Do You Really Want To Be Enlightened?

Via on Apr 18, 2011

The present moment is constantly reminding us of frustration and happiness, sorrow and joy, death and life. But it is also reminding us of the eternal possibility of transcending these choices, freedom.

I have been piddling around with Dzogchen Ponlop’s book, Wild Awakening, for quite some time. I pick it up, and flip through the pages, reading a chapter here-&-there. Well, my piddling has come to an end.

On page 144-145 he says:

“…What is meant by complete space? Complete space has the quality of being liberated in its own self, of complete letting go. What do we let go of? We let go of hopes and fears, which arise from the lack of trust. When we develop this sense of complete intensified trust, confidence, and devotion, that space is experienced within every living moment. Whether we are sitting on a cushion meditating, walking down the street, or enjoying a cup of cappuccino, it does not matter because we have no hopes and fears. When we have no hopes and fears, we have no choice but to give rise to enlightenment…

The most important aspect of this trust is trust in our own heart. In addition, trust in the instructions of the lineage is crucial. The lineage teachings say that we may attain enlightenment “right now.” That thought might cause us some worry and make us very uncomfortable. The question is, do we really want to achieve enlightenment right now?”

So many people want to talk about the spiritual path as if it were nothing more than a Disney World for the Soul. Everything is blissful oneness or the Manifestation of Quantum Spirit Energy, or something like that. They want to talk about love and compassion as if they were frothy intangible emotions or spaced out states of mind. Oneness seems to be synonymous with some vague, but lukewarm “lovey-dovey” slime that encompasses everything. This sensational relationship with spirituality enables us to keep the path of transformation at a safe distance.

Our ideas about the spiritual path and the spiritual path are two different things…

When we cling to our ideas about spirituality we keep the possibility of transformation at arms length.

Since the possibility of transformation is being ignored, these hifalutin ideas about spirituality should be regarded as materialistic, as they do nothing more than preserve the false sense of self that genuine spirituality seeks to transcend. They’re intentionally impractical.

So, lets begin with dumbing down the word “enlightened.”

In the exert above, Dozgchen Ponlop says, “When we have no hopes and fears, we have no choice but to give rise to enlightenment…” He is saying a couple of different things here. First of all, enlightenment is not something we choose, create, or achieve. When we put aside our contrived ideas about how things should or shouldn’t be, enlightenment happens. Second, he is saying that the path consists of nothing more than letting go. But there is an interesting twist.

Letting go is not something that happens in the past or future. It happens right now. So, the spiritual path is about discovering the possibility of letting go or enlightenment in this very moment. From a certain point of view, this is very disconcerting. I am inclined to agree with Dzogchen Ponlop when he writes, “That thought might cause us some worry and make us very uncomfortable.”

The Spiritual Path Has Three Perspectives.

These three perspectives are commonly referred to as ground, path, and fruition. I am more interested in finding ground, path, and fruition in my daily life, than in some book. My teacher, Jetsun Thubten, told me, “If meditation is reserved to the cushion, you will have to meditate 24 hours a day, for several lifetimes!” In other words, spirituality has to find its place in our daily affairs. Otherwise, it is impotent. This impotency is the primary symptom of intellectualizing the path; either rambling on about complex philosophical ideals or clinging to mushy emotional sentiments that are nothing more than a materialistic expression of our fears and expectations translated into a spiritual dialect.

The word “fruition” is obviously describing realization. It is referring to the point at which the objective has been realized. So what is the objective? This is the “ground.” The word ground is referring to the possibility of fruition. So, if fruition is obviously associated with enlightenment, and enlightenment is the discovery or realization of “complete space,” then the ground is nothing more than the possibility of discovering this space. So what is the path?

The path is exploring or investigating this possibility. That is, when life slaps the shit out of you, being willing to move beyond the egocentric story line—all the shoulds and should nots—to discover complete space or things as they are.

The Two People Walking The Spiritual Path.

No one on a spiritual journey is alone. There are always two travelers, that is until the journey comes to an end. There is the True-Self, so to speak, and then its imaginary friend or shadow. This shadow is the ego. It maybe imaginary, but it is active. It is attention seeking, and definitely garnishes the majority of our attention. It positions itself in the center of everything. This shadow is the personification of all our fears and expectations. It interprets all incoming information in the light of these fears and expectations, which, interestingly enough, re-creates situations that serve to reinforce our fears and expectations. The ego is a resourceful little son of a bitch that is hell bent on self preservation.

Here is the Spiritual Premise:

The conceptual-formed mind is constructed using fears and expectations. It is a mind that ignores space or reduces the infinite number of possibilities down to a safe and comfortable few…The few that conform to its fears and expectations or revolve around a conceptually personified center—it is ego-centric.

Enlightenment consists of nothing more than letting go of the preconceived-formed mind, so as to discover the spacious quality of original mind. Enlightenment is the fruition of our innate capacity as human beings to experience life as it is, without all of the preconceived ideas created and sustained by fears and expectations.

So, the path is suicide.

Our imaginary friend enjoys obsessing over all the frothy sentiments about compassion, and intellectualizing what it means to be a Buddha, because it enables our imaginary friend to ignore the fact that the path demands its death. If we want to breathe some life into these spiritual principles, then we would do well to begin with the principle of honesty.

The prospect of enlightenment makes me uncomfortable. I know this to be true, because when a fight with my girlfriend, uncertainty at my job, or anything else draws my sense of self into question I do not look to discover space. I look to salvage my self-image. I look to smooth out the situation. I look for certainty and not space. In fact, in those moments I have discovered space. Thats the god-damn problem! It is the recognition of space that I am running away from! Reality has made it perfectly clear that things are not as I had thought—the discrepancy between my thoughts and reality is space. It is the gap. Resting in this gap is letting go, and as I have already said, resting in this gap requires no effort on my part. All I have to do is give up the game; just let go. Running from this gap is exhausting. It requires much effort as I have to try and freeze space or sew it back up.

Let’s Be More Mindful Of Dying.

A great portion of the spiritual path is seen from the point of view of the ego. This point of view is not always  pretty. It is often painful, scary, and sad. It is a lot like the relationship between John Nash and his imagined friends in the movie, A Beautiful Mind. He realized (not figured out) that they were the products of his imagination, because of the gap or discrepancy between his hallucination and reality. He saw that the characters in his dream never grew older, therefore they had to be apparitions. He knew that they had to die. So, with a tender heart, he bid them farewell. He told them that they had been great friends and he walked away.

We have to be direct and straightforward, while remaining tender. We can’t beat ourselves up. However, we have to be honest about the nature of our relationship with the the ego. It is unhealthy, and causes a great deal of difficulty for ourselves and everyone around us. The ego has to die, but it is a good death. It is sad, but painless. It is like watching the death of friend that never was.

We do ourselves no justice when we pretend that the spiritual path is all “hunky-dory.” Letting go of ideas and patterns of behavior that have been with you since early childhood is scary and sometimes sad. Not to mention, it is hard as hell. It requires courage to move through the intensely thick veil that is the false-self and its emotionally charged behavioral programs.

The spiritual path is here-&-now because the possibility of awakening rests in the present moment, and the path is only concerned with exploring this single possibility. I believe that each and everyone of us would benefit greatly from a simple admission or occasional reminder that the present moment is endowed with the possibility of both liberation and suffering. While on the path, we are both ego-centric and enlightened. Therefore, the present moment is constantly reminding us of frustration and happiness, sorrow and joy, life and death. But it is also reminding us of the eternal possibility of transcending these choices, freedom.

We have no choice but to start where we are, as trying to start somewhere else is make believe. So, if we answer the question honestly, that is, answer the question from our current point of view, we would have to admit that part of us does not want to attain enlightenment. And it is for this reason, and this reason only, that each and everyone of us are not enlightened!

As Fr. Thomas Keating says, “The only thing that separates man from God is the belief that man is separate from God.” Preserving this belief is a matter of self-preservation for the ego. Letting go of this belief opens the door to a world of possibilities. It is opens the door to enlightenment.

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About Benjamin Riggs

Ben Riggs is the director of the Refuge Meditation Group in Shreveport, LA. Ben writes extensively about Buddhist & Christian spirituality and politics for The Good Men Project, Elephant Journal, The Web of Enlightenment, and is the editor & chief for Henry Harbor--an online magazine concerned with art, culture, spirituality, & politics in the deep South. To keep up with all of his work follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Looking for a real bio? Click here to read my story....

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11 Responses to “Do You Really Want To Be Enlightened?”

  1. resourcetherapy says:

    What else is there to say? Letting go allows us to embrace all that is with equanimity. It allows joy to bubble up eventually.

  2. Jessica Durivage Jessica says:

    WOW~ this is an amazing post. Very "enlightening…" (pardon the pun….) lol

  3. elephantjournal says:

    via http://www.facebook.com/elephantjournal

    #
    Fenagh Man K-man Sheill It's no scam yoga is the future Any1 that thinks it's a scam is stupid

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    elephantjournal.com Hmmm… Well said, Fenagh Man L-man Scheill. You must have enjoyed this article? ~Ben Riggs

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    Crickett Scottfrea yes! thank you

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    Scott Chisman
    I sense frustration in this article, and share it at times. "Enlightenment sold here" was the sign on a New Age book store. I told them they should change it to "Enlightenment found within." At least it was not so shamelessly exploitative. "Sell enlightenment to the rich, and prosperity to the poor." There seem to be many in our society who follow this strategy, and it works at times. "The gold of this world is heavy, but the gold of heaven is light." Truly.

    #
    Scott Chisman
    I don't care for the shallow imitation of religion. But imitation is how we begin our journey. Hopefully, some will rise to their "authentic voice." I love the teachings of the Buddha – it makes me happy to read them and provides comfort… at times. Though I am a yogi, and a teacher, I find it futile to try to act a certain role. "Be yourself" is the best advice I have found, that and "Do your best." All things in time.
    #
    Brian Adler If you're practicing for a future result (or even a self-referential present one), then you are wasting your time. That is the very essence of spiritual materialism. The only good reason to practice is the unavoidable reality of existence itself.

    Actually, a better motive is so your friends and family don't have to put up with you being an ass all the time. But working towards enlightenment is a horrible motivation predicated on a deep misunderstanding.

  4. Kashif says:

    Thank you for putting into words what I have been feeling and noticing in the world around me, inside myself and with the spiritual practitioners I come into contact with … I've always known what you say to be true but never found the words to express it.

  5. Dace says:

    This is so correct! Living from our emotions and being attached to our views, makes us run away from true enlightenment.

  6. Benjamin Riggs BenRiggs says:

    I am glad you liked it Clare! And, if by "real" you meant "direct" that is what I was going for… It felt silly to complicate an article about it not really being all that complicated!

  7. Tanya Lee Markul tanya lee markul says:

    Loved this article, especially 'The Two People Walking The Spiritual Path' – this was very powerful. I'd love to read more and contemplate on this. Thank you so much.

  8. [...] thoughts, actions and energies sometimes without your realizing it. One day you find that you are living and breathing it. It has become [...]

  9. [...] it is also reminding us of the eternal possibility of transcending these choices, freedom. ~from Do You Really Want To Be Enlightened? by Ben [...]

  10. [...] But enlightenment is not usually a do-it-yourself project. A meditation master is essential for mind to mind transmission, which can happen formally or in a casual encounter. This master teacher can be whoever you thoroughly connect with. The sixth patriarch was an illiterate layman, yet Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese Chan and Zen traditions trace back to him. [...]

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