Practice for Two Realities

November 10, 2009

Practice for Two Realities
Ken Wilber

Here Ken discusses two very different approaches to spiritual practice, both of which need to be recognized and honored in order to bring ourselves into the fullest possible relationship with ourselves, each other, and the world around us.

In the majority of the world’s mystical literature dealing with concepts of the divine, we almost always find two descriptions of God—or rather, one description and one non-description; or one set of qualities and one set of non-qualities. Buddhists describe the “Two Truths Doctrine,” differentiating between relative and ultimate truths—what many identify as the distinction between form and emptiness. Hinduism, meanwhile, labels these two approaches as Saguna Brahman (“The Absolute with qualities”) and Nirguna Brahman (“the Absolute without qualities”). In Judaic and Christian traditions this can be seen in distinctions between God and Godhead—the former referring to the living God we can see, feel, and characterize, and the latter referring to the ineffable, unknowable aspect of God that exists beyond all possible thoughts and concepts. Finally, the well-known Taoist verse probably offers the simplest way of approaching these two different realities, from the very first words in the Tao te Ching: “The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.”

As we continue to deepen our spiritual practices, we are able to notice both the Absolute perfection at the center of this and every moment, as well as the twisted, flawed, deeply imperfect manifestation of the entire relative world. Only by practicing “on both sides of the street” can we fully understand the difference between the relative and the Absolute, slowly dislodging us from our attachments to this or that in the manifest world. After all, sometimes Absolute perfection can only be seen through a dirty bathroom mirror, through the grease and grime of human perception and ambition.

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