A field guide for enlightenment
by James Eke
from Warrior’s Way Podcast episode #127
Why should I even care about enlightenment? Is it even a thing? What difference does it actually make?
These are probably three of the most important questions that you could ask yourself.
They are also three questions that most people probably couldn’t care less about in a world where Facebook is where we find our news and our drive for material possessions and a view that taking as much as we can is somehow the key to a happy life regardless of who you need to step on or what it does to the planet we depend on.
Despite what some would tell you, there are quite a number of enlightened people on this planet right now. Some you have probably heard of, others you probably haven’t and never will – the simple truth being that few people who have any real enlightenment experience are going to be shooting YouTube videos or trending on TikTok blowing their own horn about how awesome they are.
The Dalai Lama himself doesn’t go out of his way telling people he is some enlightened being but just a simple monk.
Enlightenment is, even in some serious circles a thing of debate. I’ve even been told in the past by different Buddhist teachers not to worry about enlightenment and even that enlightenment doesn’t exist – at least not in the way we think. Then I’ve also been told by others that what we need to do in our training is devote ourselves to the understanding of what enlightenment is, what it means and do the serious work and effort to try to get there in this lifetime.
I’ll be honest with you, I used to think that a lot of what we think of enlightenment is just understanding life. Life is suffering. Check. Got it. Suffering is caused by desire and attachment. Roger. I think I get that too. Desire and attachment can be overcome. Yup, understood. The way to overcome them is something called the Eightfold path of right seeing, thought, speech, action, work, effort, mindfulness and concentration. Long shopping lists make it tough to carry the groceries but you have to do what you have to do.
You see, I may have been a Zen dude for 40 years or so but what I’m starting to see is just how important not just amassing information is but taking this knowledge, understanding it in a transcendent kind of way and not just going about your day but truly applying it.
What I’ve found recently, over the past few years, is that I have started to see things differently as I have deepened my own practice thanks to this feeling it in your bones kind of level of application.
Getting there is like realizing you have been bumping around in a dark room and then suddenly, you know, after a few decades of bumping around you realize you were in the dark all this time and that just over there is what looks like a door with light coming out from around it. Once you start opening that door everything is different.
The problem with most of us is we get mired in not just the mud of life so that all we can do is sit there, spinning the wheels thinking that if we just keep our foot on the gas we will get somewhere, but for those of us who are serious and sincere about training, we can also get caught up in our minds, compiling information, thinking and thinking and thinking and thinking until we not only get drunk on our own thoughts but deluded by them mistaking book smarts for actual ground floor truth.
You might be thinking that all of this is well and good but if enlightenment is possible, where are all the enlightened beings. Here is the thing, we are all enlightenment machines. It is not just a birthright, it is our most fundamental state, we’ve all just kind of chosen to get caught up in the BS of the world we perceive through our narrow perceptions and caught up in the BS that we fill our thoughts with through our clinging belief that is mainly just ego that doesn’t want to let go or even admit that it is just a false face.
I believe that enlightenment in this lifetime is not just possible but working towards it is the most important thing you can do. I also believe that it doesn’t matter one iota. It doesn’t matter what you think and it doesn’t matter what I think.
My rationale for this is that most of us think – that is the key word by the way – think, that we are perceiving and experiencing the universe but what if that is the first mistake and what we all are is actually something more like the universe perceiving and experiencing us?
What if all we need to do is stop spinning our wheels in the mud?
What if all we need to do is stop grasping for things?
What if all we really need to do is separate ourselves even just a little from an ego-driven experience of life?
I’m not some enlightened sage. I’m a flawed human just doing my best to not just live this life but to train and understand and apply what I am learning. Not easy. Not easy at all but that too is clinging and in moments when I let go of my ego’s hold I realize that cultivation of an entity that is a universal entity is, for a few minutes easy, simple and kind of like coming home.
Of course, when Bob introduces himself at the weekly meeting and you smile back and say ‘nice to meet you Bob, I’m the whole universe,’ he is going to look at you like you are about 11 eggs short of a dozen.
What we need to do in our training is keep some sort of enlightenment as our goal, something we really want to taste but at the same time not hold onto it too tightly. This is the same as what we need to do to understand this game-changing view of us being the universe experiencing you – we need to take this and understand what it means in our daily lives.
You are only going to get there through the practice, cultivation and understanding of stillness.
So, here is my advice. Get started. Right now. Slow it down. Start to see the truth of who you are.
Enlightenment is possible – we have some pretty good examples of it – now the work of getting there is a choice you have to make and if you don’t, well that will be just fine too. There is plenty of time.
Listen to this full podcast episode at Warrior’s Way Podcast