Spiritual Ramblings

I've practiced Tai chi ch'uan and a certain, esoteric type of Taoism (called the Complete Reality System)... for almost 20 years. Also, along the way, had some nice times playing with gestalt, est, Actualizations, Esalen, lucid dreaming, rebirthing, Siddha Yoga, Wing Chun... you name it, I probably did a workshop in it.

When I was about 19, I had a beautiful dream during a trip to Yosemite. In this dream, I was suddenly aware that I was in a lucid dream. I was standing in an infinite plane, in a circle of about 15 people, all wearing white robes. I pinched myself, and surprisingly, I could feel it! Suddenly, an elderly but beautiful woman materialized in the center of the circle. She told us that she was Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, and that her time in her present incarnation was at an end. She told us that we, the collective standing in this circle, would become the next incarnation of this energy. She then held up her left hand, and a stack of books materialized over her hand. She took one of the books in her right hand, and it became a point of light, that traveled down to one of us standing in the circle and entered his/her forehead. She did this to all of us. She then said, "These are the books that you will someday write. And by this dream, you shall all find each other." Something else happened in the rest of the dream, that I cannot reveal. (So if you had this dream, please let me know and tell me what happened in the second half of the dream.) Anyway, it was such a beautiful dream, that it led me into the New Age world, and I started this tribe just in case there's someone else who had this dream, long ago.

Over the years, I've developed some odd ideas about Taoism, meditation and spirituality. Here are some of them:

Twenty years ago, when I first started practicing meditation, my teach quoted the Tao Te Ching, “Those who talk, seldom know. Those who know, seldom talk.” So please excuse the lengthiness of this response… I’ve been keeping my mouth shut for twenty years now!

First of all, yes, definitely, the whole notion of “achieving Buddahood” is used liberally but seldom defined, possibly turning it into the spiritual equivalent of technology jargon. And certainly there are plenty of bullshit artists working in both technology and spirituality, but these are usually the guys raising money. Anyway, it’s a great question and thanks to Sutha for posting it, and here’s my long-winded explanation of terms like enlightenment and Buddhahood.

I think that enlightenment is really more of a verb than an object… or objective. Like the word “education”, enlightenment isn’t really some lofty end state that you get to, someday after many years of meditation, but rather, a lifelong pursuit and commitment toward that goal. For example, you might ask somebody who barely managed a high school diploma whether they were educated, and they would proudly answer “yessireebob, I barely passed but I managed to get myself educated allrighty!”

Equivalently, enlightenment is a bit more complex than a binary state. Also, there are different facets of enlightenment, just as there are many subjects you must pass in order to earn a degree from a reputable college. As a result, my own understanding of enlightenment is as overly complicated as a course guide at a small university, and thus, I am basically unable to provide a short pithy soundbite about what enlightenment really is. I think that enlightenment has many shades and nuances, many types and levels, many pursuits and pitfalls.

As an example of this complexity, I think that there are four “kinds” of practices that lead to enlightenment – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. They correspond, very very roughly, to the four types of yoga – karma, bhakti, jnana and raja. Bhakti yoga is the pursuit of union with God through devotion, usually to the guru, and is the way of the heart. Jnana yoga is the pursuit of wisdom through mental activity. Karma yoga is the yoga of action, and in the Bhagavad Gita was defined devotion to service, but in our health conscious times, has been quietly redefined as the pursuit of physical enlightenment…that is, health and fitness. Raja yoga is the royal path, and is generally considered to be the integration of the other three paths. Also, there is a kind of enlightenment that is in the world and of this body, versus a different kind of enlightenment that is beyond this world and body. I am sure that there are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in this little bit of personal philosophy.

Anyway, I think because of this, it is very possible for a seeker to become very intellectually enlightened, while having a wreck of a marriage or battling addiction. This was certainly true for Chogyam Trungpa. Or on the other hand, it is sometimes necessary for a seeker to ignore and destroy the body, in order to achieve spiritual enlightenment.

Thus, physical enlightenment might be achieving a state where your body, your hormones, and your “ch’i meridians” are in a state of balance. Just as it is difficult for a woman during menses to feel entirely emotionally calm, all of us are in some state of hormonal imbalance. I think that in our world, emotional enlightenment has everything to do with finding happiness in a fundamentally complex and deluded world. Intellectual enlightenment is probably best achieved through something like Zen or Tibetan Buddhism. And there is definitely something beyond all of these corporeal forms of enlightenment, that is beyond this body, beyond this world, beyond this reality. A really good exposition of the types of enlightenment can be found in the Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. In this sutra, there are three short poems that exemplify three stages of enlightenment. The first poem was written by the head monk at the time, Shen Hsiu, who was the most learned, and wrote the following:

The body is the Bodhi-tree,
The mind a mirror bright;
Carefully we must clean it,
And let no dust alight.

The poem was praised, but The Fifth Patriarch knew that Shen Hsiu had only achieved an early stage of enlightenment. On the other hand, Hui Neng, a lowly monk who couldn't even write, had someone write down his poem, which read:

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

This signified that the truth path to enlightenment is actually beyond everything I’ve just talked about, and sounds terribly like what Dan was saying. But an even more interesting poem is the final one written by the Fifth Patriarch and delivered to Hui Neng, as he escaped from jealous, well-armed students of Zen:

Sentient beings who sow the seeds of enlightenment
In the field of Causation will reap the fruit of Buddhahood.
Inanimate objects void of Buddha-nature
Sow not and reap not.

For myself, the particular path that I’ve settled on is called Taoism, but it’s really more of a mishmash of various pursuits – Tai Chi, meditation, Ch’an Buddhism, devotional work, and an attempt to seek penetrating wisdom that cuts through all the spiritual bullshit, including my own. For me, there is wisdom in following an integrated approach that balances the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual paths to enlightenment… before specializing and going for that advanced degree. I believe that it’s difficult to achieve emotional enlightenment, when your hormones and endocrine system are raging a battle, so the system I’ve learned from some very quiet Taoist and Buddhist teachers, combines a kind of acupuncture/wholebody approach first balancing the body/mind/emotions, then strengthening, then hopefully, “sowing the seeds of enlightenment in the field of Causation”. That last step, as my teacher explained to me, is sort of like explaining the Nobel Prize to a second grader. So I agree with Russ that words are of limited usefulness in communication, but you know, that’s pretty much all we have. What’s more important is that the words and images we do use to describe the sublime… are beautiful. When I read the Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch the first time, when I was all of 17, I cried for an hour and it felt like coming home.

Anyway, to start summing it up, I was told a great story by one of my teachers, about the butcher who met the Buddha, that could shed some light on the nature of Buddhahood. The butcher listened to the Buddha’s lecture about karma, and asked how he, a butcher who had taken so much life, could ever achieve enlightenment and Buddhahood. The Buddha responded, “the moment you drop the killing knife, you become the Buddha.” What this meant is that enlightenment is that every moment commitment to devote our lives to achieving Buddhahood, and everything that means. For me, it means every day Zen. Did I meditate today? Did I read something transcendental? Did I create something beautiful? Did I ease some suffering somewhere? Did I see through some of my own illusory mindclutter? Is what I’ve learned liberating, or just more baggage?


© Moses Ma 2005. All Rights Reserved.