Are We Enlightened Yet?

I know some people are reading this blog on a fairly regular basis and I want to thank you for that. I’m not the world greatest book reviewer. But I didn’t claim to be. I don’t claim anything. You’ll notice along the way I qualify my statements: from what I see, from my understanding, etc. That’s all it is. As a comedian I used to like used to say, “That’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.”

Warner’s book was a pretty fast read. I have to admit there were parts of the other book I skimmed through. Frankly, I find some of that stuff boring. For one thing, a lot of it was material I’ve read elsewhere in some form or another, and then I’m not really into psychic powers arising spontaneously in the such and such stage or that in subsequent attainments of Fruition during some other stage something or other is not called this or that.  There’s an awful lot of that stuff in Mahayana literature and I have a tough time with it these days too.

Maybe it’s because there is just too much to try to take in, in all areas and on all levels, and so much to do, and not do, and so little time. I feel time closing in sometimes. I’m old, dammit. Maybe my mind can’t handle it all. I want to make it simpler. Less complicated. Thich Nhat Hanh said all we need is mindfulness and I’m taking him at his word. I just do mindfulness, the Heart Sutra, some mantras. That’s it. I don’t think about it. I just do it. I’ve found that trying to think about it just gets in the way. I’m in the letting go stage of life. Letting things go, fall off, drop away . . . That to me is emptiness. The emptiness of conceptual thinking. Just being in the present moment.

I don’t get why anyone would want to claim they are enlightened and I guess I don’t have the skill with words to be able to communicate that properly, or maybe that’s the problem. We really can’t communicate it. It’s beyond our words, beyond our concepts. That’s what Nagarjuna (who is never boring) and those Zen guys were trying to tell us and what they warned about.

It’s what the Heart and Diamond sutras are saying: “no path, no wisdom and no attainment with nothing to attain,” and “I do not see that dharma Bodhisattva, nor a Dharma called Prajna-paramita.” It’s what the Tao Te Ching means: “The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.”

But we have to communicate. We have to talk about things and in order to do so we must give them names, designations. Karl Jasper explaining Nagarjuna: “With the resources of language there is no escape from speech through significations (signs). Every sentence ensnares me anew in what I was trying to escape from.”

Non-attachment is the key. Easier said than done.

Enlightenment? I don’t know what it is. It’s not even a goal for me anymore. I’m just trying to get through the day. I’m just trying to maintain some wholesome thoughts and not grasp at every emotion that comes up. Don’t look down your nose at it. It ain’t easy.

I’d like to think that after you have been practicing for almost thirty years, you come full circle. You start with simplicity and end with it. I’d like to think that, but probably it’s just me getting old.

Here’s something the Dalai Lama said at UCLA in 1997 that really turned my head around about this enlightenment business. I’ve posted it before, but a good teaching can’t be repeated too many times. He’s talking about a passage in Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland that deals with feeling discouraged over the length of time required to become “enlightened”:

If, as a result of one’s commitment to the principles of the Bodhisattva ideal, one sees that the purpose of one’s life is to be of benefit to others, and from the depths of one’s heart there is a real sense of dedication of one’s entire life for the benefit of other sentient beings, and that kind of strong courage and principle – for that kind of person, then time doesn’t seem to matter much. Whether or not that person becomes enlightened, as far as he or she is concerned, it doesn’t make any difference, because the purpose of existence is to be of benefit to others, and if the person is able to be of service to others, then that person is really able to fulfill his or her true purpose. Such is the kind of courage and determination to altruistic principles that bodhisattvas should adopt.


8 thoughts on “Are We Enlightened Yet?

  1. I like what you have said here. There is a consensus, that striving or concern about a goal of Enlightenment is not beneficial.

    “You are a Buddha. But remember you are not a Buddha in any special sense. Everybody is – So don’t take it in an egoistic sense that “I” am a Buddha. Don’t make it ambitious, don’t go on an ambition trip. All is Buddha. Life is Buddha, being is Buddha-hood, existence is Buddha-hood”


  2. You seem a sensible sort. It appears you’ve raised a whole flock of hackles– but speaking plainly will do that. There’s a certain wry humor, that maybe can only be appreciated by the ‘old in heart’, to realize that ‘condition of complete simplicity, costing not less than everything’ is neither more nor less than ‘arriving at the place where we started, and knowing it for the first time.’

    It takes a whole lot of living to wear out all the lofty goals, all the misleading notions, all the presumptuous advice, all the dizzying successes and crushing failures, and become capable of ‘sitting quietly, doing nothing.’

    As regards the Warner / Ingram connection– there really is none beyond their both having seized on the one word, ‘hardcore.’ Which I’m guessing is some sort of generational signifier for their intended audience– ‘not your mom or dad’s tired old hippie Buddhism.’ Beyond that, Warner’s most recent rant is about ‘kensho / satori is bunk.’ The straight Dogen line about sitting Zen IS enlightenment. Ingram, as you have not failed to notice, is all about a very specific practice having led to his becoming an Arhat. Never the twain shall meet…

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I don’t know if I raised a whole flock of hackles, but a few and I think I was able to take it. But, also time-consuming. I was hoping it might sprout into a more meaningful dialogue but it looked doubtful. Perhaps if I had spoke more artfully and less plainly, the post might had lent itself better to that purpose.

      I was thinking today about what kind of Buddhism or teacher I might be attracted to if I was much younger. Warner might have an appeal if there was a bit more there. I think he has a point about kensho but he’s also missing the point, maybe taking it literally. Maybe, too, he’s just speaking plainly, how he sees it.

      As for the other guy, I am beginning to feel that he’s pushing arhatship as sort of an ideal for people to rally around, and with the “you can be enlightened too” message perhaps trying to bring it down from its lofty pedestal and put it within reach of everyone, which is not the traditional Thevavada approach. So he might feel that he needs the arhat claim so that he serve as an example, like “If I can do it, so can you.”

      Arriving at the place where we started and knowing it for the first time. I like that.

      Now, where are all these old hippies who are practicing Buddhism? I am always hearing about them, but never run into them.

      1. Oh, they’re around: I semi-qualify [I never had the financial leeway to be a hippie]. And all the IMS founders. And the San Francisco Zen Center elder generation, likewise the Shambhala elder generation… Until very recently, all the books were being written by my generation or the older teachers who were our sources.
        Maybe every generation gets its fire by setting out to prove that the generation just ahead of them is WRONG in important ways– and then by the time their kids’ generation is biting at their butts, they don’t remember very clearly having done the same thing themselves. And maybe when they hear how graceless a sullen teen can sound they don’t want to cop to ever having been so petulant and half-right, in their own day.

        1. Yep, you’re probably right. Also reminds me of something I think Oscar Wilde said: “I am not young enough to know everything.”

      2. “Arriving at the place where we started and knowing it for the first time. I like that.”

        You’re in good company– Shinyen Young is quite the T.S. Eliot fan, as well. The line is from the end of “Four Quartets”:

        “We shall not cease from exploration
        And the end of all our exploring
        Will be to arrive where we started
        And know the place for the first time.
        Through the unknown, remembered gate
        When the last of earth left to discover
        Is that which was the beginning;
        At the source of the longest river
        The voice of the hidden waterfall
        And the children in the apple-tree
        Not known, because not looked for
        But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
        Between two waves of the sea.
        Quick now, here, now, always–
        A condition of complete simplicity
        (Costing not less than everything)
        And all shall be well and
        All manner of thing shall be well…”

        1. Sounds rather Taoist of Mr. Eliot. Or perhaps it’s the Indian influence. It also more or less states the theme of this blog, the Endless Further.

          Thanks for sharing it.

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