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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Spirit?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Spirit

A Spirit is a Soul that Realizes Its Existence is Not Its Own

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.

Becoming Blind to Our Nature as Spirit Manifesting in a Body

So when we embark on a spiritual path, we unconsciously believe that we are setting out for heaven. We think that the path is a matter of going to a spiritual universe that we somehow see as separate from physical reality, from the here-and-now, from the world we live in. This deep split is implicit in Western culture, and Western religions actually support it. All theistic religions basically look at things through this dichotomy: There is God and there is the physical world. Their religious formulations are based on it, and only when you get into the mystical elements of these religious traditions can this split be seen through. This split in which heaven and earth are two different things is not the fault of Western culture but rather, a reflection of a characteristic of the development of ego itself: its loss of contact with reality. As we develop, the environment inevitably fails to hold us completely. The spiritual element—our essential nature—is rarely fully or even partially held, while our physical nature, our minds, and our emotions receive much more holding. Because we gradually lose touch with what is not held within us, the spiritual recedes from our awareness and becomes split off. While we are by nature spirit manifesting in a body, as our ego develops, we become blind to that reality. It is analogous to becoming color-blind, seeing only part of the spectrum. We see the physical world but we do not see the fundamental or spiritual component of it. We could call this seeing and experiencing of only part of what we are and what is around us essential blindness.

Facets of Unity, pg. 54

Being Poor in 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.

Belief in the Duality of Matter and Spirit

For a long time throughout the inner journey, we tend to think that there are two kinds of experience, as if there were two realities, two worlds. Even when we have a spiritual experience, we imagine that it came from somewhere else, from the “other world,” from spirit, or from the spiritual dimension. So there is a division in our mind, a duality. We believe in a duality between the world and the spirit, between matter and spirit, between the body and spiritual nature. This is a deeply held belief, very profound. It is not a matter of conscious, mental conviction. You may study and believe in the teachings of nonduality, but the way you are in the world will exemplify your actual underlying convictions. Every thought we think, every feeling we feel, every action we take implies the position we hold about this world and the ways we perceive it. For most people, nothing else exists beyond the visible; there is only this world, and you try to survive and make the best of it. Those who are involved in spiritual practice usually think there is more than what appears to us as physical reality. Regardless of what we believe, including our notions of nonduality or unity, we still think and behave as if there were two worlds. And this belief splits our heart in two, so that we end up with two loves. We love the world, but we also love spiritual freedom—we love the spirit and its harmony, its blissfulness, its sanctity, its majesty and beauty.

Dissociation of the Soul from Her Essential Ground

As the soul develops as an individual with character and identity, with the normal emotional and mental capacities, she slowly dissociates from her essential ground. A duality emerges between soul and essence that becomes bedrock reality, a duality that naturally and spontaneously separates the original unity of Reality. Soul, originally coemergent with her true nature, turns into a duality of self and spirit, and Reality becomes self, God/Being/spirit and world, three separate entities. The soul becomes a self, an ego-self, that may or may not believe it has spirit, soul or true nature. But this spirit is now something separate, mysterious, otherworldly, and something to which some of us want to attain. This spirit is now somehow mysteriously related to a spiritual world, where God or Being rules. The cosmos, on the other hand, becomes a physical world, mostly dead and inert with pockets of life and consciousness here and there.

Distinguishing Soul and Spirit to Understand Poverty

Nonattachment means we have reached a place of realization of true nature or spirit, and experience ourselves as the spirit, which is inherently nonattached. In the Western traditions, the question is looked at from the perspective of soul, not spirit, where soul is the individual total consciousness through which experience happens. It is useful here to recognize the distinction between soul and spirit. But poverty means the soul has learned to recognize that everything she experiences, everything she has, is not hers. All experience is a gift from true nature, from the source of all manifestation. In monotheistic language, the soul recognizes that whatever richness she experiences, whether material or spiritual, comes from God, a gift and grace from him. She owns nothing because there is only one owner. Even her actions and accomplishments are not hers, for without the capacities and qualities that God gives her she won’t be able to do anything.

Forgetting that there is a Reality Beyond the Usefulness of Things

And the ultimate outcome of that perspective, that there are objects to be used, is materialism. If you keep going that direction and forgetting that there is reality beyond the usefulness of things, finally you arrive at a completely material universe of discrete objects. And these objects are completely disconnected from the spirit. Then we start looking for the spirit inside ourselves, or inside one of the objects, while it is everywhere. It is everything. So, what we want to see from today’s experience is the fact that Essence or Being or God or truth is not somewhere else, is not something else, it is not something otherworldly. It is quite worldly, in the sense that it is all that we experience any time, at any moment. That is it. There is nothing else. But that it is it. It is the truth only when we realize its mystery, its unknowableness. As long as we perceive it as something we know, we’re not seeing the truth, we’re seeing our minds. The world we live in, including us, is an unknowable mystery. We do not actually know it.

Poverty of Spirit

To understand the poverty of spirit we can remember John of the Cross’ “dark night of the soul.” He divides the dark night into two nights: the night of sense and the night of spirit. The dark night for him means the way of poverty. The dark night for him means the darkness, unknowing, and pain of the poverty as the soul divests herself of all possessions and attachments. He calls it a dark night because it is dark emotionally, difficult and painful, and also dark mentally, difficult to find guidance and clarity about this process. According to John of the Cross, we need to begin with the night of sense, the stage of poverty related to the external life, the material life and all its mental, emotional, and physical possessions. For him the night of sense is the stage of purification of the soul from her animal nature, from her sensual attachments and desires. When we are relatively comfortable with this level of poverty, we can move to the dark night of spirit, the stage of being poor in spirit, which is purification on the spiritual level, totally emptying the soul and getting her ready for her beloved, her God.

Spirit and Other Conceptualizations of Essence

Essence is not an object we find within ourselves; it is the true nature of who we are when we are relaxed and authentic, when we are not pretending to be one way or another, consciously or unconsciously. Essence is the truth of our very presence, the purity of our consciousness and awareness. It is what we are in our original and undefiled beingness, the ultimate core reality of our soul. Essence is the authentic presence of our Being; it is, in fact, Being in its thatness. Different spiritual traditions have given it different names: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam call it Spirit; Buddhism calls it Buddha nature; Taoism calls it the Tao; Hinduism calls it Atman or Brahman. The various traditions differ in how they conceptualize Essence and how much they emphasize it in their teaching, but Essence is always considered to be the most authentic, innate, and fundamental nature of who we are. And the experience and realization of Essence is the central task of spiritual work and development in all traditions. The Diamond Approach is characterized by a distinctive realization about our essential nature: Essence manifests in various forms as an intelligent response to the changing conditions of the human soul. These forms, which we call the aspects or qualities of Essence, include the perennial flavors of human experience such as Love, Peace, Joy, Truth, Clarity, Compassion, and Value. Each essential aspect has a distinct experiential reality and function, while all share the basic ground of Essence: presence, self-aware luminosity, and openness.

Spirit and the Dichotomy between Self and Soul

Contemporary thought concerning spirit tends to reflect the modern dichotomy between self and soul. Religion is the realm of priests and ministers, functioning as specialists to advise and aid individuals in a particular area of their lives. Most spiritual teachers seem to participate in this dichotomy, seeing themselves as caretakers of the soul or spirit, and leaving concerns of the self to psychologists. (This view is changing somewhat, but the dichotomy is still the rule) It is interesting in this light to remember that the major religious traditions have developed in such a way that their primary concern is either preparation for the afterlife, in theistic religions, or enlightenment that brings freedom from existence, in Eastern religions. Concern for such matters as the redemption of the present world, as fulfillment and completeness of life, can arguably be seen not to be the primary perspective of the major spiritual traditions.

The Philosophers’ Stone or True Nature is Pure Spirit

So we will explore in detail who the prime mover is, who the illuminator is, and what is responsible for realization. What is responsible for the arising of clarity, understanding, and spiritual experience? Every time we have a spiritual experience, it is nothing but the philosophers’ stone appearing in one form or another. It is nothing but true nature manifesting itself. The philosophers’ stone or true nature is pure spirit, but we will see as we go on that spirit is also everything. It is every single thing and all things. It is every single thing among all other single things, and it is all things as the unity of the collection of every single thing. And it is also every single thing as all things. This gets very interesting and is part of what I mean by the secrets of existence.

The Spiritual Dimension of the Self is Its Ontological Presence

We can define “spiritual” more precisely at this point. The spiritual dimension of the self is its ontological presence, its essential nature. In fact, what we have termed Essence is what the various philosophies, religions, and spiritual teachings have called spirit. So we see that spirit is not something otherworldly and ephemeral; it is actually our fundamental nature, the ground and ultimate truth of ourselves. Spiritual development means, then, the discovery and integration of our essential presence in our experience of ourselves. And since this presence is ultimately nondual and forms the ground of our wholeness, spiritual development can also be seen as the movement towards wholeness.

Transcendent Spirit Expresses Itself as the Very Essence of Personalness

Our spirit, in its transcendent nature, in its unity, is impersonal, which means that it is universal, limitless; but the way it expresses itself in relationship is very personal. It’s the very essence of personalness. This personalness has a sense of true, direct contact, a feeling of immediate intouchness with the other. When I am interacting with another person, I feel that my soul is touching her soul. It sometimes feels to me much more immediate than my hand touching that person; it feels more full, more complete. A relationship between two people can be more or less real. Not only can we both be personally real, our relationship can be real. For that to happen, however, a relationship will need to express the qualities of true nature. You may notice in all of our explorations the implicit principle that our spiritual essence has a sense of perfection, goodness, and purity that is beyond who we are as individuals and is the source of all the beautiful, positive qualities that we think are most human—in the sense of being most expressive of the human heart. It is the generous love, the selfless compassion, the courage, the clear discernment of a situation, the exercise of intelligence, that all lead to the discovery and arising of new knowledge, new insight. These are human qualities, but more fundamentally they are our spiritual qualities.

When We Discover the Actual Presence of Spirit

In our path of seeking the truth out of the love of the truth, we encounter many forms and dimensions of truth. At some point we discover the essential truth, the actual presence of spirit, which is our true being. We discover many aspects of this essence and realize that these aspects manifest on several dimensions. These dimensions are revealed as the inherent primordial structure of true nature, our essential being and the being of all existence. Each dimension reveals something fundamental to true nature and necessary for our life and experience. Our path unfolds these dimensions in a sequence of increasing subtlety and depth. The deepest and final dimension we find, the dimension that forms the ground of all dimensions, and of all manifestations, the ground of all grounds, is what I refer to as the Absolute.

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