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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Discernment?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Discernment

By Seeing the Nature of Gnosis We Can Appreciate that It is Nondual Knowing

Nevertheless, the development of the discursive mind is a necessary stage in developing the discriminating capacity of our inherent awareness. And it is useful for performing the tasks of life. But it is not the kind of knowing that is needed for realization. That kind of knowing has to be more of a felt knowing, an experiential knowing. I call it immediate or direct knowledge. In the West, we have a word for it—“gnosis,” which means “knowing.” But gnosis is a knowing through Being, through immediate contact in which the feeling and the experience of the knowing are inseparable. So, we need to refine our language and understand the terms in a way that makes our discernment more attuned and more acute. By seeing the nature of gnosis—the direct knowing that confronts our ignorance—we can appreciate that it is nondual knowing. We move beyond the duality that pervades our perception and our usual knowing of the mind. This in turn makes it more possible to see and recognize True Nature. That is why our practice of inquiry is an inquiry into our experience. That is why our meditation is the immediacy of Being, which is the beingness, the presence, and the awareness that pervades the presence. And the awareness that pervades that presence creates the possibility of recognition, of direct knowing, or gnosis. When that capacity for recognition is developed, and we are experiencing True Nature, we can recognize that that’s what we really are and that it is actually the nature of everything.

If the Guidance Comes from the Same Dimension You are Operating In, it is Not True Guidance Yet

We are lost because all we have when we begin the journey is what everybody else in society has: a package of experiences, beliefs, and ideas absorbed from the culture and from our parents. All these are expressions of the conventional dimension, the ordinary and prevalent cultural wisdom. This wisdom is not bad, but it usually does not deal with or originate from the deeper dimensions. And we cannot guide ourselves by using the kind of knowledge that comes from the mind that is the product of this conventional dimension. If the guidance comes from the same dimension you are operating in, it is not true guidance yet—at most, it is a limited guidance. True guidance means insight, understanding, discernment, and indications originating from a source beyond where you are, from the dimension you move into as your spiritual experience develops. Unless guidance comes from that source beyond, we keep moving from one place in the conventional dimension to another place in the same dimension. We haven’t got the vaguest idea of what awaits us, of what is possible in our potential. We don’t know the extent, the depth, the infinite possibilities that lie underneath the surface. So we tend to judge everything by our knowledge, attitudes, and feelings that come from that surface. We don’t know that by taking that knowledge to be final knowledge, we identify with the very barriers that prevent the depth from emerging and guiding us. This is why the conventional dimension is a state of spiritual sleep, of being spiritually lost.

The Capacity for Discrimination that the Diamond Guidance Provides

We already have a capacity for discrimination in the conventional dimension—we call it intellect. That capacity for discrimination deepens and becomes much sharper when the Diamond Guidance affects our consciousness. In some very real sense, our ordinary capacity for intellectual discrimination arises from the Diamond Guidance. The degree to which our discriminating intelligence has developed, however, depends on how in touch we are with this diamond manifestation of Being. The farther away from it we are, the less sharp our capacity for discrimination is. Intellectual discernment is an expression of this inherent discrimination, but the capacity for discrimination that the Diamond Guidance provides is not only on the intellectual level. It is on the feeling, experiential, sensing, and perceptual levels as well. The discriminating capacity of the Diamond Guidance can be seen and appreciated as the prototype of the capacity for discrimination at all levels. It is the essential nous, the expression in the soul of the universal nous—the wisdom of discrimination. To effectively and fully operate using the Diamond Guidance, we need to be able to function on all levels of discrimination. It is important to have intellectual discrimination, for example, not because we are primarily intellectual, but because intellectual discrimination is necessary for describing a feeling, a sensed discrimination, or a perceived one. It is also necessary to have emotional and sensate discrimination to appreciate the subtleties in our lived experience. The Diamond Guidance, in the arising of basic knowledge, gives us the discrimination on the essential level—the spiritual level—but it also sharpens our discrimination on all the other levels, because it is the prototype, the Platonic form, of the capacity for discrimination in general.

This Capacity for Discernment Also Becomes the Basis for Reification

So, as you see, the tendency of the mind to reify in order to create stability, a fixed center, or a particular orientation is unlimited. The mind, then, is a mixed blessing, a double-edged sword. And that is the condition of humanity: Our intelligence, our mind, can liberate us but it can also ensnare us. Our learning, our maturation, and even our realization and enlightenment, require the capacity for discernment, for clear discrimination, of what is true and what is not true. But it is this capacity for discernment that also becomes the basis for reification. Reification cannot begin without the recognition of something, without discriminating it as distinct from everything else. When we recognize something, we usually encapsulate it, we make it into an object, reify it, remember it, and then project it onto the present—all of which excludes the immediacy of our experience. We are, as a result, perceiving our experience through the reifications. No longer are we recognizing reality freshly. When we first recognize something—before the reification happens—the recognition is immediate. It is a felt, full sense of experiential knowing of what is. This immediate discernment is alive and unmediated by past experience. Meeting reality in this way is necessary in order to be a full human being; without it, our potentialities will become limited. We will continue to perceive our experience based on a reified reality that cuts us off from the direct knowing of life.

Two Overlapping Movements in Our Practices

In other words, there are two overlapping movements in our practices. The central practice of inquiry, whose core is nondoing and noninterference, contains an active engagement that, at some point, becomes completely spontaneous. And, there is the nondoing practice that begins with sitting in an abiding stillness in which, at some point, a spontaneous understanding and discernment can emerge because of the presence of our discriminating intelligence. Inquiry can become spontaneous nondoing, and nondoing can become spontaneous inquiry. In inquiry, we are actively engaged—we’re experimenting, we’re exploring, we’re delving into things, we’re reading, we’re questioning—while, at the center of it, we are not doing anything to our experience and are only interested in understanding its truth. In the nondoing meditation, we are sitting still, being the condition of realization, and the revelation of reality is a spontaneous arising. Our focus is nondoing and inquiry simply erupts. When that spontaneously happens, we don’t say, “No, no, this is nondoing practice; I have to remain still,” because the arising is not our doing—it is Living Being manifesting as dynamic revelation. So if we insist on remaining in our meditative stillness, we are clamping down on the dynamism of Being. When the dynamism of Being is free, it freely reveals the understanding of the situation we are in and reveals further and further realization.

What the Inner Work is About: Taking the Discerning Capacity to Its Ultimate Limit, where Reality itself is Beyond Cognition

At some point in the development of our capacity to discern, the cognitive capacity can take itself to its own limits. And that is really what the inner work is about: taking the discerning capacity to its ultimate limit, where reality itself is beyond cognition. Our cognitive capacity knows and knows and knows, until it begins to approach a reality that it cannot know. And the reason it cannot know it is not because our cognitive capacity is not developed, or because there is something wrong with it, or even because there is an obscuration, but because the reality it is now encountering has nothing to do with knowing—it is beyond knowing. When the mind recognizes that to be the case, it basically bows down and bows out. In some sense, the mind has been wanting to do that for a long time because it has been doing the difficult job of inquiry for so long and it needs to rest. It wants to go to sleep. It wants the world to run without it because it has been feeling that it has had to be in charge of everything. So, we find out that one of the dimensions of our True Nature is that it is nonconceptual. We discover that we can be without the discernment, discrimination, and knowing of mind because presence and awareness are ultimately, primordially, nonconceptual. Reality exists without concepts, regardless of knowing or not knowing.

When Awareness Has Gone Deeper than Discernment Can Go

What I am calling nonconceptual here is beyond immediate and nonrepresentational knowing. It is beyond basic knowing or gnosis. It is not a knowing at all, and there is no recognition of anything; it is total innocence of mind, perceiving but not recognizing what we are perceiving. So, we see that we have the possibility of being where we are—to be in such nakedness, such purity, that we just are and that is that. And we don’t even say “we” and “are”—everything just is as it is. The terminology used by those in the Eastern traditions is very good for indicating this, because it is just a pointing. You can ask, “What is it?” and they will say, “It is that.” Or “What is reality?” and the answer will be, “It is just thus.” No explanation is possible because there is nothing to explain, because there is nothing to discern—or, the discerning capacity does not function at that level. Awareness has gone deeper than discernment can go. It has reached the totally nonconceptual depth of True Nature, the noncognitive depth of reality. Thus we recognize that True Nature—the nature of everything—is fundamentally nonconceptual, beyond mind. And, the fact that awareness is beyond the mind means that we can be free of the mind.

When the Understanding Itself is Not the Words, Rather it is the Actual New Structuring of the Soul

Revelation, insight, or direct knowledge is nothing but the impact of the essential diamond presence on the soul. The soul’s experience is affected and structured by the diamond presence, rather than being patterned by ordinary knowledge. The diamond presence also gives us a sense of precision, definiteness, and objectivity that we call understanding when we describe it. The understanding itself is not the words, rather it is the actual new structuring of the soul. In other words, the arising of Essence impacts our consciousness in such a way that an essential experience arises, a new unfoldment happens. The diamondness of the essential presence gives us the experience of a precise and sharp delineation, a knowingness, a discernment of what is arising. This is real understanding. Most people take the description of an experience to be the understanding. However, when we use the word “understanding,” we mean the actual impression in the soul created by the arising aspect. This is a felt experience, a tasted, touched knowledge, with a direct discrimination of different patterns, flavors, and textures. The discernment of the pattern—not the description or the communicated words—is the understanding. Communication is the use of words taken from the conventional dimension to try to express the already existing understanding. Understanding is experience, but experience with precision and clear discrimination.

Without Love, there Would be No Compassion or Sensitivity to the Mind’s Discernment

When I say “higher intellect” or “divine mind,” many people misunderstand and consider these to be mental faculties. But the heart is vital to this kind of creative discrimination. The functioning of this capacity actually happens through the unity of mind and heart because without love, there would be no compassion or sensitivity to the mind’s discernment. The creative discrimination of presence is activated by the participation of the heart. This discrimination arises according to true, deep, existential need and only when we have the right orientation—a loving desire to know the truth. As I said before, this capacity of presence to discriminate experience transforms life into a process of discovery and revelation. This presence is not our mind, is not our feelings, is not our body, although it makes use of all of these; it is its own truth. It is an intelligence that brings not only discernment and understanding but also creative discrimination. What makes the discrimination creative is that the moment we make a discrimination, we are seeing an implication, which reveals another possibility of experience that opens another insight, another experience, or another whole dimension of knowing and being.

Your Mind Can Only Take You to Another Component of Itself

Our only hope is a guidance, a discernment, an indication that comes from a realm beyond. There is no other way, there has never been any other way. What you know can only take you further into what you know. Your mind can only take you to another component of itself, it can never take you beyond itself. If we don’t open ourselves up to guidance—whether it is coming from the outside or the inside—we are bound to remain stuck. We are doomed to go in circles, orbiting the same planet over and over and over again, gravity-bound. To get to another planet, we need a spaceship, and the kind of spaceship we need does not exist on this planet. The spaceship we need is a direct manifestation of guidance—the indication, the light that comes through from beyond this reality to show you further possibilities, possibilities you couldn’t even conceive of. And when we recognize that guidance, that indication, that insight, that intuition, that discernment, that pointing toward further possibilities, then we open up. At that point, our experience begins to unfold; it deepens and reveals those further possibilities. 

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