I love the writing of Stephan Bodian (pictured below), author of Wake Up Now. He writes about awakening with such clarity! When I finished the book, I signed up for his newsletter. The following short piece is from his January 2012 issue. As I read it I felt myself smiling and could feel the words, “Yes! This Is It!” dancing through the open chambers of my heart. Aaaahhhh.
“Just had a lovely session with a woman this morning who said she longed to awaken to the truth because she felt strongly motivated to put an end to her anxiety and depression. I invited her to rest here, in this moment, and welcome whatever arises. Right now, I said, without consulting your mind, does anything need to be different from the way it is? Is anything missing, even enlightenment? No, no…t at all, she said, after a pause. Now ask yourself, who is experiencing this moment right now? Anything you experience is just an object of experience–but who is the experiencer? She sat with this question in silence for a long time, then finally said, I don’t know. Then rest in this not knowing, I offered. What is it like? Again, after a long pause, she said, it’s limitless and silent; it has no edges. Then she started to cry, with tears of gratitude and wonder. I can’t believe it, she said. I can’t believe this is what I am–this vast mystery. Yes, I said, this is it. Just rest as you are, and let everything arise in you. This is the enlightenment you’ve been seeking.”
The idea that the mind needs to calm down is just another spiritual belief put forward by the progressive approach to meditation. It’s a diversionary tactic designed by the mind, which loves to do battle with itself. Try as hard as you can, you’ll never get the mind to settle down. Indeed, all your efforts to calm it just make it more agitated. Rather, let the mind do what it does, and rest as the primordial awareness that isn’t disturbed by the perturbations of the mind. The mind’s nature is to move, but you are not your mind; you’re limitless, silent, ungraspable presence. Pardoxically, of course, when you leave the mind alone, it tends to calm down by itself.
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.