Spirituality in the West has been severely distorted; being a marketplace of trinkets, self-help gurus, healers, a huge variety of spiritual practices, substances and so on.
Somehow this culture has taken something very pure and simple and turned it in to something commercial, something competitive and into that which it is not. Our western mind is molded into wanting to attain something and some people on the spiritual path have spent their entire lives trying to attain, only to be as stuck and bound as they ever were.
It’s this very desire to attain something, this wanting to reach a ‘higher state of consciousness’, which is what keeps people bound and seeking. By definition, to be a seeker, you have not yet sought, and therefore those who are always seeking do not find. One of the great Tibetan Buddhists Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche who played a crucial role in bringing Buddhist teachings to the West during the Chinese occupation has this summary to say about awakening/meditation/enlightenment in Meditation in Action:
“Meditation is based on three fundamental factors: first, not centralizing inward; second, not having any longing to become higher; and third, becoming completely identified with here and now.”
So in context with the rest of the chapter this is in, he is referring to our ego, or our idea of who we are, the “me”, the “I”, has no solidity to it, and not to uphold the belief that it exists. He denounces the striving to become better or higher – as pure consciousness cannot be increased or diminished. Nothing about healing, nothing about crystals or chakras or ascension or needing to strive or to take certain substances… just to be.
It’s a funny word this one, and has so many connotations and ideas surrounding it. In western culture it’s usually thought to be something that one attains after maybe 3 or 4 decades meditating in a cave, but the more I read and the more I journey, the less it seems this word is about reaching higher states or personal attainment.
“Strictly speaking, there are no enlightened people, only enlightened activity.”
This was said by the great Zen master Shunryu Suzuki and I can see how this fits in exactly with what Ram Dass’s Hindi guru Maharaji said to him when asked how to become enlightened. He replied “Love everyone, feed everyone, serve everyone.” How very simple hey? But in today’s mad world, do you know anyone who truly does this?
It seems that enlightenment refers to realizing our true being – what it is that we really are. This is why all the spiritual teachers I’ve come across – from Tibetan Buddhism to Zen to Advaita Vedanta to the Upanishads, usually refer to it as “Self Realization” rather than enlightenment. Finding out that we are not our thinking mind, we are not our body, we are not our emotions, feelings, desires or aversions; that we are aware of all these things, not intrinsically them. They use words like awareness, consciousness, God, the Buddha nature, emptiness and so on. It’s essentially awareness being aware of itself, and seeing as each and every one of us are already this awareness, we are all already “there”, but we have identified ourselves with the things we are aware of (body and mind) and have limited ourselves by doing so, making this the cause of all the suffering in the world. We are used to focusing on external appearances; our body, our intellect, our differences, our beliefs, but the more we turn our attention inward to our own inner workings and that awareness that is always there, we find a depth to our being that is almost scarily profound.
So this is not something that we can attain – which is hard for the western mind to comprehend, because it is so conditioned to attain. It always wants to one-up others, to be on a pedestal, to be seen, to be higher, but it is this very egocentric behavior that keeps people bound. This is why anyone who refers to themselves as being enlightened, you can rest assured that they are not; and usually when the great spiritual teachers are asked whether they are, they will dodge the question.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche once said in one of his talks “So you’re enlightened… what now?” He was poking fun at the western worlds way of wanting to attain and become a higher or better person, but practically in everyday life what does that mean for us? Do we shut ourselves away in a dark room meditating all day? Do we walk around with our chest puffed out, our groupies and our inflated ego? This is where for me, it comes back to what Maharaji said. If we act from the place of that realization that we are all the same essence just with our different masks on, then we will treat others as our self, making differences irrelevant and the notion of “other” as inevitably irrelevant too.
“Everywhere I go, I meet myself” Shunryu Suzuki
The underlying current of most sages and mystics on spirituality is that of surrender; in giving yourself over completely to the whole, to help and heal those in need, and relinquish all desire in furthering our own career/bank account/self-image. We can help so many people, if we just step out of the social norm of progress and work, and stop caring so much as to what others think of us. There are most likely people living on our own street that struggle with bills, food, money, TLC and there are the seniors who could benefit from our youth, the poor who could benefit from our generosity, the lonely who could benefit from our warmth. Do any of these struggling people truly care about how well one can meditate?
It’s very easy to get caught up with the spiritual tag, and use it as a concept, an identity, instead of as a way of being. It’s really easy to get attached to the idea of being spiritual and to identify as one of the many labels out there from “indigo child” to “lightworker”, which really only separates us in another form from our fellow humans, as it’s a way of raising our self to be of supposed higher moral ground and special.
Being spiritual doesn’t mean continuously working on our self in meditation and yoga. That’s the whole point; service to others, ending the suffering and separateness in other beings. Giving and sharing without the need for reciprocation or acknowledgement. If a hand feeds a mouth, does it matter to whom they belong to? The best way it seems to attenuate the ego, to surrender and release ourselves of attraction and aversion is to serve others. Not to worry about gaining all these amazing experiences, communing with angels, seeing in different dimensions or raising ourselves on the meditation pedestal. Surrender ourselves and serve others.