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Two approaches to spirituality

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ďThe end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and to know the place for the first time.Ē - T.S. Eliot

There seem to be two main approaches to spirituality. The first and by far the most common, is the accumulative approach, in which the individual reads lots of books and acquires as much spiritual knowledge as possible, constructing exquisite new belief systems and engaging in all kinds of wonderful practises and sadhanas. Thereís always some new technique and trend thatís taking the spiritual marketplace by storm, and so many exciting things to investigate and learn. This is the spiritual sweet shop and itís a fun - and tasty - place to be.

The second approach is the de-cumulative approach and itís a lot less common, perhaps because itís not in the least bit flashy or enticing. By comparison itís stark and simple. The de-cumulative approach is in some ways the polar opposite to the accumulative approach. Itís not about gaining new beliefs or adding more knowledge to the mind. Itís not about learning new techniques or becoming a better person. On this path, there are no answers out there, beyond some simple pointers that may or may not be helpful. The only prerequisite is to have a sincere yearning to find truth (truth about the nature of oneself and life) and, with an attitude of earnest inquiry, you are invited to look within and explore the truth of your existence. Itís about letting go of everything you think youíve learned about spirituality, yourself and the world and to take a good look around in order to find the truth, first-hand, for yourself.

It took me a very long time to realise that sweet shop spirituality doesnít really lead anywhere. Itís all about the thrill of the hunt, the perpetual mindset of seeking - and thinking youíve found it in the latest spiritual bestseller, before realising that this wasnít quite it (whatever 'it' is) and moving onto the next big trend, technique or book. I realised the answers arenít out there, because on a fundamental level, there is no Ďout thereí. It gradually dawned on me that world is maya, a mind-created, mind-projected and mind-sustained world of illusion and dream forms. If you want to learn about what is real, then you donít look for it in the world of the false. You wonít find answers about reality in the world of dreams. Your best bet is to instead turn your attention to the consciousness that is dreaming.

This shift in attention from dream to dreamer was a huge turning point for me. It doesnít mean I still donít get pulled into the dramas, crises and strife that happen around me, because I do. But it doesnít happen for quite as long anymore. On a couple of recent occasions when there have been dramas occurring around me, and people running about freaking out, I simply found myself letting go and realising that, in spite of the panic and stress around me, the drama itself didnít really matter and that it would quickly resolve itself as it always does. And it did, on each occasion.

The dream frequently gets rocky, for thatís what happens in dreams - one moment youíre soaring through the sky like an eagle, then the next youíre tumbling toward the ground. But when you know all along that the whole thing is just a dream, you simply observe with an almost amused detachment, knowing that the seemingly dire crises will promptly resolve themselves and that what you really are cannot be threatened in any way by any of it. Indeed, the element of lucidity while dreaming even gives you an element of being able to better control the dream itself. I tried that too, and it worked remarkably! I have a suspicion that the famed Ďlaw of attractioní stuff actually does work, but that you have to be detached from the dream and from what you want to create. Only when you know yourself as dreamer and not dream can you truly utilise your creative power for crafting and altering the dream should you so choose. You have the choice as to whether you simply let go and watch the show, or whether you want to change the outcome of the dream.

Now, there will be a great many people who would vigorously oppose the assertion that the world as we experience it is a dream. Itís a pretty radical statement and one thatís very hard to explain on the level of mind. I donít feel the need to even try to explain it at the moment (although I do feel an explanation of sorts brewing in the back of my mind, words that perhaps want to be expressed at a later date). You canít take this on someone elseís word anyway. Itís a realisation that can only be arrived through deep and unflinching inner exploration. Itís necessary to jettison all concepts and ideas about what you think you are and what you think constitutes reality and simply look within. The invitation of self-inquiry as offered by sages such as Ramana Maharshi and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj has been, for me, the match that ignited this particular realisation.

Itís a journey that must be undertaken oneself. Itís wholly possible that others will come to different realisations and understandings of reality. The important thing is that the journey is taken earnestly, without expectation and without any other motive other than truth. Many of us, myself included, have embarked upon the spiritual path with an idea that it will bring us something wonderful, some superhuman state of enlightenment. This hidden agenda has to be ditched. When the ego uses spirituality as a crutch or a secret weapon to bolster itself...well, itís never going to work out. It will get messy. I am certain that the ego can never become enlightened. It sure as hell thinks it can. But authentic awakening is the transcending of ego, in which the false, conceptual self dissolves into something vaster, deeper and truer. And by Ďsomethingí I actually mean nothing and Everything. This is where words get tricky. This is where itís best for me to stop talking altogether.

I suppose the point of this post was to note what I see as the two contrasting approaches to spiritual realisation. The accumulating/gathering approach sees us devouring information, teachings and techniques. It may be a necessary foundation for our spiritual explorations (until we may come to realise that itís unnecessary and even counter-productive). There comes a point when weíve stuffed our bellies with so much confectionary that we feel bloated, sick and yet simultaneously unfulfilled. It took me many years on the spiritual merri-go-round to realise that I was just going around in circles.

It was then that I was drawn to the spartan and decidedly un-flashy approach of de-cumulation, wherein the only motive is a simple desire to know whatís true and what isnít true. Not because of what it will get me, but simply because the confectionery shop had left me so unsatisfied and disillusioned. This fundamental shift in focus is radical. I stopped looking for answers within the dream itself, and started exploring who and what the dreamer was.

Iím beginning to realise that this Ďpathí doesnít really lead anywhere. It does seem to cause a radical shift in perception and awareness. I donít think I can ever look at Ďmyselfí and Ďthe worldí in the same way ever again. Yet I donít think Iím suddenly going to burst into light and ascend to higher planes. This apparently separate entity with a body and name and memories and habits is here for the duration of its allotted timespan. But thereís something changing within. Thereís a timeless presence or awareness thatís simply witnessing the play of form as it takes place through and around this time-bound physical entity. Itís impossible to find and touch this awareness - itís not to be seen or categorised. Itís simply watching with a detached amusement. Itís almost like someone sitting in a darkened cinema munching on popcorn while watching whatís happening on the cinema screen. Sometimes the film is so good (or bad!) and so compelling and realistic, that the cinema-goer is utterly pulled into the events of the film.

I like the cinema screen analogy. Iíve heard it used before and itís one of the best for explaining the nature of consciousness and life. I may return to it. In the meantime, I continue to nibble popcorn and watch this amusing, scary, funny, sometimes tragic farce unfold.


  1. Rana's Avatar
    yeah i hear you .. i want to dream and be the dreamer too i need to be. i am grateful for your wisdom. and the happiness i felt in a much needed way to end my day before i sleep xx
  2. Kiran's Avatar
    The song Row Row Row Your Boat comes to mind as I read this is but a dream....
    Thank you for sharing and I too prefer the spartan way of thinking/feeling.
  3. BlueStar's Avatar
    Thanks for reading guys! Glad it made some sense. It was a little essay for my blog, I never know quite where (or if) to post them, but I'm glad you liked it

    Yup Lorri, that song used to keep popping into my head. There's deep truth and wisdom to it. I love the feeling I get from it. Very much life: row row row your boat gently down the stream, merrily merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream