A.H. Almaas (1944 — ) is the pen name of A. Hameed Ali, an author and spiritual teacher who writes about and teaches an approach to spiritual development informed by modern psychology and therapy which he calls the Diamond Approach. Almaas is originally from Kuwait. He is the spiritual head of the Ridhwan School. He may be described, among other things, as an Integral theorist, mystic, spiritual teacher or an exponent of the perennial philosophy.
The Diamond Approach is a contemporary spiritual path integrating the teachings and practices of the ancient wisdom traditions with modern depth psychology. The Diamond Approach is derived from the experiences of Almaas, along with Karen Johnson and Faisal Muqaddam (who split off early on to develop his own approach). They were among the first students of Claudio Naranjo, an early pioneer of the integration of spiritual and therapeutic work. The curriculum of the work draws upon the founders’ backgrounds in Sufism, Platonism, Buddhism and the Fourth Way. Teachers of the Diamond Approach focus on the students’ specific perception of their own immediate work issues.
Almaas (A. Hameed Ali) was born in Kuwait in 1944. At the age of eighteen, he moved to the United States to study at the University of California in Berkeley. Hameed was working on his Ph.D. in physics when he reached a turning point in his life that led him more and more into inquiring into the psychological and spiritual aspects of human nature. His interest in the truth of human nature and the true nature of reality resulted in the creation and unfoldment of the Diamond Approach.
The Diamond Approach is a spiritual teaching that utilizes a unique kind of inquiry into realization, where the practice is the expression of realization. Its aim is absolute freedom that can be described as living realization, a dynamic enlightenment where transcendent truth lives personally in the world. This inquiry opens up the infinite creativity of our Being, transforming our lives into a runaway realization, moving from realization to further realization. It is described by Almaas as a “response to an important need that is being felt in many quarters, a need for a spiritually informed psychology, or conversely, for a psychologically grounded spirituality. This perspective does not separate psychological and spiritual experience, and hence sees no dichotomy between depth psychology and spiritual work… This body of knowledge is not an integration or synthesis of modern depth psychology and traditional spiritual understanding. The inclination to think in terms of integration of the two is due to the prevailing belief in the dichotomy between the fields of psychology and spirituality, a dichotomy in which the Diamond Mind understanding does not participate.”
The Diamond Approach, according to its followers, can be called a Phenomenology of Being that offers a precise description of the various aspects and dimensions of Spirit or Being and is also a form of spiritual psychotherapy which seeks to heal the wounds of the soul by reconnecting it to Spirit. In the Diamond Approach, reality is seen as consisting of three elements: God/Being/Spirit, Soul/Self and World/Cosmos.
Being is understood as the inner source and true nature of reality, which is the focus of the great spiritual traditions of both East and West, and is known as Dharmakaya, Shunyata, Brahman or Tao. Being is understood as consisting of five co-emergent “boundless dimensions”: Divine Love, Pure Presence, Nonconceptual Awareness, The Logos, and The Absolute.
Soul is understood to be the individual consciousness that connects the world with Being, an idea found in ancient Chinese philosophy. It is believed in the Diamond Approach that the soul can be experienced as a living presence that contains the thoughts, feelings and sensations usually called our “self”. World is understood as the outer manifestation of reality, the multitude of physical forms that all people are familiar with.
While most spiritual paths conceive of Being as universal, the Diamond Approach also pays a great deal of attention to a more individual way of experiencing Being, called Essence. The concept of Essence is similar to the Hindu idea of Atman. While Being is the true nature of all of reality, Essence is the portion of it that forms the true and personal nature of the soul. It is experienced as a substantial fluid Presence which can differentiate into various qualities or aspects, such as compassion, strength, will, joy, peace, love, value, humaness, personalness, identity, and space.
As our soul develops it is faced with a double challenge: it must learn to function in the World, while also remaining connected to Spirit. For various reasons, some innate and others environmental, we slowly become alienated from our Essence through the development of fixed patterns of perception and behaviour known as the personality or ego. Each of these patterns or ego structures disconnects us from a specific Essential Aspect. In other words, it is built around the “Hole” of this aspect. By exploring its structure, both cognitively and experientially, one eventually confronts the Hole and by going through it the lost aspect is retrieved.
The practice referred to as “presence” is based on two methods, learning to sense one’s body (especially one’s arms and legs) in an ongoing manner and regularly focusing one’s attention on a point in the belly called the “kath center” (known in Chinese philosophy as the tan tien). These methods help a person to become more grounded in the body and in physical reality and also, in time, to develop the ability to experience oneself as the presence of Essence.
The Diamond Approach centers on practice of investigation of the self, experience and perception. “Inquiry” answers the question posed by Socrates: “How does one set up as the object of one’s investigation, that about which one knows nothing?” One starts by wanting to find out, living a question, while recognizing preconceptions, preconditions and expectations as to the nature of what one may learn and instead attending to one’s immediate or present experience. While not explicitly acknowledged as such, Inquiry in effect combines (as a descriptive mechanism only, as the inquiry process is beyond mere language) the practice of Edmund Husserl’s “transcendental phenomenological reduction, or epoché”, with Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic exploration. An important feature of inquiry is that a person learns to be aware of both the content of experience (emotions, thoughts, sensations) and the attitudes and reactions towards it. In this way the subject-object dichotomy is transcended and one learns to relate to oneself without having to create inner splits. Open-ended Inquiry is both a path to, and the state of, a realized person and in time is understood to be a self-revelation of the mysteries of Being.
The main motivation for embarking on the spiritual journey in this approach is love for the Truth. “Truth” refers to seeing things as they really are, which ultimately comes down to recognizing Being as the true nature of everything. Love for the truth therefore combines the traditional bhakti and jnana perspectives on spirituality.
The work of Almaas has received praise from spiritual teachers and explorers such as John Welwood, Brant Cortright, Jack Kornfield, and Ken Wilber. Wilber, while tentatively supportive of the Diamond Approach, disputes some details. For example, he does not agree that infants have essential experiences, maintaining that the infant exists purely in the physical, material world – “instinctual, vital, impulsive, narcissistic, egocentric; living for food, its God is all mouth.” Almaas has responded that Wilber’s critique demonstrates a misinterpretation based on Wilber’s own linear, four-stage categorization of spiritual development. Almaas’ perspective is that infants experience a type of true nature/Spirit, but one that is very distinct from, and less integrated than, the experiences of essentially realized adults.
Excerpts from his writings:
“There is no way around confronting yourself, your unconscious, your fears, your doubts. I myself haven’t found any magical way around this. We each have to confront ourselves. We cannot simply practice a spiritual technique like meditation or prayer, have some deep experience, and expect it to totally transform us. The experience, regardless of how profound, simply cannot erase all the false influences on your consciousness. If we thoroughly investigate the matter for ourselves, we see that we have to confront ourselves in very powerful and deep ways.”
“Those persons who have arrived at the balanced maturity of humanity have done so in the form of renunciation, discipline, friction with teacher and community, pursuit of practical tasks, following lessons given to them by their teachers, and in so many other ways that the various teachings have developed. In this work we do it through inquiry into our everyday experience. Becoming a mature human being doesn’t happen easily or instantly.”
“Although there is grace and there is blessing, it is only to help you confront and deal with your situation. Grace won’t do the whole thing for you. It will give you more confidence, more trust, but you will still have to deal with yourself. The help of the school, the teaching, and the teacher are small things compared to what you need to do yourself. This is part of the educational process of the inner path. The path requires the clarification and the transparency of all that determines your experience and perception of yourself and of the world. Whatever questions you have, whatever you do not understand about yourself, you have to pursue. If you have any dissatisfaction, any discontentment, you need to pursue it. Teachings and teachers provide help, guidance, and orientation so that you don’t spend too much time dealing with the wrong issues. The teacher saves you time, energy, and effort. But the teacher can’t do it for you. The teacher gives you guidelines to help you do the practice and to help you deal with yourself.”
“What makes it so difficult for us as human beings to be deeply authentic and spontaneous, to feel free to be who we naturally are? One aspect of the answer lies in what most spiritual traditions understand to be a case of mistaken identity. Most of us are consciously and unconsciously identified with self-concepts which greatly limit our experience of ourselves and the world. Who we take ourselves to be, as determined by the sets of ideas and images that define us, is very far from the unconditioned reality that deeply realized human beings have come to recognize as our true nature, who we truly are.”
“Numerous approaches, such as psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and various self-improvement techniques can help us change our self-concepts so that we are more realistic, more satisfied, and more effective in our lives. But only an exploration of the actual nature of the self, beyond the details of its content, can bring us to realms of experience which approach more deeply fulfilling, fundamental levels of philosophical or spiritual truth. Our experience of ourselves can be transformed from identifying with our mental self-images to having awareness of less contingent, more fundamentally real aspects of the self. It is possible to arrive at a place where we can experience ourselves as the actual phenomenon, the actual ontological presence that we are, rather than as ideas and feelings about ourselves. The more we are able to contact the actual presence that we are, the less we are alienated in a superficial or externally defined identity. The more we know the truth of who we are, the more we can be authentic and spontaneous, rather than merely living through concepts of ourselves.”
“Being real is not easy; it comes at a price. We cannot live a real life without taking risks, suffering difficulties, and making the necessary sacrifices. There’s no easy way. We call our path the Work because we often have to do things that are difficult. Although sometimes our Work might feel like play, and playful exploration is fundamental to it, more frequently it feels challenging. The inner journey is difficult because we have to deal with issues that we’d rather not deal with, issues that we’ve avoided for a long time. To be real, to live a truthful life, we have to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves. We can’t say, “I want to be real,” and keep running away from ourselves and from our lives. Being real is the result of confronting ourselves, the result of being honest about who and what we are. The help we get from our teachers is secondary to our own honesty and sincerity, is secondary to our own committed practice. We are transformed by our own risk, our own sacrifice. If we want to be real human beings, we have to live like real human beings, regardless of how difficult that may be.
Nobody can give you the gift of being a real human being. If you want a real life, a life with truth and integrity, a life with true meaning, with true significance, you’re going to have to live that way. A real life is not the result of the Work but is the Work. We have to take the risks, make the sacrifices, and confront our demons. If we devote our life to security, pleasure, and satisfaction, we won’t be real adult human beings. We will continue being little kids. If we don’t confront the difficulties in our life and our reality, we’re not going to live a real life. It’s as simple as that. We’re not going to become real by having certain experiences. The experiences might give us some direction and guidance, a taste of what is real, but true transformation happens when we learn to live according to the truth.”
“So the person who takes his positive emotions to be his true nature or essence is really missing the truth. Such a person will continue to develop the life of the personality, based on certain emotional states, rather than the life of the essence. But this is the ordinary condition of the unrealized person who is always looking for positive emotional experiences. And it is this very search for positive emotions that prevents most of us from realizing our essence, which transcends both positive and negative emotions. Although we can see here the fundamental difference between essence and emotion, it is usually not easy, especially for the beginner, to tell the difference because they feel similar. The situation is further complicated by the condition of modern Western man, who is very alienated from his emotions. Many people do not even experience their emotions, and the ones who can do not usually experience them deeply or fully. The felt emotions are usually so distorted and dominated by negativity that it takes a lot of hard work to start feeling them both deeply and in a balanced way.”
“People who are near death sometimes begin to see how much they love life, how much they love the world, how much they love very simple things. To be able to get up and take a shower is wonderful. You don’t want to lose that . . . just feeling the water running over your body. Normally, you don’t tend to notice that; you just take a shower every morning and put on your clothes and run. But when you are about to die, you think, “Oh, am I never going to have a shower again?” and you recognize how much you like it, how much you love it. If we explore our relationship to the world, we recognize that we have a tremendous love for it.
We have a deep love for the world even though many of us have difficulty with it. We have fears and conflicts about the world, and there is much suffering, pain, aggression, and disappointment. Some of us sometimes hate the world. But when we explore very deeply, we usually recognize that we feel love for it as well.
At the same time, we have another love. Many people in the world are not aware of this other love. They are only living out their love, their attraction to, and their need for the world. But when somebody becomes more mature or sensitive, the conventional world is no longer enough.
The life of the world, regardless of how much we love it, feels incomplete at some point. Every aspect of it, regardless of how beautiful, how wonderful, it is, has something about it that is not completely satisfying. Even with people we love, in our intimate love relationships, and in our connection with nature, we hunger for something else, something more invisible. We can’t even define at first what that is. We become aware of this love in different ways. Some of us feel discontented, incomplete, or we become aware of a sense of meaninglessness. Some of us have a lot of pain and suffering and want to end that; so we seek happiness or freedom. That is why many spiritual teachings see as the motivation for enlightenment and spirituality the need to develop compassion, or to free people from suffering, or to have love for God or for truth. But if we explore all of these, we begin to recognize this other love, the love for what is beyond this world. Anyone who becomes interested in inner work, spiritual work, starts to be aware of this love.”
The following quote is from http://www.trans4mind.com/counterpoint/index-new-age/almaas.shtml
“Man is asleep. Little do we know what this means, the extent of this sleep. Little do we know what it means to be really awake, to be ripened, completed, a whole person. Sometimes, when a drop of grace kindles my heart, my first feeling is to cry, with a burning heart for how asleep I am, how blind I can be, without even knowing it. I feel so sad then, so sorry for how far I go from God, how estranged I can be from my true nature. My deep love for Truth, for the precious gold of Reality, melts my heart into warm running tears when I remember how hard it is to remember. The realization that when I am asleep I don’t even know how far I am from God makes my heart burn with more fire. It is so easy to forget. And it is such a sad affair, for what I forget is my own true nature, the precious wine of my innermost soul. No wonder the Sufi makes it his first and foremost duty to remember God, day and night. God’s name is always on his tongue, constantly within his heart. It is so easy to forget who I am because identifying with my ego patterns is such a smooth and automatic process. It’s like gravity, always there to pull me down. Even when I am keenly aware of my process, there always comes a time when a subtle game takes over, and without realizing it I am cut off from the origin, estranged from the source of Being.
Identification always comes with blindness. They go together. When I identify with a particular reaction or a pattern of mine I am really saying that I am this reaction or this pattern, without being aware that I am saying so. The blindness can go so far that I feel self-righteous about this particular identification. And this really means that I am asserting the existence of the devil, and negating what is real. I blind myself from seeing this by rationalization or pretension. Essentially it is self-deception. So I find myself running after gratification of my games with complete justification and self-righteousness, of course. Forgetting God, the one Reality, always means siding with the devil, the delusion we call ego. It’s so painful, it’s so shameful, that sometimes I actually say to the devil, “Yes, I believe you.” I turn my back on God, on Reality, on the source of life, believing that the devil, my ignorant ego, will give me the satisfaction and contentment I desire. Time and time again, with a lot of pain and sorrow, I find that I only end up in more frustration, more suffering, and more alienation.
It is in the nature of ego striving and the desire for gratification that the heart is upset. There can be no peace with craving and grasping. This craving is a certain energy, a certain state that is by its very nature harsh, hard, excited, and violent. It is the seed and source of all negative emotions. It is felt and experienced as violence within the heart. It feels like sand grating against the pure smoothness and softness of the heart. It is no wonder greed, craving and desire for gratification produce wars and violence, for it is actually the energy of war within our hearts, inside our own bodies.
Still, rare is the individual who will even listen to such a fundamental truth, let alone do anything about it. It’s as if our very nature does not want us to see this truth or to admit to its validity and significance. Of course not, the devil does not want to see its deception, ego does not want to die. NO. It will fight fiercely with all weapons possible, more weapons than we can even conceive of, to avoid the truth, to conceal it, to reject it. The devil will not see itself as the devil. It has to point to something else as the cause of trouble. And it will continue opening its hungry mouth, screaming, “Give me, fill me, satisfy me.” But of course, this is another illusion; it will never be filled, it can never be satisfied. For its hunger is bottomless, its emptiness has no limits. It is always the temptation of satisfaction, but never total satisfaction. The Buddhists found an apt image for this state of ego. They call it the hungry ghost. It is a being with a huge stomach and a tiny mouth, like the hole of a needle. It can never get enough through the small hole to fill the huge stomach. This is the usual state of ego, whether we are conscious of it or not.
The core of ego is a feeling of deficiency, of poverty, of emptiness, of saying: “I am no good, I am worthless, I am empty. Give me, give me, more, more, more, more.” In this state of deficiency I don’t love myself, I don’t accept myself. I reject myself. I want to run away, distract myself; maybe go to a movie, see a friend, have sex, eat, fill myself with knowledge, or pretend I am O.K. I am always wanting to fill this emptiness, always rejecting it, always afraid of it. In fact, we are all terrified by it. Most of the time people don’t know that this emptiness, this deficiency is what is driving most of their actions. It’s such a desperation, such a race to fill this bottomless pit. But how sweet it is to say “yes” to this emptiness. How courageous it is to say: “I feel empty, I feel deficient, and I won’t attempt to fill it. I want to see the truth. I want to experience the reality of me. I refuse to manipulate. I want to wake up regardless of how painful it is.” Only the hero will take this attitude, for it is a heroic act to see your deficiency, your neediness, your emptiness, and yet not try to manipulate your life to fill it. We are so compulsive, so driven to manipulate, to avoid feeling this basic deficiency of our personal ego. But believe me, my friend, there’s no other way towards fullness. God will not pour His grace if you don’t accept your deficiency and stop manipulating. Manipulation, striving to fill this emptiness, is only the devil doing its efficient work. It is constantly working to hide its weakness.”