EXPERIENCING WHAT REALLY ISAwakening is the realization of who one really is.
To awaken is to come out of the dream of oneself is an identity based on one's thoughts. Rather, one knows oneself -- beyond the mind's ideas -- as both nothing and everything at the same time. It feels very free (completely free) and blissful. Usually, an initial awakening only lasts a brief moment; then thought comes back in and one feels oneself to be in one's 'ordinary' consciousness again. But one knows for sure that one has experienced the absolutely truth of who one is, knows it so completely that even if one's teacher in whom one believes implicitly were to say, "No, that's not it," one would believe one's experience, not the teacher. (If one has to ask the teacher, "Is that it?" the answer is virtually always "no.")
POST-AWAKENING CONFUSIONAlthough one is completely sure one has realized Truth at the time it happens, within a short time, thought can come back in and begin to distort the experience of 'mindlessness.' After all, what is mind going to do with 'mindlessness'? It has to co-opt it, to find a way to understand it within the conceptual world that it understands. So it may be that what one was so sure of at the time it happens becomes obscured and distorted so that one can become unsure of whether one even actually experienced awakening.
WHAT AWAKENING DOESN'T MEANOne of the reasons for this confusion is that one can make all kinds of assumptions about what awakening means. I, for example, imagined that all of my karma was forever wiped out. Indeed, it felt that way -- like I was completely free. But the mind doesn't give up that easily and soon it is back to work doing its mischief. Then one can believe that the awakening was never real in the first place. I find some teachings to confuse this issue as well. For example, it is often said that what comes and goes isn't it. So one can tell oneself, well, I 'lost' it, so what I experienced must not have been real. But actually, it was the most real thing one has ever experienced. And it doesn't come and go; but the conscious awareness of it usually does in the beginning.
The word 'enlightenment' is sometimes considered synonymous with 'awakening.' However, it is useful to make a distinction between them. Here, awakening refers to the initial, usually momentary, realization of one's true self, while enlightenment is when consciousness no longer identifies with patterns of thought and ideas - although those thoughts and ideas may still be there -- but rather recognizes the 'suchness' of things as they are.
This generally comes very late in the game. One may think it is obvious that ideas aren't real; but on a deep, operational, level, our minds are very thoroughly convinced otherwise. This is no doubt because our minds have learned to see the world through concepts from the time we were very young: it's how we made sense out of the chaos of our early life.
A hand is a hand is a hand, right? Wrong! It takes awhile before it finally hits that the world of silence, the world of reality, simply has no cognitive correlate: it cannot be translated into ideas. When that does finally dawn, things relax and the 'seeker' drops away. This means that 'enlightenment' itself, ironically, no longer has any meaning for the person who was seeking it, not because she or he has attained it but because she or he knows that no concept - including that of 'enlightenment' -- is real.
HOW CONDITIONAL LOVE ARISESWe've all experienced a real heart connection between people. Usually it is wordless, yet we try to give it words. We try to conceptualize it. When we do, the 'me,' always ready to put anything and everything to use to buttress itself, using our feelings of love -- which, together with thought, become emotions -- for its own ends. Then, we 'love' someone so long as he or she gives us what we need to confirm our identity; but when that stops, we look elsewhere for 'love.'
UNCONDITIONAL LOVE AND ONENESSWe all long for true love that is unconditional. We want to experience this unconditional love -- the kind we usually feel toward our children, for example -- in the world at large but usually ego ('me' thought) gets in the way. So we start to tell ourselves stories about what unconditional love is, how it is completely unselfish, etc. Yes, that may be true, but the mind can't really go there. Unselfish means no self. When there is no self, there is no separate identity and so there is oneness. This doesn't feel gushy. It is simply that one just doesn't experience the other as separate. We now understands that the loneliness of separation was really the desire to know what we really are.
Some people translate the word, 'karma' as 'conditioning.' However, those with training in psychology may find this conflation of the two terms more confusing than helpful. What Buddhists and Hindus refer to as 'karma' is not at all what the behavioral psychologists such as Pavlov meant. There actually isn't an English equivalent. Thus, it seems preferable to keep the word 'karma' and just give it an English definition: the habitual patterns of thought along with the resultant consequences.
KARMA WITHOUT SELF-NATURE'Karma' itself, contrary to popular belief, is not a problem. Without it, there would be no world, no time-space continuum, no life. The problem isn't with karma but with giving thoughts self-nature. The term, 'self-nature,' may seem rather obscure but it just means that when we experience a thought, we assume it comes from a 'me,' and immediately form an attitude toward it that helps prop up the identity of the 'me.' Some thoughts are 'good' because they confirm the identity, some are 'bad' because they threaten it. When the identity is seen as illusory, it may still be there, but there is less and less tendency to buttress it by shaping thought to fit it. As the compulsion to think and act in certain patterns in order to prop up the identity is seen through, there is more and more freedom to be everything that one is.
Life is luminous at its basic level. Enlightened people experience this and also reflect it which makes them attractive to be around. Even people who have no interest in 'spirituality' are unconsciously attracted to this light. People who are consciously seeking enlightenment, though, but are not yet able to consciously experience this light for themselves, are drawn to those in whom they see it. They may not experience it as light directly: it may come across as a certain compassion in the eyes or tenderness in expression. Nonetheless, they feel that the other has something that they themselves want and don't have. A disciple-teacher relationship is born.
These relationships can be useful in awakening a person's own light. A good teacher is always deflecting the disciple's or student's projection of the light back into that own person's awareness of himself or herself as its source.
However, confusion may arise if the enlightened teacher comes to be defined as one who 'knows' while others who come to hear him or her -- often paying large sums to do so -- are defined as those who 'seek.' 'Seeking' can become a lifetime endeavor, an ego-identity that is as impenetrable as any other ego-identity.
As Eastern spirituality has developed in the West, there has been so much corruption and scandal that it can only be concluded that there is a problem with the form in which it has developed, that setting some people up as those who know and others as those who want to know is a recipe for, at best, confusion, or, at worst, disaster. Power corrupts and there don't seem to be a lot of exceptions to this rule. Once perfection is projected onto someone, both student and teacher often buy into it, and things get messier and messier.
But even if they don't get messy, it's still necessary to see that, in the end, there are no teachers and students, that we ALL as living beings carry the truth in our very beings, are, in fact that truth. So a lot of trouble might be avoided if we start with that assumption. Rather than assuming that some know and some don't, why not assume that we are all always human beings who come more and more deeply into truth, with the help of others who are doing the same? We may be stuck in one area where others are clear, and vice versa. Thus, we can help each other see our issues more clearly and how to move beyond them into deeper truth.
The purpose of a real spiritual community, then, is to accomplish this, so that we may come to the realization that we are not and never have been separate. Rather than setting people up as teachers, then, let us acknowledge and allow the truth to emerge in each of us.
Trust your deeper Truth and you will find what you need.
It is actually the nature of existence that all forms are empty: empty of concepts. They just exist as they are and we are those very forms because we are consciousness. This is not metaphorical. When the conceptual mind mistakes its concepts for reality, it gives forms substance or, in Buddhist terminology, self-nature. This makes everything appear to be separate from the consciousness from which it arises, dividing the perceiver from the perceived.
Thus, consciousness is divided just by the belief that forms are substantial. This can be as simple as believing that the thing you use to eat is actually a 'spoon,' instead of realizing that 'spoon' is just an arbitrary label that we apply after the fact so that we can talk about it. But it is most dangerous when we believe that we ourselves have substance; that we are actually the various definitions we give to ourselves. This belief arises so early in the development of each seemingly separate being that it is hard to identify.
In time, it is possible to begin to unwind all the ways thought co-opts the experience of pure being and obscures its blissful nature. When we see beyond the concepts to our true nature and the true nature of everything else, we finally know there is nothing else to seek. Peace is what we are.
LIVING THE TRUTH
Living the Truth really means just living. Even capitalizing 'Truth' makes it seem special, whereas all that really happens is that the conceptual world which obscured the real one is seen through. That's all. Life just goes on, but without so much attachment to outcomes that was once so important to maintain the sense of identity.
In the spaciousness of the real self, the Presence, Silence, Awareness -- whatever word works for you -- it becomes increasingly possible to allow thoughts and feelings that were once unmanageable because they threatened the sense of identity to arise, and, as this happens, there is less and less tension. As the tension that maintained the feeling of separateness relaxes, there comes the knowing that this form -- one's own self exactly as it already is -- is the Infinite expressing itself in the finite realm.
HOW SELF-IMAGES WORKMost human beings live through images. For example, I might have an idea that I need to be a kind person. Then an unkind thought toward someone might arise, and suddenly I am at war in myself - struggling to prove that I really am kind. We may suppress the thought itself, or we may try to justify it, telling ourselves that the one toward whom we had the thought really 'deserved' it. The ways we struggle to maintain our self-images can get very complicated and most people go through constant mental gymnastics during each day to achieve this. It takes a lot of energy, but it feels so crucial to keep believing one is living up to one's self-image and is therefore an acceptable person.
Gradually, as we come to know ourselves as already complete and whole, the need to have an acceptable self-image starts to relax, and we come to understand how fictitious these images all are. We develop true compassion for ourselves and others.
Copyright 2008 by Chris Beal
(Note that while the Truths expressed herein could be said to be universal, formulating them in words takes time and energy, so while you should feel free to quote, please give credit when you do.)