Some people contend that it is only through meditation that we gain enlightenment and that intellectual understanding is of no help; they even perceive it as a hindrance on the path. Such people even go so far as to actively discourage others from studying the Dharma. There is absolutely no support in the Buddhist tradition for this contention, not in Theravada, Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, or Mahayana Buddhism. It is in fact belied by the voluminous Buddhist texts and teachings in each of these traditions. It does not matter what level of realization we may have attained — until we reach enlightenment, it is definitely necessary to rely on the useful conceptual tools that are provided in the teachings.
These conceptual tools — the worldviews and belief systems — are indispensable, just as it is indispensable to have a boat in order to cross a river. They are our means of transport. As with any type of transport, we have already embarked on a journey as soon as we have boarded that vehicle. Likewise, upon the assimilation of a particular spiritual world-view, the effect of that change in view has already taken place.
This is why we have to practice Buddhist meditation by trying to understand the teachings as thoroughly as we can and by placing our own experiences in the context of those teachings that we have so fortunately received. The understanding that we develop through assimilating the teachings into our being is liberating in itself. It is not true that we first have to understand the teachings, then do certain practices, and only then find liberation. The assimilation of the teachings in itself is the same as liberation, because when they are fully understood, they do not simply remain on a conceptual level but become converted into deep spiritual realizations. They have become part of our being, inseparable from us. That is the luminous bliss of enlightenment; that is the goal of the spiritual path.