The Five Foundations are the bedrock on which the teaching rests. They should not be ignored, skimmed over, or taken lightly. In a very real sense the Five Foundations are absolutely essential components of the teaching that apply after awakening as much as, if not more than, before it. Don’t be deceived into thinking that the Five Foundations are insignificant
or rudimentary simply because they appear to be attuned more
to the human, or relative, aspect of Reality. The Five Foundations
are a means of living and manifesting the ultimate nature
of Reality in daily life. If we do not live and manifest in our lives
what we realize in our deepest moments of revelation, then we
are living a split life.
Furthermore, the Five Foundations provide the context within
which the teachings unfold. If you remove the context from
the teaching, you are removing the anti-egoic safeguards that
protect the teaching from egocentric interpretation. Misinterpretation
of a spiritual teaching by the ego is always a significant
danger, since the ego’s tendency is to justify whatever points of
view it is attached to and invested in.
To add to this danger, any spiritual teaching rooted in the
absolute nature of Reality is by definition oriented toward Truth, not toward the ethical and moral dimension of relative life. This does not mean that such teachings are immoral, it means that they are trans-moral; that is, rooted in a Reality beyond the relative moral and ethical standards of the dualistic perspective.
This does not mean that all morality is rendered irrelevant in
the absolute view; this is a common misunderstanding. It means
that morality is no longer rooted in the cultural and religious
values designed to rein in and control egoic impulses. Instead,
selfless love and compassion naturally flow out of the unified
view of Reality as spontaneous expressions of that unity. When
nothing is seen to be separate or other than you, the actions that
flow through you reflect that unified perspective.
It can get complicated because it is possible to have some experience
of the ultimate nature of Reality while at the same time
not being completely free of egoic delusion. This makes for the
possible volatile mixture of Reality and illusion simultaneously
existing and expressing itself in an unconscious and distorted
way. While some of this is to be expected as we are maturing in
spirit, there are few things more distorted or dangerous than an
ego that thinks it is God.
Many years of working with thousands of people have shown
me that if these foundational aspects of the spiritual life are ignored,
it will almost always derail one’s spiritual unfolding to some degree. A failure to explore and come to clarity about any one of these, as well as to consistently apply them, will result in ongoing inner and outer conflict and division at some level.
The Five Foundations are a means of gathering all of your
inner resources—body, mind, and spirit—and focusing them
in a unified way toward your highest aspiration. I cannot overemphasize
the importance of having a clear unified focus, sincere
heart, and an unwavering desire not to knowingly delude
yourself or others.
Clarify Your Aspiration
To clarify your aspiration means knowing exactly what it is that
your spiritual life aspires to, not as a future goal but in each moment.
In other words, what do you value most in your life—not
in the sense of moral values, but in the sense of what is most important
to you. Contemplate this question. Do not assume that
you know what your highest aspiration is, or even what is most
important to you. Dig deep within, contemplate, and meditate
on what the spiritual quest is about for you; don’t let anyone else
define your aspiration for you. Look within until you find, with
complete clarity, what you aspire to.
The importance of this first Foundation cannot be over-
emphasized, because life unfolds along the lines of what you
value most. Very few people have Truth or Reality as deep values.
They may think that they value Truth, but their actions do
not bear this out. Generally, most people have competing and
conflicting values, which manifest as both internal and external
conflict. So just because you think something is your deepest
value does not mean that it actually is. By deeply contemplating
and clarifying what you value and aspire to, you become more
unified, clear, and certain of your direction.
As your realization and spiritual maturity deepen, you will
find that some aspects of your aspiration remain steadfast while
others evolve to reflect what is relevant to your current level of
insight. By reflecting on and clarifying the issues relevant to your
current level of understanding, you stay focused on the cutting
edge of your own unfolding.
Making clear what you aspire to is the first step. It has the effect
of gathering energy and attention together into a unified force and directing it toward your aspiration. Once you have clarified your aspiration, you now need to follow through on it. Following through has to do with what you are willing to do or let go of doing.
Spirituality does not require that you work hard toward
achieving a result in the future as much as it requires you to be
fully present, sincere, and committed now, with absolute honesty
and a willingness to uncover and let go of any illusion that comes
between you and the realization of Reality. Therefore, spirituality
does not have to do with time or what can be achieved in time;
it has to do only and always with the eternal present.
Aspiration is not so much a matter of the mind as of the
heart, in that it is a reflection of what you cherish, love, and value
most. You do not need to be reminded of what you truly love,
only of what you do not love. And what you actually love is most
truly reflected in your actions, not in what you feel, think, or say.
When aspiration lines up with unconditional follow-through
and love, it becomes a very strong force in the universe. Only
then are we unified and one-pointed enough for our aspiration
to survive the winds of folly, fate, and circumstance.
Never Abdicate Your Authority
The third Foundation is never abdicate your authority. This means
that you take full responsibility for your life and never forfeit it
over to someone else. There is no such thing as riding the coattails
of an enlightened being to enlightenment itself. A failure to
understand this can lead (as so many have been led) to cultish
fanaticism, fundamentalism, magical thinking, disappointment,
disillusionment, and/or spiritual infancy.
While it is understandable that many people project their
unresolved parental issues, relationship issues, authority issues, sexuality issues, as well as God issues onto their spiritual teacher
(and are sometimes encouraged to do so by unscrupulous
spiritual teachers), it is essential to understand that a spiritual
teacher’s role is to be a good and wise spiritual guide as well as
an embodiment of the Truth that he or she points toward. While
there may be deep respect, love, and even devotion to one’s spiritual
teacher, it is important not to abdicate all of your authority
over to your spiritual teacher or project all divinity exclusively
onto them. Your life belongs in your hands, not someone else’s.
Take responsibility for it.
There is a fine line between being truly open to the guidance
of a spiritual teacher and regressing into a childish relationship
where you abdicate your adulthood and project all wisdom and
divinity onto the teacher. Each person needs to find a mature
balance, being truly and deeply open to their spiritual guide
without abdicating all of their authority.
The same can be applied to a spiritual teaching. A spiritual
teaching is a finger pointing toward Reality; it is not Reality itself.
To be in a true and mature relationship with a spiritual teaching
requires you to apply it, not simply believe in it. Belief leads to
various forms of fundamentalism and shuts down the curiosity
and inquiry that are essential to open the way for awakening
and what lies beyond awakening. A good spiritual teaching is
something that you work with and apply. In doing so, it works
on you (often in a hidden way) and helps reveal to you the Truth
(and falseness) that lies within you.
What is it to not abdicate your own authority and yet not
claim a false or self-centered authority that will lead you into delusion?
I am afraid that I cannot tell you. You see, no one can tell
you how not to deceive yourself. If in the deepest place within
you, you want and desire Truth above all else, even though you go astray in a thousand different ways, you will find yourself somehow, again and again, being brought back to what is True.
And if you do not want and desire Truth above all else, well,
you already know what that leads to.
Practice Absolute Sincerity
To have genuine sincerity is absolutely necessary in the spiritual
life. Sincerity encompasses the qualities of honesty, genuineness,
and integrity. To be sincere does not mean to be perfect. In fact,
the very effort to be perfect is itself insincere, because it is a way
of avoiding seeing yourself as you are right now. To be able and
willing to see yourself as you are, with all of your imperfections
and illusions, requires genuine sincerity and courage. If we are
constantly trying to hide from ourselves, we will never be able
to awaken from our illusion of self.
In order to be sincere you must let go of being judgmental
toward yourself. Being judgmental covers over your access to
true sincerity and at times even masquerades as sincerity. True
sincerity reveals a powerful form of clarity and discernment that
is necessary in order to perceive yourself honestly without flinching
or being held captive by your conditioned mind’s judgments
The capacity and willingness to be honest with yourself is
your greatest guard against self-deception and deceit, and aligns
you with your genuine aspiration. There is no greater challenge
for a human being than to be completely honest with oneself as
well as with others, and yet such honesty is absolutely necessary
if we are ever to awaken from our dream of separation and live
a truly genuine and undivided life.
Be A Good Steward Of Your Life
Being a good steward of your life means that you are not using
spirituality to avoid any aspect of yourself or your life. I have observed
that it is very common for people involved in spirituality
to unconsciously use it to avoid painful, troubling, dysfunctional,
or fearful aspects of themselves or their lives. There is often a
hope that if they just awaken to Reality, all of their challenges
will disappear. While it is true that with the dawning of awakening
many of what we regard as problems simply disappear, it
would be wrong to assume that a taste of awakening automatically
resolves every challenging aspect of human life.
Using spirituality to avoid challenging aspects of yourself
or your day-to-day life can inhibit the dawning of spiritual
enlightenment to a great extent, and will certainly inhibit its
depth and stability. The Way of Liberation is a way of completely
facing yourself and your life without withdrawing into denial,
judgment, or magical thinking. It is a means of piercing through
the veils of illusion and awakening to Truth.
To be a good steward of your life requires you to embrace
every aspect of your life, inner and outer, pleasant and unpleasant.
You do not necessarily need to face them all at once, just
whatever arises in any given moment. Give each moment the
attention, sincerity, and commitment that it deserves. A failure
to do so is more costly than you can ever imagine.
Your life, all of your life, is your path to awakening. By resisting
or not dealing with its challenges, you stay asleep to Reality.
Pay attention to what life is trying to reveal to you. Say yes to its
fierce, ruthless, and loving grace.