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Hierarchy / Nonhierarchy

Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Hierarchy / Nonhierarchy?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Hierarchy / Nonhierarchy

All the Dimensions of Reality are Completely Inseparable from One Another

However, none of the levels of truth that we have been describing is what the Holy Idea of Holy Truth refers to. Holy Truth is the perception that all these levels are actually one thing, that all the dimensions constitute a complete state of unity. In other words, all the dimensions of reality are completely inseparable from one another, and all are the same thing. This is the perception that there is absolutely no duality—either horizontally (between objects) or vertically (between dimensions). So although we experience ourselves moving progressively into deeper and deeper dimensions of reality as our inquiry becomes increasingly subtle, Holy Truth is the perception that all these dimensions exist simultaneously. They are all facets of the same reality, so the sense of a hierarchy is ultimately illusory.

Facets of Unity, pg. 79

Any Experience of True Nature is as Significant as any Other because it is the Other

Anytime we experience true nature, we are experiencing a single truth. We are not experiencing different true natures or different parts of one true nature. We are not experiencing different levels of it. Although in the hierarchical view of the path we discover different levels or dimensions of increasing depth and subtlety, the fourth turning of the wheel reveals the nonhierarchical view of the path. The view of totality, one of the wisdoms of the fourth turning, accommodates multiple views of reality, including the view of nonhierarchy. We see that any experience of opening, any fundamental insight into reality and into ourselves, any experience of the purity of true nature and the purity of reality is as valid and important as any other. Any experience of true nature is as significant as any other because it is the other; it is all others. Each experience of true nature is all experiences of true nature. Each form is all of true nature; each dimension is all of true nature.

Direct Perception of the Simultaneous Presence of all the Boundless Dimensions in all Manifest Forms

A further step toward integrating the dimensions is our direct perception of the simultaneous presence of all the boundless dimensions in all manifest forms, whether relative or essential. An essential aspect will arise as the integration of all dimensions of true nature in a faceted diamond presence. The integration is not complete yet, because the dimensions appear hierarchically stacked. Each aspect appears as a multilayered diamond, where the center layer is composed of the medium of the absolute, then the next layer of pure awareness, then pure presence, then divine love, and finally at the surface, the flowing essence of the logos. All the layers are of the color and quality of the particular essential aspect, except for the deepest layer, which is the sable black of the virtual dimension, beyond being and nonbeing. The surface layer is a flowing essential presence, essence not in the diamond form. So the presence is a faceted diamond while the surface is fluid and flowing. Flowing presence at the surface does not mean that the logos is the most superficial dimension. The logos cannot be included in the hierarchy of manifest dimensions because it is the principle of manifestation, which we can experience in any of these dimensions, and as the outflow from the absolute.

If We are with Experience Totally it can Lead Us to Everything

The fourth turning introduces a new nonhierarchical operating system while still recognizing the truth and usefulness of the hierarchical view. But these are not the only views available; the possibilities are endless. If we take seriously the nonhierarchical view, it means there is no comparison, no lower and higher, no beginning and end. Even realization does not have hierarchy—there is no lower or higher realization. Each realization is valid, complete, and a true manifestation of reality. And not only every realization but every experience is reality manifesting itself in the moment. This includes everything—not only all the qualities, all the ways in which true nature manifests itself as diamonds and pearls and oceans and vast skies and flowers and fields and rivers, but also actual mountains, oceans, and stars. And none of them is more important than another, none of them is higher than another; there is no low and there is no high. If we completely explore any manifestation—inner or outer—if we are with the experience totally, as happens in our primary practice of inquiry, it can lead us to everything.

If We Don’t go Along with the Momentum of Reality We Create all Kinds of Trouble for Ourselves

I want to acknowledge the paradox and the dilemma of a teaching that presupposes realization—in other words, that is truly relevant when realization is already the case—with the fact that most of us are uncertain, to say the least, about our realization. So how can this teaching be relevant for everybody? The words might not make sense, but you might learn something anyway. Those who are realized will learn further realization, and those of us for whom realization has not happened completely can learn other things that are relevant for where we are. What makes it possible for this teaching to speak to this entire range of experience is the nonhierarchical view, which allows us to be wherever we are without trying to change our condition to one that is higher or deeper or more realized. But there is a paradox here too. Although it is true that all conditions are reality, that does not relieve us of the responsibility of learning—of actualizing our potential and furthering our realization—because reality has its own momentum to go that way. If we don’t go along with it, we create all kinds of trouble for ourselves.

Nonhierarchy Frees Enlightenment to Discover Further Kinds of Enlightenment

This radically changes our view and understanding of realization. You are just as realized if you realize personal presence as you are if you realize the absolute emptiness of reality. Realizing pure presence is as significant as realizing love. Realizing personal will is as profound as realizing the essence of intelligence. Although seeing manifestations of true nature as hierarchical is easier for the human mind, once we experience the truth of nonhierarchy, reality opens in unimaginable ways. Nonhierarchy is definitely more difficult to understand and to experience, but it also carries the possibility of greater freedom. It not only allows us to feel the personal freedom of enlightenment, but it also frees enlightenment itself to discover further kinds of enlightenment.

One Truth Appearing in Different Guises

What we learn in the fourth turning, the insight that arises, is that however we experience true nature—whether as personal presence or absolute nonbeing—it is a single truth, one truth appearing in different guises. We recognize that true nature is strength and compassion, clarity and intelligence; it is truth and it is love. True nature is equally will and presence, being and nonbeing, spaciousness and awareness. True nature is the inseparability of emptiness and presence. All of these are simply faces of one truth, manifestations and appearances of one reality. When we have enough discernment, when our being is activated, we can see that each includes all the others. In any one, all are implicit. This is different from the experience of the oneness and unity of nonduality, which is based on the principles of sameness and pervasiveness. The oneness and singleness of the fourth turning does not come at the expense of particularity and difference. And it addresses a different matter, a different question—one that points to an omnidirectional unity, where directionality does not suggest extension in time and space.

Realization is a Matter of Realizing all the Dimensions of Reality Simultaneously

To understand the view of the hierarchy of the dimensions of Being, and its usefulness, is to understand the usefulness of the perspective of ascent, as the experience and exploration of each of these dimensions. To understand each dimension on its own, as we have done in the last five chapters, is to recognize and appreciate its specific and necessary contribution. Such understanding is necessary for understanding the principles governing the path of realization and liberation, which requires a full grasp of the functioning of Reality and of the soul. At the same time, the integrated dimension adds the insight that Reality is not one of these dimensions, but they are all necessary for both its existence and our experience of it. This insight points to the truth that realization is not a matter of realizing one of these dimensions of true nature, but of realizing all of them simultaneously, for that is the true structure of Reality.

Realizing the Truth of Nonhierarchy

When we realize the truth of nonhierarchy and the self-creating dynamism of true nature, any real experience, state, or knowledge can catalyze the process of endless realization. But if we take the view that some realizations are deeper or more fundamental than others, then we have to proceed gradually through all the steps, stages, levels, and degrees of realization. This is fine, of course, because it is one way that awakening and enlightenment can occur. What I am presenting as the liberating power of the philosophers’ stone reveals another possibility. When we see the identity of all the manifestations of true nature—which are one even though they are different—true nature spontaneously unfolds to reveal the mysteries inherent to it.

Seeing that there is No Hierarchy in True Nature

Whenever true nature manifests itself, all of true nature is there. When we experience compassion, that compassion has emptiness, has awareness, has truth, has love. Although they may not be manifest, they are all there, and if we stay with our experience, and don’t try to get somewhere else or try to change anything, if we simply let it be, it will by itself unfold and reveal other possibilities because these other possibilities are intrinsic to it. The view that arises from this insight of the equalness and completeness of each manifestation of true nature is that experiencing personal presence is no less important than experiencing nondual awareness. Experiencing the emptiness of everything is not more important, more significant, or more powerful than experiencing the joy of being human. We see that there is no hierarchy in true nature.

The Hierarchy of Manifestation is not Temporal or Spatial, but Ontological

This dimension of the journey of descent reveals the fundamental truth that Reality is composed of many dimensions, all necessary for manifest forms and our experience of them. It also reveals their hierarchic functioning, which in turn points to the absolute as the apex or center of the hierarchy. It reveals the objective relation of the absolute to manifest reality as the center of a hierarchy of manifestation, and shows us that by descending into manifestation the absolute descends into an increasing number of dimensions. It also shows that this hierarchy of manifestation is not temporal or spatial, but ontological. The integrated dimension reveals the manifest world as a Riemannian multidimensional manifold, and shows the hierarchical relationships of the functioning of its various dimensions. The experience of manifestation on this dimension is that it is multilayered, where the absolute forms its center and core, its inmost essence. We see a oneness of appearance, flowing and rich with colorful forms and qualities, but possessing several grounds all necessary for such experience. We experience ourselves as this multilayered Reality, a macrocosm whose ultimate ground and essence is the absolute mystery. We are all and everything, all dimensions and all forms. Or we may experience ourselves as the absolute, a vast luminous mystery that clothes itself with layers of manifestation, each of them clothing itself with the next layer, until we arrive at the physical dimension.

The Possibility of Waking Up to the Nonhierarchical View of Reality

The nonhierarchical view is in no way a break with what has come before; rather, I am simply following the natural implications of the teaching as we have known it. This new articulation reflects aspects of the teaching that I haven’t yet addressed directly or publicly. It turns out to be an entirely different paradigm from what we have been working with for the past thirty years or so. But, as we know from previous developments in the teaching, the new paradigm not only includes what has gone before but also depends on it. That is to say, everything we have done so far—all our practices and our learning—has been necessary to clarify our consciousness and to penetrate the essence of reality, which opens the possibility of waking up to this new view. It is as we move toward living and expressing our realization—instead of just discovering and abiding in it—that we begin to discern these new possibilities. How does reality manifest itself in action, in expression? How does realization live? If life is the life of reality, does a human life still have meaning? What is the point of the particular individual?

Working in a Way that Predisposes Us to Consider True Nature a Hierarchy

Because of this gradual approach to presenting true nature, we can easily assume and develop the view that reality is hierarchical. We experience that the essential qualities of true nature are deeper than our ordinary experience; and even more profound than the qualities is the realization of the boundless dimensions. We can experience the nonduality of the boundless dimensions as a greater realization than the experience of the differentiated qualities of true nature. And the integration of the boundless dimensions is a still subtler realization. This way of working predisposes us to consider true nature a hierarchy, where one state is deeper than another, subtler than another, or more profound than another. Our realization goes through successive stages, each more inclusive than the preceding one, and this process of increasing subtlety breeds in us the notion that some forms of true nature are more important than others, that some manifestations of true nature are more real, more fundamental, or more powerful than others. But is this actually the case?

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