Do not, monks, address the Realized One by the word ‘friend’, that will not be for your welfare, benefit and happiness for a long time, the
Deathless has been experienced by me, monks, and the Path to the Deathless, I am an Awakened One, monks, all-knowing, all-seeing, one who has cooled
off, without pollutants, I have power over all things, and I teach the Doctrine, monks, you should come, listen, undertake and give an ear, I am
advising and instructing, having been properly instructed by me, properly trained, you will be free from the pollutants, freed in mind, freed through
wisdom, and in this very life, having seen directly, having attained, you will be able to say:
‘Destroyed is (re)birth for us,
accomplished is the spiritual life,
done is what ought to be done,
there is no more of this mundane state -
this we know’.
- The Lalitavistara Sutra
Siddhartha sat beneath the Bodhi tree vowing to never arise until he had discovered fundamental truth, dharma, or an answer to his questions about
suffering. Weeks later he arose apparently enlightened, awakened, “The Realized One”, discovering what it was he searched for despite having no
inkling about what he was supposed to find. As his insights and teaching flowered into a religion, spiced with every mystical or supernatural imagery
supplied with every oral tradition, this attainment of supreme knowledge became something to be strived for, in the chance that we too, us mere
humans, might attain this enlightenment.
To be honest and candid, I have always been disappointed with the “spiritual search for truth”, with its twists and turns and forever dead ends. I
found I didn’t desire the peace of mind they offered, as I still sought the frenzy and chaos from which I find beauty is conceived. Even in my own
spiritual searches, whether I failed or not, I have yet to stumble upon anything I could call enlightenment, or any glimpse of my true spiritual
nature. It seems I am simply incapable of such access. But the very fact that there can be a thousand and one different formulas for enlightenment,
true understanding or divinity, varying by whomever priest, monk and philosopher fathomed these formulas, proves to me quite reasonably that there is
no such state of being to search for or attain. For with each promise of enlightenment, revelation or cosmic disclosure that I’ve heard spoken from
the lips of those who spoke them – each with their various definitions, methodology and dogma – comes a different interpretation and presentation
of an idea about which no one has any real experience, or to which no one can really compare to.
This confusing outlook pained me when I first contemplated it (the result of a necessary end to a negative line of thinking), for it puts in doubt the
enlightened ones around us, our teachers and any spiritual authority whom we know and love, and perhaps even give ourselves up to. The promises, the
visions of becoming spiritual beings somehow blessed by the cosmos, as if to an impossible transcendence beyond what we already are, lose their grace
in the wake of this very thought. How does one know he’s enlightened?
It might show that someone who was enlightened, or possessed of some sort of mystical omniscience, would of course know
that he was
enlightened; but this would involve an infinite inquiry from which not even an enlightened master could escape unless he had some sort of decree or
certificate of authenticity from the universe itself: How does one know that he’s enlightened enough to know that he’s enlightened? And so on to
infinity. It further show that one who declares himself enlightened is simply too weary to continue asking that question any longer. Either way,
whether the enlightened ones are truly enlightened or not, us un-enlightened ones can only know with confidence that for them the search has stopped,
true conviction has set in, confidence in knowing there is nothing left to search for.
Questions arise. When we read the accounts of Siddhartha – most written many hundreds of years after his existence, translated and re-translated to
the interpretations we read today – are we beholding the truth? Or are we being told what is thought to be truth according to men so distant from
the facts? Only someone who has found enlightenment would know the answer these questions. We can only imagine.
With our common powers, we can approach Siddhartha’s situation as if we too sat beneath that tree. Since we are not enlightened nor were we witness
to the events, it seems easier to rely on empathy, intuition and reason, rather than taking these texts (such as the one above) for their word. With
this in mind, when imagining Siddhartha’s search for Wisdom, I don’t see much searching being done. How can one search while seated with eyes
closed? Searching for truth seems a misnomer. The idea that one must search for Wisdom, that it can be found, stumbled upon, attained and possessed in
some manner through contemplation or meditation perhaps, or simply bestowed by the hand of God himself, couldn’t have been what Siddhartha was doing
Insights are not discovered; they are not out there somewhere floating in a Platonic realm for us to have access to. It never shows that we are
divinely injected with wisdom by anything other than ourselves and our fundamental relationship with the universe whenever we produce an idea.
Insights are generated
not found. Siddhartha was creating
his enlightenment, creating “truth”. He wasn’t observing or having
access to supreme wisdom; his middle way, his noble truths didn’t arrive out of thin air. He cultivated
them from his own thoughts and
methods, derived from his own life and experience, putting it into words for all to understand. Siddhartha was creator here. He created his ideas, and
wasn’t a conduit through which the entire universe itself spoke, but a man, a human being capable of thinking and generating insights that would
prove to live in the minds of cultures for thousands of years.
But a truth remains in any declaration of enlightenment or access to God whether they be from Buddha, Jesus, Joseph Smith or David Koresh – Anyone
can declare themselves or someone else enlightened. This can be verified by the sheer volume of claims of an access to divine knowledge, whether it be
through interaction with a talking white light, a “vision”, a dream, or through sheer introspection. Anyone blessed with a voice can say “I am
enlightened” – or more honestly – “I am convinced I am enlightened”. Even so, this very declaration seems an act of creation. It comes from
the inside out as an expression. This conviction was not found, it was created.
The idea that enlightenment is created and not found, I think, gives a purpose to spirituality again, especially to those to whom it has failed. We
desire to be spiritual because we wish to become something other than what we are. For that, we create
our spirit. We create our enlightenment,
and in turn, ourselves, presented to the world as works of art. The enlightened ones desire to become enlightened, there is a motive in their
declaration, it is why they practice their methods – they search to search no more, for certainty, “truth”. But like all humans, a species that
cannot acquire such access to such knowledge, it must therefor be created, like all insight, conceived and devised, manifested in language or practice
and presented to those that would hear it.