Sunday, June 24, 2007
I think often of enlightenment, and wonder what it is and whether or not it is a state which is even possible. Is enlightenment real or just a myth passed on from generation to generation? Is it a permanent condition of being or merely a passing episode in our otherwise mundane lives? Are those who claim to be enlightened really what they say they are, or are they fooling themselves and others?
Enlightenment has been held out as a desired end goal of the long spiritual struggle for many centuries. Yet, often, those who claim enlightenment are lacking, if we look at their total life record. Some renowned gurus were known to be quite difficult to deal with in their daily relationships with others. Some have abused their powers to take advantage of trusting disciples in various ways. Some are just plain not very nice people.
My feeling is that if one were in a truly enlightened state every moment, one could not function in the day to day world. Enlightenment by definition involves surrender of all self awareness and entrance into the state of union in which all sense of a personal identity is surrendered into the vastness of that Mystery which is the ultimate. For all but a very, very few (Buddha? Christ? St. Teresa of Avila? Gopi Krishna?) such constant "dual awareness" is simply not a possibility--we are inevitably caught by one state of consciousness or another--we are either in the world or out of it, or at best we are perhaps partially in both worlds simultaneously.
I do think it is possible to have "glimpses of enlightenment," moments in which the surrender does occur, but therafter is retained as memory rather than immediate experience.
I think the archetype of the old man sitting alone on the mountainside, lost in total samadhi, contains much truth. Once he wakes up or comes down from the mountain, he is almost inevitably pulled into the lesser state of the mundane universe.
If he (or she) exists with some spiritual connection to the "outer world," (receives disciples, teaches others perhaps) then generally his/her basic needs will be attended to by devotees. When Ramana Maharshi attempted to explain what ecstasy was, he immediately fell into deep rapture and had to be assisted across the room. Ramakrishna (and other such saintlike beings) lived in ashrams, where they could be surrounded by loving attention and generous care.
I myself do not think the world at this time needs those who have transcended ordinary reality to the point that they no longer can function in the familiar world. We do need more Bodhisattvas, those who have foregone personal enlightenment for the privilege of helping others move ahead on the spiritual path. The Bodhisattva gives up his/her chance for nirvana (total absorption into the divine essence, release from the wheel of earthly birth and rebirth) in order to help the rest of the world move closer to awakening.
I like the related notion of the "Order of Melchizedek." Although the term in used rather casually by certain groups today, it originates in the Bible. "Melchizedek" refers not to a person but is rather a title--the "Order" is comprised of those "secret priests" who serve behind the scenes--the hidden saints among us who do not proclaim their identity to the world at large, but who quietly, with total devotion, offer their lives up in service to their fellow human beings in whatever way they can. They, I think, are the truly enlightened. To be enlightened is to serve with those gifts which are given you. It is not a state to be claimed for public applause or inner gratification. In fact, those who say they are enlightened aren't. The truly enlightened would make no such claim.
The fact that Kundalini has risen upward and opened the crown chakra is not in itself proof of enlightenment. The proof is in the behavior which follows, judged by every minute of every day. Many experience this exalted state momentarily, and then fall back into old and imperfect ways of being. It is like visiting a high mountaintop with a breathtaking view. Thereafter we know it is there, but we do not inhabit the site permanently. Someone once asked me if I was enlightened. I answered, "If I am enlightened, then we are all in big trouble."
This is not to denigrate or disparage the "high moment," even if it is temporary. It is a precious gift, to be treasured and loved for the rest of your life. It is the ongoing reminder that there is indeed "something more."