Sunday, March 30, 2008

Oh, Woah We're Halfway There!

Whenever I've had the opportunity and/or annoyance of hearing folks talk about various meditation techniques and give big answer to big questions from their followers hungry for big answers to big questions, one common theme I’ve noticed is that whatever style of Enlightenment they’re talking about, or whatever euphemism they’re using for the e-word, the thing they’re guiding folks to is always…




The implication is, of course, that the speaker has got it and can lead their followers to it, or at least that the speaker knows someone – or knows of someone — who’s got it and is thus empowered to help guide fellow seekers along the path. Maybe the speaker’s “almost there” is just a little closer to there, wherever “there” happens to be.

Enlightenment is always just over the next hill, available if only you’d just do this one more thing, and do it sincerely, cuz if you don’t do it sincerely it won’t work, but if you have trouble doing it sincerely send me your credit card number and I’ll help you out. That’s the nature of Enlightenment, that it’s just around the next bend. Or maybe the one after that. Or maybe after those three and a bunch of hills. But it’s always off in the distance. Not here.

And it will always be off in the distance because there’s nowhere else it can be. The very definition of Enlightenment might as well be “off in the distance.”

It’s the proverbial carrot on a stick held out before a donkey. But at least the donkey gets to eat that carrot when he gets to wherever the driver wants him to go. Nobody ever gets Enlightenment. It’s like that movie Logan’s Run where everybody’s waiting to renew and all they end up is getting blown up.

You won’t get the closure they’re selling you because there is no closure. But that doesn’t mean things can’t improve. They can. The Enlightenment salesmen get all bent out of shape whenever anybody points out that they’re selling you pipe dreams that can never come true. Some of them think that nobody will try to do a practice unless they believe there’s some reward at the end of it. But I don’t know if people are all really that stupid.

Instead of hoping for some reward way off in the distance it may be better to look at what’s right here very carefully and closely. Then you can do the real work necessary to make this right here better. Make enough small improvements and -- voila! Enlightenment. It's sudden and instant the same way as the Pyramid of Chaeops was suddenly instantly completed the moment they put that last brick on top.


Jinzang said...

Mahamudra is explained as ground, path, and fruition. Ground mahamudra is the enlightenment we've always had and can never be separated from. However, this enlightenment is obscured and we do not see it for what it is. Hence there is the path, which is the practice of meditation in order to see our obscurations for what they are: mere false imaginings. Through the path we gradually remove our obscurations until they all are removed and we reach fruition mahamudra, which is the full revelation of our inherent enlightened nature.

There are two opposite errors one can fall into. The first is thinking that because enlightenment is already ours, that there's no need to do anything. Just give up the struggle to try to attain anything and that itself is enlightenment. This idea seems to be popular with some Neo-Advaitin teachers. The error here is that our obscurations are not seen through merely by wishing them away.

The second error is thinking that enlightenment is something we can produce, something to be found, caught, or grasped if only we are clever or diligent enough. The error here is that we are looking for enlightenment everywhere but where it is. It's like looking for the glasses that are sitting on top of our heads.

The best way to proceed is simply to look at the mind without rejecting anything or trying to improve anything. Our obscurations are right there and so is our wisdom. By repeatedly looking we'll see how things are and always have been.

Anonymous said...

Songs about somewhere else...

about people who are not like me...

where is the Big E?

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
buddha-builder said...

Hi Brad,
Love this post because the carrot-on-a-stick, sign-up-to-adore-my-charisma pathway is pretty annoying to me too. I think you've nailed the big-e sickness pretty well! (I'm new to your blog by the way and it's been a great discovery, thank you)

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Logan's Run is a sweet movie.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Brad,
I needed a good pep talk after a shitty week.
Jinzang and Mysterion made some good points too.

Matt said...

this is my "E-face"

Anonymous said...

Jinzang, as in many instances, your own comments and insight seem to be even clearer than Brad's. Excellent description / clarification. Maybe you should write a book.


I think Master Dogen said it the best - "Thinking that practice and enlightenment are not one is no more than a view that is outside the Way. In Buddhism, practice and enlightenment are one and the same. Because it is the practice of enlightenment, a beginner's wholehearted practice of the Way is exactly the totality of original enlightenment. For this reason, in conveying the essential attitude for practice, it is taught not to wait for enlightenment outside practice."

Anonymous said...

It's always funny when the commentary is longer than the actual passage.

Keep on keepin' on

Moon Face Buddha said...

Good post :)

yudo said...

Mysterion wrote
"The belt of Orion was called 'Buaile an Bhodaigh'"
without specifying that this is Irish...


proulx michel said...

"Some of them think that nobody will try to do a practice unless they believe there’s some reward at the end of it. But I don’t know if people are all really that stupid."

I was reading in an old issue of "The Strad" about Alfie Kohn's "Punished by Rewards". It seems he states in that book that rewards are just the same as punishments, two sides of a same coin. They are not a solution in teaching, but a problem in itself. The question "how should we motivate our students" turns out to be the wrong question entirely, because they are ways of ensuring control. The only thing that really works is interaction with the student and helping him/her to find his/her own answers. Tough, though. All the way through (before we thought of falling into a trough)...


cometboy said...

Throwing this into the Zen ring of fire.

For your daily dose of enlightenment porn, search for this video using the following keywords in google : ted + a stroke of insight.

I found it fascinating. A scientist who has a brain hemorrhage and sees the fundamental unity of all beings.

And to think that I’ve been worried that sitting zazen is a way of accumulating slow brain damage.

Hee Hee!

By the way, all the TED videos that I have seen are very worth the time. Lot of very smart people talking about what they know best.

Anonymous said...

Thanks much for always keeping it simple.


Blake said...

Great post.

Michael Joyce said...

I agree, Brad. It took the ol' Sid [Sidhartha] 6 years of intense meditation and inward/outward searching for him to reach enlightenment. Needless to say, most zen practitioners are well away from attainment, but of course that doesn't keep them from trying. I think quite many of these guides are well-meaning as well as well-serving...because if you're looking to be rich, the wise path wouldn't be a zen teacher (i know b/c I'm a Taiji/Qigong teacher). We all need a paycheck, but at the same time...we "guide" people with the best intentions vying on what has worked for us... and what has worked for others. It's the best we can do, right?

John said...

Oh, Woah Living On A Prayer!

Anonymous said...

i thought the whole point was not to try. to be content in the moment. to be aware.

doesn't seeking enlightenment come from a desire for enlightenment? doesn't desire lead to suffering?


Anonymous said...

"Just give up the struggle to try to attain anything and that itself is enlightenment." (Neo-Advaita pov)

If you REALLY find out how to do that, it would be enough. It's just incredibly hard to achieve it.

Anonymous said...


Ajahn Chah talks about the idea that the desire for something is necessary to get you started and to get your practice established but that at the same time it will sooner or later get in the way.

He repeatedly stated that the key to practice was to keep practicing steadily day in, day out regardless of whether or not you feel like it.

To go with the pyramid analogy - to keep steadily lugging stones until you are done.

The key thing was to keep at it - patiently, diligently without seeking anything, without working towards anything.

There are no shortcuts - merely lots of interesting and not-so-interesting detours.

The capstone on a pyramid cannot be put on until the other stones are in place. [analogy now broken]

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
roosta said...

Excellent post Brad.

Short, succinct, and drives its point home nicely at the end. Reminds me of Alan Watts.

Delo said...


LiAlSi2O6 said...

I have been dealing with this very issue recently. I keep thinking ,i just need to meditate a little better, a little more, a little more! Then everything will be alright and i can get on with living my life. But, i think to "live my life"... i need to live my life and not worry about it! anyway thanks Brad, love the blog, you'er a pretty cool dude.

Tim said...

Awwwwwwww Fuck!
I mean nothing by it
and by it nothing.
I just had to say it.

Anonymous said...

> matt said...
> this is my "E-face"

Show me your original "O-face"
before your parents were born,
and I will wear more "flair" on my rakusu!

Anonymous said...

I often wonder if there are those walking among us blissfully unaware but "AWARE". Those who have lived their lives moment to moment since childhood and couldn't care less about zen, Buddhism, enlightenment, etc.

Anonymous said...

Brad Warner-Roshi,
You really do, you really really do
put things very well

so----when's that new book coming out?

and in the meantime, keep sayin' what needs sayin', sayin' what you havta say!

And even though it has been said before

No one, NO ONE says it like you do

Your writing brings me to my senses--like suddenly coming across something unexpectedly REAL-- like a spider in the coffee cup from the shelf

What you do to the 'e' word!!!
Alls I can say is
Do it some more!

Moon Face Buddha said...

"I often wonder if there are those walking among us blissfully unaware but "AWARE"."

Quick answer - Yes.

Anonymous said...

The Big Mind process is an astonishingly original, profound and effective path for waking up, or seeing one’s True Nature. It is such a simple and universal practice it can be used in any spiritual path you wish, or even by itself, as a practice for realizing your True Self.”

—Ken Wilber, author of Integral Spirituality

Anonymous said...

cometboy said...
Throwing this into the Zen ring of fire.

For your daily dose of enlightenment porn, search for this video using the following keywords in google : ted + a stroke of insight.

Wow, man...
having a stroke is just like
dropping three hits of acid!
(Except without the brain surgery ;)

Fascinating TED talk indeed!

Let's go to "La-La Land"!
"This very place is the Lotus Land"!

So why are psychedelics illegal? Because...

"Our government's control of drugs
is really intended to control our
citizens' mental states."

Uh oh, duck! Brad's about to start
pontificating about drugs (out of
ignorance and lack of sufficient experience ;)

Anonymous said...

What about of making a wikipedia-entry out of your post?

Rich said...

Enlightenment is ON SALE at Home Depot

The Buddha Princess at Home Depot made me the key to enlightenment.

I open the door of enlightenment for others and they give me enlightenment.

What a great deal.

Anonymous said...

Three Days More

Suiwo, the disciple of Hakuin, was a good teacher. During one summer seclusion period, a pupil came to him from a southern island of Japan.

Suiwo gave him the problem: "Hear the sound of one hand."

The pupil remained three years but could not pass the test. One night he came in tears to Suiwo. "I must return south in shame and embarrassment," he said, "for I cannot solve my problem."

"Wait one week more and meditate constantly," advised Suiwo. Still no enlightenment came to the pupil. "Try for another week," said Suiwo. The pupil obeyed, but in vain.

"Still another week." Yet this was of no avail. In despair the student begged to be released, but Suiwo requested another meditation of five days. They were without result. Then he said: "Meditate for three days longer, then if you fail to attain enlightenment, you had better kill yourself."

On the second day the pupil was enlightened.

Mysterion said...
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Mettai Cherry said...

Very interesting thoughts on "the enlightenment salesmen," Brad,

I think this is the very reason that I settled into Soto Zen much better than the other traditions in which I had practiced. No one at my current Zen Center has ever suggested to me that was, quite frankly, anywhere on the path to "enlightenment".

I think the "halfway there" statement is possibly used by teachers when their students become discouraged after what they consider to be making progress, followed by not making progress. What my teacher tends to say when I am feeling this sort of discouragement is that as we practice we tend to "fall up" to plateaus (or "chodos"), and not to give up just because "something wonderful" happened three weeks ago, but nothing more since.

The other thing about it is that "Enlightenment" or "Awakening" or whatever other word you choose is needs to be viewed as a VERB not a NOUN. It is an activity which is continually engaged. It is also an activity in which having "good" days and "bad" days is simply part of the whole picture.

I once had a friend ask how long it would take before he started seeing the effects of Zazen. I answered simply "how long do you have?". He was not amused - but then again I have nothing to sell.

Moon Face Buddha said...

If someone was not 'selling zen' then would it have no value?

40 said...


Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rich said...

Mysterion said "I noticed that also, in isle 13. If it persian (too in tents) go for THESE"

I wish I had known about those shades earlier. I like those better than the mini blinds I bought last week. Home depot is also a great place to do walking zazen with product awareness.

Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

To me one of the radical things about Buddha's teaching was that at the end of his life, he assured his disciples that he had already taught all that they needed to know, that he had witheld nothing.

That was the most compassionate thing he could have done--to assure them that they didnt have to fret that he had left anything out, that he had not with-held any secret esoteric teachings or something, or that they would have to wait for some one to invent some gadget in the future to rescue them from ignorance (such as the enneagram or Big Mind or texts allegedly found on some cave wall in Tibet)

That was the kindest and harshest thing Buddha could have done--'I gave you guys all that you need and every will need in order to practice. That means the ball is in your court. You cant blame me for having left anything out of the recipe. Now..light yourselves up!'

"Enlightenment is always just over the next hill, available if only you’d just do this one more thing".

That's a good definition of cock-teasing. Its guaranteed to induce and maintain craving and never ever to relieve it.

Journalist John Horgan has termed it The Enlightement Industry. It bears many similarities to the entertainment industry.

Its built on illusion and craving, has its own celebrity circuit, its A list, B list, media, magazines, hustlers and wanna bes.

Rich said...

When Buddha 'mind connected' with Mahakashyapa they called it transmission because they were both fully awakened beings. This interconnection happens between ordinary people but we don't always notice it because we are lost in habit energy or dreams. When we pay attention, wake up and enlighten (light up) ourselves in the present, connecting makes life ...........(end or fill in)

46 said...


Anonymous said...

I do think the path is ongoing and each moment and experience is built on top of previous ones. So in that way, 'sudden' or 'instant' doesn't sound logical. However, I do think there are sudden bursts of experience and understanding that could reasonably match a description of 'sudden enlightenment.' Suddenly you just 'get it.' You grok it and it all seems so obvious. Maybe you have not experienced this and maybe many of those who claim they have experienced it in actuality have not, but that doesn't mean the phenomenon itself does not exist.

John Navin said...

Enlightenment is a happening. The statement 'He/she has become enlightened' is inherently contradictory. Enlightenment is the realization that the entity that was attempting to attain enlightenment does not exist. So when enlightenment happens, there is the realization that there is nobody to be enlightened. Also, through my own experience, it is clear that this realization is sudden and instantaneous. Like in a famous parable explaining the gradual and sudden aspects of realization, water when heated, gets hot gradually. But at the boiling point, it vaporises instantaneously. So, although the preparation may be gradual, the happening itself is sudden, a quantum jump...

Peace. Om Shanti.

Anand said...
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Anand said...

Jump in a lake and let the water freeze you to death.

This is the way to enlightenment


The above space is enlightenment

Enlightenment is a joke.

Laughing with that is enlightenment.


Good post. Enlightenment is not there. It is here. It is nothing. It is not an it.

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