SAND17 Panel Discussion – Sudden or Gradual

SAND17 Panel Discussion – Sudden or Gradual

Rick Archer of Buddha at the Gas Pump invited me to join his panel during the Science and Nonduality (SAND) conference in October of 2017 (event C31). The topic was Sudden or Gradual: Two Paths to Realization.

“There is a perennial debate in spiritual traditions regarding whether realization is direct (sudden) or progressive (gradual). But is this a false distinction? Realization is often sudden, no matter how many years of practice may have led up to it, and even after realization, most people find that refinement, clarification, and the working out of personal shortcomings continue indefinitely.

Who wouldn’t prefer direct realization to years of purification and practice? But how many examples of purely direct realization can we find? Can a path be both direct and progressive? Is it possible to have a taste of our true nature from the outset, and then spend a lifetime embodying it? Also, is there one watershed breakthrough which can be universally agreed upon as final ‘Realization’, or are there many degrees and stages of realization, each of them important stepping stones in a never-ending journey?

Proponents of the direct path sometimes argue that if we regard spiritual development as progressive, we will forever be anticipating, never arriving. But some spiritual seekers consider themselves ‘finished’ when they are just getting started. Not appreciating the distinction between understanding and experience, they mistake intellectual understanding with enlightenment. Understanding statements like ‘You are already enlightened’ doesn’t make it so.”

I joined panelists Isa Gucciardi and Michael A. Rodriguez.

When Rick introduced Sudden vs Gradual awakening, I was surprised to hear he was referring to 2 Buddhist doctrines and wondered what I was doing on the panel. But he then asked Micheal to define them, so I knew what we were talking about. (laughs) The discussion was wide-ranging and ran about 2 hours.

on YouTube
Also on BATGAP

Audio version:
(the audio warble is fixed after the intros, returns when organizing an audience mic and is again fixed (much of the second is edited out of the video version))

Last Updated on March 14, 2019 by Davidya

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  1. Baz

    Superb. It was wide ranging.
    Thank you for participating and posting.

    I’ve read so much. Watched endless videos from endless teachers and now after listening intensely for 2hours I finally feel some information overload.
    I feel like taking the rest of my life off.
    I feel I should just sit back and enjoy the ride!
    …I know I won’t though!

  2. Michael

    Hi David!

    watched it! Was really enjoyable!
    And yeah you talked a lot! (in comparison to the last panel 😉
    Everyone brought very important points to the topic.

    The only thing i would have loved to see was when Michael told Rick that there is this place that does never change and is the end point and it is awareness. That you have added that there is “something” beyond awareness as well. (even though you have “challenged” him a little before)

    1. Yeah, there was a few times I would have liked to offer another perspective. But it was nice to see mostly agreement even when it wasn’t expected.

      I hadn’t realized this was going to be a discussion of 2 Buddhist doctrines which I largely see as pointless distinctions. So I was happy I wasn’t ask to speak first. 🙂

      It was amusing to have an earlier discussion about men talking over each other raised on the panel too. When I was a kid it was the women who talked over me. (laughs)

      I was also surprised by Isa. During the Thurman discussion, she emphasized spiritual techniques over using drugs but her emphasis was quite different on the panel.

      Still, I got to speak to people who don’t often hear some of that so it was very worthwhile. Plus it will now be heard by thousands more.

  3. K

    Interesting panel discussion. One thing I am curious about is when you had the heart opening – did you develop devotion or Bhakti. If you did, who or which aspect was the devotion toward ? I feel that devotion always has to have an object of devotion – no? Your natural path seems to be Advaita Vedanta. It was probably much easier for Adi Shankara to express Bhakti since he had grown up with and had familiarity toward the Hindu pantheon. Did you find someone within the Hindu pantheon or within the Christian tradition? I think it is a bit difficult to develop devotion toward gods one is not familar with. For e.g. much as I love Sufism, I would not be able to develop devotion to Mohammed or Allah because they were not really part of my ethos. I feel Rick quickly side steps questions on Bhakti or devotion by saying that many of the masters like Ramana Maharishi, Adi Shankara were devotees as well. That always side steps the question and does not address the mechanics of Bhakti. I think he is actually unwilling to unpack the Bhakti experience unlike the rest of awakening experiences. (This is just an observation, not a criticism since he is doing a huge service through BATGAP).

    1. Hi K
      Yes, devotion flows naturally from an overflowing heart. I talked some about that in the BATGAP interview.

      Devotion in higher stages may not have a separate object per se as it is all united. But there is still that flow. Prior to that, yes, flow takes the form of an object. The object of devotion can be almost anything. Traditionally the objects would be a form of God, the guru, or the upaguru – one’s mate. But the object can be almost anything. Ramana expressed devotion to a mountain, for example.

      In the case here, I was not in a relationship and a good friend took the role of an upaguru for a time. That’s where it showed up and they gave permission. Later, that devotion shifted to a form of God. Not one I would have predicted nor that was familiar prior.

      I have a strong analytical mind but once the heart awakens to the divine, that doesn’t end. I may not express in those terms often but it’s part of the personal life.

      I would also note that the form is not something you “choose” in that sense. I had relationships with several forms of God prior. They included Hindi, Christian and Persian forms although that classification is somewhat meaningless as those are just appearances. The reality is universal.

      Vedanta is mainly about the Unity into Brahman process so I wouldn’t say I rest there either.

      Rick is a follower of Amma which is primarily a devotional path. Devotees don’t often share their hearts that way as it’s very personal. And a panel discussing philosophical positions it an awkward stage for exploring devotion.

      1. K

        Hi David – very good point re: the forms of God. One does not choose and the forms of God are probably not interested in a person’s passport, citizenship and lineage prior to arising for that person’s devotion. My thinking was a bit narrow and parochial. I should think a bit more why I assumed that Hindu Gods are more accessible to people raised in familiarity with them. Clearly not true. (Sometimes people here assume that I do not know anything about baseball – so something like that). Re: Ramana’s devotion, I think the belief is that the Arunchala mountain is Shiva pre-dating Ramana Maharishi. So probably others may have been devoted to Arunachala mountain as Shiva.

        1. Hi K
          Well – there are aspects of what you said that are true. Due to what I can personalization, the divine will show up in forms we can relate to, so there are cultural influences. Our expectations also are an influence. If we expect angels to have wings, we’ll likely see them that way.

          It is more likely a devout Hindu will have a related form of God but the higher you get, the more universal so the more boundaries fall away.

          In my case, I have Hindi influences from the last life and Christian in this one. I suspect one of them showed up Persian to bring this point home though. 🙂

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