Main Pages

By Region



Turnings of the Wheel

Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Turnings of the Wheel?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Turnings of the Wheel

1. Four Turnings

  1. The First Turn Leads the Soul to the Discovery of Essence
  2. In the Second Turn the Soul Realizes Boundlessness
  3. In the Third Turn the Freedom Vehicle Signals a Move Beyond Boundlessness
  4. The Fourth Turning of the Wheel Reveals Understandings that Arise from the Realization of the Freedom Vehicle


2. The First Turn Leads the Soul to the Discovery of Essence

When we consider the development of this teaching and how it expresses reality, we can distinguish, in its present condition, four broad movements that are turnings of the wheel of the teaching. The first turn of the wheel encompasses the individual phase, which is the learning, development, and realization of the soul or individual consciousness. Here, the soul discovers essence as her true nature. 

3. In the Second Turn the Soul Realizes Boundlessness

In the second turning of the wheel, the soul realizes the boundless condition of her true nature. This is usually equivalent to the realization of the unity, oneness, and nonduality of reality. If we survey the history of this teaching, we see that we have been working primarily within these first two turnings of the teaching. We work long and hard to realize our essential identity and to wake up to the unity of existence. We can see our work thus far as the movements to realize the absolute nature of reality and to integrate that realization into our life; these are known as the journeys of ascent and descent. In this book, I am introducing some of the wisdoms related to the third and fourth turnings of the wheel of the teaching. 

4. In the Second Turning there is Culmination of the Transformation of the Individual Consciousness

The second turning of the teaching culminates in the transformation of the individual consciousness into an indestructible inner body of consciousness that can express and live nondual realization. This inner body of pure awareness, of the purity of true nature, becomes the fulcrum of the third turning. The third and fourth turnings of the wheel are related to this fulcrum, which heralds possibilities beyond the nondual unity of reality. The realization of this inner spiritual body, which I sometimes call the vajra body, reveals, in the fourth turning of the teaching, many new and unexpected wisdoms about the nature of reality. The progressive stages or degrees of realization, which characterize the first two turnings, give way to altogether different kinds of realization. Just as the first turning begins with the individual consciousness and moves, in the second turning, into the nondual dimensions of reality, the third turning starts with the vajra body instead of the individual consciousness and moves, in the fourth turning, into a reality that is neither dual nor nondual. Experiencing reality in this radically different way reveals profound new possibilities for living our realization. 

5. In the Third Turn the Freedom Vehicle Signals a Move beyond Boundlessness

The third turning of the wheel has to do with what I refer to as the freedom vehicle. This vehicle signals a move beyond even the boundlessness, unity, and nonduality of true nature. It presents reality from an entirely different vantage. Basically, it is like going to a parallel universe that is altogether different from ours, and then contemplating realization, enlightenment, and spirituality from the perspective of this new universe. We are investigating the same phenomena that we always have, but from a radically different angle. 

6. In the Fourth Turn Enlightenment and Realization are Seen to Have Many Meanings

The fourth turning of the wheel reveals understandings that arise from the realization of the freedom vehicle. Reality opens up in many unexpected ways, showing that enlightenment and realization have any meanings. Not only are there different degrees of realization, as we see in the first and second turns of the teaching, but there are also different kinds of realization. We discover many angles and perspectives from which to view and explore reality. The view of totality arises as one of the wisdoms of the fourth turning. 

Conceptualizing the Progression of the Teachings

The first turning is the work on the soul and individual realization: the lataif, the Pearl, the Point, and the diamond vehicles. The second is the journey up the mountain through the boundless dimensions, followed by the journey of descent. The third turning is marked by the realization of the Freedom Vehicle, featureless nothingness, and unilocality. The realization of the Freedom Vehicle as our true being opens the door to the fourth turning in which a succession of ways of viewing and experiencing reality become available that are radically different from anything that came before. The fourth turning reveals the nonhierarchical view, which frees us from the need to qualitatively compare various views of reality – or even the experiences and awakenings that give rise to such views - since each has its own truth and validity. It shows that we do not have to characterize the spiritual journey as a movement from one state to another, progressing toward subtler and more fundamental realizations. The nonhierarchical view, however, is only one perspective, one way of looking at reality. The hierarchy of a progressive path is also a valid view. 

The Jeweled Path, pg. 298

Discoveries at the First Three Turnings

The first turning of the teaching wheel, which can be seen as the beginning stages of spiritual awakening, reveals to us that there is such a thing as spiritual experience, that there is such a thing as spirit—as true nature or divinity or purity—and that we can experience it. In the second turning, we see not only that there is such a thing, but that it is the nature of everything. This awakening brings in the nondual perspective, which can lead to many other experiences of reality. The second turning shows that true nature is the being of all beings, that without true nature nothing will be, nothing will appear, and that there is no existence without it, because it is the existence of all existence. This understanding of the boundlessness and pervasiveness of true nature is implicit in nondual experience and realization. It is in the first turning that we recognize and experience true nature as a particular, different from other particulars and outside the known world of particulars. The radical otherness of true nature points to the fact that it is outside the purview of the world of conventional experience. The second turning of the wheel reveals the other side of true nature: that it is not only a particular but an absolutely pervasive particular. It pervades and constitutes everything, in a way that makes apparent the oneness, unity, and nonduality that is the hallmark of mystical experience. From the perspective of nondual experience, the encounter of the third kind with true nature is still dualistic because, even though in that encounter we recognize the radical otherness of spirit or God or whatever, there is still an “I” experiencing a true nature, regardless of whether we experience it as inside or outside of the self. 

Discoveries at the Fourth Turning

The fourth turning of the teaching shows us that dual and nondual are different views of reality, each of them disclosing something different about how reality can manifest. Reality can appear as a discrete self navigating an external world and can also manifest as an indivisible unity. The nondual view is emphasized in so many teachings because it is a useful and effective antidote to the dualistic view. It challenges the prevailing assumptions of duality and makes it possible to get beyond these limitations to something that has the possibility of greater freedom and fulfillment. But we should not forget that there are teachings that reveal that fulfillment is also possible in the dualistic view—the fulfillment of a human being as an individual with self-determination. Even though both views are valid, we can see, from the view of totality, that both dual and nondual understandings still harbor delusions about reality. One of the main delusions shared by both views, and many others too, is revealed in the Sufi saying, “When I say this is true, I don’t mean only this is true.” Both perspectives adhere to the delusion of being categorical. Those who subscribe to either view believe, “This is it, this is all of reality, and only this is true.” Nondual practitioners can no more easily admit the reality of the world of suffering than secularists can admit the underlying divine oneness of reality. Both camps posit their own version of the ultimate condition of reality as definitive. 

Equalness in which the Particulars do Not Lose their Difference, Uniqueness and Significance

Also, the meanings of “sameness” and “one taste” change in the fourth turning of the wheel. In the classical experience of boundlessness or nonduality, “one taste” means that everything participates in the same reality or shares the same source or expresses the same nature. Everything is equal in significance, and uniqueness is not of interest. In the fourth turning, the sense is more that each thing in itself is an equally valid manifestation of reality. Just imagine the freedom you’d gain from the superego if you really recognized and realized this. The fourth turning of the wheel is the direct experience, the realization, the recognition, the vision, the thinking, and the creativity of a different kind of equalness of all manifestation. This is an equalness in which the particulars do not lose their difference, uniqueness, and significance. The equality of forms in the second turning levels the playing field, where each particular is simply another manifestation of the ground and thereby equal in significance to any other particular. The important wisdom is that of sameness, of all particulars having the same nature. In the fourth turning, equalness is not because of sameness or shared ground; each particular in itself is equal to all others. And yet, they are all of one nature, albeit a more mysterious nature than that revealed in nondual realization. This recognition hits you and impacts you at all levels. Nothing is excluded; everything is included in the view of living reality. It opens up the whole of reality all at once. 

The Dynamism of the Fourth Turning Knows No End

This unstoppable dynamism is unsettling for many of us because we want to find a place to land. We need to have some place that we think of as reality, as a home base that we can come back to. In the dual perspective of the first turning, even though we experience true nature, we tend to settle in the ego identity. The home base in the second turning of the wheel is the boundlessness of true nature, the nondual condition. The fourth turning of the wheel offers no refuge. There is no fixed home base. The freedom of the fourth turning comes with absolute insecurity. There is no security in the sense of stability. Dynamism becomes more important than stability. True nature here has engaged the creativity of its dynamism in a totally open-ended freedom. The dynamism of the fourth turning knows no end. It is not only that realization is open and open-ended, but also that the openness is open and the open-endedness is open and the endlessness is open. These are some of the wisdoms that emerge in the fourth turning. We could fill countless books with all that the fourth turning reveals. 

The Wisdom of Nonhierarchy

No matter where we are in the turnings of the wheel of the teaching, it is always reality that continues revealing itself. And it reveals itself through each one of us in every instant. This is the simplicity of the teaching of the fourth turning of the wheel: Each one of us at each moment is reality expressing itself. The idea is not complex or sophisticated. But to feel and know it directly in experience is often difficult because we encounter all kinds of mental obstacles to this simplicity. Even though it is, in some sense, quite simple, we have to go through all the spiritual experiences—the visions and insights, the understandings and processing, the dimensions and illuminations—before we can realize this simplicity. Whatever it is that is happening is really “it.” There isn’t another “it” that we are going toward. In the first and second turnings of the wheel, it seems as if there is an “it” that we are moving toward—deeper revelations and more subtle insights. But by the third turning, we wise up. We realize after we have gotten to the “it”—whatever that might be for different people and different teachings—that there actually isn’t any “it,” and whatever we are experiencing is reality and cannot be anything but reality. Gone is the sense of the hierarchy of realization that appears in the first and second turnings of the wheel. The fourth turning reveals the wisdom of nonhierarchy. There are no levels or degrees of progress, no process or development, no ultimate goal or aim. Instead, there is the pure simplicity of reality expressing itself however it wants. 

True Nature is More Mysterious than Just Being the Being of all Beings

But the fourth turning of the wheel shows us that absolute nondual realization, although it is enlightenment, is only one way of looking at enlightenment. Realization can happen in other ways. It is not a matter of only being true nature. True nature is more mysterious than just being the being of all beings. It also reveals things about being, about the relationship of being to all manifest experience and the question of whether it is or is not. One of the realizations in the fourth turning of the wheel, for instance, is that the questions of whether true nature is emptiness or fullness, whether it is being or nonbeing, whether it is boundless or bounded, whether it is infinite or finite, are trivial and irrelevant questions that don’t apply to true nature. All these are possible ways for true nature to manifest itself, but true nature can manifest itself in ways that defy the logic of these questions. Other questions come into play then, and that radically opens the field of what is possible. 

Subscribe to the Diamond Approach