“There is no such thing as enlightenment.
The full appreciation of that fact is, itself, enlightenment.”
As was mentioned in my previous essay about Zen and the Emotional/Sexual Contraction here , there has been quite a bit of discussion around ongoing sex scandals involving various revered Zen Masters, Tibetan Lamas, Hindu Gurus and Swamis, and so forth here in the West. Many cannot fathom how supposedly “Enlightened Masters” can be involved in such shenanigans. I will briefly address that issue here, based on what I have learned in the course of my own life-long investigation.
That Enlightenment is some kind of state or condition which beings can attain while in human form is one of the first myths that need to be discarded, if we are actually going to wake up to what this birth is truly all about – enjoyment and appreciation of the experience of being human. Moreover, claims of such attainment are typically automatic disqualifiers, so caveat emptor! Indeed, that which would gain some sort of spiritual achievement is actually the false sense of independent identity that obstructs any fundamental realization.
The late Sage Ramana Maharshi pointed out that true realization is not an attainment when he noted: “The state of Self-realization, as we call it, is not attaining something new or reaching some goal which is far away, but simply being that which you always are and which you always have been. The state we call realization is simply being oneself, not knowing anything or becoming anything.”
Furthermore, no human has ever “become enlightened”. This is not to say that there are no past or even current exemplary individuals who have awakened in an authentic sense to the two-fold emptiness of self and phenomena — their dream-like nature — and thus are relatively liberated from the various mechanics of suffering, as well as the accompanying afflictive states and conditions that characterize the usual human experience. Seeing everything as a dream — even the pursuit of enlightenment, as well as the one who would pursue it – is a sign of real wisdom. The Zen patriarch Dogen clarified the matter when he noted that “the truth of the Buddha’s and ancestors’ realization consists invariably of what a dream makes within a dream.”
Unfortunately, most of the legendary characters of spiritual lore who are held up as examples of profound realization have since become victims of fantasy stories and inflated hagiographies that air-brush away their humanity and replace it with an idealized mythology. That practice has actually done more harm than good — placing them on a pedestal and imbuing them with a “specialness” that effectively distances them from those who would emulate them.
Certainly, there are many individuals who may even have attained remarkable powers (siddhis) through the application of various yogic techniques. The human potential is indeed amazing, though to a large extent still relatively untapped, except in rare cases.
Nevertheless, the human construct itself, with all its ingenious neural circuitry, still does not have the capacity to handle the energetic vibrational frequency of real enlightenment. The physical container itself would be blasted apart in an instant! To illustrate by way of example, imagine attempting to pour a million watts through an electronic appliance with a load capacity of 10 watts (or even a capacity of 1000 watts, in the case of the aforementioned rare individuals – the same result would still prevail).
Once returned to our own natural state, on the so-called “other side” after the death of the earthen body, it is not uncommon to recognize our previous human spiritual outlook — including our most seemingly profound conceptions of Enlightenment — as almost embarrassingly naive and even infantile in the higher view of things (and there most certainly is a larger picture that we in human form cannot even begin to comprehend).
Indeed, once the dense meat suit is slipped off, we will typically recognize that, what had passed for some degree of self-awareness during incarnation, was mostly a kind of dull sleep-walk in comparison to our actual state. Even then, there are many levels of awareness, far beyond our human ken, that still must be traversed before one can speak of true enlightenment. The luminous orb of our soul body itself is still a kind of temporary sheath that too must ultimately be discarded (but that’s skipping ahead a bit).
Furthermore, the vast majority of us are not really here, incarnating in this dense psycho-physical realm, to pursue some humanly-conceived “Enlightenment”. “The Spiritual Search” is a game that has kept us mostly misdirected down through the centuries, and indeed accounts for a good deal of the turmoil, confusion, delusion, and strife we put ourselves through, here on this rock.
What we do come to realize quite vividly is that the only part of our life’s efforts that actually amounted to anything was not the attainment of some lofty samadhi, awesome powers, or penetrating insight into emptiness. Rather, what we ultimately discover is that all that really mattered was how we treated each other – the love that we shared. Moreover, regardless of any honorific titles and trappings we may have come by or have bestowed on us, if our various “spiritual” practices failed to enhance our capacity for love, then they were wasted.
“Enlightenment” is truly our prior and timeless condition, which is set aside in order to enter into the denser planes of existence, such as this virtual reality game of being human. By agreeing to come here, we also accept a kind of amnesia regarding our true condition, which is necessary to imbue the human experience with a quality of visceral reality. The illusion keeps things “interesting”, and the ensuing lessons more impactful. In that regard, it could be said that we lose ourselves to find ourselves.
In our process of self-discovery, we fuse with the human bio-vehicle, because we are interested in how we will react to certain compelling simulations specific to the human experience. Through trial and error, we find out how to “do the right thing” in every test challenge we dream up for ourselves (often in conjunction with our “soul group”).
We take on this human form because that potential circumstance is intriguing to us (and so different than what we really are), just as video gaming is fascinating to some, putting the player into challenging and provocative situations that they would not normally encounter.
We’re certainly not here to escape into some human notion of enlightenment, but more to experience “un-enlightenment”, and all the thrills and spills involved in that virtual scenario. We then have some stories (data) to take back with us and share with our “Group” or “Family” — the ones we’ve been traveling with for unaccountable eons. This new data in turn contributes to the ongoing evolution of that “cell”. I call it a cell because that is just what we are like, cells within a larger body, which in turn is a cell within an even larger body, and so on beyond any human comprehension.
There is no such thing as “right” or “wrong” data — it’s all fuel for the ongoing expansion of the larger Consciousness, the ongoing evolution of “God or “Source”, of which all of us are unique though temporary expressions in our various human, soul, and causal incarnations.
Moreover, as we deepen in our appreciation of our actual condition, we may even come to see through the creative fiction of “personhood” altogether. After all, if the person we take ourselves to be is simply a bundle of thoughts, memories, sensations, and perceptions, then what is it – who is it – that is going to attain enlightenment? In that regard, Shunryu Suzuki summed it up well: “Strictly speaking, there are no enlightened people, there is only enlightened activity.”
The founder of the Rinza Sect of Chan (Zen) Buddhism, Lin Chi, was even more direct when he told an assembly of monks: “I tell you, there’s no Buddha, no Dharma, no practice, no enlightenment. Yet you go off like this on side roads, trying to find something. Blind fools! Will you put another head on top of the one you have? What is it you lack?”
Likewise, the Sage who taught Nisargadatta Maharaj, Siddharameshwar, noted: “If there is a certain notion that you have direct ‘Realization,’ it is only the delusion of a confused mind. This confusion is only the enhancement of the Illusion that is already there. It is the spectacle, the festival of Illusion. Every so-called ‘Realization’ is Illusion.”
Nevertheless, to actually penetrate this “open secret” is no easy task. Mark Twain once noted, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.” Certainly, it’s implications are a threat to the religions that would keep us in the dark, in order to maintain the illusion that their schemes and methods hold the key to liberation. Moreover, it definitely calls into question the multitude of strategies dedicated to escaping this world into some conceptual enlightenment, but perhaps it’s time that should happen. We shall see, as more and more folks wake up and do as Dogen Zenji suggested, “Abandon enlightenment and walk freely”.
The fact is, humans have all sorts of experiences, which they in turn filter through their perceptual apparatus and then superimpose a conditioned and conditional fantasy of interpretation onto that experience. In the process, they fabricate various theories, myths, and stories about it all, and perhaps other humans listen and agree. This is how religious sects are spawned and perpetuated.
However, for those who have been graced with a deeper penetrating vision, rare as that is, what is revealed is that no intellectual theory could possibly encompass the vast subtleties of the universal manifestation and its functioning. Reality is prior to, and utterly beyond the reach of, the mind that would attempt to grasp it.
Consequently, where we are left is in a state of profound “not knowing”, which just happens to be the nature of our original innocence. By resting in that state, rather than trying to analyze or speculate, the need to have it figured out and filed is supplanted by the astonishment of contemplating and appreciating the Mystery to the point that one’s hair stands on end at the very appearance of anything at all. Glory to all of it, even as it is recognized in all of its dreaminess to be pure conceptual designation!
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child. We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known.”