If you’re an avid student of New Age spirituality, you will doubtless have come across the notion that you are “already enlightened”, but you just don’t know it?…
Well, I’m here to give you a wake up call. Sorry, but it isn’t true. The fact of the matter is that despite what your favorite famous New Age guru may tell you, I’m not enlightened and, based on the laws of probability, neither are you.
Now, if I just rained on your parade, or otherwise ruined your day by telling you that, I apologize. However, the truth is always better than some made-up fantasy.
Think about it for a moment…
If it was really this easy, then what have all the Buddhist monks throughout countless millennia been wasting their time doing? Why are they giving up their worldly careers, their homes, their families, and secluding themselves in a life of constant self-examination; studying endless scriptures, meditating for many hours a day? Why would there even BE a Buddha in the first place, if it was just as easy as reading the latest $9 self-help book from the latest reformed drug/alcohol addict psycho-therapeutic self-help spiritual author?
Sorry. Enlightenment just doesn’t just come for the asking. I’m going with the Dalai Lama on this one when he says meditating for 20 minutes a day during tea-breaks won’t cut it, and that achieving Enlightenment is a DIFFICULT thing that takes constant mindful effort. I’m going with Dick Sutphen who says that although he’s met just about everybody in the spiritual self-help movement, he hasn’t met a single person whom he would call enlightened.
So how could people get it so wrong? How could we have been persuaded that Enlightenment is so “easy”? There are several levels to this.
The first is that people always want the quick and easy answer, and they will flock to anyone who will give it to them. This is a well known psychological fact in Copywriting and Marketing. Skilled advertisers exploit it all the time. Use words like “quickly” and “easily” and it will increase sales. Guaranteed.
People in America in particular, and throughout the Western world in general, always want the “magic pill”. They want to be writers, but they really don’t want to do the hard work of actually writing: they want to “have written”. When it comes to Enlightenment, they don’t want the hard work and effort necessary. They want the latest magic pill.
But hey! I’ve got something even better for you. Guess what? You don’t even have to take the pill. You’re “already enlightened”, but you just don’t know it yet!
The second aspect to this confusion is that it IS actually true that the seed of Enlightenment dwells within us all. It just needs constant watering to bring it to full fruition. If this were not so, then Enlightenment would have to be something totally “other” than us: something that invades us one day from the outside and takes over. However, it isn’t. It is within us in dormant form and is our very nature. It is the task of Buddhism and other profound spiritual systems to progressively clear away the debris of ignorance, wrong thinking, and wrong living that keeps it from blooming fully within us.
That is certainly true. However, from a practical standpoint, it is completely useless to know this merely intellectually. The key is to make this come alive, and THAT takes work. It may be the work of a lifetime and, more likely, many lifetimes. Buddhism teaches that many Buddhas made the vow to achieve Enlightenment countless MILLIONS of lifetimes before they actually achieved it!
Hence, to mistake the essence of Enlightenment, which we all possess within ourselves, as being equal to full Enlightenment is a very big mistake indeed. The human body is about 75% water, but just try drinking your mother’s cheek instead of kissing it. Matter is 99.9999% empty space, but just try walking THROUGH your front door instead of opening it first!
It’s the same with Enlightenment. It may be your very essence, but it is useless to merely know this superficially. Facts may be facts. However, an intellectual truth is not the same as the practical realization of that truth. Similarly, the essence of Enlightenment may live deep down within you, obscured by ignorance and delusion. However, just because that is the case, it is still a huge error to then claim that you are “already enlightened”.
So why do many of the leading New Age spiritual teachers maintain this position? Well, there is an amazing superficiality in the West, and this sort of philosophy caters to it. Indeed, it is actually another example of it. People don’t want to have to give up anything. They don’t want to make any sacrifices. They don’t want to hear about hard work. They want to have their cake AND eat it. They want to “have it all”. They want to be “already enlightened”, and just “not know it”. How lovely!
If you tell them it’s easy, you will get rich and successful. If you tell them it’s hard, you won’t. Does that sound cynical? Maybe it is. But just imagine the cynicism of telling people the job is already done, when it has not even begun! It seems that the Buddha really did not have to leave his royal palace and spend years in hardship seeking the truth, as well as countless days and nights under the Bodhi tree in the depths of meditation. He could have just remained in his palace, enjoying himself, and read a $10 self-help book by a johnny-come-lately author. Then he could “have it all”.
We are all so easily deceived in the West, because there is such an enormous spiritual void. People want fast and easy answers; spiritual “fast food”. They want to be told what they already want to hear, and there is no shortage of people prepared to do just that.
By a Darwinian selection process, these people rise to the top of the self-help market because they are giving it what it wants to
hear. The people who are perhaps more realistic about Enlightenment, and what it takes, are rather less popular. Their books go out of print due to lack of demand, or get filed under “Buddhism”, or else you’ll find them tucked away and gathering dust at the back of the shop, at the bottom of a pile of equally unpopular items.
The fact is that if you wish to make progress at anything, spirituality included, you’re going to have to do something highly unpopular…
You’re going to have to WORK at it and keep working at it. You’re going to have to make some hard choices about how you spend your time, and your life. You’re going to have to get SERIOUS. And when I say “you”, I am talking about me too.
But if you think you’re “already enlightened” and there’s nothing more to do, good luck! Enjoy yourself. Chances are though that next time around….
You’ll be reborn as a bed bug!
Copyright Asoka Selvarajah. All Rights Reserved.