In the West we have been bombarded for more than a hundred years with information about various types of Utopian consciousness that will save us not only from the world around us, secure us a happy afterlife but also protect us from ourselves. Some of those who arrived from the East to guide those seeking escape and the meaning of life have been very sincere and kind, others deluded and many with private agendas of proselytizing and spreading their brand and there have been those who have been corrupt, abusive and downright dangerous. All these bods, whether they have been genuine in their quest to serve humanity, self centered or suffering from bizarre delusion, have added to the definition of the word ENLIGHTENMENT. And from this word there has grown a mystique that this glorious fruit offered to humanity must be acquired at all costs. Some would leave their families, others give up their life savings or even deprive themselves of basic nutrition and adhere to a diet suitable for a field rat or sparrow; then there have been those who felt it was appropriate to dress in the national costumes of other communities and use what could be described as a designer-language that only the initiated could make sense of, others are considered outsiders or ignorant. And there have been numerous ‘chosen ones’ who considered themselves privileged and saved beyond doubt because they hold to the true teachings.
So let’s look at this Enlightenment thing. I will start by mentioning a few things most people desire and say quality of life, happiness, a peaceful mind, good health and a kind heart are core things that may be part of ‘Enlightenment’ but they are also sought by many who do or don’t have a religious or spiritual quest, mankind sees them as normal and healthy. These for some may be the fruits of this mysterious Enlightenment thing but when we look at them it would be fair to say that there have been numerous people who did not seek any God or paradise who would have achieved those goals and when I glance towards one of my favorite Indian good guys, the sage Ramana Maharshi, I am reminded that he died of cancer, so maybe this shortlist of desirables does not equate to Enlightenment or isn’t associated with it; they may or may not be spin-offs.
One common dictionary version of the word Enlightenment is “the action of enlightening or the state of being enlightened”, this doesn’t really say much it’s like saying there is a fishiness about fish; but we could surmise from its common usage that the word light or the concept ‘to throw light on’ would play a part. … Scene Change: Enter lots of people looking quite peaceful carrying candles and glowing. This mind-picture has a lot of associated problems, all of us have met people who did dress-ups and looked all sparkly but turned out to be absolute shysters. I like the idea of don’t believe what we see or hear, the senses can deceive us; in the same way that when people drink alcohol, their sense of judgement goes out, maybe we can consider that the senses can give us a false view. So I will start by saying let’s forget what we are told. My reasoning is based on the idea that we often hear interpreters of other peoples experiences telling us how something is, I consider this as absurd, commentators don’t necessarily know what the truth is, they assume and then create a logical story that is often very convincing. Human nature is rather predictable, it’s like the lotteries, there are a few winners and everyone else talks about what they would do if they won. So what to do?
For starters, we have heard secondhand that there is some type of elixir, something to be sought; the evidence seems to be based in scriptures and every now and then we hear of people who say they have made contact with supposed holy men or women who had that special Enlightenment thing. And then we meet people who probably in all honesty believe that they are enlightened, whether it be true or false at this point doesn’t really matter. I do think we need to sort the masquerade and exhibitions of devotion from what I would call depth of experience. From my perspective depth of experience seems to be an important issue; and this translates as to see or feel deeper than what is presented or assumed to be so.
The E Word
If there were such a thing as Enlightenment and won’t I buy in either way with a true or false argument, in an effort to make sense of it I think we would probably need to apply some basic attributes to this mysterious ‘E’ word, and yes I may be adding to the fiasco but we can be sensible about it; there also is the problem that in being sensible I am creating an assumption that the ‘E’ word must be sensible in some way, it is reasonable to say that it may not necessarily be so and an example that would challenge the ‘known sensible’ is the Zen Koan tradition. A student is given a short text to contemplate that may seem nonsensical. However, using analysis and critical thinking to get a number of issues sorted seems fair. To be clear minded and create a foundation to work from is a good idea even if the end experience (or understanding it) disintegrates the foundation and common sense, we need to enter the subject in an orderly fashion.
The Restful Mind
When we look at the numerous techniques found in Eastern, some of the Western religious traditions and in indigenous cultures we see there is a focus of what I call Taming the Bull, I will translate this as ‘to bring about a clarity of mind.’ I will use the word ‘mind’ in a particular parlance; the mind in this case means the container of thought and belongs to an associative thinker; imagine a balloon full of floating jellybeans of various sizes, each bean has attributes/stories about it, some micro and the others long sagas. A calm mind-space may not be the definition of enlightenment but the desire or experience of such would allow ones perception to be clear without having chaotic thought in the way. What I am implying here is experience may need to be untainted by stories, is this necessary? I will commit myself here and say yes, that’s a given. The stories we have about things is what colors our view and can get in the way of ‘seeing’ properly.
I will come back here and make it clear about what we are doing, we are looking at the word Enlightened, a word that has been dressed up and thrown around the spiritual circles, a word that has confused people, a word that has created a graveyard of casualties; we are trying to find a way to decide who may be the real deal and also if the E word exists. Can we resolve the issue of enlightenment without others, can we either get rid of the idea, develop an approach to chase and secure the elixir or at minimum never be fooled again by wanna-be’s and shysters?
Often when some supposed spiritual expert or religious people discuss Enlightenment, they give us examples of Utopian worlds outside our vision, things that are not accessible by our senses; this type of attitude is downright dangerous and has the potential for an abuse of power. Whether it is Viking boats paddling to Valhalla, glowing faced Buddhas or Vedic Gods, if it is not something tangible it is good to keep them out of the mix for now or maybe forever. One person creates a story and because it is not measurable it allows them the expert/master/guru to keep a student or disciple within their scope with a promise of a goal. Is there something beyond our normal senses? Yes obviously, contemporary physics tells us this, we don’t have to dig too far, does the miraculous happen? Sure, we see it every day in numerous ways, many things defy logic and we make up stories to normalise them. The issue is not that there isn’t something extraordinary beyond, it’s about trust, naivety, bullying of the ignorant and buying into the stories of others, not all but some of the experts would be deluded and self-righteous, others who make it up as they go and jiggle it around a bit to suit their agenda and there are those who are indoctrinated who believe in a specific tradition but have no personal experience. So what to do, do we burn the lot, give up?
We are also faced with another serious issue and it’s what I call spiritual euphoria, I have seen this many times. An example is when I have been to events where due to overwhelming evidence I am confident that a ‘spiritual’ person/teacher is an absolute charlatan (or even criminal), people in the gathering are having some type of temporary experience of some sort of bliss/ euphoria. When they leave the event they associate their experience with the guru or whoever; in a short period of time after a few visits they have acquired the beads, the book, the prayers, the candles and a ready made community who supports the belief that what is going on is deeply spiritual and the guru gets the enlightenment seal of approval by a naive to some degree semi-hypnotised community. Contrary to popular opinion, there is a possibility that Enlightenment would probably not only be about feeling good 24/7 but it is fair to say that if there was such a thing as Enlightenment, feeling good may be an attribute….let’s continue. The desire for or idea of 24/7 feeling blissful could easily be an obstacle or at least amisunderstanding.
These days we are bombarded with what resembles wise sayings. I like the word discrimination, when discrimination is used as a tool of analysis and not to marginalise people or communities, it is one of the best things in our toolbox. It is easy for people to read some words and get a temporary feeling of warm-fuzzy and get the wisdom salivary glands going, from my experience I think it is important to carefully pull apart these words of wisdom, to give them life. Often when we read words we make assumptions based on our own history and conditioning. Sometimes the creators of the supposedly wise words have committed heinous crimes against women and children, I don’t subscribe to the idea ‘they had a temporary lapse of virtue and didn’t live the teachings’, this may be true but I am not comfortable with delusory flowery sayings that create temporary euphoria and brain sparkles, it’s a bit like fake plants, they may look okay but have no substance and just take up space.
The Magicless Pill
And there are many people who have taken drugs and assume because the experience they have is outside the normal-known that they have opened up consciousness, I am quite comfortable to say that after forty years of meditation and explorations of consciousness, the drug experience has little to do with super-consciousness, if there were a benefit from them and I do say this with great hesitation and extreme caution, it would be a reminder that our normal way of seeing is not the only worldview but there are other ways of perception. As the world’s mental health institutions are littered with casualties from drug experimentation, this idea is fraught with danger. Of the great men and women I have met in my life, I haven’t met anybody who resembled a Buddha or someone similar who would encourage external substances to help awaken something inside, i have met wonderful people who are drug users and it would be unreasonable to say that drug users are not necessarily kind people, we are talking about consciousness not about integrity or character; there is now a culture of people hanging out with bods they refer as Shamans and potion-ing up; most that I have met are a little unstable and I am yet to meet someone who has evidence of an ongoing type of spiritual experience that doesn’t seem like a type of psychosis, I have met a number who are semi-euphoric people. We were talking about Enlightenment.
What Would Buddha Do?
So what is it? We do know according to legend/history that Buddha experienced something. At the core of his teaching is detachment, when we look at the reasoning behind this it seems clear it is because if someone is clinging to things, it will ultimately lead to suffering at its loss. Gautama Buddha also aligns with Jesus Christ, without sounding like a sermon which this is not, I am cross referencing something from another tradition; Jesus supposedly said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal”, both of these great men have had religions and cults built around their lives and teachings, both imply that what may be worthwhile pursuing is not in things and also point out that if you hang on too tight to things you may be heading for trouble. So is this Enlightenment? In both cases we are given a method of how to relate to things, to keep them in their place but this would not be the goal would it? If we look at it closely we are given a hint of something worth pursuing, we see a picture that the relationship between ourselves and ‘things’ are critical, it is implied that there needs to be a letting go, a non clinging to things. If we are not cautious and are a zealot or extremist we could easily begin to despise the world around us, to treat it as the enemy and this is a tragedy to say the least. Many people spend their lives running away, are scared of life, frightened of natural emotions; when you take an idea too far it can become poison.
Who’s the Boss?
If we look closely at detachment there is an implication that being obsessive about something makes us a slave to it. So is Enlightenment about being a master instead of a slave? The word Master (with a big m) comes up a lot among guru-speak, it’s a little challenging to someone from the West when they hear an adult calling someone in an Indian pajamas “Master”. Going back to the Jesus way of doing things I am reminded that the apostle Peter called Jesus Master and he said “I am not your master”, I would consider this to be a good yardstick to work from, assuming that Jesus was real, looking at his behavior it is clear he had a decent set of values and if any one was to be someones master, he would be in the running to get the top job. In some traditions such as the Radha Soami and Ruhani Satsang groups in Northern India they imply that the Master is inside, it is light and sound, they also refer to someone alive as representing the Living Master, I won’t address this approach as either true or false, it is just one of many references I could have used. But there is an implication of ‘handing over’ to another, but some say, “no go”.
In some traditions like the one just mentioned we hear that the guru or God is inside, beyond any doubt these words have created many problems, there’s a lot of baggage associated with this approach. And the idea also presents some marvelous questions for the inquisitive seeker of life’s mysteries. We have also heard people say ‘I am God’, some of these are people who would be described as having mental health issues and we have heard some great noble men and women also refer to themselves as God, and we can also read in some biblical translations that Jesus said something like, “Know that ye are Gods”. Are these great personage Divine madmen? I would apply a little commonsense here, the word God is a variable and means something totally different to many people. When we hear people saying that God or guru is inside, this creates a series of complications, however it does if we follow this line of thought remove the idea of running down the street and looking for a savior or some dude in an Eastern outfit. Some say the word guru means teacher, others say remover of darkness and there are those who will look starry eyed and start babbling a stream of indecipherable words that almost seem insane as they expound their love for who they are devoted to.
The idea of looking INSIDE may not be the solution but it is not a bad idea, if Buddha puts out a warning to not get attached to ‘things’ of the world, it would seem practical to look the other way, his attachment could also include people as they are in the world of form. And as a back up confirmation we hear that Jesus said, “the kingdom of Heaven comes not by observation, the kingdom of Heaven is in you”.
Opening the Box and Looking In
When we look inside, what do we see? Fears, joys, wandering thoughts, dreams of the future, memories, and sensations such as aches, tingles, anxiety, fleeting passing images, textures. Are these the things that we are seeking, is this what they are talking about? Some would say,”obviously not” and consider it to be a stupid question. I personally am never in a hurry to dismiss and arrive at assumptions about things said by those I consider as wise. It would seem reasonable to say that these things are not what we are looking for, however they may be a useful part of the tools required to get the result which is sought to understand this Enlightenment thing people speak of. There is a form of meditation that some people do, it’s called Neti Neti, a simple translation would be “not this, not this”. As anything presents itself in our thought field in meditation it gets the gentle tap of the conscious-ping-pong-bat, Neti Neti not this not this. When we look towards the sage Ramana Maharshi we will see he told those who inquired about God and the mystery of life that they need to meditate and ask the question ‘who am i’, he said that meditation without self-inquiry is not so good, and also implied that self-inquiry without meditation is fraught with danger. Both Buddha and Ramana’s methods seem to be pointing to get under the bonnet of our thinking.
I Think I Thought
Thought can be troublesome, it breaks people, prevents them sleeping, leads to despair unless they can find a way to step away from it. Trying to catch or stop thought in its tracks is like stretching out your fingers, putting them into a river and attempting to get reasonable handfuls of water, most of it slips through the fingers, it’s a futile quest. If we think about it, the meditative process is in a way defined by Buddha when he reminded us that attachment is an issue, we can take that idea and apply it to our internal processes and not just what is going on outside. When we try and stop thought we are attaching to it; thought has its own business, we assume that because its in our mind-space that it must be ours. Personally I am not fooled by this, I see thought the same as looking out the window. If a van drives past it is obviously not my van; if thought is passing i see it as not my thought; however if I attach to it then the relationship deepens, if I follow it an action may follow, I do not need to follow it, it’s not my thought, it is only as solid as a cloud and I know clouds change shape, they move on and disintegrate. Thoughts also emerge from my inbuilt tendencies, there is an Indian word called samskaras that some people would be aware of, I am not an Indian so I will speak English instead because it’s easier to understand without adding a whole lot of spiritual jargon to the mix. Our tendencies will relate to the world around us, we see an image, it is delightful, we want to posses it or have some type of experience with it, the hooks go in, we are attached. From day dot, the first moment of our lives we have been creating a story on how the world is, developing beliefs that we think are truth, it may be political, social, religious or just natural preferences. Out of the stories created, thoughts stream from our subconscious; we believe we are something, someone, we have a vision of how the world is, we usually don’t doubt the stories, they are hardwired and make up our world.
Walking Through Space
When we plunge deeper, the world dissolves, there is no ‘ground’, there is no substance; we may choose to call our awareness ‘the perceiver’ and think that it has real substance but when start digging around it becomes clear there really is nothing to grab onto, it’s the same situation as trying to look out our own eyes. It may be simpler just to say, “ok there is conscious—ness, something is aware of the movement of forms of shape-sounds in space” but I am confident there is no need to get carried away with a definition. The mind of man likes a sense of order, to categorise things, some forms of Zen are about undoing sense, I don’t mean to become nonsensical, I am saying that logic is the wrong tool, it’s like trying to catch a rainbow in a bottle, trying to answer or do the impossible. The sage Jiddu Krishnamurthi used to say, “can we ever ask the right question?”, he was one of the great explorers of spirituality and religion, I would not be in a hurry to disregard this simple question.
We are looking at what this Enlightenment thing might be and all the associated spiritual games played by many, all those experts, the seekers, the gurus, the religious addictions people have and the fanciful dreams of what it’s about. We have heard many times ‘look within’, those words have been said in great seriousness and also flippantly they are thrown around by many spiritual types of people. A question arises, so what about the outside, is it meaningless? When we look with our eyes we see a world in motion, nothing is static, when we listen, sound is also in motion, it has a starting point and a decay, it is time-bound. When we taste, the cake is there and then it’s gone it barely touched the sides and internally in our thinking thoughts come and go at lightening speed, the one thing that is consistent is movement. And a reminder that we know from experience that stillness or emptiness is constant. Here we have the situation of EVERYTHING is in motion and there is an underlying stillness, we can almost conclude that attachment to anything that moves may not be practical because it is time-based, it has a shelf life, or we could view it from another perspective that it is permanent at each moment and may never be repeated, whichever way we choose to see it it does seem reasonable to say that anything that is time-based is probably not what we are pursuing. Understanding that attachable things, even the forms of Gods are things that at some point need to be disconnected from.
The more we look we find ourselves in the situation that the very point of awareness, what we call the experiencer of the vision is the critical element in the picture. And this is no new revelation but it is critical that we get rid of a lot of other assumptions, if we don’t they will get in the way and shape our understanding. We are faced with a dilemma and it is the very one that has been used by the charlatans to delude others and in many cases themselves, there is something slightly out of the ordinary doing something, however when we look towards the real Zen teachers we can see that ordinariness may be critical part of the process, and it is not that I am saying that ordinariness is the essence of Enlightenment, but if we look closely we will notice that things are only made ordinary by ‘thought’, when something is familiar it is shrunk down into the ‘known’ and is considered ordinary, when really what is going on is miraculous. The real Zen teachers and I am saying the word ‘real’ intentionally to separate them away from religious tradition with all its baggage, there are those outside of and also a few in the traditions who looked through a bigger window at the world, and I am not trying to be disrespectful to traditions. If I don’t clarify things an assumption may arise that I am saying that Zen is a path to enlightenment, it may be but discrimination is important. Although the Zen tradition is diverse and the Koan tradition may seem chaotic as well as nonsensical it clearly shows that the tool we are using ‘the thinking logical mind’ may not be suitable for the job to be completed and without getting over cerebral about it all, finding the extraordinary in nature around us seems to be closer to what one is seeking than philosophical discussions or treatises on what God, the meaning of life or Enlightenment might be.
I am comfortable saying :
- Thought is an obstacle
- Philosophy can be seriously flawed because it sends people down a track where they create a story that is interpreted a certain way and is not about personal experience
- The perceiver of the experience is critical
- The perceiver is not the same as the thoughts about what a person believes him or herself to be, people create a story based on temporary attributes
- There is a witness but I say the W word with great caution because of assumptions people make
- Gods and gurus may get in the way
- External things are transitory and attachment to them has a use-by date
- The logical mind is totally out of its depth but may be a useful tool to help eliminate what Enlightenment isnt
- Confusing a type of euphoria with Enlightenment is common but erroneous
- One’s personal experience is the yardstick for measuring
- Thought divides things into categories where the familiar is not extraordinary whereas the new or unknown is
So where does this leave us?
When we look at the list above and apply the Neti Neti – Not This Not This approach, by elimination and that also means getting rid of our sh*t, we will find a type of space in our thinking. If we enter into a quest with ideas of what something might be, everything will be colored by what we bring to it. Suddenly I may sound like a Buddhist if I use the word Emptiness, as we know in Buddhism Emptiness is often mentioned. Not being a Buddhist it is easier for me to break it out of the box, the conclusions or perspective may be the same as some who discuss Buddhism but any ism will have its assumptions and we don’t need them to color our thoughts even if the ism holds some truth.
Everything’s in Motion
We can conclude without a fuss that everything in the world is transitory, we know that things are moving in, on or are in relation to space, they arise, stay a while and fall away into foreverness. It’s the relationship with the empty-still-backdrop that allows all things to come into form or have motion. The more we look clearly and analyse we will begin to see that WE are in the way of the view, the ME that I think I am is blocking the view of not only how I see the world, experience and see things but it also is THE thing that prevents me from seeing who or what I am. ME is at the centre of the totality of all the experiences I have had and based on the data I throw together, a picture emerges that I use to define me. We could simplify it down and say ‘well I am the witness’, with that approach great caution is required and here’s why.
There is an assumption that we are at the centre, we are inside looking out at the world, people rarely question this. We see life on a timeline going from birth to death , A to Z with life stuff in the middle. Some people have a belief in reincarnation, this ME we could define as other A’s to Z’s; whether reincarnation is true or not doesn’t matter here, if somebody has an experience of their other lives then they could come to a reasonable conclusion about the existence of reincarnation, until then it’s just a concept, religious flippy floppy info that we have been indoctrinated with. Our brain is a very sensitive machine, it translates data and sends it via pathways throughout the body. We know that we don’t all see the same thing, we as a human community agree on certain aspects, a tree is a tree, there is an unspoken acknowledgement and orderliness, as well as rules and limitations that the community members say are possible, when someone says anything that doesn’t fit they, are defined as odd, a nutter or occasionally a Saint or miracle worker. Let’s look at all this very closely.
A View Through the Lens
The world we move in has a giant filter over it, the filter is in the individual, everything is being translated through filters that shape each persons view, I am hesitant to say ‘live in the Now’, it has so much baggage and when most people are in the NOW, the filters are blocking the present experience. But there is a great benefit to constantly come back into the present by throwing a rope around the wayward wandering mind who is self obsessed with a story of who it believes itself to be.
I wouldn’t be foolish enough to say that there is or isn’t Enlightenment. However, it is critical to undo all the stories, myths and second hand versions of what it is; without removing the concepts of what it may be, the concepts will create a false goal and a person becomes a slave to an idea that is not based in the individuals experience. If we need to DO anything, and I will say I prefer to NOT DO anything, it would be to come back to oneself, and the deeper we go we find that there is NOTHING, and in NOTHING is the potential of EVERYTHING.