On Spiritual Temperaments

To simplify to an extreme, it could be said that spiritual temperaments come in three basic types: experimenters, lovers of knowledge, and lovers of the sacred. We need all three, but only the last two are totally legitimate.

Experimentation implies an openness to submit your questions to practical tests. Up to a point, this is a good thing. But a danger, often discussed as far back as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, creeps in quite early: such experimenters can get too caught up in having altered experiences and in acquiring certain great powers (or siddhis). Experimenters, when guided purely by an interest in performing experiments and not the higher aim of knowledge or love, too readily succumb to what Trungpa Rinpoche called “spiritual materialism.”

In contrast with experimenters, lovers of knowledge are guided, from beginning to end, by Absolute Knowledge. Accordingly, the path is laid out by inquiry, an inquiry into who or what they really are. Experiments will be undertaken as needed but solely with a view to realizing the essential understanding of their very being. It is the longing for knowledge that lights the way.

Similarly, lovers of the sacred, who are more aesthetically and affectively inclined, set their hearts on God, the God that resides in the very depths of their being. And so, more and more they surrender their sense of separation to wholeness; give up their will to the divine; place all their resistance in the hands of the divine source; relinquish everything and all, becoming at once “impoverished” and  “spiritually rich.”

There is a twist, and Ramana Maharshi is not the only one to voice it: to know is to surrender, to surrender to know. For this reason, those disposed to knowledge will also need to dive deep into areas–like the intricacies of the body, the intensity of stuck emotions, and the vagaries of sexuality–that could otherwise seem foreign. And heart-centric ones will need to sharpen their intellectual understanding while also finding out what the “I” that is inclined to love truly is. Both legitimate spiritual temperaments, then, will have, in the end, to converge on unity: the unity of higher reason and the heart, of deep inquiry and utter intimacy, of clarity and sweetness, of Truth and God. 

The philosopher must be none other than the poet, both being blessed by the highest–and only–love.