Is spiritual realization possible for everyone and under any conditions, or is it the prerogative of a few who must renounce the world and its pleasures and devote themselves to years of disciplined meditation and intense purification?
My answer to this is a sure yes, and I speak from personal experience: spiritual realization, like solar energy, is free and for everyone and has no preconditions for its attainment except one’s love of truth and a purification of a kind that requires no prior beliefs or adherence of any kind to a set of principles. But what does this purification look like?
Purification of the soul is considered the necessary precondition for spiritual realization in almost all spiritual traditions. This purification is a sacrificial act in which one has to sacrifice, i.e. let go of, one’s worldly attachments, attachments that include one’s lust for the worldly objects and also one’s identifications with the structures of the psyche.
This purification can take many level and intensities with regard to the intended spiritual level to be occupied by the soul. One does not have to attain to spiritual perfection, a total identification with the source, in order to live a spiritually healthy life. As a result, there’s a more superficial level of purification that is prescribed to maintain a relative state of spiritual health, i.e. enough to keep one in the spiritual orbit and guarded both against being lost into the darkness of the psyche and also against a premature and unprepared exposure to, and even fall into, the intense spiritual sun, the truth itself. The sight of the truth, as liberating as it can be, is blinding and bewildering for the unprepared soul.
Much of this spiritual-maintenance purification is about the externals, such as choosing holy company, community service, observance of rules, diet, language, etc., or general social norms that keep communities together. All of these aim at keeping the ego’s self-centered hunger for stimulation and self-gratification at bay.
The purification for the specific purpose of spiritual realization is designed to create a spiral-shaped trajectory for the soul’s journey that ends in that blissful state of consciousness called spiritual realization. Purifying acts of this kind include disciplined spiritual practices, abstinence from the desires of the body and the mind, etc.
All of these mental and physical purifications are in fact metaphorical purifications and outward/symbolic representations of a more direct and truly inward purification that constitutes a direct path, a plunge, into the Absolute. To understand what makes up this level of purification it’s best to start from the metaphysical Absolute and the Infinite which is the final stage of the spiritual journey.
The Direct Path
According to all mystics from various spiritual traditions across culture and history, the Absolute and the Infinite source that is experienced in the highest spiritual realization is none but the pure sense of “I.” It is the “I-ness” without the presence of the content with which it is ordinarily identified. It is unanimous position of almost all mystics that what we call God, or God-experience, is the true, pure, and innermost self of us.
Therefore, the true purification that can get us into this nondual state of consciousness, the state of pure “I-ness,” should involve purifying the “I” and not the psychophysical human person with which the “I” is identified. The “I” that we ordinarily experience is always surrounded by content through acceptance and identification. It is important to understand that the “I” is always already pure; it’s never polluted by its content though it appears to be so. Therefore, the direct path toward realization, which involves direct purification, is about seeing through this appearance rather than fighting with or renouncing it.
The direct path is not about moral or physical purity; it has nothing to do with one’s sexual activity, state of service, kindness, etc. If anything, identification with kindness is as much of a hinderance to this realization as identification with meanness. In fact, preoccupations with purity, spiritual practice and fitness such as fasting, abstaining from lust, worldly life, etc. goes against the very nature of spiritual realization because it puts a constraint on the conditions of realization and even intensifies one’s identification with such practices and the anticipated merits.
Moving Toward Pure I-ness
Purifying the “I” in practicing the direct path toward spiritual realization simply involves dropping the story with one blow; it takes time to do so but it will be a sudden experience where one sees through the phenomenality of the world. The essence of this purifying practice is to keep pushing back against the “I” until all that it thinks it is is left out, not rejected but rather suspended, un-noticed, or overlooked. One cannot drop identification with a story through rejecting the story because rejection or denial is a way of holding on to that which we are trying to transcend. The direct path involves a persistent and very stubborn return to the “I” without negating the contents of the “I.” Some forms of meditation produce this condition and with continuous practice one can experience that sudden plunge into the nondual state of consciousness. You can read more about one of these types of meditations in my post on The Secret to Effortless Meditation.
There are many other practices and meditations in various traditions that target the direct path. My most favorite one is taken not from a spiritual tradition but from a purely western philosophical school: Edmund Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology. Husserl’s philosophy which delineates the structures of consciousness through direct experience is founded upon a method of accessing the nondual state of consciousness. Unlike most spiritual traditions that may require some form of adherence to dogma or spiritual figure, Husserl’s method is entirely free of such attachments and as a matter of fact requires a total disengagement from any beliefs about the nature of consciousness or reality as a whole. His method is called Transcendental Reduction. You can read more about that here in my post The Shrouding Cover Called Human.
In the final analysis, spiritual realization is a return to the pure “I”, to the transcendent origin of the world. It’s an old saying that like seeks like, and it’s very true! This is the essence of spiritual realization: If the nature of reality, the highest spiritual state, the nondual state of consciousness, etc. are all names for the state of pure “I-ness,” then the best path toward it is practicing being more like that “I,” being more pure, a purity that has nothing to do with moral, physical, or mental states but rather with dropping the identifications with them.