Q: What would you say is the most significant aspect of enlightened consciousness?
A: Probably that thought is no longer believed in. Many people say that they know that thoughts are not real, but the way they relate to the world shows that they really do believe in a whole host of ideas, most of them unconsciously.
Q: You say "many people" but if we are all one, as the enlightened teachers say, then there really aren't 'many people,' are there?
A: On the deepest level of consciousness, where there is no time, everything is one. But on the usual level of discourse, there is a multitude. It's important not to mix levels, and especially important not to mistake the ideas of the mind about Oneness for the reality of it. The mind has trouble with multiple versions of reality. For it, there has to be only one way of seeing things and it is constantly trying to find the 'right' way.
Q: So is it necessary to see the illusory nature of each thought? It seems like that could take many lifetimes.
A: No, it doesn't happen that way. In awakening, life is directly encountered, without the filter of the mind. For a small minority, one awakening makes it completely clear that thought isn't real. But for most people, increasingly deeper awakenings occur, usually over a period of years, and with each one, truth gets seen more and more clearly, and therefore thoughts are believed less and less simply because what is real has become known. The reason it is impossible for most people to realize that thoughts aren't real is simply that they don't have a context outside of thought.
As consciousness awakens to its deeper nature, it dawns -usually gradually -- that thought is just an interpretation of life, that many interpretations are possible, and none of them is ultimately true.
Q: I had what seemed like an awakening once, but now I'm not sure if it was real. They say that if you have to ask, it means it wasn't real.
A: At the moment awakening occurs, you know for sure that you have experienced the truth of your being, without any question. But exactly what you experienced cannot be put into words. Yet the mind tries, simply because it has had a lifetime of training in trying to understand everything that happens. And as it tries, it distorts what was experienced to the point where it may begin to look like nothing very significant happened after all.
The most significant hallmark of a genuine awakening is discovering that you are both everything and nothing as the same time. A deep, unattached love is also often experienced. Some people have the good fortune to have a very deep awakening, so they don't question it, but it's also possible just to touch on the eternal and so not really grasp its significance even though the awakening was genuine. A good teacher can help in that instance because if there is no one around to validate the awakening, it may get lost - for awhile at least.
Q: I know I had a genuine awakening, and now I can't help thinking how great I am, how I see things so much more clearly than others and am so much more aware, and so on. I recognize these thoughts as ego garbage, but they happen anyway.
A: The mind has trouble letting go of control. Awakening is a realm that it can't understand, but it tries to co-opt it for itself oneself. It might help to think of it this way: the one who wants to 'take credit' for the awakening, to claim it, is just the mind and that is not the REAL you. In time, the identification with the one who has an ego-need to be 'enlightened' (or to be anything, for that matter) fades away; then consciousness can function more naturally. But that takes time. And all judgment comes from the mind, or from what is traditionally called the 'ego,' so if you are judging the tendency to 'take credit,' be aware that those thoughts are no more valuable than the 'taking credit' itself.
Q: It sounds like there is lots of stuff that I have to deal with before I can get enlightened.
A: The mind wants a task, but really there is nothing to deal with. In time, you just stop identifying with all the thoughts, taking them seriously as a comment about who you are. When you know yourself as infinite consciousness without any question, all of the thoughts and emotions can, and likely will, still be there, but they aren't so important anymore, and you can stop wasting energy trying to manage them, trying to make them look a certain way to prop up the self-image.
Q: I have a lot of psychological problems. I feel like I need some good therapy before I can realize the kind of stuff you are talking about.
A: First, there is absolutely no need to solve any problems on the psychological level in order to wake up. Awakening is outside time, outside the relative world of these types of problems. But the belief that you have to solve these problems first will hold you back.
There probably is a correlation, however, between how psychologically mature, in the ordinary sense, one is, and how easy it is to move from the initial awakening to full realization. The mind that functions in a relatively healthy manner may have an easier time letting go of control than the one with a lot of trauma in its history. Control is the means we all learned in order to survive as children in a chaotic world, but it was all the more important to keep control if there was abuse, so it may be harder to let go. (Note that this is just my theory, which, to my knowledge, has been neither confirmed nor refuted by any kind of research.)
My own opinion, though, is that it is more effective to deal with psychological issues when you already have the context of awakening from which to view them. However, everyone has his or her own karma and will awaken when it is time. If anything that you read here moves you, the time may well be right for you, whatever your psychological makeup. Don't let your mind argue yourself out of the opportunity, which does not come to most human beings, to discover your true self. On the other hand, if you see yourself as psychologically fragile, make sure you seek out a good teacher who can help you sort things through: awakening will turn everything upside down and that can be confusing to navigate without guidance.
Q: You call your blog "Miracle of Awakening." In what way is awakening a miracle?
A: When consciousness takes form, it is natural for it to be oriented toward objects - whether thought-objects or physical objects. It doesn't usually look back upon itself to discover its nature beyond the way it manifests, to discover its formlessness. When it is able to do that, that is truly a miracle.
Q: While we're on the subject, do you believe in miracles?
A: Miracles are just what thought cannot comprehend. But as consciousness is gradually discovered to be everything -- which, since we are conscioiusness, means that we are everything -- we can see how what are called miracles can happen. After all, natural 'laws' just state we have learned to predict will happen. It doesn't mean that things always have to happen that way. Who made these laws? Consciousness did. So why couldn't consciousness also change them?
But I'm not talking about positive thinking here, although that can work on some levels. I'm talking about the place from which we know ourselves as everything, which is totally beyond what thought can even imagine. From that place, all things are possible.
The more important question, though, might be why someone would want 'miracles.' Usually, it's because we want something to be better than we perceive it to be - or we want to escape some kind of pain or discomfort. Nothing wrong with that - it's natural. But sometimes we might be blessed to notice that the arising of anything - even something experienced as unpleasant - is itself the miracle - and then the unpleasant feeling transforms into a kind of bliss - just from being able to notice its arising. The formless taking form is itself bliss. Life arising is bliss.
Q: I try to notice that life is bliss. But I really don't experience it that way at all. I don't want to lie to myself.
A: I intuit a 'should' here: "I should be able to experience what has been described." That will always get in your way because underneath it is a sense that something is lacking in you and that if you could only get it right, then all struggle would be over.
So I would say that the first thing is noticing this judgment about yourself. You don't have to try to change it, just notice where it comes from. These movements of mind are so habitual and so automatic that we usually don't notice them.
There isn't any 'should' about how we notice life. Sometimes we are just blessed to notice something that we hadn't before. But whether we do or not, we are still whole, undivided, One.
Bliss is actually a by-product, not something to seek. Actually, everything is always arising blissfully, whether the mind noticing it at any given time or not. If we don't experience something that we may at some past time have known as true, it just means the mind is busy elsewhere. What is true doesn't stop being true -- how could it? -- and on the deepest level of your being, it remains known as true.
Seeking anything always happens at the ego-level. So it's again a question of how much identification there is with thought. When thought is not identified as 'me,' but rather, I am known to myself as the vastness, then it doesn't matter so much anymore what I am experiencing (i.e., noticing) at any particular time.
Q: Do you consider yourself fully realized?
A: Adyashanti, when asked a similar question, once said, "That's none of my business." The question implies something that happens in time, which means it comes from the mind, and so any answer must also be from the perspective of the mind. That is, the "me" is looking to see how it's doing, if it has finally "made it," etc. But awake consciousness is outside of time, and this question has no meaning there.
A reason to ask this question of someone might be to find out if he or she can be a teacher for the inquirer. But the answer really has to come from the intuition of the student, from how it feels to be in that person's presence.
Q: Earlier, you said, 'there may still be desires arising." But I have heard or read that all desires cease. Isn't that what nirvana is?
A: Yes, at the moment of awakening, all desire ceases. One is everything that ever was or ever will be, so what could possibly be desired? But we also exist as form and, as long as this form is alive, it will experience things it needs - it's just built that way. What is important is not whether there is desire, but whether there is identification with the desires as who we are. If we are trying to decide whether it is OK to have desire, it means there is identification with it.
Remember that everything that arises with conscious awareness of the arising arises blissfully. There aren't any 'wrong' arisings. There is just placing attention in a place that causes us to overlook what is actually happening.
Q: You talk a lot about identification. But I don't really understand what you mean.
A: It takes awhile to start seeing how the mind works. Maybe it will help to think of it this way: When you were born, you didn't have an identity, did you? You experienced the world, but you didn't think, "I am experiencing the world." You just did it. But after awhile, the idea that you were a separate person experiencing the world took hold.
We tend to forget that we didn't always experience the world through the lens of a 'self.' And, more importantly, we usually totally miss how this proves that the self isn't actually real: but something we invent it as we grow up. We don't remember because the sense of 'self' is linked to memory: without that sense, we would have no personal memories. (Whether we would remember abstract things, such as mathematical formulae, I am not in a position to say.)
So this sense of self is invented, but we don't remember inventing it and come to think it is who we are. Yet it is not really there - as we have just seen - so we have to keep re-inventing it. We develop an idea, or ideas, of how we have to be and what we have to think in order to keep the sense of self intact. It's a very solid system we build, and, in Freud's terminology, it's overdetermined, meaning that there are many overlapping ways that we keep the sense of self solid, so that if one fails, we have back-up. These are all strategies of the mind. All of these ways of maintaining the sense of self are what I mean by 'identification.' Something happens. We cannot just say it happened; we have to find 'meaning' in the event, and that meaning, at bottom, goes back to what it says about 'me.'
For example, my spouse leaves. It's a simple fact: he or she didn't want to continue the marriage anymore. We can notice that we want to know the reasons the person left so that we can figure out how to relate to the event to keep the 'self' intact. If we can make it the other's fault, for example, we can believe that we are still a 'good' person, and maybe being a good person was part of the identity we need to prove we deserve (and therefore will continue) to exist as a self. (All of this goes on unconsciously, or, at best, semi-consciously.) Or, a certain type of personality type might blame themselves, and this can equally be a strategy of the mind to keep the self solid: "I am so rotten a person; no wonder my spouse left." Notice how preferable being a rotten person is to being no one at all!
By the time any of us comes to the place of being interested in awakening, there is quite a tangled web of identity going so that everything that happens is automatically understood in terms of whether it validates the fictitious self. And so, when awakening happens, that naturally gets taken into the system: "I'm so awake, I must be a 'great' person now." (Or fill in your adjective, depending on your self-image.) And at moments when there doesn't seem to be as much awakeness as one thought at first, there might be some anxiety, because I have come to identify myself as 'awake.'
In time, all of the identification starts to unwind and it becomes clear that even 'awakened one' is not who you are. You are EVERYTHING. This is your true identity - everything and everyone that is 'awake' and everything and everything that isn't 'awake'; everything 'good' and everything 'bad'; everyone 'loving,' and everyone 'unloving,' etc.. And when one is able to own that identity as the One, the ego-generated identity becomes increasingly irrelevant. It's not necessary to try to get rid of it - it just doesn't define us anymore.
Q: Buddhism seems to have a lot to offer such as teachings about loving kindness, meditation as a way to still the craziness of mind, being in the present, etc. But I just don't get the detachment idea. Why would I want to be detached from this world? There is so much beauty: the birds, ocean, a great book, music, love – why wouldn't I want to keep enjoying those things?
A: Yes, life does seem to hold so much beauty – are we really supposed to give it all up?
Most people naturally experience life as a “me” looking out on a very big world. Attachment (the opposite of detachment) can be seen as a way to make connections with that world. When I'm attached to certain people/things/events, I feel larger than myself, and the more attached I am, the larger I feel. For example, when people are in love, they feel larger than when they aren't.
This is natural. I don't think it's very useful to try to develop a “practice” of “detachment.” Why would we give up what gives us satisfaction in life? Yet sometimes a point comes when we are unable to have what we are attached to or when we lose someone or something we loved. Most people will experience grief, then eventually regroup and replace what they lost with something else. But suppose someone, at that moment of loss, realizing that the object of desire cannot be attained or is lost forever, for just an instant gives up the whole project? Just suppose?
What can happen at such a moment (and this has happened here or I wouldn't be talking about it), is that we see that our whole outlook is erroneous from the start. I am not just a little being, defined by the contours of my body, looking out on the world, but rather, I am the world itself, unlimited by time or space. I don't need attachment as a way of making myself feel bigger when I'm looking from the place of Oneness. Everything I wanted is seen to be me already. That's about as big as it's possible to get, isn't it?
This is Nirvana,which means, I suppose you know, emptiness. But the real thing is not at all like the emptiness or nothingness we previously conceived. Rather, we give up the limited self in order to find out that we are nothing and everything at the same time. As my own teacher, Adyashanti, once said to me, “That emptiness is very full.”
So, maybe detachment shouldn't be seen as something one ought to do, but rather as grace that might descend just at the right time to allow us to see what our own consciousness really is. I think it's actually best not to try to be detached. What can that result in, except attachment to the effort to be detached? And what a drag you will be then, to yourself and others!