March 3, 2014

Making It Up As We Go Along.


At a certain point, it became clear to me that we’re all just making it up as we go along.

When I was a kid I thought that by the time I was a teenager, I thought I would have everything figured out.

When I was 20, I thought I would have everything figured out by the time I was 30.

Now I’m 34. I think that there’s a good chance that there are no “real” adults as I once believed. Everyone is just figuring life out as they go along and pretending that they know how to do everything. It’s a fake it until you make it situation. Like pretending to have confidence until real confidence arises.

And this applies to our meditation practice too. Is there a such thing as a good meditator? I’m not sure.

I’ve been meditating for about a decade.

I teach meditation to kids and I write about Buddhist practice. But most of the time I still think of myself as a beginner.

One day the mother of one of my daughter’s friends said to me, “You must be much farther along the path than I am.”

And I was taken aback. I’m not sure there is a such thing as ‘farther on the path’. We’re all just doing the best we can. I have days when I feel serene and clear and enlightened. I also have days when I don’t feel enlightened at all. The normal weaknesses of human existence are definitely still present within me.

I don’t think I’m Enlightened. But then, what is Enlightenment?

I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of Buddhists. I’ve met many individuals who have been meditating a long time. I’ve met clergy and I’ve met people who have had their Enlightenment certified. With only one or two exceptions, they are always humble. They say Enlightenment is really nothing special. As the Heart Sutra says, “No attainment with nothing to attain.”

This begs the question: can an experienced meditator really offer any help or advice to a new meditator. Maybe not. What we’re talking about is quieting our minds and entering luminous awareness. Sometimes the sutras even say that it can’t be taught. I can tell you that you should become aware of the present moment, but it’s not really helpful unless you decide to actually try.

That said, there are maps. There are maps that are supposed to show us the different stages of insight or stages on the path to enlightenment. These exist, some Buddhist traditions have them and some don’t. The Ch’an tradition that I’m a member of has a pretty clear map to Enlightenment. I think there is a place for these and they can be very helpful, but they can also be harmful.

If we look at stages of Enlightenment as a guideline, so that when something changes in us we have a better understanding of what’s going on and what comes next, that’s when a map is useful.

The problem is that sometimes we have a tendency to think of it in a different way. To use nerd terminology, sometimes we might think of our Buddhist practice as accumulating experience points and achieving a new stage of insight as leveling up. This isn’t helpful. The maps are a guideline.

This is an important thing to remember: enlightenment is not something we get—it’s something we have.

And, we have it already.

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: elephant archives


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