Monday, May 26, 2008
what is "enlightenment?"
I had a good laugh last night. Discussing various inner matters at a friend's house, an interrupter who felt she knew what "the point" was firmly informed me that I wasn't enlightened.
Damn. It was a huge shock to me because all this time I'd been walking around thinking I was enlightened. Good thing I had her around to enlighten me. LOL.
Basking in the afterglow of this intense little exchange, which created a good deal of useful and even somewhat pleasant inner friction, I come to this morning realizing that there isn't "a point." There are an infinite number of points... perhaps that is the point. Anyway, Neal and I lay abed this morning before we sat, pondering the nature of understanding. I was the ponderer, and she was the ponderee.
It went something like this:
The other day, I coined the terms "active sentience" and "passive sentience" to try and give us a new vision of the line of demarcation which man stands upon. We are at the juncture point of consciousness, below which awareness is unable to perceive levels, and above which the perception of levels is an essential quality of awareness. That is to say, man has the ability to understand, an ability to see where he is. And this perception of levels is an essential part of understanding. I could explain that further but I won't- I'd rather you pondered it for yourself to try and see the implications for yourself.
One final note on that, however: when man is asleep, he does not perceive levels.
In this crossroads we inhabit, man generally begins in a state which is referred to as dualistic by the Buddhists. This state involves an experience of separation which is born of the fragmentation of consciousness into its constituent elements ("us" versus "that stuff out there.")
Dogen (as well as many other Buddhist masters) points out that the idea of "enlightenment" is actually an endorsement of dualism. By using the term, we have already bought into the belief that that there is the state "enlightened" and the state "non-enlightened." The highest Buddhist masters have insisted that there is no duality--omitting even the possibility of enlightenment and non-enlightenment. Like the doctrine of not-dharma, everything is one single thing--and the perception that there could be a state of "enlightenment" separate and distinct from it is already a misunderstanding.
One of those annoying Zen paradoxes rears its stimulating little head here. When it comes to "enlightenment," we are already there--wherever "there" is.
The only part of us that has not come to the party is our "awareness" itself--in a state of egoistic contraction, it has pinched itself off from the wholeness of the all, like what physicists would call a "pocket universe."
And since, inevitably, our awareness itself is but a very tiny part of all that is--honestly, even in the case of ourself, it's just a fraction of what we are --, the vast majority of what is--including the vast majority of what we are--is already in right relationship.
The joke, it would seem, is on us. Not only are we already "enlightened," that is, fully and wholly participant in the ubiquitous and irrevocable reality of the dharma, we don't even have a choice about it. Even our failure to participate in truth is a weirdly legitimate fraction of truth.
The classic Zen story about the wild fox, which Dogen mentions and expounds on in numerous writings, is an indication of the situation. In denying that an "enlightened person" falls into cause and effect (i.e., he contends that the duality of cause and effect can be escaped) , the master was condemned to live five hundred lives in the body of a wild fox, hammering the irrevocable nature of cause and effect--the material consequences of reality and duality--home to him.
Cause and effect cannot be escaped. The material nature of reality is an absolute. Without it there would be no expression of the dharma. There is no escape from cause and effect: transcendental doctrines which argue in favor of the "elimination' of suffering or the "attainment of the void" are missing the point. It is not escape that is called for, but participation.
Or maybe we just need to stop thinking in terms of attainment and non-attainment, and even participation and non-participation ...and just live within what is, receiving it as graciously as we are able.
The wild fox master escapes the repetitive punishment of rebirth by ignoring cause and effect. He doesn't get rid of it; he stops worrying about it. Another way of seeing it is that he accepts it as one of the conditions. So he submits. In effect, he commences to ignore duality.
...There it is. So what?
It all reminds me of something Andre Ennard said to me many years ago:
"We must surrender everything--even our wish."
And on that note, perhaps, we should sound the late afternoon gong and close up shop.
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.