Understanding the adepts, not serving the Masters

One reason the title of this blog refers to adepts is that it has always seemed to me a healthier way of thinking about spiritual exemplars than the related term Masters.  Another is that this terminology has been preferred in the Church of Light tradition, in reference both to our sources and our aspirations. It has long been apparent that belief in and willingness to serve “the Master” or “the Masters” evokes something in believers that is willfully blind to the human limitations of the idealized figure.  Erich Fromm calls this masochistic dependency: 

The passive-authoritarian, or in other words, the masochistic and submissive character aims — at least subconsciously — to become a part of a larger unit, a pendant, a particle, at least a small one, of this “great” person, this “great” institution, or this “great” idea. The person, institution, or idea may actually be significant, powerful, or just incredibly inflated by the individual believing in them… This masochistic and submissive individual, who fears freedom and escapes into idolatry, is the person on which the authoritarian systems — Nazism and Stalinism — rest.

Adepts are by definition such by virtue of their accomplishments and abilities, not due to positions as authority figures in hierarchies.  Masters imply disciples or slaves.  Perhaps this accounts in some part for the aggressive, cruel behavior seen in Masters-based belief systems that have been considered “destructive cults.”  Fromm explains the sadistic aspects of authoritarianism:

More difficult than understanding the passive-authoritarian, masochistic character is understanding the active-authoritarian, the sadistic character. To his followers he seems self-confident and powerful but yet he is as frightened and alone as the masochistic character. While the masochist feels strong because he is a small part of something greater, the sadist feels strong because he has incorporated others — if possible many others; he has devoured them, so to speak. The sadistic-authoritarian character is as dependent on the ruled as the masochistic -authoritarian character on the ruler. However the image is misleading. As long as he holds power, the leader appears — to himself and to others — strong and powerful. His powerlessness becomes only apparent when he has lost his power, when he can no longer devour others, when he is on his own.

The Authoritarian Personality, the article in which these passages are found, was first published in 1957.  It makes the crucial distinction between rational authority and irrational authority.  Here perhaps lies the psychological difference between studying the wisdom of the adepts, and following the guidance of the Masters:

Rational authority is the recognition of authority based on critical evaluation of competences. When a student recognizes the teacher’s authority to know more than him, then this a reasonable evaluation of his competence. The same is the case, when I as the passenger of a ship recognize the authority of the captain to make the right and necessary decisions if in danger. Rational authority is not based on excluding my reason and critique but rather assumes it as a prerequisite. This does not make me small and the authority great but allows authority to be superior where and as long it possesses competence.

The spirit in which Church of Light members study the Brotherhood of Light lessons seems to be very much in tune with Fromm’s prescription of rational authority.  But there is another kind of authority that is irrational:

Irrational authority is different. It is based on emotional submission of my person to another person: I believe in him being right, not because he is, objectively speaking, competent nor because I rationally recognize his competence. In the bonds to the irrational authority, there exists a masochistic submission by making myself small and the authority great. I have to make it great, so that I can — as one of its particles — can also become great. The rational authority tends to negate itself, because the more I understand the smaller the distance to the authority becomes. The irrational authority tends to deepen and to prolong itself. The longer and the more dependent I am the weaker I will become and the more I will need to cling to the irrational authority and submit.

What then should be the goal of spiritual exploration, if not finding and serving authority figures?

But I do not want to close without emphasizing that the individual’s goal must be to become his own authority; i.e. to have a consciousness in moral issues, conviction in questions of intellect, and fidelity in emotional matters. However, the individual can only have such an inner authority if he has matured enough to understand the world with reason and love. The development of these characteristics is the basis for one’s own authority and therefore the basis for political democracy.

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