Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Zen master Suzuki Roshi spoke of the "enlightenment before enlightenment" which is the state of mind when mindfulness is present, when there isn't a grasping at things being any way at all except the way they are. It's just seeing the present moment, patient and straightforward.

When we employ some method to get us clear, we often dwell in the concept of an enlightened or unenlightened mind. We're still separated from our wholeness, we're still not in the moment. Enlightenment isn't enlightenment. Enlightenment is a word. One of the things that blocks us from whatever this enlightenment might be is our hunger for what we imagine en-light-enment to be. Enlightenment can become our greatest cause of suffering, because it's our greatest longing. It's our greatest "being elsewhere," our greatest vacuum. Enlightenment is freedom, the thought of enlightenment is prison. The truth exists in the moment. If we're anywhere else, seeking something outside of the moment, we're in prison.

I used to think that peak experiences were a sign of attainment. I'd have some new experience and sometime later have some other insight and think, "Oh, it's really paying off, I'm getting closer now!" And then there's be a floating experience and then an intense light experience... and each time the thought "Oh, here it comes!" And then there'd be the "unsurpassable wisdom world" and then "no me at all, anywhere," and then another experience and another and I'd be saying "Boy, it can't be far now!" Then I started to realize that I had thought there were going to be a few dozen experiences and that would be it, all finished, pure awareness twenty-four hours a day. But it turns out there are hundreds and hundreds of so-called "peak experiences." And they're all just experiences.

The value of depth experiences is the purification, the penetration into what is, that occurs in the moment. But clinging to any experience as an accomplishment or captured truth diverts the attention from the reality of the next moment.

No one who wants to be enlightened will ever be enlightened because what we are enlightened from is that someone wishing to be enlightened. Wishing to be enlightened is like the ego wanting toe be present at its own funeral. The imagined self, in attempting to possess enlightenment, doesn't realize that it's committing suicide, for it's the falling away of this separate "I" which allows the experience of our universal nature.

It's a gradual awakening, but, even knowing this, we may at times notice our conditioning snap at a moment of deep peace or clear insight, much like a fish jumping out of the water to catch a bug. We can say to ourselves, don't reach for peak experience because we know they're just part of the passing show, but nevertheless at times we notice the conditioned mind grasping to be something other than it is. But it's only this grasping, this constant becoming, that makes the mind seem unenlightened. When there's no grasping anywhere, that's it--that's the original mind, the essence of mind. Already pure. Already luminous. When we experience that for even a millisecond, it stops the world and allows us to let go of any need to be anywhere but in the perfection of the moment.

Stephen Levine "A Gradual Awakening" (Chapter 14 Snaring Enlightenment pp.76-79)

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