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Mystical Poverty

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Mystical Poverty

Being Poor and Being Pure

To be poor is to lose self completely. To be pure is to see nothing but God. There is no such thing as the devil and God. There are some religions which are based on the division between the world of the light and the world of the darkness. These two Gods of the light and the dark are always fighting. People generally chose one or the other. If you chose the darkness, the soldiers of darkness will come and aid you against the soldiers of light, and vice versa, in an eternal and perpetual battle. But that level of perception has not arrived at the monotheistic view yet, where God is one, absolute, and eternal. God is simply what is, what has been, and what will be. God is all that can be experienced, all that can exist, all that can be conceived, in its original purity and pristineness, free from the veils of the ego-self. God is the one reality.

One can Experience the Soul as Devoid of Everything and that She Gets Everything from the Divine

In our experience and observational research, one can experience the soul as devoid of everything and that she gets everything from God or the divine, including being, this way resembling the Nicene position. This occurs particularly in the experience of mystical poverty, as the soul approaches the absolute dimension of Being, the luminous darkness and mystery of Being. But we differ in that we understand this to be due to the soul still experiencing herself through a mental construct, that of the image of being a separate entity. When she is able to shed this mental concept of herself, and experiences her reality completely nonconceptually, she finds no distance between the absolute and her essence. (See The Point of Existence, chapter 41, for a more detailed account of this understanding. Also, see Luminous Night’s Journey, chapter 8.) We recognize the soul as basically an ontological presence because the experience of presence is nothing but the experience of ourselves when it is direct and unmediated, when it is free of mental self-images, reifications, and concepts.  

Realizing that Our Very Substance, Our Very Consciousness, is not Ours but Originates in a Higher Source

So the correct and balanced attitude means one based on the service of a higher principle. If our work is motivated or guided by a lower principle, a more selfish principle, then it will tend to move tangentially or not move at all. At some point on the inner journey, the soul will have to go from the station of servitude to the station of slavery. Now how is a servant different from a slave? A slave doesn’t own anything, doesn’t possess anything, not even his life, not even his existence. A servant still owns his own existence. Although he serves the master dutifully and correctly, a servant still has separate quarters. A slave has nothing of his own; he is owned by the master. So the station of slavery is a more exalted station than the station of servitude. We’re not only humble and truthful and serene and all of that, but we are completely owned by the truth. We are under the complete domination of the truth. We are at the whim of the truth, an absolute extension of the truth. We are completely inseparable from the truth, from the master. When you are a slave, you can be a true expression of the truth, a true prolongation of the truth. As we see, our attitude continues to refine. The purification of the soul, the correction of our attitude toward experience, leads to the condition of mystical poverty. Being poor in spirit means we not only serve and purify, but also that we realize we don’t own anything. We move from being a soul to being a spirit. A spirit is a soul that realizes that its existence is not its own. We realize that our very substance, our very consciousness, is not ours but originates in a higher source. Not only the love and the will and the value come from a deeper source, but our very existence, our very soul, is owned by the master. We own nothing. We become a slave to the truth when we realize that we are not separate from it. True service arises from the station of slavery. True service becomes our natural state, like becoming the finger of the hand and being moved only by the master.  

Soul Needs to Transcend the Concept of Relationship and Utterly Surrender all Separate Existence

This state has been recognized by some of the spiritual traditions, especially those of Sufism and mystical Christianity, and is valued as an absolute necessity for spiritual transcendence. It is referred to as the station of “mystical poverty” and understood as the recognition that the soul is totally poor and lacking in relation to God, who is the source of everything. It is important to realize that this religious view still remains bound to the oral way of relating to reality, that the soul is empty, and God the all providing source. The student must see these traces of orality for her experience to take her to full self-realization; otherwise, she will remain bound to an object relation of a poverty-stricken soul relating to an omnipotent and all providing God (selfobject). This may lead to a deep spiritual life, but it will not resolve fundamental narcissism. The important step is recognizing that as long as she is relating to Being within any object relation she is still within the conceptual mind, and so is operating from within mental representation. She needs to transcend the concept of relationship and utterly surrender all separate existence. 

The Entrance Into the Divine Essence

For those who are genuinely motivated, we need to realize that the poverty of spirit requires tremendous devotion and struggle. We must develop purity, nonattachment, understanding, love, and many other qualities, all the way to perfection, all the way to completion. Mystical poverty is the entrance into the divine essence, the window into the deepest mystery of reality, the absolute truth of Being. Only those with a powerful pull toward that most beautiful of all beloveds will dare to venture here. And of these only those who love this Beloved to the extent of complete annihilation into its mystery chance upon this doorway.

The Heart's Nature is Always Surrender

We are talking about mystical poverty because this perspective is needed in our work here. We are not working to get richer; we are working to get poorer. You might think you are coming here to get more realized, to achieve more essential states. The truth is you will have less and less. The heart and the mind usually do not hear this message for years and years. They keep rebelling, keep doing things according to what they have learned. “I don't want this. I want that.” After some long time, the heart and the mind become wiser. The heart sees, responds, and moves toward poverty. The heart realizes that riches hurt, that they are not the real thing, not the truth, not the true Beloved. Also, the heart realizes that trying to get riches is not the heart’s nature. Its nature is always surrender, forgiving, disowning.

The More the Heart Leads the Way, the More Possibility for Insight to Arise

Student: So is it simply a matter of understanding that the ego-self does not truly possess anything because it itself is an illusion?

Almaas: Yes, if you are looking at it intellectually, or experientially but through the mind. But the path of poverty is the path of the heart. Intellectual understanding won’t do it. The insight and understanding are important, but on the path of mystical poverty the soul must completely feel and live the richness, the poverty, the deficiency and fear, the loss and pain, the attachment and the longing for freedom. The more the heart leads the way, the more possibility for insight to arise. You feel the poverty in your heart. You feel the pain of letting go of things you love. You experience the poverty as deep suffering and sorrow. It is not easy for the heart to let go and be poor. It lets go with a lot of pain, a lot of tears. When you think about it, your mind says, “Okay, let’s do it. This makes sense. Let go now.” But the heart doesn’t work that way. Your mind can say, “Okay, I’m making a vow of poverty.” That’s fine and some paths do that, but it must come from the longing of the heart.

The Sufi dervishes, for instance, give away everything they have to their neighbors. If they get a gift, they offer it in a spirit of sacrifice. When they feel enlightened, they offer their enlightenment to God. It is a heart attitude, an attitude of generosity that is not easy to grasp. Of course, it has to be a heartfelt, genuine giving away. You cannot say, “I’m going to have less and less so I can be free.” That is the mind talking and that does not work. It cannot be a strategy; it has to be a living longing. When the impulse comes from the heart, there is some kind of surrender, of giving up, of learning a lesson after difficult and painful experiences.  

We Need to Realize that the Poverty of Spirit Requires Tremendous Devotion and Struggle

This state of poverty and purity, this depth and level of work, require that we really want the truth as it is. We have to be intimately touched and moved by reality, by truth, by essence, to be able to even contemplate venturing into a condition like the poverty of spirit. For most people, it is not their concern. Moving into this realm is not part of ordinary life; it is only needed when we are moving deeply into the truth of reality. For those who are genuinely motivated, we need to realize that the poverty of spirit requires tremendous devotion and struggle. We must develop purity, nonattachment, understanding, love, and many other qualities, all the way to perfection, all the way to completion. Mystical poverty is the entrance into the Divine Essence, the window into the deepest mystery of reality, the absolute truth of Being. Only those with a powerful pull toward that most beautiful of all beloveds will dare to venture here. And of these, only those who love this Beloved to the extent of complete annihilation into its mystery chance upon this doorway.  

When Soul's Poverty Becomes Her Doorway

The state of poverty, which some traditions call “mystical poverty,” is the expression of the transformation of narcissistic emptiness into true inner spaciousness, a profound void now penetrating the shell due to the shell’s almost complete denudement. As the self is letting go of its representations of itself, which feels like the surrendering of everything she believed she possessed, she becomes increasingly transparent to the presentations of Being. She experiences a new profundity of true emptiness—black space—but it is reflected through a slight vestige of psychic structure, the concept of entity. So she feels this emptiness as the poverty of her sense of self. As the student remains in this condition, surrendering all manipulations and desires, this profound emptiness dissolves the remaining vestiges of structure, and propels her into the full and direct experience of this deepest of all voids. But she then discovers that this most profound inner spaciousness is also identical to the absolute depth of all Being. She has arrived home; her poverty has been the doorway.

Without Her Possessions the Soul Experiences the State of Poverty

The experience of cessation can occur in different ways, usually before the discovery of the absolute, as the initial entry into it. It can be precipitated by the experience of mystical poverty, when we recognize our attachments and compulsive desires disconnect us from our true nature. Letting go of these attachments, we realize we have to let go of everything. This includes not only the sensuous objects of the world and the satisfaction they promise us, but also inner riches: making a contribution, having a position, knowledge, a state, fruits of the work, a station, recognition, anything. As the soul lets go of all her possessions, including her qualities and capacities, even her existence, she experiences the state of poverty. This state has a sense of having nothing, feeling nothing, being nothing, perceiving nothing. Accepting and welcoming the total emptiness of this state can lead to the state of cessation, where the last thing to go is perception.

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