The One-School Approach To Spirituality

By Leo Gura - April 22, 2017

How do most spiritual practitioners do spirituality? They pick one school and follow it all the way. But “pick” is too generous of a word. It’s actually a lot more like they stumble into one school and become that school’s loyalists.

Despite how important focus and consistency is for spiritual attainment, the problems with the one-school approach should be obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense.

When you follow the one-school approach, it’s like getting married to the first person you have sex with. It’s a choice based off zero breadth of experience, with no strategy behind it.

The fundamental epistemic error with the one-school approach is that you’re making an important life decision based on a sample size of one. You’re implicitly assuming that you understand a complex and nuanced domain (spirituality) when in fact you have zero experience with it. Such an approach is based on fluke luck. Yes, it’s possible that you find your soul mate this way, but the odds are against you. If we take a look at the averages, the first spiritual school you try will NOT be appropriate for you. But if you take the one-school approach, you won’t realize that until years later, because you’ve never experienced anything else.

If you’re going to do the one-school approach, here are the problems you should expect to arise:

  • You get stuck using techniques which do not fit your personality type, learning style, body type, brain type, energy level, age, or gender. Due to this lack of fit you quit in frustration.
  • You become a crusader for your school, holding it as superior to all others. You become closedminded to other teaching styles.
  • You become dismissive and improperly critical of other schools and teachings. Your ability to dialogue with other spiritual practitioners is very limited.
  • You fall prey to the debating/arguing trap, becoming an ideologue.
  • You lack the experience to speak about spirituality in the broader context.
  • You are not even aware of what other schools exist and how amazing some of them are.
  • You think your school has covered everything essential, but you are wrong.
  • You assume the teachings of your school are the most clear and accurate articulations of spirituality, but you are wrong.
  • You entirely miss some important facets of enlightenment and spirituality.
  • You entirely miss some important facets of personal development.
  • You fall prey to some degree of dogma, even if you do end up attaining enlightenment.
  • You conflate the arbitrary rituals and customs of your school with actual spirituality.
  • Your school turns out to be a cult, religion, or some other kind of power-seeking organization which ends up exploiting you financially, sexually, or psychologically.
  • You end up quitting in frustration or disillusionment because you’re not able to understand what the pointers are pointing to, because you need more variety of pointers than your school is providing.
  • Your school ends up being a very indirect, distorted, diluted path to enlightenment. For example, you spend years chasing spiritual states or doing Yoga postures which are really irrelevant to enlightenment.
  • You fail to see the rich and beautiful interconnections which exist between all the world’s true spiritual traditions. That beauty and variety is lost on you.
  • Because you don’t study spirituality from multiple angles, you fail to grasp many of the more minor, subtle insights available.
  • You miss out on very practical techniques for spiritual purification and personal development which exist only in some schools but not in others. These techniques would have made your life a lot better had you learned about them.
  • Your ability to teach spirituality to a broad range of people will be limited because you will be forcing them to conform to only your style.
  • You get easily angered, offended, or disturbed by other traditions, cultures, and techniques.

Really, what the one-school approach amounts to is accidental spirituality. In the best case scenario you happen to stumble upon a great school, it just happens to be a valid teaching, it just happens to fit your style, and it just happens to work for you. In the worst case scenario it’s a totally invalid teaching, you buy into it hook, liner, and sinker, and you end up becoming a deluded ideologue with no hope of enlightenment, and instead you get exploited.

Remember, that for every one person on the planet who stumbles into a good school, there are at least a thousand who stumble into a terrible school. How do you think religion was born? That’s the direct result of the one-school, stumble-your-way-into-the-first-thing-you-see approach.

For example, the famous Swami Yogananda talked about how he found his guru and instantly knew he should devote his life to him and the path of Kriya Yoga. And so he did, and he turned out to become a great enlightened master himself. But this is the exception, not the norm. What if his guru happened to be a radical militant religious fundamentalist? Then that strategy would not have worked so nicely. He would have become ensnared, like millions of radicalized, sectarian devotees found all around the world today.

Every time I see an enlightened person who proudly telling us how he got enlightened by loyally sticking to one school or teaching, I can’t help but thinking how this very person would be a suicide bomber had the circumstances of his birth and upbringing been slightly different. His strategy was crap, but he happened to succeed despite it. That’s called gambling. And unskillful gambling at that. He doesn’t really appreciate how close he came to completely deluding himself.

What almost no gurus, teachers, teachings, or schools talk about is how to select a valid and good school out of the giant ceasepool of teachings that exist within the larger spiritual marketplace. Have you noticed this? Virtually nobody talks about the pros and cons of various schools honestly. They all try to sell you on their method, while badmouthing and discounting all the others. Even modern teachers and enlightened masters, who are generally secular and openminded, tend to overlook this point. Because from their perspective they already know what they’re teaching you is the truth. But from your perspective, you don’t know that! This is a very important point. You can’t trust anyone in this business if you want to avoid getting screwed. So you have to stick to a valid epistemic strategy.

So, what’s the solution? Simple: shop around! Take a strategic, objective, open-minded, cosmopolitan, research-based approach. Spend at least a few years surveying the field and exploring your options before you get married to any one of them. And even then, I recommend never getting married at all in this domain. A cowboy doesn’t marry his horse.

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