by Lawrence M. Spiro
Hameed Ali, writing under the pen name of A. H. Almaas, is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential spiritual teachers of our time. His presentation of the spiritual path, which he calls “the Diamond Approach,” as it has now emerged and developed over 25 years, is distinguished by a thoroughgoing effort to bring modern Western concepts and understandings to the traditional work of spiritual development and realization. And, judging from the schools, groups, and many students now practicing this work in the US and Europe, the effort appears to be yielding impressive fruits.
Furthermore, a wider public, going far beyond the immediate circle of his students, is coming to appreciate Almaas’ unique contribution. Although his writings are sometimes quite weighty and detailed, we appreciate Almaas’ insistence that we need to explain and confront our spiritual condition in terms that the modern consciousness can understand, and present to it the task of spiritual realization in a way that will facilitate its acceptance and actualization. In contrast, the deeper traditional teachings, to empower and actualize its path, usually require entrance into a specific religious context with its own specific languaging; but this is seen to impose a serious burden upon students whose consciousness that has been formed in the crucible of modernity and for whom traditional formulations may seem foreign. Even the seeker who sincerely commits to a religious system may be repeating formulae rather than accomplishing what is needed, i.e. truly assimilating the pathwork into the context of their modern consciousness. But Almaas is attempting, full tilt, to speak directly to the modern consciousness in terms consonant with it, to make more accessible essential spirituality— and one’s real nature—and to offer methods for realization that can be more readily appropriated and used.
We see at once that this book has a unique and special task. It is meant to be a master work, seeking to present a complete overview of the entire Diamond Approach (to date). It stretches over a wide ground, clarifying many aspects of this approach, the author continually referring the reader to certain of his previous books for more detailed treatment of many points. As Almaas writes in his introduction, a key purpose of the book is to serve as the central organizing presentation of the Diamond Approach: This book presents the larger view of the Diamond Approach, its metaphysical underpinnings, its overall structure, and its metapsychology. This will clarify its logos, which structures its methodology and which in turn is grounded in the articulated understanding of the five boundless dimensions of true nature.
At 700 pages, it is a large task to absorb it, and its spiritual purview, rather awesome, is certainly ambitious, even for someone like me who has been friends with Hameed for more than 20 years. I hasten to add that such an effort is well worth it, of especial value to anyone engaged in spiritual work, or seeking its meaning, and the work offers valuable insight into Almaas’ personal journey and experiences.
Value of Psychology
The Diamond Approach has unfolded through 11 or 12 books to date. From the very beginning, Almaas’ major way of addressing and engaging the modern consciousness has been to take modern psychology as the theoretical statement of its self-identity, choosing this as the ground from which to unfold his presentation of the teachings. The strategy has mainly been to take the familiar and accepted body of modern psychological theory, appreciate its contribution deriving from sustained research experience, but then subject it to a very careful immanent critique which reveals its limitations. As its limitations are seen through, a door opens to what Almaas terms essence, the experiential arising of spiritual truth and potency from its own dimension, illumining the very realm of the empirical and ordinary, and coming to assimilate this latter to itself. At this point, the psyche of psychology begins to really reveal itself as soul, and the “false” egoic self is displaced, and we come to rely on our true foundation of being. In, for example, The Pearl Beyond Price (1988), he introduces the subject of Personal Essence, and then reveals its operations and efficacy through a presentation and critique of developmental psychology and the object relations theory of psychoanalytic psychology. For example, we have 100 or so pages there reviewing the separation–individuation process to see its relation to essence and being, via such topics of separation, merging, negative merging, identity, personalization, rapprochement, etc., and again many pages on ego boundaries, ego deficiency, etc. In The Point of Existence (1996), we have a very thorough examination of psychology’s theory of narcissism in order to discriminate true identity based in being (Reality) from all the narcissistic defenses which uphold a false self that we must come to abandon on the path, albeit with difficulty. Again, we have hundreds of pages, on subjects such as the characteristics and development of narcissism, narcissistic transferences, the dynamics of narcissism, developmental issues, etc., in their relation to essential identity. What is noteworthy is that both these major works, which begin so carefully and methodically respecting and working through the borders and boundaries of our existential and psychological consciousness, culminate in their ending chapters with a full discussion of the boundless or formless dimensions of Being. It’s a tour-deforce, because it reveals to us how the Ultimate (or, if you will, “the Boundless” or “the Unitive”) has been present all along, and can arise to consciousness to reveal an everdeepening spiritual guidance.
It has been a brilliant strategy: To begin with our actual experience, then to show how the spiritual essence can be invited into and nurture our personal worlds, where it will become effective in guiding us in the work of transformation. The self-identity of the human today, not as Scripture or Prophetic tradition defines it, but as recorded and documented in the empirical studies of modern psychology, is the starting point: Even if our present experience should turn out to be limited or deficient, we still begin with and proceed from our experience of reality. The guidance of being evolves us, replacing our deficient groundings with more essential ones, and does not begin by undermining our subjective reality in the name of ultimate truth. The universe itself shows its caring and nurturing basis throughout all Almaas’ works, especially in Facets of Unity (1998), and does so in a throroughly Western way. His main methodology, that of a spiritually informed inquiry, detailed in Spacecruiser Inquiry (2002), is a practice consonant with the modern Western mind.
The Inner Journey Home
Quoting from the Introduction:
The central thread of wisdom informing the methodology of the Diamond Approach is that our normal human consciousness does not possess the knowledge or skill necessary for traversing the inner path of realization. However, the intelligence of our underlying spiritual ground tends to spontaneously guide our consciousness and experience toward liberation. This spiritual ground, which is the ultimate nature of reality, is unconditionally loving and compassionate in revealing its treasures of wisdom to whoever is willing to open to it. We simply need to recognize the truth about our present experience and learn the attitudes and skills that will invite the true nature of reality to reveal itself.
When we turn back to Inner Journey Home, we find the book divides itself into two halves. The first half (pp. 1-217) is a detailed discussion of the soul and “self,” the fruit of many years of experience and research by Almaas. The second half (pp. 219-479) is an account of the journey of the soul, in its “ascent” to True Nature and its subsequent “descent” and reintegration. In fact, two volumes would be preferable because there are some readers to whom I would recommend starting at the beginning, while others I would suggest start at page 219, “The Inner Journey of the Soul.” The sequence of these two “volumes” is not, however, in question: a thorough phenomenological treatment of soul is logically a precondition for its “journeys,” the topic of the second half.
(I) As for the first half, the exposition of soul and self, three main tasks seem to be taken up in the discussions of the soul’s properties and development:
(1) Clarifying confusion: In the psychological literature, on one hand, there is considerable confusion as to the meanings of self, ego, soul, etc., and in religious traditions, there is considerable ambiguity and, from the modern perspective, an often outdated or “medieval” psychological framework. Almaas’ approach requires much clarity and precision.
(2) Vindication of the dimension of “soul” in the midst of a prevalent worldview and culture which is empirical, mechanistic, materialistic, and, of course, spiritually truncated. Here the work is to show the limitations of the conventional and mainstream views, and to establish the reality of the soul, its dimension, its basis as essence, its qualities, dynamics and development, and its relation to “self.” (3) Vessel-building for the journeys: To travel in inner space, one needs a travel-worthy vessel.
Underlying the attempt to pull the metapsychology underlying Almaas’ previous books into a coherent and thorough treatment is an important premise, which while self-evident to many, still needs to be emphasized, namely that human development is not only a means to spiritual work, but may also be considered so important that it, if not an end in itself, at least cannot be bypassed by any spiritual work; it must be an integral part of it, with help from modern Western methods.
(II) The second half of the book, beginning with “The Inner Journey of the Soul,” describes the situation for those whose essence is emerging or is now functioning as presence or guidance. The spiritual journey is in turn divided into three journeys in sequence, a very effective presentation and framing of the path, namely: (1) The Journey to Presence; (2) The Journey with Presence; (3) The Journey in Presence. (These three journeys are also described in Chapter 4 of Spacecruiser Inquiry, using the metaphor of inner space.)
The Journey to Presence
The theoretical basis for the recognition and discovery of Presence in/of the soul is detailed in the first half of the book, i.e., the metapsychology of the soul and its development. Methods for revealing its essential basis, which manifests as Presence, has permeated almost all of Almaas’ work.
The Journey with Presence
The second journey is introduced, but has been covered in other works: Essence, the Diamond Heart series, the Pearl Beyond Price, The Point of Existence, etc. There is a concise integrative overview in pp. 221–246).
Looking at the first phase of the transition from the first to the second journey:
The transition . . . is . . . marked by a . . . process of discovery whose central element is the initial experience and recognition of presence. . . . This recognition is the discovery of a living presence that feels to us to be the core of the human being, what makes a human being both human and Being. On directly recognizing the medium of our soul, we feel we know what humanity is, for we are aware of its inner truth and potential.
And in the second phase:
. . . [W]e develop the vessel of the inner journey, the consciousness that goes through the clarification and purification. . . . The second phase of transition . . . is the activation of the subtle centers of the lataif, which is a system of centers through which the primary essential aspects operate.
In the second journey, essence continues to unfold in its various aspects and dimensions. This is where most of the essential development of the soul occurs, as a process of her integrating the arising essence. . . . [T]he discovery and integration of essence transforms the soul from its condition of being primarily an animal soul to the state of being primarily a human soul, a soul with heart. . . . This is primarily the task of the second journey. . . . The soul journeys here in the company of presence, receptive to it and guided by it. There then follows a brief review of the process of the soul’s spiritual maturation, true individuation, and the achievement of essential personhood (achieved through overcoming or “seeing through” the structures of ego-self, accompanied by the wisdom of presence). Various issues in this essential development are next noted briefly, and then we are treated to a very fascinating, but all-too brief, summary of the “Diamond vehicles”:
The process of the soul’s journey is assisted by the arising of certain structures of essential wisdom, which we call the “Diamond vehicles.” These vehicles show us that real wisdom can come only from true nature [Almaas’ term for the ground of Being]. They are often experienced as messengers from the source of the soul, teaching her about this source and guiding her return.
In the experience of this reviewer, the description of these essential manifestations of true nature—being— structures that arise to guide the student—is the most exciting piece in the book, but is covered in just the last 13 pages of chapter 15, (but with continual references to his other works for more detail). They are described with metaphors such as Diamond aspects, or gems, or “spaceships” for traversing innerspace, or as messenger–angels, all of which conveys the utter richness of the spiritual treasury that can come to guide those on the path. We have here summaries of four of the ten Diamond vehicles, “Diamond Guidance” (correlated with the Greek nous), the descent of “Markabah,” joyously and blissfully filling the soul when intimate with true nature, the “Citadel,” true support and protection for the soul, and the “Diamond Dome,” bringing a clarity and intelligence deriving from true nature.
As Almaas notes continually, he is sharing with us his direct and personal experience—not theories or experience reported by others— and so we are also told that the “Diamond Approach” itself owes its existence to these very vehicles, which have been informing and enlightening his work.
In the experience of the author, these vehicles manifested totally without any expectations or prior knowledge. Their arrival was a total surprise. And so, presumably, inner inquiry can also open the student’s soul to such manifestations.
All of the above, which is the heart of Almaas’ Approach, is covered in the scant 25 pages of Chapter 15! Here is the clearest overview of the specific logos of the Diamond Approach. But questions arise. How unique is it? How universal? How does it relate to, or differ from, the logoi of other traditions? It is not easy because the “Diamond Approach” is not explicitly referenced to, or within the discipline of, a tradition that would provide an historic context for that logos? The primary reference is Almaas’ own personal experience, which carries authority, and does impressively seem to have the power and feel of universal, or “ancient” wisdom in it, and, furthermore, Almaas expends significant energy attempting to establish a context in the footnotes and appendices, by comparing his expositions to those of other wisdom traditions, an effort I find very helpful. Almaas recognizes that logoi of valid spirital paths may differ significantly. This is the subject of a brilliant piece, unfortunately relegated to the very last Appendix of his book, entitled “The Logoi of Teachings” (pp. 567- 582), which I recommend.
The Journey in Presence
The third “journey”: In this last aspect of the journey, essence, having arisen to consciousness, and having been increasingly assimilated by soul, and the wisdom vehicles appearing as guidance-emissaries of true (soul) nature, returning us to it, the next topic, that of true nature and its dimensions, is extensively unfolded throughout chapters 16-21 (pp. 247–409). The transition to the third “journey” begins:
As the soul integrates the various essential aspects and the Diamond vehicles, transforming it into an increasingly essential soul, essence begins forcefully to reveal that it is the true nature not only of the soul but of all Reality. . . . Essence expands beyond her individual location and reveals itself as the essence of everything.
We are now far from the metapyschology of the first half, or of the dynamic pathwork of Chapter 15. We are into theology (albeit with little theos or God-talk, but instead the language of “True Nature” or Reality or the Absolute or the Ground of Being or Objective Truth). The wisdom emissaries have come from this ultimate source and now lead the soul, which is assimilated to essence, back to its own true nature. This is found in Almaas’ presentation of “True Nature and its 5 Dimensions” in the next 164 pages, his experiential account of the nondual Godhead. Given that the function of the (divine or divinized) soul is to bridge the two worlds (like Plato’s soul), Almaas is offering an account of the nondual world, the unity (or nonduality) of its own (true) nature to which the soul aspires. So the main subject of the second half (in length) is a description of this “unitive” state.
The Unitive State
What is being conveyed by the descriptions of five boundless dimensions of true nature? Each is given a chapter: Divine Light and Love (17), Being and Knowledge (18), Awareness and the Nonconceptual (19), Logos and Creative Dynamism (20), and The Absolute and Emptiness (21). To me, it’s a remarkable theology: Described as “dimensions” of Being, but with little or no theistic God-talk. Yet it makes great efforts to provide a source in the Godhead for Love, Individuation, Creation/Creativity as Speech/Logos, Soul, Guidance/ (Divine Will), Holy Ideas, and makes of the World a benevolent divine holding environment—all so very Western—while that world is being transcended. It is written in a somewhat Greek/Eastern rational mode, as experience/experiential, as natural, as a discovery available to all, rather than as a special revelation bequeathed by the divine. It seems to strive for a language that tries to emancipate itself from the theistic languages of the West. But yet, it is oh so Western, as one can see clearly with the help of the footnotes, where the subject is contexted to other mystical and religious traditions. We have here a picture, in the description of the five dimensions, of a loving, caring, acting Godhead. This whole subject becomes a wonderful field of reflection and examination and suggests many questions, which we cannot go into here. But I’ll suggest one issue as an example.
In speaking of the soul’s entrance into the nondual state (the reader will remember that the subtitle of Inner Journey is Soul’s Realization of the Unity of Reality, we learn that there are two integrations. There is the higher integration of the soul, and the higher integration of reality in general, the universe. In other words, two levels of nonduality, one personal and one cosmic, so to speak. The former, a limited nonduality, but one which maintains the integrity of the individual soul, is quite Western. But Almaas says of the latter:
Full nonduality is not a matter of the nonduality of soul and essence, but of the total nonduality of true nature and manifestation. The nonduality of soul and essence is only an instance of the true condition of things, an individual and hence limited nonduality. But, as we have seen, the realization of this level of nonduality functions as the entrance to the full nondual condition, reflecting the soul’s function as a bridge between the two worlds, that of duality and of nonduality.
But which is the higher integration, a full absorption into the nondual or a full development of the “fully human” which also has nonduality as basis? All the very careful attention to human essential development that characterizes his work, and his favorable view of the value of existence, would lead us to believe the latter, but when we arrive at the discussion of the Absolute, which we learn is our home, and the consummation of our love affair and the end of our search, the reader may feel that the former nonduality is the final end of the path. But then there is a surprise. There is next a journey of Descent (Chapter 22, p. 413ff).
The Journey of Descent
The self-realization of the Absolute is the end of the search, the satisfaction of the soul’s longing. But it is not the completion of the inner journey. . . . [But] at some point, the soul realizes that she cannot simply remain at the transcendent summit of Reality; her unfoldment naturally takes her on another journey, the journey of descent!
I may be missing something, but I don’t understand how there can be any further “natural unfoldment” based on the spiritual framework that has been presented in Inner Journey to this point. While there is a developed ontology, metapsychology, and even an epistemology, there has been no developed account of a cosmology or teleology that would give us a reason for the descent.
There’s guidance, but there has been no divine will explicitly predicated that can will such a thing. This is the stuff of theism, which appears more prominent at this point. A footnote by Almaas in this chapter states:
Many of the wisdom traditions, especially the mystical teachings of the monotheistic religions, conceptualize this station as the surrender to God’s will. They recognize that the realization of union of God is easier than that of surrender to His will, and that the latter is a more profound and total surrender and realization. . . . And the soul, feeling the separation, and loss of the home and Beloved, begins its descent, “surrendering to the flow, mostly out of love for the absolute ipseity, for she recognizes that it is the source of all unfoldment.”
This is not a small point, and the entire subject of “True Nature” has to be reread with this Descent in mind. The question that needs to be contemplated is whether the “fully human (essentialized) soul” is a means or an end.
This is undoubtedly a brilliant book, and shows the power and scope of Diamond work. But there are also challenges for the reader. (1) As the central organizing presentation of the Diamond Approach, Inner Journey does just that. It makes a unity of the Diamond work, but it also requires a familiarity with the entire corpus of Almaas’ work, or at least requires us to follow its thread. (2) Almaas is at his best when he is doing an immanent critique of current notions, showing what real human potential is, not just the usual conventional notions, and why present theory has to open up to and be “absorbed by” Being. But when he develops his own premises of a metapsychology of soul and self, it may appear scholastic. (3) The Journey through Godhead in Presence is a big leap and highly abstract. As a statement of Diamond Logos, it is truly authentic, but its theological aspects have their own uniqueness, and this very high theology, unlike the more psychologically oriented Diamond pathwork, may not be so easily assimilable to other religious traditions.