Friday, April 8, 2011

Wincing at “Enlightenment”

I always feel embarrassed for persons who pontificate about enlightenment without the foggiest notion of what they are speaking. Someday they’re going to know enough to know how foolish they’ve looked, and they will feel like they do when they dream of going to work naked, only this time the alarm clock won’t save them. I wish I didn’t see such things. Witnesses only exacerbate later shame.

I’ve just read another pontification on the net (I know its blogging protocol to link to those one cites or criticizes, but I am omitting this link out of courtesy to the future embarrasee). Apparently the author has had the misfortune to have published his or her pontifications in a book. I’ve not read the book, but what’s out there on the net is certainly no enticement to do so. It reads less like  inspiration and more like the inside of a Hallmark card.

Enlightenment has nothing whatsoever to do with “wholeness” or “oneness”. Wholeness is the polar opposite of fragmented,  and both poles are the product of a confused mind. Enlightenment is neither whole nor fragmented.

Enlightenment is not a “journey”. There’s not even nowhere to go.

Enlightenment has nothing to do with “listening” or “feelings”or “self-expression” or “relationships” or “healing”. Those are more “good” ideas which try to ameliorate or respond to “bad” ideas, but both the “good”  ideas and the “bad” ideas emerge from confusion. “Goodness” is to enlightenment what a chicken sandwich is to a tuba: it’s unrelated, in a funny absurdist sort of way.

Enlightenment isn’t fostered by buying nutritional supplements (here I break my unofficial policy and link to this atrocity, because the persons responsible for the site should feel embarrassed.)

In fact enlightenment has absolutely nothing to do with any idea you can describe, theorize about or believe in. Not even “love” or “truth” (which is separate and distinct from the importance of love and truth, which gets into another topic I may or may not post on in the future). The wisdom writings of the world (the real, time-tested, ones, not the babble of the net) usually avoid directly describing enlightenment (or whatever their tradition calls it) . It may be better to use words to trace enlightenment’s outline, without straying into direct description.

If the reader wishes not to listen to lil’ ol’ anonymous me on why thinking up “good” words to say about enlightenment will lead to embarrassment, maybe the reader  would rather listen to the world’s wisdom literature. There are illustrations throughout the world’s wisdom literature, but my personal favorite on the topic, is the Sutra of Hui Neng.

Hui Neng was a layperson and a lowly kitchen worker in  a Buddhist temple in  Guangzhou when the Fifth Patriarch of the Zen school of Buddhism announced a poetry competition, to see which of his students he would choose as his successor. The lead monk of the temple penned the stanza:

Our body is the Bodhi-tree,
And our mind a mirror bright.
Carefully we wipe them hour by hour,
And let no dust alight.

Hui Neng, the lowly kitchen employee, being illiterate, dictated the following stanza in response:

There is no Bodhi-tree,
Nor stand of a mirror bright.
Since all is void,
Where can the dust alight?

And thus the kitchen help became the Sixth Patriarch.

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