfully traverses the Burning Ground (the `Fire') - then prepares itself for the even more significant Transfiguration, where another and Greater Fire ... the Holy Spirit, is able to do its work. We have the Burning Bush of Moses, and the familiar "[FONT=Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]For our God is a consuming fire" of Hebrews 12:29.

Now the conclusion of that emphasis, which points to the 2nd & 3rd Initiations, is what I think Christ did come to emphasize. He was not concerned with presenting to the masses some great body of esoteric teachings regarding the higher or final stages of treading the Spiritual Path. Why, after all, would that be necessary, if there were as yet few who might possibly stand to profit from such an emphasis?

The second, and for me an equally essential teaching, or implication, of Christ's Ministry ... was the stimulation of the Christ within the hearts of the masses of men - both an actual event, the result of His Presence among us, as well as something that find its way into the Mystery Traditions (or resonates with a teaching extant), as the Birth. Not the birth of something which was altogether lacking until that point, but rather - it's birth into outward activity, a true stirring to life. Something which, in short, would not be possible without a prior and ontological relationship to the Mystical Body of Christ already mentioned. And this, not because one simply decides to step forward and seize one's birthright ... which places wrong emphasis on the personality, with its pride & self-righteousness ... but due to the very basis, or cornerstone, of God's Plan for us here - which we cannot derail (since at worst, we will only slow the train), and which is Spiritual Salvation, or Redemption.

It brings to mind the hymn of Christmastime:
[/FONT]
Good Christian men, rejoice
With heart and soul and voice;
Now ye hear of endless bliss;
Joy! Joy!
Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has oped the heav'nly door
And man is blessed evermore.
Christ was born for this!
Christ was born for this!
Namaskar,

andrew
 
Born again = change of heart?

Did you know the most common phrase in the bible is "fear not"?
I think, if it was left to us and our devices, none of us would make it!

If I were asked to state my 'formal' preference in terms of degrees of ascent, I would probably go with the six stages of Bonaventure's "The Mind's Journey into God."

Other than that, there are many systems within the Christian tradition - Clement and Origen; Gregories of Nyssa and Nazianzen; Dionysius; Maximus the Confessor; Eriugena; Aquinas; Eckhart; Nicholas Cusanus ... I find myself drawn not so much to the path or developmental stages, but the nature of being itself - thus I meditate upon Christ's words to St Catherine: "I am He Who Is, you are she who is not."

To me Christianity is a dialogue with Christ, a dialogue with God, and it goes straight to the heart of the matter - as He asked three times of Simon Peter: "Do you love me?" - everything else is subsidiary and relative, and in that sense, immaterial.

A simple (and truthful) answer in the affirmative is all that's required.

In light of such the stages of the spiritual path as a study in its own right as profoundly interesting, but ancilliary ... they are patterns discerned from the study of human nature, that's all (itself most worthwhile) ... they are there for man's benefit of understanding ... but as every rule has its exception, they are not absolute nor binding, whereas love is, both absolute and binding an, as such, non-negotiable.

As a Neoplatonist I nevertheless tend to agree with Aristotle's view of such 'universals' - as existing as an intellectual construct, but with no objective reality in their own right.

And, of course, every esoteric school has its own variation on the theme of ascent, as it were. My life's experience has taught me the more there is to it, the more it misses the point.

Thomas
 
I'm enjoying this thread. One of the things I've grown to deeply appreciate about Christianity is its simplicity, as you say Thomas:

To me Christianity is a dialogue with Christ, a dialogue with God, and it goes straight to the heart of the matter - as He asked three times of Simon Peter: "Do you love me?" - everything else is subsidiary and relative, and in that sense, immaterial.

A simple (and truthful) answer in the affirmative is all that's required.
All the rest is there for our enrichment and the deepening of our Christian experience, and I wouldn't call it mere window dressing, but it is not the essential heart of the matter.
And also as you said above:
It also determines the efficacy of the Sacraments as determined by faith, therefore no amount of knowledge will make them more or less effective, therefore knowledge is not conditional of being a Christian.
Such an amazing example of God's grace, and so definitively different than other religions, IMO.

peace,
lunamoth
 
Hi Lunamoth -

Such an amazing example of God's grace, and so definitively different than other religions, IMO.

Mine too.

Thomas
 
Back
Top