Near my apartment there’s a New Age bookstore called The Bodhi Tree. Occassionally I’ll go in there and brouse the shelves. I’ve actually found a few decent books there, translations of the old Sutras and such-like. But most of the shelf space is given over to books which recount various authors’ encounters with Enlightened Beings. These encounters are always very special and mystical. The author invariably comes away transformed by the Deep Wisdom of these wonderful beings.
Unfortunately, my own encounters with Enlightened Beings have never been quite as pleasant. One particular Enlightened Master* from somewhere in Canada has lately been calling me all sorts of nasty names in postings on various other blogs. Apparently his Enlightenment is of a much higher level than any mere lickspittle such as myself could hope to aspire to. I’ve observed this guy’s behavior over a number of years, though, and if this is how Enlightened Masters act, the world is better off with as few of them as possible. I certainly have no interest in becoming one.
But my encounters with him weren’t my first unpleasant brushes with Enlightened Beings, and I doubt they’ll be my last. In fact, he’s got competition lately from yet another Enlightened Being on the Internet who claims his Enlightenment is also far superior to mine. This other Man of Enlightenment even sends me threats via e-mail. Oh joy….
A couple few years ago when my book was first being considered for publication, a very famous Enlightened Being, author of numerous books about Enlightenment and how to achieve it, expressed grave concerns about its contents and possible effects. My worried prospective publishers even sent the unpublished manuscript — without my permission — to this guy to try and get his blessings. His verdict: There’s nothing wrong with Brad that a year in an intensive meditation retreat wouldn’t cure. One of his retreats, I assume, where he could teach me the true meaning of Enlightenment. Sir, yes, Sir! I’ll be right there! — feh! In the end I chose not to work with these publishers. Yet, I wonder if their interest in my book would have cooled had Mr. Enlightenment pronounced it unworthy.
One more Enlightened Being I met ended up involved in a murder….
As you may imagine, these days I’m not overly impressed with people who claim to have had Enlightenment.
I really cannot understand why these Enlightened Beings feel so threatened by me. Especially since I have never made any claims of Enlightenement for myself. In fact, I’ve denied the whole idea of Enlightenment. Maybe that’s what’s threatening. It’s like saying the Emperor has no clothes. Anyway, if you’re truly Enlightened, why would anything at all be threatening? Why would you need to make claims for your own Enlightenment? Why would you indulge in specualtion about the nature of someone else’s Enlightenment or lack thereof? Wouldn’t an Enlightened Being be more confident about his Total Understanding of All Things and Phenomena than that? Maybe if I were Enlightened, I’d understand…
Perhaps the Enlightened Beings encountered by those authors are different from the ones I’ve run into. It’s entirely posssible. But it’s also entirely possible that many of those who claim to be Enlightened Beings behave quite differently towards those who fawn over them, and sit at their feet absorbing their Wisdom, than they do towards those who are skeptical.
And yet, although I’ve said, “There’s no such thing as Enlightenment,” it’s not that I don’t believe in Enlightenment at all. I know that sounds like a line from Spinal Tap**. But it’s not that there is no Enlightenment. It’s just that I cannot accept what most people refer to as “Enlightenment” as being in any way, well… enlightening.
Enlightenment is not a state. It’s not an experience that happens to you after which everything you say or do is cool because — hey — you’re an Enlightened Being, so it must be cool. No. Enlightenment is action. Enlightenment is not something you experience. It’s not something you own which other un-enlightened folks don’t. Enlightenment is something you do. This is why Dogen said that sitting Zazen is Enlightenment itself. When you behave like a Buddha, that behavior, that action, is Enlightenment. When you behave like an asshole….
*Please note that I haven’t identified any of these Enlightened Beings by name. If you must waste time speculating, please don’t name names in the comments section. OK? These folks give me enough hassles as it is.
** “We don’t actually say, ‘Love your neighbor.’ We don’t actually mean it either. But the message should be clear.”
— Nigel Tufnel (Lead Guitar, Spinal Tap)