Saturday, June 09, 2012

The Red Herring of Enlightenment

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.

13 comments:

Josef Kazantski said...

It's a noble endeavour. As Ray Menezes says, there is no other task more important than getting to the bottom of the this conundrum. Bravo Jason, if we were sane we'd all be following your lead.

William Hunter Duncan said...

I was like, 'He's fine, right attitude, can't know for sure if you don't dive in.' Then you went and threw that little absolutism in the end there, and I was like, wa? But I trust you, I think, to tell us the truth.

William Hunter Duncan said...

BTW - I've always been inclined to think, the ones who care the least about enlightenment are the ones who are.

Jasun said...

To be clear, I didn't mean that the only way forward is to sign up with Oshana; but to connect to with the transmission. I trust Dave because I trust the life force to lead me to the teacher that I need. It's that simple. There is nothing to lose by surrendering, ever. But it pays to aim high because time is so short.

If I used the word Holy Spirit, Divine Will, or universal life force, would that ring less alarm bells for you? You, like me, project a TM or (C) symbol onto an unfamiliar term and cry marketing, or worse.

I don't follow your last statement at all. Mostly because it assumes a large roster to refer to, which is a highly questionable assumption. It sounds a bit fortune cookie to me. Sorry.

Erich Kuersten said...

I had an experience where I was deep in meditation and suddenly the world parted behind me and a huge heavenly hand touched my shoulder; it ignited my kundalini; my third eye went blazing; I saw the same things with my eyes closed or opened; I knew and understood all things.... and before then I thought about skeptics and atheists and if an atheist said God, just give me a sign, proof, and I'll abandon material things and follow thee, presuming nothing would happen, and then he had a moment like I had, the hand of god or an angel touching him, would he really abandon all things? Or would he just say 'do it again! do it again!' - and that's the tragedy.

Signs of the infinite are all around, but unless you're ready to join a monastery or a nunnery or start a religion and/or stand on a soap box in the park and preach, what ultimate good is this sudden awareness? I tried telling people about my enlightenment and naturally they just thought I was crazy or high. Maybe I was... at any rate, now I'm a little more cautious...and though I no longer have a blazing third eye at least I know the score, and I'm ready to die, calmly....

There's that koan about the young monk climbing the mountain to visit a holy man, with his bag on a stick over his shoulder, and on the way down the mountain is the holy man, also with a bag on a stick, and they bump into each other and both drop their bags and the young monk on his way up is instantly also enlightened; he looks at the monk on his way down, suddenly overwhelmed by all this beauty and information and unsure what to do with it, and asks 'what do I do now?' The enlightened monk looks at him, picks up his bag and walks down the path....In other words, you go on just as before, using your enlightened state to help others on their way, but softly, without all the bells and whistles and 'hey, i was enlightened' - it has nothing to do with being ready for enlightenment, and everything to do with discretion. Which I guess is a test I failed once again just by writing this, but maybe, grasshopper, you are ready to pick up your bag and walk with me down the mountain.

Derek Nimmo said...

In your latest blog post you seem to be saying that you want to explore the state of enlightenment to find out whether it is what it appears to be, a state of being which you feel the need or desire to experience. But in order to know what this state of being is you have to experience it, in order to experience it you have to accept certain ideas as true so you can follow the path of a teacher who can help open the door to this experience. However, since you remain skeptical or doubtful about the truth of this state and the truth of the teachers you can't throw yourself in while only half-believing.

Am I in the neighbourhood?

I said...

"time is so short"

Why?

Jasun said...

Why is time so short? That's a question for a biologist not a philosopher (my god did i really just call myself a philosopher? - delete, delete). We seem to be designed that way.

EK thanks for sharing that.

DN - you've reinterpreted what I said to try and understand it and then asked me to confirm or deny your interpretation. I can't do that, except to say I like my version better and yours definitely has flaws. It might be more helpful to tell me specifically what you don't understand about it? I thought it was reasonably clear...

T. Bermudez said...

can poor people reach enlightenment? Can enlightenment be reached under the conditions of debt, slavery, war? or is it a leisure time thing?

Just asking because Buddha was really lazy and so am I.

Derek Nimmo said...

JH

I guess I like to know if I'm in the neighbourhood or not.

I'll assume I am and will read again to see if I can formulate a decent question.

Jasun said...

"But in order to know what this state of being is you have to experience it, in order to experience it you have to accept certain ideas as true so you can follow the path of a teacher who can help open the door to this experience."

To accept as true is the same as to believe.

"However, since you remain skeptical or doubtful about the truth of this state and the truth of the teachers you can't throw yourself in while only half-believing."

You are missing the key element, that the ego's function is to inhibit and control and cannot throw itself into anything. It's predisposed to mistrust.

Acting as if believing without believing is a question of overriding the ego's prerogative to always keep its card to its chest and only ever bet on "a sure thing."

James said...

censorship blocks transmission.

the word of Sin is Restriction.

trust no one.

Anonymous said...

A man once said to me: "I can never be enlightened." (forgive the emphasis).

That which remains when I is no longer has had experiences that do not seem to disabuse this notion.

Hence I look with suspicion on any individual claiming Enlighten, maybe that's my failure to integrate experience.