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Fri Jan 15, 2016, 05:09 PM

 

Peace of Mind

In the spiritual marketplace of the modern West, the word "enlightenment" has become a semantic and spiritual mine-field. It is fraught with mystery, prone to misinterpretation, and the source of much spiritual distress.

There are a number of ways people may come to enlightenment, however they define it. One classic mechanism is through direct transmission and modeling by a teacher who is already there. This is the traditional mechanism used in various schools of Buddhism, especially those that honour the concept of lineage. It should be remembered that the moment of direct transmission is usually preceded by many years of arduous study and meditation.

However, there are other possibilities. One is "instant enlightenment", in which one is suddenly struck as if by lightning, opens up and is never again the same. Needless to say, this is an extremely rare occurrence and is probably best regarded as mythical. Another possibility is methodical self-examination through meditative self-enquiry. In this note I wish to give a general description of this method, the one I use.

Before I begin, however, I need to give you my definition of enlightenment. My definition was formulated by an Australian teacher of Advaita named Roger Castillo:

"Enlightenment is simply continual, unbroken peace of mind, regardless of the circumstances."

The path I have followed in search of peace of mind is one of self-enquiry, as recommended by Advaitins like Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Ramesh Balsekar etc. Ramana Maharshi's classic question, "Who am I?" is probably the best-known tool in the process of self-enquiry.

The principle of this approach is that when one examines oneself deeply, one discovers that what we normally think of as our "self" - our ordinary, mundane self - is an illusion, a concept, a learned and programmed social construct that doesn't exist in any real way. This alone is a fairly startling realization, but there is still more to come.

Further self-enquiry leads one below the concept of the ordinary self, into intuitive contact with the Self - what Hindus call "atman" and what we in the West often call the Higher Self. This seems to be the an aspect of the eternal, universal, unitary Self also called Brahman, the Tao or God. This Self can't be experienced directly, but its footprints quickly become obvious during self-enquiry meditation.

The Self can't be harmed by anything in this world, so the concept of fear or any other emotion doesn't apply to it. The longer one pursues self-enquiry, the more one comes to identify with the Self rather than the mundane self, the seat of ego and the home of the what Eckhart Tolle calls the "pain body". The shift away from identifying with the mundane self helps to calm one's emotional reactivity, fears and suffering as one gains confidence that one is "really" a Self that is not subject to harm under any circumstances.

The reason peace of mind is the centerpiece in this framing of enlightenment is that mental disturbances such as emotional reactivity and the ceaseless nattering of the mind tend to cloud our inner vision and prevent us from seeing the Self with clarity. Calming those mental disturbances is essential for clearing away the fog that keeps us from seeing the unreality of the mundane self and recognizing the often-subtle footprint of the Self.

There is also a helpful feedback loop at work in all this. The recognition that one is the Self, eternally unaffected by the turbulence of life, automatically calms the ego's fear that harm lurks around every corner. This calming deepens one's peace of mind, which then allows one to see both the self and the Self more clearly. Peace of mind gives clarity, and clarity in return gives peace of mind.

The role of meditation in this approach is to give one a toe-hold on that initial peace of mind. Meditation (I use a form called Vipassana) calms the chatter enough to allow us to glimpse the truth of the Self. With practice, these glimpses become fuller as the general inner noise level subsides. Once the identification with the the self has been reduced and identification with the Self is more fully established, formal meditation becomes less necessary and Self-enquiry can be performed while doing any other daily activity. Eventually, given enough practice the state of Self-awareness and peace of mind can become permanent. This is my working definition of enlightenment.

The role of the teacher or guru in this approach is quite variable. Classical Advaita, like many other spiritual schools, insists on the importance of the Guru, but most modern teachers place less emphasis on the personal relationship of teacher and student. Some followers of this path have gurus, while many don't. A lot depends on the personality and history of the student, along with the accessibility of teachers. Deciding to "go it alone" requires a somewhat greater degree of commitment, at least initially. In the end, though, we each have to go it alone - no one else can take that last step for you. However, a teacher can help keep one focused and encouraged, especially in the early stages when one is less spiritually stable. A good teacher can also offer new avenues of enquiry as you need them.

I have a number of friends I consider to be guides and I also read a lot, but I don't have a Guru or a formal teacher. In a sense I am my own guru, and I look for pointers in every aspect of my inner and outer life. One thing I can say about this approach is that it often requires me to be painfully honest with myself, as my mundane, egoic self often tries to worm its way back into control of my actions, thoughts and feelings. These times of self-appraisal can be intense exercises in humility and surrender, but they are a necessary part of the journey.

One thing all Advaitins agree on is that enlightenment is not an experience. No experience is permanent, so enlightenment, being permanent, cannot possibly be an experience. In fact, strong spiritual experiences (for example, the sense of cosmic consciousness or universal oneness, visions or telepathy) can often block the one's progress, as seekers tend to cling to them, trying to revisit them.

I did just that a few years ago. I had a brief taste of what is known in Sanskrit as "sahaja samadhi" - Gautama Buddha's unitary glimpse of Venus while meditating beneath the Bodhi tree. I made the mistake of thinking that was IT, and spent the next five years trying to get the experience back, to no avail. Now I see it for what it was, a powerful and inspiring spiritual experience that had very little to do with actual enlightenment.

Relinquishing an experience like that is hard for the self to accept, but it serves to sharpen the clarity of what I'm actually doing. In the end though, setting aside the sense of self-importance attached to this type of experience is an essential part of my journey towards Self-realization through peace of mind.

Sat-chit-ananda, everyone!

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Reply Peace of Mind (Original post)
GliderGuider Jan 2016 OP
Rebkeh Jan 2016 #1
ellenrr Jan 2016 #2
Name removed Sep 2017 #3

Response to GliderGuider (Original post)

Fri Jan 15, 2016, 09:25 PM

1. Thank you for posting this

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Response to GliderGuider (Original post)

Sat Jan 30, 2016, 12:24 PM

2. interesting. I am reading Jon Kabat Zinn's Wherever you go, there you are,

and what you say, Glider, makes me think of something he says- which very much applies to me.

He cites a person who is always dropping "I am meditating," or "when I was meditating" into the conversation.

and suggests that person is too caught up in the "image" of being a meditator - they have stopped experiencing it.

yep. that is me.
I was (and am) so thrilled with the results of meditation in MY life, that every time anyone said to me - that they were stressed or sad or whatever-
I would think to myself "You should meditate".
I didn't say it outloud, I thought it, but still there is that tendency (I have) to feel like I have discovered the secret, the answer to everything.

Part of the ego raising its head.

really I know nothing. all I know is to meditate.

thanks for your post.

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