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Buddhadharma : Spri 2013
SPRING 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 29 that, too. It has stages and aspects, sudden leaps forward and devastating stumbles. While what we awaken to is the same for all of us, how we awaken and express that awakening in our lives is endlessly idiosyncratic and gives the world its texture and delight. Which isn’t to say that enlightenment and awakening are different things; they’re just dif- ferent ways of looking at the same thing. The poet Anna Akhmatova spoke of the wave that rises in us to meet the great wave of fate coming toward us. Perhaps enlightenment is that which comes toward us, a previously unimaginable grace, while awakening is that which arises inside us, to prepare for and meet the grace. In that moment of meeting, we know the two waves as rising from the same ocean. Enlightenment is transpersonal. For Western- ers especially, it’s important to keep remembering that awakening is something different from the projects of self-improvement and self-actualiza- tion we’re used to; it’s not about being a better self but about discovering our true self, which is another thing entirely. One of the puzzlements of the Way is that some people can seem to have substantial, even operatic, openings and still behave like jerks. This is important because it speaks to the nature of awakening: having an enlightening revelation isn’t the same thing as being enlightened; we have to let the revelation stain and dye us completely, in the exact midst of our everyday lives. We have to let life teach us how to embody the revelation. Post-revelation, some people may believe that awakening is about them, when in fact it’s the least about-you thing that’s ever happened. And it’s simultaneously the truest thing about you that’s ever happened. Discovering how both these things could be so, and their implications for the way we live our lives, are what the paths of awakening are for. Because it’s transpersonal, enlightenment isn’t something that can be obtained, like the ultimate killer app. Neither can it be attained, like a skill or an understanding to be harnessed to the pur- poses of the self. In some Buddhist traditions, enlightenment is seen as a kind of fundamental property of the universe, a vast unifying principle Enlightenment is the awe-inspiring nature of the universe itself, and it is the way each of us thinks, feels, and acts when we’re aware of and participating in that vast enlightenment manifesting as us. that appears in an almost infinite variety of forms. Enlightenment is autonomous, existing before there were humans, or anything else, to experience it. Nagarjuna, the great Indian philosopher of the second and third centuries, expressed it this way: When buddhas don’t appear And their followers are gone, The wisdom of awakening Bursts forth by itself. —from Verses from the Center, translated by Stephen Batchelor This view of enlightenment was personified in Prajnaparamita, mother of buddhas, who holds the universe’s awakening, regardless of whether there are buddhas or Buddhist teachings in a particular era. We could play with the thought that this has some relationship to the contempo- rary theory that consciousness, or its ancestor proto-consciousness, was from the beginning a fundamental feature of the universe, existing at the subatomic level and eventually emerging into matter as the universe became more complex. From this perspective, the process of awaken- ing is less a matter of actualization and more a matter of “truing,” of becoming aware of the way things already are. Rather than developing an enhanced and therefore more solidified self, we dissolve into something that existed before we did. We become aware of our continuity with enlightenment, which is none other than the uni- verse itself. This has been called our original face, what we “look” like when we step back into the moment before the world of our thoughts and feelings comes into existence. While Westerners generally speak of having a dream, in some South Asian cultures you’re seen by a dream. It’s a bit like that: We become aware that the universe has