Be Proud of Your Enlightenment. ~ Herb Deer

Via Herb Ein Eko Deer
on Aug 9, 2013
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“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


About Herb Ein Eko Deer

Herb Ein Eko Deer is a paradox and he isn’t. Born in Texas in 1968, his first kensho was as a born again Christian, which lasted until he got into drugs in high school. After becoming interested in Zen, inspired by Yoda, he moved to a traditional zen monastery in order to see if his kensho experiences were truly authentic from a certified zen masters point of view.  They weren’t, so he decided to stay there and practice zen until he had reached an authentic state of enlightenment.“My vision and hope is to someday create a full time monastic training program that combines many styles of martial arts, qi-gong, energy healing, 12 Steps for Normal People and tai-chi with the Zen. This vision is inspired by Yoda, obviously the most kick-ass character in the star wars series he is.” Ein Eko believes that 99% of delusion is caused by emotional stuck places. Therefore, he teaches resolving emotional issues and patterns through koan study, 12 steps, communication practice, martial arts and 12,000 hours of zazen. He thanks you for this opportunity to connect and invites you to visit his average blog site.


7 Responses to “Be Proud of Your Enlightenment. ~ Herb Deer”

  1. Sophiabodhi says:

    I guess it's a bit like saying, "Yes, as a matter of fact, I'm incredibly talented." It might be true, but it's best to let others find out and just concentrate on what you do, or how you do it. I've know a few people who touted their own enlightenment and while I'm sure it felt very good to them, they tended to come off as conceited and arrogant.

  2. BigSkyMind says:

    Thanks for having the courage to write this Herb! I suspect that there will be many who will summarily dismiss your entire piece based solely on a surface layer evaluation and it is my enlightened 😉 opinion that they would be doing their practice a tremendous disservice.

    Sophiabodhi, forgive me but I think you've missed Herb's point entirely. It is exactly your rush to criticize and judge that he is addressing, not whether it is right or wrong for someone to call themselves enlightened. He is challenging us to consider the outcome if we all were to merely rejoice in and encourage those who express their enlightenment (including ourselves!) rather than call them conceited and arrogant. Honestly, what harm would it do? What purpose does choosing to view them as conceited and arrogant serve for you? Would you feel that you were somehow being dishonest? But then what makes your perception of them as conceited and arrogant any more honest than your perception of them as enlightened? And if indeed you are claiming to know better than they about their own experience, then wouldn't you then indirectly be claiming to be MORE enlightened than they and so inadvertently a victim of your own perceptions?

    Your choice of words, Sophiabodhi, to me are incredibly revealing. You said "they tended to come off as conceited and arrogant". Your words suggest action on their part that leads to your perception of them as conceited and arrogant…that somehow THEY are the ones in control of YOUR perception of them. In fact, only YOU are responsible for your own perceptions. Their actions are entirely independent of your perceptions. You ALWAYS have complete choice as to how you perceive others. And so why not choose whenever possible the absolute purest of perceptions? Imagine how the world might be if we just completely chose to see everyone as Buddhas?

    One of the most profound practices I've been taught by a past Buddhist teacher was that of seeing everyone I encountered as a Buddha – a fully realized, fully enlightened being…even those who yell or curse at me or appear to do perform "negative" actions. And you mustn't merely pretend…you must truly open yourself up to the belief that EVERY single person you encounter is a manifestation of an enlightened being. If you need to begin with pretending, that is fine. Or beginning merely with accepting that there is the POSSIBILITY that everyone is a Buddha can be very profound and eventually guide you gently into the visceral feeling place of everyone that you encounter ACTUALLY IS a Buddha. This practice had such a profound effect on my perception of others and on the world around me that, despite my departure from formal practice years ago, still very much informs my worldview and day to day interactions with others.


  3. @AnneWayman says:

    hmmmmm – I've often thought it's the antithesis of humility to deny the talents we've been given or to pretend they don't amount to much… your essay seems close to that… to deny our enlightenment might even be hurbis…

    I like BigSkyMind's idea of seeing everyone as a Buddha, with a big B.


  4. JenC says:

    I agree with Sophibodhi. Enlightenment to me says you possess the knowledge of the universe. The moment you think you know, you don't know. So to be enlightened on this plane seems impossible. I do agree that one should view all they meet as fully formed spiritual beings, but we are all students here. It would be egotistical to claim otherwise.

  5. herbandkathryn says:

    well, thanks for sharing. i think the trick to this is finding a deep and authentic realization that doesnt stink. this means seeing that we are both enlightened and deluded at the same time, which is the real story, and being able to move freely back and forth without anything to prove or hide.

    i liken it more to women who do not look like "models" saying "i am beautiful" as an affirmation that a deep connection with beauty comes from the inside out.

    i encourage my 5 yr old daughter to say "i am good at this" but not say "i am better at this than you"

    i imagine you are very talented at something, but i'd rather hear an authentic acceptance of that than false modesty.

    i encourage my students, especially with low self esteem to say "i am enlightened" whenever they wake up to new levels of spiritual growth, rather than agree subtly with them that they are not "really" enlightened and reinforce a culture of fear to admit our inner beauty and perfection.

    meanwhile, those stuck in the absolute, incessantly repeating "its all good" or those using enlightenment to be manipulative or abusive should be beaten with their own zafus

  6. herbandkathryn says:

    thanks, i appreciate that you get what I'm going for. the buddha went from "i alone am the world honored one" to "all beings have the wisdom and virtue of the buddha".

    this shift from "i am enlightened" to "we are all enlightened" is very important and so both are essential to a well rounded acceptance of our true nature.

    i thought your share was enlightened and enlightening


  7. herbandkathryn says:

    but what if enlightenment was much simpler and ordinary? the buddha taught that "all beings have the wisdom and virtue of the buddha", he didn't say "no one is omniscient therefore its impossible to be fully enlightened", i think thats what christians think.

    we are all students and we are teachers, we are all perfect and we need a lot of improvement. these are not exclusive. beyond dualism we can be both selfless and egotistical, at the same time.

    to deny ones enlightenment is just as egotistical as owning it, just like thinking that we are better than everyone else comes from the same place as thinking we are worse than everyone else. we are always neither, and we are both.