By Suma Varughese July 2005 What is enlightenment? What do we get from it? How does the quest begin and what are its primary processes? When and how do we get to our goal? Read on for answers to these and other questions about the highest adventure known to humankind. ‘I will obtain the Ultimate Truth and Ultimate Reality. That is the ultimate aim of my life in this world – whether my body may remain with me or go to pieces. My bones and flesh may go into complete annihilation or remain with me… I shall obtain the True Form of the Universe… Calamity may come or go, mountains may break upon my head, but I will not leave my promise to obtain nirvanam.’- attributed to the Buddha and quoted in the book, Fundamentals of Yoga by Rammurti S. Mishra Having uttered his mighty oath, Siddhartha Gautama sat under the Bodhi tree one full moon night, unshakably determined to stay put until Nirvana was won. Through the long, unforgettable night, his mind went deeper and deeper into the very heart of his constructed self, unshackling, pulling down, and devastating, penetrating through every false thought and illusion. Finally at daybreak, he arose as the Buddha (the awakened). As the realized Buddha consolidated his teaching, he summed it in the one sentence that embodies the great promise and reward of enlightenment: the end of suffering. That’s it. Simply the end of suffering. No more pain. No more anguish, no more anger, no more hurt, no more regret, no more jealousy, no more hate, no more aversion, no more fear, no more resistance, no more reaction. And since they cannot disappear without their opposites doing so, no more short-lived pleasure, no more excitement, no more craving, no more self-centered love, no hopes, no expectations, no desires. No more mind stuff. In its place – a vast unconditional acceptance of reality. As is, where is. In this zone, stillness and peace reside. Past and future cannot enter. Time and space coalesce into the ever-present here and now. Freedom unfurls its flag. Freedom from bondage to anyone or anything. Freedom from conditioning. Freedom from the self. Freedom from the cycle of birth and death. Liberation, self-realistion, moksha, nirvana, satori, call it what you will. The enterprise for which the individual made the millennia-long evolution from mineral to man is achieved. She has fulfilled the promise of the human state. For her, there are no more mountains to be climbed or oceans to be crossed. She has graduated from the school of Planet Earth summa cum laude. No doubt, further evolution awaits her in more rarefied schools, but unless, like a bodhisattva, she reins in her liberation in order to help erring mankind to cross the other shore, she will not return to us. But she leaves behind a trail. And the essence of her presence. In the lives of all those she has touched. In the soil, the air and the wind. Her heroic attainment shines like a guiding light even when she is no more, helping all of us who follow in her wake. No words can do justice to the loftiness of the enterprise. It is quite simply the highest human adventure. No invention, no human feat, can touch it. It calls for more determination, courage, strength, endurance, will, and discipline than any other venture. In addition it calls for selflessness, humility, surrender, acceptance, and love. Intelligence alone is not enough. Goodness is mandatory. This is one area where clout, power, money, connections, and other worldly possessions are powerless. Here, each of us strides nakedly into the arena, with only what is inside us as armor. On this quest the laborer may succeed where his master falls by the wayside. The frail in body might score over the rugged athlete. The simpleton over the genius. Here, the parameters for success are inversions of those that help us succeed in the material world and they recall the mysterious beatitudes of Jesus Christ. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.’ (Bible, Mathew V, 3,5) InitiationSo how does it happen that a perfectly ordinary mortal whose concerns were as mundane as wanting to watch Baywatch or the latest Shahrukh Khan film, should get infected with the divine madness and consider it possible to become a victor, an immortal? It is grace that does the anointing. When the time is ripe, the call beckons. Count Leo Tolstoy, Russian mystic and one of the greatest novelists the world has seen, was drawn into spirituality when he suddenly found himself questioning the meaning of his life. ‘What will be the outcome of all my life? Why should I live? Why should I do anything? Is there in life any purpose which the inevitable death which awaits me does not undo and destroy?’ Tormented beyond endurance, he yearned to kill himself. Others are drawn towards the path of enlightenment as a natural progression of their own hitherto unconscious growth. Often, a meditation course, a book or an article can be the harbinger of change. Says graphic artist Nidhi Kapoor (name changed), ‘Around five years ago, I went through a phase of tremendous restlessness. Shortly thereafter, I was taking my daughter to the doctor, when I turned around and went to a doctor closer home. I met a woman there and we became friends. Later, I saw a book in her house with the picture of a guru and the course he conducted. I immediately knew I wanted to meet this guru. Something within compelled me to get his number and soon I became part of his meditation group. I was ready and my guru appeared.’ For myself, the rupture of a relationship was the portal that gave me the temporary experience of being able to transcend my ego volitionally by uttering the following line, ‘It’s the other person’s happiness that matters and not mine.’ When decoded, it meant that I was acknowledging the other’s explicit right to be themselves and taking on the responsibility of adapting to them. I no longer expected the other to change. I was willing to change. In doing so, I grew in strength, endurance, self-control and depth. What’s more, unconditional acceptance of others freed me of bondage, and I learnt to live in absolute harmony with others and life. I had, it seemed, penetrated an absolute state of happiness that was foolproof, that was certain! For it depended on nothing but my own willingness to align with life. It asked nothing of life. However, my ability to willfully shift into the egoless stage became more and more labored as time wore on and by the end of one year I decided that I had to find a way to make this happen naturally. Thus began my own journey into the unknown. The Journey BeginsSo, what is the nature of the quest the seeker embarks upon? It is a strange paradoxical circular movement. Indeed, the Vedantists and the Taoists would not call it a journey at all for there’s nowhere to go since we are that already. Writes Nitin Trasi in his book, The Science of Enlightenment, ‘Enlightenment…is the actual perception or realization that one is not a separate entity. Therefore, the very pursuit of this as a goal to be ‘attained’ by ‘me’ will be counterproductive, because the very effort will reinforce the conviction in the existence of ‘me’ as a separate entity.’ If Trasi’s perceptive words stop the seeker in his tracks, be aware that it is not effort he is targeting but the attitude towards it. Meditation, chanting, yoga, self-inquiry – all these are valid, as long as we are clear that our efforts are not directed towards doing, but towards undoing. The essential task is of elimination and not aggrandisement. We do not have to merge into oneness; simply lose our sense of separateness. We do not attain enlightenment, we simply dissolve all that stops it from shining out. We empty ourselves, bit by bit, of our personality, identity, needs, memories, hopes and fears. The self, as we know it, must vaporise. As Chogyam Trungpa, founder of the Naropa Institute and author of several books on Buddhism, says, ‘The attainment of enlightenment from ego’s point of view is extreme death…’ As the classic texts put it, the prevailing chant is of neti, neti, not this, not this. The quest, in the most essential way, happens to us. We control nothing, not the initiation, nor the milestones on the way, nor the duration of the journey. We must simply submit and allow what must to unfold. Self-will is the first quality we must drop if we are to survive the yatra. Even as we plunge into these new states of being, and let go of all learned wisdom, we must be content with not knowing, with trusting. Says Eckhart Tolle, ‘As far as inner transformation is concerned, there is nothing you can do about it. You cannot transform yourself and you certainly cannot your partner or anybody else. All you can do is create a space for transformation to happen, for grace and love to enter.’ Dr Jyothi Nagesan, professor of languages at the Vellore Institute of Technology, recalls her own initiation rite. ‘I was deeply unhappy. Even the best things of life failed to move me. One night, I had the experience of slipping deeper and deeper into a void, into total chaos. I experienced tremendous fear. A deep death wish possessed me. I could draw sustenance from nothing, neither friends, home, parties, shopping, or holidays. I was in that state for nearly six years, before I commenced to heal. ‘ The Guru’s RoleA wise guide is of indispensable value. In the Indian tradition, the guru plays the part of the mentor and wayshower. Zen, similarly, has its roshis and zen masters. The guru is one who has walked the path and reached the goal. From her lofty perspective of all-knowingness, she can see where the disciple presently is and
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