Awakening. Enlightenment. Spiritual wholeness. I see those three terms as similar, maybe interchangeable. The first two are used in Buddhism and some other Eastern religions. The third is my own non-sectarian approximation. In my practice, I see none of those terms as the same as Nirvana.
I am awake, enlightened and whole when I:
- live, enjoyably, in the present moment, appreciating what’s here and now (the address and zip code of the Kingdom of God, according to Thich Nhat Hanh);
- know that I am not separate from the rest of the world, just as the wave is not separate from the ocean;
- understand that I and all those other waves/beings are constantly changing from moment to moment, never remaining fixed;
- act with compassion and loving kindness for all in this interconnected existence, but
- avoid clinging to objects, thoughts, people as though my happiness depends on them.
Slowly, over decades of off-and-on meditation and learning, I began existing with those five qualities much of the time. Or a better way of putting it might be that I was able to be there when I wanted to be there — when I was mindful. That period began a couple of years ago, and since then the death of my son left me unable to find my way back for a couple of months, but I did return.
Dzogchen Buddhism, as taught by Lama Surya Das, has helped me put my experience into context. Dzogchen teaches that we all are prefect Buddhas and need only realize it. I realize my Buddha-hood by exercising those five qualities, and it’s not ego-maniacal for me to say that, while I’m in that state, I’m enlightened, and the more I’m there, the more enlightened I become.
I choose not to think about the N word — Nirvana. Like many other terms in Buddhism, it means different things in different traditions, but in short it means escaping the cycle of life and rebirth. Being enlightened is enough for me now, and if indeed there is rebirth ahead, I have vowed to keep working in this world until all are enlightened.
You didn’t see an original post from me yesterday because I was depressed. I awoke irked at all the unpleasant things I had to do — getting ready to move to a smaller house, obtaining title to my son’s truck before the registration expires, settling other issues around my son’s estate, preparing income-tax returns. All that agitation left me unable for most of the day to return to my five qualities. It all falls apart for me when I fail to live in the present moment.
The good news is that I was aware of what I was doing to myself. Mindfulness and Dzogchen meditation have taught me enough to observe my thoughts and understand that they don’t need to be in control. Humor always helps, so in late afternoon I read the first chapter of Rinpoche’s Remarkable Ten-Week Weight Loss Clinic. Than I found an Om Mani Padme Hum chant on Youtube to sing along with, and meditated in my office chair. By the time my wife came home from work, I was able to live, enjoyably, in the present moment. For me, the rest always follows from there.
In a recent interview, Lama Surya Das was asked how enlightened he is. His answer:
When asked, “Enough for what?” he said: For where I am right now.
May we all be enlightened enough.
— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)
Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine