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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Practice?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Practice

A Certain Paradox of Realization

Most spiritual paths, including the Diamond Approach, involve a certain paradox of realization. We practice, we do exercises, we become responsible for our own liberation and, at the same time, we know from our experience that realization often happens without being directly connected to the practices that we engage. By exploring this paradox, we can come to understand the relationship between our own intention to wake up and the action of grace. We can come to appreciate the relationship between our own responsibility for our experience and the view that God or Being or true nature makes freedom happen. Both perceptions, both ends of the relationship, reflect truths. Understanding the paradox involves seeing how practice and realization interrelate, interact, and interweave until they become one dynamic. Many of us have encountered this dynamic in our experience. We meditate often, inquire with our friends, do all sorts of practices, and yet many of our deepest realizations don’t happen while we’re practicing. Realizations happen while we take a shower or amble down the street or sip a latte.

Applying Ourselves so that True Nature Reveals Itself as the Force and the Light Behind the Practice

Reality first appears dualistically as somebody who is practicing, somebody who doesn’t know what enlightenment is or what true nature is and is trying to find out or to seek it as if it is something else, something far away. However, if our practice always remains dual, it can become repetitive and mechanical, keeping us on the same horizontal plane. We need to apply ourselves with sincerity and devotion and reverence, so this dualistic process can begin to open up in such a way that true nature reveals itself as the force and the light behind the practice, as the intelligence that makes it possible for practice to happen at all. All kinds of issues might arise as we realize that even though we need to continually practice, we cannot do anything and all of reality is the self-illumination of true nature. We might feel that we are useless or helpless, that we don’t have the power or the capacity to do anything. And for a while, we might think this is a bad thing. But it is actually true illumination: The usual self that we ordinarily tend to take ourselves to be can’t do anything. And as we experience how helpless and incapable we are, true nature is waking up—its light is getting more intense and more brilliant.

Assisting the Heart in Its Quest for Truth

The practices you have learned here will help you to go beyond the usual level of experience. You cannot establish your inner orientation with the mind, but the heart knows when you are headed in the right direction. The mind becomes quieter. This doesn’t mean that you get stupid; in becoming still, the mind opens to a new dimension of itself to assist the heart on the quest for truth so we venture into unknown territory and begin to learn to know in new ways. Our desire is not only to feel the truth but also to know it completely and to be taken in by it totally. With its innate intelligence and capacity for discrimination, the mind works in partnership with the heart. The heart is what stirs within the soul and makes us want to be nearer. The heart is what feels how close or how far away. The love is what melts the boundaries and awakens the soul to her Beloved and the desire for union with the divine. And the mind plays the important role of discriminating the experience and clarifying the consciousness through understanding.

Being Where We Are

To truly be where we are combines having the awareness of where we are, being the presence of where we are, and understanding the truth of where we are. When we bring those three elements together, being where we are becomes a practice that is necessary to become aware of the flow of being. You see, we are always someplace—one way or another, we are where we are—but we’re usually not aware of what that place is. We don’t get it; we don’t see it. Our attention, our awareness is scattered and distracted, involved with all kinds of peripheral, secondary manifestations. However, once we can focus and recognize our primary manifestation, we locate ourselves. And, if we pay attention, we find that the primary manifestation of where we are continuously changes—it is a continuity, a flow. It is not static.

Certain Requirements for Practice

How can we understand the dynamic between what we do and the action of Being itself? How do intention and grace work together? How do practice and spontaneous realization interrelate? When we understand practice, we see that practice is already realization in some way. Practice expresses the values of realization and is infused with the qualities of realization. The stage of living our realization is epitomized by a classic expression from one of the most celebrated Zen masters, Dogen Zenji. He said, “Practice is realization and realization is practice.” As we go on, we will explore different angles from which to understand this one expression. One way that we can understand how living our realization is continual practice is by recognizing how practice is realization—practice not from the usual perspective but from the perspective of realization itself. Practice is not merely doing something repeatedly and mechanically. Simply sitting and meditating is not necessarily practice. Practice requires true intention, true motivation, true devotion to the truth. Otherwise, we are not practicing or engaging the work. If you inquire into the truth in order to solve a problem or make yourself feel better, then you are not actually practicing. True practice expresses the values and the qualities of realization: the curiosity and the love, the openness and the steadfastness, the enjoyment of reality, the appreciation of authenticity, the delight and the clarity, the happiness in stillness.

Challenge to a Conventional Belief About Practice

So, from the perspective of the individual soul, one of the holy cows of practice is that we practice in order to become realized, awakened, enlightened, free. When we say that practice is realization, we mean precisely that: practice is not for realization, it is realization. This challenges the conventional belief that we practice so that we can become enlightened. If we practice with the intention of attaining realization, we have an aim in mind; we have a goal toward which we are oriented. Motivation is impelling us to keep going, and the promise of a particular result is beckoning us forward, inviting us to go in that direction. Realization that is practice shows the folly of having a goal as the end of our practice. As our practice matures and as our realization deepens, we can understand more and more the perspective of true practice.

Experiencing a Selfless Motivation to Practice

At some point, if we make the inner turn and become interested in engaging spiritual work we begin to be motivated to practice. In the beginning, the motivation has a lot of self-centeredness in it—this is unavoidable because we still come from a self-centered sense of who we are. This is natural and normal for everybody. As our practice matures and develops, as we have more understanding of what reality is, we begin to experience a selfless motivation. Our practice can express compassion, kindness, love, appreciation, service, generosity, giving. Our practice expresses true compassion and love, not because that is what works best but because that is how we actually feel—we are selflessly inclined. And as practice matures further, the motivation to practice is altogether transcended. You don’t need motivation in order to practice. This doesn’t mean that love and compassion and service are useless; it means that practice does not depend on motive, is not contingent on motive, whether self-centered or selfless. This development implies a greater degree of realization. Of course, there might come a time when you don’t feel motivated to practice and you feel that something is wrong with that. This is why I’m mentioning it. You might think, “I don’t feel interested in or excited about practicing or engaging the path or engaging the truth. What’s wrong with me? What happened to my heart? What happened to my motivation?” But when you explore it further, you might realize that you haven’t actually stopped practicing. You realize that practice continues, maybe even more diligently than before, but without your needing anything to push you to do it, whether that motivation be suffering or love, avoidance or attraction.

Freedom From the Orientation Toward Goals

When I say that practice is realization realizing further realization, I don’t mean that practice keeps realizing further realization until we get to the ultimate realization. That is what many of us think. And we are accustomed to this way of thinking because many teachings purport this view. In the view I am presenting here, there is no need to hold the position of ultimate realization. When we become free from the position of being oriented toward a goal, when we let go of that, we will be amazed to discover new possibilities of experience, new ways of living and being. The freedom that can happen is unimaginable—you are free not only from your conditioning and constraint but also from what your experience tells you is the truth. There is no need to adhere to anything at all.

Inner Practice is Not Boot Camp

Inner practice is not boot camp. Boldness doesn’t mean pushing ourselves. It doesn’t demand that we jam ourselves into a particular place. The balanced combination of strength and kindness that we have been describing shows us that what we want to develop over time in our practice is a kind of bold vulnerability in which we’re kind and strong and courageous. Sometimes the kindness is more in the foreground. Sometimes the boldness is in the foreground. The boldness continues to be a courageous strength and adventurousness without becoming foolhardy, without becoming harsh. We’re not pushing ourselves, saying, “Okay, you wimp, why don’t you just move into this?” That’s not what I mean by being courageous. So that’s when the kindness is important. Kindness has attunement, a recognition of exactly where we are. And if we have strength as well, we will naturally allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be open to what’s arising and allow ourselves to be there and in the moment—whatever it is.

It is the Living Being that is Practicing

The entirety of all and everything is practicing as the individual is practicing. As the individual meditates, we learn that it is the Living Being in its totality that is actually meditating. Living Being is the beingness and aliveness and dynamism of everything and everyone; it is reality living its life. We will further elaborate on Living Being throughout the book. For now, the expression simply signals that reality is unified in ways that are not apparent except in realization.

Opening to the Inner Beloved

When you are called by something inner—something beyond your usual awareness—and you begin to practice, at some point you may begin to notice the impact of that something. You feel awe as you taste the freedom, and if you truly value it, you sense that it’s important enough to pay attention to in a more consistent way. The inward pull begins to gather significance and momentum that gets stronger and stronger until you can’t take your mind off it and can’t keep your heart from being absorbed in it. Should you forget about it, you feel the disconnection, dissatisfaction and, eventually, the pain of that. The yearning becomes a sign that you are swerving from the path, from what you love, which in turn brings you back to the presence of the Beloved you have turned away from. So, if you really apply yourself to the practices and allow the energy of desire to guide you, this will open you more to the inner Beloved, whether or not you ever attend another event that’s considered spiritual. It is difficult to follow the path completely on your own, but you can still do much for yourself.

Our True Motivation to Practice

When our motive to practice issues from the enlightenment drive, then it has become our own motivation. We don’t practice because we think it is a good idea. We don’t practice because somebody else seems to be having a good life and we want one like it. We don’t practice because our wife is involved in the work and we want to join her. That may be how we begin but, at some point, the motivation to practice becomes ours—our own enlightenment drive wakes up, or we wake up to it. We recognize then that we have our own true motivation to practice and to engage the work. And, as we’ve seen, practice is not only formal practice like inquiry, prayer, or meditation, but also the general orientation and attitude of continuing to be present, continuing to be real. Practice is the interest and the motivation and the intention and the devotion and the dedication engaged in a continual way.

Practice and Realization as One Dynamism

Practice and realization are one dynamism manifesting in different ways. One is manifesting as the action of the soul, and the other is manifesting as the arising of true nature. It is one indivisible process. Neither one causes the other. The more I recognized that, the more I had a deeper understanding of how practice is realization and how realization is practice. So we are seeing that there is a force, there is a power, there is a dynamism that manifests. Looking at it from the perspective of individual soul, this dynamism manifests as the interest, the longing, the yearning, the orientation, and the practice. Looking at it from the perspective of reality, this dynamism manifests as Being unfolding spontaneously as grace. They are both part of one process, two complementary expressions of one force, whose intensifying feedback loop culminates in conscious insight or realization. This unitary process appears in the locus of the soul as individual practice and in the locus beyond the soul as the spontaneous functioning of Being.

Practice Expressing Realization

Just as there are degrees of realization, there are degrees of practice. If our practice has to be perfect all the time for it to be practice, then we might never begin. Even if our practice is not as complete as it can be, it can still happen. Practice can be continual without having to be perfect; practice can express realization without having to be perfect. The continuity itself will further perfect the practice—perfect not in the moral sense but in the sense of more completely expressing realization. When practice expresses realization fully, then practice is realization. And even before practice fully expresses realization, it is already a realization because engaging practice authentically always expresses realization to some degree. If we are truly sincere in our attitude and we begin from a real place, realization is there whether or not we recognize it.

Practice is Being Itself Unfolding

At the beginning of engaging any path or work, we discover that practice means the formal practice sessions. You are doing dhikr or chanting or meditating or praying or inquiring and those are the times of practice; but as the practice matures, you begin to recognize that practice is a way of life—it is the way you live your life. Practice is our Being living its life and working out its dynamics. Practice is Being itself unfolding and revealing its possibilities through its own dynamism. This understanding of practice is beyond our mind, and beyond the influence of our mind. From the perspective of reality, practice is no longer experienced as externally motivated. Nor is it only internally motivated. True practice is below the internal—it functions like the instincts that drive you consciously or unconsciously. When the enlightenment drive is active in the belly center, you are driven to practice. You feel interested, you love to do it, you are focused on it. The drive toward truth is like the drive to survive. Do you ever forget about surviving? It’s not possible. The organism works constantly and automatically to survive. You don’t need to think about it or agree. Survival is natural, is second nature. From the view of enlightenment, the spirit engages the spiritual work in the same way, as second nature. Living our life from the perspective of practice means that practice is second nature to us.

Practice is not Limited to Formal Practice

And practice is not limited to formal practices—meditating or inquiry, praying or concentration—but includes all that we do. Practice, which is how Total Being expresses itself, includes our daily actions, communications, and interactions. It even includes our thoughts and feelings and attitudes. We are at the same time true nature expressing itself as the totality and as the individual through which the totality is expressing itself. At some point, it might be possible for us to recognize that the individual and the totality of all that is are exactly one and the same. But even though they are one and the same, they are also distinctly two. When we gather and practice in groups, our work gains power and intensity because it is the same true nature practicing, one true nature expressed through the collected total practice of all its organs as the totality of the field. Practice becomes total, becomes the practice that is realization, when we have the attitude of devotion and reverence, when we are committed, when we are expressions expressing the commitment. When we are not expressing the commitment, when we are not expressing the reverence and love, when we are not expressing the intelligence and clarity, we are not practicing in a total way. Our practice is not as thoroughgoing as it could be.

Practice is Realization Realizing Further Realization

We might think that we will be in some condition like absolute emptiness or pure awareness, which constantly manifests things in various ways. I mean something different from that. What I mean is that true nature might not manifest itself as the absolute or as pure awareness at all. True nature might manifest itself in ways that don’t have anything to do with the absolute or with pure awareness. You might find out that pure awareness and the absolute are simply way stations and that every condition is a way station. So realization is endless—there is no final destination. When I say that practice is realization realizing further realization, I don’t mean that practice keeps realizing further realization until we get to the ultimate realization. That is what many of us think. And we are accustomed to this way of thinking because many teachings assert this view. In the view I am presenting here, there is no need to hold the position of ultimate realization. When we become free from the position of being oriented toward a goal, when we let go of that, we will be amazed to discover new possibilities of experience, new ways of living and being. The freedom that can happen is unimaginable—you are free not only from your conditioning and constraint but also from what your experience tells you is the truth. There is no need to adhere to anything at all. Of course, this understanding of practice without goal is bound to be controversial. Even though many teachings talk about not having goals, they still have goals in the sense that they have the state of no-goal as an end. Many teachings hold not having a goal as a particular state or dimension. I am suggesting something different—that not having a goal is not a particular state, not a particular dimension. I mean truly and literally practice with no goal. This could be quite terrifying. “Wow, where am I going to stand? How am I going to orient myself? How is anything going to happen?” But also it ushers in an unprecedented kind of liberation and freedom.

Practice that is Just Presence with Awareness

Over time and with practice, we become more skilled at seeing, recognizing, and understanding these reactions to our experience—the rejection, the resigned acceptance, and the grasping acceptance. This makes us more and more able to be with our experience as it is. That’s why we say that our practice is just presence with awareness. Presence with awareness doesn’t reject, but it doesn’t grasp either. When we are simply present and aware in our experiencing, we can begin to recognize the true condition that is arising. We notice our inner attitude becoming simpler and more subtle as we are being with our experience. We begin to feel an openness, a vulnerability, an allowing that has a sense of subtle contentment and satisfaction. The fact that our presence is arising in this way reveals the experience to be an expression of our True Nature. This quality in our consciousness does not arise because something specific is happening that is to our liking. True acceptance arises on its own as a result of our being present with our reactions—our tendencies to reject or grasp—without being run by them.

Practicing is Not Only When You are Chanting, or Doing Spiritual Exercises

Think of life and its evolution—does it have an end? Is there some place it is going to get to? Does a human being have an end beyond which there is no more change? A place where there will be no more evolution of different forms, different ways, different capacities? None of the theories of evolution posit a stopping point. In other words, reality is not teleological. It doesn’t have an end toward which it is working. Reality is spontaneously alive and naturally intelligent, and it is always revealing unexpected possibilities. Why would the realization of reality be any different? What does that mean for you right at this moment? You might see that reading these words and receiving this teaching are a form of practice. Practicing is not only when you are meditating, or chanting, or doing spiritual exercises; it can be all the time. As you are receiving the transmission, feeling its impact and exploring it, you are practicing. What else do you think you are doing? This is reality realizing itself as you reading. So as I am expressing this to you, reality is practicing. As you are receiving what I say, reality is practicing. We are interacting, and this interaction is reality practicing and revealing some of its possibilities. Is it you who is doing it, or is it me? You might think, “Oh, it’s the transmission and I’m just sitting and receiving it,” which is true. But you could also say that your taking in of what I am teaching is developing the potential for reality, and that too is true. Yet another way of saying it is that reality is manifesting some of its possibilities through me and you and everyone who reads these words. So you might see that the spiritual journey is not a matter of going someplace—it is a matter of opening up to the possibilities of exactly where you are right now.

Recognizing Life as Practice

The continuity of practice doesn’t depend on whether we are enlightened or not, whether we are realized or not, whether we are beginners or advanced. Practice is always an expression of realization. Greater maturity in our realization might change the form of our practice, but its continuity is what remains central. The more we are realized, the more we will recognize life as practice, all activities as practice, all situations as occasions for practice. Now, engaging practice so completely and so totally requires a particular maturation of the soul. We are not able to have our practice be a continual practice until our motivation and interest for practice have become our own. The soul matures in this particular way when we develop an autonomous, independent, and true motive for engaging the inner work. This means you are not driven by your mind, you are not driven by what you heard, you are not driven by some experiences you had. You are driven by something much more fundamental, something beyond your individual self.

The Delusion of Being Motivated to Practice

This delusion of being motivated to practice and to seek the truth is instigated by reality itself stirring within us. Although it is a better delusion, a lighter or less obstructive delusion than that of the conventional self, it is nonetheless a delusion—it is simply not true. If we have some contact, some in-touchness, some realization of True Nature—of its immensity or spaciousness or vastness or luminosity or love—then when we live our realization, that naturally expresses itself as practicing, as the engagement with life from the perspective of reality. Realization expresses itself in life. I am not suggesting that there is no love and no compassion, or that love and compassion and service are not true. They are true, and they are not yours. You have not developed love and compassion and service; you are not their source. This is the beginning of understanding the paradox of practice and spontaneous realization. We recognize that even the interest in realization is already realization itself practicing, and by realization practicing, realization is simply realizing realization. We could say that True Nature is stirring and motivating us, and that is true in some sense. However, it is true from the limited perspective of the individual soul. From a larger perspective, True Nature is simply manifesting its possibilities, spontaneously and naturally, through the individual soul.

The Orientation of Continual Practice

Understanding the orientation of continual practice, the attitude of devotion to what is real, gets us closer to the mystery of the relationship between practice and realization. When we first learn to practice, we usually have an experience of ourselves practicing. As we come to more thoroughly understand the nature of the self and of reality, our sense of self transforms until, at some point, we realize that when one is practicing, when one is meditating, when one is inquiring, when one is chanting, it is not one particular individual that is practicing, it is the totality of all that there is that is practicing. The more continual our practice and the more unflagging our orientation toward reality, the more our understanding of who or what practices can shift from an identified self to the totality of reality.

The Totality of the Universe Practices

So from the perspective of realization, we see that true practice is continual and total. Our sincere devotion to living a real life infuses everything we do with the luminosity of reality. When our practice embodies the value of realization, we understand that there are no interruptions to reality revealing itself. Reality does not take breaks. And when we put everything we’ve got into the engagement with life and with reality, the totality of the universe is practicing, and that practice is realization. When we practice with total openness, we are not trying to get someplace, not trying to find anything in particular. We practice, we engage, because that is how reality lives. That is how reality does its thing. That is how reality manifests itself. That is how reality becomes luminous and self-illuminating. In the Diamond Approach, the central practice of inquiry embodies this open-ended view of reality. From the beginning of doing this work, we find where we are, recognize where we are, and understand where we are. This wholehearted exploration of “where I am” includes exploring the “where,” the “I,” and the “am.” All of them are up for grabs. Proceeding with this kind of open-endedness respects how reality is presenting itself through you, to you, and as you in the moment and, at the same time, embraces the particularity of what is happening in your location.

True Nature as Total Being Expresses Itself and Its Expression of Itself Can be Seen as Its Practice

True nature as Total Being expresses itself, and its expression of itself can be seen as its practice, and its practice is realization because it is illuminating itself and waking up to itself. The individual can recognize that enlightenment is nothing but true nature revealing what it is and what reality is. And true nature needs the individual in order to know itself and experience itself as enlightenment. Maybe true nature also wakes up to itself through animals and stars and planets. I don’t know about that. But we do know that it does it through human beings. Even if the stars are not aware of themselves practicing, they are nonetheless the expression of true nature because true nature as Total Being expresses itself as all and everything. Nothing is excluded. True nature expresses itself not only through our formal practices and our daily life, not only through our thoughts, feelings, and actions, but also through this book you’re holding and the chair you’re sitting on and the house you live in. It expresses itself as the oceans, mountains, and sky, as the galaxies and the universes—including all the possible parallel and quantum bubble universes. 

True Nature, as Total Being, Practices Through Us as Individuals Practicing

There can come a time when we see that we cannot as individuals do the work of waking up; we don’t have the requisite capacity. We are totally helpless and incompetent in the face of what is required. But even when we understand that only true nature awakens, this doesn’t mean that we can be lazy and take for granted that awakening is just going to happen. We still need to practice and to exercise the intelligence, the heart, and the will that true nature is expressing through our consciousness. We do this not to get somewhere but because true nature as Total Being practices through us as individuals practicing, meditating, and inquiring. We can’t loaf around and idly wait for true nature to bestow her gifts. That attitude doesn’t express the purity of true nature. True nature expresses its purity when we are in the mode of practice and the attitude of practice. This means that we are experiencing and expressing true nature through the three centers: as commitment to continual practice through the belly, as love, devotion, and reverence through the heart, and as discriminating intelligence through the mind. 

Understanding Practice from the Perspective of Realization

When we fully explore what it means to live our realization, we discover that it means to practice uninterruptedly, to engage the work without cessation. Many people believe that realization signals the end of practice, the end of doing the work. We might think, “When I am realized, I won’t need to practice any longer; I can simply be.” When we are not realized, the situation appears that way. But from the perspective of realization, living is a matter of continual practice and continual engagement. This raises the question of the relationship between what we do on the path and the experience or the manifestation of freedom—in other words, the relationship between practice and realization. In this teaching that I am presenting, we want to understand practice from the perspective of realization, not from the perspective of nonrealization. Living our realization will bring about the recognition of continual practice from the perspective of realization. In the condition of realization, we discover that whenever we truly practice, our practice expresses realization even when we are not in the condition of realization, even before we consider ourselves realized, even before we have understood or recognized realization. This is the mystery at the heart of the relationship between the one who inquires and meditates and the beingness that simply erupts and says, “Here I am.”

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