No One is Enlightened
May 18, 2011, 9:20 am
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Many people who are new to awakening (and even those who are newly awakened) seem to believe that spiritual realization is an accomplishment to add to their spiritual resume, a personal possession to hang on their wall (virtual or otherwise) and proudly display to anyone willing to pay attention. But this attitude completely misses the point and reveals a deep misunderstanding of the nature of awakening itself.

Awakening happens in the absence of a separate self; indeed, the realization that there’s no self here to awaken is the reality that we awaken to. Everything is functioning perfectly just as it is, illumined by the glow of consciousness, which is the substance and essence of what is, and no separate someone is necessary for any of this to occur. In other words, the inherent, already enlightened nature of reality reveals itself to itself in your absence–and somehow, mysteriously, this revelation is registered here, in this body and mind.

Zen master Dogen puts it this way: “To study the truth is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no trace continues endlessly.”

So any attempt to claim enlightenment as your personal attainment is doomed to failure, because an enlightened person is an oxymoron. As soon as you attempt to hold on to enlightenment, it slips through your fingers. In your complete absence, with no separate someone present to claim it, enlightenment shines. Here are a few lines I wrote at a retreat many years ago:

The separate self can never become enlightened,

No matter how many retreats you attend.

Everything is just the way it is. That’s enlightenment.

~Stephan Bodian

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