Why Studying the Kabbalah or Gurdjieff, As Admirable As They Are, Will Likely Lead You Nowhere ... And Isn't that Unfortunate?

The world has a variety of cultivation methods you can practice for spiritual progress. Many of them are accompanied by a wonderful intellectual framework that sucks you in and keeps you studying the meaning of things for years, while real spiritual progress escapes you. True, no?

That’s exactly the case with the teachings of Gurdjieff and the kabbalah. If you enter these paths you’ll end up using your intellect for years, chasing after this or that meaning, trying to ponder out this or that, and you will never end up with any meditation progress.

Sorry, Madonna, it just ain’t gonna happen if you keep thinking. I don’t care how much fame or money you have because spiritual progress comes down to “wisdom,” which you attain by letting go of thoughts and letting your original awareness operate without attachments or obstructions or getting sucked into by-roads here or there. If you want fame, power, money, sex, status AND spiritual progress, forget it. You have to learn to let go. Yes, accomplish great things for the world but learn to let go.

No matter what school or practice you follow, the real progress always comes when you find a technique that helps you let go of your thoughts and then you do just that. That’s called “attaining a view of emptiness,” but if your spiritual path and practice keeps you exercising your intellect to fathom out this or that meaning of some holy text or teaching or practice, as done in the kabbalah, you’ll never get anywhere. No one ever gets samadhi that way, which is why that particular tradition of prophets died out. For spiritual progress, you have to learn how to reach no-thought.

I don’t care what meditation practice you use or angle of approach you take -- mantra to quiet your thoughts, mandala visualizations to tie-up wandering thoughts and develop one-pointed concentration, deity yoga to cultivate your chi so that it becomes smooth and your consciousness calms, martial arts to learn the calmness, quiet and patience of one-pointed concentration, charity work to learn how to give away selfish thoughts and the concept of being an ego, mantra-type prayer recitations, wisdom cultivation to cut of thoughts, pranayama breathing practices so that your chi and consciousness can calm and combine into one, skeleton visualizations to cultivate your chi and help you abandon the view of the body, tantric practices to get your prana into your central chi channel -- it doesn’t matter to me.

What does matter is that you pick up and master some meditation technique that teaches YOU how to let go of your thoughts and ultimately calm your mind. In time the layers of the mind will peel away to reveal your original nature upon which it all stands. That’s the point of meditation practice -- to realize that original nature, the Godhead, the Buddha nature, the Tao, your original fundamental essence. Call it by different names because of different religions but it’s all the same thing. We're talking about the ONE ULTIMATE THING.

You want, through meditation, to reach a mental state of stillness that’s absent of thoughts. That’s what we call peace, stillness, emptiness, no-thought, empty mind, non-discriminatory thinking, clear light, empty mind, stopping, cessation, shamatha, one-pointed concentration, cloudless sky, freedom from thought, samadhi and so forth. It has all sorts of names. You need to follow a CLEAR path that gets you there, not one which is seductively exciting but by which no one succeeds.

For instance, definitely the teacher Gurdjieff had attained a small stage of samadhi. Definitely he wanted to help other people, and definitely he employed skillful means or expedient methods, which means teaching people according to the situation. The problem is, because his stage of cultivation was so low and he had few good patterns to draw on and probably not a high stage teacher, he never figured out how to create a cultivation path others could follow to attain samadhi, and people who follow the teachings of Gurdjieff end up concentrating on his teachings and their body sensations without ever cultivating samadhi-or dhyana.

Gurdjieff students keep reading his materials for years looking for some secret meaning here or there and they never find anything nor attain some stage of attainment. They cultivate awareness of their body sensations and end up attaching to the body rather than cultivating their chi and body detachment. Sure you can sense Gurdjieff had some level of attainment, but you can also find out that his stage of attainment was so low that he couldn’t figure out how to organize it into anything where others could attain samadhi. That's a pity ... he had no good role models to study so had to try to invent things from scratch.

Contrast that with the teachings of Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Tantra or even the Christian monastics who learned how to recite prayers in a way that led to samadhi. There are all sorts of paths that have a tradition of realized masters. Learn the principles and rules of those teachings, follow the practices and you’ll succeed, too. You want a path that has enlightened master, rather than just samadhi masters, so be careful what you choose to follow. Gurdjieff and the kabbalah, for instance, never ever produced a single enlightened master. Find one.

Friend, if you stay in the realm of intellectualization you will never achieve anything in terms of meditation or spiritual progress. That’s the problem with studying the Talmud, the Bible, Ramayana or Buddhist sutras. You have to get into meditation practice. I don’t care if you’re stamped with being a Christian, Buddhist, Taoist, Tantric, Hindu, Jew, Moslem or whatever because if you don’t learn how to cultivate your mind you will get absolutely nowhere. The most you can hope for is to do a lot of good deeds and be reborn in one of the low heavens because of your accumulated virtue and merit, but once your merit is used up, back down you'll come again through reincarnation.

Accumulate merit, use it up, accumulate it, use it up, up and down you bob through endless cycles of reincarnation unless you meet true dharma teachings or a teacher who will "save you" by teaching you the dharma. But you have to do the saving yourself as no one can liberate you. In an ultimate sense you are already liberated, but from a non-enlightened sense, up and down you bob being tossed around by the waves of karma, not knowing how to control things or change them for the better...or how to escape the whole mess entirely.

If you just focus on cultivating your body as done is some esoteric schools, rather than your mind and behavior, the next life you have to start from ground zero once again. That's the problem with people fixated on Tao school microcosmic and macrocosmic circulations, tantric chi channels visualizations, or yoga techniques without meditation. The job of cultivating your body is NEVER done, and over you have to start agin your very next life.

What you need to do is pick a path that has a clear set of teachings and sequences that can get you to spiritual attainment, and it doesn’t matter what path you use as long as it’s virtuous, teaches an absence of desires, and aims you toward samadhi and the Tao. If you end up studying something for years because of the rich intellectual content, which is what is attractive about the kabbalah or anthroposophy or Gurdjieff’s teachings, then you’ll become busier mentally but will also never get the Tao.

You won’t get samadhi.

You won’t even transform your body.

You won’t even learn how to change your habits and behavior, which is what it’s all about in the end.

That’s the main problem with the kabbalah. As practiced, the kabbalah will never lead anyone to samadhi, and yet is attractive to people because it keeps you studying this and that for years and offers a rich body of “sacred” literature with “secret meanings from God” that keep the mind busy. If you grow up Jewish you might cling to the kabbalah as your means of spiritual practice and salvation because it’s home-grown, meaning Jewish in origin. But if it doesn’t take you anywhere then it’s useless.

Please remember Rule #1 in cultivation: use what works as long as it's a legitimate virtuous method, and don't get tied down by something just because it's in your tradition. Some other traditions do things better, so 'benchmark them' by copying the very best of their teachings and process. Rely on your wisdom rather than acting like a donkey tied to a stake [see the Boat monk story].

The Chinese make the same mistake with “qi-gong,” clinging to it as “ours” and making a big fuss out of it since they are Chinese and it’s a wholly Chinese invention. Or so they think. Actually, qi-gong is the lowest form of materialistic cultivation left over from the Cultural Revolution. It wasn’t destroyed precisely because it was so materialistic. You want to be proud of the dregs left over because they were dregs? It really is just a conglomeration of methods of Indian pranayama breathing practices plus Taoist breathing exercises and martial arts that can’t even get someone to the first dhyana!

Do you see where I’m getting at? People always head towards the latest new thing in order to keep their minds busy, because they're always searching for something. They're always searching for something because they don't know the basic principles of practice. Only the STAGES students tell me they finally understand all the interconnections so that they're not searching anymore, and know the only thing left is to practice.

Sure you can study intersting stuff because it’s the new latest thing, but you’ll never find anything new in terms of the basic principles of meditation practice. There are no secrets, just things you don’t understand yet because your level of wisdom, merit or gong-fu (kung-fu) aren’t high enough.

People just hop from one flavor of the month to another -- crystals to channeling to astral travel to kundalini yoga to feng shui etc. etc. -- when all they have to do is learn the basics of meditation practice, try several meditations, find one that suits them and then use it. If you want to learn a variety of meditations and find one “right” for you, or find a used copy of my book, “Twenty-Five Doors to Meditation” and browse through that.

The point is, pick a meditation to get started, and don’t get sucked in by secret meanings or trying to fathom this or that out. There are no secrets. You just need basic meditation practice. Find a method you’ll stick with and go for it. Make it a daily habit like brushing your teeth. Schedule your practice and stick to that schedule.

Forty minutes a day is best if you can, whatever time works (except after eating) for practice is great as long as you DO indeed practice. Just get started.

 



 



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