No word has sparked more mystery in so-called spiritual seekers’ minds than “enlightenment.” Indeed, it has become practically a legend, as far as words go. The roots of the fabled quest for enlightenment fix their hold in the deepest folds of modern spirituality. We all know Buddha’s story: it happened one faithful day beneath the sacred Bodhi tree (which, incidentally, was probably not considered sacred at that time), when Siddhartha challenged Mara, or the ego in contemporary terms, to a final duel and saw through the great illusion of the world in a bursting display of kaleidoscopic light—beyond the world, beyond the mind, beyond, beyond, and into revelation.…
Ever since the Buddha’s dazzling moment, a seemingly new problem has interposed itself between seekers and their final goal—the idea that there is a final goal, which will be achieved in a similarly impressive moment of illumination that will instantly, and irrevocably, wipe away our identification with ego, separation, and illusion of any kind. You have to admit, it is quite a legend to live up to. Just writing about it gives me performance anxiety.
Now, I am not arguing that the Buddha did not experience such a moment. Others have reported similar experiences, and I have experienced many states of deep mystical awareness during which I experienced an absolute identification with what is commonly referred to as Spirit, Source, God… call It what you like … and a simultaneous dis-identification from Tobin Blake, the man, the writer, the meditation teacher, etc. These experiences included the realization that time and space are mere forms playing on some vast cosmic screen that I have no words to describe. So, these were certainly BIG moments. Yet as far as my daily dharma goes, they are the exception, and not the rule. They happen occasionally, and then they disappear from sight only to appear again when I’m least expecting them. Far more often during my daily practice I merely experience the humble spaciousness of presence, the relaxation of meditation, the quiet joy of withdrawing from ego and reconnecting.
Yet in either case Tobin Blake has always returned, and my identification with Source faded until it comes again, and back and forth these awarenesses have danced, flip flopping in a kaleidoscopic display which I could hardly ignore.
In this experience I am not alone. Virtually every student on a conscious spiritual path—regardless of his or her formal tradition—has reported a similar courtship with enlightenment, as well a concurrent state of confusion and frustration. At some point I started thinking of these fleeting states of illumination as miniature enlightenment. It wasn’t that they were not “real”; indeed they felt more real than anything I had experienced in so-called ordinary life. They just weren’t permanent, or so it appeared at first glance.
Now I’d like to suggest something now that may sound radical to some: these states of what I above refer to as miniature enlightenment are not only real, in a way they are also permanent. They are the same enlightenment that Buddha, and all the other great masters, experienced. Let me explain. Many years ago I had one such experience that was, frankly, dazzling. It was certainly one of those “big moments.” It occurred during a dream I had when I was a new meditation student, in which I found myself standing on a barren, scorched plain, desolate, empty, and utterly lifeless, which was a state that very much mirrored my life at that time. Then, something within me shifted and I turned inward, and I felt an enormous surge of power rush through me. Charged with this alien sensation, I sprang from the ground and rocketed into deep space. Far from the Earth I stopped, rounded on the planet, and gazed back: Earth was now just a tiny blue orb spinning steadily against a sea of star-speckled blackness. The lights from the billions of stars that make up our galaxy winked everywhere, drawing my attention, and I realized in a revelation, that the light from those stars were all emanating from one Source, which was peaking through the fabric of space-time. It was as if the universe in which we live, that appears to be made up mostly of empty space, was actually nothing but a black fabric that had been stretched across an endless Light, thus concealing that Light except where the pricks of Light bled through as stars. Furthermore, it occurred to me that if someone had been on the other side of the Earth watching me, they would have seen me as just one more star, one more point of this One Light shinning through the artificial fabric of the cosmos.
Likewise, enlightenment is always there, always present, just like those stars, even if we do not always see it. Only the depth of our own awareness of the Sacred State varies, shaded and distorted by our personal interpretations, along with our desire to have it always. A few take to it permanently, while the rest of us bounce back and forth, “getting used to the water” in a manner of speaking, until we too awaken to the universe of Light that surrounds us always.