Four Types of Yoga

Posted something in a Facebook group and received this comment, which I really love. Asked for permission from Nathan Hemingway, the author of it, to edit and post. So this is his comment with some slight editing. 🙏 Thanks again to Nathan for the opportunity to share his knowledge.

“This is tangentially related, but in at least some schools of Hindu thought, there are four types of yoga. Not the western version of yoga as a form of exercise, but four different paths of transcending the ego and discerning truth. Karma yoga, Bhakti yoga, Jnana yoga, and Raja yoga.

This is my very loose translation, but Karma yoga is a path of action, e.g. Mother Teresa; Bhakti yoga is the path of the heart, e.g. the Christian passion of Christ; Jnana yoga is the path of the intellect, e.g. Buddhist philosophy and self-inquiry, Theravada, and maybe Benedictine practice, and Raja yoga is the path of observational practice, e.g. meditation and mindfulness, also Theravada, and especially Zen.

Again, very loose interpretation, but I’ve always seen this as a framework that encompasses the world religions and non-religious paths to self-realization. The core idea being that these are four different ways of transcending the delusion of your own sense of small, separate self.

The first is body, or action. The idea is that if you give sufficiently of yourself, then eventually you squeeze out any remaining room for self-aggrandizing. This is the path of loving and giving to others. There are plenty of examples of this across all traditions. I always thought Thich Nhat Hanh puts it really well in his analogy of two hands. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s worth a read. From an enneagram perspective, I’d expect this path might hold a natural draw for body-based types… especially 1s and 8s who are more directly attached to their action-oriented nature.

The second path is the heart. The idea is that by loving something outside of yourself, there’s no room left for your ego, e.g. the parent that dies (metaphorically) of their own self love in order to transcend the self and love their child. Depending on the flavor of Christianity, this is a very Christian story. God who gave up his only son; Christ that suffered and died; God who is divine love personified.

The third path is the mind. It’s the idea that by looking hard enough; challenging what we think we know; simply observing/noting what is, we can peer into the truth. Theravada and some forms of Hinduism, like Advaita, really embody this. If you’re completely anti-religion and anti-“spiritual” and seek truth through science, philosophy, physics, psychology, and so on, this is you too. The idea is that if you intellectually tear down the illusion of your own ego, then you have no choice but to build back up with the simple truth of what remains.

The last path is practice or observation. IMO, this is closer to the core of Buddhism, but the previous one holds a strong draw for intellectual types. The idea of this path is that direct confrontation with repeated experience of truth is undeniable, especially when said truth is “realer than real.” This is Buddhist meditation, mindfulness, contemplative Christianity, any path of mysticism, and secular meditation. Anything that ultimately presents us with an experience that challenges how we perceive ourself.

I’m probably butchering this a bit, but I’ve always really appreciated this as a framework for considering self-realization, psychology, and how different people find their way in entirely different paths. If nothing else, you can match it up to the enneagram and see how heart/mind/body are three different ways of transcending the ego. The fourth that this adds over enneagram groupings is something loosely akin to “experience,” which can touch in all three of the former. Even within any major religion (or lack thereof), you can find major sub-groups who follow each of those paths, and within those sub-groups, examples of individuals who seem to have transcended the “small, individual self.””

Ultimate Freedom

What is control?

By control, do we not mean freedom of the will to exert it’s influence over a situation?

This controller, the will, is a conditioned phenomenon, subject to the law of cause and effect. So while the will may have a causal function, it is itself also an effect of the causes and conditions which gave rise to it. The will is the convergence of desire with rationality. Desires spring up from unconscious mind, not the conscious. It is the conscious mind which is responsible for taking the raw desire and creating a vision of projected circumstances that it believes will satiate the desire.

Freedom is usually understood to be freedom for the will to act without perceived external hindrance. This is a form of relative external freedom. Yet it also is overlooking the conditioned nature of the will.

As we develop, new desires emerge from the unconscious mind and surface as objects of our conscious will. This continuous cycle brings new desires into conflict with previous ones. The older desires seemingly retreat into the unconscious mind, where they remain as habitual patterns. This is where the battle within the psyche is largely found; between conscious will and unconscious habit.

It is easily noticed that on the whole, the newer desires are of a more intangible and metaphysical nature. This gives rise to all sorts of techniques for mental and spiritual development. The goal is to make unconscious habits subservient to conscious will. This is what Christianity and secularism in particular tend to deal with, as people are moving more and more into the conscious mind, where newer and more pure desires may be made manifest.

This transition comes with a price. As the conscious mind becomes the center of psychic activity, there is a significant loss of spontaneity, playfulness, wonder, and connection with life on an emotional level. This can be understood as the “dark night of the soul”, where the magic of existence is seemingly dimmed. Depression and anxiety are characteristic neuroses resulting from mental overactivity.

From this place, a new movement is felt. New desires once again surface, but the conscious mind is unable to formulate what it is seeking in a way which fits with the goals and desires of the conscious will, as it is tied to a sense of separateness and individuality; that is, the ego.

This last movement is for the conscious will to surrender itself to the heart, just as the unconscious habitual mind surrendered to the conscious will. As the conscious mind realizes it’s own self-incurred misery, new means of personal growth are sought outside of mental constructs, yet beyond the purely material world of the five senses.

To realize such a state of being, the sense of control related to conscious will must be surrendered for the sake of freedom. Freedom is passive, control is active. Freedom of will to act without perceived coercion is not the same as freedom from conscious will, since will is ultimately just rationalized desire. And desire, as the Buddha in particular said, is the source of suffering.

This is the path of reconciliation. Heart, mind, and body. Physical, mental, and spiritual. To be whole, and at peace, there must be a sense of unity and resonance with life. This creates a wholehearted trust in the universe, and the cessation of fear and anger, insofar as these can be rendered inert. The resting from desire does not render you useless, but rather open to the movements of life itself, as you begin to be in tune with the highest values in nature.

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Growth and Enjoyment in Spiritual Life

Nobody makes us feel anything. Our minds and bodies feel in response to stimuli. Yet we do not blame or criticize our bodies and minds; at least not seriously. All pain originates in the self, and is the collective pain of the universe. This could be called karma. We imagine it originating outside, because pain takes many forms. But it is our own nature to experience pain.

When a person trains physically and exercises, the result of a strong and healthy physical body is largely the manifestation of pain experienced during their training. But it is internal pain generated by our willpower. We could avoid that pain, but our bodies and minds will feel another form of pain from not exercising. Part of maturity is learning to choose the forms of pain that are most beneficial to us.

This is something we often fail to see. The manifested world, in all it’s beauty, is mostly a product of pain. There is pleasure, yes; joy, yes. But we manifest for the purpose of fulfilling desires. The pain of desire drives the entire process of manifestation from the bottom up.

There is however, a way of manifesting from the top down. This is what we experience when we act out of spontaneous love. Love for creation is what holds us together. Whereas the pain of desire is what forms us. Love is what we feel when we accept everything as it is; it pauses the destruction-creation cycle of desire, if even for a moment.

In that space of love you are held in the moment, and are able to act in a way that expresses the joy of Being rather than the process of Becoming. Both are important. Too much of one without the other is imbalance. We should neither stagnate, nor should we neglect to truly enjoy life.

To incorporate these truths, an attitude we can have towards life is twofold:

1. Every experience is a part of my personal growth and transformation. Therefore I can embrace all experiences as potential challenges and learning tools.

2. I am free to enjoy life at any moment, and to rest in peace and love if I do choose. I may enjoy the pleasures and beauties of this reality without guilt or shame, as this is an expression of my freedom and spiritual grounding.

This allows for the emergence of a third attitude, which is the result of balancing the two attitudes:

3. I observe that with my spiritual growth, my desires are shifting in such a way that I find increasing pleasure and joy in selfless giving and expression of my abilities and talents for the sake of love, not ego. This is my spiritual realization in this life.

It is important to recognize that this transformation is a natural one, and isn’t something that can be forced. The purity of the actions we take depends on whether or not we are engaging out of love and joy and peace or whether we are acting out of our ego.

Over time it becomes fun to participate in the process because we know that the beauty of life is in enjoyment of it. Yet we also know that pain will continue to push us to grow and develop. We balance these two attitudes and our lives are more in sync with the way things are.

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To Those Who Are Agitated

We often get agitated by political events and other problems we witness in the world. We think to ourselves ‘This is terrible. I know what is going to happen if we don’t do something.’ And from that place we either try to do something, or we just simmer for a bit and move on to something we perceive to be more manageable.

It is good to dwell on this reaction and introspect a little. The first thought is one of judgment. We assume we know what is best, and we assume there is a better scenario than the one we witness. But how do we know this is true? Certainly no loving person wants to see war, abuse, and economic depression. But we also know it has historically been a part of the natural cycle of things, and as much as we try we cannot easily point to a time when it was otherwise.

Furthermore, we assume these issues are simple. We assume we can take the politicians, news columnists, and academics at face value. Yet again we have often not really investigated far enough to understand the topics or to see whether or not these figures and institutions have been trustworthy throughout known history.

Then we assume we are correct in our ideas about how to fix things. Even having all of the accurate information it is still not assured we know what is best. And best for whom? And how do we define what is best for everyone? Different people need different things. And even if we could make the changes we want to see, psychology tells us we will habituate to that and develop new needs and desires to replace the old. And on and on it goes.

We will seek to prolong life, and treat illness, control the weather, etc. The new bogeyman will be something other than whatever we were trying to fix previously. Do we ever reach a place where we feel content with these outcomes?

A thought experiment: if we believe we can fix these things, let us start with the simplest thing. Change your self. Change something about your mind that you have been wanting to change. Can you do it? Can you even assure that given 20 years of practice you will accomplish this?

Try changing your personality from extrovert to introvert for example, and learn to switch on and off. Or totally give up depression, anxiety, anger fits, erratic mood swings, whatever it is. See how easy/difficult it is to do this.

Or attempt to meditate. Focus on not thinking at all. Can you sit still and not think?

If you cannot change or control your mind, are you really in control? And how can you control external events and fix problems if you cannot control your mind?

Maybe there is room for a little more surrender and acceptance of reality as it is. We can always work to make it better. But we are never assured that will actually happen. Rather than building our foundation on external events, build it on your inner reality. Act because it is a reflection of who you are. Not because you feel like you should control an outcome. Your mind is not really in your control anyway; it just feels that way. 😉

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Jnana Yoga Explained

Sometimes people get confused when I use words to describe things which go beyond words. For instance, I will interchange terms from various spiritual traditions in a way which can seem imprecise. I will also make self-contradictory statements which appear to negate each other in terms of formal logic. I speak of things which cannot be measured or examined empirically. Things which cannot be formulated into testable scientific hypotheses.

I don’t communicate this way because I am imprecise or irrational. I communicate this way because there could be said to be a third, subtle principle beyond opposites; beyond logic. Logic deals in dualistic concepts and makes distinctions which are not absolute. We see a world of distinct objects despite the fact that nothing is ever truly distinct or separate from the whole it is a part of.

I practice what is called Jnana Yoga, or philosophical spirituality. The purpose is not to establish absolute statements of fact. The purpose is mostly to exhaust the mind by pushing the extreme limits of logic and language. When one reaches the limits of what the mind can formulate, one finds logical paradox. When one has found that logic and language rests ultimately on a paradoxical and subjective foundation, the potential for consciousness OF logical and linguistic thought is to some degree realized.

When one can observe the rational mind, one can gain a healthy detachment from the vices of thought. Whether it be comparison, anxiety, depression, etc. Harmful thought patterns can be observed and related to one’s higher virtues. There is a part of us that is in touch with spiritual desires, which is often in conflict with both the conditioned mind and the sensuous body. The more one refines their ability to perceive subtle mental and emotional patterns, the more they can align their life with their higher desire for inner peace and purpose. And the more one experiences refined states of consciousness, the more the underlying unity and bliss of existence is perceived.

This practice is incredibly useful for those like me with mental hyperactivity, as it utilizes that excess energy to produce a more peaceful and integrated state of consciousness. I highly recommend the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (pronounced *Dow De Jing*) as it is probably the most powerful and accessible example of Jnana Yoga. Check it out and see if it pushes you to see something beyond logic. Otherwise a solid grounding in Philosophical Skepticism is good as a precursor to this if you are intellectually/academically inclined. Carneades is a great source for methods one can use to test the limts of logical inquiry and analytical philosophy.

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Presence between Here and There

It is easy to feel like one’s spiritual path is the best one available. It can even be a positive if you have a sense that your path is the best path for you. Yet for me the line is sometimes blurred between knowing what is best for myself, and what is best for others. The idea that there is a optimal approach to spiritual growth can be a stumbling block. It has a way of bolstering my ego by insinuating that I am somehow becoming more “spiritual” than others.

Of course there ultimately is no self to be on the spiritual path. And on the absolute level there is no timescale to divide a person in spiritual infancy from the spiritually realized and/or enlightened. The idea that I am on a journey from here to there, or that I have already traveled from here to there on a teleological timeline, is in fact the sort of mind-stuff that keeps me entangled in delusion; a lower form of thought related to the temporal. Is getting from point A to point B, and fulfilling one’s spiritual purpose somehow better than being in the present moment at any given point along the path?

While spiritual evolution appears to be a part of human realization, it is only arbitrarily seen as better than simply being present with whatever position one is in. The whole journey itself is a constant process of enlightenment, and while it can become qualitatively preferable and fulfilling to observe the transition from earthly to transcendental mind, there is in essence no difference between any state. This is the cosmic perspective.

The moment we start to believe that we are on a spiritual path, we set ourselves apart from others who we perceive to be on an unspiritual path. There is in truth just one Path and Non-Path, and we are all on it together in every moment. The destination is always present in the journey. The destination is your very Being. The thing that hinders you from experiencing Yourself as you are is Yourself. Hindrance and enlightenment are one. This is a hard teaching but it is paradox which reveals spiritual essence.

Comparison stimulates ego-mind. This is a function of Maya, the active spiritual principle of universal Self-delusion. Delusion is not different in essence from enlightenment, only different in quality. One can have the experience of non-enlightenment but the experience itself is a part of the unending process of enlightenment. Never are we not on the Path, and never are our peers not ultimately on the path. It is only our ideas about linear progression which impose the categories of spiritual and nonspiritual upon Pure Existence.

When we view others in terms of their progression along any axis, we are setting ourselves up for the experience of ego-mind. This is all fine and well. It is a part of the drama. But when we recognize this subtle play of the ego-mind, we step into greater consciousness of What Is. And when we are engaging fully with What Is, we are more peaceful and loving towards others as their true nature is revealed to us. It is impossible to hate when in a complete sense of present awareness because the concepts which give rise to our hate and dislike arise in the ego-mind. We see others as they are, not as “non-spiritual John Doe”, “Christian Jane Smith”, or “Buddhist Tim Johnson”. This is programmed labeling that runs in the background of our mental operating systems and keeps us from experiencing Pure Awareness.

While we have the immense privilege of engaging in the eternal drama, we are not responsible for getting anyone, including ourselves, from point A to point B. It happens naturally. This is the great revelation of Anatman, or no-self. There is only a flow of energy, and consciousness is the highest function of this energy.

Consciousness, while active, rests in the womb of Inaction and Unconsciousness. This is the basis for the Daoist practice of Wu-Wei, or non-doing. As we are made privy to this truth we see more and more that our judgments and perceptions of ourselves and others are colored by the ego-mind’s prejudices regarding the phenomenon of conscious choice. In the eternal there is no choice, and there is also nothing but choice; it is all a single phenomena that is wild and unbounded.

Our sense of control is a function of delusion. Our sense of freedom is a function of greater awareness. One is free but not in control. These are all word-concepts with no intrinsic truth-value, but higher truths have a poetic and ungraspable quality to them. You don’t validate them with equations or formulae, but you know them when you hear them. They resonate, and that resonance is all that one has to steer by.

This is intuition in action, and to impose our intuitions on other people, and judge their paths by our own is simply to take a non-eternal perspective. If you let go of the judgments you can see that there is no difference between you and anyone else. Your spiritual walk is no different from a dog barking; it is what you do, just as barking is what the dog does. No greater honor is deserved; no privilege. Just presence. It is it’s own reward.

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The Scientific and the Mystical

We are living in a time of increasing antagonism between the domains of science and religion. On both sides an existential urgency can be sensed, as if the two cannot maintain an amicable relationship. The religious tendency is traditional, whereas the scientific mind values progress above all else.

Scientism stands between the religious and the mystical as a sort of middleman. The scientific mind is committed to the improvement of the material world, as it sees the mental and emotional aspects of life as emergent properties of physical material. The intangible and immeasurable aspects of cognition are either claimed to be illusory or seen to be a currently unknowable subject of further empirical investigation.

The mystic mind, when fully realized, is equally committed to the pursuit of truth as the scientific mind is. The primary difference is that the mystic mind revels in the subjective, paradoxical aspects of existence and emphasizes the internal over the external. The scientific mind in contrast seeks to standardize and formalize truth; a project which the mystic will see as ultimately inhibiting.

The mystic has set out on a personal journey to reconcile the intuitive and emotional world with the rational and logical one. In my experience it was depression which forced me to search for a deeper connection with life that the analytical and metric could not give me. I knew that whatever path I was to choose would need to be consistent with the observable world, with truth being the balancing principal between the tendencies of the left and right brain hemispheres.

The concept of truth is seen by the mystic as an animating spiritual principal. It guides and illumines, but is always personal and intuitive. This is often seen as a denial of truth by the scientific mind which seeks objective and concrete realization of truth on a transpersonal level. In contrast the commitment the mystic has to pluralism is a function of his or her understanding of non-duality. The mystic is not perturbed by the worldviews of others so long as they are allowed to hold and communicate their own.

The scientific project is closely interwined with the Utopian ideal. This potential is not necessarily denied by the mystic, but it is usually treated with skepticism. The mystic is committed to the establishment of internal peace above all else, and sees the external world as derivative of the internal. Society is the focus of science, whereas the mystic may even go so far as to renounce the external world altogether. The mystic mind sees society as standardized delusion regardless of the practical role it fills.

Purity of mind and heart is paramount for those who embrace mysticism. To us the world is only worth engaging in if one comes from a place of peace and serenity. To us the old religious conceptions of Heaven and Hell reflect an existential crisis of mind which is opposed to the tranquility of an open heart. This the mystic sees as the transcendence of both material and spiritual egoism.

The modern man and woman, following such minds as Descartes and Locke, has learned to treat the individual, separate self as the foundation of human experience. The mystic rather has become convinced that the purpose of life is to transcend the experience of being a separate ego and experience bliss and love in each moment as a vessel of the Divine.

Following the skeptical and phenomenological arguments of Buddhism and Vedanta for example, the mystic may be acquainted with philosophical argumentation and follow his or her logic to the point of paradox and apparent self-contradiction. This paradox is then experienced as a transcendence of duality, forming the basis for what in Hinduism is known as Jnana Yoga. The primary difference between philosophical skepticism of the Pyrrhonian variety and the transcendental philosophy of the mystics is that the skeptic accepts negation as the conclusion of his investigation, whereas the mystic sees in paradox the manifestation of the principal of ontological and existential non-duality.

This realization is felt tangibly by the mystic in spiritual experience and practice, which often differentiates those who are philosophical skeptics but not spiritual, from those who have made the leap to mysticism through the medium of transcendental perception. It is true, and always will be, that spirituality is felt and/or perceived rather than just understood conceptually. The mind can bring us to the shore, but we must choose to wade into the ocean to experience it.

Subjectivity and relativity become a way of life for mystics. Spiritual traditions are akin in many ways to language and culture, which are not seen as absolute or infallible, but as different lenses and perspectives through which we can learn from others who share their ideas about the Divine. Thus a Christian, Hindu, and Jew may sit together and talk and the mystic would not see their claims as competing ideas of what may exist objectively, but rather as personal and cultural expressions of subjective experiences.

In this way, the mystical mind can assimilate a wide range of worldviews into a personal and syncretistic meta-worldview, without losing his or her footing. In the reconciliation of apparent opposites and contradictions the mystic experiences the principal of non-duality in action. And in offering a open heart and mind to embrace the experiences and perceptions of all people, the mystic develops a baseline sense of unity and camaraderie with everyone.

This is the Way of peace and reconciliation. While the external world can be attended to appropriately, the internal world is primary and gives rise to manifestation. This is understood by anyone who has dug deep enough in their psyche and perceived an egoless dimension of experience. The mystic follows the path of transcendence, and in the process may seem aloof to the external world, or even selfish as they rest in non-action. But the firm belief remains that in order to transform the world, the individual must be transformed first. And by seeking inner peace, the outer world may be transformed in due time when such inner realization is normalized, or when the material world is experientially transcended by way of some hypothetical ascension or rebirth.

By reconciling the opposing forces within the psyche we model the eventual reconciliation of all dualities through spiritual realization. This is the joy of the mystic: to glimpse this truth in the present moment and engage wholeheartedly in the process.

This is my joy.

On Free Will and the Self

This post is in response to the question posed by my friend Bob Moore in the comment section of my previous post. The question was whether or not free will exists, and whether there is even a self to have it. I love the way the question is posed, and it is right up my alley in terms of concepts I have worked through the last several years.

Free will relates to the feeling of being more or less in control and responsible. This is usually limited to the idea that one at least has the ability to choose their response to circumstances, as opposed to a sort of determinism which would argue that the response is the product of the circumstances. 

Some (Randian Objectivists in particular) even extend the notion of free will into society, with the idea that man makes his circumstances almost entirely by his or her will. Nietzsche elevated Will to a supreme virtue, and argued that most of our problems arise because we seek to medicate ourselves rather than toughening up and using our willpower to attain what we desire.

One concept which I hinted at in my previous post is Maya. This Sanskrit word can be loosely translated as “illusion”, “magic”, “deception”, or “deceit”, depending on the context. It is believed that this cosmic force is behind all manifestation, to an extent equal to or greater than that of Shakti (divine pranic energy). Rather than being necessarily a force of evil, it is more of a force which allows us to experience an immersive reality where we are not what we truly are. 

This sounds paradoxical, and it is. But simply imagine that you are playing a video game, and you become so engaged in it that you actually feel as if you are the character, and more than that, you are overcome by the conviction that you are the character. The movie Jumanji comes to mind here. That is the sort of power Maya dispenses in the universe at large. It allows for a cosmic drama of epic proportion to be played out, with total immersion. 

Some or all of you reading this have no doubt come to the realization that this reality is a unified whole, at least to the extent that all conventional divisions of life are arbitrary. As Einstein put it:

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.”

At this point I must introduce the nineteenth-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who had a extremely interesting take on the role of the Will in the manifestation of the world.
While Nietzsche elevated the Will to the status of ethical virtue, Schopenhauer, with far less fanfare, posited that Will is the power that underlies all creation, and therefore is the primary driving force of the world. This made Will more than a mere ethical consideration, but rather an ontological one.

Schopenhauer was well acquainted with, and had great appreciation for the Upanishads, and foresaw a revival of Indian thought and Sanskrit literature in the realm of philosophy. His views are arguably among the best syntheses of Eastern and Western philosophy in the past millennia. His validation of asceticism as a rational response to the madness of the world makes him not only a vindicating modern voice for the ontology of mysticism, but also the ethical concerns. 

Einstein once quoted Schopenhauer on the topic of free will, saying:

“I do not believe in free will. Schopenhauer’s words: ‘Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills,’ accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others, even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of free will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper.” — Albert Einstein (1932), “My Credo”, Aug

This is a very key argument. The gist of it is that while we can choose to do many things, and even choose our thoughts to a degree, we cannot use our will to direct our will. We cannot define our inmost desires by conscious choice. There must be a higher principal than will. At what point did we decide to will to live rather than die? This was obviously a part of us before we had the ability to contemplate it.

To follow the chain of causation further than conscious will is to touch upon the unconscious, which Carl Jung identified as containing the universal Divine archetypes and forces of the psyche. I likewise share the opinion of Jung, that full integration of the unconscious mind is to touch upon the mystery of the Divine.

There has long been a tradition (largely ignored in contemporary thought) of the Prime Mover, in the Deistic sense. But not all have gone so far as to apply this to the individual psyche. After all, it is a foregone conclusion of the justice system and human society that man is responsible for the actions he or she takes. To suggest otherwise can be perceived on some level as threatening to social order.

The way I see it is that on a relative level I make choices and I act and am responsible for charting my course. I at the very least have the feeling that I am able to choose between potential options. But who is doing the choosing? If I already affirm the truth that there is only one reality (or shall we say meta-reality), then there can only be One decisionmaker. And if there is only one thing existent, then the idea of choice and decision appears to be illusion, as all of reality is simply the All or God experiencing Itself.

This is where Maya comes in. If we are truly Monistic ontologically, as I and most mystics are, then the only way there can be the experience of phenomena is, as it were, through a experience of Divine amnesia.

Alan Watts described this as God playing “hide and seek” with Himself. This was the way in which he sought to acquaint Westerners with the difficult concept of Divine self-delusion, as expressed in the ancient doctrine of Maya. 

Yet I do not even apply Free Will to God. At a certain level things just appear to spontaneously happen. Will is to some degree an anthropomorphism. A product of Divine delusion. It may be closer to reality to define God as the Ultimate Schizophrenic, not in a demeaning way but in the sense that we put way too much emphasis on intent when contemplating the way in which experiences unfold. They just happen. Life happens. 

It has been suggested by researchers that our perception of choice is actually superimposed by our psyche after the fact in order to give a sense of continuity to our experiences. If we really understood that we were driven by the unconscious we would feel dissociated, and maybe even glimpse a bit of transcendence. The main mistake made by contemporary determinists on this point is simply in the assumption that the unconscious is merely a product of the individual’s physical brain. This is baggage from scientific materialism.

We take pride in these things that we think are ours because the deception of Maya dictates that we keep up the appearance of a separate ego. And to do so our focus must be on the temporal, relative world, as that is the realm of experience that most affirms our illusions. The deeper one digs and the more transcendental the experiences one has, the more one sees that there is Nothing and Everything at the root of it all. And although we are intimately a part of it, we do not control it; we are a part of the Tao, and we must learn to flow, or else be broken by it’s force.

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A Fourfold Classification of Worldviews

It dawned on me today that the types of worldviews we hold as humans, which lead us either toward or away from the Divine, can be classified into four divisions. Of course I do not suppose these to be absolute divisions or applicable in every case, yet nonetheless they seem to make sense to me intuitively.

[After writing this out as a draft, I realized that this work is essentially an expansion or elaboration on the Four Stages of Spiritual Development, as elucidated by the late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck. I was exposed to his ideas through a guest on The Humanist Hour podcast with Bo Bennett a few years ago; I do not recall her name or the episode number. It had an effect on me then and continues to influence me, so I want to direct readers to Peck’s work which subconsciously colored my fourfold classification.]

With that said, let’s begin.


The two sets of dual, or oppositional aspects, which give rise to the four classes of worldviews are thus:

Spirituality v. Materialism

Transcendentalism v. Egoism

Given these aspects, four combinations can be conceived:

  1. Egoic Materialism
  2. Egoic Spirituality
  3. Transcendent Materialism
  4. Transcendent Spirituality

These combinations can also be seen as stages or levels of psycho-spiritual development. Each representing a higher form of awareness and inner realization.

I do not believe that these are necessarily linear and successive gradations. And I believe multiple combinations can be present in the psyche of a person at any given time. However I do believe that the inward motivation of transcendental spirituality is the highest and purest of the four. The lower three being important and arguably necessary prerequisites for the attainment of the fourth, and highest combination.

Egoic Materialism

So long as we are incarnated in a human body we will have an animal nature which seeks preservation of the body. This could be seen allegorically as the Satanic Delusion, or the Deception of Maya, whereby the world exists and is perpetuated by false identification. 

This manifests in hedonic lifestyles and a tightening grip on man’s material designs and creations. Attachment to physical form is the underlying neurosis in this worldview. Fear and anger are predominant responses to the fatalistic concept of death, whereby the individual imagines himself to disappear with the body.

Delusion is also incredibly strong, but manifesting more as distraction or what may be seen as self-absorption. Truly the opposite is the case, as this stage is characterized by an eternal quest for amusement and stimulation, which obscures the underlying sense of insecurity within the self.

In the social realm, the focus is on keeping up appearances. Status is a means to gaining the experiences and/or possessions you wish to acquire. Everything is relative to the individual, and while relationships can have empathic elements, they are rendered unstable by the rhythmic fluctuation of emotion and desires.

Egoic Spirituality

Many (although certainly not all) who have “prodigal son” experiences develop a sort of self-focused spiritual belief system. This should not be seen as negative, but rather as formative. Usually the person hits rock bottom, through some sort of traumatic event or possibly a Divine encounter. I see this as corrective primarily, whereby the hopeless egoic materialist faces the grim reality she has conceived, and is given a glimpse of transcendence.

The focus may be on rules and self-discipline, mixed with a sense of personal purpose or meaning, provided this stage is mixed with the fourth (Transcendental Spirituality). At its worst it can devolve into a selfish ego trip, whereby the devotee imagines himself superior to others, wishes ill towards those who do not follow his path, and possibly even lapses and abuses authority given to him or her by a religious institution. The egoic predominance in this combination ensures that while the individual is growing and learning to both control the body and imagine a higher reality, spiritual purity will inevitably be compromised.

Transcendent Materialism

The breaking down of egoic constructs; particularly the many attachment-based beliefs, is necessary for purity of mind. To realize the full implication of Truth, as a spiritual reality, one must have moments and/or periods of intense doubt and delusion. As a result, substitutes for religious experience are sought in the material world.

The motivation for this is based on realization of spiritual principles embedded in her on the second level. The desire to make a difference in the world is motivated by idyllic conceptions which cannot be explained by purely material phenomena. Often a search for ethical programmes and rigorous logical positivism floods the seeker with anxiety and/or depression at the monumental task of forming a completely accurate worldview. The subjective aspects of reality are ignored and dismissed as being hindrances to ethical and material progress. Intense antagonism towards all things spiritual is often seen here, as well as heightened political awareness and activism.

The motivation of compassion and purpose is transcendent in nature, yet blind, as it is disconnected from a coherent spiritual context within which the psychic elements may be balanced and integrated into the psyche. The left brain hemisphere rules this realm, and the creative, feminine right hemisphere principals are found to be latent and largely underutilized. 

Transcendent Spirituality

On this level of highest purity, one has been gifted with insight into the true nature of things, while realizing universal love and compassion. This principle can be at work in us at any moment, guiding us towards the Divine through every step. This is however the integration of all preceding elements, as even the ego and material world can find it’s rightful place in the grand schema. The transformational aspect of this combination makes it akin to the alchemical Philosopher’s Stone. Recognition of the shaping quality and causative function of the Divine is blissful. 

Experience of spiritual truths supercedes religious formalities. The dogma of the past is seen in a new light, as symbolic and metaphorical truths rather than fixed absolutes. The whole world is seen as phenomenal, lacking absolute structure, but manifesting principals which give rise to creative play and drama. 

The reality of evil and suffering is counterbalanced by faith that all karma will be resolved and all will be saved in the end. Our journey involves the conquest of evil and pain, no matter how much we wish it were otherwise. Yet we know that since All is BRAHMAN or GOD, we All suffer Together. The pain of one is the pain of another. Karma equalizes over eternity.

These matters are only resolved through trust. And this trust can only be felt through direct communion with the Atman, or Higher Self. When all is stripped away, we know the truth. For me, meditation has given me that glimpse, although I await further transformation and realization.

The specific manifestations of life must be nearly (or entirely) infinite. Thus the focus is on experiencing the Divine more than understanding it. The Great Mystery transforms the seeker into a humble vessel. May I and all who read this be sanctified for service. Amen.

The Experience of Non-Duality

Non-duality can be understood and expounded intellectually. Yet without experiencing the feeling of universal wholeness, the idea remains foreign from our perception of the world. The truth is that it is hard to imagine that the objects and beings we see have no independent existence; yet this is exactly what rational investigation will teach us. 

Because we are experiencing limited consciousness through our egoic selves, we do not imagine that our experience could be anything other than of that of the body-mind in which we are contained. Yet we experience altered states of consciousness every night when we sleep. In dreams we are arguably not ourselves, and not living in the world our body inhabits. And in deep sleep there is no conception of self or other. It is pure nothingness, which could also be considered the one true reality of emptiness. Yet it can be felt; despite it having no clear connection to the world of objects and self. 

My own experience has given me that sense of everything as a unified whole. And my own philosophical wandering has brought me to that place as well intellectually. Yet that understanding and experience must be renewed regularly, as the sense that we are truly and ultimately separate and finite is convincing when living in the world. 

I hope you can find ways to realize this truth yourself.

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