A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO ENLIGHTENMENT

A PRACTICAL MANUAL FOR WAKING UP

This page is a developing outline of a possible book. The entries are added into a list as tho they might be chapters, though there is still much to add, change and delete before anything is determined.  In the meantime, its a place to develop ideas, and for you to offer feedback about what works for you. The organizing principle is the idea of enlightenment, which is a notion that has been part of myriad spiritual paths and intrigued seekers since their inception. Enlightenment is probably not an idea at all as much as an experience. However, as such, it’s pretty rare, prompting the age-worn adage ‘those who know do not speak, and those who speak do not know.’ This makes me perfectly qualified to speak.

 

Or, even write. Anyone can write about what they know. We all think about what we know, endlessly, as if to comfort ourselves.  But, it takes a certain outrageous bravery for us to venture into unknown territory.  Yet, that is precisely the premise of a spiritual path, isn’t it?  Exploring what we don’t know might open the boxes that inform our moment to moment life. Looking outside of the boxes might serve as a counterweight to the reiteration of what we already know.  So, this might become a manual of real life advice to help meditators look at the spiritual path in ways that are entirely different than what they thought, but pertinent to their everyday lives. Along the way, we will reference teachings from wisdom traditions that have direct experience with enlightenment, or an awakened state.  However, this will be from a practical advice standpoint. A religious path is about getting more accustomed, and adept at a given spiritual system. But, a spiritual path is a path of discovery, about the system it may be informed by, but also about human experience and most importantly  ourselves.  I’m going to operate from the premise that religion is a statement and spirituality, a question.

 

When we have a statement at the center of our journey, we are heading into the comfort of known territory. But, this is someone else’s story. And, this is still comprised of ideas. Ideas are really just echoes and iterations of information we’ve heard from others. Ideas are not actual experience. And, they are not personal realization. Experience, on the other hand, seems integral to realization. So, should a question lie at the center of our inquiry any direction we take is valid, as long as we’re paying attention. Our journey is thrown back onto our actual experience.  Sakyong Mipham refers to monson and jabak, which are Tibetan terms for direct experience and inference. Some inference is important as it gives our journey guidelines. But guideines are not the actual experience. The direct experience can be surmised, but is actually unknown until it occurs. So, gps directions to Boston, are not the city itself. If you’ve ever been there, you know Boston is its own thing, altogether.  So, even heading to Boston, we don’t know what that will be in terms of the actual experience until it happens. At the end of his life, George Harrison reflected “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” And if we are willing to go and not know where, we’re likely to pay acute attention on the way. And that may well make it worth the price of the toll. Paying attention means that we are active participants in the journey. We are not just drifting. We are searching for something we know nothing about, but are driven toward nonetheless.

 

So, having a destination gives the journey a direction that posits an end-game (enlightenment), which gives the process some weight. So, we are heading toward the enlightened state with little or no information about what that state is. Which is to say we don’t know squat, really. We are beginners. This means we may see things differently than if we knew what we were experts. We may ask questions, rather than posit dictums. We might look at premises with a certain speculation. For instance, on a practical level, is enlightenment solely a spiritual experience? Or is it exclusively psychological?  Might it actually have a physical quality? Traditionally, Tibetan masters referred to winds that traverse the inner body, and with practice, begin to settle into central nervous channel bringing the mind into a state called enlightenment. That certainly sounds as though they are describing a physical experience.

 

So, perhaps enlightenment is an event that occurs on many levels. An event that is in the mind, but also in the body, in the spirit, in life and the attendant universe around us. Perhaps all of these particulars have their own spheres of awareness, which become synchronized into a singular event. In theory, I’m imagining a grand synchronicity as a singularity whereby all things converge and then expand. I’m not sure what that means. But maybe, body, impulse, spirit, emotions, feelings, intuition, mental constructs, perceptions, and wisdom are all co-informed in real time and with complete consciousness. The key here is that in the enlightened synchronicity all of this is as it already is, right now, in our everyday life – except with a sense of unified knowing. Realization. Realization of what is, or referencing the Tibetan system “seeing things are they are.” Perhaps enlightenment is seeing everything as they are. While the intention to gain enlightenment may be a good device as an endgame for a spiritual path, intentions must certainly fall away at, or just before, the actual event. At that point, the traditional teachings suggest that the event is “beyond coming or going.” Meditation Master Chogyam Trungpa posits that maybe enlightenment is not so grand at all. Maybe it is the “lowest of the low.” In this case, perhaps the experience is very, ordinary. Deceptively ordinary. Maybe very, very, very ordinary. So, maybe the search has less to do with grand ideas at all. Maybe it’s seeing into the very moment of now. Or, perhaps, there is no complete definition of enlightenment other than as a question that keeps asking itself.

 

To say that enlightenment, whether we define it or not, whether it exists or not, is possibly an unattainable state need not affect our resolve. Another traditional recommendation is to simply travel the path naively.  There’s never a guarantee that we will, or could, or possibly even should, get there.  Perhaps this makes the path empty of its own conception.  So, given that centric voidness, what remains is the path itself?  Perhaps it’s as simple as “waking up”. Do we know what that is?  We know we do it. And we know that should we do it on the scale that might be called “enlightenment” we have little idea of what we’d be waking up into.  And this book will be – despite its arch title – a humorous, yet practical, step by step guide to walking the precisely thin and incredibly vast line toward waking up. I think a manual is a good idea particularly as no one can master this.  So we are all beginners. And keeping our connection to beginner’s mind is essential in staying the course.

 

 

 

  1. Waking Up is Hard to Do

 

Enlightenment may be reducible to simply waking up. But what are we waking into? Or, from? There are ideas about this, of course. Waking up from delusion. Removing the veils. Seeing what is. But what is it experientially? Perhaps we can simply look at the experience and see what it is. And, perhaps it is sometimes quite different than the bliss we might expect. Maybe the idea that waking up should be glorious keeps us from recognizing it.  Why would waking up spiritually be any different than waking up on any given morning?  Some days are blissful and many are irritating, but waking up each day is essential.  So, the idea might be to wake up with our waking up and see without judgement what it is that’s happening. If waking up spiritually is not dissimilar from waking up in the morning, then sometimes the experience will be like waking on vacation to a sun-filled room devoid of the regular pressure of our life. But sometimes the mind of enlightenment is a bit daunting to a part of us still hitting the snooze button from under the comforter.  Maybe mental hygiene is as irritating as dental hygiene. Maybe waking up implies meeting a part of ourselves that’s kind of unattractive and smelly. But, like attending to our teeth daily, it’s not only a good thing for us, it’s very much a generosity to others.

 

Whether it’s waking up in the morning, or waking up in our life, to (almost) quote an old song “waking up is hard to do.” We are bound to stumble a bit, as we see less attractive parts of ourselves reflected in the steamy mirrors. We may even cringe and look away. We may squint and pretend we’re seeing something else.  Walking our life path, some of us have the extra weight of a western/puritanical acculturation. This is theistic reasoning. The belief in a god being that sees and judges us bifurcates otherwise unified experience into good and bad experiences.  From there we come to the idea that if something is good, then it could be better. And better comes by expunging the presence of any competing thing – which, of course, is bad. So, from a theistic point of view, enlightenment would be a truly magnificent state devoid of eye crud and bad breath.  While goodness and bliss happen, there may be another side that fits less well. Our shadow being, which is entirely dependent on its host. And yet, theism parcels out otherwise integral pieces of the whole into a partialized view of the self and its experiences. And the discrepancy between what we think should be and what we are actually experiencing creates friction. We begin to chafe in our new yoga pants. We could see this irritation as evil. We could choose to see the simple elegant truth of aging as evidence that we are lacking an essential goodness. And if we were truly devout, we should be punished. Punished for chafing. Punished for aging. Punished for our imperfections. Punished for not employing a joyful mind. And in some twisted vision we think this self-abuse will bring peace. Sure. Nothing brings joy like the feeling that you have betrayed your god, country and your very existence. But something tells me that enlightenment is not simply walking on sunshine in perfectly fitting yoga pants. A comprehensive spiritual path leads to an integrated synchronicity of mind that sees beyond contradictions.  If it is a grand synchronicity of all things, then it resolves differences and distances. It means if the yoga pants don’t fit, we can be awake in dad jeans and 3d fuzzy bear sweatshirts. Whatever we are, wherever we are, if we awaken, we’re there.

 

From the wisdom of the middle way, we see all things as part of a continuum. Problems arise when we value one part of that continuum over the balanced whole. One of the obstacles to waking is thinking we should have already done so; that we should be someone else by now. We’re loathe to give ourselves time or encouragement. So, we guzzle cups of joe we don’t taste, put Morning Joe on the radio we don’t hear, rush through a much too cold shower and push past the person we are in search of our dress-up avatar. We may even sit on an uncomfortable cushion and squeeze out 15 minutes of meditation, all the while manufacturing this public Joe that will meet the world. Why is it we imagine we have to be this other person?  What becomes of the person we are? That being must be lonely. It’s like waking up from as drunken stupor and realizing your in bed with someone you don’t remember and trying to rush out before they awake. Maybe at some point you realize its you that you’ve left behind.

 

These patterns are similarly employed in our spiritual path.  We believe we should have kindness, decorum and patience just as we believe we should be at the optimum weight … simply because … we should?  For many of us, our sense of self is a list of things we sadly aren’t.  Unfortunately, that provokes an attendant reactionary ego, that compensates for that lack by puffing up all that doesn’t matter.  And, maybe we can keep that up for a while. But, sooner or later, we’ve got to breathe out, admit our belt is too tight, our temper too short, and our attention all over the place. WE need to calm down and sit still in silence and meet this person we’ve been so furiously costuming. Strangely, that person may turn out to be someone we don’t know very well at all. As it applies to the path of enlightenment this lack of knowing ourselves, is not dissimilar to the path of worldly success. We have a vague idea of what we think we want. Neither millions, nor enlightenment are well thought out in our minds.

                     A curious thing about humans is that we want it now, but never take the time to learn how.

Frankly, learning is galling to the part of us that has found its unhappy groove. Slowing down and figuring it out. We’re too important. We’ve forgotten the power of what Suzuki Roshi called beginner’s mind. Babies are learning how from the moment they are born. It must be exciting for them as they discover their feet. Remember that? For a few weeks, feet are the coolest things in the world. Eventually, they lose interest in their feet and walking seems quite important. But, on their way to learning, babies fall like drunken sailors, or little waddly college kids staggering back from a dorm party. But that’s fine to them – unless it isn’t. But, that’s fine too. There’s simply no thought that they should be any different than they are. They laugh and cry and move from experience to experience. All the while, they are spending a lot of time falling, and failing. And laughing and crying.

 

It’s said that irritation is the vanguard of awareness. I’m not saying we’d do well to act out. That’s not acceptance. When we act out, we are getting rid of our irritation. When we are cruel to ourselves we are simply stuffing it down. When we are cruel to others, we are passing the discomfort on. Neither of these are helpful if we want to KNOW what’s going on. In that regard, the brave approach is to ACCEPT how we feel without making it worse by thinking we should be feeling elsewise. The path to awake begins with our ability to just be there without embarrassment, without explanation, without doubt. Along the way, it’s helpful to know that YOU ARE LOVED – by you.  Or, can be. You have that power. But, that’s a big caveat. You have to be the one to do it.  It’s best to start this very important relationship with your oldest friend as soon as you can. But, know that the journey is possible, even as the path to AWAKE is fraught with brambles. And when you get stuck?  My advice is don’t make it worse. Just be okay with what that is, whatever that is.

 

Yeah waking up kind of sometimes sucks. But we will never see our life unless we do it. So, when the going gets tough and your diapers are full, just love your cranky ass, and keep moving forward.