When I was into spiritual stuff, I never really knew exactly what I wanted out of it. It just felt so right at the time and I was so compelled to continue down that road, where ever it led me.
Of course I was quickly familiarized with the concept of Enlightenment, and this was often times the word I would think of, when trying to describe where I might be going with it all.
But I never really realized what it meant, only that it must be totally awesome. After all, it was popularly known to be the ultimate goal of right meditation, right action, right thoughts, right speech, right livelihood.. and so forth. The practice should lead you to enlightenment, one way or the other. Some said it would take many life times (whatever the hell that means!), others claimed that if you had enough good karma (whatever the hell that means) then it might be right around the corner. But what the hell is enlightenment anyway?!
No one I came across, in books or in person, could ever give me any exact explanation of what enlightenment was. And actually, people seemed to be in some general agreement that you don’t really talk about it anyway… Weird, huh? I mentioned the word enlightenment to my meditation teacher once, and I was told not to worry about that. “But…but…?! So you don’t want to answer my question? Do you not know or…? Am confuse!”
It seemed to me as if “enlightenment” was something which never really happened to anyone. It was only some vague idea of something better than now, but which no one had any access to or knowledge of. And at the same time it was treated with a sense of mysticism to it. Almost as if it was something magical, mythical, untouchable.
Never did it make sense to me what all the fuzz about enlightenment was, but where I am today, I have to some degree made up my mind as to what enlightenment might be. And I might have a clue what all the fuzz is about, too.
The Buddha was said to be enlightened – hence the title “Buddha”, which simply means to be enlightened. The guy is believed to have said that there would be countless of buddhas to come. And countless of buddhas before him too. So how come that no one in the world knows a buddha at the moment? I mean, even the Dalai Lama says he’s not enlightened. Well, then who the fuck is, if anyone? 7 billion people and many millions of life time students of the Buddha, and not a single person is undeniably a buddha.
It is clear that either the Buddha was spitting mad lies when he said that there would be so many more. Either that, or perhaps it’s just not really possible to point out the enlightenment in people. That happens to be what I think.
Enlightenment, as I understand it through what I know of the teachings of the Buddha, was to know and experience that there is no self, and that all is impermanent. These are his most basic teachings (as far as I know).
(Of course there is also the teaching about “all is suffering”, which I happen to think is either included my mistake, since nothing the Buddha said was written down for 500 years or so, or else it’s misinterpreted big time! I mean.. life is not always suffering. Obviously! Clearly life is fucking great when you have ice cream, sunshine and boobies! Other times clearly not, but that’s not how the teaching is presented anyway.)
Why is enlightenment such a secret and mysterious thing? Well, for starters: It does makes a lot of sense that no one would claim to be enlightened if they discover the truth within themselves of no self, and impermanence – because obviously it would be true to everyone, whether or not they know it. Thus, there isn’t really any achievement to realize that. No one did the achievement, you see.
For this reason, you won’t have enlightened people running around saying “I’m enlightened, look at me”. What “I” …?!
Also, there would be nothing in anyone’s appearance that would let anyone else know that they were enlightened. There might very well be no difference in how people look and act. What should change just because there’s no longer identification with form present in them? Opinions, ideas, looks and appearance will still be there. Just no one to think it’s them.
For this reason enlightenment might well be the most pointless and nothing-y thing there can be achieved. It’s actually less something than believing that you are a self, and permanent. At least that takes some effort, some imagination. If you see no self in anything, you don’t even bother to exist as a person, although all the appearance of one remains.
Because enlightenment may well be such a pointless thing, it may also well be something that no one is interested in. There is no magic to it, nothing incredible. Just some truth as to what experienced reality is not: It is not you, nor does it last in anyway. “Ok, so what?”, you may say. Exactly. So fucking what?
Furthermore, enlightenment as the realization of no self and no permanence, is not very pleasant to realize. You live your whole life believing that you are you: somebody, something, a soul, whatever. And when you become brutally honest with yourself for a while, you realize that it’s either not as simple as you casually waved it off to be, or it’s bullshit.
And it is bullshit indeed.
So have a guess, what happens when you realize that you don’t exist? Do you think it feels good? Well, it doesn’t. It feels like you are dying. And in fact you’d much rather die than to go through it. I cannot remember how many times I wished for just dying at an instant, through a period of three whole years, while I was realizing that I didn’t exist.
And the sucky part about it, is that you can’t just back out. You’ve seen a part of reality for what it is, or rather, for what it is not. And from that you cannot lie to yourself convincingly going forward.
Most people who are spiritual searchers, search for a spirit, or believe they search with their spirit. But to find what, exactly? The teachings state directly that you should not find anything at all – no self. No permanence. So how long do you think you have to search, in order to find these? The answer is forever.
And forever may be just what you want. Because the thing is that the spiritual search for something mysterious and fascinating, such as enlightenment, is very interesting and amusing. And enlightenment, on the other hand, is boring as hell! So what do you chose?
With searching, you are guaranteed a life long hobby, which you feel dedicated and committed to. And you are rewarded every so often with a glimpse of the mystical, the magical, and other very interesting experiences. Perhaps you also get to meet your guru, and cry at his or her feet. Your sense of purpose and belonging in these moments will be overwhelming. And very comfortable. Oh, the tears I have cried over the sense of purpose and belonging in my own search…
The conclusion of all of this, is a boring one: Don’t pursue enlightenment. You won’t find it. There’s nothing to be found.
I would say that if you are destined/cursed to realize no self anyway, then simply prepare for a rough ride. One which you won’t regret once it’s over. The freedom and confidence living without the strict identification with form, with self, is very liberating indeed. But it’s not very interesting, so don’t waste your time pushing it. It’s much nicer to believe that you are a self and to master it and enjoy it.
Enjoy it while it lasts. Or don’t. I literally don’t care. Because I don’t exist. But you get it, now get out of here!