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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Hell?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Hell

Attached to Essence You Accumulate Hell

Negative merging is not really merging; rather, it is two trying to be one while still maintaining twoness. Since this can never happen, there is always frustration. When I say that the negative merging, or the attachment, is hell, it doesn’t mean that freedom from it is heaven. We think of heaven as pure nonsuffering, peace, rest, comfort, gratification, fulfillment. All of these things are what we call essence. However, if you are attached to essence, what do you increase? Not heaven—you accumulate hell. We cannot try to free ourselves from hell in order to go to heaven. What we need is to objectively understand the root of this vicious cycle of attachment. We need to see the basis of all this suffering for what it is. When attachment itself is experienced without the object of attachment, without attention to what you want to have and want to hold on to, when the sensation itself is felt, it is experienced as deep anguish, totally intolerable. We normally avoid this experience by not focusing on it; whenever you are attached you are in this suffering but you don’t know it. So the obvious question arises: what can we do about it? But where is this question coming from? From our attachment to pleasure, our wanting to avoid pain and frustration. But this is the very nature of attachment, the very source of all desires, the Ouroboros eating its tail.

Attachment is the Pure Substance of Hell Itself

Do you remember what we said attachment was? It is the pure substance of Hell itself. It is pure, unadulterated anguish. The anguish is exactly what is produced by the movement of attachment. The movement of attachment always occurs in one of two ways, either a movement away from pain or a movement towards pleasure. Regardless of how you might try to get out of this dilemma, you won’t. If you have either of these two attitudes – which are actually one attitude – you are in the dilemma. You can’t get out of a sticky situation by becoming stickier. You can’t get out of a swamp by going further into it. No matter how many times I say this, how many times I read the stories, you will not get it unless you make that principle of understanding your practice every minute, as much as possible.

Count on the Arising of the "Dark Night"

Our understanding of the conditioned mind supports the revelation of new aspects of being. We see that even though the causes of suffering keep becoming more subtle, one thing runs through all of them: ignorance. We just don’t know what is real. As our exploration and inquiry deepen our awareness, understanding, and knowledge, we begin to penetrate the ignorance. The new understanding might inevitably make us aware of much more suffering than we were conscious of before the exploration. We might even begin to experience our suffering in a previously unimagined but actually beautiful way: the sense of the “dark night of the soul,” the sense of being in hell. Everyone who does the work goes through this. If you haven’t been through this dark night yet, you can count on its happening if you continue on this path. The time will come when you will have to struggle with deep suffering as you confront deep beliefs about yourself and about reality. And there is no one you can blame for this suffering; it is not a matter of history. It is a matter of beginning to see reality and beginning to confront your ignorance. This is a great struggle because the mind is deeply habituated, and it is hard to let go of those entrenched beliefs and attachments. Suffering and conflict will become intense for all of us. Although there is no way around the suffering, it helps somewhat to know that it is a normal part of our work.

Older Formulations of Work Systems

Work systems and schools have existed throughout history and around the world, each deploying certain methods according to their particular ways of understanding the human situation. All of these methods are ways of dealing with the personality or going around it, or a combination of the two . . . . . . . . . Older approaches can still be used to a certain extent, especially if modified to fit modern times and present communities. However, they are not expected to be as effective as they once were in their original homes at the times they were formulated. For instance, the old teachings of the Jewish cabbalists and the esoteric Christians were cast in the form of heaven and hell, populated by hierarchies of angels and devils. These formulations might still be useful in gaining certain insights and attitudes but will hardly be effective tools for a twentieth-century person to understand his life, let alone to use effectively for liberation. This understanding becomes even clearer when we consider, say, an American Midwesterner who is trying to understand and liberate himself using the Hindu images of Krishna and Shiva. Really to understand what these names stand for in the Indian mind he would have to understand the language and be steeped in and saturated by the Indian unconscious, which is full of the images of gods and goddesses. The images of Krishna and Shiva are accurately effective only in a mind whose unconscious developed in India, where these images formed part of the reality of childhood. Many people are still drawn to such ancient formulations, but that is mostly because of romantic and aesthetic considerations, not their effectiveness or efficiency.

Seeing that the Ego Ideal Doesn't Work

When someone achieves the ego ideal and sees that it doesn’t work, the attempts to fill the hole from then on are generally not effective. The person either tries to find another, similar ideal, or he simply modifies it. The ego ideal is always based on some kind of positivity—its aim is to give you a positive experience. It is a defense against a negative identity, a negative sense of self. There was a state of harmony that was lost, and the ego ideal is an attempt to regain that harmony. However, the loss of the state of harmony means the presence of negativity. The ego ideal is, in a sense, a way to deal with that negativity by retaining the hope for regaining a positive experience. If a person sees through the ego ideal, he will begin to experience a negative state, which is the absence of the original harmony. He will have to deal with the negative part of the self that is angry and hateful, and will have to see his self-hatred and self-rejection. In other words, you were in paradise and you were then thrown out of it into hell. You then try to build a certain ideal based on a hope of getting back to paradise, so you won’t be suffering in hell. You have this fantasy in your mind while you’re in hell, believing that if you work hard enough at being a certain way, you’ll get back into paradise. The moment you give up that hope, you find out you really are in hell, and you experience the depth of the negativity of self-hatred and self-rejection. When you recognize the ego ideal, there will be all kinds of defenses against it. I’m not trying, by the way, to tell you what will happen in your process; we’re just trying to understand the process. If you’re trying to anticipate what will happen, you are already motivated by the ego ideal. You want a result; the result you have in mind can only be a product of your ego ideal. You’re still caught in it, ensnared by it. The best approach is simply to understand it. Then you’ll see what will happen. It will not happen exactly the same way for everyone.

Theistic and Non-theistic Orientations Toward Suffering

This principle is formulated in different ways. There are two main ways of working with it. One is the theistic approach, and the other is the nontheistic approach. The theistic formulation has been the main approach in the West. The Judeo-Christian and Moslem traditions were formulated around the existence of a deity or God. These traditions say that if you look toward God, you’ll go to heaven, and if you look toward anything else, you’ll go to hell. What is needed is complete faith, complete surrender, complete openness, complete turning toward God. This is nothing but the movement toward Essence, for God is nothing but the nature of Essence, the essence of Essence, the source of Essence. So if you turn toward Essence, the source of Essence, the nature of Essence, you will get the realm of the heart which is heaven. If you turn toward anything else, you will get what we call the “false pearl,” the personality, and all the suffering and misery which is hell. The nontheistic traditions—the Buddhists and Taoists, for instance—do not postulate the existence of God. The Buddhists speak of the Four Noble Truths. The first Noble Truth is that there is suffering. That is the nature of the personality. The second Noble Truth is that the cause of suffering is desire. The third Noble Truth is that there is a way out of that. And the fourth Noble Truth is the path. So there is suffering; its cause is desire; it is possible to have a cessation of desire; and there is a path towards that cessation. Desire here is the looking outward: “I want this. I want that. Give me love. Give me pleasure.” It is seeking things from the external. The cessation of desire is the movement inward. The theistic approach comes from the perspective of the heart. The other approach, the Buddhist one, is the perspective of the mind. They are basically the same thing.

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