Spirit has been called many names.
Self. Soul. Atman. Essence. The Witness. Pure Awareness.
But these are only words.
The word jasmine does not discharge aroma. It labels a flower that emits a wonderful fragrance.
In the same way, the word Spirit is meaningless unless it points to something real.
And yet, when we look around, we cannot find Spirit.
Is it inside?
Is it outside?
Is it everywhere?
Is it nowhere?
In many ways, Spirit is like electricity. We do not see it and yet it powers the world around us.
That Which Makes…
Ancient Indian mystics understood this. They saw beyond our world of light and shadows. In the Upanishads, Spirit is described as that which makes the tongue speak but cannot be spoken by the tongue; that which makes the mind think but cannot be thought by the mind; that which makes the eye see but cannot be seen by the eye; that which makes the ear hear but cannot be heard by the ear; that which makes you draw breath but cannot be drawn by your breath.
We cannot see it. We cannot speak it. We cannot hear it. We cannot think it.
But we can experience it.
All faiths have devised religious practices to that end, to help us unveil the unseen. From Christian mystics to Yoga masters to Sufi saints to Jewish Kabbalists to Zen Buddhists and beyond, all traditions have devised techniques.
Their methods may vary but they all agree on one thing. For Spirit to be realized, the body, emotions, and intellect must be transcended.
Transcendence is that most beautiful of spiritual concepts. It means to go beyond. Beyond the mind and body. Beyond duality, time, and space. Beyond language, shapes, and forms.
Transcendence means letting go of all preconceived notions. We have to stop thinking that Spirit is either ‘in here’ or ‘out there’ and embrace its nondual and all-pervasive nature.
The Masters Have Told Us
Spirit cannot be reduced to a location or an idea. It must be experienced. Masters of all ages have tried to tell us this.
“Follow our methods,” they have said, “but don’t focus on our methods.”
“Listen to our words,” they have said, “but don’t take our words literally.”
“Without going anywhere,” they have said, “go beyond your limitations.”
Transcend while you remain.
Turning on the Light
For those who persist, it truly is a beautiful experience. It is like turning on the light and getting a firsthand knowledge of pure awareness. It is unborn, undying, everlasting. Fire does not burn it and water does not wet it, yet, it is always present. It does not change.
After such an experience, life will never be the same. The spiritual aspirant has been living in a darkened room up until that point, afraid of a snake curled up in the corner. When the lights are turned on, there is an immediate realization that the snake was really a rope. Even if the lights are turned off, the aspirant will never again be afraid that the rope is a snake.
Turning on the light for a moment.
That is temporary enlightenment.
Permanent enlightenment is trickier. Only those who repeatedly turn on the light will reach a state of enduring illumination.
Following the Path
Thankfully, all faiths have produced mystics who have shown the way. If we truly want to know Spirit, we must take the road less traveled and follow in their footsteps.
The pathway may be overgrown in places and sometimes we may stumble around in the dark but our every step on the spiritual path will be richly rewarded.
The path is not easy.
We cannot talk our way to Spirit.
We cannot feel our way to Spirit.
We cannot think our way to Spirit.
Only direct perception will serve as our scent.
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