Just Say No to 3P Fundamentalism: Mistaking the Form for the Formless


Your eyes must see in the singular if you want to find the truth.
— Sydney Banks, The Missing Link (p.69)

(Note: This essay has to do with The Three Principles Psychology or “The 3P”: a successful spiritual psychology teaching model used in life coaching and many other areas of human relations, counseling and psychology worldwide. The profound epiphany of a man-turned-mystic and healer named Sydney Banks was the catalyst for what got formed into a psychology and teaching model).

Recently a long-time 3P practitioner made a post to his blog in which he “protested” the potential divisiveness and revisionism with the field, to not taint the message, and to keep the “purity” of it. One of the oft-heard concerns — not just from this person — is that “practitioners” are thinking they need something else besides the 3P to help people, and are are “mixing” things they learned that are “outside-in”: that they are not understanding the inside-out nature of the understanding deeply enough.

This is confusing two different issues, potentially (at minimum a clarification is called for, I feel):
1. using outside-in stuff – understandings, practices, tools and techniques – and
2. not understanding deeply enough. The latter issue will take care of the former. In other words, if you see deeply enough, understand the essence of the 3P, of the Source of experience, then “mixing” will not be an issue. One will see the truth (or lack thereof) across all models and within all teachings, and use whatever words are appropriate in the context of the situation and the moment (assuming one has teachings skills and a natural love for it); and in any case, your being-ness will be a teaching in itself. A good teacher of spiritual truth is not going to pull Freud out of the bag and start teaching from that perspective (except perhaps as an example of historical teaching that brought the unconscious to attention, and is misguided in many other respects). It will be obvious what is bullshit and what is real.

Others have commented or complained on confusion, divisiveness, diffusion, dogmatism, and so forth within the Three Principles Psychology. They are also concerned that it’s become just a coaching model, or a business model, and it’s getting diluted as it spreads. Of course, much of this is inevitable: a deep teaching is only going to be understood by a few, and of them a smaller number will be able to teach or write about. It took me 20 years to see through the “cruft” of my own thinking, stubbornness, social programming, bodily patterns of contractions, and the encrustation of added psychology of Syd’s message before I “got it”.

Rather than combine the 3P with something else, what is needed is to take things away from the 3P. In other words, to simplify the message to its essence. I’ll qualify that with “often” needed and “with many”. The 3P are seen truly only in simplicity (as Syd kept pointing out). New or fresh takes on it are helpful in this regard. But don’t mistake the form for the formless essence, the non-objective nature from which all appears.

Someone using the 3P approach and having some understanding, may eventually realize that this pointing away from or speaking out against practices tools and techniques, and pointing within, is really the same as the “direct path” spoken of by so many teachers of ancient and of today (Advaita, Taoism, Zen Buddhism, Non-duality…). What we are is non-objective – in other words, alive in the moment and not a memory, not a concept. It cannot be formulated and stored away. This can seem tricky to convey since it can’t be held or grasped, but also means there’s nothing to fix, control, hold onto, solve, or figure out. You are whole and complete because you are that whole, living, free, unknowable yet all-knowing intelligent life, if you stop identifying or owning that little self, that little thought…

The “old” forms that are not appropriate in this regard to combine with a spiritual psychology are the old psychologies (therapies, theories, models, practices, tools and techniques, etc.), that go into the past, focus on problems, pathology, cause and effect, and get one involved even more deeply in the endless games of the personal mind. But “old” forms of spiritual teachings, which also point to the formless, are perfectly in tune, once understood. Old spiritual traditions can be useful tools to help cut away that which is not essential, not you, not true. They also reassure us that truth is truth, tell us we are on the right track in triangulating on what is true, no matter what form it comes in, and that it’s timeless. Syd would often say “there’s nothing new” and that what he was teaching has been around since time immemorial. It’s perennial wisdom (e.g., The Perennial Philosophy, Huxley).

In other words, it’s “safe” to mix the 3P with teachings that point towards Source (formless, context) as long as you are clear with differing concepts and words, or definitions, but it is not safe (does not make sense, confuses or takes away from) to mix with content-oriented teachings and techniques. That would include almost all of the old psychology, which is based in theories from a personal mind of a theoretician, and a divergent interpretation of psychological phenomena, with no underlying common framework of understanding of where it’s all coming from (or that it’s just content). Another way to say this is that these content and concept-oriented models are mind-based (personal thinking) and not reality-based. For example all the descendants of Freudianism and other medical or quasi-medial models, and more or less belief systems based in a materialist or medical model (which is what most individuals in the modern Westernized world cleave to, like a religious faith). There are around 400 different schools of therapy and psychology, last I heard…. new ones being spun up all the time, no doubt…

To seek Mind with the (discriminating) mind is the greatest of all mistakes.
— Hsin Hsin Ming by Seng-T’san

Wisdom is found before the formation of form.
— Sydney Banks, The Missing Link (p 132)

Syd realized that the world is Consciousness in various forms, including thought-forms, and that the nature of the world is duality — suffering is built-in or implied in a sense — as a game Consciousness is playing with itSelf. Listen to early Syd tapes and you can hear him talk about poverty and sickness and wars and that there’s nothing you can do to change this. The whole point it to free yourself first, realize oneself and be happy, and this changes the world inherently (paradoxically, to the mind, which still sees separation), through your freedom, however that freedom manifests. The world is a sea of ignorance, and bailing it out with a cup of wisdom forced on a seeming other, won’t make a dent in the universe. For example, teaching is done for the inherent joy and love, the giving, not with an agenda or trying to get something, or make something happen, so to speak. Helping out of compassion happens spontaneously, if there isn’t personal thinking (the illusion of a separate entity) in the way. It’s natural to help a fallen person in the street, and does not need to be legislated by religion, psychology, or techniques.

One wonders why there is sometimes an urge to save the world or “spread the message” by 3P practitioners. Sometimes it’s driven by compassion, or enthusiasm; or else by being “true believers”, in that they think they’ve found the answer to all the world’s problems (I used to think that way). Or it could simply be a professional desire for expansion, or a mixture of these. But there can be a subtle mistaking-the-form-for-the-formless again. Truth doesn’t need to be spread, as it is already All, here and now. Removing the veils of ignorance happens in its own time (in the timeless) – this cannot be explained or made to happen from the small mind, the personal self. This is difficult to explain, but is worth mentioning because we have seen the dangers of those that want to save or change the world: the Hitlers, the Pol Pots, those with an agenda. Sometimes the fierce desire to change others or the world is a running from one’s own pain, grief, sadness and so forth, that has not been fully seen and healed: the “shadow” of the “residues of ignorance” as Advaita teachers put it (ignorance in the sense of ignoring one’s nature: Avidya). Trying to control, gain approval, the drive for security, and trying to change the show in the world is an outward response to an inner sense of lack.

But where is the whole “show” coming from? The simple point of “heal thyself” first is missed because the pain or anger or patterns of unconscious automatic survival mechanisms are unconscious, and projected outward. Since no separate entity actually exists, and there is a fear of disappearing along with a sense of ownership, there is fear for such a phantom, and it takes some energy to maintain.

There are old, deep patterns (about who one is, what the world is, what life is) and the felt need for escape from seeing them. It’s a strange game Consciousness plays with itself. Indeed, even well-known, famous spiritual teachers are not immune to addictions driven by unhealed patterns, as we have seen.

“…the purity of our understanding is the vehicle for change, nothing more. We can only change ourselves, we can’t change the world, and we can’t change other people. We can only get our minds very still, very pure, and then work through the feeling to lead others to their own wisdom.”
— Syd Banks

Any teaching that shows you how to be yourself is naturally going to be paradoxical: there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go to be who you truly are. It’s like a Zen koan, yet that is the paradox that the mind sees, because the mind only sees in duality.

Come to know that you are the world, as Consciousness, and that a separate, independent world does not exist an absolute sense, and you are on your way to freedom… That’s the whole game.

There is nothing to protect, either as an illusory person or as a field of psychology. However, if there are beliefs, and a sense of separateness, or a “brand” association (related to one’s business interests) one wants to protect, that is a limited and “tainted” message so to speak, with respect to Truth, Reality, Love…

Nothing real can be threatened, nothing unreal exists.
A Course in Miracles

What is essential in all this is to make the distinction between the 3P as a teaching model, and the spiritual truth or reality that it’s pointing to. If you don’t make that distinction you are heading to fundamentalism, or a religion. You will become bound again rather than free.

There are no authorities other than your True Self, the insights via the One Teacher: your own innate wisdom, what you are. Don’t be a follower. You have everything within that you need and want, and the whole universe as a creation from the one Mind.



  1. Robert Balkenhol on June 16, 2018 at 10:19 pm

    Sort of a tangent, but I’d like to add something.
    It seems to me that in any modality, fundamentalism is a defensive response against a gutting of the modality by “profiteers”. (Note the profiteering may not necessarily be monetary, it could be status or recognition.) This gutting results in the formerly successful modality becoming an empty cargo cult.

    What happens is that a successful modality becomes popular or wide spread. Demand for practitioners (priests, if you will) outstrips the supply of the ones that are fully capable, fully vested, fully whatever. The demand is filled by a combination of less-vested laity, and interlopers from other modalities who see an opportunity. These new practitioners learn the talk, but not necessarily the full walk. And they fill in the gaps with stuff from their past training or other stuff that’s easy to find and easy to learn. Some of this is syncretism, some of it is just made up. Never mind that it neither fits nor works. It’s for show. Then along comes an old, fully vested practitioner, and he says we have to drop this new crap and get back to our roots. If too much time has passed, even the fundamentalists are pushing a method that no longer works, and they will demand a return to the very written words of their founders. Of course, the words were merely pointers to the truth, not the truth itself, and so sticking to the written words bears poor fruit.

    This sort of thing happens in religion, spiritual movements, teaching methodolgies and business fads (eg Total Quality). Once you know about it, you can recognize it in any human institution.

  2. meestereric on June 18, 2018 at 7:54 am

    Thank you Robert. Your comments have relevance and are not a tangent. There is certainly a supply-and-demand effect going on. Fresh faces come in, and let’s say they were doing trauma therapy before, based on patterns stored in the body from early childhood, and were using certain techniques, and it seemed to work to a degree. Then they see the truth, effectiveness, professional community advantages and marketing buzz of the 3P, and so they add it on, or mix them, without taking the time to really go deep; they are not realizing the 3P if really understood would turn their reality inside-out. They would be re-evaluating or doing everything differently and seeing it all from a different perspective.

    But it’s OK – this is what makes the world interesting.

    You also helped remind me to add a comment about world-savers (paragraph starting with “I sometimes wonder”.

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