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Book Review: Brilliancy

Book Review: Brilliancy

This content originally appeared in Watkins Book Review in 2007.

We all value intelligence, and in our modern Western society it has become valued more than ever before. Yet, intelligence itself remains a vague and poorly defined concept. We are most accustomed to measuring intelligence with IQs, which means in terms of mental functioning. More recently, researchers have extended the concept to apply to other areas, including emotional, social, and physical functioning. Brain research, on the other hand, has focused on connecting intelligence with the development and operation of neural pathways, coming up with various theories about this connection.

The present book takes the view that neither the discrimination of different forms of intelligence nor the understanding of its physiological basis will add to our understanding of the nature of intelligence in any fundamental way. We still do not know what it is and where it comes from, and we need that clarity and knowledge in order to fully appreciate intelligence and recognize its full potential for human beings. This book does not oppose or disagree with any of the orientations and theories referred to above. Instead it investigates intelligence by looking in a new and unexpected direction. It inquires into our direct experience to find the essence of intelligence—what it is in actuality, and how and why it affects all the forms of human functioning.

Brilliancy explores the fundamental ground of intelligence, which turns out to be a quality or characteristic of our spiritual nature. So this exploration is of a quality of spiritual presence, the existential substance of our consciousness. In other words, when we directly experience our individual consciousness, using spiritual methods and inquiry, we find it to be a kind of medium or dynamic field, characterized most importantly by the sense of presence or beingness. We recognize that most fundamentally we are this conscious presence. This is an experience and insight that becomes the heart of spiritual realization and enlightenment, for it is the recognition of what our true and primordial nature is.

The interesting thing that the author found, as part of developing his spiritual teaching called the Diamond Approach, is that our spiritual nature implicitly possesses many inherent qualities, like kindness, love, strength, clarity, spaciousness, and truth. Furthermore, our spiritual nature can appear in experience as a pure undifferentiated presence and awareness that implicitly possesses these qualities without differentiation, or it can manifest as each quality in its differentiated purity, such as in the presence of love, clarity, peace, or truth. Another observation is that each quality affects our consciousness differently, imbuing our mental, emotional and physical faculties with the characteristics of the particular quality. When clarity, for instance, manifests in consciousness, it gives the mind a much greater capacity for objectivity, discernment and precision in perception, thinking, cognizing and mental operations in general.

Spiritual presence, which is the ontological ground of our consciousness, possesses not only timelessness, clarity, truth, love and the rest of the qualities that are commonly associated with spirituality, but many other qualities not often considered spiritual, and one of these is the quality of intelligence. In other words, through direct inquiry we can find that intelligence is an inherent characteristic possessed by our consciousness, a timeless quality of our spiritual nature. Intelligence is and always has been inherent to our spiritual nature, and it can arise as a particular differentiated and knowable quality as well, in the presence of intelligence. In other words, we can experience our consciousness as the fundamental “I am,” but we can also experience it as “I am intelligence.”

This implies that intelligence, as any other of the qualities of consciousness, may rely on the brain and its mechanisms for its functioning, but it originates from a different place than the brain itself. In the Diamond Approach, we recognize that consciousness is not a result of brain development or processes, but is emergent within the brain as the brain reaches a certain complexity. Consciousness is a property of our spiritual nature, and intelligence is a quality of this same nature that manifests in our consciousness in one degree or another. Just as consciousness needs the brain to operate in our world, so does intelligence. This understanding means that difficulties in the functioning of the brain can affect its conductivity of essential intelligence, which means that our capacity to use intelligence has at least some dependence on our physical organism.

In this spiritual path, we have found that the presence of pure consciousness is the fundamental ground of our individual existence as well as of all existence. It is the deepest nature of all reality. This recognition leads to the awareness that intelligence underlies the existence and the development of the universe. As part of the nature of all of reality, intelligence has therefore been integral to how the universe developed and how life evolved. This insight, which is quite apparent in the direct spiritual experience of the intelligence in pure consciousness helps us see that the fact that the universe has an intelligent design is not contrary to the findings of science, as revealed in the theory of evolution and in recent cosmological findings. Spiritual experience shows that there is inherent intelligence to the development of forms in the universe, and not simply statistical chance. In other words, the understanding of what intelligence is and where it originates can aid us in the present discussion in the culture at large about intelligent design and the debate between it and evolutionary theory.

The book, especially in its first part, discusses some of the basic ways we can recognize the experience of essential intelligence. It discusses how we can know and appreciate the presence of intelligence as well as experience it immediately and directly. The first four chapters describe the phenomenological characteristics of our spiritual nature when we experience it as the purity of intelligence. We find that its most obvious characteristic is that it is the actual radiance and brilliance of who we truly are—our spiritual nature. We find it to be pure self-existing brilliance. It is not the brilliance of any color, but simply concentrated brilliance as presence, hence our reference to essential intelligence as Brilliancy. It is a presence of consciousness, experienced as a field of awareness with an exquisite refinement and smoothness, which corresponds to the visual effect of a blinding brilliant light that paradoxically does not blind, but enhances our capacities of consciousness and cognition.

This brilliance of presence is not uncommon in spiritual awareness but it is not often associated with intelligence. We begin to recognize brilliant presence as the source of intelligence when we notice that a luminous individual, who appears shiny and radiant, also begins to function in a more intelligent manner. We can see that a person can actually become brilliant in terms of mental functioning, as well in other forms of operating.

Brilliancy discusses how essential intelligence affects our experience of presence, time and timelessness, as well as its profound influence on our synthetic capacity, and the penetrating faculty of our mind. By evoking in us its spiritual ground, the author reveals to us the nature of intelligence as it imbues each of our faculties with elegance, economy, rapidness, conciseness, distillation and completeness. We begin to see the potential of intelligence, as the fundamental brilliance that can imbue our faculties with exquisite functionality. And the very completeness of this brilliant spiritual light, a presence that leaves nothing out, explains not only the visual brilliance but also the functional brilliance that is the essence of intelligence.

The second part of the book discusses in some detail how Brilliancy functions in the process of inner inquiry, how it can make our inquiry more intelligent and complete by enhancing its synthetic and penetrating powers. The synthetic capacity is a reflection of the completeness of the presence of Brilliancy, and the penetrating power a reflection of the amazing smoothness and suppleness of its presence.

The third part of the book is taken from work the author did with a group of students, specifically on the process of recognizing, liberating and actualizing the essential presence of intelligence. This section consists of real-life inquiries where the teacher interacts with the students, helping them inquire into their experience and limitation of intelligence, and the issues and conflicts that function as obstacles to its arising and integration in their consciousness. It illustrates the particular inquiry that the Diamond Approach has developed and how it uses intelligence and other qualities of spiritual nature in its practice. Through the work of many individuals we see the inner obstacles that stand in the way of experiencing and integrating this quality. It becomes clear that our early experiences with our fathers, so often colored by questions of support and guidance, function as central in the personal conditioning that can limit our access to our innate intelligence. These teacher-student dialogues demonstrate the process and steps of discovering and experiencing this Brilliancy as well as the ways it affects our consciousness.

Above all, this book shows how intelligence, when it manifests fully as Brilliancy, is not a dry mental activity, but the exercising of our consciousness in a complete way that can become ecstatic and uplifting of the heart by the spontaneous expression of our shining presence. Both the direct experience and the smooth functioning of essential intelligence enchant the mind with their elegance, aesthetic beauty and exquisiteness. It is to support this extraordinary potential in human soul—of knowing the nature of true intelligence—that Brilliancy was written.

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About A.H. Almaas

A.H. Almaas is the pen name of Hameed Ali, founder of the Diamond Approach to Self-Realization, a contemporary teaching that developed within the context of both ancient spiritual teachings and modern depth psychological theories. Learn More

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