I keep getting emails about enlightenment, or nibbana, or nirvana, and how it happens, and what it is, and how long it takes. And though I’ve written about it before, I figure it’s worth adding a little to what’s already been said.
First off, I will say this, so you don’t have to keep on reading.
Enlightenment is impossible unless you devote many years to it, meditating for long periods of time in an environment that is secluded from the world as we know it – either in a monastery or meditation center, guided by an enlightened teacher.
All the ‘stuff’ our lives usually revolve around must be removed. The things that distract us and feed our desires and fears – such as entertainment, money, ownership, relationships and sex, and even friendship.
So why such extreme measures?
Well, enlightenment can only occur when the mind is coaxed into experiential purity. By that I mean, when the mind has learnt to instinctively let go of everything we normally cling to, or react to. The list of these things is incredibly long – but it includes our reactions to pain and pleasure, happiness and unhappiness – as well as the need for achievement, or winning, or losing, or loneliness, and fear and desire in all their forms. It also includes desire for ownership, recognition, sentiment, co-dependent love – and so on.
As I said the list of things we cling to and fill our time up with is huge – and all of it must be let go of.
This is not to say these things should be resisted – that itself is a kind of clinging.
Rather, the mind must be trained to no longer be at all inclined to these things – in any way.
At that point, we are literally free.
Free of all the things that get a rise out of us, and all the things that keep us running and grasping.
And in that freedom, we see things clearly – without bias or prejudice or duality. We see that our self definition is not innate – but rather composed from all the stuff of the life we live – – the stuff on the huge list I mentioned before, everything we’ve achieved, everything we fear and desire, and need, and so on.
And that illusory self has imprisoned us within its fears and desires and beliefs – even to the extent of shaping what we see and hear and feel.
As such, the more enlightened we become, the more our experience of life and everything around us expands and changes. Our mind stops turning our life experience into constant thought-stuff. In the mental space that this leaves, awareness becomes brighter and constant. This means our sensual experience of life becomes more expansive and undiversified – that is, we live within the truth of interconnectedness. Or, if you like, we live in what Thich Nhat Hanh called ‘interbeing’.
Okay … so how do we reach this exalted state?
Well, as I said before, it requires that we train the mind to let go of everything. Literally everything – even, eventually, the conscious act of letting go itself.
You can’t think, or conceptualize, or imagine your way into this kind of letting go. Nor can it be done as an act of will, or desire. Rather enlightenment must be created as a skill – an instinctive habit. And the only way to create a habit is with constant repetition and adjustment. Which is why meditation is the main tool that’s used when it comes to enlightenment – because when we meditate, we are training the mind to constantly let go – of everything.
As with the building of any skill, this can be tedious, and taxing – particularly in the early stages, when every life habit we have is pushing and pulling at us for satisfaction.
And that’s why, if enlightenment is our intention, it’s necessary to seclude ourselves in a monastery or meditation center as a committed monk or nun – simply so as to lessen our contact with all the pressures and temptations that make it hard to let go.
So here’s the thing – if you’re not prepared to do what is necessary for enlightenment to occur, then let it go. Choose to live as best as you can in the illusion we’re all puddling about in.
This might sound a bit abrasive to those who dream of enlightenment. But unless you’re prepared to make the commitment, and do the work that enlightenment requires, the mere dream of it will eat away at your life, which will become polluted by a constant stream of frustration and despair.
So as the song says, ‘there are two paths you can go by’ … and whether you choose enlightenment, or this wonderful madness we call ‘my life’ – you must choose one or the other – then commit to it to make it work.
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)