are we already enlightened?

are we already enlightened?

28 Dec 2019

"Are we already enlightened?" This is an inquiry that often comes up from students, addressing a notion that is sometimes conveyed in Buddhist teachings that "we are already buddhas".

It is a tricky statement which can often be misleading. It touches on the idea that if you are desiring something it implies a lack thereof and that the realization or 'attainment' of that which we desire only comes once the desiring has ceased. It's a bit like saying that "if you can't see yourself NOW as whole and fulfilled you will never be whole and fulfilled". This leads some people to believe, at a very superficial level, that simply by 'convincing' themselves that they are self-realized or acting as if they are, is sufficient and that any additional practice is useless. While there is some truth underneath all of that, the problem is that people, in most cases, cannot honestly see themselves in this way, because of many layers of subconscious programming and habitual tendencies which drive them towards selfish and contracted thoughts and actions.

Most people's conscious awareness is only a tiny sliver of what makes up there lived experience. Spiritual practices are to a large extent a deconditioning and purification of the many limiting beliefs and tendencies that accompany those beliefs. Once these have been stripped away we are then able to live more authentically and fully, anchored with the abiding awareness of who and what we truly are and how we relate to everything perceived around us.

The other aspect of the practice, specifically with regard to the practice of samadhi (profound meditative absorption), is that of training the body/mind to be able to access states of consciousness where this purification of the deepest levels of our being actually becomes possible. In order to achieve success in any form of spiritual practice, aspiration towards truth, wholeness and perfection, coupled with discipline are necessary. Letting go of the 'striving' aspect of practice only becomes an important consideration at a much later stage of the journey, as some of us can become overly consumed by it and not realize that all the practice is only a tool and not an end in itself.