lantern festival


By Ty H. Phillips


I want to be enlightened.

It seems like a noble aspiration and I honestly don’t know if there is a better starting point, but we’ve all seen the cartoon where the man tells the Buddha, “I want happiness.” The Buddha takes away the I and the want and says here, and leaves the man with just happiness.

happiness cartoon (1)

So now I am reflecting on what I want. If I remove the desire for it, the ambitious drive for enlightenment, will I be left with just enlightenment itself?

Probably not.

The truth is, I am not very ambitious but I am a dreamer. Lennon would say I wasn’t the only one, but he was making millions of dollars and I’m broke, so maybe I should be more ambitious and have fewer dreams. Who knows? So where do we go from here?

A common thread amongst teachers is to say that the chase after enlightenment is seen as foolish once we become aware. We realize that awareness was there all along yet would we ever reach that state of awareness without the chase? Is it like chasing women? Chasing money? Chasing a better total in powerlifting? These are all wants and yet, we find a sense of un-satisfactoriness in them all when we can’t find peace and acceptance of self.

Trungpa Rinpoche said, “The obsession with our own inadequacies is one of the biggest obstacles on the path.” We tend to fixate on all that is wrong with us or what we are doing wrong and that fixation is never on the outcome but rather the struggle.

I found this to ring profoundly true in my own life. I have carried hurt and baggage with me for decades and instead of allowing it to run its course, I have added it to the bank and let it collect interest.

When we begin the practice, a lot comes to the surface. Every nook and cranny of our being gets buttered and it’s not always very comfortable. Honestly, it kind of sucks. It’s like having a nice paper cut and pouring lemon juice in it (if you don’t get that reference, you’re too young to be reading this, go away).

As I mentioned in my last article, the path isn’t so fun. It’s not about sunshine and roses, and truth be told, if that’s what we expect, we have a very surface approach toward it. The path is meaningless if we don’t take it with us into our struggle. We walk the path not so we can fight, but so that we can learn, grow, evolve and fully understand what our humanity really is.

When we are exposed, when we are in pain, when we are fearful, hurting, angry, and even over it in general, we let go of the I want and we are laid bare to who we are right now.

This is where enlightenment waits for us. When we are able to settle in to our scars and depths without the quest to change them so much as be aware of them, they stop holding so much power over us (we become less attached). So maybe the cartoon is right after all.

Remove the I want and work with the I am. We don’t work with that which we are bound or chained to, but what we are or who we are, now.

When we can admit these things then we can become and maybe, just maybe, that becoming will unfurl into enlightening.


Photo: cartoon (source)

Feature photo: weheartit

Editor: Dana Gornall