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?
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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!