“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! In the spiritually mature, there is no self being projected that could be enlightened or not. The thought doesn’t even arise.
Indeed, that which would gain some sort of spiritual achievement is actually the false sense of independent identity that obstructs any fundamental realization. The notion that enlightenment is going to result from some combination of practices or efforts is purely a human fantasy, and actually an impediment to the recognition of the primordial state which is not an attainment, but ever-present as the shine of reality itself.
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.”
Undoubtedly, there are those who enjoy experiences of blissful clear seeing, states of oneness and universal connectivity, or mystical transport and visionary phenomena. However, 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. As time proceeds, unlocking the energetic mysteries latent within the human bio-vehicle will prove to be a major boon and stimulus for the ongoing evolution of the species.
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 after the death of the material form body, it is not uncommon to recognize our previous human spiritual outlook — including our most profound conceptions of Enlightenment — as charmingly naive at best in the more expansive view of things (and there most certainly is a much vaster picture that we in human form cannot even begin to comprehend as long as we are confined to the denser vibrational frequencies that pertain in this dimension).
Indeed, once the dense meat suit is slipped off and we reintegrate with our “Whole Self” in the Spirit World, we will typically recognize the obvious. That is, whatever had passed for some degree of self-awareness during physical incarnation was mostly a kind of dull sleep-walk in comparison to our actual state. Amazingly, the trick of embodiment itself was like a magical illusion, a virtual reality. Even then, there are many levels of awareness far beyond our 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 limited psycho-physical realm, to pursue some humanly-conceived “Enlightenment”. “The Spiritual Search” is more often than not an escape strategy 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. At its core, it merely represents another mentally fabricated strategy to have things be other than they are, and to appear more wonderful and fascinating in our own mirror.
Even those states that are traditionally considered “advanced” or “complete” (such as Sahaj Samadhi) give nobody any true advantage, since they are still essentially just peculiar modes of being in this psycho-physical realm, which is after all nothing but a virtual reality itself. Our true nature is not diminished when we appear to be ordinary and even ignorant, nor is it elevated by some sort of peak experience or unusual state of metaphysical attainment.
As the great Adept Dilgo Khyentse so well phrased it: “The everyday practice . . . is just everyday life itself. Since the undeveloped state does not exist, there is no need to behave in any special way or attempt to attain anything above and beyond what you actually are. There should be no feeling of striving to reach some “amazing goal” or “advanced state”. To strive for such a state is a neurosis which only conditions us and serves to obstruct the free flow of Mind. We should also avoid thinking of ourselves as worthless persons – we are naturally free and unconditioned. We are intrinsically enlightened and lack nothing.”
Once the temporary human costume drops away (and with it, the theatrical drama of the human experience), what we eventually 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 trance, 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 choosing to come here, we also accept a kind of amnesia regarding our true condition, which is necessary in order to imbue the human experience with a quality of visceral reality. The illusion keeps things “interesting”, in that regard, as we confront the unknown. Likewise, all ensuing lessons, adventures, and interactions are rendered more impactful due to their freshness and immediacy. In that regard, it could be said that, by submitting to the amnesia, 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”).
As one near death experiencer (Duane S.) describes it: “As I was shown around, it was explained to me how most of our celestial, eternal knowledge is blanked-out during our chosen life spans on earth. We must temporarily forget most of what our higher-self already knows so we can immerse ourselves in the roles we have chosen to play. Furthermore, they said that it might take a while for all my knowledge and memories to return. To ease the transition back into this realm, I was told to think of my time on earth as an extended visit to the ultimate theme park. Consider it a place with thrilling rides and various adventures that I could choose to experience or not. I was also reminded that the reason we leave the celestial realm at all was for the excitement, variety, adventure, and entertainment that different incarnations offer. However, to take all our celestial knowledge with us on our various adventures would have ruined the very experience that we had chosen to live. Someone there said that I should think of our trips to other realms as choosing a new novel to read. I can choose a new book, depending on what I am in the mood for. Furthermore, if I knew every turn and twist of the story, line by line, prior to reading it, it would spoil the fun.”
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. When asked why so many souls incarnate into bodies, the sage Nisargadatta replied: “To know itself the self must be faced with its opposite — the not-self. Desire leads to experience. Experience leads to discrimination, detachment, self-knowledge — liberation. And what is liberation after all? To know that you are beyond birth and death.”
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. None of those expressions or transient identities become “enlightened”, but only serve as costumes (like space suits) for immortal Spirit — the impersonal enlightened nature that is always already the reality.
Just so, 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.”
Upon sincere and thorough inspection, the sense of and independent and substantial personal self, or “me”, can be recognized as a compounded mental construct, an artificial fabrication. It has its purpose in terms of navigating the objective world, but is not at all our real identity. As consciousness takes human form, we tend to construe and then confirm such an enduring self, based on our identification with the transient, when in fact its very transience should be proof of its unreality. Fundamentally, it is empty of any solidity. Our true nature has never been confined to that empty conceptual self-sense. We simply employ it as a vehicle. With the benefit of expanded awareness, we come to recognize that our true “Self” is an infinite and all-encompassing mystery of love and awareness beyond the limited persona’s comprehension.
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 dogmas and methods hold the key to redemption, salvation, liberation. Moreover, it definitely challenges the multitude of strategies and schemes dedicated to escaping this world into some conceptual enlightenment, but perhaps we are reaching a turning point in the evolution of our collective spirituality, in which the old myths are rendered obsolete. We shall see, as more and more aspirants 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. From there, they superimpose a conditioned and conditional fantasy of interpretation onto each experience. In the process, they fabricate various theories, myths, and stories about it all, and perhaps other humans listen and agree. In fact, this is how religious sects are spawned and perpetuated.
However, for those who have been graced with a more mature and penetrating vision, rare as that is, what is revealed is that no intellectual theory or transcendental experience 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 and conform it to some human system of doctrines and dogmas.
As the Dzogchen Kunje Gyalpo Tantra states: “Self-arising wisdom, the essence of Dharmakaya, is not realized through effort, but conversely, by just remaining in the natural condition. It transcends all the aims of the practices, for that which is called “aim” is only a name: in reality “enlightenment” itself is only a name. Using the definition of “enlightenment” is a characteristic of the provisional teachings and not of the definitive ones.”
Consequently, where we are left is in a state of profound “not knowing”, which just happens to be the essential nature of our original innocence. By resting in that state of transparent awake awareness, rather than trying to analyze or speculate, the need to have it figured out and filed in memory is superseded 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.
Furthermore, there is no end to the unfolding revelation, since the very nature of our Spirit, and its utter enjoyment, is infinite expansion in all directions, and far beyond what even the most imaginative human belief systems regarding Enlightenment (or even Reality) might propose.
In that process, however, Spirit does not become more “Spiritual”. There is no such thing as ascension. That which is already perfect and complete lacks nothing, and certainly does not need to become something else – something better, bigger, or brighter — to confirm itself. Some wisdom begins to dawn with the realization that there is no remedy. It matures with the realization that the disease which the remedies are meant to address (and for which “Enlightenment” is reckoned as the cure) is itself a figment of imagination, with no inherent substance.
This is not to claim, by the way, that the various wisdom systems conceived and propagated in this realm cannot be of some value, especially if they inspire a life of integrity and compassion, guiding one to eschew the poisons of envy, greed, hatred, and arrogance, and towards the altruism of selfless service and humility. Moreover, followers can certainly have many experiences of transformative insights and life-changing realizations by applying various methods and practices, or even serendipitously.
That said, nobody in this human realm experiences anything like some ultimate realization, any more than a kindergarten student is going to grasp the intricacies of quantum physics, or a sleep walker is going to win the Boston Marathon. As stated above, that’s not even why most of us are here.
Moreover, and contrary to the propaganda of the usual preachers, there is very likely no end to our Spirit’s exploration of its own infinite nature. As the great Zen Master Hakuin noted: “Though your own personal study of the Five Ranks [levels of realization] comes to an end, the Buddha-way stretches endlessly and there are no tarrying places on it.”
Truly, our potential is limitless. As this becomes apparent, what then calls to us is simply the expanding recognition of the most loving possibility contained in each moment now, and it is that ongoing discovery and its actualization which fulfills our deepest yearning as beloved expressions of Source.
“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.” ~Corinthians 13