When we realize that the kind of lasting joy and peace and the freedom from fear and anxiety we are looking for cannot be found in the pursuit of sensory pleasure or in the world of competition and success, we begin to look for something to nourish our insistent craving for what is missing in our existence – something less tangible, something beyond ordinary everyday consciousness, and yet within our reach.
Among the many seekers, there are those few blessed souls in whom some aspects of the personality, psyche, or mind are already highly developed. Their certainty of vision and conviction of a higher calling attracts them to a teaching, or rather the teaching is drawn to them. They feel immediately comfortable with the precepts of a particular path or system, and their memory of truth just needs a tiny jolt. They have a sense of “having known it before” or “having done this work before,” and it feels like “coming home.”
Then there are those who seek and seek, and travel great distances to achieve extraordinary experiences or to find a guru on a mountaintop, only to be unceremoniously turned away. Yet upon their return, they discover the words of wisdom they had been so eager to find right there on their own bookshelf. They realize that what in the past they had considered as just so many empty words or abstract ideas is now leaping off the page and illuminating their comprehension of sacred truths. The self-same words are now falling on fertile ground – on an open heart and open mind. The sacred teachings are only revealed to those have “eyes to see and ears to hear” and who approach them with simplicity and humility.
And then there are many seekers (and their numbers are growing each day) who are attempting to still their craving for meaning but get lost in the woods of endless possibilities. They stumble around endlessly, uncertain of their direction. They have followed a few leads and have grown discouraged by too many dead ends.
The multiplicity of spiritual offerings has never been more astounding – from weekend workshops for instant Self-Realization to vision quests in the wilderness to rigorous Zen retreats, from intimate garage churches to the new megachurches. We are living in an age of religious pluralism. Within each faith, there are many splinter groups, and within the larger denominations there are innumerable movements, each with a personal mission to reform these bodies from within.
More than ever, seekers will need to exercise their intelligence and discrimination in order not to be enticed by “quick-fix” guarantees, New Age mix-and-match approaches, so-called “prophecies” and “revelations.” They will need to steer clear of the new religious hybrids that have cropped up to fit every taste, lifestyle, and pocketbook. It is also wise to be skeptical of religions that promise to “empower” the individual by some external means or supernatural force. It is far better to trust a teaching that has its basis in universal laws, that points the way to the realization of our own nature, and that provides a method for finding the Supreme Self, which is unlimited being, knowledge, and bliss.
To many seekers the process of finding the right teaching can be lengthy and confusing. How do we discriminate between the eternal truths and bogus forms of instant salvation? How do we discern between the real and the unreal? How do we find a teaching that is right for us?
To begin, let us define what a true teaching is. The principles of the great wisdom teachings have traditionally conformed to a few important characteristics. First, they must be lawful at every level, from the minute to the cosmic, and they must be constant; that is, they must be as true now as they were in 3000 B.C. Secondly, they must be based on intuition or revelation – a direct experience of reality – rather than on theory, belief, or dogma. Furthermore, they should teach that the ultimate goal is attainable by anyone who gives his or her heart and soul to it and that truth or reality can be known by anyone willing to tread the path of Self-inquiry. Finally, these teachings should stress that Self-Realization or cosmic consciousness is possible while in this body, not at some future time in heaven above, and that the bliss this affords is beyond measure, exceeding all pleasures known to earthly existence.
There are many other subtle criteria by which we can recognize the truthfulness of a teaching. A true teaching is nondual, acknowledging the unity between the Universal Self and the individual Self. It does not require adherence to beliefs, but asks aspirants to investigate their own nature and inquire into the nature of the universe in a detached and scientific way. It does not dictate ritual or behavior, but rather suggests disciplines that gently remove the obstructions that keep us from realizing our divine nature. It teaches that we are ultimately responsible for our lives, that we are the creators of our own destiny and that whatever we encounter is our dharma – a word that refers not only to our rightful duty, but also to the law that governs all our deeds and leads us back to our own true nature. A true teaching also gives us the wisdom to realize that whatever happens in any given moment is intimately connected with our thoughts and feelings and that whatever we see is a projection of our state of mind in that moment. It should be added that a true teaching is not financially expensive.
Similarly, true teachers meet the same kinds of criteria. They are tolerant of the many paths that lead to freedom and never claim exclusivity for their own methods. They never impose their beliefs or tell anybody how to conduct his or her life, but rather gently guide by their simple presence of being – by their embodiment of wisdom, love, and knowledge. Additionally, they are nonjudgmental, completely accepting of the faults of others, and yet live their own lives according to the highest principles. In short, they are living symbols of the highest ideals and virtues – purity, intelligence, and compassion – and, most importantly, they are full of humor, happiness, and delight.
There are many paths that lead to enlightenment, and there are many methods that lead to freedom from suffering. The forms sometimes vary considerably from one path to another, but the goal remains universal and constant. The sages have discovered that there is only one eternal truth – that which is. We all have the potential to realize this for ourselves. The eternal truth is One, but has been expressed in a profusion of ways since the dawn of mankind to meet the needs of time and place.
Many of the Christian mystics soared high above the prevalent dualistic views of their time and sung of their ecstasies and bliss in the union with the divine. Theirs was the path of devotion or bhakti yoga, as it is called in the Eastern tradition. Many seekers have embraced jnana yoga, the path of wisdom, by reflecting on the eternal truths and cosmic laws and thus have reached the ultimate goal through their intellect and higher reason. Still others have chosen the practice of karma yoga – the path of selfless action.
A number of different paths or yogas focus on the development of specific aspects of the human psyche or inner organs of mind, while others tend towards the acquisitions of certain higher powers. Some of the yogas, such as hatha, tantra, mantra, and laya yoga, seek to arrive at higher states of consciousness by perfecting the physical and mental bodies through various practices and austerities. The highest form of these is kundalini yoga, which seeks to attain samadhi by union with Shiva by bringing mind and body into complete harmony.
Most of these ancient yogas were designed for the spiritually ambitious disciples and ascetics, who desired to renounce the world, conquer their bodies, and attain immortality. They are of another age and another state of consciousness and are therefore not very useful or practical for the contemporary spiritual seeker. What may seem like a simple matter, the practice of breath control, for example, may in fact be harmful unless it is guided by a supremely qualified teacher. In the past, a yogi would not have been initiated into the practice of kundalini yoga until he had shown his worthiness, undergone great austerities, and endured a process of purification.
Ultimately, a teaching has to be practical and not merely an abstract philosophy or intellectual exercise. If it is not applicable to daily life, it is probably not totally truthful or universal. We would not be able to verify it in action and we would soon abandon it. We need a teaching for our time and our needs and for our harmonious development on all levels – knowing, being, and doing. Unless we live our newly acquired intuitions and apply this higher knowledge in our daily lives, we will not become whole or free or happy. Unless it can freely flow in action, knowledge will remain dead and theoretical and will eventually turn sour. If development is too lofty, our feet will not be able to touch the ground. If it is too physical, the emotions and intellect cannot soar.
The environment and the world in which we live is our laboratory, our testing ground. A true teaching affirms the creation and the enjoyment of life – the interaction of matter and spirit – and celebrates our conscious human participation in the manifestation of beauty, truth, and genius.
As “rational” contemporary seekers fully engaged in life, we are searching for a practical, nondogmatic, and universal teaching that can point the way to Self-inquiry and Self-Realization. Our search often ends when we find a teaching or a system loosely referred to as “the way of the householder” – a philosophy of living, substantiated by the teachings of the perennial Wisdom tradition, that can lead to an understanding of our true nature and the development of our full potential. Nor does it rule out the possibility of Self-Realization in this life. Today many individuals and groups are engaged in the way of the householder, also known as “the Fourth Way” in the teachings of P.D. Ouspensky and G.I. Gurdjieff. This approach is concerned with inner development within the ordinary conditions of life.
We are very fortunate to have access to many different models for Self-Realization that are as useful today as they were in ancient times and which can easily be adapted for the modern householder. It is within our reach, for example, to arrive at a beautiful synthesis of wisdom and practicality when we live our lives based on an integration of jnana, bhakti, and karma yoga – the paths of knowledge, devotion, and action. As we will see later, such an approach ensures the harmonious and simultaneous expansion of all three centers of the human instrument: the head, heart, and hand, that is, our capacities of knowing, being, and doing.
Many contemporary seekers are not content with being told to simply believe in some dogma or religion, adhere to some vague moral values, and muddle through. It seems that at this stage of evolution and individuation, we want to comprehend the reasons for ourselves and not follow blindly. We not only insist on the right to know everything there is to know about any given subject in our material world, but have a need to expand and explore our inner world – our spiritual essence and knowledge. We are willing to consider a teaching we can investigate for ourselves – a philosophy that is applicable to daily life and verifiable through observation of our own faculties.
We know a true teaching of Self-knowledge by its fruits. If we become freer, happier, less judgmental, more accomplished in our vocations, and more loving in our relationships, we must be on the right path. Once we find this treasure we have no need to search and shop around any more. Then we must not delay any longer and begin the Work of our spiritual quest. Now is the only time in which true seekers function and have their being.
With intelligence, discrimination, heart, and soul, we begin our quest and trust that we will meet with the right conditions. As the Vedic scriptures say, “Step by step, word by word, action by action, at each step, word, or action, there stands waiting that which is propitious to that step, word, or action.”
In other words, we acknowledge that whatever we meet in our daily lives is our dharma – our path – and that it is propitious for our unfoldment. Our life in a sense is our dharma, so our “duty,” or the role we play on this earthly plane, provides us with the experiences we need to grow into our true nature and the knowledge of our Self.
Excerpted from [amazon-product text=”Being Consciousness Bliss: A Seeker’s Guide – Part One: In Search of the Self” type=”text”]0970109784[/amazon-product]. Copyright © 2001 by Astrid Fitzgerald
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