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The Depths of This Thing

   by Peter Holleran


   "If you walk the path you will arrive at the end of suffering. Having beheld this myself, I proclaim the Way that removes all thorns." - Buddha

   "There are many who might have attained to wisdom, had they not fancied they had attained it already." - Seneca

   "Mahamati, the purification of the Tathagata of all beings is gradual and not instantaneous." - Lankavatara Sutra

   "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." (1) - Paul Brunton (PB)

   As implied by the title, this is a complicated subject. But we will try for once to make it relatively short! This essentially relates to the age-old debate over sudden and gradual enlightenment. In our opinion, the debate boils down to the difference between a glimpse and stable, perpetual union with the truth. Many people, including teachers, have glimpses of different sorts, which, in some instances, even last a lifetime. What are we to make of this, and how does it relate to the stages of growth outlined by traditional systems, including one given by the Buddha, as in 'stream-enterer', 'once-returner', non-returner', and 'Arhat'? Many sense that the enlightenments claimed by some do not match up to those traditionally described, and that, while genuine, and of use in helping others, may lack a certain depth, or have an incompleteness to them. These are issues to be discussed in this paper. While we offer heartfelt support for those who choose to see all such ramblings of the mind as nothing but "concepts, concepts!", as Sri Nisargadatta used to say, nevertheless if only in the interests of fostering tolerance a full consideration is presented.

   To start with, two quotes of PB come to mind:

   "Even though a glimpse has lengthened through time into permanence, it may not have lengthened through consciousness into completeness."

   "It is not a question of how much of his mind does the experience illuminate but also what other parts of his personality does it inspire."

   This relates to the subject of whether it is the absolute or the relative nature that gets enlightened. Seeing that it is not a 'personal' attainment per se, some, such as PB, have said that the void-mind gets enlightened, or Adyashanti, that 'enlightenment gets enlightened.' Others, like PB (sometimes) and anadi, say that it is, in fact, the ego, in other words, the relative nature, that gets enlightened, because the Self, Buddha-nature, whatever word one chooses to describe the fundamental Consciousness, is already awake and aware. But somehow we are not that, or, at least, don't usually think we are. And then of course there are those who will say, "see, that is the problem, that you don't 'think' you are, and that is all that is standing in your way." But somehow, we sense that there is much more to it than that.

   One is also reminded of a quote by Nisargadatta somewhere in the book I AM THAT where he says that 'for some people their enlightenment needs to be pointed out, and that those cases are often the most reliable,' implying that you can sort of just 'slip' into it. But is this really so? Can one really slip into final enlightenment without knowing it?

   Shri Atmananda implies it is not possible:

   “To become aware of the fact that I am birthless and deathless is real liberation. To get established in that certitude is jivan-mukti.” (Notes on Spiritual Discourses, #1319)

   It is uncommon for people to have advanced stages of awakening without realizing what has happened, because intrinsic to enlightenment is an intuitive discrimination that realizes the implications of the nondual Reality, within and to our relative lives and understanding. In fact, it could be argued that at the very foundation of wisdom is this relative realization, because we are already Buddha-Nature. There is nothing to slip into other than the realization that this is so. So how can someone slip into that realization without knowing it? Enlightenment is something that happens 'within' relativity. The Tao is already the Tao, there is nothing to do or be. Only ignorant beings need to awaken, and both happen, ignorance and enlightenment, within Relativity. So it is our relative nature that becomes enlightened, and this happens by having insight into the nature of relative, dualistic experience, and realizing the difference between this and realizing our True Nature. This is wisdom. Deep satoris or glimpses are therefore only deep if they not only involve a powerful opening to direct realization of our True Nature, but also rich realization of the implications of that reality. If there are cases of someone 'slipping into the final state without realizing it', which I doubt, it would mean to me that they have attained rich relative wisdom at the level of their inner nature, but that, however, very little of the richness of that realization has manifested in their physical awareness, only the essence of the shift of perspective. This certainly has value, but most likely they have not slipped into the final state.

   Our understanding is that the core wisdom of the great traditions is always about discriminating between the Truth and Ignorance, and understanding the implications of realizing both. So, for instance, in Theravada Buddhism, when they speak of 'vipassana', which translates as 'clear seeing', what is being referred to is not only clear seeing into Buddha-Nature, but also into the 'Three Marks of Existence': anicca (impermanence), dukkha (the fact of suffering), and anatta (no-self), for it is through insight into these that wisdom arises about the futility of having attachments and aversions with regard to dualistic, relative experience, and thus awakens both an 'appreciation' for the Truth, and the other side of the same coin, the disillusionment with Samsara. This phrase needs repeating, for enlightenment, in fact, must be 'appreciated'. Awakening rests on this type of wisdom, whatever its emphasis may be.

   Therefore, it can with some justification be said that it is essentially our relative nature that gets enlightened.

   That - the depth of understanding - is what makes the final enlightenment of the Buddha so much more profound than someone having a glimpse - whether it lasts a few years or even the rest of their life, as some teachers may indeed have realized. [This is not meant to place great importance on trying to determine where one is at, only to put the quest in a greater perspective. The feeling that there is yet 'something more', even as things are 'just as they are', will come quite naturally in the course of practice if the fundamental quality of sincerity is there]. So, in the ten ox-herding pictures of Zen, for instance, as argued by Katsuki Sekida, in Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy, kensho commonly happens at three, but final kensho, coming after the 'great death', happens at nine, with jivan-mukta symbolized by picture ten. In the Buddha's original four-stage model (stream-enterer (sotapanna), once-returner (sakadagami), non-returner (anagami) , and Arhat), someone may reach ox picture number-three or 'stream enterer' in one life (a fundamental glimpse that grants shraddha or unshakable certainty that enlightenment is possible), and then next life have a second kensho or satori, reaching stage two, a much deeper level of integral realization, and think they are 'done', when that is not so. Again, the difference is in the deepening actualization of realization in our relative nature.

   One of the simple truths expressed in the ox-herding pictures is the notion that kenshos, if they do happen for someone, are generally an early stage experience compared to deeply ripened enlightenment sometimes preceded by a great kensho. What is also useful in the four stage model of Theravada Buddhism (stream entry to arhat) is that, in this view, if someone is practicing according to that tradition (which makes kensho or profound moments of awakening more likely or virtually certain, but they are less likely in many other forms of practice), then there will actually be four particularly pivotal kensho or satori experiences, usually spread out over more than one life, with only the last resulting in the transition to stable sahaja (2). One may also capitulate the sequence of 'jhana absorptions' in each life, but also at a deeper, richer level. And there can be many minor kenshos as well along the way, depending on the person's form of practice. It is held in that tradition, as well as in other parallel systems, that only until the third stage/core-satori/non-returner stage will the individual have deep access to the nondual 'view', and at that stage only during meditation. It is only after the fourth stage that the nondual view or realization is stabilized in ordinary awareness, which is why it is considered jivanmukta, because in this state, no more karma is being generated, as karma results from dualistic intentions, which have been transcended. So the Ox-herding pictures only speak specifically about the first stage/kensho at stage three, and then sahaja at stage ten. [The other two of the Buddha's original stages are not specifically indicated in these pictures]. Further, the Buddha's kensho, satori, or awakening may have been so profound because he had accomplished deep inversion or 'concentrative jhana' practice in reaching the third stage (or should we say recapitulate that stage, which must have been attained in previous lives), and then shifted to 'vipassana jhana'/insight practice, which became the context for having his culminating satori/realization.

   In the case of many other practitioners, if they have had the first (stream-enterer) in a previous life, for instance, and then have their second in this life, because each subsequent awakening is much richer and more thorough-going, then they feel that they have had something especially profound, which is often confused with a more advanced realization. Even what is esoterically known as enlightenment, when regained in a succeeding incarnation, will often have the quality of one 'being already realized', or 'there is no 'I', when this is not the ultimate truth, but rather the way the re-awakening, already previously achieved, is now felt. This fact is perhaps why many teachers and students feel that anyone can easily awaken as it seemed to happen for them, unawares that they had in fact worked for this achievement in a previous life. The 'reawakening' was apparently effortless and uncaused, but not the first awakening. That required a real transformation. [Yes, and even into the molecular structure of the various vehicles for the ensouled 'monad' (the primal unit of Energy-Consciousness-Matter) that is the source of all awareness but itself considered to be originally dormant until an involutionary and evolutionary journey through time and space. This is an interesting area for discussion, unfortunately beyond the scope of this essay. For an introduction, however, 'enlightenment' in esotericism occurs at a 'third initiation', when the consciousness of the 'soul', defined as a united causal body in the 'middle triad' (atma-buddhi-manas), illuminates, unites with and henceforth fully directs the ego or personal self (a 'lower triad' of physical, emotional, and mental bodies); perhaps this is what PB meant when he wrote that "the Overself will completely overtake him; it will make a mystical union with his own body"; This stage is the beginning of the end of duality, but not full Buddhahood, which is yet far off when a 'higher triad' of spiritual/divine/monadic 'bodies' becomes activated in stages in one who has 'graduated' from the Human Kingdom, and unites with the middle soul triad in an 'eighth initiation', which is said to have been the realization of Gautama when he came to earth already a seventh stage adept. As we said, this is a huge topic of research, using untraditional but yet specific terminology, which we must save for another time. The primary point to be made is that a reawakening may seem like a first awakening, when this is not actually so].

   Sekida said that the third ox stage can seem like the ninth for the novice, but they are night and day apart, just like Bankei said there was 'the difference between Heaven and Earth', and thirty years, from his first ecstatic breakthrough, to his final establishment. One needs to continue to proceed with 'beginner's mind', until consciousness is clarified for what it really is. There is an inevitable back-and-fill operation until a certain advanced point. At ox-stage four, for instance, when you see how, despite your true insight, your character hasn't changed, no matter how much you want it to, and that  isn't really a bad thing ("I got it, I lost it") but an inevitable oscillation to mature one's realization. Also, many zen masters have no kensho until the very end of their training. Suzuki Roshi's wife once said that he never talked about kensho 'because he never had one" - but that may have been a joke, and partly due to the fact that Suzuki Roshi, a Soto practitioner, came to the United States on the heels of D.T. Suzuki who had made a big deal about satori, while Soto emphasizes more 'just sitting' and cultivation of enlightenment in daily life. But no he certainly had 'path moments', many little awakenings in the course of his practice.

   An excellent although perhaps somewhat intimidating book on Theravada Buddhism, by U Pandita Sayadaw, is In This Very Life, which is apparently a phrase the Buddha often used. He exhorted his disciples not to think of enlightenment as a far off goal, or one that necessarily would take many lives, but to set the goal of attaining either the third or fourth stages 'in this very life'. He also said, though, that it depends on both level of effort (and we will add grace!) and also one's karmic situation. So he said, echoing ancient doctrine, even from the point of stream-entry it is possible it could take as many as seven more lives to reach the fourth, Arhat stage, though these need not all be in the human realm, and that it may be done in less, depending on various factors. Yet then someone like Dipa Ma or Sunlun Sayadaw or Ramana does it very fast (there are even stories from the Pali Cannon of some of the Buddha's disciples simply attending his talks and having direct realization and becoming arhats in that moment). But these are usually considered the result of practice in past lives, not going through all stages for the first time in one life. Usually it is considered fast to go through two or occasionally three stages in one life. Three would be very fast. But the Buddha also said the longest gap was usually between the first and second, as one is piercing identification with the astral/desire body at the second, and that's the heart of it for most people. So the Buddha said that it is common for the second stager to reach the fourth in either that life or the next.

   A cautionary note on unpredictability

   Before we go too far with this talk of stages let it be noted that progress can rarely be so easily measured in linear terms. PB wrote:

   "All classifications and systemizations of the mystical ascent are in a certain sense artificial and arbitrary. They exist to satisfy the intellect's requirements but of themselves they cannot satisfy the Oversell's requirements. Aspiration, faith, determination, sacrifice, or service may, if carried to extreme intensity, upset al such schemas and quickly win its Grace. The aspirant will pas through a succession of levels of spiritual awareness, each higher than the one before. But he will not pass through it mechanically and smoothly. Between the first step on the mystical path and the gaining of its glorious prize, an existence of ups and downs, of terrible darknesses and exhilarating enlightenments, of shameful weakness and satisfying endeavor, awaits him."

   "Owing to the presence of such unknown factors as grace and emotional stability, a fixed period cannot be assigned for development and it is not possible to make correct, generalized statements about the time required for its various stages. That is entirely a matter of the individual's situation, character, and the development he has brought over from former births. Also it would be wrong to suppose that during the ascent, these stages always and necessarily follow each other in the prescribed order. This would have to be the case if we were climbing a physical mountain like the matterhorn or if we were mastering an intellectual profession like law. But there is, first, an X-factor involved - Grace - and, second, delayed action tendencies or acquirements from former earth-lives. Therefore, the different stages may sometimes exist side by side."

   While the quest may certainly boil down to the undoing of wrong identification between ego and Overself, PB also explains that this is not generally a matter of just a simple cognitive shift:

   "This wrong identification is not only a metaphysical error but also a mental habit. We may correct the error intellectually but we shall still have to deal with the habit. So deeply ingrained is it that only a total effort can successfully alter it. That effort is called the Quest." (2b)

   To the traditional three-fold Buddhist path (tripitaka) of essentially metaphysical study, moral discipline, and meditation, PB adds religious veneration and altruistic service, making the symbol of the Quest a five-pointed star, which is also the symbol of man. The head, the heart, and the will must be matured until the ego is sufficiently balanced to be prepared for the influx of divine grace:

   "He has to develop religious veneration, mystical intuition, moral worth, rational intelligence, and active usefulness in order to evolve a fuller personality. Thus he becomes a fit instrument for the descent of the Overself into the waking consciousness." (2b)

   While one will certainly have intuitions and even glimpses of the goal, the Reality, many times along the way, this will not be a stable or permanent condition, except in the rare individual, until such direct vision is functionally integrated within the personality. That is what takes time, patience, courage and endurance.

   One of the most basic issues that spiritual teachers and students both seem to struggle with, in our experience, is figuring out - when progress seems slower than hoped for - whether the problem is the practice, or how well one understands the practice, or is simply the unavoidable reality of one's situation, which no tradition or technique hoping will solve. Many people, hopping from one thing to another for years, are still dissatisfied with something, whether it be the teaching, the teacher, the technique. Sometimes it is true, they need something better. But all too often it is mostly their situation. The path(s) they have been pursuing are fine, they just are not happy with their progress, and are unfairly blaming the technique or lineage or whatever. Often what they think they found elsewhere in their journey was already there in what they abandoned, they just were not wise enough to hear it or appreciate it. And there are plenty of teachers happy to confirm their beliefs that something better will have a dramatically different effect. And when a shift sometimes does happen, how do they know that that might not have happened if they had stayed put with Zen or Sufism or whatever they were doing? So it is a tricky business all this dissatisfaction and moving around. Some of it is fruitful, and some is just a lack of wisdom and acceptance.

   We have been speaking of vipassana, but even if one has taken to another path we believe those underlying structures/stages are still there, they may just not be as obvious. Whether one practices karma yoga, tantra/kundalini, shabd 'sound-current', direct path, bhakti, they are nevertheless there. These, as mentioned, all may not need accomplishment while on earth, depending on many factors. This has been mentioned in Buddhism, Sant Mat, and various Hindu teachings.

   In the Sufi tradition, while there are many schemas, there are basically said to be three main "stations of the Soul". A "station" is not a state, but a permanent stage. Anthony Damiani explains that the first of these is where one has had the realization, whether in the meditative experience of the Void, or through extreme purgation, or other means, that the ego as such is "empty". Thus, the principle of egotism, the 'reproductive soul' that demands earthly re-embodiment, dies. One still has an ego, but has become humble and capable of being instructed by his higher Soul. This is the second station and may take a long time. Finally, the third station is when the Soul permanently takes possession of the ego and one becomes a sage, essentially in nondual sahaj samadhi. And he says that this is a very high spiritual stage. (3)

   Returning to our discussion of Buddhism, one way of conceptualizing this progression on the traditional Buddhist path is like this. After a first 'path moment' or satori, there follows immediately follows states where the implications of this realization unfold. One can learn to sustain this state, call 'path review', wherein one basks in the afterglow of the nirvanic realization. But, if one wants to move forward towards final liberation, one must leave that behind, or renounce the fruition or review state, and re-engage the karmic stream or vasanas that have yet to be purified. This brings one back to the second vipassana-jnana, which is termed the stage of insight into the arising and passing away of phenomena, as in this state, intuitive insight is so lucid that one can witness moment to moment the arising in one's awareness of any given phenomena, and it's passing out of awareness. This is a powerful level of insight as it drives home the realization of the impermanence of phenomena, directly perceived, and so causes a strong natural falling away of attachments and desires, for they seem futile in the face of impermanence. This is not a conscious renunciation, but an organic process born of intuitive wisdom.

   Then, as layers of karma are released, and wisdom deepens from direct seeing into the nature of mind/body phenomena, one ripens into the third and fourth vipassana-jnanas, this time with a deeper cleansing of vasanas, and a more lucid intuitive insight then the last time around. With all of this will now also come what is termed pseudo-nirvana, the experience of many astral/energetic phenomena like kundalini, chakras opening, inner visions, beings, blissful states, rapture and so on. All this results from the fact that, having passed stream entry, one is now penetrating more deeply into one's subtler bodies, especially the astral/emotional, and many inner experiences may arise. But if one wants true freedom and wisdom, one must view all this in the same light (impermanent, lacking in a separate self-nature, and therefore unsatisfactory), which is more difficult and requires more insight/wisdom, because these experiences are so positive, unusual and interesting. Passing through the tests of pseudo-nirvana, one will eventually have, after again regaining the fourth vipassana-jnana and a new, deeper level of purification and wisdom, a second path moment will arise. This awakening will be very profound compared to the first kensho. Some folks will think they are pretty enlightened now. But if one then precedes in the same way as after the first, and goes back to the unresolved karmas, the second vipassana-jnana will re-emerge, more purification, more wisdom from pure observation, culminating in the third path moment/nirvanic realization. Now, one has purified the physical karmas fully, so that if one leaves one's body at this stage, there is no karmic compulsion to return. Another round of going back to the second vipassana-jnana will lead to final purification and a fourth path moment. This is jivan-mukti. One remains in a state of sublime equanimity and total clarity of awareness, even if still in a body. The Buddha called this 'nirvana with remaining elements', as one is still aware of the stream of phenomena, but is liberated from any karma or vasanas. The path between the third and fourth purifies very subtle karmas and desires.

   What we now suggest is significant, and may hold a key to understanding (intellectually anyway), some of the metaphysical reasons behind the notion of stages, is that these are not arbitrary delineations, but reflect a deep structure in human nature that is related to things like the bodies/planes and elements. In some way the four stages reflect mastery of the four elements: earth, water, fire, air, with a fifth being ether, and sometimes even a sixth (space or 'akasa') and a seventh (consciousness). So the science of stages of enlightenment, or stations of the soul, will be particularly clear and illuminating if it reveals and is based on these deep structures. But we also have to add many more aspects to the Buddhist model, because for a bhakti, they may follow the same core structure in some way, but the experiences will be somewhat different because of the style.

   For instance, when one understands Buddha's four stages (stream enterer, once returner, non-returner, and Arhat), with a fifth stage of nondual liberation beyond that - and four more initiations beyond even that, pertaining more to function and planetary and cosmic levels of boddhisattvahood - you will get a feel for why it is hard to say where someone is at. These basic four stages are archtypal and relate to 'initiations', the bodies, and elements, etc.. Thus, the first stage could relate to the transcendance and mastery of the physical body, the second to the purification of the astral body, the third the mental, and the fourth what they have called in theosophy the 'cracking of the causal or buddhi body',  freeing the 'jewel in the lotus', the true soul or Monad. This results in Arhatship. In Sant Mat that would be the stage beyond ParBrahm or the three bodies where one is then termed a ‘Sadh’. It is free of birth and death as long as the cosmic cycle lasts, but still not full liberation or adeptship. It leads to that. The fifth stage, of nonduality, in this system would be Sach Khand. However, remember that traditionally in Buddhism each stage has corresponding four sub-stages, where one recapitulates at a higher level what one has done in the lower stage, with a 'fifth' stage, satori or 'path moment' in each, anticipating the eventual actualization of full nondual realization. Buddha talked of this in terms of passing through all of the vipassanna jhanas in each incarnation, at successively higher levels, but this schema could well be adapted to schools such as bhakti, shabd, etc.. So stage four, the transcendance of the causal body would be like a crucifixion of the ego, or dark night experience, and could happen as a substage in  every major stage. So it would be quite difficult to say where anyone was at in their process. The clearest indicator is their relative wisdom, discrimination,  and character. Any 'path-moment after stream enterer will feel very liberating, a nondual glimpse, and this is often when many hang out their shingle and begin teaching. This is not always a bad thing, as a teacher - as particularly noted in the Theravada tradition - may not need to be perfect in order to properly serve others. However, to be a guide throughout life and death, in Sant Mat, for instance, it would indeed require such completion. In that school, they speak of a maximum of four more lives, after one’s initial initiation until one reaches the realization of Sach Khand (for those who keep the precepts). There is a grace factor present on such a path that also has to be taken into account. But the archtypal stages will still be gone through. It could all occur in one life, so one never knows. But one can see what is fundamentally involved.

   Also, some people will emphasize meditation, whether more mindful or more inversion, and others more karma yoga, so these will all have their own flavor. And, again, the factor of grace may be more prominent on different paths, particularly for those under the solicitude of an enlightened realizer. So a comprehensive model must honor all these styles and types.

   As mentioned, one reason that the Buddha's final enlightenment or kensho experience was so definitive may have been because he had undertaken, over lifetimes, a profound inversion practice - 'concentrative jhanas' - followed by 'vipassana jhanas' or insight practice. Thus it was his whole being that was transformed and not only his mind that had awakened.

   Buddhist Master Achaan Cha preferred to emphasize cultivating mindfulness in daily life, rather than intensive vipassana meditation, so he would not describe it the same way, exactly. But the underlying patterns are still there is some way, regardless of path. At each transition approaching a path moment, there is a dark night of the soul, then, after ripening, as satori. The final dark night (like, for instance even, the 'Mahasunn' in Sant Mat) happens when approaching the fourth stage of enlightenment. But since one has gone through them before at earlier stages, the effect is different, and one has more wisdom and skill about it. By adding in material from numerous other sources like shamanism, Sufism, kundalini/tantric paths, Daskalos, Zen, Dzogchen, Sant Mat, one can flush out a much richer and clearer understanding of each stage and substage. But that work has not been done yet. It is a huge project!

   PB wrote of three main stages: the Witness, or dis-identification with the ego, rebirth in the Overself as individual soul, and then fully grown union with the Overself as nondual consciousness. These could also be said to correspond to the main 'stations' on the Sufi path: fana (annihilation), baqa (subsistence in Allah), and 'union with Allah'. This is similar to that described by Damiani above.

   The notion of the witness actually demands a complete discussion of its own, but, in brief, true stabilization of the witness stage is identification with consciousness, an awareness of no subject but objects still arising - peace, profound peace - but with still a sense of separation between the contents of consciousness (objects) and consciousness itself. So real is the peace compared to one's former position that many, teachers included, see this - identification with as consciousness and seeing all as arising in consciousness - as the final goal. Yet it is not. I find it interesting that direct path teacherGreg Goode has treated this stage as one in which there is no hurry or about the witness 'collapsing', that it can be allowed to happen or not in its own good time, while Anthony Damiani said of PB that he was 'in agony' during this transition period before the attainment of true sahaj. Perhaps the different attitudes depend on the depth of realization involved, as per the stages we have mentioned. But, in any case, the important point is that once a glimpse has been realized one will undoubtedly - with variations due to previous lifetimes of practice - go through many twists and turns in actualizing this realization fully in daily life. PB has written many eloquent passages addressing this fact:

   "If it is to be a continuous light that stays with him and not a fitful flash, he will need to first, cast all negative tendencies, thoughts, and feelings out of his character; second, to make good the insufficiencies in his development; third, to achieve a state of balance between his faculties."

   "The continued existence of this experience, the lengthening of this glimpse into perpetual vision, is something that cannot be brought about without patience, care, effort, guidance, and grace."

   "That initial realization has henceforth to be established and made his own under all kinds of diverse conditions and in all kinds of places. Hence his life may be broken up for years by a wide range of vicissitudes, pains, pleasures, tests, temptations, and tribulations."

   And, further, regarding the need for a balanced enlightenment of all of a man's faculties in order to pass from a mystical or yogic goal to that of a philosopher-sage, realizing sahaj samadhi effortlessly whether within or without of meditation, he says:

   "If the truth is sought for with every faculty of a man's being, its illumination when found will enter every faculty too."

   "If he brings only a part of his ego into the Quest, then only a part of it will become enlightened and only a part of his activities will show the effects of enlightenment."

   "So long as he is living exclusively in one side of his being, so long as there is no balance in him, what else can his view of life be but an unbalanced one? Nor will the coming of illumination completely set right and restore his balance. It will certainly initiate a movement which will ultimately do this, but the interval between its initiation and its consummation may be a whole lifetime."

   "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 his 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."

   On this note the following quote by Adyashanti speaks of the need to 'marry' direct insight into conscious with the deep 'imprints' in the psycho-somatic organism in order for one's realization to be firm:

   "Even though insight often has to do with what is bigger than or transcendent of body-mind also our bodies are very much a part of those insights. The insights go beyond them but they very much there and its the somatic part of the insight because that's where the old conditioned grooves are. Your somatic structure, right? That's where they are. [The old crappy imprinting]. Right, there's the intellectual conditioning, even though that can be really difficult for people to see through and get rid of, but the somatic imprinting, that's something different. And so that's why I always tell people when you have any kind of moment of spiritual clarity, that you let your system feel it. You let it partake of it. Don't just go, 'Oh, yeah, okay, got it, well done!' and then go off to the next thing because then there's no imprinting and in the realm of insight you may have seen the truth but your body, it goes right back to the old imprinting. Then you wonder why, how can I know something and at the same time not know it? Do you know what I mean? 'I know that but why is it that I don't know it?' 'I know that but why did I say that and I know its not true?' And that's because that's often the split between insight and the whole body-mind. On the level of insight you know it but your body is still operating on the old conditioning. So when you slow it down you receive the insight not only the intellectual part but also down to the physical somatic part...It literally reimprints your body with that true perception. Once it imprints down to the somatic level, that's it. There's no losing it. There's no 'got it, lost it' because your whole system has got it, not just a part of you." (6)

   This quote confirms, for two reasons, my feeling why Adya often appears to be one of the more realistic among the newer teachers. One, this adds to the teachings on the necessity of 'embodying realization', and, two, it is also very much in line with what many deep feeling and psycho-somatic therapies have been saying for quite some time. There was even a book years ago by Arthur Janov called "Imprints". In essence what they are saying is that there is much traumatic or 'wounded' material (essentially inherited, but 're-activated' karmically in this life) that is imbedded in the subconscious mind which, if not brought to consciousness, at least sufficiently to free enough energy and attention for the soul's essential purposes, continues to act as a generator of thought patterns and reactivity such that we can not hold our insight or enlightenment very long. We are simply not yet 'fitted' for it. One way of looking at this is that our 'relative' nature has not been sufficiently enlightened for our 'absolute' nature to prevail. In the vipassana tradition it is only insight or clear seeing, mindfulness and non-judgemental awareness, that allows this content to be brought up to be cleared; concentrative meditation (samatha or samadhi), by temporarily calming the mind suppresses mundane hindrances like restlessness, dullness, etc., is considered preparatory 'yoga' to grant the space to penetrate to fundamental insight, which alone is capable of granting liberation. Such samatha is considered necessary but not sufficient, yet without it one is termed a 'dry meditator'. The best is a complement of both practices.

   Anthony Damiani once was talking about vasanas, or inherited tendencies, and he asked us still very young questers, "do you have any idea how strong these are?" I, for one, had no idea. It took quite a while to discover their strength. The only thing I wonder about is that sometimes one may get the impression that Adyashanti makes it sound all too easy to simply connect the direct spiritual insight with these imprints and the revelation of their 'psycho-somatic insights' that are necessary for wholeness. However, in the account of his own realization he did say, "You may think it was easy. Well, it wasn't." Therefore, it could be a relatively graceful process, and one needn't necessarily do fifty years of therapy, zazen or vipassana meditation - although, given the depths of delusion, one might (!) - but these tendencies are ancient, and, as Adya also said, and I believe would be seconded by many teachers, it generally is difficult, "unless one has the karmic load of a gnat!"

   This consideration has very much to do with the qualifications necessary in those who have taken on the role of a teacher. Someone at stage one (stream enterer) in the Buddha's system obviously should not get the same form of guidance as someone in stage three. This means a great deal of maturity is needed for one who claims the position of a guru. To lecture is one thing, but, even there, to make claims and utter words meant for all is a tricky business. For instance, there are many who say things like, 'the only true meditation is to see all as arising in consciousness'. Ramesh Balsekar has done so frequently, and there are many others. This may be ultimately true, but also may not be the most efficient way to teach those on a level where they are really not capable of making full use of such instruction. They may think they are, and in moments such wisdom may be useful, and, further, one may at any stage have kenshos, satoris, and suchlike 'epiphanies', but what is the fundamental level of reality for a person is what should have the most weight in determining the basic practice they engage in. Not the 'highest practice', but the one they are most capable of, and which is most transformative. That is, in fact, the 'highest' or most 'perfect' practice.

   Chogyam Trungpa was one of the first spiritual teachers coming to the West who tried to make this point, in talks and books such as Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. I think many traditional teachers - the better ones anyway - have always had their version of this 'embodying' teaching, once you really engaged them, call it ''man-making', 'getting real', 'becoming human', or whatever, only it was not always made so explicit, direct and clear.

   To us, deep awakening comes hand in hand with facing the great sorrowful truth of dukkha, the Buddha's First Noble Truth. Only by steadily looking this truth in the eyes can we truly become disillusioned with samsaric existence and awaken.

   Some people think that spiritual teaching is glamorous. But when it is real it is not. It is just work. And often hard work because one has to deal with adjusting ego-reactions to the path, damage control from wrong teachings and practices, authority issues, and the like.

   Might part of the reason that people are attracted to the modern advaita, quick awakening gurus is that they make is sound so easy? Perfect for impatient westerners. Of course we all want to proceed by the most direct route. When a friend of mine visited Christian mystic Daskalos in Cyprus 1992, however, he said that perhaps the biggest problem he had with the constant stream of visitors and potential new students was that many folks were so impatient. They really were not willing to take the long vision and settle into patient, humble step by step practice. The quick enlightenment group of teachers may unwittingly capitalize on or exploit this flaw, indulging it at the students expense. Such is part of samsara.

   A second quote of Adya's that I feel is more of an example of this leaning is as follows. As I said, I have a respect for him as I feel he is more balanced than many teachers today, and therefore I hesitate to use this as an example. But consider this one simply on its own (with a better quote to follow):

   "Adya: For moments when the struggle is not there, or its relaxed a little bit then you can remember this is about my sense of myself, right?  Getting underneath all the judgments, all the opinions, the whole belief structure, the whole sense of self you inherited from family, culture, and education and all the ways that we acquire more and more dense sense of self, more and more defined sense of who we are. And the key is to look at actual experience instead of in concept.  What am I when I don't think about myself?  What am I then? And your mind can go, 'Hmm, let me see...' We're looking for the right answer.  Spiritual inquiry is not meant to get the right answer.  If you get the right answer, you got it wrong.  Spiritual inquiry is meant to take your mind and bring it down into actual experience. Right?  So what is underneath this whole  turmoil?  What's the experience?  What is the direct experience of that which is having all the experience?  If you really follow and if you're not trying to get the right answer which is the key to inquiry, its not a test, its not like being in school.  When you follow it you actually get the answer every single time you ask the question.  It's there, every single time. For most people it takes several hundred times before they notice what they were given the first time.  And then when they notice what they were given the first time they go...oh! It's not because it was given anew but because they realized it for the first time.  As an example when you turn that awareness back, you can language it different ways, if you just look at it, just follow it, okay what...am...I? And in a brief instant, what...am...I?  And there it is.  It's not an answer in your mind, right?  So often when I really guide people there they go, first they go, 'I don't know' cause they're still trying to get the answer and then I say, 'no, what did you experience that caused you mind to go, 'I don't know?' Even if you said 'I don't know?' you said 'I don't know' for a reason. When you really slow it down you realize you mind aid 'I don't know?' because you thought that you were supposed to  find something, namely yourself,  whatever that might be." 

   Q: After you asked that question that's the first moment my mind was really quiet.

   "Adya:  That's right!  The question worked. In that split instant its completely free of any identity.  It's just quiet...awake...space.  Its right there isn't it.  Every single time.  Which time will we notice it, 'oh that!.  It couldn't be that!'  Maybe it is."

   There certainly is some truth in all that, but the real breaking through to these realizations in a practical way that leads to a stable, integrated enlightenment, in our opinion, requires so much more, that quotes similar to this from teachers without the same level of discrimination often feel like they may be selling awakening short. Let us speak plainly. We have personally seen students who have been exposed to such teachings for years yet do not appear to show significant signs of real awakening or character improvement. Using 'direct pointing' techniques like these with people who are not that close to being really able to integrate them can be an unskillful approach. And in some cases it may also be a sign of lack of compassion in the teacher (not understanding where your students are really at, and what is actually working for them), and can also represents a less than optimally integrated awakening. In less skillful teachers an underlying attitude of ego and spiritual superiority sometimes comes across. Direct pointing certainly has an application at every stage. If a teacher is wise and compassionate and skillful, they point directly at the state of being and presence that is emergent for that person at their stage, in their own style, so that their instruction has personal relevance, pointing out what is accessible and can therefore be practically worked with and integrated. This will obviously only be practical among small groups, not mass audiences. Yet to point out that which is beyond a student's reach is sometimes an ego indulgence of the teacher who needs to show off to students at their expense, subtlety making them feel inadequate that they cannot get it, or worse, encouraging them into believing they have realized something they have not. Many folks are sidetracked in their practice by such teachings, not because, as in other cases, they cannot get it but hang around and keep trying, but because they think they have when they have not.

   To be fair, the retreat from which these passages are taken must be considered as a whole. What Adya is actually pointing to in this particular quote, however, is not nondual awakening, but rather formless states of stillness and mental silence. Of course, they are not the same, and many teachers make this error. A more humble and true approach, in my opinion, for many, would be to identify the truth of these qualities and states (like silence, stillness, contentment, non-striving, peace) as soul qualities that, when cultivated in many different ways, will provide a foundation for true nondual awakening, which transcends even them while being fully integrated with everything. Then we are being honest about what the practice really is, and we need to acknowledge that this is gradual work over decades and lifetimes. To hold up a narrow slice of formless experience as 'getting it', and having students wonder for years whether they 'get it' or not, for some teachers makes a travesty of what realization is, and the path to its realization. Without getting into extensive analysis of the issue at this point, what it boils down to, in the opinion of most traditional teachers, is the inseparability of both virtue and wisdom.

   Here is another way in terms of the stages of development mentioned above: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or stream-entry, once-returner, non-returner, etc. Spiritual practices optimally would be tailored to the stage of the practitioner. One doesn't, most skillfully, teach 1st stagers the same as 3rd stagers, even though to outward appearances they may seem to be at the same level. This is where great maturity in their relative natures is needed on the part of the teacher. And the reality is that the percentages are basically something like this. These are rough 'guesstimates'. Contrary to our wishes, there has yet been no mass shift of a global nature. I realize some may dispute this. But let's say the vast majority of our current humanity are pre-1st stage. Much less than 1% is past the 1st. I would guess that less than 10% are fast approaching the 1st (in this or the next couple of lifetimes). Out of those that are nearing or past the 1st, less than 10% have passed the 2nd, and much less than 1% have passed the 3rd. Consider, then, that advanced nondual practices that emphasize and require substantial access to nondual awareness should only be emphasized with those around the 3rd. Emphasizing those teachings with those before that stage is both unskillful and often deluded. That is not to say that those before this stage cannot benefit from nondual teachings, and can have glimpses and even satoris, but this state will not be accessible even in meditation very profoundly, much less in daily life, and so to emphasize it is folly. Emphasis should be placed on working with states and practices that are more naturally accessible to have greatest effectiveness and efficiency. Practices around the 1st stage should generally emphasize karma yoga (character building, selflessness, and so on) as the foundation, and meditation to the extent that karma and inclination permits. Those around the second stage are typically more ripe for more intensive meditation (although many around the 1st can also do intensive meditation), and, if so inclined, are particularly suitable for tantric practices that accelerate awakening by transforming personal energies, desires, emotions, etc. This is also where practices like shabda yoga, for instance, take off. The first life of such an initiate is often largely spent developing devotion and character, so say some of their gurus.

   But one can just stay with karma yoga, and simple meditations (in the sense that they may not be based in a more tantric sensibitlity, or involve work with chakras, etc) like vipassana during this stage, rather than including more sophisticated approaches of a tantric nature (whether they be like Daskalos's Tree of Life/kabalistic practices, Hindu tantra, light and sound, Tibetan practices like the Six Yogas, advanced chi gong, or Taoist alchemical practices). They are all tantric styles. But the point is, that even though the intuition of transcendent levels is increasingly accessible at around stage two, it is still not most efficient to shift to emphasizing nondual contemplation. That would actually slow things down from the optimal approach. This general kind of understand is held in many great teachings and traditions, East and West, and, next to this understanding, some of the new teachers, for instance, tend to look very much like amateurs, at best slow and inefficient, and at worst, deluded, misguiding and ego-inflated.

   Adya, in condensed form, does, however, point out the inevitable necessary progression involved in getting to the point of steadily contemplating the empty nature of the ego and the reality behind it. He has elsewhere made it clear that a total transformation is required, that it is not just a realization or awakening. And this is, of course, very mature and useful advise. In the end it all depends on how 'ripe' one is as to the effectiveness of a 'direct pointing' form of teaching on its own:

   "Adya: So, often but not always but often one's spirituality, spiritual search, it often will begin with some unexpected, uncalled for, unsought after moment of some experience of something beyond ego.  It can happen in childhood, it can happen as an adolescent, it can happen as an adult.  It can be just a moment, it doesn't have to be particularly powerful or overwhelming at all, it can be just a little sort of  blip in an otherwise ordinary day.  But something that indicates that there is something other than your idea of yourself.  Often people's spiritual path starts with something like that.  It's what lights up the intrigue.  There is something else.  What is that?...The power of even the smallest glimmer can realign a sort of life orientation. And it marks really the beginning of spiritual life [Note: this is so, in each life, or each 'stage', in the long view]. Some people of course come to spirituality, not necessarily out of a moment like that, just out of abject suffering.  It's just so difficult, life is so contracted, life is so burdensome, that ego just sort of naturally starts to reach out beyond itself as if to say 'there's got to be something more than this.'  Often these little tiny shimmering moments of 'yes, there is something.'  There is something other then that.  Experientially, you know?  And that initiates ones spiritual life.  And then at some point, who knows when it is, once that life has been initiated, at some point in there you will, the ego starts to look into itself.  Because that's the beginning of the spiritual movement, movement within, right?  The ego starts to look within itself. First it just encounters its own stuff. So maybe you start to meditate and you think, 'Gosh, I was better off before I started!'   'At least I didn't even know how many destructive thoughts I had.'  'I didn't know how confused I was.'  'I didn't actually know how lost I was.'  'I thought I was a rather intelligent person until I listened to my mind'...So when people start to look inside that's often the first thing they encounter, rather surprised by it and they wonder if it was a good idea to start to look within at all.  And then at some point you see, you experience, something that lies at the very center of the ego."

   "What lies at the center of ego is, its a doorway out of it.  It's a doorway beyond it.  But what lies at the very center of ego is very much like a black hole.  It's a void.  It's experienced subjectively as void so I am not talking philosophically or theologically, simply experientially. It's experienced as an inner void, there's nothing there which means at that moment you are seeing through the superficialities of ego, you are seeing into its center.  In it's center, there's no reflection any more.  There's nothing there.  Ego starts to see its absence. And it generally confounds it and often scares the daylights out of it because it does not know what to make out of it.  The only thing it can usually make out of it is something quite frightening and intimidating  and strangely enough, very alluring too. Cause there's often this thread, this thin thread of intuition, that that void at the center of ego holds a kind of power.  There's something quite intriguing about it as well as people being quite frightened by it but there's something very intriguing about it.  So it's sort of a push-pull thing.  You are sort of pulled towards it and the ego retracts from it. So it goes for as long as it goes."

   "You of course can find this all on your own because its always there. It's also one of the spiritual teacher's first jobs.  A good spiritual teacher whoever they may be, one of the first jobs is to show you that.  What I mean by show you that is to, it's almost like turning up a dimmer switch and you just turn it up really loud so people see it.  And you see it.  You might not know what to do with it but you experience it.  Unless your mind is still noisy or still resisting or still philosophizing or something, then you won't notice it.  But that's part of what's called the transmission.  The transmission isn't one thing given to another, it's just like the dimmer switch on that void is just turned up a bit.  And then you start to experience it.  You may not be able to sustain the experience of it yet because there may still be too much noise and conflict nonetheless you'll know it's there, you'll experience it, you'll taste it."

   "Same thing can happen all by yourself. You don't need a teacher to help you with this
[Note: again, this is a two-sided coin; the greatest of sages have generally disagreed]. Then at some point in some way you move into that void, into that blankness, into that darkness, into that place where the ego gazes at this sort of black hole at its center. [Note: this is no small thing and could take a lifetime, or even longer, and, as noted, in various stages] The thing that its always moved away from, always run away from, never wanted to deal with, never wanted to look at.  And by the way the ego also interprets that..that hole, the emptiness at its center as a sort of deficiency.  Its that place around which all the stories of insufficiency will be wrapped.  It will be what's used as proof that you're not worthy after all, that you're not good enough after all, that you're not deserving after all.  Does that make sense?  You have all your own personal reasons that reinforce that during your life but essentially at an intuitive level that black in an almost unconscious way will be referenced as proof that there's something somehow, intrinsically wrong.  Cause the ego doesn't really know any other way to really interpret it.  There's this hole in the middle of me! There's this void therefore there must be something wrong.  That's its interpretation.  And life experience as it always does, you will sift out all the life experience that doesn't confirm that and you will bring into you all the life experience that does confirm your conclusion.  But at some point you will sort of move into it or you'll stop resisting it. [Note: the depth of emotional purification for this to become real may be immense, as testified by the annals of mysticism and spirituality; that is my main caveat with this form of teaching, which Adya himself admits, is a simple model of how it works] It often will be totally something that will be quite spontaneous. Your resistance will give way perhaps because you finally have the proper amount of courage.  Perhaps because you just stopped resisting it, you stopped fighting it, you made a little mistake and relaxed.  Perhaps because you go through something difficult,  some life trauma and you just don't have the energy and the sort of psychic will to keep pushing away from it, and so you just kind of fall into it though deep suffering.  And the you fall through this, into this.  And when you sort of finally however it happens go through it, you realize it is like a hole at the center of the ego, its like a portal.  Its a portal into true emptiness.  Its a portal into the divine. And as soon as you experience it that way at that instant its no longer experienced as a deficiency.  As something lacking.  You experience that same portal, its like you finally move through it, you finally give way to it without getting caught in the whirl wind of  negative thinking and it just takes you right through it.  At that moment you, its usually some version of what we would call someone's first awakening.  As soon as you move through it your experience of self, your experience of what you are changes.  No longer is your sense of self, your sense of identity exclusively housed within your ego structure.  It doesn't mean the structure completely collapses necessarily but because you've gone through it, you know there's something else, you don't have to be told, you don't have to believe, you don't have to imagine.  You know there's something else."

   "So you move beyond that, so as I said one of the spiritual teachings first things to do is to point out, is to show you experientially that emptiness at the center of ego.  Having that pointed out to you experientially may be frightening, may be disorienting, it probably will be in some way, until its penetrated.  When it's penetrated it's actually the source of great freedom, great relief, great release."

   "That doesn't mean they won't get caught in it again because you've just gone through the hole in the ego and you might go 'Whoopee!' and at some point the ego goes, 'Whoa! Wait a minute, he or she has left the house.  Let's get her or him back in the house.  How do we do that?' Just start contracting.  Just start doing the same old thing.  Right?  Contract, contract, contract, contract.  It's almost like being sucked back into the thing.  All of a sudden you are in those ill fitting clothes again.  What the hell happened?  How did this occur?  I don't know.  I saw it as a flimsy illusion, how did it get me again?  Of course something is very different then.  One of the big differences is now you know, you know with an absolute certainty that there is something beyond the ego.  Before you hoped, now you know.  And the taste of that knowing is always there
[In fact, that is what it means to be a 'stream-enterer']. In fact the actual experience of it is always there.  It may not be as huge as the first moment you went through that black hole.  It may be at times, even when the ego structure is contracting all around it, it may be the experience of something very, very infinitesimal in a way  but still the experience of that freedom if you really look closely, you'll find it's always there.  Always there.  And one of the keys to experiencing it with a consistency is when your ego stops insisting it be experienced in the way it wants it to be experienced.  The ego wants it to be experienced in a big way, in a dramatic way, all the time... And that desire is.. just the ego partaking of that freedom and saying 'this is how I want it to be!' And so for alot of people..there ensues this sort of back and forth. You know, contractions and releases, contractions and releases.  It's almost like labor pains or something.  One moment you can seem to be caught and the next moment you're not, you're free because once you've gone through, the doorways open.  It's much more permeable.  And the journey at that point, what it calls for is an attention, an attuning, to that quiet awake space inside.  That's what it's all about." (8)

   Yes, these 'osscillations' constitutes the vissicitudes on the path. They are how consciousness clarifies itself. It is not 'wrong' for this to happen. And it continues for quite some time. Let's not underestimate what is really involved. But, further, the goal is not just the 'quiet awake space within'. Beyond the quiet, say many traditions, there lies the divine Uncreated Word or Holy Spirit in all its power and glory, and an unearthly Silence beyond that. The 'depths to this thing' truly exceed human fathoming. And, as Adya alludes to, there are different portals to entry, not only to the path, but into this 'emptiness' or 'voidness'. Fear is only one of them. A difficulty with quotes like this (taken in isolation), is that one may get the impression that this is the only way it happens - that it always happens like this. We don't think that is Adya's true intention.

   People, however, are not only drawn to the spiritual path for very many different reasons, but their experiences of inspiration and insight are of many types also, not just what are described here, which is only one particular way of progressing and opening. Not that it is a bad mode of expression, but that it is only a small part of the total potential for awakening and the many ways and implications of it. Very often, moreover, those who have been properly prepared will usually not be scared or distressed by encountering the 'void' - that is often a sign that they have opened prematurely to it, just as someone can have premature kundalini awakening. Sometimes, not always (nothing in life is 'always'!), this is more a fault of the teacher than an inevitable part of the path.

   A good book on all of this is Jack Kornfield's After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path, which has a section with several chapters on different Gates of Awakening. The four main ones he talks about (and there are more) are The Gate of Sorrow, the Gate of Emptiness, The Gate of Oneness, and The Gateless Gate, or the Gate of the Eternal Present. Each is a whole chapter - a rich description.

   What many western nondual teachers may not understand it that the majority of practitioners open gradually to deeper and deeper spirituality through what could be called the' path of virtue or spiritual qualities'. They slowly, in fits and starts and trials and tribulations, grow in awareness, acceptance, contentment, peace, clarity, wisdom, openness, humility, purity, strength, equanimity, groundedness, love, compassion, devotion, surrender. From such a space they may slip' into the void without high drama. One doesn't usually just pierce through the mind and ego into the void! There is a vast intermediate realm of soul, heart, virtue and wisdom. In fact, in many cases people who think they are accessing the void are really accessing formless soul states. Words like 'void', presence, emptiness, stillness, silence, ground, nondual, can easily be, and often are, mistaken for such soul states. That is, people open to the vast stillness, spaciousness and simplicity of formless soul states, and call it the void or emptiness or nonduality and so on. It is a common confusion. So when one sees teaching that skips over, marginalizes or does not recognize the presence and significance of the soul/virtue level of presence, then it can often be the case that both the 'teacher' and their students are commonly confused about what is what. But the soul states are states of wholeness, peace and clarity, so they are certainly satisfying to realize, even in glimpses, and so it is not surprising they are confused with nondual states.  And cultivation of these qualities are what accounts for the time factor with realization from within the dimension of relativity.

   PB continues:

   "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 being perfect."

   "The need of predetermining at the beginning of the path whether to be a philosopher or a mystic arises only for the particular reincarnation where attainment is made. Thereafter, whether on this earth or another, the need of fulfilling the philosophic evolution will be impressed on him by Nature."

   "The student travels through the different stages on the journey to supreme truth. But without competent guidance he may fall into the error of mistaking one of the stages for the truth itself. He does not usually understand that there is a graded series of developments, each one of which looks like the truth itself, and that only after all these have been passed through can he reach the glorious culminating goal."

   "There are mystics who experience the Overself in its glow of love and joy of freedom, but without receiving knowledge of the cosmic laws, principles, and secrets. There are other mystics who are not satisfied with the one alone but seek to unite and complete it with the other. They are the philosophical mystics for whom the meaning of the self and the meaning of the world have become two sides of the same coin."

   "On the ultimate path...we begin after having passed through yoga, and having found peace. Then we seek truth. The latter when found reveals that the Overself is present in all men - nay, all creatures - as their ultimate being. We not only know this but FEEL it. So we cannot remain indifferent to the lives of others. Therefore - and now is revealed a great secret - when we attain liberation from the endless-turning wheel of reincarnation, we voluntarily return again and again to earth solely to help others, mitigate suffering, and reduce ignorance. So long as one creature lives in ignorance and pain, so long a true adept MUST return to earth. But this applies only to the adepts in WISDOM. The adept in yoga does not want to return to earth again, does not feel for others, and is happy in enjoying his exhalted peace. He is quite entitled to this because he has worked for it. But he has not attained Truth, which is a higher stage. There is a tremendous difference in the goal we seek. the yogi's aim is a sublime selfishness; the true adept's is a burning desire to serve humanity...Nevertheless, yoga is an essential stage through which all must pass, for mind must be controlled, sharpened, and purified, and peace must be attained before he is fit to undertake the great inquiry into what is Truth."

   "Through the disappearance of the world during mystical meditation he finds out its non-materiality. This is the Glimpse. But with his return to the world his glimpse changes into a memory only. How to establish it permanently, this harmony between inner and outer world, is discoverable only when living and active in the world yet thoroughly understanding the mentalistic nature of the world."

   "Such development comes only after many births. And since this truth has to be lived, it must be in practice and not only in theory. Before a man comes to this truth, this mentalism, much time is needed to enable his mind to develop and receive it."

   "When we comprehend what it is that must go into the making of a sage, how many and how diverse the experiences through which he has passed in former incarnations, we realize that such a man's wisdom is part of his bloodstream."

   "The longer the road, the loftier the attainment, and only those who take the time and trouble to traverse the whole length of the way may expect to gain all the fruits..He who stops part of the way may only expect to gain part of the result."

   Yet even while working for this noble realization one can, and must, strive for a higher ideal and purpose in daily life, as in, "BE who you ARE," yes, but also "be all you can be" - for others. These two pillars constitute the foundation of the way, in most authentic traditions:

   "He does not need to be conscious of a clearly defined mission before he sets about doing something for the enlightenment of others. There is always some means open to him, some little thing he can do to make this knowledge available or to set an example of right living."

   "Philosophy rejects the egocentric ideal of the lower mysticism and..trains its votaries from the very start to work altruistically for humanity's enlightenment. No man is so low in the evolutionary scale that he cannot help some other men with a rightly placed word, cannot strike a flickering match in their darkness, cannot show the example of a better life."

   "Moreover he may take refuge in the words of Tripura, an archaic Sanskrit text, which, if its archaic idiom be translated into modern accents, says: "An intense student may be endowed with the slenderest of good qualities, but if he can readily understand the truth - however theoretically - and expound it to others, this act of exposition will help him to become himself imbued with these ideas and his own mind will soak in their truth. This in the end will lead him to activate the Divinity within himself."

   To return to and finish our earlier model, a famous Zen master said, "first enlightenment, then we deal with the evil karma." This may relate to the kensho experienced in the third of the ox-herding pictures, where in the fourth-ox picture one realizes, "oh my gosh, my personality and relative nature has not changed, and there is more work to do!" In reality, there is no time limit for this transition, so we needn't be disheartened! No one knows what stage they are in, based on past karma and development. And there is the mysterious factor of Grace to consider. We are also in its embrace at all times, which must never be forgotten. "In this very life!" the masters never tire of reminding us.

   One might again consider that the most 'perfect' or 'efficient' practice is the one a person is most capable of actually practicing at any point in time. This may not be pure nondual contemplation, Dzogchen rigpa, or the like. While the reality, but often far-away goal, is always useful to ponder, it may not be one's main resort. Rather, a humble karma yoga and so-called 'beginner' technique such as a mantra meditation, mindfulness, or the 'Jesus prayer' may be what is most useful. What was a 'waste of time' for Sri Nisargadatta may not be such for you. Ramesh was wrong: these are 'real' forms of meditation. Of course this is an highly individual matter. Yet as vipassana master Anagarika Munindra, teacher of Dipa Ma and many others, once remarked:

   "Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche spoke about the Hinayana as a foundational vehicle, not the lesser vehicle, and how crucial that foundation was because, without it, Vajrayana was like building a beautiful mansion on a frozen lake. And we all know what happens when the lake thaws." (10)

   In Category 23, chapters 1-5 of his Notebooks, PB wrote much on the 'Long Path' and the 'Short Paths', and a version of these paths (of gradual evolution through stages, and sudden or direct enlightenment/recognition/illumination) on investigation are found within most spiritual traditions. Those unfamiliar with this distinction are highly encouraged to refer to the hyperlink above for a detailed description and analysis of these two paths and when either may be true or not true in the individual case. This material adds much 'depth' and balance to (and may be said to be required course work for) the present discussion. The reader may also refer to our brief summary article on this aspect of PB's teachings. In brief, the Long Path stage is for those who are yet identified with the ego, whether gross or subtle, and are involved with self-improvement, disciplines, character building, 'karma yoga', self-introspection, concentration, meditation, and the like, while the Short Path is for those who have had a glimpse of the ego's unreality and can rest somewhat from their earlier labors and focus on the more direct path of inquiry into, contemplation of, and identification with the higher reality. While, for instance, on the Long Path one is concerned with working on oneself and becoming more and more aware of what stuff he is made of what is going on within, i.e., one's faults and shortcomings, etc., on the Short Path he is less and less aware of all that even to the point of ignoring it altogether, and God, Grace, or Overself is the prime mover and focus of his path - not himself. The Long Path is encapsulated by the expressions, "Those who seek shall find" and "God helps those who help themselves," while on the Short Path it is "Those who do not seek shall find" and "God helps those who do not help themselves." The preparatory Long Path is the "quest for God," whereas the Short Path is the "quest in God." For most aspirants, at certain stages of their development both will be followed concurrently in varying degrees and lengths of time, for while they are sharply divided in theory they not seldom overlap in fact. This is also so because a certain amount of recapitulation of stages may need to be done in each birth, although in a briefer time frame. For instance, if one has a satori, kensho, glimpse, or awakening early in life one may assume that much work was done in previous incarnations, and his entry onto the Short Path in that life will be quicker. Please read these selections for they are most rewarding.

   It is interesting to ponder how the Buddha's four stages of 'stream-enterer, once-returner, non-returner, and Arhat, may relate to this Long Path/Short Path issue, and that of 'gradual' versus 'sudden' attainment. PB said the Short Path isn't necessarily short - only 'shorter'. So, when one has a 'path moment' (satori, 'glimpse', or nondual awakening) and becomes a 'stream-enterer', he is on the Short Path. He still has karma to clear, more to embody or actualize, so to speak, but his fundamental focus is longer - nor can it be - the same sort of practices he engaged while on the Long Path. So now, instead of 10-20 lives to go until final attainment, maybe there are only 0-3! Compared to the countless lifetimes that scriptures speak of us having had in the unfathomably distant past, that is not very many. A lot of egoic-adaptation continues to unravel (sometimes more, sometimes less), different aspects of the being further awaken, one's development becomes more whole, balanced, and integrated, while one enjoys a fundamental confidence, shraddda (faith or certainty), peace, and increasingly clear 'view' of truth. Perhaps this idea has the potential of clearing up some of the confusion regarding the notion of gradual and direct paths. Munindra, for example, admitted in his biography that he was a 'once-returner'. For those who know of him, a great spiritual teacher, can you just imagine the scope of the quest?!

   Along these lines an additional brief note on the need for preparation is called for. This concerns the energetic component of realization. PB said that the Overself would make a 'mystical union with his own body', and that one needed to be purified to withstand the 'influx of the solar force'. In some paths they warn of premature kundalini awakening and so forth. In Sant Mat, there have been incidences where an initiate begged, pleaded, and cajoled their master to take them up to higher planes or states of consciousness. Kirpal Singh responded to one such inquirer, a long-time devotee, "Well, that sort of thing could be done, but in your condition I am afraid that you would not be able to carry on here after you came back." In another instance, his master Sawan Singh conceded to the continual entreaties of such a man, who, upon returning from his forced ascended samadhi, said, "Please, do not ever do that again! I felt like a thousand lightning bolts struck me at once." The man died a few months later. One can question the solicitude of the saint, but of course we do not know the whole story. One can also question whether such experiences are necessary or not. The moral is clear, however, such things are reserved for those whose ego has been put in its place, and whose lower self has been purified. American master Vitvan (1883-1964) wrote concerning this matter, couched in terms of what he calls the initiation into the Third Degree:

   "Prior to reaching this state in the initiatory process one seldom, if ever, has any realization that a purificatory process is necessary. Not until he begins to comprehend that Mind [buddhic or beyond psychic] level state does it dawn upon him how unclean, how impure he is...If someone belongs to the race mind and the crowd, there is no need or requirement to undergo a process of purification..Do not ever tell him that there is a purificatory process ahead of him because he is not concerned with it and he should not attempt it. If he did, he would be attempting something that is beyond his state, and he could not live up to it if he wanted to. If he tried he would have to put in a tremendous amount of mental effort to repress the animal propensities...There are many who get mentally self-righteous or spiritually ambitious and say, "No, I am not going to live like an animal." They repress their animal propensities and develop all sorts of neurotic outlets and substituted and compensatory forms of expression. They may have nervous or mental breakdowns, whereas they should be good animals. See that? If you are a dog, be a good dog. But one who has reached the third degree in the evolutionary process, who has gradually expanded and developed out of that, is faced with something that is inescapable. He must purify the vehicles. He must purify the temple in preparation for the coming of the Christ, the coming of the Light. That Greater That, that Greater Power, that Fire (because that is the Fire), cannot come into unpurifed vehicles - the higher psyche, the lower psyche, and the [energy] configuration. It would be disastrous to awaken that fire and bring it in when the vehicles have not been sufficiently purified."

   "There are several divisions of the work of purification of the vehicles. First the higher psychic level must be purified. By what is the higher psyche characterized? Love, over and above all else...That love demands self-surrender, a giving up, a dying. The personality begins to die when you begin to love...Kindness, sympathy, and helpfulness also characterize the higher psyche. All that we value in human relationship - warm, true friendship...That is the higher psyche."

   "Then how and why does that need purification for the coming of the Christ? You may be doing all of that with the consciousness that you are doing it - not that you are going to get something out of it, but that you are doing it - egoic satisfaction in the doing, personalization of all those activities that we call the higher psyche. You might even be a little proud, have some vainglory and some selfishness about it. There is where the need for purification comes. You must realize that the motivating force of that love is not something that originates in yourself...You are becoming an channel, an instrument, through which that higher influence can work. In that recognition the higher psyche becomes free from the little, personal self. It becomes free and clear, very lovely and beautiful."

   "Not until that loveliness, that beauty of the higher psyche, has been established does the Brother of the Third degree realize what a job has to be done on his lower psyche. In that beauty and loveliness of the purification of the higher psyche two things happen. On the one side, he reaches above and makes contact with those on the lowest of Light's Regions, the Mind level, the power and influence of the Christ state. On the other is the purification of the lower psyche."

   "There is purpose in this, because the Brother of the Third Degree cannot muster the strength to cope with the influence of the lower psyche by himself...It is extremely necessary to cultivate the practice of looking to a higher level for power, for strength, because when one is up against the conflict between higher and lower psyche, he has to call upon all the strength that he can obtain. He needs lots of it."

   "You can do all the AUM chanting and your meditation work, you can listen to the sound currents until they roar like a Niagara, and at the same time that you are in all that loveliness and beauty on the higher psyche the devils of the lower psyche are raising old Ned with you. They are kicking up everything to prevent your getting more light and more fire. They are pulling you down, trying to dissuade you from higher development...You can lift your forces into the higher psyche and beyond, but you have not purified the temple of those entities that have occupied it and are still occupying it."

   "When the battle has gone on pretty well...the third phase in the purificatory process begins...The flesh must be remetamorphosed because so long as the quality of animal propensities remains in the flesh, the body cannot entertain the higher Fire, the higher Light of the Christ. It has to undergo purification."

   One gets the picture. Perhaps a little grim in its seemingly super-human requirements, maybe not a strict nondual teaching (such as the inquiry as taught by Sri Nisargadatta or Ramana Maharshi - although, in this system, it is admitted to be as yet only a portrayal of the 'third degree' out of seven), and maybe a little 'old-school', from a member of perhaps the last great generation of self-made men and masters, born in the late nineteenth century - perhaps with a tad too much emphasis on a traditional masculine battle with the ego, and in need of a bit more feminine balancing emphasis by the universal Mother energy of complete acceptance and embracing, held in the light of non-judgemental awareness, in order to heal the wounded psyche - the main cause of egoism in our times - but sufficient in its basic outlines of an archtypal process that in some form is likely unavoidable. Do remember where he said, "not that you are going to get something out of it" (!), and you will stay grounded.

   Edward Salim Michael (1921-2006) similarly wrote:

   "Enlightenment does not necessarily mean liberation. It should also not be forgotten that there are different degrees of enlightenment. For the great majority of seekers, enlightenment (if it did take place in them) signifies purely the start of this arduous journey towards their emancipation...In spite of all the unusual spiritual experiences he may have had, the aspirant will have to face the hard fact that he is still an incomplete being, full of hidden undesirable tendencies, lacking will and inner strength, and as yet unworthy to serve in a befitting manner."

   "If after having known the luminous aspect of his being
[an experience of the void], an aspirant cannot raise in himself the strong and sincere wish to know the dark side of his nature as well - perhaps thinking that because of the lofty spiritual experiences he has had, that this is no longer important - then he will render his emancipation very uncertain, if not impracticable. The discovery of the Sublime in oneself does not mean the immediate release from the bondage to one's inferior nature."

   "Did not the Buddha declare, when he spoke of those who have taken up a spiritual path: "A few only reach the further shore. Most people go their rounds on this one"
(Dhammapada, 85) ? One must also recall the very significant words of Christ, "Many are called, but few are chosen." I have often heard spiritual teachers in India, and even in the West, say to their disciples: "No efforts. Everything is already here." Or better: "You are already a Buddha; effort comes from the ego wanting to grasp it." Such statements, if not simply deceitful, are at best the result of a dangerous kind of spiritual ignorance. Here as elsewhere, such a lack of discernment can lead only to the most serious of consequences for the seeker, since, when he leaves this world, he will go alone, empty-handed. It is true that "All is here," but does one really know the "All" that is here? And even if, after great effort, one should, through a real direct experience, arrive at knowing the "All" that is here in its immensity, can one remain with this "All" and be merged with it?"

   "Even though he has actually recognized in himself the beginning of a very unusual state of being and of consciousness, he can immediately be tempted to be satisfied with it without seeking to go further onward...He will thus limit himself in a domain that is infinitely vaster than he imagines. Besides, however spectacular the level of advancement one reaches, no one can claim to bear all the truth in him. Can one ever say that one really knows the Being of God, His form of Consciousness, His Thoughts, and so on?...There exist mysteries impossible to comprehend in all their immensity in this form of existence."

   This is nowhere brought out more than in a path such as Sant Mat. Though often considered a dualistic mystical path, when opposed to Vedanta, its goal is really an entirely nondual one, and essentially in line with the hierarchical schema of seven planes given in the Puranas - and which are also accepted in many forms of traditional Vedanta. The form of this path goes something like this. What is perhaps unique within it is the concept of an intermediary principle or logos called the Shabda-Brahman, emanating from the absolute and which the soul or conscious principle can attach itself to, as filings to a magnet, so to speak, and defoliate itself of all bodies and merge in its source - which then can merge into ITS source. At any successive stage, coming out of such inversion one must integrate his expanded consciousness with the manifest realm. Let us briefly explain further.

   On this path, the provisional method is that of the soul getting concentrated at the eye center, catching hold of the light and sound principle and then leaving or transcends the physical body. Then it goes further and leaves the astral body, then the causal and super-causal bodies (sometimes broken up into higher and lower mental bodies), where mind is left off completely. This school clearly differentiates between mind and soul, or consciousness. The nondual fact that the body is in the soul as much as the soul is in the body is realized later in most cases. This stage is beyond what is referred to as Par Brahm, the Universal Mind, the 'home' of the individual mind, and is the realization of the individual soul, in itself, without all coverings (koshas or sheaths). According to the Sants, it is here that the Maha Vakya, 'aham brahm asmi' comes from: "Oh Lord, I am of the same essence as Thou art." It is the Sant Mat equivalent of the Buddhist Arhat stage - free from birth and death, but not yet full nondual consciousness, where birth and death are even seen as illusory. That comes at the fifth stage known as Sach Khand or Sat Lok, where one realizes the Unindividuated consciousness, which might be considered what Plotinus calls the 'principle of Absolute Soul' as opposed to the 'individual soul itself seen as absolute', which the lesser stage refers to. This realm of Truth, or Sat Lok, may be penultimate, but is spoken of as eternal and beyond the reach of pralaya and maha-pralaya (cosmic dissolution and grand dissolution). H.P. Blavatsky appeared to write of it as follows:

   "Darkness radiates Light, and Light drops one Solitary Ray into the Waters, into the Mother Deep...This is Divine Thought or intelligence impregnating Chaos..resulting in a "World of Truth, or Sat (Be-ness) through which the direct energy that radiates from the ONE REALITY - the Nameless Deity - reaches us." [The mystic insight is given that this "World of Truth" can be described only as] "a bright star dropped from the Heart of Eternity, the beacon of hope on whose Seven Rays hang the Seven Worlds of Being" (physical, etheric, astral, mental, buddhic, atmic, and Monadic, now all to be realized as One and a nondual unity). (13)

   Plotinus, too, spoke of this stage:

   "A blissful life is theirs. They have the Truth for Mother, Nurse and Nutriment; they see all things: not the things that are born and die, but those which have Real Being and they see themselves in others. For them all things are transparent and there is nothing dark or impenetrable, but everyone is manifest to everyone interiorly and all things are manifest to the most intimate depth of their nature. Light is everywhere manifest to light. There, everyone has all things in himself and sees all things in others, so that all things are everywhere and all is all and each is all, and the glory is infinite." (14)

   In the Sant Mat literature this stage is referred to lyrically as 'an ocean of consciousness' punctuated with 'islands of consciousness', the 'light of millions of suns,' etc.. Clearly it is spoken of in metaphor. Not only is is far beyond ego, all gaining ideas and self-concepts, but it is beyond the individual soul (which itself is known as boundless consciousness, hence the confusion with even higher stages). From this level this Universal Principle of Consciousness only can get absorbed further by three stages (alak -the 'inaccessible'; agam - the 'unknowable' ; and finally anami - the 'unnameable, infinite ocean itself) into the ultimate Source.

   Now, however, one more stage needs to be considered. The 'drop has merged in the ocean', but the 'ocean must merge in the drop'! We have realized the Absolute, but that is still in polarity with the relative. Still to be known is Nirguna Brahman, without qualification or attribute. After realizing these stations of the soul, therefore, and its own higher principle, one will return of necessity or karma - by the pull of Nature - and then need to integrate this consciousness with every realm he has vacated through his provisional inversion. This is not necessarily an automatic process, but one requiring the co-operation of the soul, the person, even the ego. For the nondual consciousness realized exclusively by such deep inversion via the medium of the Holy Spirit or Logos is to be lived and realized fully at all levels. We won't say it must, but that is the ideal. It is one thing to be conscious at a stage, and another to function at that stage. It seems too easy to just say 'there are no levels' - that is a bit like saying 'there is no door' and trying to walk through it (and we know there are siddhas who can do that, so please don't go there!). This process may take several lives (or it may not), just as the Buddha outlined, and the fullness of realization accounts for the difference of profundity among such masters. Now, those of the persuasion of 'direct paths' such as advaita argue that the nondual realization of consciousness can be achieved (or recognized) without such an in-depth passage. The Sants argue, however, that the principle of soul cannot be bypassed, that inasmuch as it is a real emanation of the One, and in that sense man's True Self, it is itself eternal, even if not ultimate, and certainly not just 'separate ego' as many believe. We cannot fully discuss this profound difference in method or conceived goal here, suffice it to suggest that it is consistent with ancient doctrines and worthy of consideration.

   And there are many variations on this theme, to be sure. For instance, there are different ways to look at spiritual development. The notion of dissolutions and grand dissolutions would seem to be part of a type of spiritual cosmology and understanding of liberation that emphasizes extricating oneself from matter as part of the definition of enlightenment. In this sense, Sant Mat is not presented in exactly the most nondual terms. But that doesn't mean there isn't a profound relative meaning to the notion of dissolutions and so on. To translated into another context, it is similar to the idea of making a distinction between the Atman and the bodies. If one has advanced spiritually and reached shifting one's identification from the lower ego to, say, the anandamayakosa or formless noetic or intuitive sheath, then one has achieved a certain level of spiritual development, but has not truly become jivanmukta, as one has not attained full self-realization through transcending identification with all sheaths and realizing the Atman. One of the differences, of course, with the Sant Mat teachings is that their style of describing how one develops this realization is through inversion and abstracting away from the lower bodies. But we also know that is possible to attain this realization while remaining in place and present to the lower bodies, without trance, inasmuch as they all interpenetrate and exist in the One. They are paradoxically both dim reflections of the real, and direct presentations of the real. Therefore it is not just a matter of setting aside to attain self-realization, but rather of developing the wisdom to know who we really are even in the context of these bodies. Now that does not mean that the traditional Sant Mat approach cannot lead to the same place, but they do have their own way of talking about it that does not emphasize this other orientation very much - although that is changing. Similarly, talking about needing to become safe by rising beyond the planes that are subject to dissolutions and grand dissolutions, or birth and death, is a little overly 'materialistic' or dualistic in its style of conceiving of the nature or importance of liberation, and tends to invokes fear. Yet it is not really how it plays out, even in Sant Mat, and this difficulty is not insurmountable. Love and discriminative reflection will overcome it. Moreover, the knowledge and realization of the interpenetration and oneness of all the levels can be gotten by going deeply into them. We are simply saying that it may not be the only way.

   So a reasonably simple formula for the quest might be, "seek for the understanding and realization of your Source or True Nature, and also work on transforming oneself." Hoping that the former will automatically take care of the latter, which many teach today, seems unrealistic for most seekers. It is similar to the view within chiropractic that adjusting only the first cervical vertebra will fix everything else in the spine and body. Great in theory, but not always so in practice. Therefore, while engaging mindfulness, or meditation, or self-inquiry ('cutting to the root'), there is yet a lot more we can do to assist the process. We can aspire towards an ideal. We can plants healthy seeds in thought, word, and deed, which will favorably come back in the form of auspicious circumstances for spiritual growth. In this two-fold way we can work to 'close the gap' between our relative and absolute natures. Yet there are many teachings taking center-stage today that would, it seems, deny the validity of that.

   What we have attempted to do here is only make a few brush strokes that one may choose to file away for future reference, while remembering that as long as there is breath there is more to learn and understand. And, need we say that one please hold all ideas expressed here very lightly?

   To conclude, in one way of looking at the matter it does appears that the ego, the relative nature, does get enlightened. PB wrote:

   “What or who is seeking enlightenment It cannot be the higher Self, for that is of the nature of Light. There then only remains the ego! This ego, the object of so many denunciations, is the being that, transformed, will win truth and find reality even though it must surrender itself utterly in the end as the price to be paid.” (15)

   To say the 'Void-Mind gets enlightened', or 'enlightenment gets enlightened', or 'emptiness recognizes emptiness', somehow doesn't sound quite right - although PB basically said that, too! - if we assume that the Tao, Buddha-Nature, or the Overself is always, already aware and awake, as most nondual thought is in agreement with. One key question might be, "how can the Void-Mind awaken to itself in one individual (whether apparent or real) and not all - that is, how can the One or the Void-Mind divide itself into parts and still be the One? If it is accepted that the very nature of the One is impartable, how can it awaken from its own delusion without ALL of its manifestations getting enlightened at the same time? It seems to beg the question to say that each individual is the One, or even 'a' One, as some teachings in fact do say. So is it really true, and can we say, that the reason the sage works for the liberation of others is because it is the nature of the One to come after all, or every 'part', of itself? No, not really, the words ultimately fail us. Self/no-self, the One/the All, these are only relative pointers. At the risk of wearing out an old cliche, it is a very paradoxical affair, and hard to articulate, isn't it? As Suzuki Roshi liked to say, "not always so - and even that isn't so!" The real key question, then, is not "who has the realization of 'no-self'?", but rather, "what is the nature of THAT which realizes 'no-self'? It may be more profound and more real than one imagines. For what is 'no-self' really? - a concept only in contrast with the notion of empirical selfhood - a 'thorn to pick out another thorn' as they say. In commenting on this doctrine of anatman ('no-self' or 'no-soul') H.H. the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, while addressing Harvard's Center for the Study of World Religions on October 17, 1979, affirmed that:

   "by our total experience it is established that the self exists...If we did assert total selflessness, then there would be no one who could cultivate compassion...Even in Nirvana, the continuum of consciousness goes on."

   The road may seem long, and in general, it is, but we can make significant and self-rewarding progress in any incarnation. If one falls, "fall forward", say the saints. There is an X factor as well:

   "The attainment of realization of the Overself is extremely rare, and the aspirant should not expect to do so in one limited lifetime. However, since its Grace is unpredictable, no one can say that it is impossible in a particular one." (17)

   Granted, this is all more than paradoxical. PB also confirmed that, along with nondual understanding, in our highest realization a form of individuality would survive, that 'we will be with God as higher creatures', and it is interesting how H.P. Blavatsky in her extensive researches of man's most ancient spiritual teachings had already argued this one hundred years earlier:

   " [I do not] believe in an individual, segregated spirit in me, as a something apart from the whole...I maintain that though merged entirely into Parabrahm [meaning ultimate Brahman, not the region of the Sants called Par Brahm or universal mind as mentioned above], man's spirit while not individual per se yet preserves its distinct individuality in Paranirvana (16), owing to the accumulation in it of the aggregates, or skhandas that have survived after each death, from the highest faculties of Manas. The most spiritual, i.e., the highest and divinest aspirations of every personality...become part and parcel of the Monad preserved to the end of the great cycle (Maha-Manvantara) when each Ego (18) enters Paranirvana, or is merged in Parabrahm...To our talpatic or mole-like comprehension the human spirit is then lost in the One Spirit, as the drop of water thrown into the sea can no longer be traced out or recovered. But de facto it is not so in the world of immaterial thought...That such Parabrahmic and Paranirvanic 'spirits' or units, have and must preserve their divine (not human) individualities, is shown in the fact that, however long the 'night of Brahma' [said to be 4,320,000,00 years] or even the Universal Pralaya [approximately 311,040,000,000,000 years - not eternal but a long time]...yet, when it ends, the same individual Divine Monad resumes its majestic path of evolution...and brings with it all the essence of compound spiritualities from previous countless rebirths." (19)

   It may be argued that this description is dualistic and does not accord with the absolute enlightenment spoken of by the Buddha or such modern sages as Sri Nisargadatta, or Ramana Maharshi. For more discussion on this theme, please see "Non-Duality and the Soul - Some Knotty Problems", on this website.

Note: There are many schemas of a process to enlightenment similar to those discussed in this paper. For a new entry, please see this map (and book: 1000) by Ramaji. Besides his own new model of non-dual awakening, and comparison of teachers, in this book he also contrasts various existing schemas such as the Oxherding pictures, Tozan's Five Ranks, the Valleys of Sufism, and the Hero's Journey of Joseph Campbell. Do not be put off by the audacious claims as to its purpose. Its style is bold, but also personal and challenging.


1. Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1988), Vol. 15, Part 1, 6:20
1a. Ibid, Vol 14, 8.116-117
2. The use of the words 'kensho' or 'satori' need not be taken too literally; perhaps 'level of insight is more appropriate, in order to include paths like Soto Zen which do not emphasize satori but only zazen or shikantaza ('just sitting'), and also various bhakti and mystical paths as well.
2a. Brunton, op.cit., Vol. 3, Part 1, 2.101
2b. Paul Brunton, Perspectives (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1984), p. 9, 19
3. Anthony Damiani, Looking Into Mind (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1990), p. 142-143
4. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 14, 8.16, 8.59, 8.64
5. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 13, Part 2, 3.248, 3.249. 3.388, 4.9
6. Adyashanti, Kanuga Retreat, April 6, 2012
7. Ibid
8. Ibid
9. Brunton, Ibid, 4.12, 4.13, 4.83, 4.106, 4.129; Part 3, 5.12, 5.13; Part 1, 4.140; Part 2, 4.218, 4.292
10. Mirka Knaster, Living This Life Fully: Stories and Teachings of Munindra (Boston: Shambhala, 2010), p. 207
11. Vitvan, The Seven Initiations (Baker, Nevada: The School of the Natural Order, 2011), p. 66-75
12. Edward Salim Michael, The Law of Attention (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2010), p. 351-352, 233-234
13. Virginia Hanson, ed., H.P. Blavatsky and the Secret Doctrine (Wheaton, Illinois: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), p. 102
14. Plotinus, The Enneads, v. 8, 4
15. Brunton. op. cit., Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 6, 8:4.435
16. The Buddha, according to the earliest records, spoke of both Nirvana and Paranirvana. The latter is final absorption after death, while the former is the highest realization available to us while yet alive at man's current stage on earth. PB seemed to agree with this concept, writing that he did 'not say that sahaj samadhi was the highest state there is, but only the highest state possible for man'. The reasons for this are esoteric, having to do with the stage of incarnation and evolution of our earth itself. We will only add that in Paranirvana there need not be total absorption, i.e., the end, but 'higher octave' realizations without limit. But that is the subject for another essay.

17. Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 2, 5.127

18. Theosophy uses a septenary reckoning for both the microcosm and the macrocosm. Simplifying, the 'higher triad' of 'atma-buddhi-higher manas' is the reincarnating Ego, the higher self, while the lower four coverings (physical, etheric, astral, and mental) make up the personality both physical and subtle which are dissolved after each death. Thus, the term Ego is not what is commonly known as the personal ego. Nevertheless, there comes a time when even this Ego, hard-won after many births, is, so to say, dissolved, referred to as the birth of an adept with the 'cracking open of the causal body', releasing the 'jewel in the lotus', and the soul rejoining the ever-free Monad. Thereafter remains the possibility, although not the necessity, for an advanced adept to animate or manifest a Nirmanakaya body without the need for the intermediate vehicles. This is rarely done, however, allowing the forces of Nature to work in their usual fashion.

This also relates to the mention of the 'essence of the skhandas or aggregates' being preserved in the higher self after each death, in the 'seed-atom' of the buddhic-atmic 'body', which is quite different from the standard Buddhist view, where the skhandas, 'empty' in the first place, are said to be dispersed completely. Yet even there is acknowledgement of a non-arbitrary karmic continuity that 'reincarnates'. Without arguing the point whether or not there is a substratum to this continuity, which is the perennial Indian and ancient esoteric view, what this means is that experience is meaningful, and the 'essence' of it is an enrichment of the higher self, just as the higher self informs the lower self or personality, life after life. Thus, our sojourn in relativity enriches our understanding of the absolute, while experience of the absolute transforms our relative nature or 'bodies'. So nothing is lost, and all is interrelated and valuable.

19. Ibid