The Long and the Short of It
by Peter Holleran
"The grand illumination itself is sudden but the process of achieving it is a task so complex that it can be carried through only by successive stages. For the obstructions to be cleared on the way are heavy and numerous while the advances involve shifting from one tentative standpoint to another. The way to ultimate being cannot be travelled in a single leap; there must be a time-lag until the moment when it actually dawns. The interval naturally falls into elementary, intermediate, and advanced stages."
"The Tibetans say that to arrive at the spiritual goal one requires both the eyes of knowledge and the feet of technique. Within the first they include discrimination and intelligence; within the second, self-improvement and meditation."
- Paul Brunton
"All meditation systems either aim for One or Zero – union with God or emptiness. The path to the One is through concentration on Him, to the Zero is insight into the voidness of one’s mind."
- Joseph Goldstein
"Our day-to-day life should be a living testimony of what we profess. This is the long and the short of the whole thing."
- Kirpal Singh
There is a debate raging these days over whether spiritual development or enlightenment depends on purification and practices or is just a matter of “waking up” and “seeing what is”. While this is an argument that has been going on for centuries, the latter position seems to be gaining in popularity at the moment, and not without some justification. Many, especially Baby-Boomers, have done spiritual techniques and forms of yoga for years and are now tired! The newer teachers offer relief from the struggle and the search. In most cases, however, realizing that a relative few who listen to them are able to fully grasp or make use of their ultimate arguments, they will sooner or later say something like, "usually the people who have come here have already tried everything else" - implying that all the practices they tried didn't work, that no real preparation was achieved - except to exhaust their seeking impulse [which may indeed be true, and in fact is one of the important, somewhat hidden, purposes of the practices] - but it is only one way of looking at it. A more traditional view is that perhaps what they tried did
work, purifying the mind, karmas, and egoic tendencies, which prepares one for but is not conclusive or sufficient for enlightenment. Thus in the end the skillful balancing of the two approaches - a 'both/and' rather than 'either/or' option - is the most reasonable path for most people to take. Taken alone there are two many liabilities for a realistic spiritual development.
PB generally and more often than not offered this balanced perspective between the two paths, which he called the Long and Short paths [see this section of his Notebooks (Category 23, Chapters 1-5
) for an extended consideration of this important topic]. At times, however, he seemed to emphasize the efficacy and attraction of the Short (or 'more direct', and not necessarily short, but shorter) path based on the disposition of non-dual insight which is its characterization. And like others, in his writing one can find the usual sort of enigmatic ‘disclaimer’ :
“ [The] Short Path is the path of paradox”
(Vol. 15, Part 1,1.118)   and   "Expect the unexpectable!"
Paradox is but in the nature of the subject matter (spirituality, truth), which deals with the reconciliation of polarities (1). PB was writing for different types of people in varying circumstances, walks of life, and stages of development and understanding, offering them a bridge to truth from where they stood in any point in time. For example, also in Volume 15, Part 1, we find:
“The Short Path is the only genuine approach to truth, the only one offering real possibility of liberation. It is endorsed by Atmananda and Krishnamurti and Ramana Maharshi. Lifetimes have been spent by seekers who have traveled the Long Path but arrived nowhere, or are not much nearer the goal, whereas others have made swift advance from their first steps on the Short Path. The assertion that the Long Path is a necessary complement to or preparation for the Short one is correct only for those who are still under the thraldom of illuson, who are asleep. Its followers merely travel in a circle: they never get out of the illusion or awake from the sleep. That is why in the end it has to be given up, abandoned, understood for the egoistic effort that it really is. The entire length of the Long Path is an attempt at self-improvement and self-purification planned, managed, operated, and supervised by the ego itself. Is it conceivable that the ego will work for its own destruction? No! - it will never do that however much it pretends to do so, however subtle the bluff with which it deceives itself or others..”
This rivals anything the current non-dual teachers pronounce. But then he seems to reverse himself and play devil’s advocate by saying:
“Those who believe in the Short Path of sudden attainment, such as the sectarian following of Ramana Maharshi and the koan-puzzled intellectuals of Zen Buddhism, confuse the first flash of insight which unsettles everything so gloriously with the last flash which settles everything even more gloriously. The disciple who wants something for nothing, who hopes to get to the goal without being kept busy with arduous travels to the very end, will not get it. He has to move from one point of view to a higher, from many a struggle with weaknesses to their mastery. Then only, when he has done by himself what he should do, may he cease his efforts, be still, and await the efflux of Grace. Then comes light and the second birth.”
“The Short Path teacher, such as Krishnamurti, insists on explaining their own divinity to all people and rejects the assertion that there are many uncapable of understanding it.”
"It is true that he is conditioned in several ways and that the attempt to free himself from them by introducing other, and usually opposing, ways merely creates new bindings, new conditions. But to leave the statement there - as Krishnamurti does, and as Jean Klein tries to do - is misleading because it is half-truth. These teachers regard yoga, for instance, as such a form of conditioning; yet Atmananda, who appears to be at least one source of Klein’s inspiration, himself found that yoga was a preparation for Advaitic truth. In short, there is a progression among conditions; they are not developed in a circle but in a spiral.”
On the one hand he writes:
“To adopt the Short Path is to place oneself at a point of view where all the efforts of the Long Path are seen as a shere waste of time and where its successes are regarded as equal in value to its failures, since both are illusory experiences of an illusory entity.”
"Why should the Short Path be a better means of getting Grace than the Long one? There is not only the reason that it is not occupied with the ego but also that it continually keeps up remembrance of the Overself. It does this with a heart that gives, and is open to receive, love. It thinks of the Overself throughout the day. Thus, it not only comes closer to the source from which Grace is being perpetually radiated, but it also is repeatedly inviting Grace with each loving remembrance."
”The Long Path is unutterable irksome whereas the Short Path is gloriously attractive. The one is associated with toil and suffering; its emblem is the Cross. The other is associated with peace and joy; its emblem is the Sun. Yet, those who would prematurely desert the one for the other will find their hopes frustrated in the end, however enthusiastic and rapturous the experience maybe in the beginning. This is because Nature, the Overself, will not let them enjoy permanently what must be taken into every part of their being, properly cleansed and prepared to absorb it, with the being itself properly equilibrated to endure the experience of absorption without stimulating the ego.”
After discoursing in chapter three on the Dark Night of the Soul as a general period of transition between the labors and frustrations of the Long Path and qualified entry into, and resigned acceptance of, the Short Path, he again takes us back and forth between different themes:
"The Long Path is taught to beginners and others in the earlier and middle stages of the quest. This is because they are ready for the idea of self-improvement and not for the higher one of the unreality of the self. So the latter is taught on the Short Path, where attention is turned away from the little self and from the idea of perfecting it, to the essence, the real being."
"It must never be forgotten that the work of the Short Path could only come into being on the basis of work of the Long one, and on the presupposition of its presence."
He even adds yogic (non-advaitic) reasons for the necessity of the Long Path, revealing the more emanationistic overtones to his version of non-dualism:
“What is the purpose of this Long Path inner work upon himself ? It is to clear a way for the inflow of grace, even to the most hidden parts of his character.”
“For the influx of Spirit needs a chalice clean enough to be fit for it, large enough to hold it. What would happen if the influx were poured into a dirty, cracked, tiny, and weak vessel?”
"Another reason for the need of the Long Path's preparatory work is that the mind, nerves, emotions, and body of the man shall be gradually made capable of sustaining the influx of the Solar force, or Spirit-Energy."
"The Overself will overshadow him. It will take possession of his body. There will be a mystical union of its mind with his body. The ego will become entirely subordinate to it."
(v.16, Part 1, 2.251)
He also puts forth a question:
"Most Short Path teachings lack a cosmogony. They evade the fact that God is, and must be, present on the plane of manifestation and expressing through the entire universe. Why?"
Finally, in chapters four and five, his writing takes the middle road and diplomatically summarizes what appears to be his most basic, consistent and practical position on the matter:
“The transition from the Long to the Short Path is really a normal experience, even though to each person it seems like a major discovery.”
(4.55) [That fairly well sums up the enthusiasm among many non-dual students and teachers]
"It is not a question of choice between the two paths. The beginner can hardly comprehend what the Short Path means, let alone practice it. So perforce he must take to the Long one. But the intermediate, weary of its toils and defeats, turns with relief to the other path, for which his studies and experiences have now prepared him."
"However tirelessly and relentlessly he pursues the Long Path, he may come one day to the tragic discovery that the ideal it proposes to him embodies a humanly impossible perfection. With that discovery he will fall into a numb inertness, a pathetic and hopeless state which could even bring his overwrought mind not far from a breakdown. He may feel alone and deserted. He may enter the dark night of the soul, as some mystics have named it. His ego will feel crushed. He will not know what to do, nor even have the strength of will to do anything more. At this point he must wait...out of the bleakness and weakness there will presently come a guidance, bidding him respond affirmatively to a suggestion, a book, or a teacher directing him toward what is really his first step on the Short Path."
"Most people who start the short path have usually had a glimpse of the Overself, because otherwise they find it too difficult to understand what the Short Path is about."
"If he begins with the Short Path he may feel that whatever is accomplished is self-accomplished and thus, subtly, insidiously, his ego will triumphantly reassert, or keep, its supremacy. But if he begins with the Long path and, after all his efforts, reaches an inconclusive result, the consequence despair may crush his ego and point up his dependence on, and need of, grace."
"Its practical application is: act as the Long path requires by working on and improving the self, but think as the Short path enjoins by holding the attitude, "There is nothing to be attained. Realization is already here and now!"
This is very similar to the confession of the great adept Padmasambhava, who said that while "his realization of emptiness was as vast as the sky, his attention to the law of karma was as fine as a grain of barley flour."
"The Long path is splattered with discouragements. Only those who have sought to change themselves, to remold their characters, to deny their weaknesses, know what it is to weep in dissatisfaction over their failures. This is why the Short Path of God-remembrance is also needed. For with this second path to fulfill and complete the first one, Grace may enter the battle at any moment and with it victory will suddenly end the struggles of many years, forgiveness will suddenly wipe out their mistakes."
"Without this conquest of the lower nature no enlightenment can remain either a lasting or an unmixed one. And without suitable disciplines, no such conquest is possible. This is the reason why it is not enough to travel the Short Path."
[These last two quotes recall a mysterious observation a friend made to me years ago. He said: "some people have to get a lot better, and some have to get a lot worse." In other words, some apparently have to "get it together", and some have to "fall apart"!]
"Let it be clear that the attempt to try the Short Path alone is not being decried. What is being said is that the likelihood of failure is great and that even if success is won, it will a be one-sided, ill-balanced, narrow thing."
"Ramana Maharshi was quite right. Pruning the ego of some faults will only be followed by the appearance and growth of new faults! Of what use is it so long as the ego remains alive?...But although Maharshi was right, his teaching gives only part of Truth's picture. Presented by itself, and without the other part, it is not only incomplete but may even become misleading. By itself it seems to indicate that there is no need to work on our specific weaknesses, that they can be left untouched while we concentrate on the essential thing - rooting out the ego. But where are the seekers who can straight away root it out? For the very strength of purpose and power of concentration needed for this uprooting will be sapped by their faults."
In Category 24 PB similarly writes of a progression of capabilities:
"To attain knowledge of Brahmin, the mind must be held in the prerequisite state of being calm, tranquil, and in equilibrium - not being carried away with anything
[the equivalent of samatha in the vipassanna tradition]. After this is established, and only then, can you begin enquiry with any hope of success."
"The mind which is purified from desire may be easily calmed. The mind which is calmed may be abstractly concentrated. And, concentrated, it may then be easily turned upon itself."
[In Essays on the Quest
, he emphasizes another aspect:
"He may think that eradication of personal faults has little to do with finding the true self, but this is not correct. These very faults arise out of the false conception of the 'I'. Moreover the eradication is suggested not only to help him to overcome such false conceptions but also to help him become a better servant of humanity."
"The ego is the real enemy on the path, the mountain that cannot be moved by faith but only by agonizing surrender. But the agony is diminished when, through appropriate instruction, he comes to understand how illusory the'I' really is."
Radical non-dualists stress only the inquiry into the 'I', while traditionalists point out that karma yoga as well as self-surrender have long been considered preparatory and complementary to the direct path of advaita.]
"Seekers do not come under he power of Grace until they have done, to a sufficient extent, what the Long Path requires of them. Then only are they likely to be ready for the Short Path, and to benefit by the Grace associated with it."
"What is the purpose of this Long Path inner work upon himself? It is to clear a way for the inflow of grace, even to the most hidden parts of his character."
"The Long and Short paths can no more be separated from one another than the two sides of a coin of the two poles of a magnet. Each would be meaningless without the other and therefore belongs to the other."
"In theory the Long Path ought to precede the Short Path, but in actuality practice such precedent endures for a limited time only, and then both paths are to be followed simultaneously."
“The Long Path is needed to make a man or woman ripe for receiving truth, but only the Short Path can lead to it...[The] practical application is: act as the Long Path requires by working on and improving the self, but think as the Short Path enjoins by holding the attitude “There is nothing to be attained. Realization is already here and now!”
The following passage is also very important
“Those who depend solely on the Short Path without being totally ready for it take too much for granted and make too much of a demand. This is arrogance. Instead of opening the door, such an attitude can only close it tighter. Those who depend solely on the Long Path take too much on their shoulders and burden themselves with a purification work which not even an entire lifetime can bring to an end. This is futility. It causes them to evolve at a slower rate. The wiser and philosophic procedure is to couple together the work on both paths in a regular alternating rhythm, so that during the course of a year two different kinds of results begin to appear in the character and behavior, in the consciousness and the understanding. After all, we see this cycle everywhere in Nature, and in every other activity she compels us to conform to it. We see the alternation of sleep with waking, work with rest, and day with night.”
“There is a curious statement in Tao Teh Ching (49.1) that the Tao proceeds by contraries or by what it elsewhere calls rhythm.”
“Such a double practice of the Short and Long Paths will not only lead to a fuller and better balanced progress but also to a quicker one. For these two opposite activities will work upon him in a reciprocal way. His faults will be ground to powder between them as if they were millstones.”
Still, he again seems to allow that for some individuals even this is unnecessary:
"The real Short Path is really the discovery that there is no path at all: only a being still and thus letting the Overself do the work needed. This is the meaning of grace."
"Why create needless frustrations by an overeager attitude, by overdoing spiritual activity? You are in the Overself's hands even now and if the fundamental aspiration is present, your development will go on without your having to be anxious about it. Let the burden go. Do not become a victim of too much suggestion got from reading too much spiritual literature creating an artificial conception of enlightenment...."
(5.232)     "Both the Long and the Short Path are in the imagination."
“You could also say there is nothing to the whole thing: simply surrender yourself to God. This is true if you can do it.”
[For more elaboration on the Long and Short Paths, see the essay, Tirolean Talk by PB, 1965
The Long Path/Short Path debate has been going on for hundreds of years. It is perhaps best epitomized by the drama over dharma transmission that occured during the time of the Fifth Patriarch in the Ch'an Buddhist tradition. A contest was held in order to pick a dharma successor, and Shen Hsiu, the most likely candidate, wrote his famous lines, "the body is like the Bodhi Tree, the mind like a bright mirror, and we must keep that mirror clean and allow no dust to settle on it." Then the young, unknown, and illiterate Hui Neng had someone write lines for him, "there never was a Bodhi Tree, there is no bright mirror, from the beginning not a thing is, and there is nowhere for dust to settle." Hui Neng won the competition, but had to be smuggled out of the monastery because his answer was not well-received, and it was fifteen years before he was publically acknowledged, and seventy-five years after his death before he was finally recognized as the Sixth Patriarch as a result of Shen Hui's lifelong teaching of his doctrine. Wei Wu Wei, commenting on the doctrine of Shen Hsiu, writes:
"Today the West has its Shen Hsius, and the little sect is busy polishing its mirrors, keeping the dust off them, and searching for the reality therein - pardon, for Reality. But it is Hui Nengs that are needed again...I do not so call it [a doctrine like Shen Hsiu's] in scorn, for it is a noble doctrine. Moreover - at least in my small opinion - it is a true doctrine, but it is not the direct path brought to China by Bodhidharma, not the direct path taught by Hui Neng: it is not the path of the great prajnaparamita sutras which alone are that. It is a long path indeed, because the I-concept too is a pilgrim, a pilgrim who leads the others astray at every turning, and who is only pushed over the precipice at the very end. The direct path is the Negative Way, along which no I-concept can travel - for a shadow cannot travel by itself."
(Ask the Awakwened
, 2002, p. 100)
Advaitist James Schwartz compares Yoga and Vedanta in ways similar to the Long Path-Short Path of PB, and how in each case the former is both preparatory and supportive of the latter:
"Vedanta solves the karma problem by stating quite clearly that you are the self, limitless awareness, and therefore you are not a doer. If you can see that, or if you can plainly see that action will not produce freedom, then you can see that the problem is not one of gaining an enlightenment experience, but of removing your self ignorance.
Does this mean that I follow Vedanta and throw away Yoga? It is not quite that simple. Actually Yoga is a very necessary part of one’s spiritual path. Why? Because Self realization depends on the nature of the mind. Self realization takes place in that part of the self called the mind. The Self is already free and knows it so there is no need for it to awaken to that fact but some part of it has (improbably) come to forget this fact. If the mind is dull or passionate Self realization does not take place. Yes, one might have a glimpse, a quick awakening, but when the mind becomes passionate or dull and again one begins to feel limited and the realization of non-duality disappears with it. So the mind needs to be clear and still and very alert. This is where Yoga comes in. Yoga is a number of practices, a very sensible lifestyle really, that produces a clear abiding mind, one that is capable of making a sustained and careful investigation to see whether or not the Self is limited or limitless. Yoga works because the mind is limited and karmas can affect it. The only problem, which is always a problem of action, is that you have to keep doing the practices to get the results…at least until they become second nature and involve little or no effort.
So Yoga is an effective means of preparing the mind for inquiry. Because Yoga will have a profound effect on one’s experience, one has many epiphanies, what are called ‘samadhis’ in Yoga. These are special experiences that convince one that there is something beyond the mind, a ‘state of oneness,’ infinite bliss, etc. When these states have been experienced for some time, many yogis become inquirers. That is they start to ask questions about this ‘state’ or ‘being’ that is ‘beyond.’ Or they start to ask questions about the experiencer, the person, who is having the experience of oneness. Is he or she separate from experience or is he or she actually only experiencing his or her Self?
It is the nature of the mind to inquire into the meaning of experience. Usually people in the spiritual world have a certain amount of knowledge about the Self anyway: from reading, attending satsangs, and from direct experience. In India, where the idea of Yoga developed alongside Vedanta several thousand years ago many Yogis are quite familiar with the teachings of Vedanta and find them absolutely essential in removing the doubts that arise out of their own experience. Ramana is a good example of a Yogi who understood the value of both Yoga and Vedanta. He fell into a samadhi when he was quite young and realized the Self but he sat in meditation for many years making an inquiry into the Self, removing whatever doubts remained, until it was no longer necessary to sit in meditation (Yoga) or make an inquiry (Vedanta). This is why he, like the Upanishads and most Vedantic texts, encouraged both the practice of samadhi and the practice of self investigation.
The central problem with Yoga is that it accepts the idea that the Self is an experiencer, a doer and an enjoyer. This makes it very attractive to people because this is precisely how they see themselves. Yes, the aim of Yoga is to ‘dissolve’ the doer, the experiencer into the limitlessness, ‘merge’ the wave into the ocean, but what kind of dissolution is this? Is it a dissolution of some solid entity, a real person, into some subtle amorphous mass of consciousness or is it simply the negation of the belief that one is limited? If you believe that you are a real solid entity and have lived many years of your life with this belief how likely is it that you are going to be ready to cease to exist and ‘become’ some vast impersonal ‘state’ of being? You are not going to want to do this. This is why people whose practice is motivated by the Yogic view almost always draw back when they reach the gateway to the infinite. The idea of the non-existence scares them and they retreat back into their ego shell. In fact, there is no problem because you can’t cease to exist…you only believe you can. When your ego dissolves this is not the end of anything. It is the beginning of a greater vision."
Sant Kirpal Singh also mentioned these two paths, in different language. He referred to the path of self-effort as "long and tortuous" compared to that of self-surrender, but that one could with confidence in the Master tread the former firmly step by step, but that relatively few could take to the latter, because it required one to "recede back to the position of an innocent child", and is only possible when "a disciple has complete faith in the competency of the Master", but should one be able to do so "he then goes directly into His lap and has nothing to do by himself for himself." 'Should the Lord so ordain, then, O Nanak! a person may take to the path of self-surrender'...but very rarely even a really blessed soul may be able to acquire that attitude." (Kirpal Singh, Godman
, 1971, Sant Bani Press, p. 180)
In regards to the need for a teacher or guru, PB has this to say:
"First at the beginning of the Long Path, and again at the beginning of the Short Path a master, a spiritual guide, is really required. But outside these two occasions an aspirant had better walk alone."
(vol. 1, 3.286)
Another line of reasoning why in most cases there must be both the long and short paths, simultaneously, is because, for PB, on the philosophic path there is to be development of the ego and its faculties of feeling, thinking, and willing, along with the process of disidentification from them. The World-Idea, of which the ego is a part, is projected through the soul and is itself evolving or unfolding; the Idea of Man is a subset of that Idea. The philosophic goal, moreover, is not one of mere isolation, but the non-dual realization of sahaj. This is why the spiritual process of full enlightenment is a work of lifetimes. In volumes 13 and 16, he states:
“The mystic may get his union with the higher self as the
reward for his reverent devotion to it. But its light will
shine down only into those parts of his being which were
themselves active in the search for union. Although the
union may be a permanent one, its consummation may still
be only a partial one. If his intellect, for example, was
inactive before the event, it will be unillumined after
the event. This is why many mystics have attained their
goal without a search for truth before it or a full knowledge of truth after it. The simple love for spiritual being brought them to it through their sheer intensity of ardour earning the divine Grace. He only gets the complete light, however, who is completely
fitted for it with the whole of his being. If he is only partially fit, because only a part of his psyche has worked for the goal, then the utmost result will be a partial but permanent union with the soul, or else it will be marred by the inability to keep the union for longer than temporary periods.”
(Vol. 13, Part 2, 4.9)
“Another difference between a Philosopher and a Mystic is the following: the Mystic may be illiterate, uneducated, simple-minded, but yet may attain the Overself. Thus he finds his Inner Peace. It is easier for him because he is less intellectual, hence has fewer thoughts to give up and to still. But Nature does not absolve him from finishing his further development. He has still to complete his horizontal growth as well as balance it. He has obtained depth of illumination but not breadth of experience where the undeveloped state of faculties which prevents his light from being perfect may be fully developed. This can happen either by returning to earth again or continuing in other spheres of existence; he does all this inside his peace instead of, as with ordinary man, outside it. When his growth is complete, he becomes a philosopher.”
(Vol. 13, Part 2, 4.11)
The phrase here, "he does all this inside of his peace
instead of, as with ordinary man, outside it," is similar to the distinction made in Sufism of the journey "in God"
following completion of the journey "to God"
. PB uses almost identical language:
"His quest for God has reached its terminus but his quest in God will now start its course. Henceforth his life, experience, and consciousness are wrapped in mystery."
(Vol. 15, Part 1, 4.54)
From this perspective the idea of the fulfillment of the path taking many lifetimes need not be seen as a dreary prospect.
“He who has attained illumination, but not philosophic illumination, must come back to earth for further improvement of those faculties whose undeveloped state prevents the light from
(Vol. 13, Part 2, 4.12)
“All aspects of human nature need to be illumined and equably balanced if the illumination itself is to be total, pure, and reliable. This statement is no more, and no less, than the truth. Yet ignorance of it is widespread among would-be mystics and even among real mystics. If there is contradiction between their results, it is because they too often experience the illumination fully through their feelings, to a limited extent through their wills, and hardly at all through their intellects.”
(Vol. 16, Part 1, 2.45)
The full fruits of this process are wonderfully expressed by PB in the following passages:
"One day the mysterious event called by Jesus being "born again" will occur. There will be a serene displacement of the lower self by the higher one. It will come in the secrecy of the disciple's heart and it will come with an overwhelming power which the intellect, the ego, and the animal in him may resist, but resist in vain. He is brought to this experience by the Overself as soon as he is able to penetrate to the deeper regions of his heart.
Only when the disciple has given up all the earthly attractions and wishes, expectations and desires that previously sustained him, only when he has had the courage to pluck them out by the roots and throw them aside forever, only then does he find the mysterious unearthly compensation for all this terrible sacrifice. For he is anointed with the sacred oil of a new and higher life. Henceforth he is truly saved, redeemed, illumined. The lower self has died only to give birth to a divine successor.
He will know that this is the day of his spiritual rebirth, that struggle is to be replaced henceforth by serenity, that self-reproach is to yield to self-assurance, and that life in appearance is transformed into life in reality. At last he has emerged from confusion and floundering and bewilderment. At last he is able to experience the blessed satisfaction, the joyous serenity of an integrated attitude wholly based on the highest truth. The capacities which have been incubating slowly and explosively during all the years of his quest will erupt suddenly into consciousness at the same moment that the higher self takes possesson of him. What was formerly an occasional glimpse will now become a permanent insight."
"At long last, when the union of self with Overself is total and complete, some part of his consciousness will remain unmoving in infinity, unending in eternity. There, in that sacred glory, he will be preoccupied with his divine identity, held to it by irresistible magnetism, gladly, lovingly."
Anthony Damiani adds to this understanding in his discussion on Plotinus:
"Through reasoning on the content of the World-Idea which it is manifesting, the soul evolves its understanding until intellection becomes predominant, and this is brought to bear on its own self-nature. If the inquiry is pursued, this process will result in intrinsic self-awareness."
(Stephen MacKenna, Plotinus: The Enneads
(Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1992), Appendix 1, p. 7370
The preliminary practices of the so-called "Long Path" are to bring the soul to the point where it has become capable of evolving its understanding until 'intellection' has become predominant. I say 'become capable' because impediments of character may prevent the sattvic quality of mind from becoming stably present. This is why even on the path of advaita karma yoga often has an important supporting role. Plotinus seems to point towards this in his own way in the following passage:
"[As Soul] the Intellectual Principle is ours when we act by it, not ours when we neglect it..We are not the Intellectual Principle; we represent it in virtue of that highest reasoning faculty which draws upon it...the Intellectual Principle [is] our King. But we, too are king when we are moulded to the Intellectual Principle. That correspondence may be brought about in two ways: either through laws of conduct engraved upon our souls as tablets or else by our being, as it were, filled full of the Divine Mind, which again may have become to us a thing seen and felt as a presence."
(Ibid, p. 441-442)
It is said that the Buddha after his enlightenment was frustrated at the prospect of teaching anyone at all, feeling no one could possibly understand him, but out of his great compassion (bodhicitta
) he was moved to find a way. He knew of the struggles he went through as well as the limitations of the various sadhanas he had practiced. He also realized the impossibility of philosophy or metaphysics to be more than ‘pointers’ to the unexplainable wonderous truth. Yet for fifty years, back pain and all, he found a way to teach - without dogma, rigidity, or exclusivity - and so have many philosophic-sages after him.
A careful reading of all the above paras will suggest that PB really spoke of three
paths: a Long Path, a Short Path, and the "real Short Path". In the Long Path one still believes the ego-self is real and is trying to improve, purify, and transform it. In the Short Path, which in actual practice is to be followed concurrently with the Long Path, the emphasis is not on the ego but on the remembrance and affirmation of the Overself. This stage could also be seen as a transitional phase before the "real Short Path", which is where the Overself and its Grace takes a more active role in the enlightenment process. PB states:
"If he is willing to look for them, he will find the hidden workings of the ego in the most unsuspected corners, even in the very midst of his loftiest spiritual aspirations. The ego is unwilling to die and will even welcome this large attrition of its scope if that is its only way of escape from death. Since it is necessarily the active agent in these attempts at self-betterment, it will be in the best position to take care that they shall end as a seeming victory over itself but not an actual one. The latter can be achieved only by directly confronting it and, under Grace's inspiration, directly slaying it; this is quite different from confronting and slaying any of its widely varied expressions in weaknesses and faults. They are not at all the same. They are the branches but the ego is the root. Therefore when the aspirant gets tired of this never-ending Long Path battle with his lower nature, which can be conquered in one expression only to appear in a new one, gets weary of the self-deceptions in the much pleasanter imagined accomplishments of the Short Path, he will be ready to try the last and only resource. Here at long last he gets at the ego itself by completely surrendering it, instead of preoccupying himself with its numerous disguises - which may be ugly, as envy, or attractive, as virtue. So a third phase becomes necessary, the phase of getting rid of the ego altogether; this can be done only by the final dissolving operation of Grace, which the man has to request and to which he has to give his consent.
So here he comes full circle to the essence of the matter for most higher spiritual teachings. It may be the case that only one who has already had a true realization or glimpse of the Soul will be capable of the profound surrender PB is suggesting here. He writes as if this is a stage where one is at the end of one's rope and "lets go and lets God", and that this happens at a "very advanced point". Moreover, as stated, this is where the Overself appears to take a more active role, and the person a more passive one. In this respect one might say that here there takes place the "infused contemplation" spoken of so clearly in The Dark Night of the Soul and Abandonment to Divine Providence. All that is required is, in the words of deCaussade, abiding fidelity to the sometimes “crucifying operations and the spiritual death which follows" - i.e., the so-called "higher realizations" spoken of in the Visudhimagga. It may not be this difficult or dramatic, but in any case and in a fundamental way the path is taken out of your hands.
(1) For more on the point of reconciling / transcending polarities, please see Languaging Non-Duality
on this website.