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Spiritual Development

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Spiritual Development

Bedrock for the Process of Spiritual Development

In a sense, basic trust is a bedrock for the process of spiritual development, but it also affects the quality of the whole of our lives. It gives us the sense that our lives are evolving naturally, moving and progressing in ways and directions that we may not yet know or understand but that we feel confident will be okay. If basic trust is present, our lives have a sense of freedom. Then the desire to know where things are going arises, not out of wanting to control the unfoldment, but out of simple curiosity. When you are functioning from basic trust, it is implicit in how you live, how you interact, how you act in the world, how you go about your life. It is a fundamental quality for human living, as well as a necessity for the work of transformation. We can see to what extent it is present or not in observing the way we live our lives. Basic trust manifests through our actions rather than through our thoughts or feelings, since it is knowledge in the belly and belly knowledge shows through action. So it is a type of knowledge that we don’t usually think of as knowledge.

Facets of Unity, pg. 27

Co-emergence of Primordial Presence with the Body

The complete multidimensional self can be experienced only in the fullest realization of presence. In this condition of primordial presence, thoughts, feelings and images do exist, but in a different way than they do in the conventional dimension of experience. These aspects of the self are felt to be completely inseparable from presence itself, not in the sense of two things tied together, but in the sense of coemergence. We do not experience the body as the container of the presence; nor do we experience presence as containing the body. These perceptions might appear in the course of spiritual development, but they are incomplete in that they retain the duality between presence and body. When the experience of oneself as primordial presence is complete, this presence is coemergent with the body. If we imagine being aware in an immediate way of the general shape and sensations of the body, its various parts and organs, and simultaneously aware of the protoplasm of the body, then we will have some idea of the experience of the body and presence being coemergent. The physical body and its protoplasm form an inseparable unity; they are not two things that are somehow connected. Similarly, primordial presence is the fundamental ground and substance of the body, inseparable from it, although it is itself not physical

Discovery and Integration of Essential 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.

One May Develop with Deep Spiritual Experience and Insight but Retain Some Neurotic and Emotionally Conflicted Manifestations

The perspective of soul with no self, the sense that the spiritual is distinct and divorced from the psychological, also characterizes some areas of Eastern thought. In Eastern or Western spiritual work, this imbalance manifests as working on spiritual development without taking care of one’s psychological conflicts and aberrations. So one may develop with deep spiritual experience and insight, but retain some neurotic and emotionally conflicted manifestations. In the past, religious and spiritual traditions dealt with these manifestations through moral and ethical purification. Because of the increasing secularization of society, these practices are generally not applied strictly and completely. However, psychological understanding shows us that even moral and ethical purification might not be effective in dealing with deep-seated neurosis, or with what is called structural weakness in the ego. Our present understanding of how unconscious beliefs and motivations manifest in distorted attitudes and behavior can help us see how one can be scrupulously devout and moral but at the same time be addictive, abusive, or otherwise psychologically unhealthy. Events across the range of modern spiritual institutions demonstrate this amply; we have seen how spiritually elevated or brilliant teachers and personalities can behave in psychologically aberrant ways; this has included Tibetan lamas, Zen masters, Indian gurus, Sufi teachers, Catholic cardinals, Hasidic rabbis, fundamentalist evangelists, and so on. There is no reason for us to assume that this is a contemporary phenomenon rather than a long-standing one that is coming to light.

Spiritual Development is About Being Yourself in the Present

Planning is nothing but creating direction for your future actions. It implies the absence of trust that there is already an inherent plan that is oriented toward the actualization of your potential. This plan is already present in your inherent nature, and all you need to do for it to unfold is to be yourself in the present. You don't need to, nor in fact can you, plan your enlightenment. You just need to be true to who you are at the moment, and your unfoldment will happen on its own ... planning indicates that you have an idea in mind of how you should be and how you should live and what should happen within yourself and in your life. This means that your orientation is coming from your mind, and that it is determined by a goal that you are attempting to arrive at in the future ... your plan is bound to be based on your past experience and therefore, it cannot have the freshness that arises from the organic intelligence of Being, which, as we have seen, is a continuously new creation. A plan cannot be creative in an essential way. It is bound to be based on comparative judgment of your experience, and hence, cannot have the perfection that is inherent in the reality of Being.

Facets of Unity, pg. 182

Spiritual Development is the Maturation of the Human Being

The process of spiritual development, which is the maturation of the human being, can be divided into two complementary facets. One is the self-realization of Being in its various aspects and manifestations, and the other is the integration of this self-realization in the everyday life of a human person. The latter is a progressive process of maturation of the self in which the unfoldment of Being expresses itself in an individuated personal life with other human beings in a real world. Self-realization connects the person to his true identity, which is his Being, and this makes it possible for him to mature in everyday life and to fulfill his humanness. Human life becomes then that personal expression of one's realization in the context of normal life situations.

Spiritual Development Seen as the Further Development of the Self

When we are self-realized, we are aware of ourselves as completely pure, completely virginal, and completely new. We may say, “It feels like such and such.” We may conceptualize our experience. But if we take that description to define us, if we hold on to a memory to define who we are, then we will have lost our self-realization. So, even though the development of self-representations is a natural property of our mental functioning, it alienates us from our essential Being. Narcissism, then, is a natural and unavoidable result of identification with self-representations. We believe that spiritual development must be seen not only as a correction to normal experience, but more importantly, as further development of the self. Much spiritual work functions to correct the delusions of the self regarding its true nature and the nature of the world by encouraging disidentification with self-concepts. However, we understand the natural unfoldment of the soul to lead to one becoming discontent with, and seeing through, one’s identifications. This unfoldment need not involve a rejection of the capacity for conceptualizing; it can simply allow an increasing transparency of mental concepts as the appreciation of our nature as essential presence reduces our identification with self-representations.

Spiritual Sates, in General, Require Disidentification from Psychic Structures

It is our understanding that spiritual states, in general, require disidentification from psychic structures, normal or neurotic, and that self-realization, in particular, means the absence of these structures, at least in the duration of the experience, as we have discussed in very specific details. Full self-realization—enlightenment—requires the complete and final dissolution of all psychic structures. There cannot be neurotic manifestations in full self-realization, because any neurotic manifestation must be the expression of some psychic structures, which, by their representational nature, will limit the realization. So what is called a “sick guru” must be an individual who is spiritually developed but not fully realized or enlightened. This understanding, besides illuminating the nature of spiritual realization and protecting its purity, may help us to see the imperfections in a spiritual teacher’s realization without having to rationalize them away or to devalue him or her completely. This way, we may retain the objectivity that we need to help us appreciate what we can learn from a particular teacher and what we cannot. The situation of spirituality in the world is not such that we need a fully realized and enlightened master—a Buddha, a Lao Tzu, or a Christ—for us to receive guidance in our spiritual quest. The situation is not unlike others, in most fields, where we find teachers of various degrees of competence and maturity, and the student needs to find the ones who can help him or her best.

The Primary Barrier to Spiritual Development

In reality, the animal soul is the primary barrier to spiritual development. It’s difficult for us to see this because we’re usually not dealing with a healthy animal soul; we’re dealing with a damaged, distorted, or arrested one. So we’re always dealing with the distortions. We don’t know how big a barrier the animal soul itself is because we’re busy trying to turn it into a more “normal” animal soul by freeing the instincts that were repressed in childhood. That in itself is not easy. But even if you can accomplish that, you recognize, “Oh, what did I do? I thought this animal was going to turn out nice and cute.” You didn’t know it was going to become a huge hungry monster that declares: “Good! Now I am strong, I have my energy. Now I can get what I want!” It’s not as if the animal soul never feels peace and happiness. It does—when it has gotten what it wants. The animal soul becomes beautiful and graceful—but only after gratification of its desires. There’s no freedom in this. You’re at the whim of your desires. In this way, the animal soul is like a small child. When things are going fine, the child is happy. He is an angel. When something goes wrong and he is not getting what he wants, or you want him to do something he doesn’t want to do, the child can become angry and even vicious. Give the animal soul what it wants and it becomes relaxed, happy, and generous. But the next day, when it is hungry again or somebody crosses its path, it behaves very differently.

Understanding the Reality Underneath Ego is a More Accessible Means of Spiritual Development

Understanding that ego is a reflection, or an imitation, of a true reality makes it possible to connect to this reality. One need not go the usual spiritual route of abandoning one’s personal life and the values of that life, but rather one must look deeply into those values and explore the true reality that they are approximating. Most people are not willing to abandon their personal life for a spiritual quest, not merely because of attachment to ego, but because they sense a truth in the values and aspirations of personal life. For such people, the overwhelming majority of humankind, understanding the reality underneath ego is a more accessible means of spiritual development than the traditional methods striving after impersonal reality. This is not only because in this method they do not have to abandon their personal lives and aspirations, but also because this path reveals the deeper values and truths of those aspirations and strivings toward actualization.

When Spiritual Experience Has No Further Value

Once you realize the unity of the world and the Absolute, spiritual experience has no further value. You do not need inner experience; actually, inner experience does not exist. There is no inner separate from the outer. What you see is what you get. Walking in the street is the most elevated, spiritual experience. Eating your meal is a fundamental, sublime experience. Cleaning your house is as spiritual, as sublime, as refined an experience as the Supreme. No differentiation endures between inner states and outer manifestation.

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