Misplaced Ultimacy

Misplaced Ultimacy –
 And the Paradox of Backward Progress

Am I correct in assuming that the most contentious issue facing the Non-Dualist community is whether or not anything at all can be done by an individual to affect his liberation?

This blog has recently hosted a considerable debate on this very issue. It is a conundrum without apparent resolution. But is it?

The model that is commonly assumed is that we start out- unenlightened. As a result we may develop a spiritual life designed to address that apparent problem. Eventually that spiritual life may find fruition in ‘abiding non-duality’ or enlightenment, whether that spiritual life was composed of a mass of practices, or self-enquiry, or a spontaneous impersonal process.

All modeling is crude and less than the Truth but what if that model is itself a serious distraction of what is actually occurring for people? What if there was a better way to think about or refer to or even properly understand our spiritual lives?

* * *

On the one hand we have people like ‘yours truly’ who insist that it is their experience that anything that can be done by the unenlightened self is self-defeating, as it originates in and is in service to the active egoic author (who is also incredibly susceptible to self-delusion!).

In support of this proposition we have the classic doctrine of “Grace” and all the cultural machinery of gurus and deities offering to bestow that which the ego cannot claim for itself.

Counter to this proposition we have the grand traditions of Buddhism and Advaita and all their derivatives or associates. They claim that through self inquiry, self examination, spiritual autolysis, or an entire lifestyle of spiritual practices and ‘skillful means’, that one can project oneself out of ego and into All that Is.

It seems like a never ending debate (for those who are interested), with no way to resolve it.

Yet the bit that I tend to forget about this enlightenment business is that, as Adi Da put it many years ago: The Way BEGINS with the Realization! Then you spend as much time as you need to adapting the body-mind machinery to that realization; and if and when that adaptation is completed, then ‘you’ are enlightened. In other words, realization of The Truth is a radical immediate instantaneous event, which may be followed by a period of gradual surrender of the faculties in order to reach fruition.

I believe this paradox is what Jed is referring to when he asserts that it should only take 2 years to become enlightened, and then perhaps, 10 years to “get the hang of it”.  Not precisely the same as Da’s point of view, but not far off.

What’s brilliant about this formulation of Da’s is that for me at least it resolves the intractable and complex debate that rages among Non-Dualists (I know, Non-Dualists don’t ‘rage’!).  Let me break it down again: that moment, when you first understand felt and experienced the indivisibility, the Unity of all that is, that moment is an experience of Truth that really cannot be surpassed. That is the ‘Realization’.

But it seems that just about everyone at that point (of Satori), after a moment or an hour, or a month of sublimity, slips back into ego by identifying with the body-mind machinery once again, although perhaps to a lesser degree.  For whatever reason, the ego body-mind machinery takes quite a long time to evaporate, with many, many, many incidents of Satori occurring in order to refresh the alignment process over time.

This second stage of adaptation, that many relate to as one of “the practice,” is usually involved with all the ‘bells and whistles’ of spirituality, performed by the ego attempting to reclaim its true identity.  Or, for the Non-Dualists, it is a period where practices are rejected because they seem to be founded in the ego, since most people in this cultural vector claim that the ego can’t enlightenment itself.

Presumably, eventually, the adaptation-practice stage completes itself and the functional body mind is now completely integrated with the Indivisible Absolute Self–Radiance. i.e. Enlightenment!

In summary, both factions espouse a great truth. Arguably, those moments of realization or Satori were not, and cannot, be generated by any activities, spiritual or otherwise, engendered by you; however it seems at the time.

On the other hand, spiritual practices, generated by your ego’s self, may very well facilitate the process of integration between the absolute and the conditional and ephemeral.

And then there is the matter of, (as good old Da put it, apologies for all the references to him here), ‘Misplaced Ultimacy,’ where a great unburdening has occurred for the “practitioner” and the person thinks that he has now become ‘enlightened’ because he has, in a revolutionary moment of release, moved out the limited subjectivity that he haunted before, and who now habitates a place that seems so very free by comparison. How many times has that happened to you? In short, the adaptation phase is fraught with many opportunities for Misplaced Ultimacy – sincerely believing that you have stably and fully integrated with All that Is.

And lastly there is the phenomenon of a Displaced Reality where the victim, having ascended into a Misplaced Ultimate realization, has accomplished this by way of the ego’s dissociative abilities, and marooned him or herself in an artificial cocoon of ascended delight and freedom. He or she may have grave issues at the life-level outstanding such as body issues or sexual or emotional or mental distortions of his actual developmental condition, but having split them off into his subconscious, he now thinks he is free from them.

No wonder classical Buddhists proclaim: spiritual life, better not to start. If started, better to finish!


15 thoughts on “Misplaced Ultimacy

  1. Back in 2011 Suzen begins her comment with:

    “Your original commentary begins with what appears to me a common fallacy – that we begin the journey starting from unenlightenment. I beg to differ,”

    and goes on to describe, brilliantly, her pre-personal experience up to age two. I just want to point out that it is a gross simplification to conflate pre-personal non-duality with transpersonal enlightenment. Ken Wilber identifies this simplification as the Pre/Trans fallacy, in which the pre-personal and the trans-personal are conflated because they are both non-personal. An extreme example would be to conflate the pre-personal mind of a dog, which abides in the “now”, with that of an enlightened man who also abides in the “now”. This is something that Eckhart Tolle does in one of his books!

  2. It’s funny…
    We are so used to manipulate meaningless concepts, we just assume the meaning and reply.
    But most of the time when we are arguing, we are talking about two different things.

    How Zen or Buddhism can be taken seriously? It’s just another ideology, like communism, spirituality,nazism, capitalism, christianity and all other religions, where original grain of truth buried under the mountains of lies, interpretations, speculations etc…
    All that buddhism ever accomplished its production line for skillful meditators and 10 commandments in eastern wrap.

    The same with Truth and all the other Holy Nonsense – consciousness, reality, absolute, god, soul, unconditional love, path, you name it.

    Humanity failed miserably in understanding the causes or nature of this mystery, forget about a method or technique to duplicate it. But who has honesty and integrity to admit this fact?
    Very few.
    And what that obsession with quotes and references to “great” teachers, saints and saviors?
    They have as many opinions as everybody else, plus somehow they always fail to save us, change humanity or even enlighten us.
    Actually, it would be quite interesting, if Jesus would come back tomorrow. The buddhists would criticize him for his ego and doubt his enlightenment, the religious would blame him of blasphemy and heresy,the politicians would roll him in the mud and police would arrest him for practicing miracles without a license. No one would listen to him, except few students( probably, not even 12).
    Sorry, I got carried away.

  3. P.S. After reading what some people experience as “enlightenment”, I’m going to pass. I adopted the belief that my purpose is to be fully emboied and learn how to live as a human. Am I divine? Of course I am…giggle. Divine in the sense that I’m a cool woman. I choose to believe in the Divine and that I am a soul traveling through the human experience. I choose it because it makes my life easier. I also choose to unravel my programming…AND i’ll probably not unravel it prior to my physical death. Experience can be our worst teacher (Martin Sage). Choose in the moment rather than be an automaton. Okeedokey. I’m reading Jed’s books again…just to see how I receive them versus the first titme that I read them years ago. More entertainment.

  4. It is fascinating to me that we try to interpret anything. Language is limited. What I loved about Jed’s books is that he truly related to HIS truth…and suggested to others that they find their own truths. I don’t consider him a spiritual teacher by any means. I consider his writings interesting as I read through my unique filters. No one can agree with anyone because we don’t have access to each others experience of anything. Language seems to give us agreement yet for me, talking with one another is simply entertainment. Long ago, I adopted the belief…I am born alone, live alone and will die alone…not lonely but alone in my illusions and delusions. Jed McKennas books have been fascinating entertainment. During this my 69th year, I have deliberately chosen being “done”. I listen to myself. I do what’s next to do. I live In The Mystery believing that no one, including Jed McKenna KNOWS anything. All is speculation and personal Unique experience. The big picture is illusive and isn’t really important. It is what it is. Aaaaaah.

  5. What does it say in the sutra? “Human life is HARD to acquire and the dharma is RARELY to be met with.” Animals & plants can’t do it. Only we can do it. Because only we want to do it. Yes, you DO have to have desire to eliminate desire & to seek enlightenment. There’s the paradox. And what do the teachers say? That the ungraspable and the unborn is right in front of us and the more you seek it the more it slips away.

    And yet…it came to my husband undesired & unsought. He was a miserable, alienated man. He had no pressing question or pivotal experience. He was not trained in either Zen or yoga. As skeptical as both of us were about karma, there’s the proof. He recognized reality when he saw it in the eyes of his teachers and realized that he had been evading the experience–for years. Then after being hit between the eyes he had to spend years…what? Developing? Assimilating it? What is it you think you’re going to get? Solutions to all your problems? Easy street? Some hot ticket to coolness? Entry into Zen heaven? I absolutely refuse to get tangled up in the fine points of religion, philosophy and so called spirituality. Read Jed’s books carefully. There’s an essential honesty there. I don’t give a damn if he chooses to protect his privacy. I’d do the same in his place.

    Yes, I did refer to Zen and I know what Jed wrote about it: a sports car without an engine. But Zen, when used honestly, is a “light unto your path.” You take one little step. Then the next little step. If you’ve been spinning your wheels for 20 or 30 years you’re just tripping out, blissing or self-hypnotizing. That’s not meditation, and it doesn’t get you anywhere, except maybe some waking sleep & stress relief, and you need to go back to the sources and really evaluate & re-evaluate what you’re doing. I’m making a subtle distinction here: by “going back to the sources” I don’t mean taking a course in philosophy, religion or psychology, or latching on to the current guru. Think about the “Oxherding Pictures.” What’s that all about? Levels of realization. What the East already knows & the West doesn’t seem to consider important. One kensho doesn’t a zenmaster make! Kensho, uncultivated, wears off. And what replaces it? Maya. Ego. We’re the “in group” and you’re the “out group.” Yes, that should be evident to everyone involved in Zen…and there are one of two reactions when you start spelling Zen with a “B”: either get involved in a bunch of side issues like protecting ants, prostrating, drumming, veganism & recycling or pretend that you’re wiser than you are & become a pompous ass.

    You go ahead & step on that road to enlightenment…it’s really easy. But it’s not so easy to get off. So take it seriously or stay locked up in that wheel of birth & death born of delusion.

  6. Suzen
    i don’t disagree with your statement “Your original commentary begins with what appears to me a common fallacy – that we begin the journey starting from unenlightenment.” but I find that when writing a piece it sometimes complicates the matter to be too broadly focused. Lots of arbitrary conceptual choices get made when trying to write on this, or for that matter any, complex subject.
    But thanks for expanding the focus. Your POV is reasonably assertion that many have articulated. There are fine points I might quarrel with—but– why bother!

  7. Your original commentary begins with what appears to me a common fallacy – that we begin the journey starting from unenlightenment. I beg to differ. I have discovered on my journey that in fact we are born consciously one with the absolute, without differentiation or boundaries, no words thoughts, judgments, or beliefs, just pure experience. This is infant no-mind. Nobody home. Isness only. This infant no-mind constantly is fed through feedback, survival instinct determining effective signaling techniques to ensure continuation. This orientation through interaction, the mirroring effect of looking, seeing, finding, assimilating, defining which leads to this egoic self, seemingly solid as affirmed by interactions with supposed “others”, is seeded through parental ideas/beliefs continuously handed down generationally. Validation of this seeming separate self is the constant activity for most of life at the point that words become the referrant instead of direct experience.

    I succinctly remember this point of departure from pure no-mind to word-oriented mind at about the age of two. I remember sitting by the side of my house watching ants crawl along the edge of the walk, at one with observed/observing/observer. Just unadulterated experience. My father came up behind me and began a dialogue, at first just sounding like random noise, then suddenly I could understand – “Those are called ants, they are insects, they live underground in a colony…..etc., etc.” , a long litany of facts ensued. And my experienced completely changed in that moment to one of seeing the word pictures, the conceptual knowledge of “ants”, and it was as if a degree of separation, before unknown, had materialized, the world of objects now something “else” apart. I remember feeling quite sad because no matter what I did, the veil of word/thought forms now defined the world. That’s when the voice in my head was born.

    I am convinced we are attempting to undo this mesmerizing spell we fell under through no fault of our own, it’s just the mass hallucination that has befallen everyone on this planet. If seen through, then one can play as if in a virtual game, much like my sons do in front of Nintendo. That we call this undoing “spiritual” is another level of the hallucination that tricks us into playing a different level of the game, with it’s own rules and rituals. There we do battle with Light and Dark, Angels and Devils, becoming more spiritual as we progress. But it is still a level of the game, when finally seen through.

    I find that the organism on its own seeks to be free of all confining definitions since it is an unfoldment from moment to moment, ever-changing and evolving, and no label is possible in this dynamic progression. Whatever tool is needed will be employed, and if one is embedded and heavily invested in the game, one will seek out and utilize those methods that seem to have worked for others. The trick is that “others” are the means by which you lead yourself through the maze of the Enlightenment Game, and “they” cannot take you beyond the game. That gateless gate is the end of the game, as a game, and of you as a player in the game. You don’t disappear from the game, but the rest is residual stuff that is seen through and no longer entertains. But maybe that comes to an end, too.

    I find myself in a limbo land of unrelated occurrences that seem to unfold before me. They originated from my playing in the game, so there is this gravity to whatever is happening that tries to spin me back into play, but I can’t seem to get interested. I’m more interested in where it’s all coming from, still in the theater, but wanting to know where the light shines from that throws the pictures up on the screen. The movie is no longer of consequence, it’s all the same story anyway. Looking into the place where all this arises from, that’s what is interesting now. I think that’s the doorway out of the theater, but I don’t know for sure. I just am oh so attracted to what’s behind the whole scene, the unraveling of it all.

    Sometimes the feelings are really crappy because I’m dismantling something that ego wants to hold onto. But I keep swinging the sledge hammer all the same. Can’t seem to help it any more.

    In any case, I do sense that I am uncovering what has always been there, just covered up and disguised very, very well, so many pretty spiritual pictures, the road to nirvana and all. But something was there before the story began and I will find out what.

    Whether or not I am actually doing anything to make this happen is immaterial and not worth thinking too much about. I am compelled to continue for what ever reason, as I keep waking up in the morning, hungry and needing to pee, so I keep going. It’s like I’ve been living in Disneyland and I’ve been on all the rides a zillion times, but I’m stuck in a hall of mirrors looking for the exit. Dreams are strange that way. I just go with whatever appears in front of me and take it from there.

    Jed McKenna has been a good bread crumb on the path and one that keeps me going “further”.

    Take care all,

    P.S. I came on board a while back with some heavy shit playing out, but things have calmed down a bit. That was some crazy turn I took, though!

  8. Thank you for your response. It’s nice that you have expectations as to how someone should answer a question. Is the first sentence the only thing you read? Why do you think I’m preaching? You asked for an “opinion” now you’re asking for preaching? I shared from my experience. That’s all I can share. Seems I pushed a button? I love buttons. Something I like to really pay attention to. That was one of my processes. I would analyze my responses, buttons if you will, to others because it was only me. Great practice BTW, IMHO. It’s a lot of work. Deal with all the buttons until there are none. Then you see the perfect manifestation of consciousness in everything. Then you see the intentions everywhere. It’s quite shockingly beautiful.

    For a ‘humble’ response…I had a hard time reading this.

    For the ‘you’, it was ‘you’ in general. I could have used “I” or “we”. We all have thick walls that we need to break through. It’s not a pretty sight for anyone. Mine was thick especially with playing the victim. Oh I loved that part almost to the point of never letting it go. In order for me to let it go, I had to embrace and love the rapist within me. The most horrific blissful moment in my life.

    You, Brian, are right. There is no way to resolve this issue until you, in general, until you embrace it as a part of you, all of us, only One. That is true unconditional love. Love for all the aspects that you hate, reject, suppress, or what have you, about yourself. Again, ‘you’ in general, because we are all ‘you’. Can you love Hitler? Can you love the people that brought down the Twin Towers? We are all suppressing that part of ourselves and call it hate and then turn it outward and blame, then we become the victims. Wow! Isn’t that beautiful! During those experiences, the whole consciousness did it together. Remember? I sure felt it and re-felt it this past anniversary.

    Thank you Brian. I love how you help me find words to explain the unexplainable. But the words will still cause problems because of the intention. It is already seen.

    In my ‘travels’ I experienced some and seen lots. I like to call it “Symptoms of Awakening”. It seems like groups going through the process together. Stick with the process. Those that fight the process seem to have a harder time of it. It’s all perfection. The displaced reality could be putting back the pieces part of the process. You have to redefine yourself. Well, you don’t HAVE to do anything. But in order to function in this reality, you must put back on the Ego but in a different way. The difference is you know that you’re NOT the ego.

    Before realization – I AM a Mother, Wife, Interpreter, Counselor. – I AM Ego.
    After realization – I experience Mother, Wife, Interpreter, Counselor. – I use Ego for the experience, the costume. – again the words may be misunderstood. But that’s okay.

    I put back on the costume to play the part, if you will. To experience. Only now the experiences are all perfection. No labeling that experience as good and that experience as bad. I decide to ‘play’ in this grand illusion I like to call Theater Earth.

    “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” ~ William Shakespeare

    Thank you for playing Brian. I love you.

  9. I don’t know Denise but it seems to me that an Enlightened One could answer a humble question such as the one I asked without preaching. I simply wanted to know if you had, in your ‘travels,’ experienced a similar paradox.
    By the way the wall you say I need to break thru, this ‘letting go,” is not mine to accomplish. I long ago learned that I have no effective will, either for good or ill, in that regard.

  10. Just keep the debate going. It’s a pretty thick wall you have to break through. One is only a victim if he thinks he is. There is no misplaced ultimate reality. There is no such thing. There is no such thing as non dualist. That is a made up term. This reality is linear, period. Understanding that we live in a dualistic reality is the beginning of awakening. Knowing that both are true and both are illusion is seeing. You have two ends of the stick in this reality. Love on one end and hate on the other. But KNOWING that Love is neither of these is the beginning of awakening. Knowing that is a beautiful contradiction. This fight that you refer to is holding on to this reality. Resistance and not letting go.

  11. As usual from Brian, a very erudite commentary, this time on that ubiquitous issue of whether one can do anything to foster one’s own liberation. Perhaps we can paraphrase good old Billy Shakespeare who encapsulated the entire dilemma with his famous line: ‘To practice or not to practice, that is the question.’ To which, I would conclude, there is unlikely to ever be a final and decisive answer.

    It seems to me the problem lies in the maintaining of endless questions and deliberations. I have come to a place where the answers to any questions regarding what enlightenment is, and whether spiritual practices are beneficial in the attainment of such a state, are as useful as a bull with tits. I don’t know where this leaves me in matters of a ‘spiritual’ nature – I suspect those who know me personally have a rather pessimistic outlook of my future!

    PS. I confess I do have practices. I brush my teeth every morning (because I don’t want them to fall out). I do yoga and meditation every day (because I want my body to be as supple as possible during the aging process and my mind to be as uncluttered as possible of useless thinking.) And I attend chanting events (because I like the sounds and it makes me feel warm all over). Etc, etc.

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