What’s the goal of the spiritual path?

I got three books in the mail this week… Two from Quest publishing, the Theosophical Publishing House of the TS Adyar in the US, another from an author herself. All three are about what one might call ‘the spiritual path‘. Two are highly personal accounts of people on the Fourth Way of Gurdjieff, one was impersonal: a commentary on the classic Theosophical text, the Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett.

I had expected to like all three. I didn’t. As it was, I found myself wondering ‘what for?’ as I read The Practice of Presence: Five Paths for Daily Life, by Patty de Llosa. In the genre, her book is quite good, if a bit pedantic here and there. She describes her personal experience with the Fourth Way, which she grew up in, The Alexander Technique, Jungian psychology, T’ai Chi and prayer and meditation.

From her description one can gather the strengths of each of these paths. But the ‘what for’ question did not get answered. I was left with the impression that for Patty the spiritual paths she was on had to do with trying to be perfect and dealing with her emotions and bodily energies. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. But WHAT FOR?

In theosophy motive is seen as a primary issue on the spiritual path. This is, as Joy Mills describes very well in her upcoming book ‘Reflections on an Ageless Wisdom‘, because motive is one of the things that last from one lifetime to the next. There, I said it: reincarnation.

I always try to write about what I know – whereas this motive thing is hard to pin down. Still, for me, the spiritual path is by definition not a selfish pursuit. I’m not accusing Patty of being selfish btw. She’s clearly a devoted mother, and has given her life to teaching people what she knows about the spiritual path. It’s just that perfection and love are two very different things.

Which brings me to the third book I read this week. In ‘The Masters Speak‘, Sy Ginsburg integrates theosophy and Gurdjeff through the teachings of Sri Madhava Ashish. Madhava Ashish advocates the path of the Bodhisattva, the path of love for all of humanity.

In the theosophical view there are at least two paths to enlightenment: one that is aimed at enlightenment for oneself, the other is aimed at enlightenment for all sentient beings. On the one hand one finds eternal rest, the other is one of eternal sacrifice to help as many people and centers of consciousness as one can.

This is a traditional Mahayana distinction. The Mahayana Buddhist talks of the Bodhisattva path and the Hinayana path. This should not be mistaken for Theravada, because it’s not really about the spiritual tradition one is in. The distinction is about motive. In other words: ‘What For?’

This is a question each of us can only ask ourselves: what are we in this thing for? What is our aim, our goal? Are we in it for personal development, functioning in society better, becoming happier, gaining enlightenment and release from the cycle of suffering, or do we really want to be better tools for helping humanity stay clear of worse suffering than it’s already in?

That last option is the Bodhisattva path, the path the Theosophical Masters founded the Theosophical Society for, but in some ways it’s a rather bleak perspective. It involves becoming one of the quiet benefactors of humanity – no hope of riches and glory. Just a lot of hard work, facing up to ones demons, as well as the full depths of humanity’s despair.

Now that’s just what Patty did – at least the first half. She faced up to her demons through Jungian psychology. The issue isn’t with the techniques. I’m the last person to deny that these techniques work and can be very valuable tools on the path. As I said, it’s about motive.

I think it’s an important question that each of you can only answer for yourself (and please don’t share the answer below) What’s your primary motive? This question will keep coming back as you grow on the path.

I’ve been facing it a lot myself lately. There are layers and dimensions to motive. It’s not a one sided thing. And as I face up to my motives it becomes very clear that motives have a lot to do with how we perceive our world. If you want recognition, the lack of it becomes a real problem. If you want wealth, how do you deal with poverty? Each ordinary motive becomes a question to the universe: please allow me to…

The thing with becoming a blessing to all conscious (sentient) beings is that it allows you to instead ask the universe a question: What do you need me to do, in order to become the best help to humanity I can be? And that way, whatever the universe answers is OK and one can get on with the work.

28 thoughts on “What’s the goal of the spiritual path?”

  1. Buddha said that our purpose here, and our purpose for following the path, is this: to liberate ourselves, and then, to liberate others. Sounds pretty complete to me.

    1. What’s liberate? Is it what the ex-preses wife say we did to Iraq and Afghanistan?
      Is it free, like what the little boy did when he let the lizard go?

  2. i liked the topic in first instance .checking of own motive ,human nature of lying to himself-forth way and utimately what we r seeking?questioning very purpose of human life-satre. sprituality quest -intellectual enjoyment?but this is also proven fact that seach of truth(with our conscience is at peace and integrity means on which we r not devided inside)produces wholesome thoughts for the self and society and if reach at peak produces wisdom.checking motive in every thought.speech and action need complete awareness which we do not possess but remainig equanimusin most of the cases is helpful.

  3. I agree with the concept of self examination. But we must be careful about “checking motives” because our minds will rationalize anything as a worthy motive. Sometimes it becomes a game of examine motive, rationalize, compare all motive to the rationalization for the first motive. I think best to decide what you think the path is supposed to accomplish…self knowledge, liberation, liberation of others, compassion for others on the physical plane, spiritual peace. Decide what it is you are trying to accomplish, and then use that goal as the measuring stick by which we judge our motives, actions and thoughts.At times this is where a mentor or “guru” might be helpful, an outside set of eyes observing whether you are on track to the goal or not. And it does not have to be some acclaimed or self acclaimed “master” either, just someone close to you that agrees to be honest enough to tell the truth.

  4. what is rechard ? what is nandan ?what for blog?just for convenience? Buddha answered such question .he refuted the question of self completely because of its impermanace nature , there r no two consecutive moment same in human consciousness , to whom u will consider self.it is tangible in nature. questions on soul, life after death ets he considered unwise consideration or unfruiful . only possibility he pointed out is deliverance or liberation (VEMUCTATA)from human suffering(dukkaya) by own effort and shown path for it.

  5. In my understanding of this so called “spirituality” ,one cannot have a goal and be spiritual at the same time..Spirituality means losing YOURSELF and disappearing into the abyss of spirit..going with the flow of life..putting YOUR EGO”S goal to the side….YOU can therefor not have a goal..and be in spirit…and yeah…What IS spiritual ? no one can equally be “spiritual”..because ego decides to be spiritual…and all egos have they’re own ulterior motive..
    Wake up!

    1. I think there are goals and motives at the front of the mind and at the back of it.

      The way you describe spirituality sounds like mindlessness to me. It’s a bit like saying that any form of thoughtlessness is spiritual, simply because you’re no longer thinking. But that would include things like getting hit over the head and losing consciousness…

      So, I agree with Gelugpa Tibetan Buddhism that the mind needs to be cultivated – because only when the mind is cultivated, can we really see and know the limitations of thought. And in the meantime, having knowledge and clear thought is a good thing if we want to do more than get enlightenment for ourselves – you know, like sharing our wisdom with the world.

      1. I agree with Gil. If we’re thinking “I want to achieve a goal, I want to be somewhere else” then we’re missing the here and now.

        The goal of meditation isn’t to achieve enlightenment. Enlightenment is already ours to take, we simply have to become aware. That doesn’t involve aiming for a goal, it’s just becoming aware that there’s nothing to achieve.

        1. nothing wrong with the wording of fraser but simply have to become aware is not that simple with the human mind which is full of absurties,uncontrolled imagination,greed attachment and aversion.meditation itself exist only when there is no meditator.even j krishna went one step further investigating thoughts and feelings on utility purpose only.talking of enlightenment carry individual idea about it.

      2. You see ..living in a no mind state does mean, wandering aimlessly because of mindlessness..Living in the no mind sate is severing the addiction to thinking, standing aloof and watching it..You can still do whatever you want ,but the mind (with the ego at its core), is NO longer the master..THIS is spirituality ..Only when you can realize the distance between you and your mind have you started To be spiritual..it is therefor a result. Life looks absolutely different to me since I’ve realized this…. not intellectually but with my being..I feel free..
        This not a claim to have achieved enlightenment..but a mere faraway glimpse..get out of the mind ,,it is THE ONLY CULPRIT

        1. well said.awareness or mindfulness is one of the many dimension of spirituality.as far my experience or say my limited understanding tells me ,being aware about breathing pacify human mind let say it applied attention and it divide me in two ,one observer and another observed (OR OBERVING PROCESS AS BRIDGE)in meditation three thing are clearly possible weakening slow thought.feeling of joy or peace(interchangable sometime)or non registering moment in memory(PACIFY DEEP NERVOUS SYSTEM )

  6. some purpose must be there in buddha mind before leaving home ,kabir chasing of ramananda was not without purpose . but yes it should not be ego trip .even going beyond mind or inner journey or expanding consciosness the very mind itself is a tool.flowing is also very close to J K
    WHAT IS ?another beautiful tool of being more aware.to me gil and kentika difffering only because they r standing at different point.

  7. This life was given…as much as we think we do..we have absolutely no control …there is no purpose…we merely contort the way life is supposed to flow and call it our own achievement..contortion is not an achievement..it’s a contortion….and if we even feel content with our contortions..how would REAL life feel like?
    Get out of your minds!
    The purpose of life is to EXPERIENCE…nothing else…
    Wake Up!!

    1. exept gene(which reflect abstract form of being and shows mutation at deeper level only) u can improve or expand most of things with human body and consciousness .growing like a grass only brought hippies culture.only cultural ,social and spiritual progress has given humanity a lot .

  8. Katinka, I just came across your blog and love this entry, especially the last paragraph. It took most of my life to answer that question with any precision. When I did, it led to the writing of “When the Soul Awakens,” which you may remember. As a fellow student of esotericism I wanted to let you know that the book has won a 2010 Nautilus Book Award (their tagline is “Changing the World One Book at a Time”). We take it as a good sign for deeper wisdom entering the wider world. My best wishes to you.

    1. I don’t get it. How did so many people become so sure of their understanding of ‘soul’ and ‘spirit?’ To me they have little meaning or so much meaning as to make them meaningless.

      I seems that I remember people interested in Theosophy or in the ageless wisdom saying that referents were important.

  9. This is a good question. The goal of the spiritual path is enlightenment(ultimately). It is a mystery because one cannot ‘achieve’ enlightenment as in through the ego. One can come closer through spiritual practice, which is a way of giving up the ego.

  10. Hi Katinka…..When I first strted to read this ,i thought that you were ,perhaps experiencing the same thing that I have been recently : the discovery that all this ‘spiritual’ activity no longer has any meaning for me . I would be foolish to consider this as neccessarily permanent ,but ,now that I’ve accepted it ,it does seem more settled , accepting (more or less ) ,daily life ,and ,surprisingly ,finding a subtle joy here.

  11. If there be any meaning to this all, and I think you are presuming there is, then one must wonder why we would be in this environment if our goal is to enlighten ourselves or other or to bless others.
    Did we really need to be in this earthly environment to do that?
    If the answer is no, and I think it is, then the goal must be a function of this temporary environment.
    Being enlightened, awake or loving is our natural state, not something we need to achieve. Most “spiritual seekers” can agree to this. So, that being the case one can be moved to ask, why are we temporarily not experiencing that in its fullness. What benefit comes, from this other experience?
    That, for me, is the clue.

  12. So we keep improving ourselves through our lifetimes until we reach perfection?

    Tell me, what about the problem of evil? What if we can’t improve ourselves, because we are fundamentally flawed, and we cannot change that?

    1. I just don’t believe that anybody is fundamentally flawed enough to make it impossible to become better than they are. Enlightenment, as I understand it, isn’t about perfection – it’s about compassion.

  13. what about victims of sexual abuse broken hearts and split egos.Can they be healed?

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