Interest in nondual awareness as the essence of spiritual awakening, free from the obligations and cultural references of a particular religion, is rapidly expanding throughout the Western world. Those who have sought out and followed spiritual paths, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, Kabbalism, etc., have often found themselves coming up against a kind of ceiling in their longing for spiritual awakening. This can be a result of the religion’s cultural context or a belief system that may not see awakening as something within the reach of adherents. So, many serious spiritual students have turned to nonsectarian teachers to further their practice. These readers will find The Open Path to be an excellent guide to the realization of the silent ground of all being and to the expression of that realization in the diverse conditions of their lives. The book includes very helpful exercises and practices that foster a sense of equanimity and natural insight, as well as methods and teachings from many sources: Sufism, psychology, meditation traditions, and both Eastern and Western nondual teachers.
Release at Inception
In a future chapter we will explore the dynamic described by the fourteenth-century Tibetan Dzogchen master Longchenpa, called release at inception. I would like to introduce it here briefly, however, as a way to conclude this chapter. My hope is it will serve to ease any possible sense you may have, after reading all of this, that mental constructions and fixations represent problems requiring a lot of skill and effort to get rid of. They don’t. Yes, fixations have a stubborn tendency to show up again and again in our mind stream — that’s why they’re called fixations — but in themselves they are like all other mental phenomena that arise in our awareness: they originate out of nothing (that is, they aren’t there before they are), seem to abide for a moment or two (although they don’t exactly “abide” in a fixed way), and then they vanish back into nothing without any effort on our part. They are released naturally.
You can test this for yourself right now. Try to generate the feeling-tone of one of your common fixations — for example, a typical situation in which you feel you need to justify yourself. If you are successful at generating this feeling-tone, even to a small degree, you may notice that the pattern of the fixation, with its accompanying emotional state, arises in your awareness for a moment or two, and then begins to dissipate, and will vanish altogether unless you repeat the thought or image that stimulated it.
Over the next twenty-four hours you might try this again with a few real-life “fixation situations.” For example, there may be a situation in which you feel unsure of yourself and don’t know what to do. Notice that the thought-feeling of uncertainty appears, seems to abide for a while, and then naturally dissolves into the next thing that happens. And if you look carefully you may notice that even in the moments when it seems to “abide,” it is changing and moving, becoming stronger, diminishing, adding new elements, etc. It doesn’t even “abide” as the same thing for more than an instant.
Let’s try another example: say you suddenly feel a flash of anger at your partner because once again she didn’t put the top back on the toothpaste tube, even though you’ve asked her to do so many times. You shout, “I hate it when you do that!” As soon as you shout, you remember this suggestion, and do your best to notice what’s happening. You notice the typical sensations of anger: heat rising in your chest and face, the distance between your righteous point of view and your partner’s behavior, a near-immediate flood of mental justifications for raising your voice, etc. Now watch what happens. Either your point of view gets reinforced by more justifications (e.g., recounting all the previous wrong-doings of your partner), or it immediately starts to dissipate, naturally, on its own, if you don’t add fuel to its fire.
This natural dissipating is sometimes called the “self-liberating” quality of phenomena.
The Dzogchen recognition of “release at inception” points to the same quality. In the words of Dzogchen teacher/translator Keith Dowman, release at inception entails “confidence in the simultaneity of the inception and release of thought that induces a constant opening up that turns into seamless thought-free openness.” And as Longchenpa describes it:
Whatever occurs externally as the manifold appearance of the five types of external objects (forms, sounds, smells, tastes and tangibles) or internally as some mental activity, at the very moment of its inception as a field it is seen just as it is, and by the force of its advent it is fully potentiated and then vanishes by itself — how could it possibly remain? — released without a trace, and in that moment the three crucial functions — carefree detachment in whatever arises, access to wide-open spaciousness, and easy relaxation into the appearance upon its inception — are assimilated.
It is not necessary to understand everything referred to by Longchenpa in this passage right now. The important thing is simply to begin to explore and appreciate, through your own experience, that every perception that arises in your awareness, whether thought, emotion, or sensation, “vanishes by itself.” When we no longer put energy into repeating mental phenomena, they vanish! This is the natural release of fixations.
Through the constant practice of relaxing the grip of our attractions, aversions, and the reactive fixations that express themselves from our preferences, we open to a serenity in our lives that allows us to accept each experience as it arises — simply because that’s what’s happening — without turbulent reactivity.
Rather than losing anything through releasing attachment to our likes and dislikes, our experience opens us to the possibility of the most profound intimacy.
A final example: imagine you are on your death bed. You know you have only an hour or two left in this life. Your closest friend is beside you. What would be most helpful to you in that moment? Would it be your friend responding to your imminent death with emotional reactivity from layers of fixations about loss, fear of death, attachment to you, etc.? Or would it be more helpful if your friend were serene, free of fixations, and completely present to you in those moments, accepting what is?
 Longchenpa, Natural Perfection, Ó Keith Dowman, 2010. Reprinted from Natural Perfection: Longchenpa’s Radical Dzogchen with permission from Wisdom Publications, 199 Elm Street, Somerville, MA 02144 USA, p. 107. http://www.wisdompubs.org.
Elias Amidon is the spiritual director (Pir) of the Sufi Way International. He has been an initiate of the Sufi Way for the past forty-two years. Pir Elias has also studied with Qadiri Sufis in Morocco, Theravaden Buddhist teachers in Thailand, Native American teachers of the Assemblies of the Morning Star, Christian monks in Syria, Zen teachers of the White Plum Sangha, and contemporary teachers in the Dzogchen tradition. From child to elder, Pir Elias has lived a multifaceted, engaged life. The son of an artist and a social activist, he has worked as a schoolteacher, carpenter, architect, professor, writer, anthologist, environmental educator, peace activist, wilderness quest guide, and spiritual teacher. He helped develop several schools, including the Boulder Institute for Nature and the Human Spirit, the graduate program in Environmental Leadership at Naropa University, and the Open Path. He has a Bachelors degree in literature from Antioch College and has written six books. Pir Elias has been leading programs in Sufism for over three decades, and Open Path programs for the past six years. He resides in Boulder, Colorado but continues to travel widely, both teaching Open Path programs and engaging in citizen diplomacy. His website is http://www.sufiway.org.