Almaas is originally from Kuwait. He is the spiritual head of the Ridhwan School. He may be described, among other things, as an Integral theorist, mystic, spiritual teacher or an exponent of the perennial philosophy.
Almaas' books were originally published by the Ridhwan School, under the Diamond Books publishing title, but are now published by Shambhala.
The Diamond Approach is a contemporary spiritual path integrating the teachings and practices of the ancient wisdom traditions with modern depth psychology. The Diamond Approach is derived from the experiences of Almaas, along with Karen Johnson and Faisal Muqaddam (who split off early on to develop his own approach). They were among the first students of Claudio Naranjo, an early pioneer of the integration of spiritual and therapeutic work.
The curriculum of the work draws upon the founders' backgrounds in Sufism, Platonism, Buddhism and the Fourth Way. Teachers of the Diamond Approach focus on the students' specific perception of their own immediate work issues. Presentation of a canonical body of knowledge and practice is introduced over time as required.
A. Hameed Ali was born in Kuwait in 1944. At the age of eighteen, he moved to the United States to study at the University of California in Berkeley. Hameed was working on his Ph.D. in physics when he reached a turning point in his life that led him more and more into inquiring into the psychological and spiritual aspects of human nature. His interest in the truth of human nature and the true nature of reality resulted in the creation and unfoldment of the Diamond Approach.
The Diamond Approach is a spiritual teaching that utilizes a unique kind of inquiry into realization, where the practice is the expression of realization. Its aim is absolute freedom that can be described as living realization, a dynamic enlightenment where transcendent truth lives personally in the world. This inquiry opens up the infinite creativity of our Being, transforming our lives into a runaway realization, moving from realization to further realization.
The Ridhwan Foundation is the nonprofit spiritual organization established to support and preserve the integrity of the Diamond Approach teaching. The Ridhwan Foundation is legally recognized as a church and the role of a teacher is equivalent to that of a minister. People are ordained as spiritual teachers of the Ridhwan Foundation, which is the name given to its ministers.
The Diamond Approach is described as a "response to an important need that is being felt in many quarters, a need for a spiritually informed psychology, or conversely, for a psychologically grounded spirituality. This perspective does not separate psychological and spiritual experience, and hence sees no dichotomy between depth psychology and spiritual work... This body of knowledge is not an integration or synthesis of modern depth psychology and traditional spiritual understanding. The inclination to think in terms of integration of the two is due to the prevailing belief in the dichotomy between the fields of psychology and spirituality, a dichotomy in which the Diamond Mind understanding does not participate." (Almaas)
The Diamond Approach, according to its followers, can be called a Phenomenology of Being that offers a precise description of the various aspects and dimensions of Spirit or Being and is also a form of spiritual psychotherapy which seeks to heal the wounds of the soul by reconnecting it to Spirit.
In the Diamond Approach, reality is seen as consisting of three elements: God/Being/Spirit, Soul/Self and World/Cosmos.
Being is understood as the inner source and true nature of reality, which is the focus of the great spiritual traditions of both East and West, and is known as Dharmakaya, Shunyata, Brahman or Tao. Being is understood as consisting of five co-emergent "boundless dimensions": Divine Love, Pure Presence, Nonconceptual Awareness, The Logos, and The Absolute.
Soul is understood to be the individual consciousness that connects the world with Being, an idea found in ancient Chinese philosophy. It is believed in the Diamond Approach that the soul can be experienced as a living presence that contains the thoughts, feelings and sensations usually called our "self".
World is understood as the outer manifestation of reality, the multitude of physical forms that all people are familiar with.
While most spiritual paths conceive of Being as universal, the Diamond Approach also pays a great deal of attention to a more individual way of experiencing Being, called Essence. The concept of Essence is similar to the Hindu idea of Atman. While Being is the true nature of all of reality, Essence is the portion of it that forms the true and personal nature of the soul. It is experienced as a substantial fluid Presence which can differentiate into various qualities or aspects, such as compassion, strength, will, joy, peace, love, value, humaness, personalness, identity, and space.
As our soul develops it is faced with a double challenge: it must learn to function in the World, while also remaining connected to Spirit. For various reasons, some innate and others environmental, we slowly become alienated from our Essence through the development of fixed patterns of perception and behaviour known as the personality or ego. Each of these patterns or ego structures disconnects us from a specific Essential Aspect. In other words, it is built around the "Hole" of this aspect. By exploring its structure, both cognitively and experientially, one eventually confronts the Hole and by going through it the lost aspect is retrieved.
The Diamond Approach uses methods which its founders learned from Claudio Naranjo. Almaas' scientific background (he studied physics at Berkeley) helps explain the emphasis on rigorous (self) inquiry. Several contexts for participation are provided, including regular one-on-one sessions with a trained teacher, seminars and participation in various formats of organized ongoing groups.
The practice referred to as "presence" is based on two methods, learning to sense one's body (especially one's arms and legs) in an ongoing manner and regularly focusing one's attention on a point in the belly called the "kath center" (known in Chinese philosophy as the tan tien). These methods help a person to become more grounded in the body and in physical reality and also, in time, to develop the ability to experience oneself as the presence of Essence.
The Diamond Approach centers on practice of investigation of the self, experience and perception. "Inquiry" answers the question posed by Socrates: "How does one set up as the object of one's investigation, that about which one knows nothing?" One starts by wanting to find out, living a question, while recognizing preconceptions, preconditions and expectations as to the nature of what one may learn and instead attending to one's immediate or present experience. While not explicitly acknowledged as such, Inquiry in effect combines (as a descriptive mechanism only, as the inquiry process is beyond mere language) the practice of Edmund Husserl's "transcendental phenomenological reduction, or epoché", with Sigmund Freud's psychodynamic exploration. An important feature of inquiry is that a person learns to be aware of both the content of experience (emotions, thoughts, sensations) and the attitudes and reactions towards it. In this way the subject-object dichotomy is transcended and one learns to relate to oneself without having to create inner splits. Open-ended Inquiry is both a path to, and the state of, a realized person and in time is understood to be a self-revelation of the mysteries of Being.
The main motivation for embarking on the spiritual journey in this approach is love for the Truth. "Truth" refers to seeing things as they really are, which ultimately comes down to recognizing Being as the true nature of everything. Love for the truth therefore combines the traditional bhakti and jnana perspectives on spirituality.
The fees associated with the retreats and other methodologies that are part of the structure of the school have been criticized. However, the fees are relatively low compared to other spiritual schools and retreats. Furthermore, the founder and lead teacher, Hameed Ali, regularly points out that the Diamond Approach is only one path to truth and cannot in itself be all-encompassing. Students are permitted and even encouraged to question the practices of the school and to explore whether the school is a good fit for them personally.
In addition to the fees associated with the retreats, participants become provisional members of the Ridhwan Foundation (legally a church). After an unspecified designated period of time, they are asked to confirm membership by paying the appropriate membership fees to the foundation. These membership fees are $160/year for students involved in the group teachings and $60/year for provisional members.
The work of Almaas has received praise from spiritual teachers and explorers such as John Welwood, Brant Cortright, Jack Kornfield and Ken Wilber. Wilber, while tentatively supportive of the Diamond Approach, disputes some details. For example, he does not agree that infants have essential experiences, maintaining that the infant exists purely in the physical, material world – "instinctual, vital, impulsive, narcissistic, egocentric; living for food, its God is all mouth." Almaas has responded that Wilber's critique demonstrates a misinterpretation based on Wilber's own linear, four-stage categorization of spiritual development. Almaas' perspective is that infants experience a type of true nature/Spirit, but one that is very distinct from, and less integrated than, the experiences of essentially realized adults.
The Ridhwan School is a loosely-knit affiliation of ongoing spiritual groups founded in 1976 by Almaas. The school is dedicated to the teaching of the Diamond Approach. It is principally based in Berkeley, California and Boulder, Colorado with other groups throughout North America and in parts of Europe and Australia. Almaas is the spiritual head of the school and individual groups are taught by qualified Ridhwan teachers. The name of the school derives from the Arabic word for "contentment":
"Ridhwan is a kind of contentment which arises when you're liberated. Your personality becomes contented when you're free. Your personality itself is free from its suffering and conflict."
The school rejects "quick fixes" and graduation, and the students are engaged in learning and therapy for an indefinite period.