Buddhist Enlightenment

Bodhidharma, it is said, brought Buddhism from India to China. He introduced it to China, and it’s interesting because Buddhism, which started in India, really kind of died out there. The Buddha lived in India, gave his sermons in India and never left India, and Buddhism first flourished there. But its real growth occurred in China, and then, of course, later in Japan, Thailand, Burma, places like that. Gradually it spread around the world. But it’s interesting that it’s very much transplanted. A lot of attention is paid to Bodhidharma because he brought Buddhism [to China]. He was not the only one—there are historical records of Buddhism really existing there prior to that time, but he brought the essence. It was considered that he was the first one who perhaps was enlightened, who brought the real essence, not just the teachings, but he was a teacher.

Buddhism has existed forever, just like we have. And occasionally it’s codified; it’s put together into a system by someone who likes to codify it and put it together in a system. But it’s really just a structural understanding of how things work in the universe, inside your mind. The idea really—if I can skip the language that they’ve translated from and just use my own, which I prefer—instead of getting into Noble Truths and all these ideas, I prefer to play with my own deck of cards and not somebody else’s—cards I’ve designed myself.

The essence of Buddhism is simply that the mind is forever. And that there are endless states of mind. And that we are always experiencing different states of mind in one form or another, in one body or another, in one life or another, forever. And that there are states of mind that are painful and unpleasant, there are states of mind that are wonderful and ecstatic. But there are only endless states of mind—viewpoints, plateaus of seeing life.

Most people exist in very clouded states of mind. That is to say, their minds are very clouded. It’s sort of like when you’re underwater in a big swimming pool and you open your eyes, and you can’t see very far and everything you see is distorted. That’s how most people perceive reality. They’re under a great deal of water and everything is very distorted. They assume that is what life is, that what they perceive is real. But of course, there are states of mind that are not clouded at all, that are perfect, immaculate, vacuous and clear. Void of illusions. Void of things that make those states of mind cloudy and make them antithetical to reality, to the clear seeing of reality.

The chances are you live in a state of mind that’s pretty cloudy. You may not see that or realize that because you’re used to it. You assume that the way you see things is the way they are. As a matter of fact, we can’t imagine, or it’s very difficult to imagine, that anything could be other than the way that we perceive it to be. That’s the illusory nature of any state of mind. We assume that what we see is what everybody else sees. But that’s not true at all.

I can look through lots of different states of minds. I can look at other people’s states of minds and look through them, just like picking up a person’s glasses and looking through them. I can pick up five or six different pairs and look through them, and everything looks different. If the prescription is different, life looks different through each pair of glasses—different distortions are apparent. Glasses distort the way things look, unless of course your vision is already incorrect, in which case the prescription corrects it. And then you see clearly. But if you have clear vision, were you to look through someone’s glasses, it would distort everything.

It’s interesting looking through different people’s minds. I do that sometimes. And I see various types of distortion. Distortion is real; distortion is part of the cosmos. But the problem with distortion is that when we see things in a distorted way, we tend to trip and fall and we make mistakes. If our vision isn’t very clear, something may take place that we don’t see—maybe an opportunity that we don’t grasp. Things may not be at all as confusing as they appear to be in a distorted state of mind. Maybe things are very simple. Maybe life is very simple, and all the hubbub and noise that everyone makes is simply because they’re in very distorted states of mind.

Maybe life isn’t complicated. Suppose it’s very simple. But the reason it appears complicated to you is because you’re in a very distorted state of mind. That’s the basic premise of Buddhism—that you’re in a very distorted state of mind. Everything you see looks real to you; you can’t imagine it being any other way, but you are so far removed from clear seeing that it’s impossible to estimate the distance.

We say enlightenment is clear seeing. When you’re enlightened, you have a clear view. A clear view implies the absence of thought or impressions in the mind. When you’re not thinking; when you’re not seeing things through emotions, through desires, through aversions, through fears; when your vision isn’t distorted by egotism and vanity, by just all the petty viewpoints that the mind can embrace; when you just see things as they are, we say that’s enlightenment. Not simply seeing physical objects as they are—that’s just physical vision—we’re talking about inner vision and using physical vision as a symbolic reference to understand inner seeing. Inner seeing has nothing to do with physical vision—it’s the perception of life directly. And without thought, without illusions, in perfect states of mind, we exist in a kind of paradise.

Paradise is not the place you go when you die. Paradise is when your mind is in a perfect state. There’s no heaven that you go to. There are different worlds that we incarnate in forever, but if you’re in a pleasant world in a horrible state of mind, it won’t make any difference, everything will appear horrible to you. If you’re in, I guess, what one might call a horrible world, if you’re in a perfect state of mind, everything will appear perfect to you.

Buddhism is about bringing your mind into a very clear state and from there going to a state that’s more clear and so on until you become enlightened. And that’s done with a great deal of self-effort. We have to remove all the toxins, all the pollutants from our mind. The mind is originally clear. When you scrape all the barnacles off and get down to the reality of your mind, it’s clear. We all have perfect minds. So it’s not as if we have to go get something. It’s not as if we don’t have the right vehicle. But the problem is it’s covered over with a lot of barnacles, with silt, with obscurations.

When the mind is perfectly clear, it’s like a mirror—it reflects everything. A perfectly clear mirror reflects everything. And since there’s no self, when you look in the mirror you just see forever, you don’t see a person. The sense of self is one of the obscurations that prevents us from clear seeing—the idea that there is a self, or that we’re anyone in particular. To have the illusion of selfhood simply means that when you look in the mirror, you see somebody. When you no longer see anyone, but instead you see life in all of its perfection, then your seeing is clear.

To go within doesn’t mean to become enraptured with who you are—or to become enraptured with ideas of who you are. When we talk about going within in meditation, we mean to completely disassociate the consciousness principle of awareness, which is what we are, from any idea of a particularized self. If you stop thinking, if there’s no thought in the mind, if the mind is absolutely clear and calm, then there will be no sense of self. The self washes away. The longer we can stay in the thoughtless state, the more the obscurations are washed away, because when we stop thought, a tremendous amount of energy is released and that energy purifies the mind. We also purify the mind through focusing on higher and brighter states of mind when we talk about, think about, engage in activities that have to do with the world of enlightenment. Any action in that direction, any focus in that direction brings us into touch with the aura of enlightenment. The aura of enlightenment is endless light.

We can’t say what enlightenment is, we can’t say what it isn’t, because these are words and words have nothing to do with reality. Words are a human way of trying to describe things. But they’re much more of an interference than they are a help in the world of enlightenment. All the sutras in the world are useless. All the lectures of all the teachers don’t really mean anything, they’re only words—they point in a direction, that’s their only use. And if they help you in that sense, they’re fine. It isn’t the words, it’s the power behind them that matters. And if the words are spoken by someone who’s powerful, if they’re spoken by someone who’s enlightened, then it isn’t the words that matter—they could say anything. It’s the aura, the energy field of enlightenment that one feels, comes to know, focuses on and eventually, one day, becomes.

To become enlightened is really quite simple. You have to purify the mind completely; there’s no other way. It’s impossible otherwise. It’s only with complete purification. You have to burn away, with the fire of transmutive energy, anything that’s cloudy, any states of mind that are unenlightened. And when they’re all gone, there’s only enlightenment left. When there’s no self, there’s enlightenment. Self implies not just a sense of personality, but any state of mind that’s unenlightened, that is not enlightenment, that you would view reality through. When you view reality through any state of mind that’s not enlightened, you perceive yourself as having a particularized being, which is really a self-reflection of that state of mind. The state of mind reflects itself; it seems to have its own being-ness. When we burn it away, if we burn everything away, at the end of all the burning, there is only enlightenment, and then there are dreams. Dreams. The dreams of eternity.

The dreams of eternity are the states of mind. When we wake up from the dreams there’s only enlightenment. There never could be anything else. Humankind has no idea what existence is, at this stage. They’re all dreaming, they’re all asleep. Occasionally someone awakens from the dream a little bit and tries to awaken the other sleepers—with not much success because it’s not their time yet. Once in a great while a fully awakened one is here, observes everybody sleeping and leaves, quietly.

There’s only enlightenment. Anything else is a dream. The dreams of the self are manifold and endless and they exist in all the myriad worlds and conditions that appear to have solidity in dreams. When you’re dreaming at night, something seems very real. Some terrible thing’s happening, some wonderful thing’s happening, some nonsensical or boring thing is happening that seems completely real. Completely. You’re convinced that it’s all taking place, but when you wake up the dream is gone and so is all that apparent solidity, which seemed so real at the time. It’s gone.

All the lives we ever lead are only dreams—these waking moments, that look so solid to you when you consider yourself awake, are just dreams. And they’ll pass, as they always do. Yesterday has passed; it’s gone. You can’t find it. It appeared very solid at the moment of its existence. But now it’s gone. This day will pass; it’ll be gone. Just dreams.

We dream forever unless we awaken. We move from one dream to another—some beautiful, some we’re the hero or the heroine, some horrible, some nonsensical, some boring. And then there’s enlightenment. To become enlightened we have to purify the mind, we have to gradually move step by step through a series of dreams, and the dreams gradually become less tangible. And we do it by focusing our attention completely, on things that are pure, on states of mind that are pure.

If you want to get someplace, you have to look and see where it is you want to go. And then you keep that viewpoint. And you proceed in that direction and you get there. It’s just a question of knowing where you want to go and finding the right direction and then checking once in a while to make sure that you’re still on the way. If you keep traveling, you’ll get there; it’s really not very complicated. And the experiences that we have, we call the journey. And where the journey takes place at any given moment, we call the path.

If you want to become enlightened, you’ve got to get all the bullshit out of your life. You have to clear up your mind completely. You have to unhook from anything that’s impure, and focus only on things that are completely pure and perfect, all the time. And we do it a little at the beginning and then more and then more, and then eventually it consumes us. Literally. Until there’s no self, there’s only light.