Getting Right with Mammon
In today’s ultra-sophisticated society, millions of adults still believe that God takes the form of a bearded old wise man on a cloud. Maybe when they die, some of these people will meet a “God” to match their beliefs. Does that mean they really met God, or that they wound up stranded on the blue cheese moon of their fantasies? Just as naïve concepts about God may be keeping millions of “true believers” from an authentic encounter with divine intelligence, and is certainly preventing millions of agnostics from seriously investigating the question of a Deity—the same is true of enlightenment. False and flimsy notions about it have not only fooled the gullible, they have deterred the critical-minded. Many of the people who might be capable of experiencing it now know better than to believe in such an absurdity.
There is a popular refrain these days: “Anyone who claims to be enlightened is lying.” In Dreambus, Tony Parsons says more or less this (when he describes himself, Parsons uses the word “liberated”). What’s curious about this belief is that it’s generally not meant to refute the possibility of enlightenment. It’s more of an assertion that, if anyone were enlightened, they would be far too modest to admit it. Actually, it’s more complex, having to do with intellectual concepts such as “There is no one to be enlightened,” or “Enlightenment is only a temporary state,” or “It is a beginning and not an end.”
People who refute the possibility of an enlightened individual who describes him- or herself as enlightened are like atheists who reject the idea of a bearded old wise man on a cloud without ever addressing the question of a non-anthropomorphic divine presence. The proof is that they make this blanket statement (“No one who claims to be enlightened, is”) without asking an obvious question such as “What do they mean when they say they are enlightened?” The implication is that they know what enlightenment is, even though they aren’t, and that if they were, they wouldn’t ever say it, because it’s in poor taste to do so. The subtext behind this odd belief seems to be little more than: “How dare someone claim to be enlightened when I’m not?” This is a perfectly understandable position for the ego to take, and naturally I sympathize (having done the guru thing myself for a while). How dare they?
Ironically, or perhaps not, the end result of the popular belief that anyone who claims to be enlightened is a liar is the perpetuation of unenlightenment. In exactly the same way that rogues and charlatans have hijacked the idea of “God,” and ensured that any actual Deity is wholly misrepresented in the world, bogus enlightenment teachers now have free reign in the spiritual marketplace—and don’t even have to lie about it. Who wants to be associated with a bunch of rogues and charlatans? Because the credulous have fallen for an “obvious” hoax (old gray-beard in the sky, and a thousand tawdry offers of enlightenment-at-a-price), the canny know better than to believe in any God or enlightenment that isn’t sourced in their own self-invented value system. Once burned, never trusting. The disillusionment of finding out that Santa was a Big Lie went too deep for us to ever quite recover from it.
When Jesus overturned the money-lenders’ tables in the temple, he made a bold and unequivocal statement. Spirituality and commerce do not mix. But in today’s world, absolutely everything has been mixed up with commerce and there is simply no way to live without marketing oneself in one way or another. Another common belief is that an enlightened individual is somehow not supposed to be subject to Mammon’s Law, and many “spiritual” people argue that anyone who charges for spiritual assistance can’t be genuine. How do they know this? Why do they believe it? Do they believe that an enlightened individual should be able to turn stones into bread and water into wine? Or do they believe that they ought to “work for a living” like the rest of us, even if it means they may not have the time or energy to put their special gift to use?
If we put that assumption cum prejudice aside for now, we may have to allow that any authentic spiritual teacher—maybe even Jesus himself—would have no choice, in today’s social arena, but to drag his market table into the temple (or more accurately, his altar and pulpit into the marketplace) and start shouting out his wares to passers-by. “Get your living bread here for only three Shekels. I am the way, the truth and the light! Subscribe to a year’s worth of sermons today, and get a free healing!”
On the off-chance this is the case, the sincere spiritual seeker has little choice but to enter the enlightenment market and check out the goods on offer as thoroughly as possible—and as distasteful and unrewarding a task as it may be—if they are ever to find a genuine teacher.
 If our definitions of enlightenment came (according to the skeptical reasoning) from people who were not necessarily enlightened, then why are these same skeptics using the same definitions to disprove current claims of enlightenment? The discerning seeker ought to be curious about the criteria which people use for dismissing, as they do, a person’s claims to being enlightened without investigation. I am not suggesting that they should investigate every claim of enlightenment, but only reserve judgment prior to a full investigation or, at the very least, offer up their criteria for examination by others. In the case of the most common and sweeping criteria—that enlightenment means never saying you are—they could explain the reasoning behind their argument rather than simply stating it as a self-evident hypothesis. And also, most crucially of all, explain what they think they mean by “enlightenment,” and what it is that makes them an authority on the subject.