The Problem with Spiritual Teaching


There is a peculiar problem with teaching self-realisation. It can be incredibly useful to stumble upon such teachings when you are asking the big questions, having an existential crisis or feeling the tug of truth from within. This is not an injunction against such resources, but a reminder to be mindful of your assumptions while you engage in any search.

Following on from my article, The Problem with Spiritual Seeking, I want to draw particular attention to the potentially misleading role of the teachings and the teacher.

The mere fact that there is a wealth of written material in this area, much of it ancient scripture, might suggest a great discipline. The fact that there are many teachers, and many more students, might suggest a great process of learning. Fantastic tales of awakening and enlightenment may give the impression that what is sought is some wonderful mystical or transcendant state.

What we are really talking about, however, at least in non-duality circles, is the absence of ego identification. To be free of this mechanism and all that it entails. Identification itself is the very sacrifice of knowing a deep, inner peace and joy. But the absence of identification, is not, nor could it ever be by itself, a specific mystical or transcendent experience.

All this talk and discussion, and the often potent transformative or illuminating experiences of transcendence can leave us feeling like we are engaged in the journey of a lifetime. And, in some sense we are. But the real transformation is in our mundane, ordinary lived experience. The real transformation is the continuous flow of life itself, forever changing.

Spiritual teachings are only useful if they help 'reconnect' us with spirit - with the fundamental nature. We can never be apart from this spirit (it is us), but they can help us remove the obscurations to our really knowing this intimacy 'within'. They are useful if they act as a catalyst to the arising of spontaneous love, compassion, peace and joy in everyday life. They are useful if they help us understand our neuroses. They are useful if they help us relate with difficult people.

Often people seem to have the idea that there is somehow a radical shift in perception and so the imagination tries to fill in the blank. (That was certainly the case for me at one time.) I think this can be incredibly misleading. If you have this view, spiritual bypass is inevitable.

The attitude we bring to our spiritual practice is everything. If our practice is a complement to our mundane life, or quite spontaneous, then I think it can be really potent. On the other hand, if there is desperation, or we live for 'spirituality', or even if there is hope, then perhaps we need to examine the attitude we bring to not only our practice, but the rest of our life.

Even articles like this, are in some sense, part of the problem. They imply an inherent difficulty, a complexity. They imply a distance between you and what you are.

Liberation is not a distant future destination. It is here now. This is it. Look around. Feel. Relax and let go. You are already intimate. This is your life!

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