I am Awake.
Saying that is taboo in the Buddhist world. I can already hear people quoting some Japanese master who said something like, “If someone says they are Enlightened, that means they are not.” He was right; yet here I am, Awake.
Our Japanese friend was correct: This body-mind structure, these 5 Aggregates if you will, are not and cannot ever be Enlightened. They are, however, Enlightenment itself. When I tell you, “I am Awake” I am referring to that which is our mutual foundation for existence that goes beyond existence and non-existence.
I am conscious of Enlightenment in and beyond all things—you and me included.
But what does this mean exactly? It means I live beyond suffering. I am free. Not in an emotional bypass kind of way where we go numb and pretend to live in a pristine state of consciousness. I still experience sadness, grief, anger, desire and physical pain—all of the human stuff (except hate, but I never really knew how to hate). The emotions, feelings and sensations I experience are even more intense because there is no filter of “this should not be.”
All of this is undeniably here, now.
This in no way makes me special. Anyone—including you—can awaken, and from my perspective you already are awake. You’ve probably already had glimpses of Enlightenment. It’s there, just beyond the illusions your mind has worked so hard to create.
To be awake means I am present, always. The places we hide to avoid emotions or feelings or sensations or life in general all disappear. Once we awaken, we can no longer fool ourselves.
When my mind spins into anger, I am present with it spinning. I see the anger arise and I see it fall away. I know I am not the anger, yet I am not separate from it either. When my mind is enraptured by the ecstasy of existence, I am present with this intense joy. I see the joy rise and fall away. I know I am not the joy, yet I am not separate from it either. Because I am present, I am not lost tumbling through waves of karma unconsciously.
There are many who stand on the threshold of Awakening.
Ram Dass referred to himself as being half-baked. We bounce between our ego attachments and the unreasonable joy of simple being. From this in between place, it’s easier to relate to people who are struggling on the Path and it eliminates the pedestal effect. They dance right up to the line of final release and then retreat back into the structures of their being. There’s nothing wrong with this. Dance as long as you like.
One day, and I don’t think it’s really a choice, the line disappears. Or rather, you recognize there never was a line. You were always Enlightenment. People on the other side who are stuck in suffering think this means the journey ends in brilliant white light. For me, it wasn’t dramatic. The light and drama happened before, with a whole lot of dissolving and then coming back; I danced along the line for a long time.
Eventually I no longer cared about Awakening. I was happy to be wherever I found myself, and focused on being of service to others because that was fun for me. There might be light or fireworks for some people, but the journey certainly doesn’t end with Enlightenment.
On the one hand, I’ve always been Awake. But on the other, there is no hand. There was a moment of distinction when all the doubts and what I felt and thought was myself dissolved completely. The structure holding me in that place of suffering can never return because it was never really there to begin with. It’s hard to talk about and not really important, so most teachers don’t. But I think the question of what does it mean to be awake is a valid curiosity, so once in a while I do.
Another way to describe it is we each have a default mode that we always return to. For people trapped in illusion, they default to their attachments, which give them a firm description of the world. The Awakened default to a stateless state of ever-changing yet ever-present Light.
Of course when I talk about what it means to awaken, people get frustrated because they want a simple explanation. The truth is anything I tell you is only a half-truth; Enlightenment cannot be conceived and it cannot be put in a neat little box. Just when you think you’ve figured it out, you see it’s not that at all. So we’re left with these weird word games.
What I can tell you is Enlightenment goes on forever.
There is endless exploration and a deepening of awareness. There’s always more to learn and discover. Everything is new every moment. Of course, there’s an awareness of this newness before awakening too. I suppose the difference is after awakening, there’s no suffering, there’s no getting completely lost in the drama.
Pleasure and pain yes, but no suffering.
Even when residual attachments arise, we see them for what they are: mental clinging to vapor. The mind plays its games, pretending this situation is all that exists. But even as we play the game, we know it’s only a fraction of the Totality. We know all of this beauty and horror unfolding within and around us is simply the play of existence. Not intellectually or intuitively, but we really know it beyond a shadow of a doubt in a visceral way.
We see we are the endless cycle of destruction and creation blinking between existence and non-existence. And the internal show makes us laugh. There’s a lot of humor within the awakened mind.
Turīya is a meditation teacher and author of Unreasonable Joy: Awakening through Trikaya Buddhism. You can find her smiling at www.dharmacenter.com and read more of her blogs at www.turiyabliss.com
Editor: Dana Gornall