Saturday, September 28, 2013

Post-awakening: why a teacher is needed

I have spoken with many people who say that their teacher is an inner one, or one whom they have only met in books.  So long as having this type of teacher does not occasion self-deception (we are so good at seeing only that which fits in with our ideas of ourselves and the world), that is fine.  But for me, I've needed external teachers.  Recently, thinking about my early awakenings (in the 1980s), I realize that if I'd had a teacher easily accessible at the time, things might have gone very differently for me.

At the time, my teacher was in Japan.  My only support was his letters, which came infrequently, in part because each of mine had to be translated and then, again, his advice back to me had to be translated.  Two weeks was the soonest I could expect a reply, and that was only if my letter accurately conveyed to him what had happened to me.  It's hard to remember that in those days I didn't have the vocabulary for something that is so far beyond words and beyond thought.  I had to talk around it -- to point but not pinpoint.  And I was talking to someone from another culture.  But even these were not the worst impediments.

The biggest impediment was that I myself had a whole host of misconceptions about what awakening was.  I imagined I would be completely free of all problems and conflicts, that I would never have a negative thought about anyone, that I would now experience oneness with everyone all the time.  It's a tall order for one little awakening -- or even one big one!  And the thing is, when these expectations didn't come to pass, I discounted what really was a genuine spiritual awakening.  So the return of suffering was not only because my karma didn't come to a sudden end with one awakening, but also because, although a part of me never doubted that what I experienced was what I'd been seeking for so long, alongside that sense of trueness was a nagging suspicion that I must have deceived myself since I still wasn't perfect.  It has only been in recent years that I was able to go back and see in what I wrote in those days genuine realization of Truth.

So, bottom line, it seems to me that having a teacher close at hand to whom one can go immediately after an awakening, before the mind gets hold of it and starts to distort it, is important, if not critically urgent.  Otherwise, the benefits of the realization that comes out of it may be lost -- not forever -- once awakening happens, it's "in the blood," so to speak -- but for a time.  For me, it was a long time.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Virtue and Enlightenment

I was speaking a few days ago with someone who has spent several decades on the Tibetan Buddhist path.  She said that morality was important -- that one couldn't access the higher states of consciousness without having the right perspective on behavior.  (I'm paraphrasing, I hope accurately.)  And it occurred to me as we spoke that this is where most of the Buddhist paths diverge from the nondual path I've come to embrace more recently.

The nondual path, also called the "direct path," says that we already are what we are seeking.  We don't have to do anything to attain it.  This means that the worst "sinner" and the best "saint" are equally "enlightened."  And I'm using quotes here because there really is no such thing as enlightenment.  We go after this thing, only to find out it was there all along. 

I can only speak for myself, but I know that when I had my first glimpse in 1978 of this perfection that is sometimes called the "enlightened consciousness," I suddenly knew that I had to do exactly nothing -- that it is a free gift that only requires being born into human form.  (I won't go into whether dogs can realize their Buddha nature.)  Of course, if you believe that you have to do certain things before realizing universal consciousness, then that idea will keep you from knowing that it is a free gift.  But even if you think you have to do certain things, that free gift can come upon you like lightning and suddenly you discover that nothing was ever required.

I know for me that was a big relief  -- because, like nearly everyone else, I thought I had to struggle to "improve."  And so, it is a blessing to know that in this one thing -- the only thing that really matters -- without any preparation, without any preconditions, Life itself just opens to itself and knows itself through a human form.