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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Poverty?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Poverty

Accepting Our Poverty

By accepting our poverty we allow the essence of divinity into our hearts, and this reveals all of creation as the kingdom of heaven: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We are blessed with this vision, with this realization, by going through the dark night of spirit and accepting without protest our inherent poverty. By accepting our poverty we give up our self-centeredness, our egoism. This is the condition for the arising of true reality, reality as it is, reality not dependent on what our minds believe, not dependent on what we have learned, not dependent on our prejudices and histories. Reality, as it is, is one. Some people call this the experience of God.

Being Willing to Accept Poverty

The self we need to give up is not the body; it is a concept in the mind. It is a psychological belief. But the mind cannot distinguish that psychological belief from the body. Giving it up will feel like the death of the body. So to live according to the truth, we have to accept, we have to be willing to let go of the body and the life of the body. For example, being rich or being poor has nothing to do with living for the truth. But because the worldly self is interested in being rich and in being comfortable and supporting its instinctual needs, you have to be willing to let go of being rich. You have to be willing to accept poverty, if it seems that that is what needs to happen for you to see and live the life of the truth. Nothing about the truth says that you should not have a family, you should not have a lover, you should not be married. But because the worldly self is so invested in having these things, you need to be willing to sacrifice these things for the life of the truth. The worldly self is so habitually oriented towards these external satisfactions, and so identified with them, even defined by them, that we believe that to live the life of the truth must mean some kind of surrender of all these things in exchange for the truth. Surrender does not mean that you should give your money away to everyone. It means that if it comes down to it, you have to be willing to do that. When I say, “comes down to it,” it has to be a genuine thing. Whenever there is the choice, the choice will be made in favor of the truth.

Discovering that all of Our States, Feelings and Inner Experiences Don’t Belong to Us

The perspective of poverty requires a continual letting go, a continual giving away, a continual disowning of all possessions, of all dimensions of experience. We have less and less. The less we have, the poorer we feel, and the more there is purity. Saying that we “let go” or “surrender” is not quite precise. It is more accurate to say that we discover that all of our states and feelings and inner experiences don’t belong to us. We cannot sell them, we cannot trade them, we cannot accumulate them, we cannot store them, we cannot have them at will. They are not ours; they are gifts. These phenomena that pass through our souls are similar to the weather. Is the weather ours? Can anyone own the snow, the rain? What comes, comes; what goes, goes. The evolution of the urge toward possession is connected to our physical survival. Ultimately, however, it has come to serve the survival of the ego, the false self. When we experience essence, essence doesn’t feel it possesses anything. Essence never says, “I have strength. I have realization.” It is you who says that. Essence is just there; spirit simply is. When you say you have something, essence feels compassion toward you. “Poor guy, he wants to be rich.” Having to have is attachment. Attachment can be to anything: material possessions or emotional, mental, essential, divine, enlightened possessions.

Inner Poverty is a More Comprehensive Concept than Aloneness

To accept your poverty is to see that none of these are yours; you never really had them—you just believed you did. Realizing this poverty, although painful for the heart, is actually how the heart is purified. Although it is a grueling process, as we come to the point of recognizing and accepting the truth, peace and a causeless contentment arise in the soul. The process is similar to that of accepting our inner spiritual aloneness. Aloneness is a matter of letting go of objects, of object relations. Poverty is letting go not just of relationships but of everything, absolutely everything. Inner poverty is a more comprehensive concept than aloneness. First you have to accept aloneness, which is not easy, but we do come to accept it as we feel the peace and purity it brings to the soul. Then you have to accept poverty. You discover not only that you are completely alone; you discover also that you don’t possess anything. You are so empty, so poor, that you don’t even have deficiency. It is not that when you let go of everything you will feel deficient. Feeling deficient means you still have something; it supports the illusion of separate existence.

Letting Go of all 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 how 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 of 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.

Letting Go of Needing to Possess Things

Student: Is there a sense of loss in the path of poverty? And does it feel like pain and suffering, as John of the Cross wrote? Almaas: Letting go of attachments and accepting poverty is a heart wrenching process. We feel deep tears as we experience the continual loss of everything we love. We feel oceans and oceans of hot black tears. The tears of letting go and surrender deepen into an ocean of grief, and the ocean becomes darker and blacker, so black that at some point you don’t even have tears. What we are letting go of, what we are losing, are things we have cherished all our lives. You have to let go of your cherished beliefs, your loves and hates, your loved ones and your enemies, your ideas and philosophies, your comforts and consolations, even your mind and your heart. Most of us will protest, “How can I let go of my heart? What is life without my heart?” It is not a matter of not experiencing your heart or anything else; it is more a letting go of needing to possess things. The resistance and reluctance reflect the fear of the poverty. You think that if you let go of something, “That’s it. It’s going to be gone forever.” But you have to take that risk. You don’t know whether it will be gone forever or if it will come back again. That’s the test of the poverty. You might feel that your self is going to go, your heart is going to go, your intelligence is going to go. And you have loved and needed all these aspects of yourself.

Operating From an Impoverished Perspective

To the extent that we live from the perspective of trying to find fulfillment, or from trying to get better, we live in an empty world. However, if we just rest, forget all the searching and give up the seeking, the world becomes beautiful and full. When you are seeking, you separate your consciousness, your soul, from your being, from your source, so that your whole perception then is perception devoid of being. Regardless of what you acquire or achieve, you are poverty-stricken because you are operating from an impoverished perspective. In this situation, you can only perpetuate your impoverished point of view. That seeking, by its nature, is a movement away from the fullness of reality and the source of pleasure, peace, or whatever is so feverishly being sought. Reality can’t be reached by seeking; you do not see it because you are seeking for something else. Whatever you are seeking, it could seem more and more refined, or closer to the truth, or closer to fulfillment, but none of this will make a difference. It is the activity of seeking that matters; no matter what you seek, this activity is the same.

Poverty Means that We Do Not Possess Spiritual Experiences or Material Things

To be poor within means to give up your thoughts, feelings, wants, desires, likes, dislikes, preferences, opinions, beliefs, ideas. Being poor within is not holding positions about what is good and what is bad. If you do that, then you still have preferences, you still are not completely poor. From this perspective we see that everyone is very rich. We are all rich in spirit—full of ideas, preferences, opinions, beliefs, goals, and ideals. Surrendering our thoughts, feelings, judgments, preferences, and desires doesn’t mean that these things disappear but that we don’t have them in the same way. They just come and go. We don’t hold on to them as possessions. They are not vital for us. Maybe we can learn to be that poor inside. But then, as we begin to have experiences of reality, of essence, of awakening, the ego wants to possess these too. We believe that essence, spirit, and inner states belong to us, that we accomplished them. Havingness is back again. We might even believe we have virtues like patience, humility, courage, and equanimity. On a spiritual path, the ego can become rich again, can come to possess a wonderful inner panorama, the panorama of spirit. To be poor in spirit ultimately means that we need to be poor in the inner states themselves, the states of realization, the positive states. We need to be poor in love, poor in compassion, poor in intelligence, poor in truth, poor in awareness, poor in existence. But what does this mean? Clearly, as we open up to our nature we begin to experience these things more. Being spiritually poor does not mean that we do not experience spirit, just as being materially poor does not mean we do not have material things. Rather, poverty means that we do not possess spiritual experiences or material things. We realize that we don’t own them; when they come, they come, when they go, they go. We do not have them, hold on to them, or take the position that they are ours. We treat them as visitors, as guests.

Surrendering the Existence of the Individual Self Into the Mysterious Depths of the Absolute

I welcome my complete, fundamental poverty. I have nothing. I do nothing. I am nothing. The state becomes a sense of having nothing, being nothing, feeling nothing, perceiving nothing. Darkness deepens, blackness fills awareness. At this point, I notice that the indigent emptiness is no longer indigent; I experience it now as an endlessness of peace, an infinity of release, and a completeness of rest. I realize that by totally welcoming its objective emptiness, the individual self has surrendered its existence into the mysterious depths of the absolute. The emptiness of the self, which I have experienced on many levels as various kinds of insufficiency, and which I have just been feeling as poverty, reveals itself as the complete lightness and freedom of the black crystalline truth. The poverty is nothing but the inexhaustible void, which I have misunderstood by experiencing it through the lie of my independent existence and capacity. As I, the individual self, accept my poverty and relinquish my hold, I in effect accept and embrace the complete voidness of the absolute. Here, I recognize that I am the absolute depth of Being, the source of all plenums. The infinity of silence is what remains: luminous stillness, absolute transparency, and indescribable intimacy.

The Condition of Poverty is Completely, Absolutely Sacred Because it has not Been Contaminated by Manifestation

Student: How is poverty related to surrender? Almaas: Speaking of poverty is another way of talking about surrender, about generosity, nonattachment, selflessness. But the state of poverty has a sense of sacredness. Poverty is so absent of everything that it is absolutely sacred. There are no contaminations, no impurities, nothing exists in it absolutely. It is so empty of everything, all attachments, all objects, all qualities, that it is absolute sacredness. The sense is that poverty is where God comes from, the abode of God. Poverty is the condition before anything comes into being. It is completely, absolutely sacred because it has not been contaminated by manifestation. No creation has happened yet. Nothing has occurred. Nothing has been said. Some people call poverty the great death. It is not just the death of you or your ego. It is the death of everything. The absolute cessation and annihilation of all that can be perceived, felt, experienced. It is preexistence.

The Emptiness of Poverty is Simply the Inscrutable Darkness of the Divine Essence

To be completely poor is to recognize our true condition as individuals, which is that nothing we have or experience or accomplish is actually ours. It all belongs to the ultimate spiritual truth, the absolute ground of reality. We then experience a phenomenological emptiness, a voidness of all qualities, of everything, including being and existence. When this condition prevails, it becomes possible for the source of all manifestation to reveal itself in this voidness. This is a subtle point. When we recognize our inherent poverty, our sense of self is completely denuded, which makes it possible for the essence of divinity to manifest. The state of poverty is not simply a lack, even though the soul cannot help but see it as such because we are looking through the veils of selfhood. Accepting our total poverty, and not asking for more, allows us to surrender whatever is left of our selfhood. This surrender reveals that the emptiness of poverty is simply the inscrutable darkness of the Divine Essence, which is obscured as lack because of subtle veils. Now, however, the emptiness of poverty reveals itself as the majestic and luminous darkness of the mystery of Being. The dark emptiness becomes a luminous night, the mystical midnight sun, the very essence of divinity, the divine darkness that is the source of all light.

The Way of Poverty Includes Nonattachment to All Levels of Inner Possessions

Because havingness is a cornerstone of the ego-self and its life, spiritual traditions have seen poverty as necessary for realization, which is largely a going beyond the ego and its view of reality. Learning to be poor, to live without attachment, without havingness, becomes the way to empty the self and to move toward the truth of reality. Since it is almost automatic that possessing becomes possessiveness, many of the spiritual traditions teach material poverty as an effective method to counteract the tendency of havingness. Living a life of renunciation becomes the way to avoid the temptations of havingness. The world begins to appear as a temptress to be shunned and renounced at any cost. This strategy can help, but there is no guarantee for success. Most renunciates do not become enlightened. In any case, this is not the meaning of being poor in spirit. Being physically poor does not necessarily lead to spiritual poverty; otherwise, all the poor people in the world would be saints. Havingness is not only about physical possessions. It is a psychological attitude, and the nature of the object is not what matters. …….. Thus, the way of poverty includes nonattachment to all levels of inner possessions too. We can experience all the rich phenomena of our human, essential, and spiritual lives, and we can learn not to be attached to them, not to need them for our sense of self and value.

We are Not Working to Get Richer, We are Working to Get Poorer

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 surrendering, forgiving, disowning. When you are poor, you don’t feel, “I have achieved poverty.” When you are poor, you don’t have such claims. You don’t come to conclusions about yourself. You don’t say, “Now I am realized. I am loving. I have this or that.” The heart is soft and humble. The soul takes the direction of poverty because she realizes that all that she has tried wasn’t true. She has been pursuing possessions and achievements like a stubborn little kid who doesn’t want to change. The soul comes to see the truth and finally recognizes, “Yes, that is really how it is.”

When Our Heart is Completely Empty the Inner Beloved Will Reveal Itself

But poverty of spirit is still radically different from this. When we hear that poverty is actually the path, is something ultimately desirable and necessary for our realization, most of us cringe. We tend to think of the spiritual path the way we think of any other endeavor, as a way of gaining, a way of accumulation. We believe, directly or subtly, that to progress on the spiritual path is a matter of having spiritual things instead of material things. We believe realization is a matter of accumulating spiritual experiences, insights, visitations, inner riches, inner capacities, inner accomplishments, and so on. Or, even more subtly, we believe it is a matter of having more spirit, vaster spirit, more presence, more immense presence. We are bigger, vaster. But all this amounts to becoming bigger and vaster egos that are still full of pride, albeit spiritual pride. We even become attached to our emptiness, to our idea of emptiness as a spiritual accomplishment. We are still not poor; we are quite rich, quite full, with all kinds of things. We are actually full of ourselves, exactly what the path of poverty is trying to liberate us from. The way of poverty is for us to be so empty, not possessing anything, that the Ultimate Truth, the inner Beloved will find us worthy of beholding it. The inner Beloved is a jealous beloved. It won’t show itself unless there are no other lovers in our heart. When our heart is completely empty, then will it reveal itself as the mystery underlying all of reality. And the way to such inner emptiness is that of poverty, specifically the poverty of spirit.

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