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All of us can sense the greatness we have within.
Within Buddhism it is called the Buddha Nature, and within Christianity, Christ Consciousness. Call it what you will, it is there and requires no perfecting on our part to make it perfect.
The trouble is we not only don’t see it, but we believe that meditation, yoga, and other spiritual exercises produce it. We think such things as, “I will meditate to awaken my mind,” as if the pure fundamental consciousness within needs awakening.
We may do so with the best intentions, yet not realize that joining a meditation class or yoga studio may be counterproductive to achieving our spiritual ambitions. Working to become more aware and in tune with the nature of reality works under the assumptions that we are not in tune and that a certain amount of perfecting is necessary to become enlightened—or at least achieve a far greater awareness than we presently know.
As soon as we meditate or practice a yoga sequence, it is natural that a performer of these actions emerges, just as it does in everything in life.
If we study in college and receive a degree, we have accomplished something, and we cannot escape the fact that we are enjoying the results of our effort. We cannot close a business deal and escape the sense of accomplishing something. In everything we do, there is a doer. This model works well within the conventions of the ordinary affairs of life, but we get into trouble when the attitude of “doer” gets into our spiritual enterprise.
One of the biggest obstacles to the realization of the aims of meditation and yoga is meditation and yoga, which may seem ridiculous, but is nevertheless true. It is not the aim of spiritual discipline to achieve something, but rather to see something within that we have not properly noticed before.
When we strive to achieve something, we immediately start covering over the very thing we wish to see because we start concocting an image of what it is supposed to be. We may visualize different colored lights shining forth from our chakras, or a blazing white light between our brows, or a shining Buddha or Christ in our heart, all of which may emerge, but they certainly won’t as long as we are trying to make them do so.
If it were true that meditation and yoga cover over and obscure their aim, why bother with a meditation and yoga practice? The simple answer is because there is nothing better.
Since so few of us can sit down and allow perfect awareness to arise, we have techniques to help us do so. But, these techniques have to be properly used, which is often not the case. Why not? Because capable and realized instructors are rare, and few take the time to thoroughly study authentic texts that lay forth in clear terms the merely expedient nature of spiritual techniques, yoga and meditation, and so forth.
If there were any aim to spiritual disciplines, it would be to help us stop getting in our way and allow what is already perfect within to shine. Allowing is what is meant by the “effortless path,” a term often used in Vajrayana Buddhism. But effortlessness actually requires a lot of effort; it is not easy to break the habit of “doer” and sit back and allow realization to arise. We must make ourselves vulnerable to realization, and part of being vulnerable is getting rid of the notion of achiever. We don’t achieve anything when we attain illumination but only recognize, finally, what has been there all along.
A story is told in Buddhism to help those struggling toward realization to understand “effortlessness.” Suppose a loving parent sending her child off into the world wishes to safeguard that child from misfortune. She lovingly sews within his coat a valuable jewel and sends him off. The child knows nothing of the jewel and wanders throughout the world, enduring much hardship. Years pass, and one day he finally discovers the jewel, which makes all his ambitions possible. The jewel was there all along, but he didn’t see it.
In a Buddhist sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra, it is said: “All living beings have the Buddha Nature, but false thinking and attachments obscure it.” In other words, the jewel—our Buddha Nature—is there always shining, but we don’t see it because we are too busy trying to.
We are attached to the thought that we can achieve enlightenment as if it were a produced state of mind, rather than an innate one, and exert a good deal of effort trying to achieve it. All of this is an activity, and all activity is counterproductive, whether it is physical or mental. What we need to learn is how to be still. We need to get out of the way and allow the nature of the mind to reveal itself.
Strangely, being still—body and mind—is elusive. Being inactive is more difficult than any activity. Not applying effort is more challenging than applying it.
Proper meditation seldom involves doing anything other than what we are doing. It is not a question of technique, but attitude. Are we trying to accomplish something, or are we trying to get out of our own way? A small shift in attitude can make all the difference in the world. If we can shift our view from achieving enlightenment to recognizing enlightenment, we make ourselves vulnerable to awakening and grace.
Some may remember the autosterograms that were popular about 20 years ago—those art books full of pages that at first glance appeared as just a confusion of dots, but an image would emerge if you looked at the page without trying to see anything. Not surprisingly, kids were far better than adults because of their innocent minds. In a similar manner, if we can meditate free of ideas of what is or is not, realization of what has been there all along will emerge.