The Heart and Mind of a Person on a Spiritual Path

From Mundane View to Pure Perception

As soon as we begin to practice a spiritual path, we become aware that we are seeing things differently than the average person. To the ordinary mind, there is not much to celebrate here, and certainly not anything worthy of reverence; the common view is jaded, corrupt, and impoverished, and it offers very little to depend on in difficult times.


By contrast, those who follow a call and begin to study with a teacher, or within a tradition sense that a fuller life is possible. If they are really fortunate, they connect with a skillful guide, or with good teachings that help them to uncover what is true.

We human beings, on the whole, believe so absolutely in our perceptions that it’s difficult to communicate with most people, that what we see and feel to be so isn’t all there is of this world, and our lives here. When someone is lacking depth and insight, then their world view seems to be entirely self-explanatory, and beyond any questioning.

There’s a saying,

We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are…

– which is another phrasing for what Eastern Traditions in particular base their philosophy and practices on. There’s an evolution of consciousness

that has to take place, if we are to free ourselves from confusion and all the suffering it brings, and create communities here on this earth that honor all of life.

I recently came across a name I had written down, and had forgotten about. I looked up Michael Casey OSCO, and recalled that he is a Christian Contemplative writer. I found a truly astounding article online by him called The Word Became Flesh and Dwelt Among us. I remembered again that The Word in Christianity is known to have spiritual power, beyond literal translations, and so I was intrigued. He describes the sacred in this essay, saying

The infinite and eternal Word who dwells in inaccessible light became accessible in space and time. Thus we could hear, see with our eyes, and touch with our hands, the mystery that had been hidden from human perception during previous ages…

In Buddhism, we do also have the tradition of recognizing that some words, mantras, Sutras, termas and tantras, images and teachers are the very manifestation of Divine Activity. It’s not often talked about here in the West in the twenty-first century, but for some, this is an undeniable experience.

I have to wonder sometimes, what people think, when they hear of the Divine helping people in their lives. Buddhists here especially are prone to underestimating the great spiritual gifts, and the blessings that are available.

Some people wrap Buddhist texts in silk, place them on an altar, and offer before them flowers, incense, and butter lamps; they bow, revering those teachings, and the saints and sages who guide us along the path; Public ceremonies are attended by scores of people, and sometimes hundreds, or thousands, praises are chanted, or sung. What to make of all this? Is it merely superstition?

I reckon that viewing devotional practices, or picking up Buddhist teachings with an ordinary mind is like seeing in the dim, half-light. There is something there of value that is slightly recognized, but we’re not fully awake to its significance. This is because of the tragic, mundane view that is so common.

How do we see ourselves, and each other? How do we see this world? Is it all little more than organic functioning, and are we little better than machines, as ubiquitous scientific materialism would have us believe? When such a diminished world view is there in a person, it reaches to everyone, and to every thing.

Wendell Berry said in one of his poems

There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places

Missing the significance, the beauty and power and potentials of being here, we doubt and despair; we mistreat our own bodies and those of others, and this whole precious earth. Only a spiritual remedy at this point can make us whole again, and his is what I rely on, where I turn again, in yearning faith.

In the Sakya lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, there is a teaching called The Three Visions. The great saint, Dezhung Rinpoche has a commentary on this called The Three Levels of Spiritual Perception. In The Three Visions, they describe ordinary perception, its functioning and limitations, and the suffering that comes from it. On the level of a realized being, they say, this very world is one of endless beauty, and every life is cherished. The main focus of this text then is on the mind and heart of someone on the Spiritual Path. We alternate between confusion and clarity; between feeling uplifted and inspired, and suffering, being driven by the winds of karma, in the shadow of wrong views.

In Michael Casey’s essay, he highlights the divine help that is always reaching out to us, and always finding creative ways to communicate

The Life-Giving Word presents itself through marks on a page; mysteriously mediating the power of the Holy Spirit…

and he traces how someone responds to divine help, and this call of this inner life:

First, We feel strongly drawn beyond our normal sphere of thought, and so become aware of a desire to go deeper;

then, in some way, our eyes are opened and we catch a glimpse of the glory of the spiritual world that is invisible to our senses…

This opening to spiritual realities changes everything for a person. Even if it’s just a glimpse, that alone is enough to be a catalyst.

This fifteenth century Indian poet said of the Divine:

Kabir saw this for fifteen seconds,
and it made him a servant for life…

How is it we don’t see these things?

The mundane mind is stirred up and obscured in so many ways. It’s no wonder that, universally, people on a spiritual path will choose to remove themselves from common society, at least while they are training, and stabilizing a new way of being.

Recently (this being 2020) I’ve felt like we are collectively meditating on health and illness, on the resources we have available to us as human beings, and on what is ultimately important, and unimportant. Most of those who are now thinking of disease and death, and the uncertain, precarious nature of our lives here have never, or almost never done so before. They want to escape, and return as quickly as possible to their so-called normal lives, and not want to think about these fundamental realities.

It’s said that,

for an ordinary person, the only way they have to deal with unpleasant feeling is pleasant feeling…

This is so clear, really. Eating, drinking, drugging, binge watching tv, and so on – this is avoidance, and it creates even more problems.

But our time here is uncertain, and great suffering exists in our world. Economic inequality and racism, the indifference of the monied classes, and the insipid, uninspired materialistic world view are also now on full display. What’s a person to do?

I’ve found it’s essential these days to separate myself as much as possible from the news, much of which is fear driven and reductive. It can so easily narrow a person’s sense. Following those views and emotions, we see less and less of what is here, and who we are, and the means we have at hand.

Now, more than ever, we need what can come to us from our sources of spiritual support, and that needs quiet, and some amount of faith and devotion to come to the fore. It’s so personal beyond that, that I hesitate to say much more.

It should at least be known that the heart and mind of a person on a spiritual path is changing, from ordinary perception, to sacred outlook – from mundane view, to pure perception.

All of our spiritual study and practice, if I may say, involves purifying the heart and mind. In various ways, through study, meditation, and prayer, we remove what are called ‘the two obscurations’ – those of the qualitative obscurations – the negative emotions that veil the mind, such as greed, anger, depression, and fear –  and the wrong thinking, or the conceptual obscurations.

Ceremony, simple acts of devotion, and thinking of our teachers with faith in our heart opens a channel for their great blessings. Only a humble person will know this, of course, but these spiritual influences are always available, if we are receptive. From time to time, I’m thinking now, at least this much at least should be said.

When we find the key point, that the state of our own mind and heart determines what we will see and experience, then everything changes. The focus shifts to the inner life, and to all that can be accomplished through spiritual receptivity and practice, through love and compassion, for ourselves and for all our beloved family.