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Foreword

What is enlightenment? Is it a continuous state of freedom and bliss as we have fantasized it to


be?. Does it bring an end to suffering, as we would hope? Is it an abiding non-dual context from
which one can function with great skill and compassion, engaged in the manifest world of relative
reality, while remaining anchored somehow in the formless Absolute? Or is it simply the capacity
to awaken again and again, moment to moment, and actually be with what is?

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche preferred to talk about being awake, about being on the spot, about
cultivating wakefulness and compassion in the midst of all our pain and confusion. It is not a
question of whether we are involved in self-deceptions and spiritual materialism of all sorts. We
are, constantly. It is rather a question of continually discovering where, when, and how we are
doing it and being willing to immediately apply the appropriate correctives, to let go of the
nonsense, come back to Reality, and proceed along the path. What's called for is compassionate
but rigorous and relentless self-honesty. This is much easier said than done; and, in fact, without
some external source of clear and skilful feedback, it may be a hopeless project. The identity,
security, power, and comfort-seeking reflex most commonly referred to as the ego by spiritual
schools here in the West is a wily and sophisticated foe indeed, and seems to be able to co-opt
even the most "ego"-shattering or self-revealing awakenings and insights to its own ends.

Even after some time on the path, even after we unavoidably stumble into a few of the more
common meditative experiences, some of which may seem relatively illuminating and liberating at
the time, the mind still does its thing, still produces this neurotic pain. If we can claim any progress
at all, it's that maybe we have learned to deal with this habitual mind stuff, our own and others',
with a little more humour and compassion. The seemingly positive spiritual experiences—those
illuminating, blissful moments of great clarity—are surely invaluable on the path, especially if we
can avoid getting too caught up in the attachment and grasping they often generate. But there is
possibly greater value in the seemingly negative, even devastating, experiences we encounter in
life. Clearly, for me, the most powerful spiritual experiences have been those times when everything
has fallen apart, when my whole world has collapsed. These seem to be the times when a real shift
to a new level of work can occur. Apparently, only when our life somehow conspires to throw us
into these "choiceless" confrontations with ourselves, our pain, with some kind of truth, are we
able to effect real change.

The path of enlightenment and all the myriad pitfalls, dead ends, cul-de-sacs, and dangerous
precipices where we can easily become lost in self-deception, or, worse, lead others with us into
deception and all manner of corruption.

The very notion of spiritual teachers, let alone spiritual masters and hierarchical lineages of
wisdom transmission, runs contrary to our most cherished individualist, egalitarian, and
democratic Western values. Nonetheless, it appears that authentic teachers in possession of
personally-realized, authenticated spiritual insight and wisdom, and genuine spiritual schools and
lineages are clearly necessary if one aspires to real spiritual work. The latter critically provide the
necessary matrix or context for students' spiritual work and for the preservation and transmission
of authentic wisdom teachings.

From ancient times the process of transmitting the authentic wisdom teachings and technologies
for spiritual awakening was carefully guarded and contained within traditional spiritual schools
and lineages in an effort to keep the corruption to a minimum. Casual interest and spiritual
shopping trips were strongly discouraged. Commitment to rigorous training and the willingness to
endure considerable hardship were required of all aspirants, and one who would become a teacher
served a long and arduous apprenticeship under the thumb of the master. The whole process
required tremendous patience, diligence, and humility.

Today, we are experiencing the radical reversal of this traditional approach on an unparalleled and
almost unimaginable scale. The secret texts have all been published, and can be ordered with the
click of a mouse on the Internet's World Wide Web. We have all but instant, total access to this
once jealously-guarded treasure of "esoteric" knowledge. "Spiritual" teachers of every sort, from
charlatans and the obviously shallow to the most profound and sublime masters, all advertise
their books, programs, and retreats in the pages of the same New Age and contemplative-
spirituality journals and magazines. Once-secret empowerments are now promoted and sold in
the spiritual marketplace. Spiritual teachers are becoming celebrities; and, in some cases,
celebrities are assuming the role of spiritual teachers. The traditional boundaries between the
sacred and the profane, between spirituality and commerce, have all but dissolved as East merges
with West in the high-tech marketplace of the late 1990s. Whether this is ultimately good or bad,
or in what ways this may ultimately turn out to be beneficial or harmful, is a hot topic of debate
in spiritual circles. It is also causing tremendous confusion and making it harder than ever for
students to find a genuine path and to connect with genuine, skilful teachers. The potential for
self-deception and corruption has never been greater. Even experienced practitioners find the
deluge of teachings and the crass marketing of "spiritual experiences" confusing and unsettling.

Generally we have unfettered confidence and even arrogance vis-a-vis the assimilation of
information from other cultures. We tend to feel free to pick and choose what we like and leave the
rest behind, like so much dross or chaff. While it is true that the ancient spiritual traditions, both
Eastern and Western, carry a certain amount of cultural "baggage," it is somewhat arrogant on
our part to presume that we can easily distinguish between essential teachings and cultural
baggage, or between such "baggage" and the crucial cultural matrix that provides the necessary
container for the teachings and the critical context for real spiritual work. It may, in fact, be neither
possible nor desirable to assimilate a foreign or ancient cultural matrix. We may very well have to
patiently build our own matrix for spiritual culture, a project that may take generations to
accomplish. In the meantime, we need to have the humility to realize that the education, training,
and wisdom realization required to genuinely represent and transmit the teachings, especially in
the role of a lineage holder, is not just a question of how many three-year retreats, cycles of koans,
or meditative experiences and breakthroughs one has accomplished, but is inseparably enmeshed
in the cultural matrices that have supported these teachings and lineages for thousands of years.

The reader is aware of the travails of the many teachers, both Asian and Western, whose lives and
communities have imploded in scandal and corruption around the classic issues of power, money,
and sex during the last several decades. While some of these scandals may have been instructive,
and while, in the long run, some teachers and communities may grow in depth and wisdom
through their journey of healing, the destructive and traumatic fallout for individuals and
communities, to say nothing of the negative impact on the traditions as a whole and their effort to
preserve and establish genuine lineages of transmission, weighs heavily in the balance. The irony
is that, in retrospect, most of these scandals appear preventable. Yet they continue to occur.

Clearly, the forces of self-deception, addiction, denial, and codependence are immensely powerful,
calling for constant vigilance, relentless self-honesty, and fearless and open communication
between teachers and students, and within spiritual communities and schools as a whole. Halfway
Up die Mountain, destined to become a classic and a standard reference for serious students of
the Way, offers us a blueprint for just this sort of self-examination and honest dialogue. It is highly
recommended for all serious spiritual aspirants, but I would venture to say that it should be
required reading for anyone taking on the profound responsibility of guiding others along the path.

0. Introduction

The reality of the present condition of contemporary spirituality in the West is one of grave
distortion, confusion, fraud, and a fundamental lack of education. There exists no cultural context
in the West by which to understand this great influx of spiritual information which crowds even
the most popular newspapers, magazines, and television programs. Although the dramatic rise in
popularity of contemporary spirituality in the Western world is introducing more people than ever
before to spiritual ideas and ideals, the possibility for something other than a superficial affair
with God has a very limited value if such ideas and ideals are not understood from a perspective
that is educated, deeply considered, and carefully examined and checked.

The subject of enlightenment itself is one of the biggest arenas of naivete, ignorance, self-deceit,
and confusion in contemporary spirituality. A close second to enlightenment is the category of
"mystical" or "spiritual" experiences. As a culture, we misunderstand what they are, what they
mean, what they imply, and what one can rightfully presume about them.
The collective ignorance regarding the issue of presumed enlightenment to be a grave danger to
those who sincerely long to deepen their connection to Reality. On one hand, there is no life-
threatening danger for the majority of individuals engaged in the pursuit of Truth. There is the
occasional Jim Jones, Charles Manson, or Marshall Applewhite (Heaven's Gate) who comes onto
the spiritual scene and presents a physical danger to the very lives of the students whom they
claim to be saving. But these instances are negligible in comparison to the majority of spiritual
schools and teachers, who present no danger of physical harm to their students. Shy of the
extreme of physical danger, however, there are many, many junctions on the path at which it is
possible to get stuck at a certain level of spiritual development, trapped in both self-created and
other-created delusions, and ultimately cheating oneself of one's own highest potential as a human
being. People stay stuck at such junctions sometimes for weeks or months, and sometimes for
years, a whole lifetime, or more.

Some people say that the psychological manipulation and emotional domination that so many so-
called spiritual teachers exert over their trusting disciples is nothing but mere illusion and
therefore not a subject we should attend to or be at all concerned with. "Why try to clarify a
mirage?" they ask. But although the absolute may be true, the relative is where we live, and
therefore there is great need for this investigation. there is a whole series of moral and ethical
issues surrounding this common circumstance that, although touched upon in this book, need to
be thoroughly dealt with in another treatise.

Perhaps there is a big picture that says: "Everybody ends up where they belong, everything is a
lesson, and all is as it should be." And it is probably so. But I believe that part of the "perfection"
of the big picture includes the process of examining our areas of ignorance, misconception, and
human weaknesses, and then taking the necessary steps to educate ourselves and each other
about these areas. In so doing, we become responsible partners in our own awakening.

Robert Svoboda says: The prevalence of half-baked teachers and misconceptions about
enlightenment isn't a "problem" from my point of view. It is littering the landscape with a lot of
unnecessary things. But if it is happening, it is reality. So we must first bow down to reality. Reality
is great. "Thank you, Great Goddess, for sending us reality. However, it wouldn't disturb me if you
were to alter your reality some." There's no reason you can't ask the Goddess to change things
around. What is she there for? She is there to rearrange things.

The wisdom masters have won through years of personal struggle and discovery would provide
invaluable help to those genuine spiritual aspirants who are in need of a body of knowledge that
is rarely discussed in spiritual literature. The masters were selected based on
1) integrity they have demonstrated in their lives, which I perceived through following their writings
over many years meeting their students, and in some cases as a result of ongoing personal contact
with them.
2) All of these individuals have dedicated their lives wholly to Truth, whether they teach it, study
it, or serve it.
3) They practice according to spiritual traditions that acknowledge the depth of struggle and
contemplation that comprises the fabric of the human life and the quest for truth, and because
the teachings that they represent are practical in their expression—accessible to responsible
spiritual practitioners, and not woven into some other-worldly, cosmic framework.

"Truth is one," but the expressions of Truth are limitless. Truth is also apparent, once rediscovered.
I discoursed with the masters and sages of our day only to be able to present the reader with
spiritual truths that are obvious, yet uncommonly realized. Each speaks to the same objective
Reality, but of lessons learned as the result of each individual's own very personal, intimate
relationship with that Reality.

It is important to pay attention to the distinction between those individuals included in this book
who are masters and teachers in their own right, and those who are scholars and mature spiritual
practitioners. At times the material shared by the students of the great teachers may be more
easily understood and immediately applicable to one's own life than that shared by the teachers
themselves, because the student is struggling with the same issues as the reader. Yet an important
aspect of the teachings included here concerns discrimination, and learning how to pursue one's
spiritual life with diligence and clarity. Thus, if one finds value in the words of the student of the
great teacher and wishes to pursue further guidance on the basis of that discovered value, it is
best to turn to the source of that student's knowledge—the teacher himself or herself—for further
guidance.

The value of including so many perspectives in the book is that each spiritual master and each
student has a distinct composition that predisposes him or her toward understanding specific
aspects of Truth more readily when it is presented in a particular way and at the right time. The
teachings all point to the same Truth, undoubtedly, yet we study them in different forms and at
different stages throughout our lifetime, hoping that at one point we will come to understand them
not only intellectually, but to realize them wholly within ourselves. Therefore, included in the book
are viewpoints on the subject of the error of premature claims to enlightenment presented from
Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Baul, Catholic, and Sufi perspectives, to name a few, by those who
consider themselves Masters, rabbis, teachers, guides, and disciples.

Readers will also find themselves faced with differences in the way various teachers language their
teachings and discrepancies in the way that each approaches this subject. In some cases, it is
simply a matter of terminology (e.g., one teacher uses "enlightenment," another "liberation"; one
talks about the "self as being the ultimate, while another talks about the "self as the ego). In others,
there are clear differences in viewpoint. Many perspectives are presented here. Teachers and
masters with decades of experience have shared their wisdom, and I have not tried to "correct" any
seeming contradictions, only to present various angles on the topic of premature claims to
enlightenment. The questions that will likely arise about views that at times may appear to be
contradictory are important considerations for serious spiritual students, and to attempt to impose
my answers to these questions on the reader would be a disservice.