On Enlightenment


I have spent enough time with enlightened men, namely Acharn Thawee, Acharn Tippakorn, Luang Pu Sangvahn and the Venerable Pemasiri, to have known them as men – variously mischievous, humorous, intelligent and caring, and to know that their enlightenment is a skill they each worked hard to attain – which they built within themselves, and which liberated them from the neurotic mess of habits we assume is normality.

But what was most exceptional about them was their un-exceptionality. I am not being disrespectful when I say this – I am merely stating a fact.

We westerners have a habit of mythologising things – imbuing people and things with almost magical powers – the Turin shroud, the Pope, the Dalai Lama. We ascribe healing powers and all kinds of esoteric abilities to these people and things, then hold them separate from us with our awe struck reverence – quite forgetting that before we load them up with all this imagined stupidity, they are people and things – just like us.
The Turin shroud is a piece of old cloth.
The Dalai Lama and the Pope are just men.

And we do the same thing with our very flawed view of enlightenment. We speak of it in reverential terms, about how extraordinary it is, and how enlightened people have all these ‘effects’ on us – that they are ‘powerful’, ‘magical’, ‘healing’ and whatever. A woman in Byron Bay spoke of being rendered almost unconscious with ‘bliss in her heart chakra’ when the Dalai Lama touched her one time – that he somehow ‘psychically knew’ what was in her heart.

But whether he did or didn’t, it had nothing to do with enlightenment, and more to do with a projection of their own feelings of wretchedness, a kind of cringing remorse in which we yearn to be saved from ‘evil’, from our sins – from ourselves.As such it is more reminiscent of the Christian notion that we are all sinners and the saints among us will perform magical works as indications of his power to save us and ‘show us the way’.

This view is rather pathetic, and ultimately an impediment to personal progress.

Enlightenment is here, now, in all of us.
We are born enlightened and we die enlightened.

All that keeps us from our intrinsic enlightenment is the ridiculous ‘business’ of conditioned life which we are so buried in, in which we have been thinking so intensely for so long, about so many things, that we have forgotten the simple fact that thinking is not knowing.

I’ll say it again – thinking is not knowing.

In fact, it is the case that we always know before we think, and we know much more than we think.

And in that knowing lies all the qualities we ascribe to enlightenment, of interconnected consciousness, of genius and compassion and inspiration.

Enlightenment exists whenever we forget our conditioned mind and act from the universal mind of awareness – from the very accurate intuitive aspect of being that ‘knows’. In awareness we find the equanimity, compassion, unselfconsciousness and wisdom that makes it inevitable that we will make perfect actions. And this can happen any time – when we give unconditionally. When we are spontaneously kind, or love unconditionally. When we are absorbed in creating something we love.

The fact that in the next moment we fall back into the conditioned self conscious mind we have learnt to be is only because we have not been trained to know any better.

This is why the practice of meditation and mindfulness is so crucial to the creation of an effective life. Because the combination of mindfulness training and insight that arises from meditation gradually teaches the mind to let go of the tight tangles of reactive thinking it has buried itself in. As we practice we find the tangles of thinking becoming more transparent, and their influence over us less compelling – and we begin to experience enlightened moments more and more – until one day, we too become un-exceptionally exceptional.

A Zen parable expresses this unexceptionality very well:
“Before enlightenment, chopping wood, drawing water
After enlightenment, chopping wood, drawing water”

To conclude:
As long as we regard enlightenment as a world shattering, and magical event we will always be estranged from it, like people watching a happy Disney film and wishing it could be them.

Though for sure it is a powerful and highly aware state, enlightenment is, like anything else, simply a skill to be learnt, like any other skill. And while some of us might have a greater propensity for it than others, this does not make it a ‘special’ skill – it only means that some of us must take longer to learn the skill or use more effort. But we must always keep in mind the true nature of what it is that we are learning – that it is only a skill – a learned set of habits like any other, and as such, is accessible to all.
Enlightenment is here now – it already exists between our thoughts and in our heart. We already know the right things to do, and we already have the grace and genius of enlightenment. All we have to do is let go of what we think, and fall into it


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