Benjamin Harris, Aug. 26, 2012
We talk of enlightenment, degrees of enlightenment, varieties of religious experience, to refer to the title ofa seminal work by William James many years ago. I have a confession to make: I don’t have a clue any more.
Whether my experience is of nirvikalpa samadhi or sahaja samadhi or asahaja samadhi – “with a seed” of self-ness or “without a seed” of self-ness remaining – I don’t know any more. All the reference points are gone.
All the concepts have faded into mystery: not exactly meaningless, for they have depth and breadth of feeling, almost a physical sensation, a kind of familiarity, like old friends who have comforted me in times of uncertainty and emotional need, but that depth and breadth cannot be measured or understood these days. There remains only BEingness. There remains only ISness.
When I look within, I find peace and a simple shred of identity, living in existential ignorance and sustained awe. I looked at a flower today. I don’t know its name, but maybe that’s a blessing. The flower is intricate, it’s delicate, it’s beautiful, of subtle colors and shading, its petals curling in shades of cream and ruby, the pistils fuzzy and fragile; it’s unique among all the uncountable myriads of flowers in the universe; it’s a silent testimony to the creative majesty of the Source of All That Is.
When I look into the foundation of my being, I see that same majesty looking back at me, utterly still, utterly silent, without bias or partiality, but with a solidity of Love, an uncompromising and unflinching embrace of what feels like infinite Love.
When I look without, I see amazing diversity, unlimited as far as my perception can reach, unfathomable in detail, beautiful and funny and tragic, all at once. Kipling was right: “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” as demonstrated by the coyote that took one of the cats this past week; and yet there is the delightful harmony of four or five species of birds at the bird-feeding platform, sharing the sunflower seeds in peace. Such contrasts! I am in awe. I know nothing.
Can I love this world? That can be a challenge, but that is the only question that seems to matter, sometimes. This is a strange world to look upon, so many contrasts, such violence and yet such tenderness. And within, there is a vision of the perfection which is possible, the perfect harmony, the unbounded love and peace, as if a distant memory is trying to surface to conscious awareness, a memory in which the lion lies down with the lamb.
Can I love my brothers and sisters around the globe, around the universe? The only question that needs answering when regarding another being is, “Can I love this person?” If I cannot say “Yes!” wholeheartedly and without hesitation, then I must examine why I hesitate. It seems that to love unconditionally and without any reservation is the greatest challenge a human being can face.
How we respond to that challenge is the most revealing test of enlightenment, which is to say, of our surrender to God, for God loves unconditionally and without hesitation, and God asks us to do the same. After all, we are made of the same stuff as That unconditionally loving Being, so shouldn’t we be able to do the same as That One does?
I feel increasingly like the fool in the river. Perhaps you’ve heard the story?
An ascetic was bathing in the river one day when the Lord came walking by, disguised as an old man. God greeted the ascetic and asked him about his progress toward enlightenment.
The ascetic complained that he had been doing many austerities, and he was working very hard to purify himself, and he was so frustrated at how long it was taking to approach enlightenment. He said, “How much longer must I suffer these privations and disciplines to become enlightened?”
God said, “You are doing very well, my friend. If you continue in this way, I believe you will be enlightened in only 70 more lifetimes.”
The ascetic groaned and began to cry, “How will I ever be able to continue these disciplines for 70 lifetimes? It is so difficult!”
God walked further along the river bank. He came upon a fool, splashing in the river, laughing and singing and crying tears of joy. God asked him what he was doing there.
The fool cried out, “What a joy it is to love God! I am in ecstasy! Life is so magnificent, so grand, so beautiful; I live in unending delight.”
God smiled at the fool’s joyfulness. He said, “But what about enlightenment? Don’t you care about that?”
The fool replied, “Oh, yes…that. Yes, I would like to be enlightened. How long will that take?”
God said, “If you continue as you are, you will have enlightenment in one lifetime.” The fool was delighted and splashed in the river and laughed again and again.
I admire the fool. Increasingly, it seems to me that his way is the only sane way to live; his way is truly “right relationship” to the universe and to its Creator. Who knows? I don’t. But I love to laugh.