Art by Lucinda Horan
Enlightenment: What is it?
“Truth exists. Untruth does not.”
Most enlightenment teachers say enlightenment isn’t about attaining something but getting rid of something, namely: everything that comes between us and our natural state. The paradox inherent in this formula is that what needs to go is an illusion, i.e., something with no actual existence. So how do you get rid of something that isn’t there? And why do you need a teacher to help you do it?
Spiritual seekers look for a spiritual teacher to help them get enlightened. Most of the time it doesn’t happen. Seekers are told that the desire to get enlightened—which is really the desire to escape suffering—is the thing preventing them from becoming enlightened. Oddly enough, on hearing this news, most seekers don’t give up their quest. The reason they don’t is that they still want to “get” what they came for and being told they won’t get it by someone who they think has it is about as close as they can get to getting it. That’s pretty much the seeker’s lot, in a nutshell.
Here are some ideas common to most enlightenment teachings:
• There is no such thing as a separate self
• There is no time or space, only consciousness and perception
• Enlightenment equals coming all the way into “the Now”
• Existence is continuously being destroyed and created; the sense of continuity is an illusion created by the mind
• No one can be told what the truth is because each of us must find (become) our own truth
• The ego is an impediment to seeing reality
• Enlightenment is the natural state and there is nothing “special” about it
• There is no one who “attains” enlightenment, only the removal of the idea of one who attains
• Enlightenment depends on surrendering up all beliefs and concepts to what we actually “know is true”
• It is a return to authentic being
• It is the destiny and birthright of each of us
• Only a very few people ever realize it
• It is total openness and alignment with the Divine Will
• It is the end of personal suffering
• It entails the recognition of the illusory nature of material existence and is akin to waking from a dream
• It is “becoming nothing”
• It is the end of the quest and the beginning of service
• It is having no attachments or preferences
• The desire for enlightenment is necessary to obtain enlightenment but can also be an obstacle to it
• Enlightenment will not improve our life but end it
• It is surrendering our life back to “God”
• Enlightenment is the death of the ego, and for the enlightened being, there is nothing to fear in the death of the body. No change in consciousness will occur because consciousness is no longer identified with either the mind or the body
• The ego is the “glue” of mind-body identification
• Spiritual practices can help to clear out the mind and body and to focus intent. But in the end, it is only letting go of the fundamental delusion of a separate identity (ego) that works
• Although this letting go occurs instantly and without volition, it is possible to prepare for it
Most or all of these “truths” can be consistently found in spiritual circles and they are happily bandied about by seekers who wish to seem, and feel, like they are on A Spiritual Path. Such ideas are usually backed up by anecdotal evidence and/or assumed to be self-evident to “anyone who has spent any time on A Spiritual Path.” But are they self-evident, or have they only been passed lazily along, like moth-eaten garments, from one “generation” to the next? Martial arts techniques (we are told) were originally developed by people with an awareness of subtle body energies. Later, they were imitated and passed on by people who understood the outer form only. Lacking that deeper, energetic awareness, martial arts degenerated into empty kicks and punches. Chinese whispers.