This is a very tough question to answer in a general way, because spiritual practices can be very individual as we all know. Some practices work well with some people, but for some reasons the same practices don’t do much to some others regardless of how long they have practiced, or what stages they are on in their journey. As a result, we all have to go through trying out some or many different types of practices to get to know what works for us. I know some people are lucky enough to find the one that works for them straight away without having to go through much trial and error on their path. But, I don’t think it’s that common. The good news is that, even if you feel you might have wasted so much time and money on some useless practices or teachings, the truth is that nothing is wasted and everything contributes to your growth. Getting to know what doesn’t work for you is also one part of the learning process.
From one of my spiritual readings in the past, I remember one guru mentioning that you can get awakening within 6 years if you devote yourself to practising for awakening – if you do well that is. That can be quite a controversial comment because we don’t see many people gaining awakening, even though they have been on their spiritual paths diligently for a lot longer than 6 years. There are more complicated factors involved when we talk about length of time and awakening. But, the comment still has an important implication in that you can achieve awakening a lot quicker ‘if you do well’. Which means, if you don't feel you are going anywhere much even though you've been truly devoting yourself to the path of awakening, you need to review your practices. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to abandon the teaching that you’ve been practising and find a better teaching. It more means that you need to review what and how you’re doing.
Also, in many cases people think their goal is awakening, but their true desire is something else. As a result, they focus on practices that work for that something else rather than awakening. In the normal way of thinking, we think we know about ourselves well, but quite often we don’t unfortunately. Knowing yourself, including your true desires, is very important on your spiritual path to obtain exactly what you want in order to get suitable results in the end. Another common mistake could be that you might have wrong concepts and beliefs on ‘awakening’ and you’re diligently practising for it based on your imagination of what awakening might be or should be.
Now, I cannot say you should do this or that to awaken because different things work for different individuals, but I can talk about a few things that can be stubborn obstacles for awakening on your path which could hold you back from going forward for a long time, sometimes until the end of your life. You can try to be mindful to avoid these obstacles as one of the practices you do for awakening.
Here are some don’ts for awakening;
First, if possible, do not hold any beliefs or concepts regarding awakening or enlightenment.
Second, don’t get too attached to one theme that you think is most important when you practise for awakening or enlightenment.
Third, don’t get caught up with certain mind states or/and supernatural experiences during the journey.
Fourth, don’t deceive yourself on your path.
Let me explain a bit about these points. The first is don’t hold beliefs or/and concepts on awakening or enlightenment – this is probably the one most important point on your path. Don’t even try to imagine it because it doesn’t help your path, rather it will become your biggest hinderance for gaining awakening or enlightenment. Is it possible to keep yourself neutral with all the information outside? Yes. It is not easy, but at least you can try to be mindful about it.
Second, don’t get carried away with one theme when practising. I’ve seen people get overly attached to one theme such ‘love’ or ‘compassion’ which are probably the most common ones. It doesn’t matter if you get hooked with positive themes or negative themes – when you focus on your attached theme as a practise in everyday life for your spiritual growth, you’re inevitably practising ‘duality’. This will also contribute to solidifying your beliefs and concepts based on dualism. Because without bad things to compare with, you have no way to make sure the things you think are good are actually good. Therefore, a balanced way of seeing without too much judgement helps with deconstructing the solidly built concepts and beliefs in our mind.
Third, I’ve also seen almost everyone on the path get caught up with certain mind states and spend so much time trying to either achieve it or keep it. Some people might get a sense of achievement when they can get into certain mind states. But, quite often, it’s just by-products on the way. Notice it, but don’t spend too much time and effort trying to achieve it again. Those states of mind will come and go. Basically, don’t get attached to anything that you come across on the way of your path.
Lastly, don’t deceive yourself. I do see that we all deceive ourselves to some extent. We quite often justify ourselves to feel right or good. But, honesty is one very important practice for awakening. Observe yourself with brutal honesty every single moment if possible.
Now, let’s talk about Dos:
First, ‘know exactly what you want on your path’.
Second, deconstruct your beliefs and concepts on anything and everything.
Third, be curious and question until you get answers.
Fourth, be very desperate to have awakening.
Fifth, be humble.
The first one, know what you truly want is the one I mention a lot. You’ve got to want ‘awakening or enlightenment’ if you want to get it. If you want a peaceful mind, that can be a by-product on the way of awakening, but there are many efficient practices out there for achieving a peaceful mind.
Second, deconstructing your beliefs and concepts are one of very essential practices for awakening. Your beliefs and concepts will always hold you back from learning at a fast pace. Can we hold beliefs and concepts but still somehow gain awakening? I think it’s very unlikely. Observe and analyse your thoughts and behaviours to deconstruct your belief system whenever possible. At the end of the day, the path of awakening is not by making it full by putting more things into ourselves. It is a path of emptying out, which is a lot more difficult than filling things in.
Third, be curious and question. You have to be a scholar, researcher, seeker, and analyst for your path. Some people say that ‘intelligence’ is a hinderance for spiritual development. I would say, ‘intelligence’ is one of the very important tools for awakening. Using it well in an appropriate way can help sharpen your mind and focus on the right things for your spiritual development.
Fourth, be very desperate. Sometimes, I measure how close a person might be to awakening by seeing their desperation. Some people don’t see any other reason to continue life but to awaken. Those people will try the maximum to get awakening. They will endure any kind of hardship on the way. They won’t give it up or let go until they get awakening. They know it’s time – they have to awaken. The more desperate you are, the more you will devote yourself for awakening, and thus you will have a better chance to awaken.
Lastly, please stay humble all the time. Watch out for how your egoic mind might try to use your spiritual knowledge and experiences to feel better and superior to others. This kind of egoic mind can become a subtle but very stubborn obstacle that holds you back from going forward for awakening. Please keep the attitude of ‘I know nothing until I get awakening’.
These are just some quick points that come to mind which could help you on your way to awaken. I’m sure you’ve heard of all these many times on your path for awakening if you’ve been walking it for a while. However, when we‘ve been on the path for a long time, we tend to ignore or forget the importance of these, often because we keep looking for magical teachings that might just take you to awakening. There might be some lucky people who’ve found this sort of magic, but I know nothing like that myself. As far as I know, diligent practising of these essential points can help you awaken along with your choice of any other practices for awakening.