Can We Create Our Own Spiritual Path?
Or do we have to follow a tradition?

Much depends on the individual’s understanding.
We have actually created our own path of confusion:
that is why our confusion IS our path.

Once we understand our path, we can then understand others.

Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher, wrote about My God and the God of my fathers: “I-and-Thou as opposed to I-and-It. I-and-It creates a barrier.”

There is a path called Buddhism, and there is my path. Even when people are on the same path under the same teacher, they have differences. So we smile and nod, and move on in silence.

Spiritual traditions would say, “Don’t make up your own path.” They would be right, as we need a clear, basic structure that suits our temperament and capacity. And they are also right to say that we cannot follow two different paths as this would lead to confusion, and would be like “sewing with a two-headed needle”, as the Dalai Lama puts it.

There is the exoteric which is intended to be understood by the general public, and the esoteric, which is intended to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialised knowledge or interest. The outer and inner teachings.

An example in Buddhism:

Dzochgen is mainly of the Nyingma tradition: Mahamudra, which is in the Kagyu tradition, has the same outcome as Dzogchen. Mahamudra is practised from the front of the book, where one learns to meditate and then finds the view. In Dzogchen, one is first introduced to the view (the end of the book) and then, having the view, one finds the meditation, which means remembering to remain in the continuity of the view. Even though we may have been introduced to the nature of mind, it is up to us to stabilise this.

Our spiritual path is undoing our own confusion. We can acquire methods which help us see and cut through this confusion, revealing our true nature, but it is we who have to see! This seeing is awareness that is simply aware of its own awareness, and finds nothing but awareness, being empty of fabrications.

(Some prefer the word ‘consciousness’ to ‘awareness’: these two may be used in the same context, but in Buddhism ‘consciousness’ refers to the eight consciousnesses that make up the five senses and the three faculties of the mind – perception, judgement and memory.)

Our path, to quote Jamgon Mipham Rinpoche, is

…To elaborate, or to examine, is nothing but adding concepts.
To make effort, or to cultivate, is only to exhaust something.
To focus, or to meditate, is but a trap of further entanglement.
May these painful fabrications be cut from within.

…Being covered up by words of speculation is the path of confusion.
Whatever is expressed is but a web of concepts.
May the profound instruction to be individually cognised
– which does not result from statements –
be practised within our hearts.”

In Buddhism, there is what is called the Ground, Path and Fruition.

Ground = Our true nature.
Path = Concepts (which never existed) obscuring that nature.
Fruition = Realising that the nature of the Path is the same as the Ground.

The Path

The path is where we work. The essence of the path is the same as the ground, but it is veiled in obscurations: in fruition, the veils drop away. It is said that we can’t currently see this basic nature because of obscurations: that is how some spiritual paths work. For others, such as Dzogchen, the mere recognition of confusion is wisdom-essence itself: that is what Garab Dorje meant by “May confusion dawn as wisdom”. We have to choose our path carefully according to our propensities.

Ignorance contaminates space, and the afflictive emotions arise from this, giving rise to karma. Our present situation – a constant cycle of ignorance – is based on confusion. All phenomena are like dreams: the confusion is that we take this dream as reality. If we don’t examine its nature, we believe everything we see to be real.

There are six realms (hell, hungry ghosts, animal, human, jealous gods, and gods) that arise from this confusion, creating a karmic pattern. These six realms are psychological profiles that aren’t all bad, as each corresponds to a wisdom!

Remember: knowledge is not, in itself, ‘waking up’. We have to train in order to become stable. If we are easily moved to anger – or any other emotion – then stability is not yet present..that is a useful gauge! And this applies equally to ‘good’ emotions. Clinging to anything as if it is real when it’s not, will lead to more suffering: to be free, we only have to recognise the true nature of those emotions (search The Five Wisdoms).

When there is knowing, unknowing automatically disappears.

This is called ‘liberation upon arising’, and is what Dzogchen is all about: it is the path of the town yogi.

When a thief enters an empty house,
there is nothing to steal!

This is the empty essence of wisdom.
Wisdom is emptiness, absolute reality
recognising the emptiness, relative reality.
This is the two truths as a unity.

Everything becomes a symbolic teacher,
reminding us of our true nature.
A little enlightenment!

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