Monday, 27 May 2013

A Non-Duality Question

I've received a couple of questions in response to the last post which I thought I could post here as they might have a more general interest. Here's the first.

Q. I read your post on the non-duality trap and have a question. What do you think of those modern teachers who claim that the path to enlightenment comes from living in the now and who say that they have accessed a state of pure consciousness which we can too if we follow their teachings? I’ve read some books, been to a couple of lectures and though I find it hard to say what is wrong, I feel something important is missing. It’s all a sort of Buddhism-lite by which I mean it has the style but not the substance. You talked a bit about this but I’d like to hear some more on the subject as some of these teachers are very popular nowadays.

A. I’m not familiar enough with any of these teachers to speak about them in more than general terms. But my impression is that what they teach is a human-centred spirituality that in no way will take you to God. And that’s the problem. They take God out of the spiritual equation, in the process reducing the spiritual quest to a psychological exercise. Perhaps not always in theory but the practical result amounts to that. What is more they appear to draw people to themselves as achievers of a certain state rather than point to something higher. But I would ask this. In what sense do they demonstrate anything of the sacred or the holy? This may seem just a matter of words but there is a real meaning behind these words and to neglect that meaning, which I feel these teachers do, is to neglect the essence of spirituality which is, of course, love of God. Deny that and you deny everything because it is the foundation of any true spirituality. Naturally, they speak of compassion and bliss and the like but go behind the words and what do you really see?

Denying the ego is not transcending the ego. It is just the ego denying itself for its own ends. Living from moment to moment without being attached to the past or concerned for the future is obviously a basic part of any spiritual training but on its own, without genuine love of God underwriting it, without real submission to a higher power, it can never lead to any kind of true enlightenment. 

As for the claim that they live in pure consciousness, this assumes they know what pure consciousness is. Many people have experienced so called higher states. In the great majority of cases what has occurred is that they have had a temporary breakthrough into a level above mind, an experience of their higher self perhaps, but this passes and they are still themselves. What may then happen, especially if they are untrained, lack proper discernment and are spiritually ambitious, is they seek to preserve and copy this state with their minds, to construct a mental approximation of it in which they then live. The ego can and often does imitate the spiritual state but a true seeker will see behind the fa├žade. I think you have and that is why you are troubled by these teachings which, on the face of it, seem to offer the truth but in reality parody it.

The ‘be here now’ teachers have been with us for quite a while. They are focussing on a single aspect of spirituality which has relevance as part of the whole but is incomplete, if not downright illusionary, on its own. Most of them mistake satori (a momentary opening) for nirvana (full enlightenment), and my use of these Buddhist terms leads me on to make the following point. When Western teachers set themselves up as gurus and adopt the trappings of an Eastern style of spirituality, the results are often superficial. What may be valid when rooted in a traditional context and supported by serious religious practice is not so when divorced from that. To continue the metaphor I used in the last post, the flower can only truly blossom on the end of a stalk with its roots deep in the ground.

I would add two more things. Firstly, words are a good deal less than half of any teaching. If a teacher does not embody his teachings, these teachings do not have any transformative power.

And secondly this. True teachers do not teach enlightenment. That is not the goal of the spiritual quest.

Let me end on a positive note. Those beginning a spiritual path can possibly be helped by these teachers but if they don’t move on to a more truly spiritual approach, they risk going nowhere. They may be a stepping stone. They are not a destination.


Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what you say here but if enlightenment is not the goal of the spiritual quest, what is?

William Wildblood said...

What I mean is that the search for enlightenment should not be your motivation for treading the path because is implies a personal goal. The Buddha, for instance, was not searching for enlightenment. He was searching for truth. He had no personal motive but was driven by an inner imperative.

Neerav said...

That makes sense, because Enlightenment is the realization of the Truth as who you really are. Great article and great reply. It makes sense tio me. Namaste!

William Wildblood said...

Thanks for your comment, Neerav. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.