How Does The Spiritual Path Work?


Right now and in the recent past I’ve encountered more people than ever before who have set out on their own spiritual path. They have become inspired by higher consciousness; they’ve gotten excited about “follow your bliss.” But a cynic would point out that we have been hearing about the emergence of higher consciousness for at least fifty years, and yet collective enlightenment isn’t in sight. The reason for being discouraged is that with the evolution of consciousness, a straight-line path isn’t feasible.

Instead, the evolution of consciousness works differently from any other project, if I may call it that. When you set out to accomplish something, what is your course of action? No matter whether it involves building a house, reaching a peace accord between nations, or making dinner, the steps involved include the following: deciding what your goal is, setting up a plan to achieve the goal, assessing how long it will take, what materials you need, and making sure that you are ready and able to get to work.

Yet almost none of this applies to the evolution of consciousness. In every age and culture the path to higher consciousness is marked by some highly peculiar, even unique qualities:

  • You can’t see the goal in advance.
  • You therefore cannot make reliable plans on how to achieve the goal.
  • Because your inner life is constantly shifting, you never know if your attitude is correct or even if you are equipped for the next phase of the journey.
  • Your ego-personality, which supports you in every other activity, is of little use when addressing consciousness. Typically the ego-personality is an obstacle or pulls away from any drastic change, particularly if old habits, beliefs, and conditioning are challenged.
  • Even though you think and act as an individual, consciousness isn’t personal: it’s universal, holistic, and in the end inconceivable.

All of these points can be discussed at length, but I don’t think I’ve misrepresented them. Once you absorb that your own evolution must come to terms with everything on this list, the picture changes. You realize that you are like a surgeon performing surgery on himself, an impossible task. How can an individual guided by the ego-personality, with no set goal or reliable map in hand, ever evolve? The answer is not found at the level of the ego or the active mind. Instead, we increasingly let our true unbounded nature come to light; we meet our true self, exchanging a series of provisional selves along the way for something closer to reality.

These provisional selves, from birth to death and conforming to every situation in between, feel like “I, me, and mine.” We own them; we assume we are them. But from a nondual perspective, these selves are just garments to clothe the ego, a superficial covering that masks the true self. Because the true self is the only part of us that knows what is going on, it invisibly manages our evolution. Think about an infant looking forward to stages of development that are controlled invisibly from a level of life it has no knowledge of. Ahead lie baby teeth, adult teeth, puberty, the formation of the immune system, the maturation of the brain, etc. The controller of these processes, we say, is our DNA. But in fact, the controller is the invisible knowledge encoded in DNA, not the chemical amalgam of a gene, which consists of very ordinary carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen for the most part.

If there is a similar controller of our conscious evolution, it too consists of knowledge, and just as DNA unfolds a child’s development on schedule, with a definite timeline that puts baby teeth, for example, ahead of puberty, the evolution of consciousness unfolds according to a timeline. But because the whole self is involved, with the inclusion of every personal trait that makes us unique individuals, this silent unfoldment is dynamic, shifting, responsive to life situations, and impossible to predict in advance.

There is no “in advance.” Evolution happens in the now, and it’s an open question whether any of us is holding the reins or if, as some sages and masters contend, everything is controlled by universal consciousness, with each of us acting as its conduit. Leave that issue aside. Because the evolution of consciousness is about the entire self at every moment, there is an inconceivable project at work, one that is dismantling the whole setup of duality to arrive at nonduality–unity consciousness, the true self, Atman, whatever you want to call it.

The setup of duality consists of the dramatic confrontation of opposites. In the cosmos that we know and which has shaped every quality of life, evolution is the opposite of entropy. Entropy is the force that insures destruction, and evolution takes the opportunity after each act of destruction to invent a new creation.

On the personal level, evolution proceeds when we dismantle some aspect of the ego-personality so that a more evolved quality can take its place.  Destruction is essential, you have to trust that the true self knows better than you do which parts of the darkness must come to the surface and when. In the Indian tradition the all-knowing creative force of Nature is Shakti. The creative intelligence that controls both creation and destruction.

The darkness, being essential, is not to be feared, shunned, or denied. Our strategy as evolving selves is to patiently confront every sign of darkness, accepting that the light will find a way to transform it and reveal the essential truth it hides. There is no need to use the tools of darkness against it, either, since violence, resistance, despair, hatred, and fear are not how the light operates. The light is nothing but awareness revealing something new about itself, bringing the true self, which is universal, into the equation. To the extent that we are able, each of us must remember that the true self is the real self. Only by standing firm in who we really are can the evolution of consciousness take hold every day throughout our lifetime.

Reprinted from San Francisco Chronicle with permission

Abundance: The Inner Path to Wealth

In Abundance, international bestselling author Deepak Chopra illuminates this road to success and wholeness, helping readers tap into a deeper sense of awareness to become agents of change in their own lives.


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