“Yes, as a matter of fact, I am enlightened!”
We are told in many different ways that we are all enlightened, even if we don’t realize it.
But at the same time we are discouraged to be openly proud of this realization.
I say the world would be a better place if we were encouraged to admit it, enjoy it, and share it, even brag about it—with humility if possible. There is nothing wrong with being enlightened and embracing it.
We tell people over and over that they look pretty, or beautiful, or they are smart, talented, skilled, loving, etcetera. But we rarely tell people they are “enlightened,” outside of making a general dharma point.
It even feels awkward imagining telling someone “Hey, you are so enlightened!” Or saying, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I am enlightened!”
Why is this, and how did enlightenment get a bad name?
What seems to be the common assumption is that the point of spiritual practice is to drop the ego, but claiming to be enlightened is egotistical, so it follows that claiming to be enlightened is not enlightened.
And in general, claiming to be anything positive is surely a sign that you’re not it, right? Wrong!
This common dynamic is not fair to the side of enlightenment that is authentic and exciting and should be owned, celebrated and supported. It is not a bad word.
It seems to me this is a deeply mixed message that cannot be healthy to perpetuate.
Like kids at school, we line up, nervous and excited. We are told we are perfect and enlightened, but not exactly what that means. We are told we must experience it for ourselves. If we do, we are discouraged from sharing it or claiming that it ever happened. Does this sound familiar to anyone?
The famous koan in our tradition is “wash your bowls”. Joshu asked a monk “Have you eaten yet?” The monk replied “Yes.” Joshu said, “Then wash your bowls.”
We interpret this to mean that if you have experienced enlightenment then let it go, wash it away and simply do what’s next.
This is a profound koan, because doing what’s next is important, and not being attached to awakening is important. But where’s the celebration, the appreciation, the love and passion for this incredible experience of awakening?
And I don’t mean the inherent or implied encouragement that goes with being told to clean up our mess. I mean the actual, overt, real encouragement that all can see and share.
We often hear that we are enlightened even if we don’t know it. Well, I’m saying we are all enlightened even when we do know it, and even if we celebrate it and claim it.
Of course, there are many subtleties of enlightenment and how to navigate it in the best way. Someone who is not really enlightened should not be telling everyone that they are. But I’m not afraid of this “worst case” scenario. I invite it, and I invite the discussion and the support to share what this means for us all from the heart.
And I encourage us to see enlightenment is any experience of feeling one with others or letting go of stuck patterns. Enlightenment is simply spiritual growth, we are all growing and we can all support each other’s growth with words of praise and encouragement.
Let’s not be jealous or judgmental when we hear others claim their rightful enlightenment, let’s support this and offer ours as well.
Then, after the party is over, we can all wash our bowls and dishes together.
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Asst. Ed: Moira Madden/Ed: Bryonie Wise
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