Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What Is Enlightenment?

Cross-posted yesterday at The Interdependence Project.

Recently I was having lunch with an 86-year-old Buddhist nun, and we were talking about enlightenment. (If that sounds like the opening of a stand-up comedy routine, it's not. I live in a monastery, and this is an everyday occurrence.)

"You see, the problem," she said, "is that we don't really know what enlightenment is."

"Yeah, I know what you mean," I replied. "It seems like everyone is always flapping their gums about enlightenment this, enlightenment that, but what is it? Nobody seems to know."

"Or everybody thinks they know but they all have a different idea."

"And often we make it into this big, mystical production, like a number from a Bollywood musical. You know, like when you attain enlightenment the earth trembles and the animals all bow down and the choirs of heavenly beings sing your praises and do line dancing. All that hyperbolic stuff in the books."

We both laughed. "Maybe enlightenment," she said, "is actually something very simple."

"And we're looking for something complicated. I can't remember the name of that Tibetan teacher who said, about the nature of mind, 'Because it is so close, no one sees it. Because it is so simple, no one trusts it.' Maybe enlightenment is like that."

"Yes. If we're looking for an enlightenment that's far away, some big thing in the future, we're never going to find it," she said, placing her palm against the tip of her nose, "because it's always right here."

"Ponlop Rinpoche has talked about that too. I remember once at a talk he gave, he was remarking about how we always like to be perceived as sophisticated people. If someone calls us sophisticated, we take that as a wonderful compliment -- but if they call us simple, well, that's a huge insult. I guess that's sort of how we build up our expectations about enlightenment, too."

We both nodded, and went back to chewing our lettuce.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just read this and your post Don't Meditate. I agree with both, in that both states are nothing more than another state. Enlightenment is not a thing or condition, and meditation when lived is nothing more than life. Seems to me to be basic Buddhist concepts that are often overlooked. Just a thought. Enjoy your blog very much and will return. ~ Dave