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I’ll get right to the point: I’m not a fan of appeals to tradition.

The reason is simple. There are two primary ways that one can approach the teachings of a well-established spiritual tradition; either one uses the tradition, or the tradition uses them.

How can you tell the difference? That’s pretty simple, too. Those who are used by their tradition show more trust in some particular interpretation of a set of teachings over both their own experience, and/or the experience of flesh and blood beings who are actually awake. When you are used by your tradition, you’ll find yourself saying things like, “But the Buddha said…” (insert any prominent spiritual figure, past or present, in place of “the Buddha” if you’d like), or, “Well, how can you say that when Buddhism has always taught that…” as if one can even know real Buddhism is with any real confidence.

It’s quite a different story when one uses tradition, rather than the other way around. In fact, one who uses a tradition will likely be using traditions, as in, more than one. They look for matching descriptions sometimes, and other times for clues into what might come next. They’re less trusting of anything firmly established, for in rigidity and inflexibility are usually signs of illness or death.

The truth of the matter is this: no awakened woman or man has ever explained the path nor the result in precisely the same way. There are always differences, and these should in no way be swept under the rug. With strong confidence in any tradition comes a lack of confidence in one’s realization. You’ll never see a truly awakened person sticking to the stuffy, traditional script laid down before them by some other religious authority who came before them. If it’s genuine, it’s uniquely conveyed. If it’s partial or phony, it will sound just as you would expect it to. Ingenuous awakening is never expressed in bad faith.

The fact that awakened beings communicate their realizations to such varying degrees is not cause for alarm. Those who are rule by tradition, however, will see the lack of consistency and insist that at least ONE of them must be right, and the others wrong. “Guru So-And-So is the true example of awakening, and all those other guys are either fakes or less realized.” And it is in this very act of looking for authority outside of themselves that leads them on their everlong search for something that is right under their noses.

My advice, which you are free to accept or reject, is to pay attention to the ways that tradition is using you. If you’re looking around for an awakening that fits the description given in some tradition, forget it. It will never be like you imagined. For example, no matter how many times you imagined what it would be like, or had dreams about it, or heard others’ descriptions, or even watched it on cable TV, I would venture to guess that having sex was in most ways spectacularly different than you imagined it to be. (for those of you who have had sex, of course. Kissing works as an example as well.) Awakening is like that, and it’s just as life changing.

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There’s a simple reason why it’s difficult for the unawakened to comprehend what awakening is like. The reason is that they are using the contrived mind to conceptualize awakening, and awakening is inherently trans-conceptual.

How so? As I mentioned before in a post on suffering, and in another post after that, before we awaken we are identified with the movements of the contrived mind. It moves toward this, and it moves away from this, and it clouds itself to ignore this other thing. The mind divides experience up into this over here, and that over there. It’s the source of the perception that ‘I’ exist separately from ‘you.’ All of this delusional nonsense is conjured up in the contrived mind, and has no basis in reality.

Waking up is about seeing this process clearly enough, by whatever means, in order to release one’s identification with the mind. At times this awakening results in a stilling of the movements of mind, but not in a lasting way. The mind does what it does, on its own. There’s no “I” or “you” in the mix, whatsoever. Seeing glimpses of reality as it really is results in longer glimpses, and then longer glimpses, until what used to be just a glimpse becomes an abiding experience.

When I endorse practice which lead to the recognition of the source, I do so knowing that realizing this new viewpoint results in decreased identification with the contrived mind. Ultimately, that’s the point – to see things as they really are. The results are beneficial enough for folks like me to dedicate our time to pointing out the way.

This is also why teachers like the mythical Jed McKenna teach techniques like spiritual autolysis, in which one simply tries to write something they know is true; something that can’t be refuted. In doing so, the futility of the contrived mind’s take on reality is exposed. This is not a practice I have engaged in to any significant degree. Though, I can say that keeping a record of my practice and reflecting on various insights was a major part of the awakening process.

Looking back through my journals, I can see the times when I thought I was 100% sure about something being true, only to completely change my mind not even a week later. Bringing awareness to this process helped me get out of my head.

So, why not put some of this into practice and see for yourself?

The state of Self-realisation, as we call it, is not attaining something new or reaching some goal which is far away, but simply being that which you always are and which you always have been.

All that is needed is that you give up your realisation of the not-true as true.

-Sri Ramana Maharshi, Be As You Are