The Enlightenment Event
Q: I read about the life-changing enlightenment events that people write about – and I haven’t had one. Does this mean I’m not “done” yet?
A: What is it that you’d like to be “done” with?
Q: Suffering. I don’t want to suffer any more.
A: How do you visualize this non-suffering?
Q: Like not having any problems anymore.
A: Life without death? Health without disease? They contain each other. You can’t hold a one-ended stick. The famous stories we read are not about life without birth, illness, death, or unpleasantness. How can there be life without its ups and downs? Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Ramakrishna, Suzuki Roshi were all struck with cancer. Many teachers and expositors of profound nondual teachings have had family problems, financial problems,health problems, emotional problems.
Q: OK, then what *are* they talking about? Nisargadatta had cancer, but he’s also famous for saying “In my world, nothing goes wrong.” It makes me want the same thing.
A: Good point! Depends upon where you, the interpreter, place the “I”. If you place the “I” at Nisargadatta, then there was a body, with cancer and pain. If Nisargadatta (or any person) is the center of that world, then there is a lot wrong in it.
But if you place the “I” at That which witnesses what occurs, then there is nothing wrong. Nothing happening at all. And nothing missing. It isn’t personal. This “I” is the being of Nisargadatta, you, me, all else. This is where the “I” has always been. It is pure and untouched, and always available.
Q: I want to see this “I”.
A: You can’t see it – it sees you. Awareness sees you. Just like you see your arm, Awareness sees the body/mind you take as yourself. Just like your own seeming passage from waking to deep sleep and back to waking. In deep sleep, there is no evidence that the world or the body is present. That is, the body can’t be said to be there. Yet there’s no sense that “you” are ever missing. Your true “I” does not depend on phenomenal activity to be present. Actually, your true I is not really “present” as in the opposite of “absent.” Rather, it is Presence itself.
Q: But some people seem to know this, and others don’t.
A: There’s no need for this to be known by a person. There is actually no possibility that this can be comprehended or held by a person. Personal grokking is just another coming-and-going experience, like a mood or a runny nose.
Q: I still want to know….
A: If you seek this experience, then do what many others have done — inquire deeply into the supposed makeup of a person. Into the makeup of of life, death, of that which you consider yourself. Of that which would supposedly benefit by “knowing.” Be as intensely motivated to look into these matters as you would be to gasp for air after being held under water. Look everywhere, don’t stop if it gets rough. The search is sweet, but it is not comfortable or reassuring to the assembly labeled as the person. Be unafraid of what might come up.
But be aware that there’s nothing in it for “you.” You won’t have a feeling of pride or accomplishment. And to refer back to our earlier conversation about IT being comprehended by a person – there’s no need, and no possibility that this happen. If it seems like you “got it,” then you haven’t got it.
Q: I must admit that I want to have a story like the ones I read about…
A: Kind of like wanting to be a member of an elite club? If you look closely at your reasons for desiring this, does it have to do with wanting recognition or wanting to be treated in a certain way?
Q: Well, I know it sounds stupid, but yes.
A: This has to do with the marketing and the social construction of these teachings. Have you noticed the contexts where these stories are trotted out? If in a book or website, it is most often in the “advertising” part of the presentation, and not in the actual teaching itself. If there is understanding, why does it matter if it came in one large piece or many small pieces? You can get just as wet in a long mist as you can in a short storm. But storms sell better. Many of them are manufactured for that very reason, just like in movie studios.
Q: But even you have such a story!
A: I know, and it’s in the advertising part of the website, not in any of the serious teachings. It’s another case of social construction. The events in that story took place many years before they gelled as a “set-piece” narrative. The gelling happened only in a social context, which is how “nothing” becomes “something.” When I was doing inquiry, it was on my own. None of my friends at the time were into anything like that. My only companions were books. I wasn’t part of a spiritual social context in which a premium is placed on certain stories, and where there is lots of comparison of people and states.
And then, many years after the events, someone asked me on an internet list what I attended to as a practice. I said “nothing,” and to make linguistic sense in a public context as to “why not,” I related those events. To me they had nothing more to do with “things as is” than anything else did. But I had learned enough in the intervening years about these stories to see what made sense to people. So this is what I spoke. It soon became regarded as a fixed thing, as an “enlightenment event,” and people began to regard me differently. I came to find out that people consume these stories with even more fascination than they consume nondual teachings!
But to desire a story like this for one’s own is the result of a misunderstanding.
Q: What kind of misunderstanding
A: It constructs a subtle personal agenda, which pretty much precludes insight. It’s like trying to become sexually aroused by comparing one’s state with others’ states. It just doesn’t work like that. The same for “being done.” In any of the great descriptions of enlightenment, your freedom is freedom from agendas. It’s not about being a person who has a story to tell. That makes no sense. Rather, it’s that you, as you truly are, are free from the assumptions and limitations of personhood. The person is never free of story. But you, as your true nature, are prior to story. This is freedom.
This freedom is now. It never becomes achieved, because from the get-go it is never unaccomplished. There is no need to “see” this or “know” this or “possess” this. Rather, it possesses you. Even now. No separate experience proves or establishes this. No separate experience can overturn it.
On the other hand, experiences themselves come and go. Any experience, no matter how much it’s immortalized in books and spiritual stories, has no meaning apart from the reference point of a person. It has no more significance than the person has. And of course the person comes and goes as well. Not only in birth and death, but the coming and going is in each moment. Even in everyday terms, there’s no evidence that “your” person is there at all. When you walk, you don’t witness yourself walking, like seeing a DVD. And if you see a movie of “yourself” walking, it’s not “you,” it’s a body on a screen. You never experience yourself doing anything. There’s just walking, and sitting, and eating, and loving, etc., for all of experience.
Even to “know” this or to “realize” this is another experience. Enlightenment never pertains to a person in the first place. Enlightenment is not “in” the now. It is this now-ness, this freedom itself. It can’t be bottled up and put on a shelf, confined to one person rather than another, or transmitted. It’s already across the board. It’s now wherever you point, un-interrupted, without gaps.
It’s not that “everyone is already enlightened.” Rather, people and things are appearances in light.
If you find yourself wanting some experience to confirm this, you are actually changing the subject. It is not this now-ness that you are addressing, but some ordinary human need. Human needs are addressed by human endeavors. Just like eating addresses hunger and community addresses loneliness. The needs that express themselves through a search for an “enlightenment experience” are not well addressed through nondual inquiry. But these needs are very efficiently satisfied if you gain clarity on the needs themselves and pursue the most direct route.
The Social Construction of Enlightenment
Q: I must admit, when I think of being enlightened, I don’t imagine myself at work on the midnight shift at the local 7-11!
A: The “enlightenment” concept is socially constructed. No one imagines being enlightened on a desert island. No one imagines that other people would be totally oblivious, treating you the same old way as before. The way the term works, it functions like currency in social contexts, especially where comparative interpersonal assessments come into play. It is the ultimate “arriving” and being seen as arriving.
The term’s vagueness allows it to be filled-in with whatever the heart desires, and most of the visualizations tend to be social. Of course this is largely due to social precedent. When you think of others to whom the “E” term has been applied, you notice that they well known personages surrounded by others. The social trappings tend to get internalized, buried into the very notion itself. So when we test the concept against ourselves, these social elements are already in the picture.
Even the classic “climbing the mountain” metaphor has its social elements. Enlightenment is cast as the ultimate ascent up Mount Everest. When “done,” you set your flag on top, kick back and rest forever. The sub-zero cold doesn’t bother you, and you no longer need food. But wait! You’re not alone! You enjoy the view with other luminaries, everyone pumped up by the endorphin-rush of the climb. Often, part of the package is imagining being seen by others who haven’t gotten so far up the mountain.
There certainly are teachings that construct an enlightenment package like this. But you can learn a lot by noticing the context. That is, take a close look at just where and when the enlightenment-talk occurs. If you’re reading a book or website, it is most often in the “advertising” portion. But the more deeply you get into the teachings themselves, the less you hear about “enlightenment.” Its socially-constructed nature is taken advantage of to interest you in the rest.
I have a friend who spent five years, six days a week with a famous American teacher. This teacher uses the “Enlightenment” term more often than anyone else on the planet. In public talks and popular books, that is! But in the teacher’s school and communities, “enlightenment” is never heard in the day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year teachings. So one day after about five years, my friend asked the organization’s second-in-command whether anyone had become enlightened while working with this teacher. The second-in-command answered “Enlightened? No. Only the Teacher Himself.”
It’s a sizzle used to sell a steak.
— Dr. Greg Goode —
Greg has been a philosophical counselor since 1996 and has extensive experience with online consultation. After studying Psychology at California State University. Greg studied philosophy at the Universität zu Köln in Cologne, Germany, and received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Rochester. His areas of specialization were decision theory, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of George Berkeley. His doctoral dissertation was on the question, “Is it ever rational to be impatient?”
Consultation, Healing, and Nondual Inquiry
As a philosophical counselor, Greg is nationally certified by the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, trained by Prof. Lou Marinoff, author of the well-known Plato Not Prozac!; and by California State University, Fullerton’s J. Michael Russell — a true pioneer in the philosophical consultation movement.
Nondual inquiry includes the powerful teachings of Western Philosophy, Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism. Greg studied Philosophy with Lewis White Beck, William T. Bluhm, Richard Feldman, Henry Kyburg, Richard Taylor, Colin M. Turbayne and Paul Weirich at the University of Rochester. He studied Advaita Vedanta through the Chinmaya Mission, the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, and Francis Lucille. He studied the Mahayana teachings of Pure Land Buddhism through Jodo-Shinshu, and studied Chinese Middle-Way Buddhism through the lineage of Master Wen Zhu and the pre-eminent scholar of Chinese Buddhism, Master Yin-Shun of Taiwan, P.R.C., author of The Way to Buddhahood.
Greg has also been influenced by the teachings of many teachers he has never met, both Western and Eastern, ancient and modern. The Western teachers include Protagoras, Heraclitus, Gorgias, Sextus Empiricus, George Berkeley, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, G.W.F. Hegel, Ludwig Wittgenstein, W.V.O. Quine, Nelson Goodman, Brand Blanshard, Jacques Derrida, Wilfrid Sellars, Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, Richard Lanham and Richard Rorty. Eastern teachers include Shankara, Gaudapada, Nagarjuna, Chandrakirti, Tsong-Khapa, Honen Shonin, Shinran Shonin, Sri Atmananda, Shunryu Suzuki, Thich-Thien-Tam and Chin-Kung.
Greg serves as Technical Consultant for Philosophical Practice, the Journal of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association. He has written Standing as Awareness, published by Nonduality Press, and many popular articles on spiritual, therapeutic and philosophical topics, including
“Another Kind of Self-Inquiry,”
“Free Will and Freedom,”
“Is Spiritual Practice Necessary?,”
“Nondualism, Yogas and Personality Characteristics.”
Greg is well-known innovator for having combined the ancient “direct-path” method of self-inquiry with modern electronic media. He has been a member of the International Society for Mental Health Online, which studies the techniques and effectiveness of online consultation. He create the Nondual Phil forum and since the mid-1990’s he has been a moderator and active contributor on philosophical and spiritual Internet lists, including the Nonduality Salon, Advaitin, Advaita-L, Dharma-Direct, DirectApproach, EndOfTheRopeRanch, AdvaitaToZen, HarshaSatsangh, and TheRoomOfThis.