Recently, my friend Hasan Awan was reflecting on the subject of nonduality and the Direct Path as espoused by Rupert Spira. He asked me for my thoughts. Here they are.
I had to do some research, as I had not previously heard of the Direct Path as a distinct teaching. According to Spira’s teacher Francis Lucille, the Direct Path is one where a seeker arrives at the the Self by hearing the Truth from his Guru or by experiencing the Truth in the Guru’s presence.
My Guru, Swami Muktananda, taught that the bird that flies to paradise has two wings: self-effort and Grace. Baba taught that right self-effort is important, but that self-effort alone will never get us where we want to go. And he said the same is true of Grace: Grace alone will not get us to the Self. We need both right self-effort and Grace.
Without the benefit of a reliable map, a person can misunderstand Grace and wander completely off the path. One example of this is how Madame Guyon, the 17th-century French mystic who believed in openly and freely bestowing Grace without discipline and structure, put people at risk.
I watched Baba give shaktipat, or the descent of Grace, to thousands of people at a time almost every weekend for years. At that time there was a sense that the ground of the world’s consciousness needed to be shifted, so Baba broke with tradition and openly gave shaktipat. He believed that, however people received it, Grace would not go to waste.
Depending on their readiness, people received different levels of experience and understanding in shaktipat. Some awakenings were mild, while others revealed the Self. Some people used Baba’s Grace to feed their egos, while others became unstable. These are obstacles that become especially hazardous once we step off the safe terrain of self-effort. There were also people who actually understood what they were supposed to do and were riding the horse in the direction it was going. Finally, there were people who went home and just lived as they had before.
In Kashmir Shaivism, as in all the other traditions I have studied, there are three levels or means of attention and prayer. We practice these means to traverse the spiritual territory without getting lost. When practiced, each means leads to the next deeper one, until we are resting at the deepest level, in the Heart. The means provide the skills to parse out our vehicles and know who we are not; then we can actually ride that horse in the direction Grace is leading us.
There is no escaping the full extent of the path. People who have no context, no conceptual framework, no understanding of their shrunken self, and no understanding of wrong identification will have to return to the beginning of the path to go forward. If they seem to have skipped portions, it is only because they completed that work in the past. When we return to the beginning after having received Grace, we go with the understanding of where we want to travel. We do not forget Grace, and then can more easily surrender all that keeps us from that Presence of Being.
In Kashmir Shaivism, there is a direct path: a means called anupaya, which is only for the person who has done ALL the self-effort in the past and is completely surrendered. When that person meets his Guru, he immediately attains the highest state with no further effort. He is finished. This occurs very rarely. For those of us who have not removed all our wrong identification, when we receive Grace we may experience the Self and Love and remain there for a while, but then we settle back to where we still have work to do.
Kashmir Shaivism, like Advaita Vedanta, is nondualistic. There is a risk here, in that the notion of an easy path can be tied to nondualism. It is easy to believe that, because we intellectually understand nonduality or maybe have even tasted it through Grace, we are now beyond duality. No—we now have to walk the path. We are all dualistic until we have surrendered all separateness and dissolve ourselves, leaving only the Self.
So it is crucial not to misread “direct path” as “easy path”. There is no easy path, though some people will lure others in by appearing to have one. Receiving Grace early on along the path is easier only in that we have had a glimpse of where are heading; we all still have to do our self-effort. And depending on where we are, the path can be—and usually is—pretty steep.
I found my Guru only after years of intense practice and of having experiences I did not understand. I was looking for someone who could show me the bottom line of life, the Truth. I had let go enough to meet my Guru; I then had to continue to surrender in order to work closely with him for years. I had to work with Grace.
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