Based on our chosen model of creation we can define two approaches to spirituality and life–(1) A Bottom-Up approach and (2) A Top-Down approach. The names, “top-down” and “bottom-up” are chosen based on the frequency or vibratory levels discussed in our model and they have nothing to do with their colloquial usage.
Both approaches can be followed effectively only if you fully understand them.
As you will see below, the bottom-up approach is the most prevalent in the modern times. We will discuss that first. I will use “he/him” when referring to a “generic person.” This in no way means that women are not spiritual. The term “he/him” is used only for convenience.
In the bottom-up approach, a disciple is told that he is ignorant, that he is mired in maya or illusion, and that he does not know how to get out of it. He is told that he is weak and he needs to look up to a higher power. Some of the gurus take this approach and tell their disciples that if they worship him, they will get salvation or enlightenment at the time of their death–that he will take care of them. This path, if followed without intellectual discrimination, may give rise to fear based sycophantic behavior, idolizing the guru, and spiritual slavery. This is being followed mostly on our planet right now, because most people live in and from fear, and don’t want to take personal responsibility for their lives. It is documented that some of the so called gurus have taken advantage–emotionally, materially, and physically–of their male and female devotees, even children.
Further, in this path, you are considered egotistical and therefore your ego needed to be subdued or given up. To let go of the ego you need to submit yourself to a higher power. This higher power may be a physical guru or god. This is described as the path of surrender. However, in this ego driven world true surrender comes with difficulty. Moreover, true surrender is not clearly understood–it is not physical surrender. It is surrendering all expectations in your life to the higher power. In true surrender, pleasure and pain, happiness and sorrow, ease and difficulty–all of them–you attribute to only to that higher power you believe in. You basically say, “I am ignorant. I am clueless. I don’t know anything. Everything that I experience, be it happiness or sorrow, it is not mine. All belongs to that higher power.” And, you do nothing about it. However, we usually take credit for good things and blame god or higher power for testing us or giving us difficulties in our lives. You cannot have both ways. In bottom-up approach, you basically have to surrender both successes and failures–and the action itself–to the higher power. This is a form of active surrender, since you constantly practice leaving all responsibility for whatever happens in your life to your higher power. As you can see, this surrender to the higher power is by the ego/mind which is the judge of credit or debit of your actions. By constant practice of this surrender, you subdue the ego/mind. If you closely observe, the routine rituals of all mainstream religions follow this path, though they only partially encourage true surrender.
Firstly, to actively surrender to your higher power, it requires a lot of courage and trust in that higher power. Secondly, it requires some intellectual discrimination. This is not ego based discrimination. But, it is the knowing, “The higher power will never take advantage of me in anyway. The higher power is only love. The higher power is constantly working on increasing my vibratory frequency, helping me to come out of my emotional prisons, so I can finally merge into it.” If a physical guru is taking you in the opposite direction, you need to use your discrimination to get out of that prison. A true guru will never imprison you in anyway.
As you can see this path is not for everyone. If you are too intellectual and more inclined to the path of knowledge, you may be conflicted very much on this path, and may not make any progress at all. This may even cause a lot of ill-will towards your guru who may be well intentioned. It is up to you to decide if this path is for you. On the flipside, as mentioned above, if you do not exercise any discrimination, you may get exploited by the so called gurus or end up joining personality cults. That will not help you progress spiritually in your life. Therefore, your feelings have to be balanced by a discriminating intellect.
Great masters have always taught this approach. They always taught, aham brahmasmi (I am Brahman), sOham (That, I am) or SivOham (Siva, I am) right away. They have not said this to be recited just as a mantra, but to live it everyday–you can recite this as a mantra successfully only with the understanding that “All are brahman.”
In this approach, you understand that you are the creator. When you started expressing yourself through a form you got attached to that form (body + mind). Then, you started imagining yourself to be the form and that you lived in the world you created. Therefore, on this path, you approach all the spiritual practices with the intention, “I am already the creator. However, I have strongly identified myself with the form and world that I created. Through these practices (spiritual and otherwise), I don’t gain anything new. But, only break free of the attachments to the form and uncover who I truly am.” From this perspective, you are creating everything, everything is in you and nothing is outside of you. Here the you is not the form, but the formless. There is a need to remind ourselves constantly of this fact. Also, understand that there is an underlying reality to all that we perceive. But, that reality is perceived by us through our own filters. This is the reason why it is said, “You create your own reality.” or “As inside, so outside.”
When you approach your life this way, the prescription is to live as the creator. Every morning, when you wake up ask yourself, “How can I be more creative today? How can I be more like the Creator who is effortless in His creating?” When you practice any spiritual technque, become the watcher of the performance by the body and the mind. You should be the witness of everything that you do–not just the spiritual practices. This cultivates the detachment from the results of your actions and from actions themselves, giving you room for stress-free creativity.
In this top-down approach, it is understood that the ego really does not exist, but only the attachment to the form that creates a sense of individual self. You create, you enjoy, but without attachment to your creations. If your creation dissolves later, then so be it. Take this as play just as a child would. So, if you feel elated because you accomplished something, let the feeling pass through you, feel elated fully without guilt or holding back, but don’t let it touch you and don’t get attached to it. Just watch it move through your body and mind. Remember, this is your internal state of elation. As long as you don’t thumb your nose at somebody else literally or figuratively, because of your so called accomplishments, there is nothing wrong with elation. Also, ask, “What was that experience? What wisdom did I gain from it?” This questioning immediately take ego out of the equation. We are on this planet because we want experiences and consequently gain the wisdom. This means that everyone of us was supposed to be on this planet at this very moment at the very place we are in. In the top-down approach, everyone is brahman or the absolute, and therefore equally a beacon of light, intelligent and creative. If you approach everyone with the thought that they are also brahman the same essence as you, then you will not do anything to harm them, nor would you thumb your knows at them, in effect, removing the egotistical behavior. This will, therefore, slowly remove the sense of separateness and move you towards non-dual awareness.
In this approach, as the creator you take full responsibility for your life. Whatever happened, positive or negative, happened because of you. However, as the higher power, you are untouched by it and are just witness to what happens. In being the witness you are already in surrender to what is.
Now, this does not mean that you may not have a guru/teacher physical or otherwise. You may have a teacher who truly will keep reminding you that you and he are the same in essence. He will keep reminding of your inner creative power and infinite potentiality and the divine within. He will treat you as his equal. He will give you a clearer understanding of the techniques and how they relate to the top-down approach.
This approach may not be for you, if you think that someone or some other power needs to show you the way by holding your hand. This requires tremendous intellectual discrimnation to trust your inner voice. However, this path has a pitfall–if you are too intellectual and over analyze everything, it will not take you anywhere. Why? As the creator you follow your feelings with your intellect supporting them. Therefore, your intellect has to be balanced by a feeling heart.
Choosing a Path
When you compare both approaches, you will see that they both end up in the state of surrender and witness consciousness. Additionally, after you had some experiences, sufficently expanded in consciousness and increased your vibratory level, you will realized that you are moving into the top-down approach. So, why not start there?
Without proper understanding, some spiritual seekers jumble up the bottom-up and top-down approaches and get confused and conflicted. They are either told by their gurus or they read in books, “You are god the creator. All are.” Then, they are given techniques without imparting understanding of proper practice or told to do this or that worship, a ritual, or to serve the teacher without asking questions. If the teacher himself is truly selfless, then it is a different matter to serve them, since they do not demand anything from you. It is rare these days to find such teachers in the mainstream spiritual market. We may actually find some of them living a very normal life right in our backyards in relative obscurity. But, I digress!
When you jumble up approaches, it leads to a lot of confusion. It leads to questions like, “If I am god, then why does my life suck? If I am god, why should I worship others?” It is good to choose one approach and stick with it for a while.
A beginner usually starts with the bottom-up approach, because it will sound easy. The rituals may work and after sometime he may have some experiences pointing him to greater reality. Then, he may start to explore the top-down approach. Of course, we are humans and our minds are strong because of the analytical education given to us in schooling. This may cause a bit of confusion and conflict during the transition period. You may feel strongly that you are the creator of your world, but thoughts will come up to the contrary. If you constantly keep reminding yourself that you are the creator, and just watch the contradictions arise and fall as waves on the surface of an ocean, then it will pass.
If properly followed, both approaches will lead to the same state of complete surrender and witness consciousness. However, in my opinion, the top-down approach is more suited for the current age of the intellect. It allows you to take complete responsibility for yourself.
State of this World
I don’t believe in the dog-eat-dog world. I believe in a cooperative world. Remember the good bacteria in our intestines. We are feeding them, and they are helping us–a cooperative world. Change your internal state from competition to cooperation and the rest will follow. This is a remedy for our so called ego hassles. Constantly remember that if you are brahman, the light, and the intelligence, and so are others. They are at this point in life, because that is what they want to experience at this time in their life. If you do that, then you will take away all judgment and the cooperation will arise. If they want help, you will be willing to help them freely. If they want you to leave them alone, you will do so without any emotion. You can extend this not only to your coworkers, but also to your family members and friends. When you understand clearly a path and follow it, there will come a day, when you will see your Self in all.