Monday, October 22, 2012

THE TRUE MEANING OF ENLIGHTENMENT


This post is dedicated in loving memory to
my father Henry Victor Ellis-Jones (1919-1985),
a true gentleman who always gave of himself selflessly to others



The famous Japanese Zen master and teacher Dōgen Zenji (pictured above), who founded the Sōtō school of Zen in Japan, had this to say about enlightenment:

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in dewdrops on the grass, or even in one drop of water. Enlightenment does not divide you, just as the moon does not break the water. You cannot hinder enlightenment, just as a drop of water does not hinder the moon in the sky. The depth of the drop is the height of the moon. Each reflection, however long or short its duration, manifests the vastness of the dewdrop, and realizes the limitlessness of the moonlight in the sky.


As Dōgen saw it, enlightenment was practice---true spiritual practice, and specifically, zazen, or sitting meditation. Enlightenment, as the present writer sees it, is not something which, having been gained or achieved, is yours forever. Enlightenment does not mean you never get angry again, or lapse in other ways. Enlightenment means living mindfully,  knowing what is spiritually ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ respectively, and knowing ‘the way home.’ As respects the latter, Dōgen  wrote:

But do not ask me where I am going,
As I travel in this limitless world,
Where every step I take is my home.

What is spiritually ‘right’ is that which is at-one with whatever is. Whenever you are choicelessly aware and accepting of life unfolding from one moment to the next---that is, when you are immovable---you are in an enlightened (mindful) state of consciousness. Whenever you resist and oppose what is, whenever you judge others or events, you are anything but enlightened. It’s as simple as that. Dōgen said, 'If you can't find the truth [enlightenment] right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?' Also, being enlightened means doing away with self-delusion---indeed, doing away with all illusions, beliefs and dogmas. All of those things prevent you from living fully in the now. I like these words of Seng-T'san:  'Do not seek the truth, stop having an opinion.' An enlightened person is truly free---free from self-bondage, free from self-will run riot, free from beliefs, dogma and superstition, and free from the past and all conditioning. If you---like millions of so-called religious people---are seeking some supposed 'reality,' whether in this life or in some supposed life to come, ‘promised’ or preached by others, you are definitely not in an enlightened state of consciousness. Enlightenment, in two words, means this---'Wake up!' And it helps to stay awake, too. From moment to moment.

Photo taken by the author at Yakuo-in Buddhist Temple
(officially known as Takaosan Yakuoin Yukiji Temple),
Mount Takao, Japan, October 11, 2012.
The temple, one of the Daihonzan temples of the Chizan School of the Shingon sect,
is said to have been built in 744 by Gyoki Bosatsu under decree from Emperor Shomu.


Enlightenment is, as Dōgen points out, ‘like the moon reflected on the water.’ It is an immovable state of mind, in which one does not react to changing circumstances. Enlightenment ‘does not divide’; rather, it unites that which is in you, as you. Enlightenment is not even something you ‘achieve’ or ‘gain,’ whatever those words mean. Enlightenment happens freely, and more-or-less instantaneously and of its own accord, when you remove the obstacles to its manifestation. First and foremost among those obstacles is self-will---indeed, the very notion of ‘self’ itself.

My late father, Henry Victor [‘Harry’] Ellis-Jones (pictured left), who was an accountant and a company secretary, was a most decent man---a man of great honesty, integrity and principle. All who knew him in business and personal life would attest to that fact. Dad was not a formally religious man. He respected those who were religious---as well as those who weren't---but you couldn't really say that he was a respecter of religious belief per se. Well, not those religious beliefs that he regarded as superstitious or irrational. In his final years his two closest friends (one of them a lawyer) were devout Roman Catholics, but he would often say to me that he couldn't understand how these two otherwise intelligent men could believe a number of Catholic dogmas that he thought were downright silly.

Dad was, I think, an agnostic, but he tended to regard himself as a fellow traveller with Christianity at least as respects its moral and ethical content and the man Jesus. The fact that Dad wasn't into formal, organized religion was probably one of the main reasons for his basic decency and uprightness. I truly mean that. Nevertheless, he understood the problem of sin or selfishness. He would often quote his wartime padre who, in a response to a question from another Australian soldier in the same platoon---the question being, ‘What is sin?’---said this: ‘Sin is rooted in selfishness. Sin has “I” in the middle of it.’

My father was an enlightened man. Despite many problems and difficulties, and some very big losses in his personal life (including his mother's suicide, when Dad was still a young man, and the equally untimely loss of my mother, Dad's wife, to cancer), he remained immovable in the sense described above. As already mentioned, he also understood the problem of sin or selfishness---without having to learn it at church---and he lived his life self-lessly. Indeed, not only was he totally unselfish, he had no sense of a separate or independent ‘self’ at all. He would have made a good Buddhist (ha!), but it was more than sufficient that he was a fine human being. I never had a chance to discuss the subject-matter of this post with him, and he probably would have viewed this whole discussion a total waste of time, yet my father knew and understood the true meaning of enlightenment. He was a man who knew what it meant to 'wake up' and stay awake.






No comments:

Post a Comment