Plumbers of Enlightenment (The Spiritual Market Place, Part 5)

Plumbers of Enlightenment

Enlightenment is illegitimate, not so much in the ordinary legal sense but in the wider sense of disowned and unrecognized. Unlike religion, there is no orthodoxy of enlightenment, because unlike religion, enlightenment can’t be a matter of faith. It must be one of certainty and practical realization. To become a practicing minister or a licensed physician, you need only to go through the proper channels and get registered. To become an enlightenment teacher—not in any real sense, but socially speaking—all you have to do is say that you are enlightened—or better yet, don’t say it, imply it. None of this makes the evening news. Enlightenment teachers are, with the odd exception on Oprah, illegitimate. It is a quack industry.

The irony, tragedy, and comedy of all this, for serious seekers, is that only when we get enlightened will we be able to decide who’s genuine and who isn’t. It takes an awakened being to recognize an awakened being. Yet, irony upon irony, self-professed enlightened teachers tend not to frequent the same spaces (you won’t be seeing Dueling Avatars on NBC any time soon). In fact, from what I’ve observed during my time on the marketplace, most spiritual teachers who claim to be enlightened (whatever word they use) tend to disparage other teachers, just like many businessmen badmouth their competition. They won’t actually name the inferior merchant (that’s bad taste and might hurt their public image), but instead they use vague and general terms of besmirchment, such as “Anyone who claims to be enlightened isn’t” (Tony Parsons, who claims to be liberated). Alternatively, they will infer, in a suitably humble and self-effacing tone, that their own realization status is higher or more real than anyone else’s. They may come up with different denominations—awakened, enlightened, liberated, actualized, realized—or suggest that there are many different levels, grades or stages of attainment. Good luck to the sincere seeker who seeks to make sense of all this. He or she will probably end up envying not only the ordinary consumer who considers all of it bunk, but the true believer who has found a spiritual teacher to reach the parts the others couldn’t and become comfortably encased in spiritual dogma, like a mosquito inside amber. Such encasement offers temporary respite from the endless quest, at least until the cracks start to appear, whereupon the quest commences anew.

The more these illegitimate concepts and values are popularized (tip of the hat to Shirley MacLaine, Deepak Choprah, and Eckhart Tolle), the more legitimate they become. If an enlightened master can appear on Oprah, there must be something in it. If celebrities have their gurus, the fans will soon want one too. The market rapidly expands, not through an influx of genuine, quality product but, au contraire, from a dirge of quickly and cynically knocked off imitations. Paradoxically, the more “respectable” (i.e., marketable) the product becomes, the more disreputable. And with the Internet, everybody (not just sisters) are doing it for themselves. Everybody can be a writer, an artist, a musician, a filmmaker, a porn star, a celebrity. As the spiritual market becomes legitimized (and spirituality becomes just another material pursuit), soon everybody can be an enlightenment teacher for a day. They won’t even have to learn guitar or Photoshop. Manifest destiny becomes The Secret. Whatever you believe becomes your reality and nobody else’s (besides paid subscribers).

The more spirituality and enlightenment become commodities, the more they are fixed as concepts in people’s minds, the more they coagulate into articles of belief and the further they get from reality. For the genuine seeker, it becomes harder and harder to get a bead on them or even to know what they are. The same thing happened with religion thousands of years ago. “God” went from something that couldn’t be named or represented visually but only experienced directly, to something that could be talked about (and have scriptural laws assigned to it) by people who had no experience of it. In the end, talking about God became a way to fake having had a genuine experience of God, until only the word was left and the people who talked about God the most were the furthest from Him. Ironically, this is a charge already being leveled at enlightenment teachers: if they talk about it they can’t be it. The trouble with this dictum (which does hold some truth) is that it leaves any genuine enlightenment teachers with no recourse. They may as well become plumbers and hope to enlighten people while they’re fixing their pipes.

(Addendum: on Dave)

10 thoughts on “Plumbers of Enlightenment (The Spiritual Market Place, Part 5)

  1. something something about the teacher appearing when the student is ready. In today’s “market” it seems futile to actively seek a teacher. Or perhaps there are true teachers to found everywhere – even under the sink. Thanks for the continued shared exploration

  2. It reminds me of how I became liberated. The plumber came over to fix the toilet and as he withdrew the plunger from the bowl he said, “the excrement can’t flow if the tenants keep throwing non biodegradable materials in there.” Suddenly I heard a loud POP and I was awake,

    My book “Sluicing the soul” is available for £12.99 at good bookshops. You can get a free copy by attending a “Loosen Your Valve” weekend. Join my mailing list for further information.

  3. The rule in my experience is, if they broadcast the fact that they are “enlightened” then they aren’t. THey wish to enlarge their egos. Once you see where you are for real and can see into others hearts genuinely enlightened people will keep quiet about it and not seek disciples, glamour or any other bits of the clap trap that goes with ego gratification.

  4. enlarge their egos and their bankrolls……..unless you make the trek to the caves in the Himalayas…..but then I`ll miss the superbowl ….. in any case jake I really like the article and this is just my baggage I`m carrying……Namaste` derm

  5. Pingback: The Spiritual Market Place, Part 4 | Auticulture

  6. I quote, “In his famous definition of “enlightenment” in his essay “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (1784), which is his contribution to this debate, Immanuel Kant expresses many of the tendencies shared among Enlightenment philosophies of divergent doctrines. Kant defines “enlightenment” as humankind’s release from its self-incurred immaturity; “immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another.”

    Expanding on this from the same Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: It says, “Enlightenment is the process of undertaking to think for oneself, to employ and rely on one’s own intellectual capacities in determining what to believe and how to act. Enlightenment philosophers from across the geographical and temporal spectrum tend to have a great deal of confidence in humanity’s intellectual powers, both to achieve systematic knowledge of nature and to serve as an authoritative guide in practical life. This confidence is generally paired with suspicion or hostility toward other forms or carriers of authority (such as tradition, superstition, prejudice, myth and miracles), insofar as these are seen to compete with the authority of reason. Enlightenment philosophy tends to stand in tension with established religion, insofar as the release from self-incurred immaturity in this age, daring to think for oneself, awakening one’s intellectual powers, generally requires opposing the role of established religion in directing thought and action. The faith of the Enlightenment – if one may call it that – is that the process of enlightenment, of becoming progressively self-directed in thought and action through the awakening of one’s intellectual powers, leads ultimately to a better, more fulfilled human existence.”

    Kant’s “enlightenment” as humankind’s release from its self-incurred immaturity; “immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another.” That would be my take on it too, what ENLIGHTENMENT in a nut shell would look like. An experential (observation) proof in the pudding/nut seems to me. Release us from ourselves in other words. Our immaturity. Heh. Try that one for size. Impossible standpoint since from cherub we automatic take on the ‘immaturity’, we grow up with it. Our folks, neighborhood, schooling and all that. To shed it, wow, shed the lies remove us from perfect relationship to our nature/nature, that returns us to a state only intended for the . . . dead, maybe. The energy of the cosmos. Who knows. But before baby even, who is a little terror of contradictions. Sweet and noisy. In immaturity we Kant, forgive me, use awakend intellectual powers, immaturity won’t allow it through itself. That which denies it’s existence, makes it irrelevant. No sir. But now ‘awakened’ well, maybe, an awakening might do it, and that would be the appropriate word to use, a sudden explostion of light, actually blasting aside the mistaken notions immaturity feeds on. Powerful stuff eh, an AWAKENING. Whoa. Let me be free!

    Undertaking to think for oneself. Now there’s a statement! So simple can we stay with it long enuf to appreciate how it works. But of course we think that’s what we do isn’t it? How do we get outside of our notions and preconceptions? Unless of course they are the right notions and prconceptions that the great minds (acclaimed) give us our own superior credence and ooup to truth. Without using a priest to get us there, to clear thinking. whew. On our own. A bigoted, knowledgeless, bumpkin! Suddenly have our awekening. Become in the flash of understanding what IT is all about, awakened to the truth of the matter. That we be all one in another so let’s treat ourselves with some common sense and respect as all in part of this, let alone love and really enjoy this real fine treatment we give each other. But it is so sweet to what? An enlightened soul on earth? Like a lingering melody perhaps. And acts like it. I don’t know, might get a bit monotonous. No! Forget that, I’m kidding.

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