Eye of the Heart

Cynthia Bourgeault has taken you with her on her own very personal journey of inquiry into the spiritual realms... the result is a brilliant synthesis that both situates the imaginal world and gives it more meaning than it has previously had.

16th February 2024

Afterword to Cynthia Bourgeault's Eye of the Heart by A. H. Almaas

IN READING THIS book, you have gone through quite a journey of learning and discovery. Cynthia Bourgeault has taken you with her on her own very personal journey of inquiry into the spiritual realms, an inquiry catalyzed by an encounter she had on the earth plane with the man she calls the Greek. Writing this book became her metabolism of this experience as she sought to understand her awakenings and insights within a wider context. Drawing on both her heart and her synthetic intelligence, she has combined elements from many metaphysical maps (Gurdjieff’s Ray of Creation, the perennialists’ Great Chain of Being, the Sufi planes of being) to create an elaborate new construction. And she has invited you to use this map, if you feel so inclined.

The result is a brilliant synthesis that both situates the imaginal world and gives it more meaning than it has previously had. According to the Sufis, the imaginal world is the in-between world of experience connecting the physical world with the spiritual planes above it. It is where visionary experiences and encounters occur. You find this world in many traditional teachings, not just the Sufi, but it is not always explicitly given a place in the spiritual realm. The Tibetan Buddhist tradition makes use of this world, even though not obvious in its teachings. If you read the biographies of the great masters, like that of Dudjom Lingpa, they are mostly visionary experiences and encounters with deities, bodhisattvas, and dakinis imparting wisdom to the lama. The Sufi biographies mostly describe spiritual illuminations and encounters with previous saints or prophets that are experienced through the inner subtle senses of seeing, hearing, and so on. This is the case, too, in Kabbalah and Christian mysticism.

The author is careful to differentiate the imaginal world from that of human imagination and fantasy. And, she points to the danger of conflating the two, a danger I see happening in many areas. The Sufis see a relationship between human imagination and the imaginal capacity. The imaginal capacity, in perceiving alam almithal, utilizes human imagination but takes it to its spiritual possibilities of seeing into the spiritual world. This is similar to using the human intellect when impregnated by the diamonds of the spirit to know spiritual realities and understand them as what they are, free from personal prejudice. Bourgeault goes further than most in her view of the imaginal world; for her it becomes the sphere of spiritual experiencing on any level of subtlety, for it is the nexus to the higher planes of spirit.

I find many gifts here to the reader and to spiritual discourse in our times. It so happens that the Eastern teachings of nonduality have become the lens through which many view spirituality. In my view, this limits spiritual experiencing and the possibilities of the spirit. For in this view, our world, our earthly world, is mostly seen as an illusion or a distorted way of experiencing reality. And that reality is the infinite consciousness or awareness that simply manifests the world as its appearance. Some call the world a convenient fiction. Bourgeault gives the earthly world an importance missing in these nondual teachings, and in this way she is a true representative of the Western spiritual tradition. The Western tradition, as we see in the Sufi planes of being and the four worlds of Kabbalah, gives this world a reality all its own and a significance that is necessary for all planes of being, including that of pure infinite consciousness. It is necessary, for it is the realm that makes sense of why the spirit has in it love, compassion, nobility, beauty, humility, steadfastness, conscience, and so on. Without human beings on earth, where life is full of hardship, it is difficult to see why the divine spirit will need such qualities.

She also emphasizes the place and role of the person, for it is the true person who is the spiritually realized human living on earth. Nondual teachings tend to see the person as the separate ego individuality and cannot conceive of an individual who is not an illusion. This way, they have no way to understand why nondual realization itself is exemplified by human beings, unique persons living a human life, even though inwardly their identity is the vastness of spirit.

Even though her map is admittedly a construction, it is based on experience and is useful for new spiritual illuminations to arise. By the end of the book, she does what most advanced teachings do. Let go of the map, drop the path, and simply be the simplicity.

The construction helps us see how spiritual illumination is an interchange, an exchange, of spiritual substances between different realms. That substance is physical on earth in ordinary experience, but the divine spirit pours as substances of different kinds. That which we call love, compassion, intelligence, will, forgiveness, and so on are substances descending from the higher planes of being to the lower ones. And our own practice, which she puts in the Gurdjieffian language of conscious attention and intentional suffering, generates energies that rise through the imaginal realm to the higher planes of being. It is clear from all of this that all the planes are interconnected; they make up a unity. But a differentiated unity that makes sense of what spiritual progress means.

She also shows, by discussing her ongoing connection to her once-living friend Rafe, that life and experience don’t end with physical death. She is not participating here in the naive view of heaven and hell, but of the spiritual world with vistas and life, where her friend Rafe still lives, learns, and ripens since his death a few decades ago. And through her ongoing intimate connection with him, she receives insights that nourish her teaching. In some way, they have become one, an abler soul, and through such unity of inner body, they learn and grow together, birthing a spiritual teaching that illuminates the precious secrets of the Christian revelation. She is on the side of earthly living, and he is on the other side of death. Besides the interesting truth that two human beings can be fused as one soul, she clearly states the view that life continues after death. That depending on our spiritual development on earth, we have different degrees of capacity to live after death. Life continues on the other side, and spiritual progress is even smoother and much more fluid.

Bourgeault also highlights the importance of developing an inner spiritual body. Gurdjieff called it the kesdjan body. This is not simply the vastness of consciousness, as nondualists will tend to think, but an individual body with a true sense of individuality. Not disconnected from the vastness but expressing it, it has a true I, a unique identity, and can develop to further stages of inner body. This is a significant gift to the spiritual seeker: the seeker will not simply dissolve upon enlightenment or death, but with deep spiritual burning can develop a true spiritual inner body. Such a body can develop all the way to the crystalline indestructible body that Gurdjieff has obviously developed since his death. This is actually reminiscent of some of the Buddhist Mahayana teachings. When one reaches a certain stage of illumination, in Buddhism it is called Buddhahood, one’s inner subtle body transforms into the vajrakaya, an individual and indestructible spiritual body through which one experiences, acts, and expresses.

The author has breathed life into Gurdjieff’s Ray of Creation, illustrating how spiritual illumination progresses in the Western Spiritual Tradition. But she has given all of these gifts by telling her story, personal and vulnerable, human but not only human. We are all this way, human but not only human. We are both human and divine, matter and spirit, with each being true and the two inseparable. In these times, we desperately need to know this, for humanity is facing many challenges. There is much fear, hopelessness, self-centeredness, and anger. And there are dangers in our environment that require the recognition that our physical humanity, even though real and vulnerable, is not separate from an indestructible spiritual essence. The more we intimately know both of our sides, the more effectively and appropriately we can navigate life, death, and after death. And we can also be liberated from much of the suffering by metabolizing it, so that our experience transforms into unity with our inner subtle body of indestructible spirit.