Well-known spiritual teacher A. H. Almaas uses the metaphor of the mysterious philosopher’s stone to discuss a tremendous liberating power that leads to endless enlightenment.
An introducrion by Almaas:
TRUE NATURE, the fundamental nature of what we are—and of everything—is what matters most when it comes to spiritual transformation. It is the single most important element for liberation. The more we understand it, the more we realize that it is not simply the most important element; in fact, it is the only element because it is inherent to all the other elements that are necessary along the way. True nature, when we experientially and sufficiently understand it, is every single thing—every event, every place, all and everything. And all and everything does not have to be sublime; it can be ordinary and still it is true nature.
However, it seems that to be able to accept this simplicity and to live a normal life with this kind of freedom, we most often have to go through a spiritual journey. We have to go through the various stages, the deaths and rebirths, the discoveries and awakenings, the enlightenments and illuminations. We have to experience all the subtleties and mysteries of reality.
The teaching stream from which this book is written, the Diamond Approach, contains both this kind of hierarchical view of the spiritual journey, with progressive stages of experience and realization, and also a nonhierarchical view of reality, which expresses the singleness of true nature. The progressive view, employed by many teachings and sometimes referred to as the journeys of ascent and descent, encompasses experiences and understandings that are instrumental to waking up. But at some point, regardless of what path we follow, we can begin to recognize that there is more to reality, that the secrets of the universe cannot be enclosed in any one view, no matter how consistent or vast that view is.
Wheel of Truth
One way that I have characterized the different modes of this teaching is by borrowing a metaphor from Vajrayana Buddhism. That tradition speaks about the different phases of their teaching as turnings of the wheel of truth. Each turn of the wheel signifies a particular stage of the teaching, and each turning is an entire teaching in itself. The Dharmachakra, or wheel of truth, turns three times in that tradition. I find the metaphor itself useful even though there is no direct correspondence between the contents of the turnings of that teaching and those of the Diamond Approach.
When we survey the many developments of the Diamond Approach teaching, we can recognize, in its present condition, four broad movements through which it expresses reality. Each of these can be seen as one complete turn of the teaching wheel. The first turning involves the realization and development of what I refer to as the individual consciousness, which is sometimes equated with the Western notion of soul. The soul discovers her true nature and begins to live a life imbued with the qualities of true being.
As the individual consciousness’s experience of true nature deepens, she realizes, in the second turning of the wheel, the boundless nature of being. What is in the foreground here is the experience of the unity, oneness, and nonduality of reality. Since the inception of the Diamond Approach, we have been working mainly with these two turns of the teaching. Realizing true nature as our identity, waking up to the unity of existence, and learning to integrate these experiences into our daily life constitute, for a long time, the bulk of our inner work.
The second turning of the teaching culminates in the transformation of the individual consciousness into an indestructible inner body of consciousness that can express and live nondual realization. This inner body of pure awareness, of the purity of true nature, becomes the fulcrum of the third turning.
The third and fourth turnings of the wheel are related to this fulcrum, which heralds possibilities beyond the nondual unity of reality. The realization of this inner spiritual body, which I sometimes call the vajra body, reveals, in the fourth turning of the teaching, many new and unexpected wisdoms about the nature of reality. The progressive stages or degrees of realization, which characterize the first two turnings, give way to altogether different kinds of realization. Just as the first turning begins with the individual consciousness and moves, in the second turning, into the nondual dimensions of reality, the third turning starts with the vajra body instead of the individual consciousness and moves, in the fourth turning, into a reality that is neither dual nor nondual. Experiencing reality in this radically different way reveals profound new possibilities for living our realization.
But regardless of where we are in the turnings of the teaching and no matter what is happening, it is always the one and only reality that is revealing itself. Each one of us in every instant is reality revealing itself. This is the simplicity that is unveiled in the fourth turning of the teaching. We often miss this radical simplicity because of all kinds of psychological and phenomenological impediments. Most of us have to go through all manner of spiritual experiences—openings and insights, processes and developments, understandings and awakenings—before we can begin to discern this simplicity, which challenges the notion of the hierarchy of realization. Instead of degrees of progress and ultimate goals, the fourth turning discloses the wisdom of nonhierarchy and the pure simplicity of reality expressing itself however it wants.
The spiritual quest
And the way to this simplicity is to recognize the centrality and the significance of true nature. Whether we recognize it as presence or awareness or emptiness, true nature is crucial to the process of awakening, realization, enlightenment, and liberation. It is the source of all spiritual experiences, insights, and transformations. There is no other source. Nothing can happen without it. All our various experiences are nothing but true nature manifesting in one way or another. This is one of the most important wisdoms that arises in the third and fourth turnings of the wheel.
We have been implicitly working with this wisdom all along—as the unfoldment of the presence, qualities, and dimensions of true nature in our experience. But, in this book, we are not going to focus specifically on any of these experiences because, from this perspective, the content of the experience doesn’t really matter. True nature is true nature, whether we experience it as strength, love, clarity, blissful consciousness, pure awareness, absolute emptiness, or something else entirely.
No matter how it appears, it is always the same nature. Our mind and the situation determine what form it takes, what color and flavor it manifests on a given day, but it is always one truth. There are not many true natures. To recognize this requires a great deal of maturity and realization and, in fact, many kinds of enlightenments. Only then does it dawn on us that true nature is the Alpha and the Omega of the spiritual quest. It is the central element in the beginning, the central element in the middle, and the central element in the end, which is an endless end. And the fourth turning reveals to us that there is no beginning, no middle, and no end of the spiritual quest.
All the subtle and mysterious and luminous truths that we learn along the way are not only necessary so that we can live in the condition of freedom where everything is reality, but they are also expressions of reality. They are not mere stepping-stones toward something else; they are each full expressions of reality. I was recently reading somebody’s story of enlightenment and transformation, an account replete with experiences and insights, and I saw that what matters most—in all of what happened, in all of what is happening, in all of what will happen—is the truth and presence of the purely spiritual element. That is the elixir of enlightenment; that is what transforms and reveals everything.
When this elixir—a transformative agent full of presence, energy, and aliveness—appears as the nature of everything, we call it true nature. We can experience true nature as light, as illumination, as love, as emptiness, as presence, as awareness, as consciousness, as truth. In fact, there is no one way of experiencing true nature, and that is one of the secrets that is revealed in the fourth turning of the teaching. There is no final or ultimately definitive experience of true nature.
When true nature has not only force and power and energy and presence but also contains understanding and illuminated cognition, then it attains a diamond-like quality, experienced as objectivity, clarity, and precision. This is what I call the philosophers’ stone, the lapis philosophorum of the alchemists. They thought that whoever found the philosophers’ stone would be able to unlock all the secrets of existence. The stone has all the qualities and faculties necessary to illuminate and discriminate reality, to distinguish what is false and what is true.
I am focusing on true nature as the philosophers’ stone because, from the perspective of the fourth turning of the wheel, what is relevant or dominant is not the transformation, liberation, and enlightenment of the individual consciousness, which is usually seen as the function of the elixir.
Rather, the fourth turning highlights the recognition of the philosophers’ stone as the key to all the secrets of existence. And that is the interest in the fourth turning of the wheel—that the secrets of reality and life become available and accessible.
The philosophers’ stone as I will use it here refers to true nature in general, in whichever way it expresses itself. When it expresses itself in a diamond-like form, it is more clearly recognized as the key that opens the secrets of reality. But any way that true nature manifests is illumination. There is also a deeper truth about why I’m not restricting the philosophers’ stone to any one form or view of true nature, a deeper truth that connects all its forms and experiences, whether diamond-like, liquid, gaseous, empty, spacious, or altogether formless. We will further explore this truth as we go on.
So we will explore in detail who the prime mover is, who the illuminator is, and what is responsible for realization. What is responsible for the arising of clarity, understanding, and spiritual experience? Every time we have a spiritual experience, it is nothing but the philosophers’ stone appearing in one form or another. It is nothing but true nature manifesting itself. The philosophers’ stone or true nature is pure spirit, but we will see as we go on that spirit is also everything. It is every single thing and all things. It is every single thing among all other single things, and it is all things as the unity of the collection of every single thing. And it is also every single thing as all things. This gets very interesting and is part of what I mean by the secrets of existence. src. A.H. Almaas