Monday, December 21, 2015

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER ENLIGHTENMENT?

'If you can't find the truth [that is, enlightenment] right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?' 

They are the words of Dōgen (1200-1254) [pictured right], the founder of the Sōtō school of Zen in Japan and the original establisher in Japan of traditional sitting zen.

You don’t need to go to some remote place, or travel to Nepal or Tibet, or wear saffron robes, or meditate to for intolerably long periods of time, in order to achieve enlightenment. It can happen right where you are now, even in the middle of a busy street.

Actually, enlightenment is not 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. The ‘self’ that wants to be enlightened is the very same ‘self’ that prevents it from happening. All your ‘selves’ are mental constructs. They wax and wane with more-or-less continuous regularity, although some are more persistent than others. The latter are the ones that tend to cause us so much suffering and misery—for example, the ‘insecure self’, the ‘frightened self’ and the ‘angry self’. You are on the path to enlightenment when you come to understand that all your mind-generated ‘selves’ --- there are literally hundreds and thousands of them --- are illusory in the sense that they have no separate, independent or permanent existence in and of themselves. None of them are the real person that in truth you are.

Temple on Mount Takao (Takaosan), in the city of Hachiōji, Tokyo, Japan.
Photo taken by the author.

What, then, does it mean to become, and to be, enlightened?

Being enlightened means doing away with self-delusion---indeed, doing away with all illusions, beliefs, opinions and dogmas. All of those things prevent you from living fully in the now. I like these words of the third Chán (Zen) patriarch Seng-T'san (529-606 CE) [pictured left]: 

'Do not seek the truth, cease to cherish opinions.' 

Are you prepared to give up all of your illusions, beliefs, opinions and dogmas? It’s not easy but it is possible. By the way, giving up beliefs, opinions and dogmas will not prevent you from affirming the truth of convictions in the nature of self-evident truths or what may be called axiomatic eternal verities. We all need values, but they must be objectively based and not a matter of subjective belief.

Only 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. The Buddha said, ‘Once a person is caught by belief in a doctrine, they lose all their freedom.’ Yes, they're in bondage -- self-bondage -- to the 'believing self'. 

One more thing. 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, then 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. 

A pupil said to his Zen master, ‘Master, what happens after enlightenment?’ The master replied:

'Before enlightenment chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment chop wood, carry water … but no longer trip over things at night.'

In other words, you do the same things that you did before but you ‘no longer trip over things at night’. Of course, that is metaphorical language, but I think you understand what is being said. The things that worried you before no longer do. You don’t become perfect. You may still get angry from time to time, but your anger will be controlled and directed at things about which we should be angry -- things such as the ever-growing gap between the rich and the poor, religious extremists and climate change skeptics.

There’s a saying in twelve-step programs, ‘It’s not the really big things that trip us up, it’s the broken shoe laces.’ That’s so very true. Enlightenment means that the broken shoe laces of life---again, that’s metaphorical language---don’t trip us up as often.



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