Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing (The Enlightenment Trilogy Book 1)

My take

One of the best books I’ve ever read. I couldn’t put it down. Some laughter, a ton of philosophy, and all with irreverence. A good 40 percent of the entire book lept out at me. Read it now.

All below are quotes. My words in italics. Whatever stuck out in particular is in bold. 10/10 would recommend.

Highlights

Vitam inpendere vero. Stake life upon truth.

She just stares back at me mutely as if the answer is too obvious to need stating, but it does need stating. I want it out here in front of us where we can examine it and poke at it with our pointy little brains.

You want to be enlightened?” She looks at me like it’s a trick question, but it’s not; it’s the first question. What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Where is this going? If you know, you’ll succeed. If you don’t, you won’t. That’s not just pretty talk, that’s the law.

It’s always like this with new students. They do the student thing, I do the teacher thing. I’m never quite sure why they came or when they’ll go. The whole process is equal parts fulfillment and frustration. I talk, they listen. They ask, I answer. I speak, they… who knows? They something.

“It’s very simple,” I tell her. “Enlightenment is truth-realization. Not only is truth simple, it’s that which cannot be simpler; cannot be further reduced.”

Works every time. Gratitude permeates me as I read her this statement by Krishna: “I am come as Time, the ultimate waster of people, ready for the hour that ripens to their doom. The warriors, arrayed in hostile armies facing each other, shall not live, whether you strike or stay your hand.”

“Enlightenment isn’t when you go there, it’s when there comes here. It’s not a place you visit and then remember wistfully and try to return to. It’s not a visit to the truth, it’s the awakening of truth within you. It’s not a fleeting state of consciousness, it’s permanent truth-realization; abiding non-dual awareness. It’s not a place you visit from here, this is a place you visit from there. For instance, I myself am enlightened, right here, right now. I am free of delusion and unbound by ego, and although I have had the great fortune of experiencing mystical union on several occasions, I am not presently in that state and I have no plans to return to it. Nobody resides in a state of permanent bliss, Sarah, that’s just something out of a sales pitch.”

“It’s not a race, it’s just life. There is no finish line, no winners or losers. Give that some thought, too. It all ties in together.

The truth, though, is that nothing is really wrong. Nothing is ever wrong and nothing can be wrong. It’s not even wrong to believe that something is wrong. Wrong is simply not possible. As Alexander Pope wrote, “One truth is clear, whatever is, is right.” Wrongness is in the eye of the beholder and nowhere else.

“The belief that something is wrong is the fire under the ass of humanity,”

The fear of no-self is the mother of all fears, the one upon which all others are based. No fear is so small or petty that the fear of no-self isn’t at its heart. All fear is ultimately fear of no-self.

We’re sitting on the front porch of my house amid the endless farmland of America’s heartland. It used to be my house, anyway. Now it’s more like a rural American ashram project that belongs to everyone who takes part. I used to be the one who cleaned it and maintained it and made improvements and did all the chores, but these days I’m like a prince in his palace. I haven’t swung a hammer or emptied a wastebasket in years. I never decided to be a prince, it just happened when I wasn’t looking and it’s not the sort of thing you can really bitch about.

It’s a beautiful spring day, late in the afternoon. The sun is dropping and the heat of the day has softened. A gentle breeze caresses the grass in waves. It’s a time to sit in contentment. I am quiet, dwelling in the sweet perfection of the moment, and I’m impressed that Sarah has the sense to do the same, or, at least, not to spoil it with chatter.

One of the guys sticks his head out to let us know there’s food available for those who want it. I can smell it. The vegetarians have been at it again.

I eat and watch as the sunset displays more shades of pink than anyone could have suspected. Gradually the pinks become reds and golds and the clouds pick up every nuance and light up the sky in a resplendence that promises heaven. I wouldn’t mind dying now, I think, as the day dies. But then I remember—I’ve got a book to write.

Martin may want to spend the next twenty years studying the local flora, but I will encourage him to pull out a machete and hack his way out and continue his journey.

“What’s your mission statement, Martin? What’s the point? What is it you hope to accomplish with your life?” “Freedom from bondage,” he replies without hesitation. “Liberation. Oneness with all that is. Unity consciousness.” I manage not to hurl myself out the window.

The power of our devotion to teachers and teachings is not a reflection of their value, but of ego’s will to survive. It’s ego—the false self—that exalts the guru and declares the teaching sacred, but nothing is exalted or sacred, only true or not true.

Awakening is the process of deprogramming. Enlightenment is the unprogrammed state.

Krishna and Arjuna are discussing the war that is soon to begin. Arjuna asks if the war will take place on the battlefield or in his heart. “I don’t see a real difference,” replies Krishna.

The point is to wake up, not to earn a Ph.D. in waking up. Simply put, as Sarah surmised, waking up is job one, and then, if you still want to liberate all beings or promote world peace or save the whales, great—lucky beings, lucky world, lucky whales—but the bottom line remains the same: You’re either awake, or you’re not.

And then, one day, there it is. Nothing. No more enemies, no more battles. The sword that seems welded to your hand can now be dropped, once your fingers can be pried from it. There’s nothing left to contend against and nothing left that must be done, and there will never be anything that must be done ever again.

I will continue to channel progressively less and less energy into my dreamstate being, my teaching will reduce down to its most refined and least tolerant form, my interest will withdraw from the world, and I will become as minimal as a person can be. Whether or not Jnana Yoga or Zen Buddhism or any other system confirms this process is moot because I confirm it myself, directly. I don’t defer to teachers or teachings. I see myself receding in this manner. Writing this book has accelerated the process, but this is where the road has always led.

A note on the above paragraph:I see this as some of the ultimate motivation to write and to grow. It’s possibly the main way we discover ourselves.

I’m not writing this book to make money or gain followers or to be popular. I’m writing it to get it out of my system. My message isn’t that you should believe me about what it’s like here, but that you can come see for yourself.

You observe events and you allow the flow of things to do the steering and you go where you go.

Enlightenment is about truth. It’s not about becoming a better or happier person. It’s not about personal growth or spiritual evolution. An accurate ad for enlightenment would make the toughest marine blanche. (this marine vet got a kick out of this. Accurate)

I love this planet and this universe and this whole human thing, and one of the reasons I love it is because of the magic that holds it all together. (same. same.)

a higher percentage of people sitting with me or holding this book desire enlightenment for what it really is because we all get what we need when we need it. If the universe has set you in front of me or put this book into your hands, then in all likelihood you are closer than most to honestly confronting the stark reality of your situation. It works both ways; when the teacher appears, the student is ready.

An easy way to distinguish between caterpillars and butterflies is to remember that the enlightened don’t attach importance to anything, and that enlightenment doesn’t require knowledge. It’s not about love or compassion or consciousness. It’s about truth.

She’s very self-possessed on the outside; calm, smooth, convinced that she’s a very open and spiritually attuned person, but I’d much rather be with a raving loony who was directly confronting their bullshit than someone who spends all their energy repressing it. The cloaking thing always strikes a tinny note that would register as jarring and discordant to anyone able to “hear” it.

The one and only truth of any person lies like a black hole at their very core, and everything else—everything else—is just the rubbish and debris that covers the hole. Of course, to someone who is just going about their normal human existence undistracted by the larger questions, that rubbish and debris is everything that makes them who they are. But to someone who wants to get to the truth, who they are is what’s in the way. All fear is ultimately fear of this inner black hole, and nothing on this side of that hole is true. The process of achieving enlightenment is about breaking through the blockage and stepping through the hole, and anything that’s not about getting to and through the hole is just more rubbish and debris. (Woof. This one punches like Mike Tyson)

“When a Zen master uses the term makyo, he’s telling his students that the precious gems they’re stopping to pick up or the pretty flowers they’re pausing to collect only have value or beauty in the world they’ve chosen to leave behind. The Tao says ‘beware the flowery trappings’ because, in order to possess them or benefit from them, you must cease your journey, stay in the dream. Ultimately, they’re just a distraction from the tricky business of waking up. Breaking free of delusion takes everything you have. The price of truth is everything. Everything. That’s the rule and it’s inviolable.”

“The universe will give you whatever you want, Marla. That’s how it works, even if you don’t know it. It can’t be otherwise. You don’t have to be worthy, but you do have to know what it is that you want. You have to focus. Try to do that. Try writing out what it is you want and condensing it down until you’ve reduced it to a concise statement of desire or intent. Your path can only be meandering and your life a blur until you do that. Come talk to me when you have something, okay?” She nods. “And Marla, I think being a good mom for that little girl would be a perfectly good answer.”

He lets that sink in for a few moments. “What’s the reason for writing it down? Why not just do it in your head like with koans?” “That’s another good question. Yes, koans and mantras are done in your head. Ramana Maharshi’s ‘Who am I?’ query is done in your head. The reason for writing it down on paper or on a computer where you can see it is because the brain, unlikely as it may sound, is no place for serious thinking. Any time you have serious thinking to do, the first step is to get the whole shootin’ match out of your head and set it up someplace where you can walk around it and see it from all sides. Attack, switch sides and counter-attack. You can’t do that while it’s still in your head. Writing it out allows you to act as your own teacher, your own critic, your own opponent. By externalizing your thoughts, you can become your own guru; judging yourself, giving feedback, providing a more objective and elevated perspective.”

Resolve your own situation first, and then maybe your compassion will translate into something of value to others.

You’re embarking on an undertaking that millions upon millions of sincere, intelligent men and women have committed their lives to without success. That’s a pretty sobering statement. This is a process and it works the way it works or it doesn’t work at all. You can’t dictate terms. Preferences are irrelevant.”

The simple fact is that you are of no use to anyone else if you’re in the same situation they are.”

And, of course, keep improving it until you’ve stated the truth.” “Which I’ll never do?” “What, state the truth? No, of course not.”

Truth exists.

The universe isn’t vague and ignorant; I am vague and ignorant. Something is true and it doesn’t matter what it is, I’m not going to be false anymore. I have not even the slightest trace of the slightest reservation about the fact that I would rather suffer and die figuring out what is true than continue this life as a slave to lies and ignorance.”

My First Step. This was the one that separates who I was from what I am now. That was the day I set fire to my life and went to war.

Jed McKenna is like the outfit an invisible man wears so that he can interact with people without freaking them out. So anyway, that’s a little bit about me.

life. I see people fulfilling their roles and “acting” like “themselves” and I tend to forget that they really identify with their character and their character’s plight.

I watch myself being wisdom-guy and I can’t believe anyone really falls for it. I can’t believe that this stuff isn’t obvious to everybody. Truth doesn’t need to be sought because it isn’t lost. It’s not at the end of some path waiting to be discovered. It’s not the result of practice or growth or learning. Truth is everywhere at all times; never absent, never distant. Truth isn’t the tricky thing, it’s the simplest thing there is; that which can’t be simplified further. Possessing the ability not to see truth, now that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. In fact, I would never believe it was even possible if I hadn’t done it myself for thirty years.

That’s how it is in dreams; thoughts become things practically before they’re thought.

Too lazy to be ambitious, I let the world take care of itself. Ten days worth of rice in my bag; a bundle of twigs by the fireplace. Why chatter about delusion and enlightenment? Listening to the night rain on my roof, I sit comfortably, with both legs stretched out.

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought. Basho

IT’S RAINING. THUNDER AND LIGHTNING are slashing and crashing through the sky. Thoreau called himself the self-appointed inspector of snowstorms and rain storms, and if he meant that he was so enthralled by them that he felt compelled to observe them even if it meant getting out of a warm bed to do so, then I know what he meant and I, too, am a self-appointed inspector of snowstorms and rain storms.

Truth and self are mutually exclusive.”

The Buddha was just some guy who got serious and figured it out for himself, so maybe that’s his real teaching; that you can figure it out for yourself. Maybe the point isn’t that he was some sort of deity or superman, but that he wasn’t. That he was just a guy like you or me.” Andrew was rocking back and forth slightly; agitated.

Suffering just means you’re having a bad dream. Happiness means you’re having a good dream. Enlightenment means getting out of the dream altogether. Words like suffering and happiness and compassion are just bags of rocks. Eventually, you’ll have to set them down if you want to keep going.”

Nobody likes to have their cherished beliefs dumped on, but dumping on cherished beliefs is the name of the game.

In all ten directions of the universe, there is only one truth. When we see clearly, the great teachings are the same. What can ever be lost? What can be attained? If we attain something, it was there from the beginning of time. If we lose something, it is hiding somewhere near us. Look: This ball in my pocket: can you see how priceless it is?

Sometimes I’ll mow the grass if I can find the tractor, a full gas can and a bit of motivation all at the same time, but, as you might guess, those three planets don’t line up too often. (wacka wacka)

I whined about the cost of it at one point and Sonaya just looked at me like I was soft in the head. She knows that money is just something that flows; that it comes and it goes and that if you don’t disrupt the flow there’s always plenty. It’s me who sometimes forgets.

here’s an analogy about why I like analogies: If you’re trying to explain fire to someone who’s never seen it or felt it, then you’re pretty much stuck with comparing it to things they’re already familiar with. Of course, it’s no substitute for the direct experience of fire; it’s just the best you can do under the circumstances. It serves the additional purpose that when they come across real fire, they’ll know what they’re looking at.

People don’t like to have their version of reality fucked with. Try it if you still need to get it out of your system, but prepare yourself for unpleasant results.”

The giver is always the true recipient. It’s one of those universal laws that keeps everything balanced.

Words are a lousy means of communication, brains are no place for serious thinking, and indescribable experiences are silly things to try to describe.

“You’re enlightened but you obviously have an ego. Isn’t that a contradiction? Doesn’t the ego have to be annihilated to achieve nirvana?” “Oooh,” I coo appreciatively. “Good question. Both are true. Yes, I have an ego and it looks similar to the one I dropped to, as you say, achieve nirvana. But then I came back all enlightened and everything, and I needed something to wear. I look around and there’s my discarded ego lying in a pile on the floor so I slip into it and here I am.”

Julie seems to have that ability to relax into the moment and let the universe do the driving. If there was a secret to happiness in life, I’d say that was it.

Morality is a just a shadow of right action.

Morality is the set of rules and regulations that you use to navigate through life when you’re still trying to steer your ship rather than let it follow the flow.”

“So when people talk about being ‘off the path’—?” “Then they’re just reading the terrain from ground level. They don’t have the larger picture. Returning is the motion of the Tao. Everything is in a constant process of returning to its true state. To really be ‘off the path’ would mean to be outside of consciousness. There is no such place.”

And by what mechanism does such a simple thing as self-inquiry get mangled and bloated beyond all recognition? Ego. Always ego. The fundamental conflict in the spiritual quest is that ego desires spiritual enlightenment, but ego can never achieve spiritual enlightenment. Self cannot achieve no-self.

Here’s all you need to know to become enlightened: Sit down, shut up, and ask yourself what’s true until you know.

Sit down, shut up, and ask yourself what’s true until you know. In other words, go jump off a cliff. Don’t go near the cliff and contemplate jumping off. Don’t read a book about jumping off. Don’t study the art and science of jumping off. Don’t join a support group for jumping off. Don’t write poems about jumping off. Don’t kiss the ass of someone else who jumped off. Just jump.

When you hear someone say that searching for enlightenment is like fish in the ocean struggling to find water, this is what they mean. One fish may know it and another may not, but they’re both swimming in an ocean of water and always were.”

No decision in my life is made through ratiocination. I wait for unfolding. I sense currents and I flow with them.

one thing I’ve discovered is that the smart way is seldom the best way to do anything. I used to try to be smart and now I don’t and everything works a whole lot better. Stopping being smart was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.

I see only patterns. I have no eye for detail. Same.

I have amazing powers! I get good tables in restaurants. I haven’t stubbed a toe in twelve years. I can destroy the universe with a thought.

Humans are comprised of emotion and intellect, so it’s only natural to want to follow one or both of these aspects of ourselves inward to the truth, but you can’t. You could spend a thousand years with your nose in books or at the feet of masters and still be no closer to waking up from delusion then when you began. The fact is that no amount or combination of knowledge can bring about truth-realization.”

To go my way, the way I point, they must go away from everything they’ve ever been taught or learned or known, away from everyone they love and respect, away from comfort and convenience, away from safe harbor. And they must go alone. Every other way they can go has something good about it; togetherness, acceptance, respectability, consensus. Every other way lets them hold hands, sing along, and be a part of something larger than themselves. I have nothing like that to offer.

Truth makes for a very uncompanionly companion. Not warm, not comforting, not connected. Just true.

Truth isn’t about knowing things; you already know too much. It’s about unknowing. It’s not about becoming true, it’s about unbecoming false so that all that’s left is truth. If you want to become a priest or a lama or a rabbi or a theologian, then there’s a lot to learn; enough to fill a lifetime and more. But if you want to figure out what’s true, then it’s a whole different process and the last thing you need is more knowledge.” (Twitter needs this one.)

all belief systems are just the stories we create in order to deal with the void. Ego abhors a vacuum, so everybody’s scrambling to create the illusion of something where there’s nothing. Belief systems are simply the devices we use to explain away the unthinkable horror of no-self.”

“Beliefs are candles that man uses to ward off the surrounding darkness.

They say that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare, but I don’t want to be the guy who has to read through it all.”

“It’s all about unlocking the next door,” I continue, “and having ten thousand keys doesn’t mean a thing if none of them opens the door you’re standing in front of.

They’re listening. Strange as it may sound, I sometimes forget that people are actually listening. I guess I sometimes get the feeling that I’m just singing my song because it amuses me to do so. I forget that it actually amuses others also.

“I know enlightenment is a state of ecstasy and bliss…” begins a newcomer named Jeffrey. “Excuse me?” I interrupt. “I mean,” he replies, “I know it’s about, you know, the experience of…” “Bliss?” I ask. “Ecstasy?” “Yeah, so what I was wondering…” “Stop.” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. “How many of you think that? Show of hands, please. How many of you equate enlightenment with bliss or ecstasy or whatever?” Several hands go up. Mary, who was asking about Zen, doesn’t raise her hand. One who I know is already beyond the First Step doesn’t raise her hand either, but nearly half of them do. “Fuck bliss,” I tell them. Silence. “Bliss is for children,” I say. “Bliss is for tourists, for rubes. Do you really think that spiritual enlightenment is going to be like an endless orgasm?” This provokes a few muffled titters. “A permanent high? Heaven on earth? No more problems, no more worries, just sitting around being happy all the time? Doesn’t that sound a little, I don’t know, sleazy? Like all we’re really doing here is trying to cop a great buzz?”

Unchallenged beliefs can define you and determine the course of your life. Maybe the whole reason you’re on this spiritual track in the first place is due to the unchallenged belief that this path leads to rapture. Maybe you don’t really want to go where this really leads. Maybe you’re just in it for the fairy tale. I would guess that that’s true of over ninety-nine percent of Western spiritual seekers.”

“You have many years of this spiritual adventure in front of you, probably many lifetimes. Try to take it one step at a time. Even looking two steps ahead can be very intimidating, know what I mean? Breathe more deeply, drink more water, meditate more often. Take it easy. You’re not struggling to climb from hell into heaven, you’re just having an in-the-body experience. It’s not evil, it’s just life, and when it’s over, you die; easy as falling off a log.”

Whoever was responsible for the idea of dividing self into lower and higher parts committed a serious crime against humanity.

The process of awakening might be viewed as the transition between these two poles; the journey from fear and wrong-making to gratitude and open-eyed acceptance.

The way out is through, and there can be no rebirth without first a death.

The mind naturally aligns itself into a more coherent state when it seeks to transmit knowledge than when it is merely processing it for its own needs.

Life is not a race and the only destination is the journey itself.

She smiles. “And where do I dwell?” “In the heart,” I respond. “In fear.” “Fear of what?” she asks. “Fear of being haunted by meddlesome Hindu deities?” I ask, but she’s already gone.

Ironically, students aren’t really qualified to ask questions and if I simply answered the questions they felt the need to ask then they’d only manage to deepen their own entrenchment in their false beliefs.

Students, understandably, wish to deepen their understanding, but it is the role of the teacher to keep them moving forward rather than standing around deepening things. Self-realization isn’t about more, it’s about less. The only construction required for awakening is that which facilitates demolition.

My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon. Taoist saying

“In the process of waking yourself up, you quickly realize that there’s no outside authority. You have to verify everything yourself. If you adopt something someone else said, it’s only after you have verified it for yourself. If Jesus, Buddha, or Lao-Tzu made it, you can make it. There’s no choice about this; you can’t walk in someone else’s shoes and there are no turnkey solutions.

“But what about when people explore their inner selves? Make journeys of self-discovery? Aren’t they going within to find the truth?” “They’re just exploring the ego—making a study of the false self—which is a lifequest as valid as any other. But you don’t wake up by perfecting your dream character, you wake up by breaking free of it. There’s no truth to the ego, so no degree of mastery over it results in anything true. Putting attention on the ego merely reinforces it.”

“For instance, shame. The underlying cause of all shame is the deep and unshakable suspicion that I am an impostor. I sense the absence of true-self in myself, but not in others, so I naturally assume others to be real people and myself to be false. Seeing the outer shells everyone else has so convincingly erected and not knowing them to be hollow, I necessarily feel singularly fraudulent and, of course, shameful.”

“Jesus. So I’m constantly constructing a false self?” “Constantly, yes. That’s how you spend your energy; your lifeforce. It all goes into projecting the illusion of you. You’re constantly projecting an external representation of yourself that is always a work in progress, always shifting and evolving.”

Time and space come and go but what’s true is true and all the rest is but a dream.”

Anyone headed for truth is going to get there over the ego’s dead body or not at all. There’s no shortcut or easy way, no going under or around. The only way past ego is through it, and the only way through it is with laser-like intent and a heart of stone. The caterpillar doesn’t become a butterfly, it enters a death process that becomes the birth process of the butterfly. The appearance of transformation is an illusion. One thing doesn’t become another thing. One thing ends and another begins.

Struggling to achieve truth is, in its own way, as preposterous as struggling to achieve death.

All fear is fear of the unknown.

“A student goes to his teacher and asks ‘What does the world rest upon, master?’ To which the teacher replies ‘On the back of a giant turtle.’ The student, not to be so easily put off, asks ‘And what does the turtle rest upon, oh wise one?’ To which the teacher replies, ‘Upon another turtle.’ The student is not ready to give up. ‘And what does that turtle rest on?’ he asks, to which the master angrily replies, ‘Don’t you get it? It’s turtles all the way down!’”

“Lao Tzu said that what the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.”

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