First I got depressed. Then I went to Seattle to live with my sister, Michel. She is a yoga teacher extraordinaire and owner of BeLuminous Yoga. While I was there she gave me unlimited access to yoga, yogis, yoga-knowledge, yoga-wisdom, yoga-minded-books, and helped me decide to go meditate for 100 hours. Basically, she saved my life.
While I was there I read every book on eastern philosophy that anybody has ever written ever in the history of the eververse. These guys and gals from the 1960′s or the BCs all showed me some fascinating things about the nature of life. They convinced me they attained enlightenment and, by god, I should get some enlightenment too.
Then I looked around Seattle and saw everybody else trying to get the same stuff. I met one guy with buddhas in every room, one sitting on his altar ($10,000 sound system), and one on some other gizmo. Then I saw him take girl after girl to his apartment to demonstrate his zen in plastic molds. I’m convinced he tattooed Buddha’s laughing face on his wiener to really seal the deal with any yogi-ette that found peace in his pants. I don’t even know if he knew what he was doing.
When culture around you creates a Bieber out of Buddha you’re bound to bring the same kind of fever. Guys, we’re doing it wrong. I used to get after Enlightenment – it’s the final answer! Buddha sat under a tree for fourteen hours, got his, and lived happily ever after. But not really. Here are ways I have fucked up and continue to fuck up my own (my! own! obviously I’m lying here) enlightenment (except for now I try (!) not to aim anywhere and I don’t use that word much, it’s a trickster):
1. Defining Enlightenment.
When you take a definition or somebody else’s story of it then you have painted a picture of something that you should be experiencing and aren’t. Then when you experience something like the picture they’ve painted you question, “Is this what they were talking about? Is this it?” and it’s not. It can’t be what they were talking about because they were talking about something that, by it’s very definition, can’t be summed up in words – only pointed at. Some of the most ‘enlightened’ (by my false picture of it) people I have met are those who haven’t read a book on eastern philosophy at all. Enlightenment is a word, clumsy like the rest, that points at a certain kind of being. Maybe it’s internal peace, maybe it’s accepting the whole, maybe it’s seeing the duality clearly, maybe it’s being completely attentive to what actually is all the time. The thing is, though, you’ll never know it until you trust yourself to see it.
We might as well talk about it though, it’s fun. Here is a stab at it by some random site I googled:
The true Definition of Enlightenment is simple, yet extremely difficult for the mind to comprehend. This is because Enlightenment itself is beyond mind.
Enlightenment is a state of perception attained once your ego has beentranscended. This state has been achieved by all of the greatest enlightened spiritual masters, mystics, yogis, and avatars of all time. The state is beyond duality and is experienced as Oneness and Allness.
Enlightenment is available to all regardless of culture or religious background. It is the realization of the Kingdom of Heaven within you and is pure bliss, joy, peace, and love.
In Buddhism, Enlightenment is also known as: Nirvana, Bodhi, and Buddha Nature.
In Christianity, it is known as: Salvation, State of Grace,
Christ-Consciousness, Divinity, and Transcendence.
In Hinduism, it is known as: Moksha, Krishna-Consciousness, Reality, and Allness.
2. Desiring Attainment.
What happens when we desire enlightenment? We guarantee ourselves that we aren’t. This is often the last barrier many monks face before they have their ‘realization’. They need to work so long to get it that they forget they are working toward it at all. Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy uses a technique called Paradoxical Intention. When we want something too bad we can get in our own way of getting it. When you are nervous for a date and are stress-sweating it is often better to focus on trying to be as nervous as you possibly can. Also, in Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind (free PDF), a sage wise wiseman proposes Instant Enlightenment. I’ll buy that all day long. It’s the idea that enlightenment comes instantly and doesn’t necessarily stay around indefinitely. You’ve been there before and you’ll be there again and you could see those moments and learn to sit in them longer.
3. Thinking It’s Attained.
It’s not something you get, it’s something you are. BeLuminous teaches an extremely athletic school of yoga and so it attracts people who like to push themselves to achieve. They are the ones dominating their careers at Amazon, starting breweries, and overall just making their mothers proud. They take this to their yoga practice which simultaneously let’s them do cool looking postures quickly, injure themselves, and completely miss the internal lessons yoga has to teach. We are so used to achieving goals and running after the things that we desire. Or just stop trying. “Their is no try,” Yoda said.
4. It’s Not Sitting All Day.
Sitting meditation does a lot of cool things to make the mind a better place. However, there were groups of monks who were some of the best warriors in the world. It’s well known that many Samurais claimed to have attained (ah!) enlightenment. Tantric traditions claim enlightenment requires the energy that is only available in sexual contact with the opposite sex. What does this tell me? People find their versions of enlightenment doing all sorts of stuff. If you can find it with your sword penetration another human or “your sword penetrating another human” then you can find (another clumsy word when talking about this) it anywhere doing anything.
5. Rejecting Pain.
When Buddha was told that his hometown was burned to the ground by a bunch of jerks he cried out in agony. He felt a deep pain for the loss of his people. And he felt it fully. The secondary pain of thinking, “I should not be feeling this pain,” is the dirty one. There is pain in perfect compassion.
6. Forgetting How Small It Is.
This is a corollary to #1 but it deserves a number of it’s own – even if it is the lowly six. Enlightenment has been described as “just like everyday life, but two feet off the ground.” It changes everything and nothing. Maybe colors will be more vivid, but it’s just because you’re looking. Maybe you’ll feel more love for those around you, but it’s just because you’re seeing you in them. From the outside it’s tough to see if someone is enlightened or pretending. The inside, if you’re clean and honest, knows.
7. Holier Than Thou.
Just like anything else, you screw it up when you’re excited about getting it. As soon as I balanced on a slack line (a tight rope for… I don’t even know for you, a loose rope between trees) for the first time: “I’m doing it!” annnnd kerplop-fall. Same thing here. “I’m enlightened!” Annnnd you’re not. “God, why can’t everyone see the wholeness and oneness and enlightenment of life like me?” Annnd you’re out. “What idiots! Can’t they see that they are me and I am them!?” You get the idea.
8. Reading Lies About How To Fuck It Up.
I’m convinced that the only thing that matters is a deep trust of the self. That is the trust that doesn’t require a linear string of words to know whether something is right or wrong. You don’t kill your ego by stabbing at it with a knife, you kill it by forgetting about it. You forget about it by knowing it so well that you forget about it consciously (like the process of adding or subtracting). All I want to do when I write is convince you to trust yourself (and me to trust me). To throw ideas out and see if they resonate with your honest self. That’s it.
I want to know your enlightenments. How have I fucked up here? How have you fucked up yours? Which of these ideas mean anything to you? Help!
Also, I really can’t take the last word on this. Nobody can but you. But I think Alan Watts is closer to You than I am. So here he goes:
But Brahman as One Reality is all-inclusive, for the Upanishads say, ‘It is made of consciousness and mind: It is made of life and vision. It is made of the earth and the waters: It is made of air and space. It is made of anger and love: It is made of virtue and vice. it is made of all that is near: It is made of all that is afar. It is made of all.’
What, then, is nonduality in terms of a state of mind? How does the mystic who has realized his identity with the One reality think and feel? Does his consciousness expand from out of his body and enter into all other things, so that he sees with others’ eyes, and thinks with others’ brains? Only figuratively, for the Self which is in him and in all others does not necessarily communicate to the physical brain of John Smith, mystic, what is seen by the eyes of Pei-wang, construction worker, on the other side of the earth. I do not believe spiritual illumination is to be understood in quite this sensational way. We shall answer the question sufficiently if we can discover what is a non dualistic state of mind. Does it mean a mind in so intense a state of concentration that it contains only one thought? Strictly speaking, the mind never contains more than one thought at a time; such is the nature of thinking. But if spirituality means thinking only and always of one particular thing, then other things are excluded and this is still duality. Does it mean, then, a mind which is thinking of everything at once? Even if this were possible, it would exclude the convenient faculty of thinking of one thing at a time and would still be dualistic. Clearly these two interpretations are absurd, but there is another way of approach.
Spiritual illumination is often described as absolute freedom of the soul, and we have seen that the One Reality is all-inclusive. Is the mind of the mystic singularly free and all-inclusive? If so, it would seem that his spirituality does not depend on thinking any special kinds of thoughts, on having a particular feeling ever in the background of his soul. He is free to think of anything and nothing, to love and to fear, to be joyful or sad, to set his mind on philosophy or on the trivial concerns of the world; he is free to be both a sage and a fool, to feel both compassion and anger, to experience both bliss and agony.
And in all this he never breaks his identity with the One Reality-God, ‘whose service is perfect freedom.’ For he knows that in whatever direction he goes and in whichever of these many opposites he is engaged, he is still in perfect harmony with the One that includes all directions and all opposites. In this sense, serving God is just living; it is not a question of the way in which you live, because all ways are included in God. To understand this is to wake up to your freedom to be alive.