There is an interesting debate that shows up in spiritual circles around teachings. Is knowledge and concepts useful or a barrier to being? As I’ve noted prior, there is a spectrum on this subject around teachers too. On the one side are teachers who have typically spontaneously awoken or learned from same, who teach a minimum of information and focus on the experiential process. An example would be Ramana Maharishi and his lineage. On the other end of the spectrum are teachers from long traditions with a formal framework of knowledge. The Vedic traditions have thousands of volumes going back thousands of years. India has 6 traditional systems of philosophy, each of which has their sub-schools of thought. And we won’t touch on the many sects.
The idea of knowledge as a barrier or chain comes up because one must release all ideas of something to be it. Indeed, our ideas of enlightenment are often the last barrier to awakening. As the person further falls away, this dynamic of letting go of concepts and beliefs comes up over and over again.
Does this mean we should discard all intellectual discussion and concepts about the path? While it’s true we should be prepared to toss anything that no longer serves, we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Literally. Knowledge still has value. Like all experience, it is not the knowledge itself at issue, but the way we hold it that matters.
Up front, knowledge or teaching has 2 primary roles: the path and the understanding of same.
The path in this regard is the personal approach you bring to the table. Your own inclinations. Do you open and integrate best through doing and percieving, through feeling and the heart, or through some mental cogitation? We tend to be a blend of these. Often in the west, we are fundamentally doers, so acting and sensing are key aspects to learning. Karma is a major topic. But we also tend to use aspects of feeling or thinking to process those experiences. We tend to percieve intellectually or emotionally. But you could be any combination.
Due to the nature of the path, all of these aspects require some attention while we clear mind, heart and body. But we tend to favour certain things, requiring a little down time to think or process our feelings or get out and walk. Everything we do for pleasure…the seeds arise in the way we process our experiences. We favour things that allow us to experience and process together, to integrate during rather than complete after. Stuff that’s harder for us requires us to have downtime to process. Love your work? That’s why – it fits your style, your path.
The other key role of knowledge is in paving the way. For most of us on the path, having an idea of where we’re going is a key point. It allows us to allow, to step forward into change. Simply put, if we don’t know where we’re going, the path is more difficult. It is going cross-country without a map or compass. Perhaps you’re more adventurous, but can you learn to trust when the landscape changes completely? When your boots no longer serve the terrain? When you’re unable to make sense of what was that’s arisen? Do we want to travel the path of trial and error, or step confidently forward into the unknown?
Sometimes, I’ve used examples here of those who have awakened spontaneously as they have the greatest challenge on this count – depending on how thoroughly they clear. I’ve mentioned Suzanne Segal here before, although she did have some background.
I ran into this quote today: “In 1986, Katie Davis, author of Awake Joy, had a spontaneous awakening that radically transformed her life. At the time, she had never heard of awakening and enlightenment. It took twelve years for the body to re-integrate.”
Of course, this is not to say the path is not a revolution even for those with a good teacher. But it can certainly be smoother than if we have no framework or resist the process.
The need for understanding is even more so for those of us with more of an intellectual bent, where the mind needs to be more deeply satisifed. Also, the switch into Unity itself is a realization of the intellect, that internal connection that says ‘All this is That’. Obviously this is easier if someone says this is it.
There are a couple of further values to knowledge that are not obvious. But they are key to the richness possible.
The first is in the role of memory. After cosmic awakening*, it becomes increasingly obvious that it’s not the person that’s awakening but rather Self is awakening to the person. More deeply, we discover that awakening is a process of remembering who we already are and have always been. Thus, awakening is a process of remembering. And a key aspect of remembering is being reminded. This is the role of an awake teacher, of the conversation of Self with Itself, to be reminded of your true nature.
(This is also a way to describe this writing. I use writing as a way to process. From Self, writing draws content that the person does not know but Self remebers. Thus, the writing process brings up new points, including in this article. The blog becomes a way to go deeper, for Self to remember more.)
Aside from the value of the group, this is why many people have powerful openings with teachers. It is the essence of grace, syncing to your deeper being. We experience someones awareness and attention and are reminded of that and able to allow the memory of it to awaken. If we surrender the person, we can awaken immediately. In a funny way, it is our memory that awakens, not the Self – it is already awake. Not the person, they are dissolved in the process. This is why concepts can get in the way – they block remembering.
The second value is in knowing it’s there. If we didn’t know about enlightenment, would we seek it? Many teachers arise after cosmic awakening and teach. Indeed, whole traditions of deep knowledge are founded on simple awakening. This is a beautiful thing but it should NOT be considered accomplished. But if you do not know there’s more, you may stop. The seeker dies with the ego. As the clouds clear, deep inner peace and joy arise. It is a simple trap to see this as enough.
Once again, it is only the beginning. Cosmic awakening is NOT the truth. It is not true Advaita or non-duality. Even though we may have become one with the absolute, we still experience the world as separate. There is still an observer and observed, a subject and object. As long as there is some value of separateness, the picture is not complete. The truth of reality has NOT been revealed. It is still hidden under the duality of the way we perceive. As Genpo Roshi observed, even the highest transcendental knowledge turns out to be part of the illusion.
Once Unity dawns, where everything collapses into Oneness, we are once again back at the beginning. This is when true reality dawns. Now we can really start plumbing the depths of what is, free of the mask of perception.
This is the deepest value of knowledge, the deeepst value of the ancient books and traditions. And it is the remarkable value of our time. Not only is awakening becoming increasingly less rare, but so too Unity. All of us are together on a journey. And that is where we are going. Together.
*I’ve been using the term “first awakening” here but the term is a little too relative. We could equally call soul awakening ‘first’, for example. As the first awakening is the awakening to our cosmic natures, I’ll try that term…