Location: Istanbul, Turkey
This is a critical question on the "Direct Path." Dear Francis, I have much love and respect for you as a spiritual teacher and friend, as well as your teaching that points to “surrender.” And I trust you will not be offended if I told you that it is my impression that the so-called “Direct Path” does not deliver its promise, because its foundation is flawed. For one thing, if the “Direct Path” implies that there can be a direct method or investigation leading to the Final Understanding (or Enlightenment), then such method is suggesting that there can be a “short-cut to” or “substitute for” the full and total surrender of Consciousness, but this is not possible because such total surrender comes only as a result of Consciousness maturing through life’s events and deciding that the ego (ignorance) no longer serves It (Self). I feel that the lessons, through which Life prepares Consciousness to see that the ego system does not work so that it can be surrendered, cannot be brought about by mere investigation (at the level of thoughts/feelings) alone. Because ego is like the evil-clown; it never ceases to promise fun and instead inflicts mostly misery and suffering, and I don’t think that any investigation of this clown at the level of thoughts and feelings are sufficient to drop his false mask, life with all its events (with perceptions, miracles and miracles-in-reverse) itself is the investigation and there are no short-cuts to this and to when and what life reveals. However, the reason I think that the Direct Path is flawed is the following. Direct Path claims that the sense of lack associated with the ego has its origin or cause in the identification with the body/mind, or in thinking and feeling to be a limited and separate Consciousness, which is then forever seeking to be whole in the phenomenal/dualistic realm. But, to assume that Consciousnes—for no apparent reason—one day decides: “I had enough with my divinity, wholeness and peace, from now on I want to identify with this body/mind so that I can experience separateness, conflict and suffering as this may be more fun,” does not make too much sense to me. My own investigation shows that identification with the body/mind is not the original source of the “sense of lack,” but this sense of lack was there prior to such identification, as follows… I think, while Consciousness is with the body but not yet of the body (i.e., not yet identified with it), around the age of 1 or 2 years old, Consciousness feels that physical pain is not Okay, thus uses its freedom to “resist physical pain” and starts holding onto and believing in the bodily perceptions/memories in order to better “cope with” the sensations/feelings of physical pain or discomfort. By doing so, Consciousness perceives that it has better control over pain/discomfort/etc. and identifies with the body, thereby creating the ego-based mind—with one major tradeoff—it has now the burden of defending the newly born mental identity, and thus induces the potential for psychological pain while trying to cope with the physical pain. In other words, “resistance to pain” eventually leads to the identification with the body/mind, and the sense of lack is there prior to this identification because the moment of original resistance (not Okayness) to pain already implies a sense of lack. Since “resistance to pain” precedes the “identification with the body/mind” as the Primary Cause for the sense of lack (ego), the investigation into the bodily identification (a secondary cause) alone, i.e., that checks if there are any evidences that support Consciousness to be limited and separate (as suggested by the direct path) does not reach the core of the ego, and thus cannot uproot it. The investigation at the level of thoughts (I am not this, not that) is too intellectual to have any effect, and the investigation at the level of feelings/sensations and the associated welcoming—to my experience—brings much peace but not the Final Understanding, and devoid of the final Understanding—this peace does not last. To be more specific, for years, I have investigated this at the level of bodily sensations (sometimes 5 uninterrupted hours a day) where both my mind and body would relax fully with no slightest conscious contraction any-where and full peace abound, but this has never led to the promised Final Understanding and the subconscious well of the ego keeps rising back the next day, if not right after the meditation. It occurs to me that as long as Consciousness is with the body and with potential physical pain, the only cure to its “resistance” to “feeling physical pain (due to body)” or “feeling psychological pain (due to mental identity/identification with body)” is “moment to moment surrender,” but I have lost my faith that this resistance can be uprooted once and for all by an experience called Enlightenment, nor am I inclined to believe that there is a short-cut or substitute for this required on-going surrender by a direct method. It seems to me that my Freedom to resist or surrender is available at each moment and this freedom cannot be favored or converted to an automatic surrender by a Final Understanding. And Francis, while I made this letter look like a critical statement to the Direct Path, my main purpose was not to criticize the Direct Path, but instead to lay down my thoughts/opinions and to ASK you to please shine some Light and guidance on my misperceptions, if any, so that I can see truly. I am willing to reconsider all my thoughts… With love & gratitude, Bedri Cetin
First, for the record, what you call the direct path is not the direct path, but rather the path of self-inquiry (Atma Vichara), also known as the path of discrimination (Viveka) between the reality and illusion. I will use from now on the more appropriate term “self-inquiry” to refer to the path you described in your message. There are some misunderstandings in your letter about this path that I will first try to clarify. I will later on define the direct path.
You make an artificial distinction between self-inquiry and the events of our life: “I don’t think that any investigation of this clown at the level of thoughts and feelings is sufficient to drop his false mask, life with all its events (with perceptions, miracles and miracles-in-reverse) itself is the investigation and there are no short-cuts to this and to when and what life reveals.” That shows a definite misunderstanding about the path of self-inquiry, which is not an abstract, intellectual investigation, nor a practice of looking at our feelings from 6 to 7 am in the privacy of our bedroom, but rather an active investigation of our true identity throughout life with all its events, which are precisely designed to reveal ignorance in all its aspects.
According to your view, pain and resistance to pain are the cause of ignorance. Assuming you are right, we have to investigate the cause of pain, which is the body, and the cause of the body, which is God. We reach the same conclusion: Consciousness, God, the Absolute is the primary cause of everything, and the primary cause of ignorance among all other things. However, your premise is not true: if pain and avoidance of pain (a mechanism of self preservation programmed in the genetic package) were the cause of ignorance, sages should be in ignorance since they experience pain and immediately remove their hand from a hot sauce pan they inadvertently touch.
You say “(The self-inquiry method) is suggesting that there can be a “short-cut to” or “substitute for” the full and total surrender of Consciousness”. Where did you get that from? Have you ever heard any sage make this statement? Self-inquiry is in fact a method of surrender for those who qualify for it (under the proper guidance of their guru). That which gets surrendered is the totality of the false identity. It is not the only method available, but it is a very effective one because it gets right to the core of ignorance.
Let’s now revert to the direct path. The disciples who are ready realize here and now through the grace of their guru that their very consciousness is universal and eternal, that their real Self is the reality of all things and all beings, and get liberated (enlightened, awakened). They become jivan muktas, liberated while alive. Under the guidance of their teacher, they eventually cooperate with the dissolution of the residues of ignorance accumulated both on the intellectual and somatic levels and get established in peace, equanimity and happiness. This is the direct path, in which liberation comes first and directly, and is followed by a stabilization process which may take many years. In contrast, the gradual path first proceeds with the elimination of the obstacles (vasanas) and is followed by the final liberation imparted by the karana guru. Since the vasanas have already been eliminated, the establishment in peace is immediate. In practice, even with a karana guru, most students begin on the gradual path until they are ready for the direct path and the subsequent post-liberation stabilization process.
Final thoughts: I feel that your approach is too conceptual, and your distancing yourself from a path perceived as too intellectual is a good thing. I would suggest a more experiential path: allow yourself to think, feel, perceive, and act from the possibility that consciousness is eternal and shared by all, and see the changes and miracles this new attitude brings about.
It was sweet to hear from you.
I wish you my best.