A recent news story told how some big-name gurus have financially and sexually abused their students. It’s my guess that their disciples trusted them too much because they claimed to be “enlightened.”
They speak of enlightenment as if is a one-time experience. That does not fit my understanding of man’s basic nature. Neither does it resonate with my own personal experience. The experiences along my pathway convince me that enlightenment is a lifetime thing.
When Neil Armstrong stepped out of his spacecraft onto the moon he said it was a “giant step for mankind.” I do understand there can be giant steps along the road to enlightenment. But we saw after man stepped on the moon he had to walk around, survey the territory, and collect moon rocks for research into the origin and nature of the moon. The study of that “giant leap” continues to this day.
Surely enlightenment refers to the number and quality of life management skills we have picked up from the insights we have gained. When we make a giant step, we must then take some time to assimilate it and decide how to use it. Enlightenment is not just some kind of dramatic, one-shot emotional experience. A guru who thinks of enlightenment that way is an unenlightened guru.
I remember one of my giant steps. I saw a powerful truth while reading a book when I was a teacher working in my unpaid summer as a weekend guard at a bank building. I was so poor a wolf at my door would have had to bring a picnic lunch. This new insight made me feel like I was walking on air when I got off from work that morning. But it was weeks before I started demonstrating it in my life. In a few months it had doubled my salary.
One powerful insight did that for me and yet it was years before I learned how to use it in an everyday way. I am still using it and finding new ways to apply it.
There’s a wonderful Zen saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” What I glean from that axiom is that anything we learn is to help us with our day-to-day living and not to carry us off into some surreal adventure that takes our feet off the ground.
True, there are often strong emotional components to a new insight but the immediate objective is to see what it can do. Try applying it to the most difficult situations. If it does not roll up its sleeves and go to work for you, it is not much of a truth.
My master teacher said it well: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” The inference is that any truth you learn will set you free from things that tend to hold you back from a quality life and the realization of life goals. Like most people, I have had some emotional highs that carried me into greater awareness and opened my mind to the infinite possibilities of life. These highs did me less good than simply applying practical insights to my everyday affairs.
The prefix “en” in “enlightenment” means, “to put on, surround with, or cause to be.” Daily we can put some great truth on our minds, surround our awareness with it, and cause more light to brighten our way.
Enlightenment is not a destination but a journey in which we constantly receive more illumination from fireflies, roman candles, lightning flashes and tiny slivers of light coming through pin-size openings in our subconscious.
Whatever the light may be, it is only useful as it turns insights into life-enhancing actions. Our goal is not to say we are enlightened but simply to savor and apply what we learn along the way.
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