Spiritual Awakening & the Modern Age

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Awakening Today: Bridging Old and New

How might one attain to spiritual awakening in the modern world, in these complex times? In this article we look back at the two main historical models for spiritual training, and propose a contemporary approach for today.

The spiritual seekers of old retired to the forest, the desert or a cave to seek a kind of freedom they couldn’t find in their day-to-day lives. They lived in isolation, meditating or praying in a state of question and investigation, looking for greater meaning or purpose beyond the daily routine. They worked with their teachers in a close personal relationship that could last for years.

And they found something: Spiritual Awakening. What they discovered – in spite of some later misinterpretations by people who hadn’t done the same inner and outer work – was a message that has fed and sustained humanity ever since. All these beings clearly stated that we could do the same thing ourselves: We could all experience spiritual awakening.

But, for most of us, “the spirit is ready, but the body is weak.”  (Matthew 26:41, Aramaic Bible in Plain English)  This means that we are attached to our creature comforts, and spiritual awakening remains elusive.

The Great Prize: Spiritual Awakening

As human beings, we desire the best result for the least effort.  And though this is not only smart but also efficient, nevertheless, the ‘great prize’ is typically missed because we don’t recognize what the best actually is. The best is called ‘Awakening’.

Spiritual awakening is the opposite of ‘asleep’ and unfortunately that is what our habitual pursuit of comfort does – it puts us to sleep.

It takes effort to wake up but once we are awake, life becomes so much better and so much easier. It is the most economical, sustainable, ethical, fruitful and joyous state available to human beings. It takes far less effort than all the other pursuits the self-referencing ego identity chases after because we are no longer attached to the struggle, the pain, of chasing them.

When we remove ‘being subject to struggle,’ the texts and realized beings tell us we are left with a few special qualities. Namely, a loving disposition, a willingness and drive to be compassionate, joyousness in the successes and discoveries of ourselves and others and a great sense of equanimity (not to be confused with hedonic indifference).

The How of Spiritual Awakening, Historically

The Big Question becomes: how do we realize this ongoing state of bliss and clarity called ‘Spiritual Awakening’, ‘Liberation’ and ‘Transcendentalizing’ (to name a few)? Like any great career it takes training. Some have claimed it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at anything. Natural ability may give you an edge but training is what ‘brings home the gold’.  Traditionally there have been two main training methods for spiritual awakening aspirants: the yogic model and the monastic model.

The Yogic Model of Spiritual Awakening

In the yogic model one retires from the world and studies and meditates in semi-isolation with one’s teacher or guide. An adept may undergo years of training before their dedication to the path will clearly reveal spiritual awakening. The teacher is necessary because addiction to one’s own culturally biased viewpoint blinds us to the suffering this entails. The nature of a blind spot is that it is blind!

The pernicious nature of our ego habits causes us to fight and resist when these habits are interrupted, even though it is these very habits that demoralize us. Wrestling our attention away so that we can focus on the clear, spacious nature of our ‘mind’ means to surrender, to step over, our limited self-referencing agendas that are, at best, near misses to satisfaction.

Initially, the ego sees the teacher as just another ego. Thus the challenge is to see the teacher as a manifestation of the radiant, spacious mind and not his or her personality. After all, every manifestation in form is ‘imperfect’ even if the underlying realization of spiritual awakening is pristine.

For those who want to train without a teacher, there is do-it-yourself Dharma. Although it has some uses and is very popular these days, it is doomed to limited success because the final ‘power’ (understanding) is still held by the self, the ego, which by definition is asleep. All the ancient wisdom masters have always agreed on this point.

The yogic model is unstructured and free in the sense that it is not institutionalized, but life with a teacher in a yogic situation can be every bit as demanding as monastery. The yogic model is challenging because there is no escape.  It is face-to-face day in and day out and there isn’t a lot to do except practice. It is also a rough and ready lifestyle, so livelihood and relationships are put on the back burner.

Buddha and Christ are examples of the yogic lifestyle, and they also had teachers. What makes them unique and memorable is their re-interpretation or re-presentation of timeless teachings of spiritual awakening.

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