Set aside looking for God and explore your own experience instead

There are many paths to God, and the two main ones may be devotion (prayer, surrender) and inquiry (investigation). Each one may be important at different times in our process. Both are equally valid and important. Each one offers something unique. And each one can be medicine for the other.

The statement above reflects the inquiry approach, and how the inquiry approach can be medicine for some of the potential pitfalls of an exclusively devotional approach.

WHAT WE MAY MISS ON A DEVOTIONAL APPROACH

If we are exclusively on a devotional path, we may look for God as something far away and out there, unfamiliar and extraordinary. We may get caught up in ideas about God, reality, and ourselves, and perceive and live as if they are true. And we may miss out on recognizing how our mind creates its own experiences.

INQUIRY AS MEDICINE

One medicine for this is inquiry. Through inquiry into our own experience, we may clear up a few misconceptions. We may explore what we more fundamentally are in our own direct experience, and find something we can call Spirit and qualities we associate with the divine.

WHAT WE MAY FIND THROUGH INQUIRY

We may find ourselves as what the world, to us, happens within and as. We may find ourselves as oneness and the oneness the world, to us, happens within and as. We may find ourselves as without any inherent characteristics allowing for the experience of any and all characteristics and experiences. And so on.

We may realize that our nature is already what we can call Spirit, and it has always been what’s the most close and familiar to us, and for that reason also the most ordinary. We may find that all we have ever known is our own nature since the world to us happens within and as what we are.

TWO WINGS OF A BIRD

Clearing up this, we may still enjoy a devotional approach. The two are not exclusive.

As they say in Buddhism, devotion and inquiry are like two wings of a bird.

THE REVERSE – AND GENERAL ORIENTATIONS

We can also find this in the reverse. An exclusive inquiry approach can be one-sided and a devotional approach can be the cure.

And there are some general orientations that guide and support both devotion and inquiry: Receptivity, curiosity, sincerity, diligence, authenticity, and so on.

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Gurus

I recently had a conversation with someone who seemed very interested in gurus and how moral or not their lives are. I realize that for someone with a more devotional inclination, it may be important to find a living guru who can be a good devotional object, a good projection object. And I also see it seems different for me.

Here are some things that come up for me:

If I go to a teacher, it’s for practical reasons: to get pointers for own exploration. It doesn’t really matter who it’s from or how they live their lives. (How they live may or may not be an indication of the effects the practices they engage in. There are so many other factors at play.)

We are all flawed if we compare ourselves to an abstract idea of moral perfection. And the job of a teacher or guru is, in a sense, to disappoint, to invite me to find in myself what I see in him or her, whether it’s what I think of as desirable or undesirable qualities and characteristics. It’s all part of what makes me a whole human being, and it’s all right here in me.

And if I wish for a devotional object, why not chose an easier projection object than a human being that will inevitably disappoint (as long as I believe my thoughts)? Why not chose Christ? Life itself? Love? Grace?

Devotion

I see how identified mind is devoted to me. It’s devoted to my protection, my safety. It loves me deeply. (And the “me” here is it’s image of me.)

It’s innocence, it’s worried love, and it’s doing its best.

I also see that meeting it this way feels honest and real. The more I get to know it, the more I see it is – honestly, genuinely – innocence. It is worried love. It is devoted to me. It’s there to protect me.

I find genuine appreciation, gratitude and love for it.

Getting more familiar with it, I also see how it was formed – most likely – in very early childhood. And it was formed from observing what others were doing, specifically my parents and older brother. And that too is innocence. It’s love.

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Any practice has elements of inquiry, devotion, integrity and service

Any practice has elements of inquiry, devotion, integrity and service.

It can be an expression of love for reality (God, Buddha Mind). It can be an expression of curiosity: what happens if…? It can be an expression of integrity, a sincere intention to live more aligned with reality. And it can be an expression of service, of realigning this human life so it better can be of service to the larger whole.

So there is fertile ground for exploration here. Any of those four is a practice in itself, and it includes elements of each of the other ones. What is the devotion component of inquiry? What is the integrity component of service? What is the service component of devotion? What do I find in my own experience?

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My grace is sufficient for you

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
2 Corinthians, 12:9

This is another beautiful pointer from the New Testament.

When I recognize my weakness, through and through, there is receptivity for God’s grace. Said another way, when I am less full of myself, there is more room for God.

I can recognize my weakness in innumerable ways. My human self is dependent on support from people close to me, society, ecosystems, the earth as a whole, the solar system and the unviverse as a whole. Without all of this, no human self. Even what I tend to take credit for – such as skills, insights, choices and actions – are gifts, given to me through experience, culture, biology, ancestors, the earth, the universe. I try to control my life and circumstances, but can only do it to a very limited extent. My days are numbered, and I can die this very moment. I aim at following precepts and guidelines, and fail miserably. I aim at living from what I really am, and fail miserably. There is no end to the weakness of this human self.

And I can also recognize my weakness as a doer and observer. When I explore the doer and observer, I find that they are only images. And also that the doer takes credit for shifts, insights, choices and actions after they have happened. This is the real, 100%, weakness of what I take myself to be.

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Choiceless awareness as inquiry and devotion

Choiceless awareness (aka shikantaza) is mainly a resting as what we already are.

We mimic what we are, as well as we can, until we notice that we already are just that. That which all happens within and as. The Ground of all, and all as the play of this Ground.

Choiceless awareness is also wordless inquiry. What happens when there is a shift into choiceless awareness? What happens to the sense of a center? The sense of a doer and observer? Is the center, doer or observer content of experience, as any other content of experience? Is it what I really am? What happens when I identify as a center, a doer, an observer? What happens when identification is released out of it? How is it to function from here? How is it to bring this into daily life?

Choiceless awareness is devotion. It is a devotion to truth, to kindness, to what we are and everything is, to Ground, to God. Devotion to living from this in daily life.

Choiceless awareness also includes stable attention. An attention stable enough to not (so easily) get absorbed into images and stories, and to catch itself when it does.

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