Certain spiritual paths insist that we need to attain profoundly altered states of consciousness in order to discover a "transcendent" vision of life, to open beyond our body and mind and realize the divine taste of liberation. These schools speak of the need to have a cosmic vision, to transcend the small self, in order to experience enlightenment.
Many other schools, however, do not seek to climb the mountain of transcendence, but set out instead to bring the spirit of the mountaintop alive here and now in each moment of lifefor if not here in the present, where else can it be found? Instead of seeking to transcend, the perspective of the immanent school teaches reality, enlightenment or the divine must shine through every moment or it is not genuine. The schools that focus on awakening "here and now" teach that the divine and enlightenment are ever present. Only our desire and grasping mind, including our desire for transcendence, keep us from experiencing this reality.
Immanent and transcendent paths are both an expression of the Great Way. They are each expressions of practice that can lead to a profound letting go and true liberation. Most of you who pursue spiritual practice in a devoted way will at some time experience both perspectives. Each way has its value and its dangers.
The value of the transcendent paths is the great inspiration and compelling vision that they can bring to our lives. They can provide a powerful vision of reality beyond our day to day consciousness and guide us to live from this highest truth. But their dangers and misuses can be equally great. We can feel ourselves special for having had them; we can easily get attached to having them; and the drama the body sensations, rapture and visions all can become addictive and actually increase the craving and suffering in life. The most pervasive danger of all is the myth that these experiences will utterly transform us, that from a moment of transcendence or "enlightenment", our life will be wholly changed for the better. This is rarely true and attachment to these experiences can easily lead to complacency, hubris, and self-deception.
The value of the practice of immanence is its powerfully integrated approach. It brings the spirit alive here and now and infuses our whole life with a sense of the sacred. The dangers include delusion and complacency. We can easily believe that we are "living in the present" and still be half asleep, following our old comfortable habits. Our initial sense of love and light can become an excuse to say that everything is already divine or perfect, and cause us to gloss over any conflict or difficulty Stuck without knowing it, they may feel quite peaceful, but their lives have not been transformed and they may never fulfill the spiritual journey, never find true liberation in the midst of the world.
The Buddha often reminded students that the purpose of his teaching was not the accumulation of special good deeds and good karma or rapture or insight or bliss, but the sure heart's release-a true liberation of our being in every realm. This freedom and awakening and this alone, is the purpose of any genuine spiritual path. Spiritual experiences in themselves do not count for much. What matters is that we integrate and learn from the process.