[Guest post from Garyji, a balding self-professed sage from somewhere upstate … ]
Just because things are a little slow on Facebook today and my opponent has yet to make a move in Scrabble, and since I have a few minutes to kill before a music workshop that I’m joining for some reason, I thought I might elaborate a little bit on the Four Stages of Enlightenment.
Stage 1: I Wanna Be Enlightened.
At some point, while browsing through the Baghavad Gita or the Talks of Ramana Maharshi, or the Secret Teachings of Forest Dwellers, it suddenly dawns on you that attaining that all too elusive ultimate prize, the so-called pearl of great price, i.e., enlightenment, might just be the answer to all your, and life’s, problems, and that to be enlightened means to be permanently happy, always in a state of relative bliss, and that no more would you have to suffer from existential angst, struggle under the heavy weight of the burdensome self, or go through any more of those dreaded dark nights of the soul.
And besides, nothing else of any real importance or meaning is going on in your life at the moment, or for the last 10 or so years, so why not strike out on the hero’s journey and perhaps if you’re more than super-lucky, and after a long series of trial and tribulations, tests and challenges, you might just wind up like Jason with the golden fleece or Sir Galahad with the holy grail ?
After all, somebody has to win the lottery, and that person may even be an average person with no talents or superior qualities to speak of, and who, like most people, feels a sense of being fundamentally flawed, kind of a loser, and not really feeling very up for the task. But why the hell not? After all, what’s really the alternative?
Stage 2: Yay, I’m Enlightened!
And so you venture forth, joining various churches, esoteric study groups, and a few cults along the way. You get a guru and give him all your cash. They say you can’t buy enlightenment, but nobody says you can’t try.
Throw in a lot of positive affirmations, creative visualizations, at least 4 kinds of Buddhist meditation techniques, chanting money and other mantras, get baptized a few times, have at least two conversion experiences, several noteworthy spiritual experiences, enter the state of Sat-Chit-Ananda for more than 10 full seconds, hear the Holy Spirit talking to you, and have a vision of the Hell that awaits those who lust after worldly pleasures. You crash and burn and go into therapy, come out of that no better off and keep trying the latest spiritual craze to come your way. At least 5 times you think you’ve finally found it, only to come to the sad realization that this latest and greatest thing is not only not going to transform the world, it’s not even going to transform you.
You rule out saving the world and focus exclusively on saving yourself. You rewrite your script, change your story, create your own reality, adopt a whole new paradigm all to no avail. You’re running on empty but you keep going. Money is no object even though you don’t really have any. Thank God for credit cards and something called “Minimum Amount Due.”
You just keep plodding on because you know in your heart of hearts there is no turning back. You resign yourself to living out your life as one of the endless horde of frustrated and miserable seekers you keep meeting along the way. You have vowed to kill the Buddha if you meet him on the road, but from where you sit on your painful, hand crafted (in Nepal), Zen cushion you would be lucky if you ran into a mid-level Tibetan lama.
You keep trying new stuff in order to rewire your brain and wipe the slate clean, and keep lighting candles and burning incense in the hope that that in some way will influence the gods and goddesses to finally give you a fucking break already.
And then one day, a day like any other day, nothing special going on, you happen to notice a curious thing as you sit down at your shrine and get ready to do some more bowing and scraping and pleading with your chosen deity. As you start to finger your new turquoise mala beads that you bought recently in the spiritual bookstore you go to get tarot readings and Reiki healing sessions, and before you even begin to share your litany of woes and growing concern that you’re never going to be enlightened and that time is running out and that you’re no longer a hot young seeker but simply a worn out jaded (been there done that) lukewarm practitioner heading straight for the garbage heap of spiritual history where nobody remembers anybody’s name and nobody cares how much “merit” anybody has reputedly acquired, it dawns on you—not suddenly, not gradually, but simply dawns— that the bottom of the seeking barrel has fallen out and all the seeking that was in there has somehow disappeared. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true, there is no more seeking to be found. Holy Sh*t! Yeah, really.
In relatively short order, it becomes clearer and clearer that not only has seeking ended (“Call off the search!” ” OK, Papaji, I’m coming! “), but there is no longer a seeker to be found in the immediate vicinity. Now what to do with all this puja stuff? There’s nobody to try to cajole anymore, nobody to try to spiritually impress. OK gods and goddesses, I’ll see you later.
First there’s no seeking, then there’s no seeker. And then there’s no self and then there’s no other. Holy Sh*t, this is getting good. Finally there is no world. It’s only just I. I and I, as they say, only there’s no “they” anymore. This is great! Yay, I’m enlightened! It’s just too bad there’s no one to tell it to. That would have been nice, but you still can’t have everything, even when you are everything. (and nothing as well)
Stage 3: Am I Really Enlightened?
Wow, chopping wood and carrying water turns out to be not so bad after all. In fact, it’s almost enjoyable now that myth of Sisyphus aspect of it has miraculously been removed.
The best thing, of course, is that the curse of seeking has finally been wiped clean from my soul and Good God Almighty, I’m born again! No more workshops and BATGAP YouTube interviews for me. I don’t care what anybody says, it all amounts to nothing more than different versions of the same old by-now tired refrain: You are That and All there is is Consciousness, so why don’t you get off it already and stop with all the fretting and anxiety and above all, stop saying, “But,” and asking, “What if…..?”
The only question is ” How to fill the void?” Golf is nice but all that lugging around of the clubs and having to change shoes gets to be a drag after awhile. Acting and singing is fun too, but all those rehearsals running past 9 o’clock at night starts to take its toll real fast. Maybe a few workshops here and there won’t be so bad after all. And of course the spiritual books never stop arriving from Amazon.
Some conditioning is just too ingrained to be gotten rid of in just one lifetime. In fact, my guess is that it will take at least 3 more incarnations to fully burn off all the karma I’ve accumulated through Amazon. So many books, so little time. Sometimes I think of Hell as being the place you’re consigned to until you finish reading all the books you’ve ordered from Amazon and then simply tossed them aside or let them pile up in various stacks near your bedside, in the living room, the TV room, the shrine room, etc. Recently you even found a big box of unread Amazon books parked near the stored Christmas lights and ornaments in the basement. Yes, Hell indeed is an eternity of pain.
It doesn’t take long— a few months at the most— for the most, for the honeymoon to be over.
Chopping wood and carrying water after enlightenment no longer seems any different than it was before enlightenment, and to make matters worse, the hated and supposedly banished forever narrative self starts to rear its very ugly head again. And again. And yet again. “Why were you such an a**h*le in 1968? And in 1972? And then again countless times in the 1980s?” (not to mention yesterday and the day before!)
Thank God for “Cancel. Cancel.” But even that time tested and infinitely valuable positive psychological technique can not stem the rising tide of self-accusation and self-disgust. You fight back. There is no self to accuse and there is no self to be disgusted by. There, that will fix em. And yet, the battle simmers, if not exactly rages. No matter how many times you tell yourself, “This too, is Brahman,” the victory is never complete nor fully satisfying.
Given all this, it doesn’t take too long, after several attempts to suppress it, for the inevitable question to arise: “Am I really enlightened?” Or is this just one more in a long series of mind-f**ks that have appeared at different points along the path whereby I have tried to assure myself that I had reached the pinnacle of human inner accomplishment, all outer evidence to the contrary.
Suppose, just suppose, I’m not really enlightened after all, and the whole thing has just been one giant placebo, one last wild stab at magical thinking and desperate wish fulfillment? Yeah, what then? Back to the drawing board? Back to that horrible place that I have arrived at countless times before: Square 1? No, I refuse. I’m not going back there. This Myth of Sisyphus thing has to end somewhere. The divine buck stops right here!
You take a breath. You need to clear your head. This could be just about the worst day of your life. Not being enlightened is one thing, but being enlightened (if indeed you ever were) and then losing it is far worse! There is only one to do, and one thing you have have thought of right away, when those first dimly lit doubts started to creep ever so slowly into your mind.
It’s time to face the music. It’s time to check your LOC/ Level of Consciousness, that’s the thing. This is no time for being casual or glib. Life and death hangs in the balance. You take a shower. Brush your teeth. Put on some loose-fitting clothes. You sit, get centered and invoke Universal Intelligence which knows all things. OK, you’re ready.
You chant OM three times and do the muscle-testing technique you’ve learned and have applied innumerable times to others to test their level of consciousness. You go slowly up the scale asking at each 100 point interval if your consciousness has reached that level. You hold your breath at the highest point and test. The gods be praised, you’re still at 1000, you’re still enlightened.
You do it again and again and then take a break and do it one more time for good measure. You hit the mark each time and you sense the first thrill of relief followed by a certain faint smugness, but you’re still not fully satisfied. You need a second opinion. The pendulum.
You head down to the spiritual bookstore in town and go right up to the counter. “Audrey,” you tell the bright, beaming woman with the wild flowing hair at the counter, “I need a pendulum. I have to ask a most important question. It has to be a good one. The pendulum I mean.” Without missing a beat, Audrey goes right to her box of pendulums resting on the counter next to the assorted mala beads and feathered necklaces hanging from a big display rack, and pulls out one of the pendulums. It’s a clear crystal with some thin strands of something running through it. “Here’s the perfect one for you,” she says, and before I can say, “Gee, that was fast,” she says, “I knew it right away!” OK, I’ll take it, and am surprised when it comes to only $16.95 plus tax.
Shortly after the pendulum confirmation of your ever-present, never-not-the-case enlightenment, you see an ad for TrueTester Pro, another strong/weak, yes/no testing device and you send away for that. The price is incidental, just like everything else concerned with both the quest for enlightenment as well as whatever effort it might take to keep it.
Surely one more test won’t hurt and might even add to your restored confidence. The package arrives, you open the box, add the batteries and turn on the device. You establish a baseline for Yes, and another one for No. You are ready to test your enlightenment from a third angle, just to make it a real done deal. You center yourself, align yourself with the highest, most sublime, totally omniscient universal intelligence and pose the question of questions. You press the handle on the TrueTester Pro and it comes out STRONG. A very positive Yes, you are enlightened. There’s no doubt about it now!
You can relax and go back to doing what you always do, which is nothing much of anything. You have no more doubts, but you’re keeping the pendulum, the TrueTester Pro, and the tried and trusty finger testing method nearby just in case.
Stage 4. Who Gives A Sh*t?
Time passes, even though you remind yourself from time to time that there is no time, that nothing ever happens, and that this is all a dream, or perhaps just a simulation, taking place in somebody’s (or nobody’s) mind, or on their computer in a galaxy far, far away.
You wake up one morning, yawn, and before the first thought starts flooding your mind, you look out the window and see trees and the light of the new day shining through them. You have – what’s it called – a moment of Zen. A moment of est: IT IS. A moment of Just This.
You yawn again, keep looking at the trees, and automatically start to reach across the night table to grab your pendulum and check your LOC once again, just to make sure. You do this every day before getting out of bed, taking a pee, and brushing your teeth. You never know, your enlightenment of awakening or rebirth or major shift or whatever term you might want to use, may have disappeared overnight.
It’s only a dream after all, and in a dream anything can happen, usually for no reason at all. Or perhaps the guy or robot at the keyboard of the computer running the simulation has decided to f**k with your character and plunge you back into the murky waters of ignorance once again to see how you will manage to extract yourself this time and see how long it will take or maybe he, she or it will just forget about you and let you stay submerged in the virtual ocean of virtual suffering, just for the hell of it, or for no reason at all. Whose rules are we playing by, after all?
But even before you can open the blue velvet pouch and pull out your pendulum, it suddenly dawns on you that you have no desire to find out if you’re awakened or not, because you realize finally that it doesn’t make a difference any longer.
You are happy and content with things just the way they are, no matter how they are, whether it’s all a dream or a simulation, or if anything is really happening or not.
What was it that God said to Moses in the Book of Genesis, “I am that I am.”?
Yeah, that works for me.
Many thanks to my friend Garyji for this post, which has been only lightly edited for spelling. (and swearing) May he live long, spreading his musings far and wide, and win his next Scrabble game.
Scrabble image from here.
Photo of Garyji from himself.