Author/Artist: Robin Amis
Publisher: In-Print Editions
After editing Mouravieff, Ouspensky and Theophan, Robin Amis, director of Praxis Institute, has finally written his own book, A Different Christianity, the distillation of more than fourteen years of research into traditional sources of the Royal Way, a Christian spiritual discipline little known to the Western world. This work is now published by State University of New York Press, and is also available direct from PRAXIS.
The book A Different Christianity, by Robin Amis, was published by State University of New York Press (SUNY) in 1995, and has since been reprinted many times. It is available from bookshops in the UK or USA, or direct from Praxis Bookshop. It forms a valuable guide to the forgotten Christian roots of our own civilisation. In those roots lies the solution to the problems besetting the West. From it the origins of our lost morality can be rediscovered and restored.
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Biophilos, United States
This book has the potential of revolutionizing contemporary assumptions about the Christian Faith and providing the missing links in esoteric teachings such as the Fourth Way. A masterwork of synergy and understanding, A Different Christianity is potent food for the serious reader's transformation of being.
The author's fundamental thesis is that Christianity possesses an inner tradition that has never been common knowledge in the Western world. This Esoteric Christianity was once known as the "Royal Way" and has barely survived except in places like the monasticism of the Eastern Church. The author claims that we can find traces, in some of the great spiritual texts, of teachings that deal with experiential transformation and go back to the first centuries of the Church. But from the time of Clement of Alexandria, one of the beacons of this inner wisdom, various factors have caused the "unplanned but effective censorship" and forgetfulness of these powerful ideas. Amis clearly differentiates between Christian gnosis and the gnostic sects. Gnosis, as used here, is a special kind of inner knowledge handed down unwritten by the Apostles and is quite different from the mythologies of the later sects.
Along with his scholarly research, Mr. Amis shares his own personal experiences in seeking out this lost teaching. He details his visits to Mount Athos where this spiritual wisdom has been passed on for a thousand years. He describes the island as a "place that can help one discover the eternal within oneself." His conversation with a pneumaticos (spiritual hermit) is particularly striking for he is given a message to the West: "You English have served man very well with your intellect...Now you should do another work: to understand and to tell the world of the inner truth, the truth of the heart." This book is the fulfillment of that extraordinary charge.
In another sharing of his experience on the Greek peninsula, the author describes the psychosomatic impact of liturgy: "I began to understand what was really possible for a human being." Later, under a pine tree overlooking the Aegean Sea, he encounters the inward stillness that is the apex of hesychast wisdom. "Within that stillness emerged a presence I can never describe." Amis proceeds to detail the psychological phenomenon of spiritual awakening as expressed by the inner tradition. He writes extensively of the Greek philosophical concept of the nous which he understands as the cognitive power at the center of our being. The author provides numerous quotes from sources of wisdom rarely found in the West, including the second century work of Clement and of the nineteenth century Russian starets (spiritual teacher) Theophan the Recluse. Such teachings may be found in classic texts like The Philokalia and Unseen Warfare but virtually no one has integrated them with modern esoteric thought.
The process of awakening presented here includes inner separation, the watch of the heart, metanoia, remembrance of God, magnetic center, self-observation, dispassion, and theosis (God- realization) and other foundational methods. Part of the discipline of the Royal Way (the inner tradition of the early Church) is to perceive without prejudgement, an effort that requires the development of transcendent self-control. This process is one that does not go against one's nature as happens with misguided asceticism but rather uncovers one's true nature.
A key idea in this teaching is Diakrisis (discrimination) which enables us to change our attitudes to ourselves and to detect influences acting upon our minds. "Effective diakrisis is nothing more than clear psychological perception...given form by real knowledge of our human nature." This implies the development of profound and brutally honest self-knowledge, a critical step to spiritual evolution. Here we find direct links between the ancient wisdom of the early Fathers of the desert and the contemporary teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, known as the Fourth Way, dealing with inner work on oneself. These efforts contribute to the goal of esotericism which Amis defines as "inner autonomy of spirit."
Bringing together the insights of the past with modern esoteric science, the author offers an outline of this path of inner transformation:
1. Discrimination - change of mind --a renunciation of belief in ordinary worldly goals.
2. Detachment - change of heart - a loss of conviction in our view of the world.
3. Awakening - renewal of intelligence (nous) - new kind of knowledge.
4. Union - complete absorption in the divine.
Through this inner effort, we find ourselves on the Way. But this Way has to be reached before we can travel on it. Amis writes of the process of "dipping" (as cloth is dipped in dye) which leads to cumulative change in the direction of our lives. This change in what we want out of life forms a "track" that leads to the next stage which is known as the "ladder." These ideas were first unearthed from the past by Boris Mouravieff whose extraordinary trilogy, Gnosis: Study and Commentaries on the Esoteric Teachings of Eastern Orthodoxy were co-translated and published by Amis in the last several years.
One of the most important contributions of this work comes with the author's presentation of noetic prayer. This "method" is at the heart of the Royal Way. But it little resembles what usually passes for prayer. "Prayer as it progresses depends more on a relinquishing of control than on its intensification...Directed prayer involves what one can only call a kind of effortless effort."
This approach comes out of the hesychia wisdom which deals with the deep stillness of the heart. Amis tells us that overactivity is a symptom of the absence of true prayer of the heart. Noetic prayer is then a tool and a gateway for inner transformation. However, before we can reach this depth of prayer, there is need for nepsis or watchfulness which is the awareness and control of our inner mental and emotional activity.
Similar to Buddhist mindfulness and certainly equivalent to Gurdjieff's self-observation and self-remembering, this technique is fundamental to authentic spiritual awakening. Both watchfulness and prayer are meant to move from practices to a state of being in which they merge into a higher quality of consciousness once called "ceaseless prayer." Amis points out with exquisite insight that we generally confuse control with attention. He notes that these phenomena are connected only by the fact that attention is necessary before we can control something. Yet prayer requires attention without control. The surfacing of these powerful ideas reveals the dynamic of being in the world but not of it. The author names it freedom from psychological captivity.
The practice of perceiving without reacting leads to an alternative worldview. This in turn allows us to register more subtle, non-sensory experiences that open the way to spiritual consciousness. Here is found the source of gnosis coming from real being that leads to transformation of human character. Amis writes that "the true higher knowledge, the heart of knowledge, is the emotional knowledge that is born of direct experience rooted in love."
The Royal Way, then, is the narrow way of the gospel which is walked with a conscious awareness and discrimination of influences acting upon us. This effort generates the motivating force for metanoia (change of mind) leading to purity of heart which is the very basis of Christian psychological development. Amis here reveals the stream of inner tradition from which Gurdjieff's teachings arose. The outward difference is due to Gurdjieff's use of a simpler form designed for a secular world and with additions borrowed from other inner traditions. This method is not one of obedience but of personal choice originating from a certain state of mind (sometimes called conscience) and resulting in a change of consciousness described as "waking up."
In a striking anecdote resulting from his years of research, Amis informs us that, shortly before his death, Gurdjieff arranged for a group to travel to Mount Athos in an effort to re- establish contact with the tradition. The author claims that making the connection with this ancient teaching virtually lost to the world completes the incomplete system of inner work which Ouspensky called "fragments of an unknown teaching." Such a reconstitution then lead to results of a new kind. This book offers us the missing pieces that can revive a teaching of great power which has the potential of revitalizing the spirituality of the Western world.
Theodore J. Nottingham, USA