During enlightenment conversations one more question often pops up. It is a question about the different paths that, at least according to a generally accepted assumption, lead to the same goal. Well, it is rarely asked in a form of a question. Rather, it is said (or written) as a premise, as an understandable starting point everyone knows about. Invariably, I am surprised by that, for it is obvious that such a premise does not stand up to common sense.
More or less, the “question” goes like this:
Isn’t it true that all spiritual paths lead to the same place? They have the same goal, don’t they? They may look different, but in the end they will take you to the mountain peak.
Well, honestly, I have no idea how to start pointing out the mistaken views behind such statements. Usually, I don’t react, because every reaction would include a lot of annoying corrections. However, since I have cornered myself into it, I have to do it now.
All right then… the idea that all spiritual paths lead to the same place is like the Latin saying that “all roads lead to Rome”. What does it actually mean? Is it literary true? It may have been true during Antiquity, when Rome was the only city positioned in the center of a network of roads. Later on, the saying became an idiom: if in spite of everything you do, the result will be the same, then all roads do lead to Rome. Of course, sometimes it happens like that. But in most cases, all the roads are not the same and they do not end up at the same point.
Let’s say that you are looking for the path to enlightenment (this is an analogy, do not take me literary), and let’s say, that would be the path to Rome. You are at a certain place of your life and spiritual journey (you are not enlightened), and let’s say that would be like staying in Zürich, Switzerland. You want to go to Rome and you ask for guidance or at least for signposts to make your way to the goal. What would you think if someone says to you: “It is all the same. Just take one road and go. In the end all roads lead to the same place.”
You would not be suspicious? And you really would drive to the first crossroads and head east, towards Vienna, Austria (because you just happen to like the sound of the name), totally convinced that all roads lead to Rome?
In practice, all roads do not lead to Rome, unless you take into account the fact that somewhere near Vienna, you will finally see that you are driving in the wrong direction and have to turn back if you want to visit Rome. Well, it is true: spiritually, in whichever direction we drive, at some point we will understand that and turn towards Rome. Everyone will get to that point, even if, in good faith, they drove all the way east to Moscow, and then turned back.
In that sense, and only in that sense, the saying Omnes Viae Romam Ducunt is true for enlightenment. But that is of no consolation when tired, disappointed and lost, you have to drive back a thousand miles or more – which, in this case, means to empty your mind of thousands of mistaken but obstinant convictions you acquired along the way.
All in all, there are roads leading to enlightenment, but there are also those that lead in the opposite direction.
What about spiritual authorities? Do they agree about the goal? Do they all speak about the same thing, just using different words?
Honestly, I don’t know. I would not dare to judge what they are all talking about. It is enough hard to determine what one of them is talking about, let alone what to say about all of them! It is not possible to know, but for some reasons people are prone to conclude that spirituality is all about the same thing.
What I do know, first hand, is that spirituality is a universe apart, containing within itself a vast number of experiences. For example, you may experience some inner vision, or an oceanic feeling of transfusing with everything, or a deep ecstasy, an unbelievable calmness, a separation of spirit from the body, a lively understanding of the future, a healing energy experience, a deep compassion and empathy with everyone, a creative elation during which all limitations disappear, a magical fulfilment of desires… and so much more. It is clear that all these experiences are different, isn’t it? And there are lots of them awaiting. Separate. Different.
In general, due to all kind of reasons, people are spiritually undereducated. They do not have discriminative abilities for that area of life. This is understandable, because most of us were not exposed to such experiences, or to the information about them. When the experience comes by itself, we desperately seek explanations and we usually accept what is given, or what we like as an explanation.
A non-discriminative dredge approach, where a scalpel is needed, results in “it is all the same” statements.
The Buddhist nirvana, isn’t it the same as the yogic samadhi? Tantric orgasm, isn’t it the same as zen satori? Religious rapture and the dancing ecstasy? Didn’t Shankara speak about the same truth as Mohamed? Astrology, kabala, peyote, Mayan or Egyptian rituals, Christianity and Islam, don’t they all speak about the same goal and lead us to the same place?
You should have your eyes and your mind firmly shut out if you want to answer those questions affirmatively. And that affirmative answer would be the result of your desire that it is really so. In turn, that desire is the result of unwillingness to face the reality alone, without the protection of any concept or belief.
The majority (the large majority) of spiritual authorities speak about various spiritual experiences. Some of them do speak about the same things, some about different things. On the whole they have in common the fact of NOT speaking about enlightenment. It is of course confusing that, while doing that, they use the word “enlightenment”, when actually describing some specific spiritual experience and their methods for attaining it. For the unenlightened it is hard to discriminate what is what. Spiritual experiences are attractive to everyone; enlightenment is a puzzle to most, even to spiritual authorities. The general confusion is hooded by salutary equalization: “they all speak about the same thing “. Even if you forget the fact that most of these speakers do not know the difference between spiritual experiences and enlightenment – so, by far they are unable to speak about it – spiritual equalization is another myth we should dispose of.
Really, next time when you find yourself in a car, a plane or a train, try any direction, any road, and you will see that you will not end up in Rome. Every path leads to some other place, some other city. As for Rome… well, some roads do lead there – a few of them maybe, but surely not all of them.