We received the following inquiry in TZF’s Guest Book: “Some years ago, I heard you use the term The Simple Way. Unfortunately, the name is all I remember about it. Can you tell me if you still use that expression, and if so, what it means.”
Sometimes we call our spiritual philosophy The Simple Way. Please do not confuse this use of the word simple with its sometimes synonym, easy. There is nothing easy about The Simple Way. That is, by our use of the word simple, we mean uncomplicated. Thus, The Simple Way consists of a few logical, fairly easy to understand premises, the consistent, determined, and earnest application of which to our daily lives has been known to have miraculous results.
Each of these premises or, to use a metaphor common to spiritual discussions, each of the pillars, on which rests The Simple Way is addressed in some detail elsewhere on this site and/or in our books and/or in other of our writing. Therefore, here we will simply list them, and discuss each briefly. But please do not mistake this list for a formal, dogmatic set of precepts. However much this may look like a list, this list is not a list. In fact, this is the very first time this list has been presented as a list, and as a list it has no other purpose than to answer your question. When that is accomplished, this list should be dismantled. Thus, there is, for example, no point in memorizing it. Or in thinking of it as “The List of Seven.” It isn’t that kind of a list. We could just as easily have stated it as six items, or eight items, or a single item. The point is, this stuff will work for you only if it makes sense to you, and therefore moves easily into your consciousness and from there into your life. For that to happen, you don’t need a list, just earnestness and enthusiasm.
1) There is no God but God, and God is all there is.
For us, this one statement says it all. Look at it this way. Every spiritual tradition we have encountered agrees on at least one thing, and that is that God is infinite. Even those that do not speak of It as “God,” recognize and acknowledge the Infinite. Infinite means having no boundaries or no limits, not in time, not in space, not conceptually, not in any way. So, it follows logically that whatever there is anywhere, whatever else we may think anything is, it is God and God is it, because God being infinite extends into it, or includes it, or subsumes it. (Unfortunately, no word really works here.) Clearly, there can be no exceptions to this conclusion, for if there were any thing or any where or any when into which God did not extend, then, by definition, God would not be infinite, and, by definition, God is infinite. So, if there is nothing that God is not, then God is all there is, including God.
2) The nature of everything is spiritual.
If God is all there is, then this is a spiritual (God-ly) Universe. By that we mean that everything (every person, every thing, every event, every place, every idea, every whatever) is fundamentally, inherently, thoroughly, indelibly, and priorly spiritual. So, for us, spirituality is not an aspect of reality, or of ourselves, or of anything else. Rather it is the whole of our reality, of ourselves, and of everything else. We do not see the Universe divided into, let’s say, two categories, one labeled “religious matters” and the other “secular matters” (or “everything else”). It is all spiritual. Practically speaking, then, everywhere becomes a church, every day is a holiday (holy day), every relationship is sacred, every activity a sacrament, every word a scripture. Spiritual to us is like wet to a fish: Everything is.
3) We already are as spiritual as we will ever be.
As we see it, the spiritual path is not about “becoming” anything, but rather it is about Remembering or Realizing or Knowing our already True Nature. That is, if God is all there is, and God is Wholly God, then somehow God is us, too, and so somehow we are That now. Clearly, while all of us can easily enough articulate those words, we do not really know what they mean, much less do we live by them. As we see it, that is the function of the spiritual process: Not to make True what is already True, but to Real-ize what is True (make it Real in and as ourselves), or to Remember it. It follows then that the various practices (postures, diets, chants, and so on) that describe a spiritual path, do not make us more spiritual, but rather they help to clear our minds of the myriad distractions, confusions, and complications which prevent us from Seeing (Remembering) What Is, or that have led us to believe we are other than What We Are.
4) There are no degrees of spiritual.
If God is Wholly Everything Right Now, then it follows that no one and no thing is “more spiritual” or “less spiritual” than anyone or anything else. This concept is very difficult for us to accept, for we naturally think that beautiful, happy, wealthy, healthy, or tasty things (people, places, events, actions, ideas, whatever) are more spiritual or godly than ugly, unhappy, poor, sickly, or disgusting things. But on close inspection it becomes apparent that the things we label as good are almost invariably those that are somehow pleasing to the body which we consider to be ourselves, and the things we label as bad, even evil, are those that threaten the health, security, general well-being, property, or life of the physical body we consider to be ourselves. Ultimately, what we mean here is that, notwithstanding our preference for and prejudice toward the physical body, everything in the Universe is actually the Same, and the way to expand the boundaries of what we consider to be spiritual (or the Same) is to expand (and eventually eliminate) the boundaries of what we consider to be ourselves.
5) It’s all about inertia.
Isaac Newton had it right. Everything in the Universe has a tendency to continue doing whatever it is doing now until it meets a greater, contrary force. So, you and I continue living our lives as we do now, considering ourselves as we do, believing as we do, fearing as we do, denying as we do, simply because we have always done so. And we will continue doing so until we stop it. And the way to stop is to mount a determination that is at least equal to the strength of our current tendencies (which are now habits, even obsessions). That’s the function of so-called spiritual practices … and Teachers: To teach us to concentrate and focus increasingly clearly (powerfully), so that we can, in effect, turn ourselves around.
6) There is a way.
Happily, for every seeker there is a way perfectly suited to her or him. Every tradition we are aware of promises that a genuinely committed seeker will be provided the support and guidance and encouragement he or she needs to traverse the path. This certain help will rarely (if ever!) manifest in the form that we expect or even in the time that we hope, but it will be there as and when we need it. Our responsibility is to welcome it and respond to it with enthusiasm, confidence, and good will.
In the meantime, consider that the question at the heart of every spiritual search is “Who am I?”. Our reality, and therefore our life, is determined by our self-perception. That is, who and what we think we are, what we think is happening to us, what we think is going on around us – in a word, our sense of identity – determines everything. So, at TZF, the practice is to find out who or what we really are. This can start by asking ourselves questions that examine why we believe as we do. Where did we get our values? Why do we consider them to be “ours”? Are they ours, or did we simply accept them from a parent or other loved one, a peer group, a priest, or a school teacher? Who were we at the moment of our birth, and why are we who we think we are now? Who were we the moment before our birth, and why were we born? Were we born, or have we always been alive? Who says we were born? How do they know? Why do they think it was we who was born? Does their being in our life depend upon our being alive? If so, don’t we first have to figure out who and what we are before we can rely on their word?
Or, if God is all there is, then who am I? We call this fundamental question The Sacred Riddle, or sometimes The Great Inquiry, for it probes into the very heart of reality. For us, a particularly effective way to pose it is “Who Am I when [your name here] was born?” Or “Who Am I long after [your name here] will be dead?”
When asking these questions, do so without relying on or referring to your memories, thoughts, or expectations. Keep asking, keep looking until you find an answer that precedes, and is in no way dependent upon, any of your memories, thoughts, or expectations. Accept no answer that depends for its validity on anything else. That is, keep asking until you arrive at the Source. You will know you are There when the Answer you have found answers everything.
Another way to conduct this inquiry is to make a constantly present, conscious effort to Remember who you are in Truth. That is, throughout the day, as frequently as possible, whatever else may be going on, remind yourself “I am not this separate and distinct body. Somehow, I am One with everything I perceive, with whatever I am doing, with wherever I am, and with whomever or whatever I am relating. I am One with the Infinite, which is all there is, and, while I may not know exactly what any of this means, I do know that it is the Truth, that it changes everything, and I welcome those changes.”
Finally, consider this: When any of us fixes our mind and our heart on anything, our lives unfold accordingly. So, wherever you may be, whatever you may be doing, make a constant, conscious, determined, and enthusiastic effort to bring your mind and your heart to a spiritual focus as frequently as possible, even if just for a few seconds. Do this repeatedly throughout your waking day. Do it while waiting in line at a supermarket or on hold at your telephone; do it while riding a bus or brushing your teeth. The more often you do it, the better. In time, your reality will reflect that focus.
7) Thank God for God.
In a word, The Simple Way is about merging the illusion that I am some body and that you are some body else, into the Reality that God is all there is.
For us, The Simple Way is a way of life, which is why we consider ourselves to be monks, and the answer to the question we sometimes receive — worded variously, but always in effect: “What do you apply this to?” — is, simply, everything. Our practice is consciously to seek to see God in everyone and everything we encounter — every person, every animal, every plant, every rock, every day, every event, every relationship, every idea, every action, every dream, every meal, every whatever. When we are unable to do so, we call on God to Show Himself to us. “Dear God, I know You’re in there somewhere, but I can’t see You. Maybe it’s because I’m in such a hurry. Or so afraid. Or having a really good time. Whatever the reason, please wave, whistle, wiggle — do something, to call my attention back to You.” And, conversely, whenever we do see God in our selves and our lives, we thank Her for being there. “Thank you, Mother, for showing me Your Beautiful Face! Thank you for being in my life. Thank you for being my life!”
Simply stated, The Simple Way is our belief, our practice, our path, and our life.
Thus, our path has been to seek to make God, an awareness of God, the object of our greatest desire, to want to know God – and by extension, to know our True Self – more than we want anything else. In the process, in the struggle, to achieve that goal, we find that, by and by, we give up many other desires because they interfere with or distract from the fulfillment of our intended, stated greatest desire. Eventually, as we study, meditate, and perform other practices, we come inevitably and spontaneously to realize that we and the object of our desire are one and the same.
Once again, please remember we said simple, not easy. For some decades, maybe even many lifetimes, we have all been living as we are now, convinced we are the bodies we seem to be inhabiting, born on a certain date, certain to die on another, and to bounce between pleasure and pain in the interim. However much we affirm to the contrary, we continue believing we are the body. When we want to know what we look like, where do we gaze? Into a mirror, at the body. Again, it is normal and natural that we should do so, considering how long we have been doing so. Happily, we can stop doing so.
Ask God for help. Every morning, every single morning, as soon as you wake up, call on God to help you remember to Remember, to teach you how to Remember. “Dear God, please be my Teacher, and use this day as a classroom in which to Teach me Who and What I Am in Truth.” Repeat that prayer throughout the day, as often as you can. And every evening, every single evening, before you retire, thank God for the help you received during the day, even if you were so distracted by events that you did not notice it, and ask God to make the same use of your dreams in the coming night, so that, even in sleep, you continue to be God’s Student. Do this with joyful determination, earnestness, and enthusiasm.
As this process unfolds, do not be hard on yourself if you do not see or feel its effects immediately. God is genetically incapable of ignoring a heartfelt call. So, if you mean it, you will be heard, and sooner or later, you will Remember, you will Know. Thank God.
Editor’s Note: For a letter sent to us asking about The Simple Way and pantheism, click here. For more on these ideas, please consider our essay “Letting Life Live” here. Please also see our essay A Seeker's Primer and The Sacred Riddle.
Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord;
and you shall love the Lord your God
with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (RSV)
thou art He, without thou.
neither the body nor in the body –
there is no such thing as body.
Remain at peace within yourself,
seeing the one infinite being in all.
You will achieve the impossible if
you are able to remain firm in your
knowledge of the truth, and if you
engage yourself in appropriate
action in a life characterized by
effortless experiencing of the
natural course of events.
Pray God keep us simple.
One who believes
that God can be reached by human exertion will
encounter endless torment;
and one who believes nearness to God can be attained without exertion will encounter an endless wishful dream.
Abu Sa’id al-Kharraz
in Sufi Heirs of The Prophet
There is no such thing as realising the Self. How is one to realise or make real what is real? People all ‘realise’ or regard as real what is unreal, and all they have to do is to give up doing so. When you do that, you will remain as you always are, and the Real will be Real. It is only to help people give up regarding the unreal as real that all the religions and practices taught by them have come into being.
The Teachings need to be studied, reflected on, and practiced in order to realise their true meaning. They are ‘discourses on the right way of living’ or contemplations on the ‘way things are’. They are not meant to be ‘sacred scriptures’ which tell us what to believe. One should read them, listen to them, think about them, contemplate them, and investigate the present reality, the present experience with them. Then, and only then, can one insightfully know the Truth beyond words.
Adapted from the Foreword to “The
Long Discourses of The Buddha”
give your life to God,
then it is no longer yours.
Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical questions – are like that.
C. S. Lewis
Michel de Montaigne
James Hilton in “Lost Horizon”
At every moment you have to aim at your goal. If you want to concentrate and meditate on the sun as it rises early in the morning, then you have to face the east, and not some other direction. If you are looking toward the west and running toward the east, you will stumble. If you want to be certain of your goal of God-realization, then you will not look behind you or around you, but only toward the light. You can conquer your physical desires only by running toward the light. Don’t think of your physical desires, but think only of your aspiration. If you can run forward with one-pointed determination, limitations and desires will fade away from your life. Aspiration is the only answer. For outer things you cry; for inner things you can also cry. If you can cry sincerely, you can fly spiritually.
think, I sink.
When I choose, I lose.
When I cry, I fly.
Updated November 9, 2021
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