Which is THE best spiritual practice?

What’s the best spritual practice or path?

What’s the best spiritual practice, technique or lineage?

Well, after much thought, and thirty years of experimentation, I would have to say the best spiritual practice Kasmiri Shaivism, with the practices of Naqshbandi Sufism coming in at a very close second place.

Please, I am not being serious here. (Although, I must admit some experiential familiarity with both of these appraoches).

I get asked this question often, and each time I need to redirect the questioner, to cajole her to re-frame the question a little.

I nearly always get the urge to say the best spiritual practice is the one which works for you, or better yet, the one which is working for you at this point in your life. Different approaches work best for different people at different times in their life.

I see many folks struggling with questions such as “Who’s got the whole answer, which one is the true path, which is the fastest spiritual practice?”

“Which spirtual practice one starts up where the other ones leave off?”

I don’t think that’s the real issue.

The issue is what works for you at given time. And that might change over time. It certainly has been the case with me over the course of the last 30 years.

Ok fine, you might say, but isn’t there one that is absolutely better than the rest? Or perhaps one path will take you here, but after that you need to practice this other one to take you to the next level?

Or which is the TRUE one?

A variant of this question would be “Which one did the Buddha actually teach?”

Again, pardon me for being blunt, but who cares what worked for the Buddha?

The Buddha lived in a very different time and place, and was faced with many different issues. What worked for him may not work for you. Just because it worked for him means just that. It worked for him.

The Buddha did not have your mother.

Find out what works for you.

But isn’t there a path which is absolutely better than another? After all didn’t the Budhha supposedly say (in the satipatthana sutta) that the four foundations of mindfulness is the only way for the salvation of beings?

Many high level religionists make claims like this.

Sorry to be so blunt, but I just don’t buy it.

There is a way to compare spiritual practice, but it has to be done from the inside of the spiritual practice, from the lived experience of the spiritual practice, phenomenologically, if you will. This takes courage and honestly, especially at the beginning, when you see how much psychic investment there may be in a particular practice and tradition.

What you can do is compare strengths and weaknesses of particular meditation and spiritual paths and practices from the inside. At the beginning of this process you must allow the possibility that all practices and traditions have strengths and weaknesses. Then you can make an honest comparison.

This is the first step out of the incredibly subtle grip of a pervasive  fundamentalism I see in many spiritual practice circles.

Yes, even in the cool ones.

If you do this kind of honest appraisal, you just might come to see that the choice of a spiritual practice or tradition is not as important as you initially thought it was. You come to see that they all work in similar ways. Of course they emphasize different aspects of development, which is why different practices may be more relevant to you at different stages of you life.

You may even come feel comfortable with spiritual practices, traditions and world views which may have previously been seen as sexist, anachronistic, misanthropic, violent or quant. You may even feel enormous compassion and see how others get stuck in this subtle, pervasive fundamentalism, having been through that space yourself.

You see the urgent need for compasionate interspirituality.

And if you come this far, my friend, you have come a long way.

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Hi Barry Your article is quite excellent. I would only differ on one point. You say “When the experience of self is lost, perception pivots on itself and myriad things sing in harmony with all other things, infinitely correlated, perfect and complete.” My experience goes along daoist lines where the aim (in Zhuangzi) is an an optimal integration of the sense of perfection (daoguan, the transcendent perspective) and the sense of imperfection (renguan, the human or self perspective). This optimal cannot be reached by a self who thinks that it can realize complete perfection. I would emphasize however, that unlike most traditions, I don’t claim that this perspective is normative. As Zhuangzi says, “How could I know that.” And so I would not declare that your perspective is wrong, only different from my experience. An integration of a dual perspective is also seen in Dzogchen: Herbert Guenther: “Saraha and the sNying-thig thinkers seem to have been in agreement that the development of discursive consciousness on the one hand, with its dependence on concepts, and of… Read more »

Interesting article. I would like to suggest that “compassionate interspirituality” can only really take place when one has taken the time to understand both the similarities and the differences of one’s chosen faith and other faiths. Then, there is the opportunity of leveraging the broader understanding without diluting or eroding any particular teaching. I wrote a bit about this in an article about finding synergy between Buddhist and Hindu practices at Yoga as Mindfulness Practice – A Buddhist Perspective. Compassion implies understanding, which is why compassion and wisdom are seen as the two wings that give rise to enlightenment in Mahayana Buddhism. Interspiritual compassion cannot be a blind acceptance, but an informed understanding and insight into the important differences. It is this informed compassion that can bridge the gap and allow us to take advantage of the synergies of faiths.

Something I recently wrote perhaps fits into this thread, especially the title “Which is the best…..” As I sometimes say, this is how it works for me. Your view could very well be better. Here goes mine: A “pluralistic religious community” probably amounts to an oxymoron, but could there be pluralistic spiritual communities? The conventional religious demand for universal agreement on and coherency of beliefs often interferes with the attainment of authentic individual spiritually. In fact, what I clearly sense is that the Spirit is asking each of us to believe only what we gather from our own unique experience of the divine. One God, many Gods, no Gods— how many Gods do you believe there are? The Spirit shows no sign of being disturbed by whatever answer I give. Where and who is God? Who must I pray to? The Spirit is apparently not angered by whatever your claims may be about its identity or location. To the Spirit, the human plurality of beliefs is no problem; the Spirit’s unconditional love is promiscuous. It… Read more »

I generally agree Intentional Sage.

But I also clearly sense that what might be best for many folks (for example me) is to realize we are already fundamentally perfectly okay. This is the teaching of Laozi, and even Luther understood it to a degree. It was a notion that apparently allowed Zhuangzi to embrace every being and all of being.

Someone recently asked the Dalai Lama what was the best religion to which he responded: “The best religion is the one that gets you closest to God. It is the one that makes you a better person.”
The questioner countered: “What is it that makes me better?”
Dalai Lama: “Whatever makes you more compassionate, more sensible, more detached, more loving, more humanitarian, more responsible, more ethical. The religion that will do that for you is the best religion.”


So, if we integrate this into the question of your post: which is the best spiritual practice?
Whichever one makes one more compassionate, more sensible, more detached, more loving, more humanitarian, more responsible, more ethical. The spiritual practice that will do that for one is the best spiritual practice for that particular person.

With Love and Gratitude,

The Intentional Sage

Hi Vincent I have read somewhere that yoga comes from yoke, a device that connects something to something else. And so perhaps your practice intimately connects you to the “All.” The world in its wholeness. You wrote: “overcome my will to be lazy and rational.” That reminds me of “churned and pounded the unbendable” in the following: The Kesin Hymn (translated by Feuerstein and Miller) The long-haired one endures fire, the long-haired one endures poison, the long-haired one endures both worlds. The long-haired one is said to gaze full on heaven, the long-haired one is said to be that light. The wind-girt sages have donned the yellow robe of dust: along the wind’s course they glide when the gods have penetrated them. Exulting in our seerhood, upon the winds we have ascended. Of us, you mortals, only our bodies do you behold. Through the middle region flies the sage shining down upon all forms; for his piety is he deemed the friend of every god. The wind’s steed, the Lord of life’s friend, is the… Read more »

Now that Raymond has broadened this into personal rather than recommended practice, I can answer it better. Which is the path best for me? — A walk of several miles down public footpaths through urban and rural England, especially the Chiltern Hills which surround my home town. Sometimes it reveals the gift of ecstasy. Then I can easily understand why I’m doing it. Other times it is just a practice requiring much effort, but all the same I’m drawn to it by an urge which I identify as the “urge to penance”. If I “make myself do it”, it’s implicit that my will is overcoming my reluctance to make the effort. But it has to be the other way round. The inexplicable urge, which I call “penance”, has to overcome my will to be lazy and rational. When it’s not ecstatic, it may be a kind of subterranean brooding. Something may be happening deep inside me but all I’m aware of is looking at plants, insects, trees, listening to the birds and so on; gazing… Read more »

Yes but, there is one slight qualification.

It is, as far as I know, merely the one I have found that is best for me. It it strikes your fancy fine. If not that is fine as well. It might not prove very useful to anyone but me.

Zhuangzi, who also was not fond of recipes, would say, “How could I possibly know that it would be good for you?” And also, “Rightness is what fits.”

So this is your response to Tom’s “Which is the best spiritual practice”?

I think both Vincent. “Complete” is a word that always brings problems. The best word I have found so far is “optimal”, which of course is subjective.

So I decide at this moment to be as open, clear, emotionally honest, quiet inside, and sincere (I best not lie to myself) as I can ( paradoxically forgiving myself if I don’t try very hard, or even give up on the entire enterprise).

After this moment there will be a few more moments today in which I will probably try to do the same thing. (This effort best be out of curiosity, not out of any “shoulds.”)

In my case, by following this general recipe, over the years, I seemed to have become more satisfied with each moment. Or maybe I have become better at deluding myself. Either way, I am happy with the result.

I agree with Raymond wholeheartedly.

But Raymond, are you suggesting that sincerity, complete open mind, clarity and inner quiet are pre-requisites for our journey?

Or are they the journey’s goal?

Suddenly, I’m not sure!

I agree and disagree with Vincent. I follow Blake:

“If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.”

Have a plan, don’t have a plan, I can succeed or fail with either approach. But there is a mechanism within all of us that seems to lead us well if we are sincere and completely open-minded.

“Qing jing wei tian xia zheng.” “With clarity and inner quiet all things under heaven fall into place.” Laozi

If one is to root out a subtle pervasive fundamentalism, one might go even further. If you are going to say “Who cares what worked for the Buddha?” one could take the next step and abandon the notion of a mapped path altogether. A mapped path is one already travelled by someone else who comes back, as it were, and tells you about it, with a little (or much) guidance: “This worked for me.” I see many problems in this model, but they won’t be relevant to the seeker who is drawn by an inner compulsion which at some point fixes on a particular way. But when you do that, it is trial and error, and you have to accept that your path may go in circles or hit a dead end, and one day you may need to start again “sadder, yet wiser”. There are cooks who follow recipes. I think in the end every good cook sees that a recipe book leads him into error. He will have to judge the quantities and… Read more »

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