Inside of you is a mirror unlike any other mirror. The beginning of the spiritual path is its polishing, the middle of the path is its reflecting, and the summit of the path is its shattering. The poets call this mirror “the Heart,” mystics call it “the Self,” and the Platonists call it “the Soul.” It does not reflect your own face; in fact, at first, it may reflect nothing at all! But, gradually, with hard work and spiritual awakening, you will come to see the face of God upon it, and within you, until the splendor shatters the mirror and the soul awakens fully to its divine nature.
Polishing the Mirror of the Heart
The first great endeavor of the aspirant is to polish the Mirror of the Heart. This means that you have to remove the dirt that keeps the soul from reflecting the divine lights, and you have to polish it to return the soul back to its original, pure condition so that it reflects those lights without blemishes or distortions. This is not a quick and easy process, and I have seen many aspirants rob themselves of real spiritual attainment by skipping it altogether. As a result, they become stagnant on their path and wonder where they went wrong, or they become deluded and believe that they have had some success, but the tests of time and experience prove them wrong.
The process of Polishing the Mirror of the Heart has two parts: abstaining from what obscures it and engaging in what restores it. Abstaining from what obscures it means purifying yourself from negative activities, leaving those things that obscure you and promote ignorance. Engaging in what restores the heart means to cling to those things that purify the soul and encourage real knowledge and virtue.
Let’s examine the first of these in more detail. What kind of things will obscure the heart? Any activities that lead to ignorance: unethical behavior, bad conduct, activities that are harmful to ourself or others. The aspirant on the path should be of noble and upright character and make every effort to leave behind bad habits, addictions, and negative opinions. Instead of confining the reader to a long list of do’s and don’ts, I would ask you to be attentive to your own heart and gradually learn what things make your spiritual practices more difficult and the mind more clouded. Some things will be obvious and universal, such as drug abuse, alcoholism, abusive behavior, and so on. Other things are subtler and more particular to the person. For example, some students are very sensitive to meat consumption and find that it makes meditation more difficult while some can eat meat with very little effect on their personality and mental state. Again, some students can have a healthy mindset about sex, while others cannot engage in much sexual activity without depleting their energy and degrading the mind. Without the in-person guidance of a qualified teacher, it falls to the student of the mysteries and traveler of the path to carefully watch and guard their own heart from anything that could lead to ignorance and harm.
Having examined the first part of polishing the mirror of the Heart, let’s move on to the second part “engaging in what restores.” What else could restore the heart to its original purity if not virtue? As the aspirant gradually abstains from what obscures, now she must also cultivate virtue and rectitude, for what water is to the thirsty, virtue is to the soul. It fills the soul with strength and restores the intellect and willpower.
The two chief virtues are temperance and compassion. These two alone will gradually give birth to all the other virtues. Temperance means to live simply, desire little, do what is good, and avoid what is bad. Compassion means to never think of yourself first, to always consider others first. From these come patience, mercy, justice, discipline, understanding, piety, and all of the other virtues.
Gradually, the aspirant begins to unveil the divine image and lights of the Soul. Abstaining from negative acts leads to cultivating virtue and cultivating virtue restores the soul to its divine splendor. Such a person can now finally turn the eyes of the soul upwards and contemplate the divine realities.
Reflecting the Divine Attributes
To reflect the divine attributes means to see the powers of God shining forth in the soul. This can only begin once the soul has been restored to its innate purity and beauty through the constant practice of virtue and meditation, the former leading us to correct actions and the latter leading us to correct knowledge. Without knowledge of the self through philosophy and meditation, we won’t be able to see what is beyond the soul (the Divine), and without virtue, the soul cannot receive the divine attributes to illuminate itself.
When the soul is established in virtue, we begin to see the Cause of All Virtue, and when we are established in Self-Knowledge, we begin to see the Cause of All Knowledge. As the soul becomes gradually perfected, we begin to see the Cause of All Perfections. In this way, we approach the three fundamental principles of The One: Beauty, Wisdom, and Goodness, which the Divine Plato has described as the three doors by which the Soul approaches the Divine. This has lead the mystics of prophets to describe God as The Good, The Wise, and The Beautiful.
As the soul adorns itself with virtues, it draws nearer to Beauty, and leaving behind its psychic adornments, it takes on divine adornments, drawing nearer to the Divine Beauty by becoming more and more similar to it. In such a state of nearness, virtue itself becomes effortless and the soul experiences the many divine attributes which radiate from The Beautiful like rays from the Sun. The most important of these are the higher, eternal causes of the earlier-mentioned chief virtues: Temperance and Compassion. The divine attribute of temperance is justice and the divine attribute of compassion is truth. When the soul is filled with the height of justice, it effortlessly lives in harmony with Divine Law, turning every act and thought into one of worship. When filled with the light of truth, the soul effortlessly becomes a bridge between the world and the divine, extending the divine light to all beings to alleviate their suffering to guide them towards enlightenment.
The divine principle of Wisdom fills the soul with real knowledge, called gnosis by the philosophers, and leads us from worldly knowledge of things that are born and die to a sacred knowledge of realities and truths that are eternal. Through philosophy and meditation, we rise from the knowledge of the self to knowledge of the Cause of the Self. Wisdom is the light that purifies us from all ignorance. The more we are filled with this light, the more we are led towards a real knowledge of the Divine. Such a knowledge bestows certainty upon us, certainty of the existence of The One, certainty of the immortality of the soul, and certainty of the benefits of living a good and virtuous life. Through philosophy, we introduce the soul to divine knowledge, and in meditation we directly experience it.
Plato describes the Good as that towards which all things are moving. In other words, we all want what is good for us, and God is That which is Good for All. We cannot really separate Goodness, Wisdom, and Beauty from each other, or we would be saying that wisdom isn’t good or that goodness isn’t beautiful. Instead, we try to unite the divine attributes so that as the soul grows in wisdom, it becomes more beautiful, and being filled with the lights of both beauty and wisdom, we ourselves become more perfect as we approach the cause of all perfection, which then philosophers have called The Good, the religious have called God, and the mystics have called The One.
Shattering the Mirror
The great spiritual masters of the past have all expressed with certainty the reality of Divine Union, to instill faith in later generations of students struggling on the path. Eventually, the soul becomes so filled with the reflection of the divine light that the heart can no longer sustain any difference between the knower and The Known, the adorer and The Adored. Overwhelmed, the mirror shatters, and the self loses itself in the light of its own divine parentage.