Either you choose to be on the path or you don’t. That’s up to you. No one else can make that choice for you.
I emphatically have chosen to be on the path and am very happy about my choice, both in the sense that I am positive it is the right path, for everyone really, but definitely for me, and in the sense that being on the path has caused me to discover limitless joy inside my own head, which is the only place to find it that I know of.
As always, we need to keep in mind that the path has some monuments along the way that look pretty peculiar to people who don’t know the place, or take you through some territory that is very unfamiliar. The estimable Patrick Kearney does talk a bit about people who, trotting on the path, see something that so deranges them that they end up needing professional care from a psychiatrist, sometimes inpatient, but he is talking about people who are on retreats, which I would still encourage you to do, but just remember that Buddhists should avoid attachment to anything and everything. I can’t be sure, but I think radical derangement is mostly a problem for people who are clinging very tightly to their already dodgy grasp on reality, such that nudging it too hard will send them over the edge.
I very much doubt this can happen as the result of reading blog posts. I very much hope not, anyway.
One very peculiar monument on the path that we have discussed at some length, partly because it is so peculiar, partly because it is so important, is not self.
Seeing your sense of self can be very difficult because it is literally who you usually think you are, so you have no reason to question it or look for it.
The other option, besides your ordinary, daily self, for what to identify with is nothing. Empty space. Buddha mind is empty luminosity, so light. But you never really see light. Light is what enables us to see, but you only see its effects, not the thing itself. It’s not even really a thing at all. This is like the fact that your eyes cannot see themselves. You can look in the mirror and see your eyes in reflection, but that is not your eyes looking at themselves.
Kearney also points out that, behind awareness is a shadowy sense of a presence. He does not tease it out this way, but it is not wrong, I think, to suggest that this shadowy presence is Presence itself, the suchness, the quality that makes everything exist. Sort of the Buddhist Higgs boson. It must exist given what else we know, but it is very hard to pin down/perceive/detect/ discern/access, pick your verb. You can try to turn your awareness on it, but it is always behind awareness, so catching it is impossible, like a puppy chasing its tail. Luminous emptiness.
After his awakening, the Buddha was a really powerful guy in some sense. The story has it that the first people who saw him post awakening could tell just by looking at him that he had found something unique. He had various supernatural powers that anyone who is fully awakened supposedly has, although he forbade his monks to use them because he knew that playing around with them would feed the monks’ egos, which is exactly the opposite of the goal. But the Buddha had a world historical awakening that allowed him to discover aspects of human reality that we are only now replicating with cutting edge technology some 2,500 years later.
This is what we are aiming for on the path. Not the supernatural powers, which are kind of cool to think about, but a distraction for those of us who are not fully awakened. Awakening, like virtue, is its own reward. We can be happy with being happy. You may find various other ancillary benefits on the path that matter to you. Just don’t let enjoyment of them distract you from complete awakening.
Remember the meditation teacher who learned that one of his students was learning to meditate so he could read minds. “Why would you want to collect someone else’s garbage?” the teacher wondered.
Compared to Buddha mind, luminous emptiness, and its power, our ordinary, daily identities are very puny. We tend to be whiny and self pitying. Our daily selves, which we want to stop identifying with, are kinda like Donald Trump — risibly self aggrandizing, always defensive, lying compulsively to hide the psychological pain of being a fallible human. That’s puny.
So the options are puny Donald Trump or powerful Buddha mind.
Patrick Kearney also tells the story of the participant in a retreat who says to him that he has heard many explanations of not self from many teachers and he still doesn’t understand it. Kearney says in telling this story that he hoped this person was not going to ask him to explain it.
It beggars explanation, but that is true of many aspects of awakening on the Buddhist path. If I could explain it, I would. I’m sure most Buddhist teachers would be happy to explain it. Look at the ads in any Buddhist publication. One very common product is books, books, and more books. Lots of Buddhists out there trying to explain various aspects of the path and the goal.
But ultimately, you have to live it, and live it for yourself and by yourself. As always, this is all in your head, and the best way to get there is to notice what is going on in your head.
And the best way to do that is to meditate. So keep meditating.
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