DISCERNMENT AND THELEMA
One of the odd pieces of advice that Mr. Crowley gives us frequently in his writings is that we should learn not to think about the differences between things as part of our development. On the surface this seems absurd--I obviously want to know the difference between drain cleaner and sugar when I make cinnamon toast. However once his instructions are seen as a part of a magical/initiatory system there is some wisdom in his suggestion if we approach this idea with Moderation, which is the watchword of the Left-Hand Path, rather than Submission, which is the watchword of the Right Hand Path. I would want to look at the First Beast’s idea and consider its usefulness in Setian Initiation.
Crowley’s idea comes from four human sources--the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Nietzsche, and the Marquis de Sade--and also from practical magical experience.
From the Buddha, Crowley draws the idea of dissatisfaction as a threat to the Path. Consider the person who can never enjoy his life. He has won second place in a tough contest, but knows only agony that he did not get first place. He sees the table next to his at the restaurant has cherries jubilee, and suddenly he hates his cheesecake. He drops his friend of many years who is a chiropractor to impress his new friend who is a medical doctor. This dissatisfaction does not lead to better states of being but to an anxiety that keeps him from ever awakening. There is no moment that is real to this person because his connection to the outside universe is shattered by his imagination of its flaws. He can never appreciate what he has, which means he is unhappy. More importantly he tells his psyche all the time, “You don’t do very good magic.” Eventually the psyche will give up. Why should it change the possibilities when it will be castigated?
From Lao Tzu, Crowley draws the idea of Process. Magicians send out a mysterious message and receive a mysterious reply form the universe. This means they have to be open to the process unfolding by the art that is theirs to command, rather than being a critic of the process (having as they say “lust for results.”) It makes me think of the Taoist fable of the horse.
Some mysterious beast was destroying a farmer’s crops by night. “Oh no! This is terrible!” his neighbors say. The farmer says, “We shall see.” The farmer’s son catches the animal and finds it to be a beautiful white stallion that he trains. The neighbors say, “You are blest by the gods with good fortune!” The farmer says, “We shall see.” The horse throws the son and breaks his leg. “Oh no! This is terrible!” his neighbors say. The farmer says, “We shall see.” The Emperor’s troops arrive taking all able-bodied men to fight the Mongols, but spare the farmer’s son, because of his broken leg. “You are blest by the gods with good fortune!” his neighbors say. The farmer says, “We shall see.”
The magician learns to accept the bigger picture, that his magic is Working and does not make judgments as the process unfolds. The flu that keeps you home may keep you from the car wreck. The unstable magician tries to change the process at every step and winds up living in a muddy magical soup.
From Nietzsche, Crowley received the idea that the Will provides its own training. We need a certain number of failures to become strong and crafty enough for success. If at every set- back we gave up, we certainly would never have learned to ride a bike. If at every brick wall we hit we just called on our parents, God, or the fates to save us, we would not have developed Will. The Initiate does not waste his time bemoaning setbacks and seeking aid, he spends his energy thinking his way out of the situation and in so doing develops Will.
From the Marquis de Sade, Crowley drew the idea that classifying everything as pleasant and unpleasant means you have a lot of unpleasant things in your life. How much more pleasant your life would be if you could learn to find as many sensations and situations pleasant. I won’t dwell on the sexual implications of this. Consider something you do daily--like riding the subway. How different your entire life would be if rather than spending ten minutes a day hating some experience, you made it your quest to find it a pleasurable experience: reading the posters, studying the crowd, enjoying the hot air on cold days.
Beyond these four sources Crowley drew on practical magical experience. People have only so much energy. Would you prefer spending your energy on analyzing a current experience or trying to beckon a wonderful experience out of the Unmanifest, which the profane call the “future?” Magicians usually come from groups that spend all their time critiquing the present, and then at some point discover that the energy they use on parody and sarcasm could just as well be spent on having a better future. They may appear to be less clever and cool then but are much closer to being captains of their own fate.
So consider how Crowley’s instruction to his Adepts not to distinguish any thing from another thing may be a useful one. It is also a very, very hard thing to learn. Learning to receive what the universe gives you requires a deep faith in yourself and your magic. It will make you calm, and it will make you daring (since you know that the universe will give you what you need and frequently what you want).