Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of April 10, 2017

Nothing and Everything

(Opening to Oneness 8)

Being nothing and being everything appear to be opposites. Yet these two different approaches to spiritual practice lead to same unique way of being and experiencing, namely oneness.

Some spiritual paths aim at emptying oneself, becoming nothing, realizing and experiencing our nothingness. On the face of it, that does not seem very appealing and is rather off-putting. If taken in the wrong way, which often happens, it even leads to self-criticism, self-judgment, and self-focusing. So instead of helping us to empty ourselves, our inability to do so can make us even more full of ourselves, in a negative way.

Becoming nothing sounds like death. Indeed, in some of the paths that employ this approach, it is called death: the death of the ego, the death of the false self. Nevertheless, despite the trepidation that death, even spiritual death, inspires, these paths have proven effective over their long history. Coupling the self-noughting with devotion to the sacred protects us from many of the pitfalls, and guides us toward liberation. That devotion makes clear that the empty place within is ultimately filled by the spirit: the inward death is followed by resurrection. Surprisingly, getting out of the way allows our life to flow with ease.

Other paths, notably some Buddhist teachings, represent this reality as "no self" or no separate self, a kind of middle ground between being nothing and being everything. The Dalai Lama sums it up as seeing as non-existent what never did exist, namely the separate self or ego. Instead of emptying ourselves, Buddhism shows us how to see that our world view of being a separate self is an illusion. It shows us how to deconstruct our illusory self.

Again, though, this can be daunting. It seems hard to understand and is also frightening. What and who will I be if I lose myself? The spiritual genius of Buddhism lies in its mindfulness method, which gently and gradually leads to insights that penetrate the illusion of self and ego. This very gentleness, coupled with the growing liberation the insights yield, helps us past the fear of having no self.

Advaita Vedanta puts the approach as being everything, entering oneness, being all. This unveils the true oneness that we already are. We are not being everything in the way of the megalomaniac's illusion of owning all. In reality we all share in the same oneness, in the same "I am." Our neighbor is as much everything as we are. True presence has no center.

These three ways, becoming nothing, seeing through the illusion of ego, and becoming everything, all flow into the great ocean of oneness and love. Which path we follow is a matter of opportunity and suitability for our character. The three ways are actually complementary. If we see through our illusion of separateness and are no longer separate, then we are united with all. If we empty ourselves, nothing is left to be separate, and nothing prevents us from entering oneness. If we open to oneness, nothing can be separate, and we are emptied of ourselves.

These issues of egoism, separateness, and unity lie at the very core of all spiritual endeavor. If and when we find our way through, we enter the loving heart of the world.

For this week, move toward opening beyond yourself.


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