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A Crisis of Trust

by Andrew Cohen

The Path and the Goal Are One

The genuine pursuit of spiritual liberation is the pursuit of unity and simplicity. Unity is not only the fact of our ultimate nature, but indeed, if there is any significance in spiritual attainment, unity must finally become the very essence of the expression of the individual who claims to have achieved the goal of unity itself. It is my conviction in this, what I consider to be such an obvious point, that has forced me to stand alone in a time when something so obvious seems to be so misunderstood. The meaning and significance of enlightenment to me is, and I truly believe always has been, the final attainment of nonduality, not only as inner vision but as that expression of singularity and undivided purity of intention that leaves no room for doubt, confusion or ambiguity.

Simply because I have not wanted to compromise on this matter, I have gained a reputation of being controversial. Unwavering in my insistence that any individual who dares to show the way for others be willing to live up to the highest expression of human potential, I often find myself alone in what seems like a ridiculous predicament. Many misinterpret my motives in speaking about the failings of other teachers, concluding that my intention is simply to find fault. I have found it necessary to do so only because I feel it is essential at this time to try and demystify the aura and mystique of enlightenment. The utter simplicity of the meaning and significance of profound spiritual attainment in the modern world remains largely hidden behind myth and superstition. And therefore, it is only by scrutinizing those who have penetrated deeply into the spiritual dimension, that the common denominator that reveals the important differences and essential similarities of those individuals can be brought to light.

The entire process of spiritual evolution and transformation is, after all, only the search for and attainment of a fully human condition. This significant point, while obvious to some, is not so apparent to many. As a matter of fact, in my journeys throughout the world I am always struck by the degree of misinformation that abounds regarding this point. Far too many believe that those individuals who have transcended fear, delusion and ignorance have become no different than living gods. In fact, some of my students were told by a well-known rinpoche that their first mistake was thinking that the Buddha was human! It is precisely this kind of thinking that perpetuates the superstitious beliefs that make any simple yet profound understanding of enlightenment difficult to attain.

Recognizing spiritual evolution and transformation as the struggle for a fully human condition makes it possible for anyone who is sincerely interested to come to an understanding of what real attainment is all about. As long as the meaning and significance of spiritual awakening is allowed to remain so shrouded in mystery, it will continue to seem beyond the reach of most to truly understand. There are many paths but the goal is one. This fact must be clarified in a simple and understandable way. Only then will many of us be able to grow up, and in doing so realize the profound independence that results from seeing clearly through eyes that have been freed from false and wrong views.

A Divided Condition

I never knew until I began to teach how profound is the deeply divided condition of most human beings. And I learned early on how extraordinarily difficult it seems to be for most human beings to express an undivided relationship to life. Indeed, it is the divided condition of the human personality that has for so long created the endless cycle of conflict that has been and continues to be the crux of the spiritual dilemma of the race. Interestingly enough, it is only when a human being makes that critical decision to find the Truth Absolute, that the depth and complexity of compromise that had been the expression of a divided personality is revealed. This discovery is often shocking, for few human beings are prepared to come to terms with the enormity of the gap that is exposed between the way one imagines oneself to be and the way one truly is.

A passionate response to the yearning for liberation reveals that a divided condition is entirely volitional. In this revelation, the individual discovers for themselves the path to wholeness. That path is the sudden or gradual unwillingness to compromise in matters of the heart and ultimately in one's relationship to what it means to be a fully human being.

It is for this reason that I feel it is so essential that those individuals, who have been fortunate enough to have fallen into the miracle of transcendent spiritual realization, be able to demonstrate an attainment that clearly and unambiguously expresses the evolutionary potential of the race. For as long as this demand is not made, and those who are showing the way for others are allowed to demonstrate the very same schizophrenic condition of contradictory impulses as everyone else, then the attainment of true simplicity and unequivocal victory over ignorance will remain a myth.

The magnitude of the implications inherent in this, what might not seem like such a crucial matter to some, is extraordinary. Without clear examples, the possibility of a collective evolutionary leap is unimaginable. That is why it is so destructive for the evolutionary potential of the race as a whole when those who have realized that transcendental spiritual perspective seem to be unwilling to go all the way.

That possibility can only be sufficiently demonstrated in a personality that is so firmly rooted in the absolute fact of unity that it will only by its nature express that condition unmistakably and unambiguously as itself.

The Need for Clear Examples

The modern spiritual world has been plagued by countless shocking revelations of that vital discrepancy between word and deed. This has created an air of cynicism and a crisis of trust. It should cause the independent thinker to question the ultimate validity of the attainment of those in whom these discrepancies have become painfully obvious. Yet I have been intrigued by the general lack of serious inquiry into this important question.

As long as significant contradiction exists in any individual who is proclaimed to have reached the yonder shore, it's possible that maybe they stopped somewhere short of the beach. I have been surprised at the acceptance and ambivalence in relationship to this matter in seekers and finders alike. This point is crucial and its significance demands some attention in a serious student of evolutionary potential. What makes this matter so confusing to so many is the fact that it is very difficult to ascertain the actual attainment of another as long as one is struggling within the initial stages of awakening oneself. It is because most of those who aspire to final liberation are precisely at that juncture in their own evolution that they usually feel insufficiently evolved to dare to assume such knowledge. This plus the air of cynicism so prevalent in the time we are living in has made it for many a sign of arrogance to question these matters in a passionate way. From early on in my teaching career, I was compelled to do so because I wanted to understand how and why the actual goal of spiritual seeking and practice was so vague, complex and confusing. I found out almost from the very beginning that this kind of questioning was not generally appreciated, and more often than not was scorned, if not outright condemned.

I have always encouraged others to ask themselves the same questions that I have asked myself, and have discovered that few seem to be deeply interested in asking the kinds of questions that challenge the very foundations of our spiritual beliefs. So often the need to cling onto experiences long gone, beliefs based on superstition and if nothing else only hope seems more important to far too many than the pursuit of the Truth unadorned. Many seekers choose to lazily accept that which cannot bear too much scrutiny for fear of ultimately having to scrutinize themselves far too closely.

Endeavoring to rouse from slumber those insisting that a promise unfulfilled was other than that, I have tried to encourage honest inquiry.

Shortly before the demise of my relationship with my own teacher, I was attending one of his teachings with a small group of my students. When they asked him about the discrepancy between the word and deed of well-known spiritual teachers he became irritated, replying that questions such as these have nothing to do with liberation but only with religion. Indeed, in his own philosophy there is not necessarily any relationship between the realization of our true nature and the manifestation of the human personality of the one who has realized it.

In Boulder, Colorado I spoke to a gathering in which some disciples of the late Trungpa Rinpoche were present. When I simply stated what everyone already knew, that his abuse of alcohol had killed him and had led some of his followers to become members of Alcoholics Anonymous, many were offended. Who was I to judge?

Several years after the death of the legendary Bhagwan Rajneesh, I continue to find that most of his devotees are still unable to even begin to contemplate the possibility that their guru might have had something to do with the treacherous escapades of some of his closest disciples.

During a radio interview in Amsterdam by a woman who was a devotee of the late Swami Muktananda, I mentioned the widely known fact that he had gone to bed with the young daughters of his own disciples whom he had asked to be celibate. She was outraged.

In so many cases, discipleship unknowingly becomes a form of spiritual slavery. Too many are unwilling to question the perfection of the attainment of their teacher for fear of threatening the perceived link with the absolute that the teacher represents.

The spiritual crisis of the human race is a crisis of trust. For awakened perception to become stable and permanent, the individual must find a way to trust that is above and beyond the usual perimeters of human experience. It is the inability and unwillingness to trust that makes the goal of utter simplicity and perfect union seem so distant. Indeed, trust is the very foundation of spiritual transformation.

The integrity and inherent perfection of life is demonstrated in that individual who has deeply realized and is able to manifest unity and simplicity. That is why the significance of some individuals actually being able to demonstrate that attainment as self unambiguously is so great. The explosive and deeply liberating power of trust can only manifest itself in that spiritual arena where no taint of ambiguity about the living reality of that possibility exists. As long as any doubt, gross or subtle, continues to exist, it will be almost impossible for the individual to trust in the possibility of realizing their own potential as a fully human being.


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This article is from
Our Student/Teacher Issue


More articles and interviews about similar subjects:
Spiritual Transformation

Student-Teacher Relationship