The whole question of whether a teacher is enlightened is a red herring. No one but the supposed enlightened person can know the answer, and all we can judge are the effects of being with them, and of being open to their teaching and guidance. We can only know where they are at by going there. Enlightenment doesn’t actually mean anything to anyone who hasn’t experienced it.
In the same way, love, soul, God, etc. don’t mean anything without the experience of them. For most of us, they are just words for concepts that are beyond our understanding or even experience, which is at best partial, at worst non-existent. And since we can’t know if someone else is enlightened or not, all we can do is believe it or disbelieve it. Since neither of these is useful, that leaves the third option: allowing it to remain unknown.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating and nowhere else. The recipe, the cultural history, the chef’s credentials or recommendation, the reviews in The Good Food Guide and The Guardian, can help us decide if we want to order it or not. But until we take that first bite, it’s all just second-hand information and it has nothing to do with the experience of eating.
For me it comes down to a very basic question: Is there a way out? Is there a state of awareness, an experience, that is free from conditioning, delusion, and unnecessary suffering? If I come upon someone who claims to have found a way out, in such a way that seems plausible, I am going to investigate as closely as I can. If I find enough evidence to support their claim, I throw caution to the wind and (without relinquishing my critical faculties or capacity for discernment) put my trust in that person’s greater insight and wisdom. There’s really no other way to test it.
I know that I risk making a fool of myself, being disappointed, disillusioned, even deceived; but the risk is minor compared to the possible gain. Whatever the ego says about having to go it alone, stand on my own two feet, and not depend on anyone else to show me the way, experience indicates the opposite is the case. The only really significant steps I have taken in my life are the result of being pushed, inspired, or challenged by outside agencies.
It is massively significant step, however, to allow for the possibility that the outside agency belongs to entirely different level of being, as different from me as I am from a chimpanzee, maybe more so. The ego is honor-bound to find a hundred reasons to reject this point of view as “unsound.” The question of how to enter into such a relationship without giving up entirely one’s independence of thought is the riddle I am faced with. Perhaps the answer is that it can’t be done because it doesn’t need to be done, because there is no such thing as “independence of thought”?
My body may know the answer, but my mind can still doubt the body. It is what the mind does best. And in the absence of knowing, all that is left is belief. Believing that the transmission is real is useless: it is just an opinion. I have to know. But the only way to know is to proceed as if it were real, in order to find out. That means to proceed without believing, which leaves only trust: trust in the teacher, to a degree, but mostly trust in myself and above all, trust in life. Trust that this is the path that I am meant to be taking. The funny thing is, I really don’t doubt it. But I doubt all the rest, the details, the moment to moment decisions, decisions which always come down to the one decision: to surrender or not to surrender. My self-doubt is projected outward, onto all the things that are stirring the doubt within me. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the doubt. The more real I see and feel transmission to be, the greater my self-doubt becomes, the more I doubt the reality of the transmission!
I seem to be running out of options, as well as time. The more I think about this, question it, or pay attention to my doubts and criticism, the more it feels like I am simply making excuses, complaining, or indulging in denial and avoidance. Sometimes I just want to yell at the top of my lungs that none of this makes sense and that I cannot possibly be expected to live my life according to such a preposterous premise. Yet through it all, there is never, for even a moment, any real or meaningful doubt that this is the only possible way forward for me. Or, I suspect, for any of us.