Are Spiritual Practices Useless?

By Dr. Tan Kheng Khoo



Doctrines, processes and progressive paths, which seek enlightenment, only exacerbate the problem they address by reinforcing the idea that the self can find something that it presumes it has lost. It is that very effort, that investment in self-identity that continuously recreates the illusion of separation from oneness. This is the veil that we believe exists. It is the dream of individuality.

The only likely effect of extreme effort to become that, which I already am, is that eventually I will drop to the ground exhausted and let go. In that letting go another possibility may arise. Struggle in time does not invite liberation.

Life is not a task. There is absolutely nothing to attain except the realisation that is absolutely nothing to attain.

 No amount of effort will ever persuade oneness to appear. All that is needed is a leap in perception, a different seeing, already inherent but unrecognised.

Tony Parsons



Most modern ‘enlightened’ teachers have been teaching recently that all spiritual practices do not lead to enlightenment. They do not encourage meditation or reading, and they reckon that all other forms of yogas do not help. Further they also advice against any desire to be enlightened. To them most gurus are unhelpful except themselves. Their instructions are that one continues with one’s life as usual, and if one is to be enlightened, it will come on its own without any effort. Therefore, the teachings of Buddha, Jesus, Krishna and Mohamed are useless and inappropriate in the modern context. They quote the examples of a few enlightened people like Ramana Maharshi, Eckhart Tolle and few others (the lady mentioned by Tony Parsons in his book), who became enlightened without any practice. Remember that both Ramana Maharshi and Eckhart Tolle were very depressed at the time it happened: both their minds were totally absorbed by the negativity of a deep depression. The only way out is to lose their minds! This is similar to the practice of solving a Zen koan by the total eradication of the mind.


On the whole, the above message of the modern teachers cannot be taken seriously. If what they say are true, millions of practitioners including monks and priests must immediately drop what they are doing and start or continue with a secular life. That means they should continue to speculate on the stock and property markets, continue to climb the corporate ladder with sharp knives and do not think or do anything spiritual.. Therefore no practice and no desire for enlightenment is required. Almost exclusively, these modern ‘gurus’ are advaitists, practitioners of advaita (non-dualism).



The Essence is Effort without trying too hard


One must remember that for the ‘enlightened’, this is the last incarnation of a series of incarnations. With this fact in mind, it is not appropriate to announce that all sadhanas (spiritual practices) are useless. This incarnation is the culmination of many past incarnations, in which the individual might have had numerous sadhanas. Therefore in this life he is just ripe for the picking, and the fruit merely drops without any effort. When this happens the modern guru says no sadhana is required. Even in this incarnation, earlier on the jnani (enlightened) could have tried too hard in the past many years and failed. He failed because he did not let go enough and not because the sadhana is useless. A classic example was Ananda, Buddha’s cousin and attendant. Buddha predicted that he would be an arahant (saint) before the 1st council meeting of arahants. After Buddha died Ananda tried very, very hard to be enlightened. Up to the eve of the council meeting, he still could not make it. So he decided to give up and go to sleep. In the process of laying his head down onto the pillow, he became enlightened. The lesson here is that Ananda gave up trying!


That means those who tried many methods before and gave them up disillusioned and suddenly find themselves enlightened are those who stop trying. As long as one is still unenlightened, one is subjected to karma and rebirth. In this unenlightened state there is always a tendency to escape from suffering by trying too hard. Even in the pursuit of liberation Buddha’s teaching of ‘craving is suffering’ holds true. If you ‘crave to be enlightened’ the craving becomes an obstacle. The practical examples are the athlete who is too anxious to win or the boxer who is too up tight and he loses the fight. These two examples exemplify that to succeed one must be totally relaxed.


Although sadhana does not lead one directly to enlightenment, it does bring one to the river’s edge. At this edge, the yogin (practitioner) just have to wait for Grace to ferry him across the river. At this stage, he must totally surrender to his Tao. The waiting period maybe a night or life times. It all depends on how much purification has transpired before coming to the edge. He must also wait without waiting: that means no anxiety about his goal. In fact he should forget about enlightenment altogether. If enlightenment is going to come in this life it will come: no fuss, no agitation and no stress.


Sadhanas that may bring one to the edge of the river


There are as many methods as there are countries in this world. There are also as many techniques as there are religions. This article cannot cover every sadhana there is in the books. However the author will try to choose some practices that may bring the practitioner to the edge. These methods do not need a guru. The advaitists would accuse me of advocating dualistic methods towards the goal of non-dualism. They say that this will not work. Nevertheless, Roshi Baker said ‘Enlightenment is an accident. However, meditation is accident-prone’. This is exactly my thesis. If you do not have a goal and take the first step, then there is no journey. If you embark on a journey, some one may come along for you to hitch a hike. If you do not take the first step, then you will be reborn and suffer many more times. If you reach the river’s edge, Grace may turn up without warning to ferry you across. Therefore let us prepare for the journey which may take us many life times.


One Must Maintain a Proper Philosophy


There must be some disenchantment or even disgust with the suffering of life hitherto. Then there should be a desire at this early stage to rid oneself of the pain of living. The journey will begin with the search for religion, beliefs and spiritual practices. Then one may approach teachers or gurus to guide one along. Grabbing books to read in order to find the magic pathway becomes a voracious hobby. Travelling to temples, churches and ashrams could be next on the agenda. The most treacherous point here is to be caught by a religion run by fanatics. Monetary donations, charitable works and communal helping hand promote good fellowship amongst the members. This fellowship gives one the false sense that one is on the right track. After many years of searching, learning and meditation, one may find that there is actually no improvement in one’s spiritual status. Going through libraries of spiritual books and attending innumerable weekend retreats still do not yield any spiritual benefits. Climbing up the ladder in the ashram to become a senior devotee is the same as going up the corporate ladder to be a senior manager in a commercial firm. Although the goal may appear different, the acquisition movement upwards is the same. When one tries to please the guru in the ashram it is the same as one trying to please the boss in the office. So after many years or decades of sadhana, one is disenchanted. Hopefully the aspirant is also detached and dispassionate. When the disgust with life increases, his psyche is totally imbued with detachment, dispassion and desirelessness. Now he has complete dis-interest in worldly matters, and he should become calmer with much less anger. His daily actions should now be more selfless and humble. He is now slowly eroding the dominance of the ego mind. It is the ego that previously subjected him to such suffering due to interminable wanting and craving. Wisdom now informs him that the craving can never stop, and after the massive acquisition of material assets and honours, when he dies they have to be left behind. These acquired assets and honours also do not quench the thirst and suffering.


However, while all desires must be eradicated, there will still be a lingering expectation of enlightenment. This lingering must not be allowed to rise to the level of a desire. In fact it is better if he forgets all about enlightenment. At this level of development, he should completely surrender to the Tao and realise that whatever will be will be. It is entirely beyond his control. His G-plan is fixed before his birth. There are no grounds for him to worry about anything in the future. If he has to die tomorrow he will. He cannot prevent it. If he wants to die tomorrow, but it is not his time, he will not die tomorrow. The flow of the Tao involves even the smallest of detail such as what he is going to have for dinner tonight.


So armed with the knowledge that he has no free will and no control, he should now carry on earning a living and practise his sadhana without that intense desire as before. He should just wait without waiting. The main core of his practice now should be living in the present. The awareness should be from moment to moment with no regrets of the past and no fear of the future.


So one’s mental attitude must be to accept the inevitability of one’s G-plan. The practitioner must also observe detachment, dispassion and desirelessness. This practice is to clear the mind of anxiety and worry. So with these armaments, let us discuss some sadhanas that may bring us to the edge.


Concentration Meditation


Concentration meditation is concentrating exclusively on one object until the subject and the object are merged into one. The Hindus use this technique exclusively before Buddha came onto the scene, when Insight meditation was introduced. Concentration meditation is an indirect method and frown upon by most serious seekers. One chooses an object to concentrate on exclusively until the subject fuses with the object. In this meditation process, one has to reach a fairly deep stage of 4th Absorption (Jhana) for the subject to be absorbed with the object. One now has to transmute this fused subject-object into nothingness. By removing the fused subject-object he ends up in Boundless Space, which is the 5th Jhana. Then the next 6th stage is the withdrawal inwards of one’s attention to Boundless Consciousness. The 7th Jhana is that of the Base of Nothingness. And the last (8th) Jhana is the Base of Neither Perception nor Non-perception. In the scheme of the four Theravada stages of Sainthood, one must be in the penultimate stage of a Non-Returner in order to achieve the stage of 7th and 8th Jhana (see later). The essence here is to disintegrate the subject-object element and allow one’s concentration to turn inwards towards one’s own pure consciousness, the true Self. This Self of pure consciousness is beyond even the 8th Jhana. It is at this last step of coming home to one’s original source, which is really beyond concentration meditation. That is why yogins tend to look down on concentration meditation.


Hindu Meditation


1)                  The Hindu equivalent here is Salvikalpa Samadhi where one’s Self-awareness must be maintained by dint of effort. As long as Self-awareness is held on with effort, one is with realty. When Self-attention wavers, Self-awareness is obscured. The possible equivalent of concentration meditation to Salvikalpa Samadhi is up to the 2nd Jhana (absorption)


2)                  Kevala nirvikalpa samadhi. In this state there is no body-consciousness, and there is a temporary awareness of Self or Presence without effort. As the individual is like a block of wood, the senses and the body are not functioning. This is a temporary erasure of the ego, and is the penultimate stage before enlightenment. Once out of meditation, the ego returns. That means he cannot hold on to realty or Presence permanently. This stage is equivalent to the 3rd to the 8th. Jhana.


3)                  Sahaja nirvikalpa samadhi. Sahaja means ‘natural’ and nirvikalpa means ‘no differences’. He is now an enlightened psychosomatic organism (jnani). Having destroyed the ego permanently, he sees no difference between himself and others and the rest of the world. He can function normally in the world with only the working mind, as the thinking mind is eliminated. He is now in the world but not of it. He also realises that every manifested thing arises from the Unmanifested. This state cannot be achieved with concentration alone. One must practise a method that will return one to its pure personal consciousness. This Being or Presence can then return to impersonal Consciousness, which is part of the Unmanifested Cosmic Consciousness. This stage can only be reached when there is silence, stillness and emptiness of thoughts. That means another technique must be used, e.g. Insight meditation.


Insight Meditation


In Insight meditation, the yogin allows thought (object) to exhaust itself and finally retires back to the origin of the thinker (subject). He will find that the thinker is also the thought and at the final stage of insight meditation there is neither. Thence he will arrive at his true Being.


The technique of Insight Meditation


Firstly, notice what state of mind one is in: agitated, calm or joyful etc. Then go to the objects of the mind. The procedure here is to have a watcher to impartially see the images at the third eye on the forehead and/or listen to the mental chatter at the ear. There should not be any modification or suppression of these thoughts, and full attention must be given to them, until they die on their own accord. After some time, thoughts become fewer, and later intervals between thoughts may be discerned between them. In realty, these intervals are not intervals at all; they are the background screen of Cosmic Consciousness, which includes our Presence. So if one can stretch these intervals into long periods of silence and emptiness, then the yogin is at one with Totality in these intervals. At the beginning it is only a suppression of thoughts, but when the practitioner becomes adept at it, he truly can recede into impersonal Cosmic Consciousness. All at once, the watcher becomes pure witnessing. He realises that there is no one watching or witnessing. This is the state that J. Krishnamurti repeatedly wanted his students to be in without formal meditation. His famous phrase is ‘when thoughts come to an end’. But to arrive at this state without meditation is almost an impossible task. This is the state when one knows that the mind is false and unreal. He is now not deluded by the wrong edict of ‘I think, therefore I am’ anymore. He now knows that the mind is merely an instrument to be used while living in this world, and that mind is not Self.


The Essence of Insight Meditation


The essence here is to have a watcher who does not take sides, criticise or judge. It does not modify or suppress the thoughts. The fact that he can stay away at a distance to watch the movements of his thoughts means that sooner or later he will realise that thoughts are not Self.  This also applies to his emotions. In this context, he remains as an impartial mirror. And when there are no more thoughts or sounds, there is nothing left to mirror, this watcher recedes back to its original Self. Thence the watcher becomes a witness. Witnessing is also Presence. The individual ego has disintegrated and the yogin has come home to the Absolute. The mind has now lost its individual identity and has literally become ‘no-mind’. With prolonged practice of Insight meditation, the yogi’s consciousness would have enjoyed retracement to the Absolute numerous times, and thus has become familiar with the Absolute. This familiarity with Totality will make it easier to empty one’s mind while performing tasks outside of formal meditation. Having dealt with the mind, let us dwell a little on the disidentification of the body. The practice here is in being mindful of every action, outside of formal meditation.


Mindfulness (Meditation in Action)


The details of this technique are well set out in my essay of the same name. Buddha said that his teaching of the ‘Four Foundation of Mindfulness’ is the only way to enlightenment. In this treatise, being aware of every action and feeling is the right way to practise. One must also be aware of all reactions to any sensual input. When one is performing a task, thoughts can also come to an end, if attention is fully placed at the task. There should not be any thinking of the consequences of that particular action. There should not be any worry or anxiety of other problems not pertaining to that particular action. When walking, just walk. While eating, just eat. In order to avoid thinking, bring one’s attention to the physical body. Feel the sensation, vibration or tension, if any, of the body. Do not allow the mind to wander to other things.


Outside of formal meditation, one must be aware of emotional states. You will be able to feel that there is an underlying emotional state of dissatisfaction, unease and restlessness. This feeling may be just beneath the surface most of the time. It can augment to some form of pain when stressed out. However, if it is not brought out, it can be felt during sitting meditation. When the meditator encounters it, the restlessness and unease will make it difficult for the yogin to continue meditating. When he is active carrying out his routine chores that feeling is comfortably submerged. So while sitting in a bus or train or in the doctor’s clinic, just put your attention into your feelings. Does fear of the dental drill bring out any more body-pain? While sitting in the waiting room or train, do your losses in the stock market or your job situation bring out any more agitation in your emotions? These feelings and emotional upset are the working of your negative thinking mind. If that is the case, stop your negative mind. So while waiting for the dentist or doctor, just shut your eyes and bring your attention to the body without any thoughts. Go through this procedure with your body:


The Physical Body


1)                  With eyes shut and no thoughts in the mind, focus on your breathing until you are fairly calm. Do not control or change the rhythm of your breathing. If you can detect the heart beating, stay with the heartbeat for a while. The third item that you can follow is the peristalsis of your gut. Feel or listen to the movement of your gut. All these are automatic movements of your internal organs that you have no control, except your breathing. When you have spent some time with them, you will be rid of your trepidation or anxiety.


2)                  Now go round the entire body, starting from the nostrils, the upper lips, teeth, the neck, the shoulders etc until the entire body is covered. See whether there is any tension, itch or pain anywhere. Do not do anything to these feelings if they are present. Just simply note them. As soon as the nurse calls for you, these feelings are not felt any more. They are still there, but not felt. In some people, there is much anger, which can be presented as a bundle of energy siphoned off to certain parts of the body. When the individual identifies with his anger, a pain will arise. Sometimes it arises certain parts of the body, say in the solar plexus or in the head. However if the pain is simply watched and not acted upon, this will disidentify the individual from its pain, and the pain will gradually disappear. This is invoking the silent watcher in the disidentification of the pain-body. If in some people the pain recurs, it means the person is attached to the pain. He is happy to have the pain. Therefore if he ‘wants out’ he must be the silent witness persistently to remove the pain. That means he needs many doses of ‘watching’, to be in the present to clear the pain.


3)                  If there is time you should go deeper beneath the skin, and feel the ‘chi’ or prana that is flowing through your body. This is most easily felt as tingling in your fingers. Be more vigilant and feel this chi going through various parts of the body. When you are apprehensive in a situation you will notice ‘butterflies in the stomach’. This is the turmoil of chi at the 3rd chakra. When you are very angry quarrelling in a traffic jam, the agitation in the 3rd chakra is also there but the anger overwhelms the butterflies. Sometimes when one is sitting down and is confronted with an embarrassing situation the 1st chakra is also activated and the individual feels it as an opening-and-shutting movement of the anus. The butterflies and anal movement will all disappear once the individual notices them over time. Being aware and confronting the situations as they turn up will dissipate these aberrant chi movements in due course.


From the physical outer body go into the invisible inner body


The soul is Presence, pure consciousness. It is connected to and part of Cosmic Consciousness, the Unmanifested. The Unmanifested supports and gives rise to all the manifested including one’s physical body. The soul is covered by 5 sheaths: the mental, emotional, physical and auric bodies and bliss. The soul is Sat-Chit-Ananda, when translated it is Being-Consciousness-Bliss. So from the above practice, one would have transcended the mind, emotions and the physical body. We will now explore the auric bodies, which are interconnected with the physical as well as intermingling with outer space. We have come to the stage of feeling the chi, which is the tingling in the fingers and the rest of the body. In order to facilitate entering the inner body, one must forgive oneself and others. Remain still in a meditation pose with the eyes shut or open and go deeper into the body. We are now trying to feel the auric (subtle) bodies. Once we have penetrated the auras we can go into a limitless and formless realm of the Unmanifested. So starting from feeling the chi one will be able to enter into the unfathomable Cosmic Consciousness. Chi is orgone or prana running along one’s meridian lines of the etheric body, which is the first of the 7th auric bodies. Starting with chi one can then feel the entire energy field, which has no boundary. At this depth one can eventually drop into the realm of the soul, one’s personal consciousness. From personal consciousness one then moves into impersonal Consciousness, which is part of Cosmic Consciousness. In this realm, there is total silence and stillness. This is temporary enlightenment. After staying in this blissful state for sometime, one will have to return to the physical and back to the world. It is like returning back to one’s awakened dream world, which is unreal. That is why some gurus reckon that the phenomenal world is unreal. However, after this one episode of visiting the Unmanifested, that person is now not the same. He is truly reborn, and knows that he will never die. He now realises that he is truly ‘God’. Once this hideaway is discovered, one can always return to it especially when one is emotionally stressed. This is a haven for all mental and emotional traumas. However, if one can continually be in touch with the realm of the Unmanifested, this Presence will be with one throughout one’s waking life. This is enlightenment. There are gradations of enlightenment. As time passes, these roots will be more securely embedded in that foundation of the Absolute. That means one becomes more and more enlightened as one gets use ‘to be in this world and not of it’. The multiple satoris will eventually lead to the final maha-satori. The physical benefits of going into the inner body are:


(1)   One ages more slowly

(2)   One’s immune system is enhanced


Let us compare this process with the 4 stages of sainthood of the Theravada Buddhism.


   Stages of Sainthood in Theravada Buddhism





(1) Realisation that there is no essence in the 5 heaps of body and mind (body, emotion & mind).

(2) To be convinced that rites and rituals do not lead to enlightenment.

(3) To believe in the Buddha and His teaching.




(4) Partial Eradication of Craving and Hatred.



(5) Complete Eradication of Craving and Hatred.


(6) Eradicate attachment to the realms of subtle forms.

(7) Eradicate attachments to the formless realms.

(8) Subdue restlessness of the mind.

(9) Annihilate ego-conceit.

(10)Destruction of ignorance.



It is interesting to see that the above practice breaks down the path to sainthood into 4 stages. The best breakthrough is that of the Stream-Enterer. He enters the stream when he transcends the physical, emotional and the mental bodies. The practice here is Vipassana: Insight meditation and the Four Foundations of Mindfulness with observance of the 5 precepts. Once he becomes a Stream-Enterer, he will be born at the most 7 more times. None of these births will be beneath a human. He may even achieve sainthood in one life. Note also that the 2nd and 3rd stages are solely to eradicate craving and hatred. Lastly, in the penultimate stage, he still has restlessness and ego-conceit. This conceit is due purely to the fact that he still considers himself separate because of his accomplishment as a Non-Returner. This last vestige of separateness will be sloughed off after he realises that he is merely a ripple on the surface of the ocean (removal of ignorance).

The suggestion here is that when the modern ‘enlightened’ gurus announce that they are enlightened, they may only have become Stream-Enterers, and not yet fully enlightened saints. Indeed to become a Stream-Enterer is already a wonderful break through. Another reason for this belief is that some of these jnanis are still addicted to cigar smoking, alcohol or sex. A few of them still have their anger, although they do not carry over their anger to the next minute. These traits do not conform to the Theravada’s idea of sainthood, which must be absolutely free of craving and hatred. Lastly, a few of the modern jnanis also like to maintain a guru-disciple relationship, although they do not profess it. This is ego-conceit, which should be eradicated in a saint.


Zen Buddhism


There are two varieties of Zen Buddhism. The first is Rinzai Zen. This type uses a Koan, which is a riddle that cannot be solved by the rational mind. The practitioner after many months or years trying to solve it comes to the end of its tether and becomes almost insane. He is like a man out of his mind, completely gives up and drops down in exhaustion. In this total surrender he becomes no-mind, and in a flash he realises his first satori. This is like throwing the baby out with the basin of water.


The second type is Soto Zen. This variety is almost like Theravada Buddhism practising sitting meditation alternating with walking meditation. The last stage in this type of Zen is Shikantaza meditation. (See the essay on Meditation on Emptiness). This method is highly recommended. It consists of not looking at any thoughts, while sitting. Merely let the thoughts plough through the mind without holding on to any of them. Do not apprehend any pictures and do not listen to any mental chatter. This is like standing at the roadside watching the cars wheeze by and not looking at any car or the contents of the cars. Neither does one listen to the noise of the road. At the end of the day, in the dead of the night, the traffic would stop, and there will be no more cars or noise. This is the state when thoughts and mental chatter die down, and the meditator is left with emptiness of thoughts and silence. This emptiness is not a suppression of thoughts, but a natural arrival to stillness and silence of the true Self---Being. This is returning to the Source of the Unmanifested. In order to manifest individuality it has to reverse the process back to the individual mind when the whole world also comes into being.


Self- Enquiry


Sri Ramana Maharshi (1896-1950) has been the greatest advocate of this practice. This is not a meditation, but a constant enquiry as to who is the one behind the psychophysical complex. His famous question is  ‘Who am I?’ While doing one’s daily chores continue to hold on the feeling of ‘I’ or ‘I am’. At the beginning one may have to sit quietly to initiate this practice. If thoughts drag one away from this ‘I’-thought, bring it back to the ‘I’-thought. It helps if one is practising Vipassana at the same time, where a watcher is established. The watcher is the thinker. Do not follow the thoughts, but keep on returning to the thinker or watcher. Continue to come back to the ‘I’, the watcher. To him this is the most direct way to lead one to the true Self. This method may not directly bring one to the Self, but at least it brings one near to it. At the beginning of the practice, it is a mental perception or a thought. As the practice progresses, one starts to feel the ‘I’ in the body. The attention here is to the feeling of the inner body, as described above in the section of going into the inner body. Continuing in this manner, the feeling will dissociate from thoughts. If the attention is kept to the feeling, thoughts will cease to arise, and temporarily, the individual disappears. At this juncture, one cannot use effort any more as the individual is not present. The progress is now automatic. Then the feeling of the inner body or subtle bodies (auras) will deepen spontaneously to settle down into Being. The practitioner has now reached the source, which is Being. When this happens, the practitioner rests with his Being. Being is the source of the I-thought. This is not enlightenment yet, as thoughts will continue to intermittently arise to distract one. At this level of progress, the individual is no more present and thus no more effort is necessary. Although the practice tends to be automatic at this stage, the old mental conditioning of the ‘I’- thought still arises every now and then. Self-realisation can only be established when the ‘I’-thought with its mental tendencies is totally destroyed for good. When this occurs, the thinking mind of the ego is completely eradicated, and the individual can then be pronounced enlightened. From the above description, it can seen that there is period of transition between an ajnani (unenlightened) to a jnani. That means a period of oscillation between Being and ‘I’-thought continues for some time before full enlightenment. Although it looks simple, it is indeed very arduous as it has to be practised almost every available minute of the day. This practice is not a meditation of any kind. In fact, Sri Ramana remarked:


    ‘Do not meditate----be!

                        Do not think that you are----be!

                        Don’t think about being----you are!’


The last practice to be discussed here is surrender.




General Considerations


Sri Ramana said:


One must completely surrender all responsibility for one’s life to God or the Self. For such self-surrender to be effective one must have no will or desire of one’s own and one must be completely free of the idea that there is an individual person who is capable of acting independently of God.


The difficulty in surrendering to God is that in most religions, God exists as the superpower to whom we dedicate our lives. This practice in duality is very tough, as bargaining and negotiations would surreptitiously intrude into the devotee’s mind. The author prefers to use G-plan in this practice.


a)      Knowing that your G-plan is constructed by you, you must yield to your G-plan as it unfolds. The other appropriate phrases are ‘flow with your Tao’ and ‘thy will be done’. In this context, once you have surrendered there should not be any expectation of anything happening in your favour. Questions like ‘when will my suffering end?’ and ‘will I now be enlightened sooner?’ have no more meaning to the total surrender. In this practice, one merely waits without waiting with no expectations. Your G-plan would even determine the type of meal you are going to have tonight.

b)      That means it is useless to worry over anything at all. So do not be anxious and do not worry.

c)      So understanding the above, accept everything that comes your way. Do not desist or resist.

d)      Forgive yourself and the other who caused the trouble. Truly forgive and not just using lip service.

e)      Finally, totally and completely surrender with no conditions and no bargaining. This surrender must be undertaken with a positive mind, and not ‘I don’t care anymore’ attitude.


Specific situations


Having accepted the flow of the Tao, one must now see the problem of the moment and act accordingly without recriminations. Acting positively means no anger, frustrations or despair. The Taoist phrase ‘wu wei’ does not mean doing nothing. It means no inner resistance, but be alert to a plan of action.

Take an example of an illness. If one is stricken with a heart attack, stroke or a cancer, how does one react? Initially the individual would panic and go into a hysterical fear and may even freeze. Take cancer. If one is told that one has cancer, the first thing is to remain calm and go into the inner body. Ask the physician as many questions as feasible regarding the cancer. Then when you are home, meditate more often and longer. Go into the Now or the present by constantly going into the inner body. Rally as much support as possible from spouse or friends and sit down to a comprehensive plan of attack of the cancer. At this point remember to surrender totally with a positive mind. With weakness after surgery and side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy most patients would not mind subjecting themselves to a form of surrender. However, there is usually some bargaining in these cases. In this instance then the surrender is not total. The surrender must be absolutely and completely total.


Then there are situations of an abusive spouse or a dominating or a bullying boss. These are perennial problems, which are quite common. So how does one go about it? One can do one of 3 things. The first is to walk away: that is to divorce the spouse or leave the job. The second is to withdraw into one’s Being by going into the inner body and becoming non-resistant. Then accept the situation, forgive and then finally, surrender. The third option is to completely surrender and then confront the other without recrimination, anger, despair or fear. Remain cool and calm while discussing the problem with the adversary. This third option may have to be repeated many times before changes can be seen.


All other crises and problems in life situations may be dealt with in a similar manner.




Looking at the menu of methods described above there are many dishes that can be tasted and tried to bring one to the edge of the river. However, there are also other disciplines, which are not mentioned. For instance, the Way in Taoism, Sufism, Tibetan Buddhism  (especially Dzogchen) and Western Mysticism are all valid spiritual practices. However, the disciplines enumerated in this article can all be practised without any initiation and without a guru. They can be practised with or without a spiritual friend or guide. In order to facilitate one’s practice, there should be some pre-conditioning in one’s mental attitude. Try to exercise dispassion, detachment and desirelessness. One would have been wholly disenchanted before embarking on any of the above practices. If one succeeds to some extend in these 4 D’s, then there will be fewer thoughts to deal with. These abstinences should also help letting go of material assets, relationships and egotism. Of course the letting go will be gradual, but if one is practising correctly and persistently, the letting go will become self-generating at a later stage. The letting go will also make the dispassion, detachment and desirelessness much easier to carry out. Then this process will end with the yogin having no desire, no ill will, no pride and unselfish. All this will bring the practitioner to the edge with very few obstacles.


So how does one go about it? Having the above mental attitude, start to meditate (formal sitting). Firstly try to use concentration to reduce the number of thoughts. Very quickly, embark on Insight (Vipassana) meditation. This should be the main practice until silence, stillness and emptiness of thoughts are obtained. Practice this for sometime, then carry on with Shikantaza.


Outside of formal sitting, carry out mindfulness of every action moment to moment. One must do only one thing at a time. That means not reading and listening to music simultaneously. Not smoking, driving and listening to the news at the same time. While performing tasks, concentrate on the task at hand and do not think of the consequences of the task and do not let thoughts roam elsewhere.


Additionally, one should try to go into the inner body to feel one’s auras as often as possible. Start with feeling the chi circulating throughout the body. The chi pulsates with the heart. Without thoughts let one’s consciousness move deeper into silence and stillness to visit one’s Being. This Presence will be felt with joy. Try and stay in Being as long as one is able to. Slowly and surely one will arrive at the edge of the river. Then wait. Wait for Grace to carry one over the river, but there should not be any anxiety about it. Wait without waiting.


Now, come to the title of this essay. Are all spiritual practices useless? Of course not! If it is, then all spiritual practices of all religions in the past should not produce a single enlightened person. From historical facts this is not the case. Numerous saints and enlightened individuals erupted out of their arduous practices and disciplines. Wayne Teasdale in his book has written a comprehensive book (The Mystic Heart) on Saints and their spiritual practices. These include details of all practices of all religions. These practices have not gone to waste. Without their practices we would not know what enlightenment is all about. The reality is that every one of us is already enlightened, but only few of us know it. Only few have removed the veil to come to realise their true Self, whilst the rest of us are still covered by our ignorance. That means we have to try to unveil our ignorance by removing the deluding mind, and this unveiling constitutes spiritual practices. It is certain that those very few that encountered spontaneous enlightenment without a spiritual practice must have practised for many lives before.




1)      Eckart Tolle. The Power of  Now. A Hodder Book. 1999.

2)      Tony Parsons. The Open Secret. Open Secret Publishing. 1995.

3)      Tony Parsons. As It Is. Open Secret Publishing. 2000.

4)      Francis Lucille. Eternity Now. Truespeech Productions. 1996.

5)      Sri Ramana Maharshi. Be As You Are. (Edited by David Godman). Arkana. 1985.

6)      Wayne Teasdale. The Mystic Heart. New World Library. 1999.