Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is A.H. Almaas. A.H. Almaas is the penname of Hameed Ali, who has written more than 14 books, including his most recent, The Unfolding Now. In 1976, he founded the Ridhwan School. Hameed’s interest in the truth of human nature and the true nature of reality resulted in the creation and unfoldment of the Diamond Approach. The Diamond Approach is a path of wisdom—an approach to the investigation of reality and work on oneself that leads to human maturity and liberation.
With Sounds True, Hameed has created several audio and video programs, including a six-session audio series [called] The Diamond Approach. He has also collaborated with spiritual teacher Adyashanti to create the program Realization Unfolds. And upcoming on October 27, Hameed will be featured in an in-person, live event in San Rafael, California, an event that Sounds True is producing. Hameed will be joined onstage by Episcopalian priest Cynthia Bourgeault, and they’ll be talking about Conscious Love: The Power of Revelation. This will be an opportunity for participants to look deeply into their hearts and step further into conscious loving as the illuminating force of spiritual realization and transformation.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Hameed and I spoke about several of the distinguishing and unique characteristics of the Diamond Approach, including how in the Diamond Approach, there is no distinction between looking at things psychologically versus spiritually. We also talked about the role of inquiry and the importance of personhood, what Hameed calls “the pearl beyond price.” Finally, we talked about how it is the love of the truth that drives the process of realization, and how realization itself has no end.
Here’s my conversation, recorded while he was on vacation in Hawaii, with someone who I consider—and this is a big phrase to use, and it’s not a phrase that I use often—a true spiritual genius, A.H. Almaas.
Hameed, I had the great honor a couple of years ago to spend three days in a recording studio with you, where we recorded the six-session audio program on the Diamond Approach. And I remember many things from those three days, but there’s one comment you made that has really stuck with me, and I’ve quoted it many times to other people.
I wanted to start our conversation right there, with that comment. And that is, I was talking to you about the role of the teacher, and the role of the teacher in spiritual work, and you said, “You know, Tami, one in 10,000 people can find their way without a teacher.” And I thought that was a very strong and definitive statement, and I want to hear more about it. What gives you this clarity that only one in 10,000 people could find their way without a teacher?
Hameed Almaas: There’s just my observation and my experience, plus knowing the history of spiritual teaching, a lot. I’m a student of many traditions. I’ve [written on] and studied many and know their history, how things happened. So that’s combined with my observation and experience of people. Most people really don’t know their way. They don’t know how to find their way. In general, you know, when the person begins to approach spiritual work or they begin to feel the stir, they don’t know how lost they are. They don’t know how subtle reality can be. They don’t know how asleep they are, even if they know they are asleep.
And it takes a lot to wake up by oneself. I mean, it does happen—you hear instances about it, but it’s rare. Most traditions basically take the position [of] you get a teacher. There’s no other way. I don’t say that, I don’t say there’s no other way. I say, yes, some people do wake up by themselves. But don’t count on it. It’s better to have a guide.
TS: Well, then, of course, immediately the question becomes, how do I know if a teacher is qualified, and if a teacher can “take me all the way”? And I’m curious, first of all, what you think would make a teacher qualified and what you think about this sense of going all the way in terms of spiritual work, and how one would know if a teacher would have that ability?
HA: Well, first of all, this has several assumptions. First is that you should have only one teacher. Second is that there is such a thing as “all the way.”
First of all, most people find a teacher that can work with them in a positive way, because it’s important people find a teacher that they can understand, who can work with them. A fully-advanced teacher is not going to be visible by the beginning student, and that teacher is not going to be willing to take on such students. So to think of finding the best teacher, the teacher that can take you all the way from the beginning, is really not a good question. It’s more like, “Who is the proper teacher for me at this time?”
And the way it works is that people hear about teachers, read about teachers, encounter them, go and listen to them, and the best way is to really see—it’s not just the teacher. Each teacher follows a teaching. There are traditions, there are teachings. Each one has its own language, its own wavelength. And a student fits in some of them and not others.
So first, the student needs to know which wavelength fits them, which teaching really speaks to their kind of mind, their consciousness. And then try to hook up with a teacher from that particlular teaching or traditions—a teacher that they feel they can trust, they feel they can learn from, and a teacher they feel is inspiring, that they are learning something different about themselves.
And at some point, they might find out they can go far away with that teacher. And at some point they might find out, no, at a certain level of development they feel that they need to go to another teacher. That’s exactly what happened to the Buddha, if you remember the story of the Buddha. He went from one guru to another, learned one thing after the other. Finally, he went off by himself, but he learned from many.
And there are traditions that have many teachers, like if you have the Kabbalah or the Sufis or the Tibetan Buddhism, the Zen—those are big traditions that have many teachers. One can choose one teacher as what they call the “root guru” or “root teacher” and stay with them, or they could go from one teacher to another from the same tradition. And they are from the same tradition, they should know each other—they could tell the student, “Now I think you should go to this teacher, this will work for you better at this stage.”
So the situation is more complex than the simple one of, how do you find a teacher. The situation is really—the beginning student, at the beginning, they really have no idea. It’s like you have to learn about the whole spiritual world, the spiritual teachings and spiritual traditions and teachers and lineages. It’s not a simple thing.
So the best thing is to [first] find what speaks to oneself, and to find somebody you can trust, who you feel you can learn from, that has integrity and has true understanding, true realization, and work with them. It might be your teacher for good. It might be just somebody [from whom] you learn about yourself, and then from there you go on somewhere else.
Now, the question [of] somebody who will take you all the way. Well, some teachings have something called “all the way” realization. Some teachings don’t have anything like that. They say everybody goes as far as they can go and there is no end, really.
TS: And what is your view about this question of there being a destination?
HA: The view in the teaching I use, Diamond Approach, I say it depends on the person and the students. You can say each student comes in a certain aptitude, a certain potential, and also a certain destiny, a certain vibration. They could hook up with a certain teaching, a certain teacher, and the teaching or the ultimate of that teaching might be exactly what fits them. And that’s fine. They can be realized in that teaching. Some students, no, that’s not going to be what’s satisfying with them. Some ultimate of another teaching will do it. Some individuals will not be satisfied with that. They want to be free to roam the spiritual universe, because after enlightenment, there is another enlightenment.
In the Diamond Approach, we provide both of those. I teach the various stages of realization and one can go to realize, like, the Atman or the Brahman according to Vedanta, or realize Dharma-kaya, according to Buddhism, or [inaudible] according to Zen. But we also provide teachings where a person can learn those, but learn other ways of realization, other ways that enlightenment can be, not encompassed by something like Dharma-kaya or nondual realization. And that will be what I call the way of freedom.
TS: So when you say that there are various stages that you teach, is that something that you can summarize for us, what those stages are?
HA: Yes. And let’s put it this way: In the Diamond Approach, one way I formalize it, I say I teach the teaching in what I call the “four turnings of the teachings.” Similar to like what some Buddhists have—they have what they call the “four turnings of the wheel” of the teaching. We have in the Diamond Approach something called “the four turnings.”
The first one has to do with individual realization, individual enlightenment—knowing what you are, who you are, and be free in being that. The second stage, second turning, has to do with what’s called nondual enlightenment, sort of corresponds to nondual enlightenment, which is experiencing the selflessness and recognizing that one is not an individual self, but a vastness and infinity that is the nature of everything.
And then I have the third turning, which is starting from the nondual and opening up to other possibilities, learning that freedom does not depend on an ultimate. And then the fourth turning is the various ways, the various kinds of enlightenment that can happen then, which are endless, and different people will experience different things.
TS: Now, Hameed, there’s so much about the Diamond Approach that I would like to talk with you about, because it’s—to be honest with you—one of the deepest and most nuanced and always-surprising-to-me paths that I’ve ever heard described. Meaning, there’s so much that you talk about that I’ve never heard anybody else articulate.
And before we get into that, some of the really original, in my view, contributions of the Diamond Approach, I’d love our listeners to hear a little bit more about you, and a little bit more about how you came into this body of work. I mean, I know from our previous discussions that you came to the United States when you were 18, and that when you went to Berkeley to study physics—
HA: I went to the university, right.
TS: —and [that] then there was a turning point in your life. And that’s what I’d be curious to know about, what that turning point was when you were a student at the University of [California,] Berkeley, studying physics.
HA: Yes. That turning point happened toward the end of my graduate work. I was studying physics in the Lawrence [Radiation] Lab in Berkeley and working on my PhD thesis, and I realized I was losing interest. Well, before that, I was very much into it; I was a good student, learner. So when I investigated it, I found I was really looking after something that I wasn’t going to find there.
I was looking for the truth. I wanted to know what was the truth of reality. And I thought science—physics and math—since I was a teenager, I thought that might give it to me. But then I realized that’s not the truth I was really after. I was recognizing that the truth I was after is not about the physical universe. And also, looking around me, a turning point—there was an event that happened. I was there in the cafeteria of Lawrence Rad Lab, having lunch with all the professors, graduate students, and looked around me, and with all these brilliant people around, and I had this vision [of] all these big heads bobbing around with nothing much else to them.
And that’s when I saw, I said, “Oh. That is not how I wanted to turn out to be. That is not what I wanted to learn, just to be brilliant in my head but the rest of my being not involved.” That gave me the insight, and that happened about a few years after I had—I probably talked with you about it—an out-of-body experience, I experienced myself as not the body. So that became a turning point, and at that time I started—
TS: Yes, let’s talk about that a little, the out-of-body experience you had. That was a type of near-death experience, would you say?
HA: Yes. It was a near-death experience. I was at the end of my undergraduate school when I had a traffic accident. And I don’t know if I was near death or if I was actually dead for awhile, but I was outside the body. I wasn’t in my body, and I realized I wasn’t in the body and I was looking at it from above. But I recognized myself as a body of light, as a body of pure, brilliant light, of different qualities and different intelligences.
From there, I saw, I could go to the body, to the physical world, or I could go to another direction, which seemed totally free, totally peaceful, totally blissful. And out of that body of light, out of that [inaudible] emanated love and joy, that directed me directly to go back to the physical, to go to the world. Because there was something I loved to do and I enjoyed doing, although it would be more difficult. So it wasn’t like a conscious choice, it’s more like just a movement, a spontaneous movement that happened.
TS: It’s interesting, Hameed, because here, [with] the Diamond Approach you’ve “downloaded”—my word—this revelatory teaching that has a lot of features that I’ve never seen anywhere else. And the fact that you had this very profound near-death experience—it reminds me of other people I’ve interviewed and that we’ve published at Sounds True, and not all of our original authors have had near-death experiences, but a lot of them have, actually. [Laughs] And of course, it’s not one of those things one can play with, like, “Oh, I think I’d like to have a near-death experience to help further my realization,” because you could screw up in the process.
I’m just making a bad joke here, but I’m curious to know more from you about what you think might have occurred in that type of experience that shifted the trajectory of your life and perhaps created the kind of access to this teaching pouring through you.
HA: So I think that near-death experience basically brought to consciousness something I was presuming without knowing consciously I was presuming. I was interested in the truth, but I was seeing it not accurately. So that experience wasn’t really an enlightenment, I wouldn’t say that was an enlightenment experience. It’s more a reorientation, an orientation pointing the way toward, what is it really that my heart is after?
And that began the process, because what I experienced in that near-death experience, I was not able to experience in fullness until several years later. It took a lot of practice, a lot of work to be able to experience that purity of consciousness. And with that came a lot of teaching, that’s true.
TS: When you say it took a lot of practice, a lot of work, in these early days, what was the practice that you were doing?
HA: Well, I met many teachers. I worked with teachers, I did lots of meditations and prayers—many things, I followed Tibetan Buddhists, I followed Sufi teachers, I worked with psychologists and therapists, I met Hindu teachers. I did many things for several years. But then, at some point—and also therapy of different kinds. Basically, I wanted to open up myself. That experience made me see I needed to open myself up, open my consciousness up, my mind, in ways that I didn’t know, before that, [it] could be opened.
And I’m not saying I was consciously doing that, it’s more like [it] became a natural reorientation where my consciousness kept going, gravitating in a certain direction before, at some point, I became conscious of [it], “Oh, that’s what it’s doing.” And part of that reorientation was recognizing that physics was not exactly where I belonged.
TS: And then you said several years later, there was some type of experience that brought you back into this state of purity that you encountered in the near-death experience. Can you tell us more about that?
HA: Well, so I had many experiences when I [was] working with many teachers and traditions. However, the teaching that became the Diamond Approach, became its own thread that developed a different point, began with a discovery of what I now call “presence”—essential presence or spiritual presence, ontological presence. The presence of true nature, which is [a] self-aware sense of being.
It’s quite a discovery, it happened—at one point I was meditating, and this thing arose, and I didn’t know what it was, [but] when I felt it, recognized it, I felt, “Oh, that is really what I am.” And I felt connected with all humanity at that time. And I felt, “This is life, the source of life, potential for everything,” and it is a sense of realness, a sense of clarity and knowledge. And it felt, to me, at that time, [that it was] the beginning, really, of the path. Just that by itself was worth living my life. If I died at that time, I would just be so [excited].
But it turned out that was just the beginning. And after that, details began to be revealed, details about what this presence is about: its qualities, its dimensions, its wisdom. It’s like that presence grew from—it woke up and started growing and unfolding and revealing what it is. And presence is what we really are. Other people in other traditions don’t talk about presence. They talk about lights or awareness or love. But I experienced it as presence.
TS: And you’re making a distinction—I mean, you said this “thing” arose, and you’re making a distinction when you’re talking about presence from light or awareness. Tell me, when you say other traditions don’t talk about it, what’s unique in terms of how you feel this thing called presence?
HA: Some teachings emphasize love. Some teachings emphasize devotions. Some teachings emphasize awareness or emptiness. And all of those, I got to learn, at some point, but I learned them through the presence. The presence is a way of experiencing conscious awareness, however, it has a sense of recognizing “I am”—recognizing that what I am is real and true, authentic, unfabricated, and independent of anything in my mind or my history. It is right now, this moment.
So there is a here-ness and a now-ness to it, and a sense of palpable-ness, of almost like feeling your body palpably, except I wasn’t feeling my body. I was feeling actual pure consciousness or self-aware presence. People, when they experience presence, they will know it.
Most people, when they hear the word “presence,” they don’t exactly know it. They might mistake it to mean presence of mind, presence of awareness, I am attentive, I am feeling my body. All these are the facts of presence, not the presence. The presence is the true nature, the spiritual nature itself, the spirit itself manifesting itself, appearing as what I am, recognizing I am the spirit. And the spirit is a palpable “is-ness,” a palpable truth.
Not the beginning experience of it, though. That’s what I’ve found out. But it is, for me, just being with it, being that. It grew and developed and unfolded and revealed the teaching, and evolved on its own to show me not only [that] I am present, but this presence is love, this presence is peace, this presence is joy, clarity, emptiness, truth. And also, ultimately, it is the nature of everything, the whole universe.
TS: Now, Hameed, one of the things about the Diamond Approach that I’ve found so interesting—and I may not have a clear understanding of this, but you can help me here—is that often traditions will talk about how there’s something. They may not use the word “presence,” but there’s some way that we’re boundlessly connected to everything. [There’s] something—the ground of being, the oneness we all share. There’s that, there’s this field of oneness, boundless oneness.
And then there’s the ego, there’s the part of me that is this constructed, fictional sense of who I am, that’s been fabricated based on my response to the environment and my need to—but in the Diamond Approach, it seems like you introduce the idea that there’s also something that’s not the ego, not oneness, but we could say is like the true individual or something about the individual person. So can you help me understand that? What is a true individual?
HA: Yes. One thing that the presence revealed in time or evolved into or manifested itself as, as part of the teaching, is that reality is—the spiritual world is a whole world. Just like when we think of the physical world, we think of the earth and the planets and galaxies and suns and stars and all of that, and people and forces. It’s very complex. Well, the spiritual universe is like that, too. It’s very complex. It has many things in it.
At the same time, however, it has its basic ground. Like the universe’s basic ground is, say, time and space, for instance, or strings or elementary particles. Everything is made out of that. The same thing with the spiritual universe. There is the basic ground, through nature, but that manifests itself in many forms, in many ways, that are all pure and authentic just [as] the ground is pure and authentic.
And there are many of those qualities—love is one of them. The feeling of love is not just simply presence. I could feel myself as just pure presence with no qualities, or I could feel this presence as sweet, as melty, as appreciative, as effulgent and giving and generous and beautiful. That makes it—so the presence manifests itself as love, so it forms itself into that. [And] just as it forms into love or consciousness or awareness, it conforms itself into a person, a human person of presence.
And that is something, I think, is rare in many spiritual teachings. It will be difficult to find it in Eastern teachings. You find it more in Western teachings and there are allusions to it, but they don’t make it as explicit as I do it. That’s when I call it the Personal Essence, or the pearl beyond price, which is how to be a human being, a person, in the world, and individual in the world. But this person is really the same presence, the same purity, the same perfection that is awareness that is love, but as a person.
It’s a very unusual and unexpected thing. Most people don’t expect [it]. Many teachings will, right away, dismiss it as ego because they think it can only be personal ego. But there are teachings [that] know about it, and the Diamond Approach is one of them.
TS: How do we understand the difference between our individuality and our ego identity? How do we know what this true, essential person is?
HA: Very simple. There is individuality of ego. The ego is, of some kind, an individual entity. And the sense of a real person—it feels like an individual, but I will call it more a person than an individual. And the difference is that the ego, when you experience the individuality of ego, first of all you see it has patterns. There are fixed patterns to the way it thinks, behaves, plans, and the patterns are historical, they have history, they have emotion, they have beliefs, they have ideas.
So the individuality of ego—you will find out, when you explore it—it is constructed through history, through our experiences that we went through in our history from childhood, and before childhood. Throughout our lives we have impressions that affect our consciousness, and from that they become constellated, a sense of being an individual with a certain character. But that individual, [that] character, is bound by its history, by its impressions. It cannot strike out and become and be something outside of those patterns.
Now, the individuality though nature, the real person, is not related to history that way. It doesn’t have historical patterns. And also, the individual ego, when you explore it, you realize it involves images, beliefs, memories, and emotions and reactions. Well, the real person has no images or beliefs. It is a spontaneous beingness in the now, that responds personally in the now, and responds with an intelligence that uses all the knowledge we’ve had from the past without that knowledge determining or patterning the individual.
So that person has, at its command, the knowledge of history without the history patterning or determining or conditioning who one is. So the real person is a person being, a personal presence. Presence is manifesting itself in the personal way that responds to other human beings as persons.
As a result, the sense of person has a real “personal-ness,” [a] capacity to contact other human beings, [a] capacity for attunement and for empathy, recognizing other human beings as a whole universe on their own, and listening and feeling the other, and [then] responding out of innate, spontaneous intelligence that is not constrained by history, by impressions or patterns from the past.
TS: Now, I want to dig a little deeper into this, if that’s OK, because it’s something that is just so important to me, and there really aren’t very many people talking about it. So first of all—
HA: Not many talk about it, I agree.
TS: I could imagine somebody listening saying, “Come on, it’s not possible to ever be free from your history, from the language that you’ve learned, the cultural context that you’ve grown up with.” How is it possible for a person to be free of their history?
HA: Well, I mean, that question is not just related to being a person of presence. It has to do with spiritual realization in general. All spiritual realization needs to be free from your history. All teachings, not just [mine]. If there is no freedom from history, there is no spiritual realization, there’s no enlightenment. Enlightenment is, by definition, that what you are and what you do right now is informed by history but not constrained by it.
TS: OK. I’m with you.
HA: Good. If that’s not there, there is no freedom! One hasn’t yet evolved spiritually.
TS: OK, I’m with you. And then taking this [to] the next step, you talked about how the presence itself revealed to you what it was made of, how it was made of love, how it’s made of clarity—these different qualities, and also personhood. But these different qualities like love [or] clarity, they’re things we all share in some way. We could all tune [into]—but when it comes to personhood, my personhood is different from your personhood. So that sort of puts this discussion of personhood in a different category, because each one of us has our own personhood, yes?
HA: Yes. There is uniqueness to the personhood. However, personhood is the same for everybody, the sense of personhood—you see, just like love is for everybody, love is love, you can’t just have everybody have their own love. However, people express it differently, respond to it differently. But love is love.
Same thing with personhood. Think of it as a quality, like love or like peace. So it’s universal. However, it expresses itself uniquely for each individual. So the sense of being personal, like I’m being personal with you right now, you’re Tami, you’re a person, and I’m a person, a human being, a person of being, coming to you as a person. I’m aware of my history, but I’m talking to you in the now, and what I’m saying is informed by my history. I cannot not be informed by my history. I wouldn’t want not to be informed by my history. But my history doesn’t tell me what and who I am.
TS: I’m with you. Now, you called this the “pearl beyond price.” Why is discovering our personhood the pearl beyond price?
HA: Well, there are actually many stories, spiritual stories of various traditions that use the [phrase] “pearl beyond price,” and usually the story goes one leaves heaven or some kind of spiritual realm and goes into the world. And [one] lives in the world among the people of the world, who are unaware of the spiritual realm, to find some kind of precious gem that is usually guarded by a monster or a dragon or something.
And you find it and you take it back with you, and that makes you become mature, and you can reside in your spiritual station with a new maturity that wasn’t possible to find in the spiritual realm that you started with. And usually [in] tradition it’s being called a precious pearl, a pearl beyond price. And it’s precious because it’s rare, precious because it is really what a human being can be or become.
I call it a pearl because it is also—when you experience it phenomenologically, it has a sense of roundedness and pearlescent luminosity that’s also reminiscent of a real pearl. It feels like a pearl.
TS: Now, you said, Hameed, that, yes, not many traditions talk about this discovery of personhood and the importance of personhood. Why do you think that is? Why do you think it’s so rare?
HA: Well, there are many traditions [that] don’t talk about it. There are many traditions that talk about it implicitly. Like in Western traditions, they talk about it implicitly. They talk about—if you think of the Sufis—the Sufis, their aim or their ultimate is a complete human being. A complete human being, for them, is a person. They mean a person, but they don’t say it. They say “complete human being.”
Same thing in the Kabbalah. They talk about human beings, they don’t talk about becoming a boundless, infinite spirit. They don’t think that’s the aim. Now, in the Eastern tradition, they think being the boundless, infinite spirit is it. So they don’t focus on the sense of being a person as much.
Now, to talk about [it] explicitly, the way I’m talking about it, is partly because of our times. Because our times, in our Western culture, and the fact of the development—of how Western culture developed in such a way that personal freedom is important, human rights [are] important, and secularism and freedom of choice. All of these things are really qualities of the person, of the real person.
So the West developed it, but developed it not on the spiritual level, developed it to[only] a certain degree. And the real person, for me, is the next step: how to fill out that form with something real, something substantial, something with the real flesh and bones of the person.
So the West in general emphasizes the sense of person, but because of the way the thing developed, it became more of the ego person. And I’m saying that the ego person is just a stage. We need to go to another stage: how the person becomes a real person.
In the East, there are some teachings [that] refer to the precious pearl, like some of the Taoist teachings. Some of their meditations—I don’t know if you read those—they talk about the heavenly embryo in the belly that develops. And they say it is in the shape of a luminous pearl. You find it in some of the Tibetan iconography, you find pearls all over the place. It’s there, it’s just not a big, important, central thing. I think some of them actually embody it, they just don’t conceptualize it.
Because our culture has become psychological—that’s the other thing I wanted to say. For 100 years or so, psychology has become such an important part of the culture. The culture is actually more psychological than spiritual or philosophical. Because of psychology, it makes it possible to learn about the person directly, because the real person—as the stories say—you find it in the world. You don’t stay in heaven to get it. You’ve got to come into the world, come into earth, and immerse yourself in the everyday life.
And our psychology helps us to deal with everyday life in a way that we can handle it—in a good way, in a way that is optimal. And I think for me, in my work, it became very handy, actually, because the personhood [is] in some sense the metabolism of our personal history.
All of our personal history, all that we come through, by understanding it, going through it, feeling it, experiencing it, making it conscious—not just witnessing it, really immersing ourselves and understanding—it becomes metabolized, it becomes digested. And the final outcome of that metabolism is the Personal Essence, the real person.
TS: I’m glad you brought up the last 100 years of psychology. One of the things I wanted to make sure that we underscored in our conversation is how the Diamond Approach actually doesn’t divide our journey into the psychological aspect of our journey and the spiritual aspect of our journey. You don’t see that division. For you, there’s one unfolding process. And I wonder if you can talk some about that.
HA: Yes. So you see, the division between psychology and spirituality, first of all, is a recent development. Maybe it happened [in] the last 100, 200 years or so. Before that, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality were all the same thing. They got divided by the Enlightenment and the Renaissance, [which] developed specialization of sciences; one of them became psychology.
Before that, it was part of spiritual work. Any spiritual tradition had its psychology. Like the Sufis have the knowledge of the nafs, of the soul. Kabbalah has the knowledge of the nefesh, the neshamah, which is the further stage of the soul. Same thing with Christianity. Buddhism had its psychology. So did the yogic psychologies of the Indian tradition.
However, now in modern times, we have our own psychology. And since this teaching, the Diamond Approach, [was] developed in this time, it’s used as the psychology of this time. So I’m not saying teachings don’t have psychologies; they do. There’s no spiritual teaching without a psychology. But traditional teachings distance themselves from modern psychology because it is different than the psychology they use.
TS: And it seems in the Diamond Approach you see a lot of value in incorporating the language of modern psychology, and that you’ve actually created a map of this process of realization that we’re talking about where they’re inseparable. And that’s what I’d be curious for you to articulate, what that inseparability is.
HA: That brings up the question of our individual consciousness—what the Buddhist Tibetans will call the subtle stream of consciousness, or the Christians will call the soul. It’s the same thing. Each one of us, we have our own individual consciousness. We’re not just a body, but also a consciousness. And the consciousness is individual. It’s not individual just because it’s the body. It’s really individual consciousness.
This individual consciousness has many capacities in it and many dimensions or facets to it. It can think, it can feel, it can sense, it can have a spiritual experience, it can be clear or it can be muddled, it can be empty or full, it can expand to become the whole universe or it can contract to just become the physical body.
And this individual consciousness has all of [this] in it: it has the mind, with its thoughts and psychology; it has the heart, with its emotions and the spiritual heart; it has the spirit, with its qualities of radiance and presence. They’re all dimensions of the same consciousness. So when we recognize ourselves as this consciousness, these things are not really separate. They’re all dimensions of the same organism, the same being of consciousness.
So it is that recognition that I had. In fact, my original recognition [that] I mentioned to you, when I felt I was connected with all of humanity, I was experiencing presence. I was experiencing the individual consciousness that was alive and dynamic, that was animating the body, but its core is spiritual, that was connected with all other human individual consciousness.
And that consciousness has all of it in it. Because of the beginning experience, I began with a consciousness that was not just pure spirit—because spirit is just a dimension of this consciousness—but has in it a thinking apparatus, has in it the feeling of emotion. I saw that they were all dimensions of the same being, the same consciousness.
So in my mind, it never really got separated because of my experience. Plus the fact [that] I had teachers who also influenced me who were consciously, intentionally, trying to unify psychology and meditation or psychology and spiritual work. And the Diamond Approach, the way it developed, it wasn’t an attempt at unifying the teachings. [They] developed, arose, with the two facets unified organically.
TS: Now, Hameed, we’ve identified two, I think, of the real highlights that are unique about the Diamond Approach: this perfect unification of psychology and spirituality, as you said, just of two facets; and we’ve talked about the Personal Essence or personhood. I’m wondering, if you were to give one or two other elements of the Diamond Approach special attention, what you think they might be.
HA: Another thing about the Diamond Approach is methodology, The main method I use. I learned mediation of various kinds, I learned prayers, I learned chanting, I learned many kinds of spiritual techniques. But the method that the realization, that the Diamond Approach developed more than anything else is what I call “inquiry.”
Now, when people hear “inquiry,” they will think they know about it because they’ve heard the word before. However, the inquiry in the Diamond Approach is a very specific kind. It is imbued, guided by, and pervaded by the presence, with its qualities.
So it’s inquiry in our everyday experience, but the inquiry, because it is infused and guided by a spiritual presence, it tends to understand whatever experience we have and its relationship to our spiritual nature. And that is, I think, is a new method. I don’t know if anybody else does it this way. And it is a very powerful and amazing method.
TS: How do I inquire in such a way that I make sure that presence is there guiding the inquiry process? How do I do that?
HA: [At the] beginning, you wouldn’t. At the beginning, you will inquire, and that’s one more reason why it’s good to have a teacher or to have some kind of understanding of presence. But the main thing [is] there are principles of this inquiry that make it therefore recognizable [that] it’s guided by presence.
One of the principles is that the motivation for the inquiry is selfless love. And the love is loving the truth: wanting to know what is the truth. What is the truth about me? What is the truth about the world, the universe? What is the truth about helping people? What is it? What’s here, what’s it for? So it is a love to know the truth. Some of the scientific kind of impulse, but directed toward the reality, toward inner experience, not toward physical objects.
So to know the truth, and the truth can be our experience, whatever I’m experiencing. Whether I’m feeling sad or happy, whether I’m experiencing myself depressed or enlightened or whatever it is, not to have a judgment about it.
So that other principle is what I call “open inquiry.” Meaning, it is open to anything that arises, that is there. And the other principle is open-ended. It means, I’m not inquiring to arrive at any particular aim or goal. I’m just inquiring to find the truth. I don’t care what the truth is going to be, I just want to find out what it is.
And with this there has to be an intense curiosity. There has to be courage and boldness, to know ourselves, to know our terrors and fears and pains. And also the beautiful things about us, the richness. The richness and the beauty of the love are sometimes more scary than the darkness and the fear for some people.
So these are characteristics and qualities about inquiry. I’ve written a whole book about it—you probably know about it, I call it Spacecruiser Inquiry—because nobody had really written something about that kind of inquiry. But the thing about the inquiry, because it is open-ended, [it] reflects the path itself. The path itself is open and open-ended. Remember when we talked in the beginning, when you said “take us to the end?”
HA: And I say, “open-ended means there’s no end.” The end is that there’s no end.
HA: You keep learning. What does an enlightened person do? What do they experience? Do they just experience their enlightenment? [The] same thing over and over and over again? Some people believe that’s the case. The reality is, an enlightened person is busy discovering things about reality and the universe, new things they haven’t seen.
So the inquiry continues, even when somebody’s liberated. Somebody realized—whether you call it awareness or emptiness or Atman, or whatever. Those are needed because they give us the freedom, but they are stepping stones from which we can jump into the unknown. Because we’re not afraid now. We know we are not the self that we’ve taken ourself to be. We’re free, and then we can explore.
So both the path and the method reflect each other. The path doesn’t have an end, and the method does not try to reach an end. So it’s open-ended. As a result, it’s free to reveal whatever there is, whatever [is] possible for that particular human being. And for me—you’re a different human being, [you] might discover different things.
And part of that is the recognition, the deep insight, that the spirit has no end, in terms of knowledge. We can never know it completely. Not because we cannot know it, but because regardless of how much we know it, there’s more to know. The more we realize it, the more that we can realize.
And that’s the part I didn’t write much about in my books, for the people who read my books, because the books that I have written are about the first half of the Diamond Approach. The second half, I haven’t written anything about yet. There will be books coming out about it.
But it is the perspective freedom to start from the nondual, or to start from the boundless and the infinite as an openness to [an] exploration of reality that we could never [have] imagined. That even the nondual and the boundless and infinite turns out to be just particular ways of experiencing reality, and reality has a lot more up its sleeve.
TS: Now, Hameed, I’m curious what you might say to this, because ever since I’ve been introduced to your work, I’ve talked to different people about how meaningful your teachings have been to me. And sometimes I’ll hear people say, “God, you know, you have to have, like, three PhDs to understand what Hameed’s talking about, Tami. It’s so”—and they’ll often use this word—“intellectual. You have to be really intellectually gifted to follow what he’s talking about.”
And I often respond and say, “You know, I’m not really sure that’s true. That’s not my experience. My experience is that he’s talking about something that I can actually track inside my own being, if I listen carefully.” And then sometimes you go further off into the deep end then I can track, and I make a note of that and I’m curious about it. But what I’d love to know is how do you respond to, I guess what you could call a critique or at least a response that people often have, which is, “Wow, this is so heady, it’s so intellectual to get involved with the Diamond Approach and understanding what Hameed’s talking about.”
HA: Well, first of all, I have that experience too, in our school. When students come to our school for the first couple of years or so, many of them think it’s intellectual when the teachers are teaching. They think it’s intellectual, it’s not real, and maybe [just] somebody’s ideas. It takes them awhile of doing the practices, the inquiry and the meditation, before they realize, “Oh, it was intellectual because that was the best way I could approach it, because I couldn’t resonate to the truth that was in it.”
So that is true about any teaching that has details in it. I mean, you’re familiar with Buddhist teachings, how any books there are, details. How many tantras or sutras there are. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands. Those people who have that critique about the Diamond Approach, they should approach the Buddhist tradition, see what they think about it. It will sound much more abstract. The same thing about the Kabbalah. If you tried to read the Kabbalah, most people, they don’t know what they’re reading. It sounds like symbols and words.
So it’s a critique that the person who doesn’t have the spiritual experience is bound to have. It’s normal, it’s natural to have that. It is better for a person who’s approaching spiritual teachings, when they feel that way, to have some humility and just take the position that, “Well, maybe there’s something here, I just cannot feel [it], cannot recognize [it]. I can’t recognize it intellectually, but maybe there’s something more to it.” To be open to that possibility.
Now, there are teachings that are sort of simple, don’t have much details and all that. Some teachers do that, they just have one thing they teach and it’s simple. For some people, that is the right thing. For some people, it’s all they need, something very simple, straightforward. You just do this chanting, you do just this meditation. You just want to get to the nondual and nothing else, no details. And some people do that, and that works for some people.
In the Diamond Approach, I understand that. I appreciate it. And I see, for some people, that’s what’s probably the right thing for them. But for many people, they have rich consciousness and they are curious and want to know—not just [that] they want to know spirit, they want to know the spiritual universe and how it relates to life and its details. And any, really, spiritual tradition that is mature will have that detail, that complexity.
So I think this critique can be applied to many teachings. I’ve heard it at my own school and it is true. But what you said, also, is good. I’m glad that when you read the book, you do feel something. Because you do have some experience. You have your own experience of being, your true nature. When your consciousness is open, and you read something [that] for somebody else might [just] be words, for you it’s meaningful because you resonate. It brings up something in you.
That is one way I myself have learned, actually, from other traditions: by reading the texts, the books. For most people, they are complex, they’re thick, they’re difficult, impenetrable. But for me, by studying them, [getting] into them, I finally get into the consciousness of the writer and feel what they are trying to say.
One way to read spiritual teaching, in general, is to take the words out of the outer conveyor of the nutrient [so] that the words can encourage, but the words are not the nutrients.
TS: Now, one last thing I want to briefly talk to you about is that along with the Episcopalian priest Cynthia Bourgeault, you are going to be having a one-day dialogue that I will have the honor of hosting on the power of sacred relationship. This is on October 27 in San Rafael, California. And the dialogue’s called Conscious Love: The Power of Revelation. And I’m wondering if you can just briefly talk a little bit about why this topic, the topic of sacred relationship, is of interest to you.
HA: Good. First of all, because in the teaching I teach, the Diamond Approach, relationship is important for two reasons. It is important because it is a place where we can actually express and embody what we have learned spiritually. This is the most immediate place we have.
The other thing is that the relationship itself can become a crucible for the work. We have processes that use not only solo practices, but dyadic practices, where something happens between two people. I have what I call “dialectic inquiry,” where the two people are like two forces melding and combining, and the feedback loop generates a field that is much stronger than one person. And just like there are group inquiries, something similar happens in group meditations, when there’s a field that’s generated.
Now, the [reason] why I’m interested in this dialogue with Cynthia [is] because she has experienced this herself. She had a relationship with a person who was very instrumental in her own development, in her own learning, which she continues to have. And she has it with somebody who had died. And for me that is interesting, because I think that is possible; I’ve had experience with that.
And also, she talked about relationship in ways that I didn’t see other people describe, but I’m familiar with in our teaching, which is that what people know about relationship is really just the beginning. Just like what we know about ourself is just the beginning, and through awakening, realization, enlightenment, we find that we are a lot more.
The same thing [goes for] relationship. What people know about relationship is just the beginning. And we can find out that relationship [has] a lot more to it than what we see. It’s not just sharing a feeling or sharing space together or sharing opinions. We can share spiritual realities. We can have—there are kinds of intimacies, kinds of connectedness, kinds of communications that [do] not become available until we have some spiritual development.
So when spiritual development happens between two people, then what happens between them is something not known in an ordinary relationship. And I wanted to talk about that because I think it’s very important. Not many teachings talk about that, discuss that, what [actually] happens. What you hear about is what happens between a teacher and students. You don’t hear about what actually happens between two realized individuals.
How about if those two realized individuals are good friends? Or they have an intimate relationship? What happens between them? There isn’t—you don’t see much in the literature, you don’t hear much. It’s not part of the teaching. In the Diamond Approach, we actually have a teaching about that, and I thought it would be an interesting dialogue to have with Cynthia because she is interested in that topic. She’s written books about it, like her book about Mary Magdalene, her relationship with Jesus.
And also, the Diamond Approach developed within a context of relationship. I didn’t develop the Diamond Approach by myself. I’m the main person, but I developed in dialogue with a friend, a colleague, who—we have such an unusual relationship that has become not only a relationship developed and drawn in ways unexpected, but the relationship itself, the friendship itself, the intimacy itself, became a big part of the source of the teaching.
HA: Which is something most people don’t know. That can happen.
TS: Beautiful. On October 27 in San Rafael, California—
HA: I think it’s going to be very interesting and very novel for many people.
TS: I’m totally looking forward to it.
HA: I’m excited about it, too.
TS: And that’s October 27, 2012, in San Rafael, California. Cynthia Bourgeault—
HA: It’s a whole afternoon, right?
TS: A whole afternoon, Cynthia Bourgeault and A.H. Almaas in conversation about Conscious Love: The Power of Revelation. And A.H. Almaas, in addition to writing many books, has published audio programs with Sounds True, including a six-session audio course, The Diamond Approach, as well as a conversation that was recorded between A.H. Almaas and Adyashanti called Realization Unfolds. There are also many audios published by the Ridhwan Foundation, A.H. Almaas’ organization, including a series on Sacred Psychology and an audio of Almaas’ new book, The Unfolding Now, all available at SoundsTrue.com.
Hameed, thank you so much. Every time I talk to you, you take me further out into the ocean. I really think you’re such a unique, deep diver, and I’m so grateful to have this chance to talk with you, really.
HA: It’s good talking to you. It’s interesting you talk about an ocean, because I’m in the ocean every morning here. I snorkel instead of dive, but there’s a lot of divers around.
HA: So we dive in the ocean, and maybe when we have that dialogue, Cynthia Bourgeault will dive into the ocean of the hearts.
TS: The ocean of love! Let’s do it!
HA: Ocean of love, exactly.
TS: Let’s do it. Thank you so much, Hameed. SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey.