A reply to Tboni’s article on Spiritual Awakening
The spontaneous enlightenment experience, which strikes like a bolt
of lightening out of the blue, that one hears so much about, is generally, I think, taken by western seekers these days to be the norm.
I know I thought this was the norm for a very long time.
One thing which I feel is missing from your post, and it is something which I didn’t understand for a long time, is that there may be many ‘enlightened’ people around who don’t blow a horn or tell a story about it.
Why is that? Well, perhaps they don’t know that there is a horn to blow about it. Perhaps because implicit in the way they came to recognize the nature of reality was the understanding that they would come to know it anyway. In other words, it was kind of par for the course in the environment they were in.
In the tradition in which I study it’s just kind of assumed that the student will gain self-knowledge at some point. And when that happens, it’s more of a ‘Duh’ or perhaps a quiet ‘Aha,’ rather than a lightening strike. Maybe this is because the student’s mind is prepared for it, I don’t know, but that would be my assumption.
I’ve met many such people within the community in which I study. Sweet, kind, loving, gentle, ordinary, unspectacular people, who happen to have recognized the nature of reality. Most of these people were never involved in any other type of spiritual discipline except perhaps for a few things in the late 60’s or early 70’s.
Thus this whole enlightenment craze and the literature touting the spontaneous enlightenment bolt out of the blue experience is not on their radar screen at all.
So where are these people now? One drives a taxi. One tutors high school students. One is a cabinet maker. One teaches in an art college. One writes soft-ware. One has a business. Some work in the IT industry. They do lots of different things. In India many are swamis and are teaching.
Perhaps we hear about the big bolt of lightening out of the blue experiences because the people having them are not really prepared for them, and then it is a very radical shift for those people. One minute they were just ordinary folks or even messed up folks, and the next minute, Hey presto, enlightened.
So perhaps that’s why their experiences get so much press, I don’t know.
When I first encountered Vedanta, coming as I did from the school where the bolt of lightening experience was taken as the norm, I used to kind of inquire of others in a hushed voice if they knew of any who had become ‘enlightened.’ This question was often met with a puzzled quizzical look. Later I realized that some of those I was asking this question of were themselves ‘enlightened.’
Out in the wild and woolly world where spontaneous enlightenment experiences are taken to be the norm, the descriptions we read, or the experiences we hear of someone like Byron Katie and others, may lead us to think this is the way the enlightenment happens, and this is the only way it happens,
and this is the way it’s got to be.
And yet, from my experience, from meeting the people I have met and spoken with within the community of Vedanta, these types of extreme sorts of examples actually are not the norm at all.
If you’re sitting in a room listening to a teaching, and several of the people you are with have recognized the truth, then when you yourself recognize the truth are you going to stand up and announce it, or shout about it? Why on earth would you do something like that?
It would be like standing up and shouting in a room full of scientists, “You know what, the sky looks blue, but that’s an illusion,” or “The sun looks like it’s rising and setting and going around the earth,
but it isn’t!” That would be a bit out of place in such an environment, don’t you think?
I remember a long time ago hearing Goenakaji (a Theravadan Buddhist teacher) say, “India is a wonderful place. There are many enlightened people there, as enlightened as the Buddha.”
Once I heard Robert Thurman, the well-known Tibetan Buddhist scholar, say that there were hundreds of enlightened monks living in the monasteries in Tibet prior to the Chinese invasion.
At the time I heard these statements, I discounted them, being conditioned as I was then by the bolt of lightening out of the blue way of thinking, but now I think they were probably accurate.
So just as a suggestion, one might consider that the types of ‘radical’ experiences that one reads or hears about may not actually be the norm at all. Rather I think it’s more of an outcome of the people having these realizations who weren’t prepared for them in the first place.
Ramana stayed in samadhi in a cave for a very long time, perhaps because at first he didn’t know he could walk, talk, and function normally, and that would not change what he had recognized to be the true.
When someone came and read some of the words of the Upanishads to him, he recognized that what was being described was his own experience. He also came to understand that the self is ‘sahaja,’ natural, that one didn’t have to be constantly adsorbed in samadhi to know that. And then he resumed functioning the way that we all do, whether we have self-knowledge or not.
So one might consider when asking the question, why does a lineage continue? Perhaps the answer is it continues because it’s effective.