This site is dedicated to soul work. It’s especially dedicated to the development of a spiritual teaching for the 21st century, a spiritual teaching that takes souls seriously. Consequently, I’ve written a number of pieces exploring the nature of spiritual awakening. I’ve written about loving presence, bliss, and most recently on the true understanding of Shakti (Radiance). In so doing, I’ve been revealing classic signs or expressions of spiritual awakening.
But it is important to recognize that Presence, Bliss, Heart, and Radiance are NOT the ultimate truth. They are effects in the human bodymind of touching into something we might call the ultimate truth. Presence, Bliss, Heart, and Radiance are the consequence of this “something” flooding our humanness, not the something itself. This something is called variously The Ultimate, The Divine, Spirit, The One Without a Second, The All, Buddha Mind, The Godhead, The Void, etc.
What this means is that spiritual states like Presence, Bliss, Heart, and Radiance are not to be sought as ends in themselves. We aren’t seeking them as spiritual states to consume for personal gratification. The great Tibetan Buddhist teacher Trungpa Rinpoche labeled that false approach “spiritual materialism.” Rather Presence, Bliss, Heart, and Radiance are attributes of that prior something. We’re interested in that prior something whatever or whoever it may be. Presence, Bliss, Heart, and Radiance are pointers. They are signs that as humans we are connected and properly in touch with this “something.” Presence being when the human mind uncoils in the face of The Ultimate. Heart the center of the chest, The Creative Impulse the belly, Radiance the root, and Bliss the breath-energy and body as a whole.
This approach is a “descending” or “incarnational” model of spirituality because it starts with Presence and works “down” from there. Down in the sense of our bodyminds opening in a descending fashion to the Ultimate Reality.
Because these spiritual effects or attributes are so powerful, however, they can become alluring, even addictive. We can easily forget they are pointers. We forget what they are pointing to and take them as ends in themselves. We see to grasp, cling, and hold onto them (i.e. “spiritual materialism”). So it’s crucial to remember that what I’ve been exploring through my writing and in actual experience through my teaching is how connecting to the spiritual pointers point us back to that Something.
Words like The Ultimate, The One, Spirit, The Divine are stand-in words for that Something, that something of which Presence, Bliss, Radiance, Creativity, and Heart are attributes. A term like Spirit is just that…a term. It’s not something to be taken literally. As if Spirit were actually some kind of gigantic ethereal spirit.
In fact all those terms: The Ultimate, The Divine, Spirit, The One Without a Second, The Buddha Nature, these are all just that–terms. metaphors. Any term that has ever been chosen in history to name that something is just a term. Some terms are relatively speaking more helpful and illuminating than others, but none contain that something. No word, no term, no metaphor can adequately name that something. In Buddhism this teaching is known as shunyata, i.e. emptiness. All terms are empty of the ability to name that something. The word “that something” is itself inadequate because it’s means some-thing as opposed to other things. And this “something” is not in opposition to other things.
It’s empty, it’s vacant of such a meaning. All the words, all the phrases are Void (shunyata). The terms are not the ultimate truth. They are void. In Taoism they say,
“The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.”
So names for that something are never in the end adequate to the task. At best they are imaginative metaphors.
But this something is something. No word or phrase can ever adequately contain and control and name that something. All those terms, all those words are empty. But that something is not an absence. That something is definitely not empty.
In fact, it’s the total opposite. It’s not empty but absolute fullness. It’s a Void yes. But a Void that turns out, the moment one experiences it, to bring forth Love, Creativity, Radiance, Bliss, and Luminous Presence. It brings these qualities forth spontaneously, without effort. It is a pure Grace.
The Void then, Sprit, is not a lack of something but an emptiness that allows for everything to happen simultaneously. This Void, This Spirit, is not something other than the world of our experience. It is the opening, the clearing, in which everything is happening and which everything is an expression of. To experience that is to experience the natural, spontaneous, unplanned for, arising of Wakeful Presence, Radiance, Bliss, Creative Desire, and Unconditional Love. In other words, the way we know we’ve “locked into” that All-Encompassing, Bright Void is again through the effects, the attributes of Presence, Bliss, Radiance, Heart, and Creativity.
This is true nonduality or spiritual awakening. My argument goes one step further, one step beyond the traditional enlightenment or nondual teachings. The argument of this teaching that the only way to truly incarnate this something, this Void of Pure Light and Love, is as a Soul. That is, each of us is a singular, irreducible version of That Luminous Void. We are the entire process of Creation manifest in a personalized form. The entire process–gross, subtle, and causal. Physical, emotional, mental, cultural, political, psychological, subtle, spiritual.
Put them all in the blender, hit puree and you get a Soul.
Said another way:
Only by becoming properly bounded can we truly embody infinities.
In traditional enlightenment teaching there tends to be a bias towards “no boundaries”. Spirituality is typically about becoming one with The All. Spirituality is about what is universal, the same for all of us. There is a very important truth there–the truth of deep equality and humility. But what traditional spirituality does not offer (in my mind) is a concrete way to manifest and incarnate this realization in the midst of daily life…at least for those of us not living in caves or monasteries.
If we take our spiritual nature however to be our True Nature, then our True Nature turns out to not be our own but rather a universal (and therefore non-personal) one. Spiritual teaching that over-emphasizes The Oneness over The Many-ness promotes a conformist model, it tends to deny emotion, and creates a very static homogenous kind of space (e.g. everybody shaves their heads or wears the same color robes or takes new names, etc.) The Soul is about what is singular, distinct, and flavorful about our being. The Soul is about irreducible-ness. The Soul creates the proper sphere of one’s being. The Soul creates a true awakened boundary for a being. It’s not a boundary that separates them off (like the ego) but a boundary that allows for true participation, true communion, and true relationship.
Only by becoming properly bounded can we truly embody infinities.
Only as Souls can we incarnate our realization of Spirit.
So to review:
Spiritual attributes like Presence, Heart, Radiance, Bliss are natural, spontaneous expressions of the realization of something prior to (yet inclusive of) those realities.
Call that something prior The Godhead, The Divine, Spirit, The Void, The One. Just don’t take those names to be anything other than pointers because most precisely there is No Name for That One (including even The Unnamed). Because Presence, Radiance, Bliss and the like are expressions or attributes of The One, they are not to be sought as ends in themselves. They are simply pointers or graces, signs of realization. The realization of The Void-The Divine is what is ultimately important. Presence, Radiance, and Bliss are not to be denied but they aren’t to be sought or clung to either (that is the error of spiritual materialism).
To truly live and incarnate realization of The One (The Void, The Godhead) one must do so through The Soul. It is only the Soul that paradoxically can create a unique sphere or boundary of one’s being, a boundary that is somehow able to hold the infinite within it. As kids you may remember the game where you would be constantly one-upping each other.
Someone would say, “I’m smarter times a hundred.” “Yeah, well I’m smarter times a million.” “I’m smarter times 300 million.” “I”m smarter times a billion”. “I’m smarter times a trillion.” And on and on it would go until someone said: “I’m smarter times infinity.” And then the reply would inevitably come: “Smarter times infinity plus one.” To which the counter-reply was always, “You can’t have more than infinity.” In this teaching however we can. Infinity +1 turns out to be correct view. The Infinite (Spirit) is embraced by a Soul, which adds a +1. The +1 there being a unique, singular, irreducible incarnation of The Infinite. It is the +1 quality of The Soul embracing Spirit (rather than the other way around) that creates the possibility for spiritual awakening to be incorporated genuinely into daily life.