To Seek or Not to Seek?

Posted on 7 November 2005


Some spiritual teachings tell us, “You already are that which you seek” or “Give up all practices. Just be.” Like any teaching, the value of these kinds of teachings depends completely on what happens when they are put into practice. If those teachings spontaneously bring about an Awakening, if they are actually followed, then great. Unfortunately, though, they do not have that effect on most people most of the time. And — even more unfortunately — some people think that these high teachings provide some kind of “short-cut to Enlightenment.” Seeking, they reason, is based on the delusion of duality. So, one should stop seeking to realize nonduality.

The problem is, you can’t simply decide to stop seeking, because that itself is a subtle kind of seeking — a seeking to stop seeking. The point of seeking is to exhaust all seeking so that it stops of itself. So, as long as our seeking has not been exhausted, we need to keep seeking in order to exhaust it. If we contrive to stop seeking, we are taking a short-cut away from Enlightenment into a subtle kind of contrived self-deception.

These high teachings can be useful, though, even if they don’t trigger a spontaneous Awakening. For example, one could attempt to stop seeking, and then see how that itself is a subtle kind of seeking. Then one could attempt to stop that seeking, and so on. This can bring to awareness many subtle aspects of experience that previously went unnoticed. Similarly, one could try to give up all practices and just be, and then see how there is a sense of practicing and doing something. Then one could try to give up doing that, and so on. Cultivate an attitude of being open to learning about the nature of seeking rather than trying to get to some state of non-seeking. See what reveals itself, and enjoy!

For an excellent article on this topic, see To Practice or Not to Practice? by Joel Morwood.