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I realized today that I spend most of my time on this blog talking about awakening and practices which can help the process along. What I don’t talk about is the fact that none of this is necessary.

The truth is that awakening doesn’t make you better. Awakening won’t solve your personal problems. In fact, it only solves one very specific problem, which turns out to be no problem at all. When I take the time to consider my motivation for posting my writings here, I find that it has nothing to do with trying to convince people that they should try to wake up, so they can be better, or feel better, or gain some special salvation or safety from the world. I would never want to put those ideas into the heads of otherwise ordinary people. But, the truth is that so many people are already on this path. They’ve already decided that it’s important to wake up. It’s for those people that I offer these writings. This work can take a long time, and I would hate for it to take longer than it needs to.

Emptiness is not static. There’s nothing to it, nothing that can be set apart from anything else. Somehow emptiness and awareness are inseparable in essence. This is how your own awareness is the starting point, the path, and the goal. Therefore, if you don’t feel compelled to practice, don’t! If awakening isn’t important to you, that’s fine! You’re no better, and no worse, than me. I’m no better, and no worse, than you.

Honestly, “enlightenment” as a term is terribly misleading. Reality is always-already itself. There are those who don’t know this, and those of us who do. Likewise, there are those who simply don’t give a shit. They’re probably the best off! Those who don’t know, and don’t care, are the highest kind of Buddha.

Awakening will not save you from anything. If you take it all the way, you’ll see that there’s nothing to be saved from, and no one to save. Furthermore, this has no bearing on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. All of it is still just as fluid as it ever was. Human beings are human beings, period.

Forget Buddhist clichés like “carry water, chop wood.” Go to work. Play with your kids. Honk your horn at the asshole veering into your lane on the freeway. Go to your daughter’s dance recital, and bring her flowers. And most importantly, stay up late to watch Dexter, and go to work tired the next morning.

But if you can’t do that, I guess you should practice until you can.

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I’ll get right to the point: I’m not a fan of appeals to tradition.

The reason is simple. There are two primary ways that one can approach the teachings of a well-established spiritual tradition; either one uses the tradition, or the tradition uses them.

How can you tell the difference? That’s pretty simple, too. Those who are used by their tradition show more trust in some particular interpretation of a set of teachings over both their own experience, and/or the experience of flesh and blood beings who are actually awake. When you are used by your tradition, you’ll find yourself saying things like, “But the Buddha said…” (insert any prominent spiritual figure, past or present, in place of “the Buddha” if you’d like), or, “Well, how can you say that when Buddhism has always taught that…” as if one can even know real Buddhism is with any real confidence.

It’s quite a different story when one uses tradition, rather than the other way around. In fact, one who uses a tradition will likely be using traditions, as in, more than one. They look for matching descriptions sometimes, and other times for clues into what might come next. They’re less trusting of anything firmly established, for in rigidity and inflexibility are usually signs of illness or death.

The truth of the matter is this: no awakened woman or man has ever explained the path nor the result in precisely the same way. There are always differences, and these should in no way be swept under the rug. With strong confidence in any tradition comes a lack of confidence in one’s realization. You’ll never see a truly awakened person sticking to the stuffy, traditional script laid down before them by some other religious authority who came before them. If it’s genuine, it’s uniquely conveyed. If it’s partial or phony, it will sound just as you would expect it to. Ingenuous awakening is never expressed in bad faith.

The fact that awakened beings communicate their realizations to such varying degrees is not cause for alarm. Those who are rule by tradition, however, will see the lack of consistency and insist that at least ONE of them must be right, and the others wrong. “Guru So-And-So is the true example of awakening, and all those other guys are either fakes or less realized.” And it is in this very act of looking for authority outside of themselves that leads them on their everlong search for something that is right under their noses.

My advice, which you are free to accept or reject, is to pay attention to the ways that tradition is using you. If you’re looking around for an awakening that fits the description given in some tradition, forget it. It will never be like you imagined. For example, no matter how many times you imagined what it would be like, or had dreams about it, or heard others’ descriptions, or even watched it on cable TV, I would venture to guess that having sex was in most ways spectacularly different than you imagined it to be. (for those of you who have had sex, of course. Kissing works as an example as well.) Awakening is like that, and it’s just as life changing.

If you use your mind to look for a Buddha, you won’t see the Buddha. As long you look for a Buddha somewhere else, you’ll never see that your own mind is the Buddha. […] To find a Buddha, you have to see your nature. Whoever sees his nature is a Buddha. If you don’t see your nature, invoking Buddhas, reciting sutras, making offerings and keeping precepts are all useless.

Bodhidharma, from the Bloodstream Sermon

“[The Buddha element] is pure and yet has afflictions. [Enlightenment] was not afflicted and yet is purified. Qualities are totally indivisible [and yet unapparent]. [Activity] is spontaneous and yet without any thought.” ~ from the Uttara-Tantra-Shastra

I come across the following questions often…

“If you are already That which you seek…”
“If all is Brahman/God…”
“If there is nothing to gain in awakening…”
“If form is Emptiness and Emptiness is form…”
“If your truest nature is already primordially free, then…”

… why practice at all? Why look for what you already have? Why send out a search party for what was never lost?

At a certain point, these types of questions are important to ask. But often times, asking these types of questions is just another way of reasoning your way out of practicing, and thus, out of actually waking up.

J. Krishnamurti is famous for rejecting all forms of spiritual practice. He taught that, “any aiming at a ‘what should be’ involves a ‘directive’ away from ‘what is.'”* As usual, this makes sense, right? Unfortunately for Jiddu and his students, the truth doesn’t have to make sense.

The truth is often paradoxical or seemingly contradictory. Take, for example, the quote from the Uttara-Tantra-Shastra at the beginning of this post. How can the Buddha Element (i.e. the source) be pure, and yet be covered over by obstructions prior to awakening? Regardless of “how,” it is simply the case. You may be Buddha in essence, but you’re no Buddha unless this essence is actualized. And this is why practice is necessary. Whether or not there is a truth is of no consequence if it cannot be actualized, or expressed. There’s no use in believing that you’re already free if the opposite is most certainly the case. Practice is a means of clearing away the garbage that blocks recognition and expression of the truth.

Don’t fall into the no-practice trap. Practice, recognize, actualize. There is no other way.

*from Krishnamurti and Traditions of Unitive Mysticism by Alan Gullette

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?”

Sam

The number one question I get from people who hear that I’m awakened is, “Do you still suffer?” Of course, this questions is inspired by the First Noble Truth of the Buddha, which is dukkha. The word dukkha is almost always translated as suffering, which many truly awakened folks have found to be a bit misleading. For most people, it is nearly impossible to separate suffering from pain, anguish, the so-called “negative” emotions, etc. But any truly awakened person with a shred of personal integrity will tell you that they still feel pain, still experience negative emotions, and that anguish may still arise.

Still others try to translate dukkha as “unsatisfactoriness,” but that doesn’t really fit the bill, either. There are plenty of things that I find unsatisfactory, and my awakening doesn’t diminish in the slightest in light of this fact. What, then, is this suffering stuff all about?

It’s quite simple, actually. All we have to do is first look at what old Buddha said was the cause of suffering, and then describe the experience of the awakened and non-awakened individual.

The Buddha as depicted in the Pali suttas (the oldest teachings ascribed to the Buddha) describes the cause of suffering as “craving” in his Second Noble Truth. However, he later elaborates on this and says that the causes of suffering are greed, aversion, and delusion. These causes are generally seen as things that can be cleared away from the mind, thus relieving suffering. However, I think it’s more accurate to describe these processes as nothing more than the activities of the conditioned mind itself.

You see, human beings (and perhaps all other beings) generally mature into a state of identification with the conditioned mind. This mind is none other than the processes of grasping, averting, and ignoring, any and all experiences that arise to meet it (to use crude, unscientific language). When we are identified with these processes – when we understand them to comprise a single entity called “I” or “me” – we are bound to their movements. This is a rather turbulent state of affairs, don’t you think? Constantly moving towards, moving away, or blocking-out experience is quite the existential run-around. This state of affairs, as well as the corresponding cognitive friction, is what the Buddha meant – and any other awakened person means – when the word dukkha is used.

It is possible to concentrate on a single point of reference, and to fix the mind into a state of stability, which temporarily halts the state of affairs called dukkha. But, being temporary, the state will not last, and suffering will commence once more. This is why it’s not enough to calm the mind. One must leap clear of this mind all together. That is, one must awaken out of the mind, so that its movements are no trouble at all.

Imagine for a moment that someone has given you a soft clay figurine and said, “This is you.” Now, let’s say your cat comes along and takes a bite out of the figurine’s left arm. If you believe that you are this figurine, you’ll panic! You’ll scream! “No! You’ve injured my body! This just isn’t fair! I hate you, Fluffy!” But this is ridiculous, isn’t it? You know that you’re not a clay figurine. What’s even more ridiculous is that you believe that you are your mind.

That’s what this awakening business is all about. It’s not about stabilizing your conditioned mind – it’s about no longer identifying with it. Any technology of awakening you practice should have this dis-identification as its sole aim. See the mind for what it is, and then let go. Freeing yourself from the processes of the mind (NOT stopping or purifying them) is the end of dukkha.

Until next time,
Sam