Sunset Observer © Eric Platt 2021
Sunset Observer © Eric Platt 2021

The Three Spiritual Paths

The Three Spiritual Paths, or How To Do Nothing


These are both processes of intense activity, always upholding the doer and enjoyer – even at the highest state, though in a highly general form.
As long as this taint of duality lasts, you do not shine as the Absolute.
— Atmananda Krishna Menon, Notes on Spiritual Discourses


43. His disciples said to him, “Who are you to say these things to us?”
“You don’t understand who I am from what I say to you.
Rather, you have become like the Judeans, for they love the tree but hate its fruit, or they love the fruit but hate the tree.”
Gospel of Thomas


The above quote is obviously not about “the Judeans,” but pointing to a mindset so to speak, a dualistic way of seeing, where one either emphasizes God or Source or the Absolute, and dismisses the creativity (Shakti), or, there is an emphasis on the opposite, where one “worships” so to speak, the manifest, the products, the creativity, the fun, to the expense of “knowing” the Source of All (Shiva). Rather like, in the Eastern traditions, one could contrast the purity of Advaita vedanta versus the energetic dance emphasized in Kashmir Shaivism (e.g., Tantric teachings): both are only a halfway view. Shiva and Shakti together is the whole view, the viewless view.

How does one free oneself from what we call “mind”, to shine as that What we are, pure freedom, limitless Awareness?

There are three main paths for human beings to what we call “awakening” or liberation, broadly speaking:
1. Extreme suffering.
2. The Path of the Individual (also called the Progressive Path, the Yoga path, etc).
3. The Direct Path.

None of these are guaranteed to take one to enlightenment, to freedom.

Within number 3, the Direct Path, one can see three main ways of freeing oneself from the bondage of mind (which is the goal, so to speak):
A. Contemplation
B. Witnessing
C. Self-Inquiry

This essay is not a criticism any path or view, but a pointing towards a whole seeing. There are many flowers in the meadow, all unique. But we can identify species within the pattern of beauty.

It is also to attempt to point to a subtle fact: the most difficult thing (for some of us human action figures) is also the easiest. This is very paradoxical! In other words, it’s the simplest thing in the world to see that what we are is awareness, independent of anything else, but it’s difficult to see this without the taint of mind immediately coming in to interpret it, to create a veil or filter over pure seeing.

And as far as “spiritual paths”, the hardest thing, for some of us, after a lifetime of adopting and using spiritual beliefs and doings (and things we’ve attached to them too, like political ideas, social and mental habits, programming, and lifestyles … all manner of doings), is to drop these tendencies and beliefs, attachments, and identifications. To stand naked as it were. To be nobody and nothing. No pride and no lack of pride. Just clean, clear, “empty”, stateless, pure happiness and freedom. Openness.

Seems dangerous to just Be… we have to be doing something, or be some thing, or someone…

This has nothing to do with what we do, but where it’s all coming from: Source, or post-Source.

Very roughly, based on my experience, and talking and being with others, we can see 3 stages (or “paths”) for us all, towards, so to speak, the “direct path” (a potentially confusing or paradoxical name, but it’s used in the world of spirituality):


1. Extreme suffering, The Path of Humankind, the World. The Path of (Pure, almost) Misery, Apathy, Being Buried. Mankind’s lot – what the Buddha pointed out with “there is suffering”. The “helliest of hells” (Lester Levenson). The Path to The Path to The Path. 

We can become experts in suffering, can’t we? You could write a book about it. Life is full of problems. “That’s just life.”
One is deep, deep in the mud, in the doo-doo, identification, attachment, aversion… and it might be good, indeed necessary to do something – get some exercise, do breathing meditation, take some medicine to up lift the mental state, see a psychologist (but deep down secretly you’re enjoying it, but that’s part of the “advanced” course, to see that … ) – whatever it takes to peek out of the mud, see clear and calm enough to start getting “on the path”, or more accurately the path to the path to the path, so to speak. You are in a heavy and dark rainstorm, out in the sleet and the mud and heavy weather, trying to survive this, where just a ray of blue sky and sunshine peeking through is enough to give you hope. Hope one may rise out of the fear, pain and the extreme desire to escape. And to glimpse something else is “hope.”

At stage one (on this planet) there is by nature either apathy or an extreme drive to get out of it, and that extreme drive will last into the happier phases of stage two.

Stage one is a constant pursuit of pleasure, and escape from pain, and avoidance. There’s an experience of resistance, conflict, confusion, destructiveness… inside and outside, which are seen as separate, distinct, as if independent realities could exist and be known. It may not be constant, and there may be periods of relative peace, or temporary relief from desire and fear, but one knows, or feels it’s not going to last long… 

This is all seen as “normal”. 


2. The Path of the Individual, The “Spiritual” Path, The Path Of Doing, Embodied Spirituality, of The Path Of The Individual, the Progressive Path, The Life of Action, the Hero. The Path to The Path. 

Then farther along the path to the path, outward life is looking better, often it’s pretty darn good, you’ve got it together with your external life in many respects. And inwardly it’s gotten better too… There may be gaps, such as in relationships or with work that you’d like to change, but you’re not depressed or anxious most of the time, you’re clearer and freer, not deep in the mud anymore: that’s been left behind except for brief moments, and things are more or less harmonious for you, any conflicts or problems are very short-lived, as they evaporate in awareness. No complaints – unless you want to complain with friends because it’s fun, and they do it too. Have a laugh. 

However, you still are full of ideas, opinions, activity, pride, ego, charity, whatever. You think you know something.

Underlying, something is still missing, whether you admit it to yourself or not, as evidenced in the vague heavy feeling in the morning, the chasing after something, god knows what, which may take the form of a relationship or travel or some crazy hobby, or some big work or even “spiritual” project… an underlying sense of lack still remains, subtle as it may be, or a residual fear that pokes it’s head out, or comes up in dreams, some “residue of (spiritual) ignorance” as some have put it; something that drives you to be doing doing doing more often than not, wanting to save the planet, and still listening to “spiritual” teachers a great deal, like a lifeline, seeking something… yet you have glimpses of Real Freedom, of Reality, the It, the That, which we are all seeking. and you may talk about it endlessly, maybe study it (until sick of it)… do endless retreats or meditation or yoga…
This has been called (if I am not mistaken), by some teachers the “path of the individual”.
This is the path to the path.

I know some like to use the term “embodied spirituality” but I can’t help wonder: who or what is embodying what? It’s not really clear. It is talked about as something that is the final step, to “embody” something. But as I see it, they are talking of what I am pointing to of what is called “The Path Of The Individual”. There has to be a body and something they are embodying, some glimpse or other reality, spiritual stuff or realm or divine whatever that is “embodied”. It’s a dualistic path. This is valid of course, as far as it goes. Everything is part of the divine unfolding, the dance, one’s path. And I certainly sometimes speak of being in “alignment” with truth, reality, Beauty Love, true nature… we sometimes have to see it, do it, speak of it that way, if that’s where we are “at”.

However, “embodiment” can be used as an excuse for identification, for attachment. One wants all the goodies of spirituality, seeing it like a big candy store and feel-good place, the happy place, and want to hear nice stories, so at some level there’s fear and not really wanting to be free – maybe because of such an awful past, not wanting to see the reality of the two sides of seeming to be a body, no matter how wonderful that body and its lifestyle is for the most part. Feelings and emotions play a big part. 

One can get stuck here a long time, especially if you feel you have powers. Why would one want to give up a “good life”? Because there is still a need for approval, control, and security. Because even if you had a near death experience, it’s still an experience for someone. So you haven’t embodied being a no-body. You haven’t died to the world, so to speak. All language about this is deceptive in a sense, and is misinterpreted – the mind comes in and takes control, to survive, and interprets.  

Having a Better Dream of a Me

But a negativity as well as a positivity about material life is still not the whole, or a position, or not seeing that it’s still an identification and attachment and aversion even though it’s subconscious.

So it can be hard to get that there’s nothing personal anywhere in the universe. It’s too paradoxical, intellectual. After all, here we are as humans talking and playing and being humans. As far as one can see anyway…  Not easy to see that there’s really nothing right or wrong and “it’s all unfolding as it should”, not as a position or an escape, but as reality, intelligence. 

For the path of the individual meditation is definitely about a doing: there’s almost an ethical or moral obligation sense to all this, and perhaps even to save the world… There is still an aggressiveness.

So NONDUAL LOVE can be interpreted from this stage is negativity or nihilism or anti-body, “trashing the body” as one seeker accused me of, not understanding. Because you want to have your cake and eat it too. Want all the goodies from “Consciousness.” 

The second “embodied” stage is often mistaken for being the final stage since it’s sometimes seen as “all awareness” or includes everything or at least that’s taken on as a belief system. But again, it’s for an individual.

In other words this “includes everything”  viewpoint doesn’t honestly include everything because it distances itself or rejects suffering, and the (unconscious)  judging that you are doing and projecting onto others happens (in the whole mess of human reality) as a fact and  consequence of embodiment, because “embodiment“ is misinterpreted. 

Something has to be embodied, for someone. It’s simply not true. That’s all I’m saying. I have nothing against it, it’s just not the case of what’s happening, it’s only a seeming.
Indeed, enjoy the illusion while it lasts…

But, there’s more to happiness than pleasant experiences, yummy meditations, high mental states, nature excursions, travel to exotic ashrams, silent meditation retreats, love states, seeing beauty, tidbits of peace, or a healthy lifestyle and saving the earth. All that is nice, for what it is, and I have nothing against it at all, and I do some myself with friends … a nice dream. This is all (seen as) a joke. But what is earnest, real, constant? Who or what are you? What is real? Will you be satisfied with a passing fancy forever? Who knows. 


3. The “Direct Path”, The Path of Freedom. The No-Path Path, The Path of “Nothing To Do, Nowhere To Go”; The Path of No One, Nowhere, Life of Being. The Path to Non-Dual experience.

Easier to define this in the negative: nothing for the mind to hang on to.
At stage two (The Path Of The Individual) the glimpses were/are different – there are glimpses of seeing a kind of freedom that the mind cannot grasp, cannot hold onto at all, though it is so fresh and free and innocent and glorious in it’s naked simplicity and child-like-ness it really wants to grab on. It is an openness and clean now-ness that cannot be described, it’s so natural and given. No one home! How can you get to where you are, what you are, if you are already it? This is too dumb and simple to be “it”! Come on! It’s got to be more complicated, more worthy and superior to others, give me an advantage – the mind cannot handle this hot potato. We’ve spent a lifetime building something – am I supposed to just give it up? Surrender my gold, my goodies, my cute this and that?
Now you really get into these “non-duality” teachings, which may seem right and very fascinating, but it can be pretty frustrating at times, or one feels like a failure and want to give it up, never listen to another word, another video, read another book or article, since you are trying to grasp the ungraspable, do the undoable, be what you already are. What to do?

This is the path (as spoken of in this blog).

The truth is, “it” is not really spiritual. That’s a tough pill to swallow for some. After all this. The mountains are the mountains again: you know the old Zen thing of, first the mountain are the mountains (solid, material, separate, independent reality out there), then they are not (pure awareness, no thing exists), then they are mountains again: made of awareness, nothing separate, just This, unnamable, unknown peace, stillness.

So all that “spiritual” stuff was just a way to get “here”, back home. A scaffolding leading nowhere. There is really actually nothing spiritual and not spiritual, or material and not material. There is just this, all alOne.

And you start to see how all what they call “spiritual” in the culture has nothing to do with this! (see the forthcoming article “Why I Am Not ‘Spiritual’ ” )

Ultimately, nothing is happening, and this play of forms is a shadow play, but here we are, talking about it and playing at being human. So be it. Enjoy it.

What remains? 

“Who cares”, or “that’s boring” the being on the second path says. Of course: there’s nothing in it for the seeming separate self, the one that wants to survive and enjoy being what they see as “embodied”. The false takes lots of work to maintain, so it must keep doing that. Until one gets tired, or some huge loss, or grace … something grabs a hold, and there’ no looking back. There’s no escape from reality. But you can keep trying as long as you keep trying… 

I simply ask, what is always true, always real, never changing, beyond this mental game?


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