Enlightenment is not another god

We reach our late 30’s, perhaps our mid 40’s, and something happens to us, or a lot of us. We become more grounded in ourselves and somehow – through either crisis or some kind of inner shift – shake off the received faith of our parents or childhood elders.

For some of us, this means giving up on god completely. For others, perhaps a shift of religion, or a reinterpretation of the same religion.

The god of our childhoods turns out to have been a mental construct. It lets us down drastically and miserably, and we have a crisis of faith – entering a dark time for the soul.

Where once we hid from fear of the emptiness or falsity of that god in not ‘overthinking’ our faith, now there is only darkness and an empty void. No lack of thought and fear.

Out the other side, we (some of us) have a new understanding and language for the divine; one often based on experience and more esoteric knowledge that does not come from mental constructs, but from experience as it happens. From relationships. From living.

But speaking for myself I can now see a third shift. A shift which happens when that previous awakening also breaks down because I have turned ‘enlightenment’ back into a construct. Something to achieve. Something to pray to, in a way. A god to please again.

Enlightenment is not a panacea for our problems like so many of us seem to wish for – especially today (the day before 21.12.12).

As Lao Tsu said in the Tao, the book of the way, if we seek the way we do not find it. We only find it when we stop looking; when we empty of ourselves and surrender (terrible paraphrase, sorry).

What is my enlightenment right now? Is it something I hang belief on in order to feel secure again? Something I try to please? Something I try to master in order to feel alright again and no longer be scared? Something I try to work out so that I finally ‘get it’ and everything is OK?

When that’s true, then enlightenment has been made back into the image of the god I stopped believing in when I had my first crisis; a crisis that came because I had made god in my own mental image.

Neither that enlightenment, nor that god, are real.

In Soto Zen we chant the Maka Hannya, which says (from memory) ‘ku fu i shiki, shiki soku ze ku’ – form is emptiness and emptiness is form.

Only in emptiness, egolessness, does everythingness reveal itself as always already there in every moment, indivisible from me, and showing me to be in, and be, the whole cosmos. God’s child.

The beginning of the world is at hand, in my heart and yours.


Magic and a Strange Time

A friend of mine has lent me a book, ‘The Secret’, by Rhonda Byrne.

I’ll admit I’ve only read 20 out of 180 pages so far, and it’s usually ill advised to make a conclusion about a book so quickly. And what are conclusions anyway, if they’re not an intellectual position – something to occupy the ego and feel better about one’s self: they’re wrong because… or, I agree because…

So I offer these thoughts hesitantly.

It feels to me like The Secret doesn’t go far enough. It’s certainly truthy. It has a ring of truth to the things that it says. But it also feels to me like half the truth, and that Rhonda will one day write a better book – a different book.

We make our own luck. Sure.

A positive mental attitude will bring better results than so many automatic thoughts that can often lead to negativity, masking the real opportunities and ‘presents’ that the present moment is offering us – that life is offering us – right now. Sure. So when we see those opportunities more clearly, life gets better. Sure.

And the Universe wants us to be well, and tends towards life – towards benevolence.

But there’s something else. The ancient teachers of the Way teach us to see reality for what it is, simply, clearly, and single-pointedly. Reality itself is single pointed; beyond dualistic thinking. To think that we can manifest our own reality by the power of thought, and evidence that by pointing to the often startling things that do happen when we start to believe in ourselves and live in faith is… a little misguided.

That’s not to say that believing in ourselves can’t be transformative. It can. Or that dreaming and aspiring to greater things can’t bring hopes into reality at times – it can.

But it’s dangerous to go from there to believing that I can manifest anything into reality, like magic, through the power of my intention alone. That has an air of superstition about it, and an air of prosperity theology, and an air of self-centredness, not whole unity consciousness.

In the Zen tradition, there is a teaching that we might look at life and spiritual practice from the point of view of someone who has already died. Someone who is ready to die. Only then, in ego death, in accepting the impermanence of all things, does the gift of life become simply and purely what it is – without entanglements of selfish and endless wants and needs – and only then does life’s beauty open out.

To follow the Way is not to believe in magic, new-found powers, or air bending. The heart of martial arts was never to instill supernatural powers into students like Yoda had and the films would have us believe. The heart of martial arts was only ever about bringing forward the completely natural strengths and resources we already have.

Sometimes terrible things will happen, and do happen, and won’t always be because I haven’t believed in myself, or had enough faith, and I’ve lived long enough and through enough to guarantee that sure as the sun rises in the morning.

The Way is such a subtle thing. A razor’s edge. A narrow gate. A life’s work.

Have you read The Secret? What do you think?

What a strange time it is for us all right now. I keep thinking of Jesus when he said nothing and just drew pictures in the sand. I think it was when a woman was being stoned to death, if I remember rightly.

I feel like I’m drawing pictures in the sand. Watching and waiting. Working, hoping, dreaming, loving, living. But watching.

Eyes as wide as the sky. Hearts as deep as the sea. We won’t be the people we all are today by the time December comes. There’s a lot of fear around. Compassion is probably more important than looking for ways to fix the things that feel wrong or invoke fear.

I don’t know.