Inquiry. Why do religions claim to offer the only way? Do I need a path to liberation?

This is the second transcription/adaption for reading of an Inquiry on an Insight Meditation retreat with myself. The person has given permission for the recording. The Inquiry sessions take place regularly on the retreats. Inquiry may last from a few minutes to 30 minutes or longer. The meditator sits beside Christopher at the front of the Dharma hall.

Q. According to the discourse Satipatthana Sutta (on the Applications of Mindfulness) of the Buddha, Vipassana seems to be the only way to purify the mind from the deepest level, from the root level. Here in India, there are so many traditions. Some yogis have reached enlightenment. How is it possible to reach this level if you don’t practice Vipassana? There is bhakti yoga, siddha Yoga, hatha yoga karma yoga. Yogis follow these traditions for years and years. Some explore tapas (renunciation) for years but still don’t come to enlightenment. How many lifetimes does it take to purify yourself?

CT. Two good points worthy of reflection and looking at with ourselves. First there are views in the world of vipassana. The second point is Why are all these people living in ashrams and monasteries neither pure, nor enlightened.

Q. Guru Nanak, Yogananda, Shiva, Ramakrishna, Ramana and more gave teachings but did not practice vipassana but other purification techniques.

CT We see a wide tradition of spiritual explorations. There are those who do a lot of practice and get nowhere. There are those who do a little practice and realise an enlightened life. There are those who reject practice and get stuck. There are those who did no practice, never needed any practice. They woke up. They lived an enlightened life. Some Buddhist teachers make the bold claim there is no other way to enlightenment outside vipassana. The very same teachers will justify the claim by referring to the Satipatthana Discourse. The Buddha appears to have said, “This is the only way only way to purification.” The teacher then has an historical justification. What do you think might be the reason why the Buddha said this? Meditation students repeat the views of their teacher. Why would a human being, who has engaged in so much practice want to hold to this view? Why make the claim: This is the only way. This is the only method.

Q. Is it their ego? They want to have a lot of followers. With this claim, teachers make sure people come to them and follow them.

CT. The points you make are fine. The self, the ego, comes in and it says, This is the only way. You just meditate using this method. You don’t do anything else. Seekers benefit from the experience of teacher’s form of practice. Ah, it must be true. I got so much benefit. It must be the only way. Teacher and students build up a spiritual empire based on this conviction. If the ego doesn’t come in, what would be a healthy view, a non-ego view?

Q. If you find a way out of misery, you feel happy.

CT A healthy view frees up our mind, liberates us, so we wish to serve others. You are not trying to control the lives of other people. You do not say: “This is the only way or the only method.” The self does not hold to his view. Teachers sit on the throne proclaiming such views. Should we avoid contact with those teachers?

Q. No. We need to find our own experience and see if it fits for us.

CT. In the first line of the discourse, the Buddha said eka-gatta – it translates as one way. One way does not mean only way. This is one way to liberation. Eka-gatta implies there are other ways. The Buddha offers a large vision of the spiritual life. He pointed to four primary areas. Be mindful and clear about your relationship with the body (including breath), feeling tones, states of mind and the Dharma – inner and outer, the world within and the external world. Be mindful of your body. Look nto your feelings. Examine your states of mind. Explore the Dharma. How long is it going to take? The Buddha replied seven years, six years, five years, four years, three years, two years, one year, seven months, six months, five months, four months etc. You can come to completed understanding and realisation of a liberated and enlightened life in seven days, he said. We have nine days left on this retreat here in Bodh Gaya. More than enough time.

I spent 10 years in the East listening to many teachers and experienced many traditions. There are a variety of ways and means to wake up fully. Some will say, I trusted what my guru told me. Others will say I spent time in solitude. Others say, I did nothing at all. Liberation just happened to me. Human beings have this extraordinary capacity for the sudden and unexpected and for the gradual practice or neither. It’s the love and the wisdom that counts. Sariputta, one of the Buddha’s closest friends, said to the Buddha, In this world, there’s nobody like you. You are so awakened and fully liberated. You are so clear with so much wisdom. There’s nobody like you. Do you know what the Buddha said to Sariputta. “I didn’t know you had met everybody in the world.” A brilliant response to an unfounded viewpoint.

Q. Why does it take so long if we are not engaged into holding so unblocked energy can flow.

CT I have contact with people. I delight in listening to people’s practice. I have met with thousand on thousands over four decades and more. Some have exceptional receptivity. It does not take them long to know liberation through wisdom and love. Others really struggle with meditation, with practices with tapas. Dharma disciplines challenge the mind. Some people have patience and quietly develop their practice. They might experience a genuine sudden turning point for them. If the log in the river doesn’t get stuck on the outer or in the inner bank (such as self and others), it must flow to the ocean. I might ask a person, How long have you been practising? People will say five, ten or twenty years. That is not long.

Q. This is clear. Everybody has a different background, a different karma.

CT. If we use the language of path, or liberation, right now, at this point in your life, where would you say you are?

Q. I think I am at the beginning.

CT. Say what the beginning feels like? You have been coming to India for many years. What does it mean to be at the beginning?

Q. Right, there are times in my life when I thought I am working on the path to liberation. Then the path goes away. There’s no path anymore. There is a path but there’s nothing to grab anymore. There’s no carpet where you can sit on all the way. I have a connection with the path but then it goes away. I’m a little bit lost to say,

CT. You feel that you are on the path and have a sense of direction and then it goes. The path is a language, a metaphor, a physical, psychological approach. The metaphor drops away. You then feel you are back at the beginning again, there. When the path drops away, could there be something valuable and beneficial about it?

Q. For sure. It used to be like this. I have an image in my mind. Suddenly, there is the image of the path has gone. Where am I now? The practice goes on. What about the experiences I had before?

CT. You had an inner response to the path and the self on the path dropped away. It now feels confusing. I had a path and then it dropped away. You say you are back at the beginning. This is humility. That’s positive. It is confusing when you cannot see the path and up back at the beginning. Is there another way which is valuable? If the path drops away, so does your practice. Method. forms, teachers also drop away. Is this another way to look?

Q. I don’t give too much mindfuck about how it might be or what the scriptures say. Maybe the path is all too much and maybe I should be happy with knowing that.

CT So the path or practice drops away. This could be liberating.

Q. Yes. We get stuck in practice. You can pray the whole day but it’s important to have awareness in life to remind yourself always of what is otherwise.

CT. I agree. Those who understand freedom, liberation still appreciate the disciplines, the practices, the meditation. Liberated ones still acknowledge the importance of mindfulness, care and respect. The freedom is about the freedom to see what arises and attending to that. What is appropriate for you? Is it the sadhana of practice towards a goal or seeing what you can discover?

Q. For me it is to sit in this moment, not to have a goal but then some things need sorting out in life. Impurities arise to focus on. I’m very grateful to you.

CT. Stay true to living without a goal. Don’t bother about what teachers say about the language of path. Stay true to your voice Thank you


  • There is nice article on “seeing and experiencing things differently” here on the Guardian:

    Only recently did I realise how the Western Isles work on me. Their secret is simple. The landscape is a time machine. I am walking in the ancient world and the world that is yet to come. Nothing that I think or feel has been nullified or even changed by being here. Rather, it is that my capacity to acknowledge – to encompass – seems somehow to have been widened or deepened. As if, by entering the time machine, my perspective is momentarily stretched to millions of years. So that, even when it snaps back and contracts, it does not shrink quite as tight and constraining as it was before.

    Wonderful writing and seeing imv.

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