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“The point arrives, then, when it is clearly understood that all one’s intentional acts – desires, ideals, stratagems – are in vain. In the whole universe, within and without, there is nothing whereon to lay any hold, and no one to lay any hold on anything. This has been discovered through clear awareness of everything that seemed to offer a solution or to constitute a reliable reality, through the intuitive wisdom called prajna, which sees into the relational character of everything. With the ‘eye of prajna’ the human situation is seen for what it is – a quenching of thirst with salt water, a pursuit of goals which simply require the pursuit of other goals, a clutching of objects which the swift course of time renders as insubstantial as mist. The very one who pursues, who sees and knows and desires, the inner subject, has his existence only in relation to the ephemeral objects of his pursuit. He sees that his grasp upon the world is his strangle-hold about his own neck, the hold which is depriving him of the very life he so longs to attain. And there is no way out, no way of letting go, which he can take by effort, by a decision of the will. . . . But who is it that wants to get out?

“There comes a moment when this consciousness of the inescapable trap in which we are at once the trapper and the trapped reaches a breaking point. One might almost say that it ‘matures’ or ‘ripens,’ and suddenly there is what the Lankavatara Sutra calls a ‘turning about in the deepest seat of consciousness.’ In this moment all sense of constraint drops away and the cocoon which the silkworm spun around himself opens to let him go forth winged as a moth. The peculiar anxiety which Kierkegaard has rightly seen to lie at the very roots of the ordinary man’s soul is no longer there. Contrivances, ideals, ambitions, and self-propitiations are no longer necessary, since it is now possible to live spontaneously without trying to be spontaneous. Indeed, there is no alternative, since it is now seen that there never was any self to bring the self under its control.” –Alan Watts, The Way of Zen


Awakening is not like getting a spiritual makeover. Of course, this is seems obvious when put into those terms. No one admits to wanting an artificial spirituality. But just take a look at the types of things being sold by spiritual scenes across the globe: bliss, peace, union with the divine, compassion, equanimity, lovingkindness, generosity, etc. Along with selling potential emotional changes, spiritual scenes also sell worldview adjustments – interdependence, one world, one people, peace on earth, sustainability, and what-have-you. But awakening has very little to do with any of that stuff. It’s not that those things are bad or wrong. It’s just that you can have those things without being awakened, the same way you can be awakened without those things.

Replacing the crucifix hanging in your living room with a Tibetan thangka painting will not wake you up. Trading your monthly subscription to Playboy for a subscription to Tricycle will not wake you up. Smiling at the person who cuts you off on the freeway, rather than flipping the bird at them, will not wake you up. All of these things are merely, as the saying goes, rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic. Or, as Alan Watts said, winding your watch on the way to the gallows. Adopting a new lifestyle will not address the issue at hand. Redecorating your ego not help you realize the true state of affairs.

Awakening is not about adopting a new religion or philosophy. It has way more to do with seeing through the limitations of religion and philosophy. It’s not about knowing the right answer to the question. It’s about going beyond questions entirely. It’s not about feeling good. It’s about going beyond feelings.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

I’ll leave you with a question that Lama Surya Das is well known for asking, “Why be a Buddhist, when you can be a Buddha?”