InZicht Interview 2007
Learning to see through the ego
Translation of interview with Hameed Ali in June 2006 by Han van den Boogaard
Publication in the magazine InZicht (Insight), issue 1, 2007
A.H. Almaas explains the role of modern-day psychology in his own way of working, and gives comments on the content of his latest book, Brilliancy, in which human intelligence as an expression of impersonal consciousness is described and explored.
You work with groups in the context of the ‘Diamond Approach’. What is the core of the approach?
The Diamond Approach is a way of working towards spiritual transformation. What is special about it is that it uses a language that is oriented towards the west and integrates western psychology. Other approaches primarily make use of ancient vocabularies, wisdom as it was imported from the east long ago. We, on the other hand, make use of modern psychological insights.
Isn’t the objective of modern psychology precisely to strengthen the ego?
We make use of psychology, but our goal is not the same. We use it only in order to be able to understand the ego. Psychology provides a very useful insight into ego – how it develops, what it consists of. Once you understand what the ego is, there is the chance that it will become somewhat lighter, more transparent, so that you get a better view of spiritual reality.
But isn’t the ego no more than an idea?
The ego is an idea. But it influences our awareness. It gives us a certain sense of identity. It gets in our way, because we believe that that is what we are. We have to learn to see through the ego, learn what it consists of: concepts, ideas, assumptions, the self-image and so on. We need to learn to see through all that, so that we can drop our armor and become more open. In principle, the ego is nothing more than a phase. Consciousness, awareness, is structured by the ego. You can take the next step on the basis of a health ego structure. A strong ego structure is a prerequisite. But if you don’t take that step, the ego becomes an obstacle that seriously limits you.
How do you see the role of teacher? Do you think direct transmission of knowledge from teacher to student is possible?
It is not only possible, it is necessary if there is to be spiritual transformation. A teacher must possess a certain degree of development, insight, spiritual experience and wisdom that he can transmit. When a teacher is sufficiently developed spiritually, it happens by itself, effortlessly.
So no words are needed?
No. Spiritual transmission means wordlessly. Transmission of this kind is an energetic phenomenon. During my meetings I use words, just like other teachers. While I am speaking about spiritual reality, my own presence transmits something of that reality. Students who are open, who are sensitive to it, pick up on this. At the same time they try to follow my verbalization. They go together, the verbalization and the energy.
It seems to me that listening to the words, trying to follow what is being said, would actually block the energy.
It might. That’s why we always tell students to follow the words, but to stay relaxed and receptive at the same time. It has to do with the way in which we use spiritual transmission. It is different from some other approaches. The Tibetan approach, for example, uses special rituals to make transmission possible. The rituals are separate from the content that is to be transmitted. We don’t do it like that. For us, transmission is an integral part of our approach. Throughout the learning process, whereby the student slowly but surely becomes more present, more open, he gets a clearer view of reality. Spiritual transmission happens continually if the student is open to it.
Your latest books is called ‘Brilliancy’. What is it that you are trying to explain in the book?
The purpose of the book is to make it clear that intelligence is a spiritual characteristic. It is not something functional, something mental. Intelligence ensures that your understanding functions in the most optimal, most efficient way. It is a specific characteristic that your consciousness can possess. In that sense it is a specific manifestation of consciousness itself.
You refer to consciousness as something that is linked to the individual. I look at it much more as something impersonal.
Consciousness is impersonal, but it is always that which makes us a person. Our ordinary consciousness is a form of expression of the impersonal consciousness. Your personal consciousness is not my personal consciousness. But ultimately, they are both a form of expression of the one impersonal consciousness. It expresses itself in a personal way.
In your book you indicate that children lose their original, intuitive intelligence bit by bit. You seem to have the tendency to explain processes like this from a psycho-dynamic perspective, particularly when it has to do with the role that the parents play in the process.
The ground of awareness, impersonal consciousness, slowly become more externally oriented during the development of the ego. I don’t see this as a psychodynamic process, but a product of the cognitive development, the concepts and interpretations that are formed in relation to our experience of the world. We lose essential aspects of our presence, we become disconnected from them, usually as a result of the problems we are confronted with in our early childhood, specifically in the interaction with our parents and the environment in which we grow up. So there are psychodynamic causes for the gradual loss of the original awareness.
To give an example: if you have a feeling of not being loved, or if your own love is not seen, recognized and valued, the experience of the pure awareness of love is damaged. If you learn to understand the problem and work with it, you can become aware again of what love is – that it is something that can be experience as pure awareness, a presence that has taken the form of love. The same applies for other forms: intelligence, strength and so on.
By recognizing love, intelligence or strength as pure characteristics of awareness, you can learn to remain present in that awareness. It is a relatively simple way to become aware again of impersonal awareness, presence without characteristics. Traditional teaching begins with the realization of the impersonal awareness and the pure aspects of awareness arise as a result of that realization. The Diamond Approach takes the opposite path: firstly the pure aspects of awareness are realized, so that they can form a bridgehead for the realization of impersonal awareness. This approach makes impersonal presence more easily accessible for more people, because the aspects of awareness are more easily recognized than impersonal awareness.
Do you differentiate between being present and awareness?
Presence is awareness, but then awareness that is aware of itself. Pure awareness can be aware of its own existence, independently of the form and content of any experience. Experience itself then becomes aware of its own presence. Presence and awareness are not two different things, because the experience is non-dual, no subject and object. It is therefore not awareness that is involved in self-reflection, but awareness that is aware of itself by being itself. In other words, consciously being oneself is the same as being conscious of oneself.
You say somewhere that many people experience the state of oneness, even if only fleetingly. You compare seeing someone else from the state of oneness with seeing one cell of a living organism. But doesn’t the experience of oneness imply the total absence of the experience of the other? Doesn’t it imply that things are no longer experienced as being different from yourself?
Yes and no. We can experience pure awareness without content of experience or with content of experience. In the first case it is not a question of conscious experience because there is nothing to experience. There is only total stillness and peace without awareness of it. That is the absolute that is aware of nothing other than itself.
But we can also experience pure awareness with content. We experience all manifestation then as a manifestation of our being; it is identical with the absolute, but it manifests itself in innumerable ways. The different forms taken by the absolute are not seen as separate and different from each other, without an underlying connection, but still as the absolute, even though it is perceived in innumerable forms.
It is comparable with the waves of the ocean; here are very many of them, but it remains one ocean. In the experience of awareness with content, I am the ocean, but I am also aware of the waves. Some of them manifest as people. But you can also see people as cells in the cosmic organism. This is how I see the state of oneness, the oneness of existence or awareness. Individuals appear within the oneness, but they are not separate from the ,medium of awareness. Some of the individuals are aware of their true nature, pure awareness, but most are not.
When you see the truth, you lose your identity. What is left?
What is left depends on the degree to which we lose our identity. Pure awareness has different levels. One of them is pure life; another level is pure presence; yet another level is pure consciousness; still another is pure emptiness. The experience depends on the layer of the identity, the kind of identity we lose.
When the identity is completely dissolved, all the levels are seen as one truth. The absolute can then be seen as emptiness, consciousness, presence, life, but they represent one and the same truth.
We can also say that the absolute remains, but that doesn’t do justice to the different ways in which the absolute can be experienced. One important difference, for example, is whether the absolute is experienced with or without content of experience. In the first case there is no conscious experience. In the second case everything is there, but only as the manifestation of pure consciousness.
Is there still space for the world of appearances in the experience of the absolute?
When we experience ourself as the absolute, the world appears as thought, as an idea or image. It is then insignificant in relation to the immeasurableness of the absolute. But the appearance of the world is also seen as the absolute that thinks or imagines the world. The whole universe then appears as a creation of the absolute. So it is not a thought of an individual, but the thought of the absolute, in the form of all appearances which manifest.