There are Two Paths to Enlightenment


There are two paths to enlightenment: the ascetic and the ecstatic.

The ascetic way is the renunciation associated with hermits, monks, and priests who practice fasting, isolation, and celibacy to renounce the world's attachments. Through self-denial, the ascetics ween themselves from material pleasures like food, sex, drugs, etc. and by starving desire, they suffocate the ego and achieve liberation. The ascetics renounce family, friends, and work, retreating to caves, monasteries and priesthoods.

But the ecstatic path is more accessible to modern people who wish to engage in family life, the social sphere, and the world of work. The ecstatic way does not ask us to renounce anything, but instead asks us to embrace everything, everyone, and every moment as supremely divine. The ecstatics invite us to discover divinity in every breath, every thought, every movement of pleasure and pain. Ecstacy is not hedonism--it does not mean enslaving ourselves to desire. Rather, the ecstatic way permits us to enjoy the fruits of the world, but to do so with full awareness of the divine nature of the fruit. In ecstatic practice, we use food, sex, and mind-altering substances to experience the divine, and not just to satisfy cravings. We then work in the world without attachment to the result, but for the joy of the work itself. We're allowed to engage in loving relationships with friends, family, and lovers while recognizing their divinity.

Though we can't all retreat to a mountaintop to renounce the world, pretty much any of us can pause to mindfully embrace the myriad sensations of daily life as a divine symphony of creative ecstasy. So don't fear that spirituality is a retreat from the world when it can and should be a joyful embrace of it.