Gerald Heard, author of Training for a Life of the Spirit and founder of the Trabuco College of Prayer, maps three phases of spiritual evolution: the Novice who purges for catharsis, the Proficient who is enlightened and free, and the Perfect established and integrated in the Vision of God. He writes, “To change the focus of consciousness is difficult and skilful work. It does not happen by accident nor by simply leaving the mind open.” In Pain, Sex, and Time, he outlines three ranks within a monastic society: first, the learners, who serve the senior monks without rule or direction; second, the educated, residents with a general discipline and specialization, alternating solitude with group rituals, gardening, and household duties, especially in the dining hall; third, the Doctor-Proficient who heals by teaching, a Neo-Brahmin and bodhisattva unrestricted by cloistered virtue, the incarnate good will and conscience of mankind, and the answer to the powers that hypnotize and destroy. In Five Ages of Man, he considers the evidence of the Western Esoteric Tradition and suggests five steps of initiation according to life stage, type of ordeal, and the required mode of therapy.
Heard gifted the Trabuco College of Prayer to the Ramakrishna Order. According to its publication Monasticism, Ideal and Traditions, “monasticism is a subject of vital interest to every spiritual seeker.” It gives two paths to sannyasa (“renunciation” – non-attachment to the world, desire for God), recognizes four motivations, offers two ideals, including six classes of asceticism. “The Ramakrishna Order is open to all…. They do not have to go through any process of conversion to get into the Order…. Each was free to believe and act as he thought best, keeping two things in view—his own emancipation and service to mankind…. Any group bearing the name of Sri Ramakrishna has to accommodate people of different viewpoints, not only different, maybe even opposite.” Freedom of thought is a right and privilege.
It is not widely known that Swami Vivekananda earned the degree of Master Mason on May 20, 1884. Freemasonry is the successor to the Mystery Schools of the Western Esoteric Tradition. According to its Morals and Dogma, “initiation does not change: we find it again and again, and always the same, through all the ages.” The three ranks of apprentice, fellow-craft, and master give lessons in character transformation and civic duty, reconciles classical philosophy with theology in an exhaustive account of ancient symbolism and religious myth related to astronomy and farming transmitted into Christianity, and reveals the secret of the Knights Templar.