This blog's name indicates something about what my own path has been. The sudden awakenings that are part of a number of traditions, such as Rinzai Zen, have been a big part of it. But there are those who say this whole idea of "awakening" is fraught with illusion because, for one thing, it obscures the fact that consciousness is already awake, and for another, because it implies a goal, or a number of goals -- the time when one will awaken, or awaken more deeply, in the future -- whereas enlightenment is the eternal present.
And yes, both of those criticisms are valid. And some people, for that reason, are more comfortable starting with the basic truth that there isn't anywhere to get in the first place, that it was all already here. In Soto Zen (from what I know -- I've never done it) sitting itself is enlightenment. Of course, it could as easily be said, then, that anything we do is equally enlightenment.
So why not start with the basic truth and skip over the seeking and finding and losing it and finding it again until the truth that it is what we are is finally realized? I say, if skipping all that works, sure, by all means do it. And by "if it works" I mean, if it solve the problem of what it is to be human. If one feels at rest and really doesn't need to seek anymore.
Because it's tricky, isn't it? "I won't seek because I know that's not where it's at. I'll just be present all the time," one might say. Well, good luck. Just more seeking, right? Because for most human beings, "being present all the time" isn't something that comes naturally. Especially since, before awakening, we don't really know what being present truly is.
So, when we're meditating -- and that doesn't just mean formal meditation but any time the mind isn't busy with its stories -- sometimes a space comes between thoughts and we just are awareness. We just are, just exist -- and there are no boundaries of self at that moment. But that passes and its significance often goes unrecognized. Why? Because what awakening does is more than that. Awareness is a door, but awakening is seeing that the door we have passed through is the door between illusion and reality. Now we know, for the first time, that thoughts aren't real. Before, we thought we knew that; we thought everyone knew that -- but now we really know what that means. And once we know that, then we understand also that, even when thoughts come back in and busy themselves making stories about our lives, they aren't real stories.
So, truly, I'm thinking this out as I write, but where I've come to is that awareness is that vantage point where we don't filter our experience through thoughts (and "we" and "our" are just grammatical necessities because the reality is that there is no self at that moment). But if there is not complete awakening, then when thoughts come back in, they are believed again. Each time we rest in awareness, though, the thoughts may become less solid-seeming, more transparent. We may become awake even though we have never awakened!