Every teacher of a comprehensive topic will sooner or later meet students who have previously gained experiences and studied the topic with other teachers. In and of itself it is wonderful when somebody already has a wide range of experience to build upon. One can however observe that students with "prior knowledge" often learn more slowly or have greater difficulties to learn the art than those who do not have any prior knowledge.
The reason for this fact is that previous experiences had a certain formative influence and often it is difficult for a student to outgrow this influence. This phenomenon can be well compared with the dialect learned in childhood. Many people have difficulties to discard their dialect later, and not infrequently it still affects them when they want to learn other languages. However someone who wants to be a professional speaker or actor with more than local significance must by all means learn to speak without any dialect.
Everybody who wants to perfect an art must be willing to abandon his entrenched habits (or opinions) that he has grown fond of. This is not different in an occult school. Herein the pure form of tradition is manifest in the Egregore and the Inner Plane Contact. The incarnate teacher on the material plane has the task to pass on the tradition as undistorted as possible. Few spiritual groups and teachers do have such an inner contact and thus they cannot pass on the tradition in an unadulterated form. An analogy to this is the case of a young woman who wanted to be a ballet dancer. She already had had three years of lessons by an inexpert teacher. After that she went to a professional and relatively famous dancing instructor. It took her almost three more years to break the habits she had acquired while training with the less qualified teacher. In a "Letter to a Disciple" Walter Ernest Butler describes quite a similar experience:
A young friend of mine was "evacuated" to the country during the last war. He was unfortunately unable to carry on his education in a normal manner and with customary regularity. At a later date, when he began to study for his profession, he found that the gaps in his early education were such hindrances to further work, that he was compelled to start again and fill them in systematically. In the same way the mind, being habit-forming will establish bad habits of meditation if it is not trained in the right ones. These bad habits are most difficult to correct. To take an example: any selftaught typist who has become used to bad habits of typing-the hunt-and-peck methods-and has had to break away from them will find it far more difficult to master the new and correct ones than it would have been if she had started with them in the first place. The old habit has first to be broken down before the new one can be established. You may think I am labouring this point, but my reasons are simple. I do not wish you to waste your time and energy, and equally, I do not wish to waste my own by having to assist you in the overcoming of wrong habits of meditation. (Walter E. Butler)
It is further necessary to understand that different paths have different requirements just like the English language requires a different syntax and intonation than German or Hebrew. It is not different regarding the spiritual paths: what is beneficial for the yoga student may be hindering for the student of the Western Mysteries. Therefore it is particularly important to choose one path and to completely dedicate yourself to it.
No student will ever make any progress in spiritual development who flits from system to system; first using some New Thought affirmations, then some Yoga breathing exercises and meditation-postures, and following these by an attempt at the mystical methods of prayer. Each of these systems has its value, but that value can only be realised if the system is carried out in its entirety. They are the calisthenics of consciousness, and aim at gradually developing the powers of the mind. The value does not lie in the prescribed exercises as ends in themselves, but in the powers that will be developed if they are persevered with. If we intend to take our occult studies seriously and make of them anything more than desultory light reading, we must choose our system and carry it out faithfully until we arrive, if not at its ultimate goal, at any rate at definite practical results and a permanent enhancement of consciousness. After this has been achieved we may, not without advantage, experiment with the methods that have been developed upon other Paths, and build up an eclectic technique and philosophy therefrom; but the student who sets out to be an eclectic before he has made himself an expert will never be anything more than a dabbler. (Dion Fortune)
The problem Dion Fortune describes does not only occur in spiritual work - but is found in many other arts and skills. Someone who for instance wants to learn self-defence would be well advised to choose one martial art and concentrate on it until he is a master of this art. Since, if he wants to learn many different martial arts at the same time he can invest less time for training in each one and for that reason alone he will learn each of them more slowly and stay on a beginner-level for a long time. In each martial art he will have to learn the basic positions and basic exercises again and again and therefore he will never reach the advanced techniques. In addition the matter will be complicated because the conditions of the various martial arts may be different so that what is beneficial in one martial art might be obstructive in another. In one martial art he is to learn to stand steady at the beginning, in the other he needs to be light-footed. In one art all movements are practiced slowly at the beginning, in another the first goal is to develop speed and power. Also, the techniques learned are probably hard to combine. The throw in one martial art requires a low stance that makes the athletic dance-like movements in the other martial art impossible. In this way he always gets confused and whenever he learned a certain routine in the one art he to break the very same habit to progress in the other art, so his progress will be slow and he will always remain a beginner. Only when he is a master in one method he can benefit from learning another method and comparing the differences.
Near the town I was born there is a bicycle lane along a river. Let us compare the spiritual path with the route of this river. When you want to get to the source of the river you can either cycle on the bicycle lane or you go waterborne using a rubber dinghy. But obviously you cannot cycle the river because you would sink, just as little as you cannot progress using the rubber dinghy on the bicycle lane. Neither can you take the bicycle into the rubber dinghy because the pointed pedals of the bike could damage the rubber dinghy and cause it to sink. And if you wanted to take along the inflated rubber dinghy on your bicycle it would be at least dead freight. We can see that both ways are legitimate paths that lead to the same goal, but nevertheless you cannot take both paths at the same time nor combine their methods reasonably. But when you have gone one path until its end (or at least up to an important milestone) then you can draw comparisons and even make relative knowledgeable statements about the other path. Even if you have chosen the bicycle lane you will probably know that at a certain spot there are dangerous rapids that might be a problem when waterborne, even if you do not know from your own experience the manoeuvres to overcome these. Especially on the occult path it is of vital importance for the achievement of the higher realms of spiritual work to make your choice for one path wholeheartedly. The higher levels and any advanced results are only attainable if you adjust yourself to the "vibrational level" of the force that is behind the tradition and bring yourself into harmony with the inner contact of the tradition. This is done by giving up one's own "dialect" and by getting involved with the principles of the group and the group mind (i.e. the Egregore) unreservedly and with full dedication. Only in this way the higher levels of spiritual work are achieved.
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