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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Buddha?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Buddha

Ending the Preoccupation with Self-Image

What I’ve just been talking about is written in all the books that deal with the matter of self-image. Buddha says, “You are not your self-image.” “Oh wonderful,” you think, “That’s true, I’m not my self-image. So my big nose really has nothing much to do with who I am. Good. From now on I’ll forget about my nose!” You forget for two hours. Then when somebody is looking at you the only thing you can think is, “Oh God, he thinks my nose is too big!” This person might be completely in love with you and think you’re beautiful, but all you can think about is your nose. So it doesn’t matter what you read, or what Buddha says or what anybody says, if you don’t have the understanding that will eliminate the preoccupation with self-image. The real understanding is something you cannot get from outside. Nobody can give it to you. This is where essence is valuable; it will give you the knowledge and understanding that no one else can. If you deeply investigate the issue of self-image, you’ll come to the essential aspect that corresponds to self-image. When this happens, you will experience essence in a way that has no self-image; instead there will be space, openness, inner spaciousness. This is the essential aspect that was lost when you developed a self-image and believed that the self-image was who you truly are. The self-image always has a boundary—physical, emotional or conceptual. When you experience space, you experience yourself as being without boundaries, without definition, just openness

Following the Inner Flame

We have a longing to be that certain about ourselves. As long as you know yourself as a result of an insight, as a result of comparing yourself to something else, or even fitting your experience with someone else’s ideas or experiences, you have no certainty. The longing for this direct certainty, to be oneself, should be the true motivation for the work. You need to make your search as free and as personal as possible. If it is your search and your seeking, it is not according to what anybody says. You can use what any teacher says; learning about their experiences might open parts of you. But ultimately you need to be quite alone. Then your knowledge comes completely from within you, not from any outside pressure. There are always outside pressures and influences; you need to respond to those things from within you and not from a learned pattern. When Buddha says there is no self, you say, “Maybe. Who knows? Let me find out.” How can you be certain if you follow blindly? Until I know personally, another’s truth is not truth for me, it’s an idea or a guiding ideal. I’ll try to follow and investigate; I’m open. Since I don’t know, I’m open to all ideas, but I follow my own inner flame. Without it, I can’t be certain. Somebody could tell me, “You have the Buddha nature.” Even if it is validated in books, what difference does it make? It has to be a personal understanding by convincing yourself through your own immediate experience.

How Different Teachings Posit an Absolute Ground of Being

Each teaching posits a final or absolute ground of Being that forms the irreducible simplicity of true nature. We refer to this ground as the absolute dimension of Being. The understanding of this ultimate true nature of the self and everything differs in subtle ways from one teaching or philosophy to another. In Christianity, it is the father who is the inscrutable darkness; in Kabala, it is the ain (nothing) or ain sof (infinite); in Sufism, it is the divine Essence; in Buddhism, it is emptiness (sunyata) or Buddha nature (tathagatagarbha); in Taoism, it is the Tao or the nothing; in Vedanta, it is the Brahman or absolute self; in Kashmir Shaivism, it is Shiva; and so on. The spiritual quest becomes that of the soul integrating this ultimate nature as its inner nature, source, and sometimes its identity.

Learning From Your Own Experience

How do you know that the knowledge you get from others is the truth? How do you know that your teachers, or even the great philosophers, have the answer that is appropriate for you? Christ says to love your neighbor. Do you really know that that is what you need to do? Buddha says that enlightenment is the best thing. How do you know that is what you need? Some people say you have to learn to be yourself. It sounds good. Some people say you should be free from your personality and develop your Essence. It sounds great. How do you know it will resolve your situation? You don’t really know whether any of these ideas are relevant or true for you. You can’t know with certainty until you have experimented and learned from your own experience. Until then your action is based on faith or belief. If you assume unquestioningly that what someone else says is the truth, your inner flame will be extinguished. You will believe that you have answered questions when you haven’t answered them; someone else has. And they haven’t answered them for you, but for themselves. We comfort ourselves by believing that others know, and that we can use their knowledge. It’s a very comforting thought; it encourages us to be lazy. We comfort ourselves by saying to ourselves, “Somebody knows, and in time I’ll get around to studying it. It’s already known and always available to me.”

Longing for a Life of Celebration and Freshness

When a person learns what it is to be oneself, the process of inner development, realization and understanding of truth involves continual discovery and expansion, with surprises and celebrations during the whole process. There is no end to the exploration and discoveries. Many of you can feel a very deep yearning, a subtle flame, a longing for that true life—to live our life as a continual celebration and freshness. In some part of us we know this is possible, and that it is the way life should be. If we don’t live this way, there is always a feeling of incompleteness. The understanding of what it is to be oneself unifies the spiritual and the mundane. It unifies the teachings of people like Christ and Buddha with the yearning of the ordinary person.

Mistaken Identity Leads to Suffering

So, to believe that we are the separate individuality is to take ourselves to be something that does not truly exist, and to fail to see who we are, to fail to realize our true essence. No wonder, then, that we are dissatisfied and suffering, just as the Buddha observed. We can note here that this suffering is not a problem that can be solved therapeutically; it is not a matter of emotional conflict. Psychologists and psychotherapists deal usefully with human suffering by working on the conflicts of the personality, but from the perspective of spiritual teachings this approach clearly cannot deal with the basic problem, the root of all emotional conflicts.When the Buddha said that life is suffering, he did not mean only neurotic suffering. He was referring to the more fundamental understanding that there is bound to be suffering in the life of the ego, because one is not seeing reality correctly; one is taking oneself to be something that actually does not exist. It is a problem of mistaken identity.

States of Emotional Attachment are those of Negative-Merging Affect

Understanding the negative-merging affect allows us to see the truth in more of the Buddha's statements; we can understand, for instance, that attachment is suffering. One can see that all states of emotional attachment are those of negative-merging affect. When one feels attached to a love object, whether human or not—not in the sense of feeling love, but in the sense of possession, need and not wanting to let go—the state can be seen as a clear state of negative-merging affect (as well as negative merging itself), covered up with all kinds of ideas, emotional patterns and beliefs. So it is not only that the loss of the object of attachment will bring suffering; the experiential state of attachment, itself, is suffering. It is this state of suffering, of negative-merging affect, that manifests when the object is lost. This explains the spiritual teaching that attachment is suffering, which is somewhat different from what most people believe this truth actually means; the usual belief is that attachment can lead to suffering. This is why most spiritual teachings advocate emotional detachment.

The True Manifestation of Will

When Buddha spent the last night under the Bodhi tree, he said, “I am going to stay here until I do it. I am not going to get up until I achieve enlightenment.” So he started with his intense determination, and his desire and ideas of what it would be like. He sat there without moving until dawn and he came to the understanding that his determination to change was the problem. This is my perspective of the Buddha’s story for our discussion today. It’s a paradox, but what else can you do about it? It’s true, wanting any change is by itself the resistance, but we have acknowledged the situation, and seen that at the present you cannot do it any other way. We have to accept this situation and live with it. The truth is your nature. If there were no possibility of knowing truth then none of this would be of any value. The question is whether you can do this work without effort, and just let what is there be there, and explore it. That doesn’t require effort. Effort is needed in resisting, not in seeing the truth. Seeing the truth is the relinquishing of effort. This is the true manifestation of will. We all think that will means effort. Will, we think, involves using force to go somewhere or to accomplish something. But that is not the correct understanding of will.

Traditional Names for Essence

Essence is not an object we find within ourselves; it is the true nature of who we are when we are relaxed and authentic, when we are not pretending to be one way or another, consciously or unconsciously. Essence is the truth of our very presence, the purity of our consciousness and awareness. It is what we are in our original and undefiled beingness, the ultimate core reality of our soul. Essence is the authentic presence of our Being; it is, in fact, Being in its thatness. Different spiritual traditions have given it different names: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam call it Spirit; Buddhism calls it Buddha nature; Taoism calls it the Tao; Hinduism calls it Atman or Brahman. The various traditions differ in how they conceptualize Essence and how much they emphasize it in their teaching, but Essence is always considered to be the most authentic, innate, and fundamental nature of who we are. And the experience and realization of Essence is the central task of spiritual work and development in all traditions.

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