Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Work out your Enlightenment with Fear and Trembling

In response to a recent post about living out non-duality, I received a few messages regarding peoples' attempts at understanding, but expressing that they felt that they "fell short" or that they did not have "perfect" understanding. I think this may be one of the most common misconceptions of "awareness" or "enlightenment".

The concept of perfection, is simply another concept that must be gone beyond. This concept however, may be one of the hardest to kill, as many of the "non-dual" teachers believe it as well. While no teacher, guru, or spiritual "master" has been "perfect", many seekers, as well as teachers, try to convince others, and worse themselves, that their were/are.

Nisargadatta Maharaj, who I look to as one of my most important teachers, is well known to have had a very fiery temper. Although, a man of infinite compassion, he would regularly throw out persons who he saw as insincere. This was especially true of the followers of Osho, who would arrive at his little mezzanine room in their saffron robes. Nisargadatta's tolerance for this sort of thing was very low. Many see temper, and anger as an imperfection, which in the ultimate understanding, it no doubt is, but Nisargadatta was human, as well as "enlightened". This humanness is often overlooked by teachers of spirituality who fail to see the relative as well the absolute. In the case of Jesus Christ, we see an even better example.

The Church sees Jesus Christ as being both fully divine, and fully human. His humanness however, is often ignored, or excuses are made for it. In the book of Mark, we read the story of Jesus coming upon a fig tree, and being hungry, he hopes to get some figs from it. Upon finding that the tree has no figs, even though it is not the time for figs, Jesus shrivels up the tree in anger. The Church attempts to explain this human reaction by making the tree a metaphor for Israel, and it's lack of "bearing fruit". The fact that it was not the time for figs, is ignored. This denial of Jesus' humanness, is an attempt to make Jesus "perfect", both in humanity and divinity, even though the story's purpose is to show his human nature. Again, in the same chapter, we see Jesus lose his temper at the money changers and merchants in the Temple of Jerusalem. Righteous indignation, no doubt, but also fully human. Perhaps the most important story of Jesus' humanity is the passion in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he asks to be relived of the crucifixion, but submits to God's will. Jesus revels a divine being with both doubts and anger; fully divine and fully human.

In non-duality, we often insist that our gurus and teachers live a blissful life of prefect understanding. Any imperfections we notice are occasions for finger pointing or accusations of fraud. Ramana Maharshi is often looked at as the ideal enlightened sage. And yet, upon close, and honest observation, we see a man who struggled to keep his ashram in the control of his family, spoke of awakening as being universal, yet followed traditional separation of cast, insisting that Brahmins not sit at meals with lower casts in his ashram. Although Ramana saw his true nature, he tolerated veneration, and even worship, with his disciples frequently singing hymns to him, in his presence. Any of these things, in a modern or Western teacher, we would label ego! But Ramana was human.

Much of what is today considered neo-advaita, had it's start with HWL Poonja (Papaji). Papaji would often tell people that they were already enlightened. This, of course was part of his teaching method, and true on the absolute level, but he often failed to make this clear, and sent some of them off to teach. He later said that none of these teachers were even partially enlightened. He often gave seekers "spiritual experiences", which he later dismissed as false experiences. Asked why he gave people false experiences, he answered, "to get the leeches off my back." None of this looks like "perfection", but Papaji was human.

If Jesus, Nisargadatta, Ramana and Papaji were subject to human faults and weaknesses, how are we to become "perfect"? To expect to rise above or beyond human while abiding in the flesh is unrealistic. We can experience the divine within ourselves, but the body is weak. The Christ said "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.". Our "perfection" is an uphill struggle. Enlightenment is an ongoing, unfolding that happens in the now. Enlightenment is not an event that "happens" and then goes on as a "past experience", but a working out. The Apostle Paul tells us to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you, both to will and to work in for his good pleasure." Constant action, effort is required. Effortless effort, as they say in non-dual circles, is the key to enlightenment. I read of teachers who will tell you that their enlightenment happened in such and such a year, or at such and such an event, like it was in the past, and they are now living it always. But we know that there is only now, only this. Awareness, enlightenment is either working out now, this moment, or not at all.

If you have ever been on a diet, you know that it is difficult to stick to one. One of the best pieces of advice when dieting, is to stick to it. Even if you backslide and go off the diet for a day, the advice is to go back to the diet the next day and not be discouraged. This is also good advice on the spiritual search. Keep seeking, even when you have "found" something. What you seek is the road you are on. Work out your enlightenment with fear and trembling. Live every day in the present, not in some past enlightenment experience. Enlightenment is unfolding not static. You can experience your true nature, but the body/mind continues until it's end. The humanness, the body/mind is not separate from the reality, use it to work out present awareness.

The body/mind is like a wheel rolling downhill. It rolls until the momentum gives out, or it runs into something, and then it stops. As long as it's rolling, we are meant to see beyond it; to work out our salvation. If we stop it, or the working out, we stagnate or backslide. Perfection is not a state. It is the action of life itself. Perfection is in the being, not something that is finished or complete. We need to constantly remind ourselves that, although we are perfect and divine, we are also inseparably human. We are not only human beings, we are humans being.


  1. Thank you for sharing wisdom and insights and pointers... 'Tis the Journey.