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Lions Roar : March 2018
Mind. This teaching is adapted from Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen (Harper- Collins). * Enlightenment Is a Day-to-Day Practice by Joan Sutherland, Roshi AT THE VERY HEART of Buddhism is the promise of enlightenment. It’s the bright flame illuminating the dharma, and the rich variety of practices developed in the traditions that make up Buddhism are all in some essential way in the service of that promise. In the West, the idea of enlightenment has gotten a little bruised, in part because the intensity of our longings has made us so vulnerable to disappointment. Some of us don’t believe in it anymore, or think it’s the province of only a few special people. Some of us have misunderstood it as a self- actualization project, and so have missed its power not just to improve but to transform. What happens when we let our projec- tions about enlightenment fall away? Can we find the place where wisdom born of generations of experience meets us where we, each of us, actually live? Could we risk taking on a day-to-day practice of enlightenment? Here is the story passed on with the flame: Enlightenment is our true nature and our home, but the complexities of human life cause us to forget. That forgetting feels like exile, and we make elaborate structures of habit, conviction, and strategy to defend against its desolation. But this condition isn’t hopeless; it’s possible to dismantle those structures so we can return from an exile that was always illusory to a home that was always right under our feet. The term “enlightenment” is used to translate a variety of words in various Asian languages that, while closely related, aren’t exactly identical. Most fundamentally, enlightenment refers to the Pali and Sanskrit word bodhi, which is more liter- ally “awakening.” “Enlightenment” has an absolute quality about it, as though it describes a steady state, something not subject to time and space or the vagaries of human life. We imagine that once over that threshold, there’s no going back. In Buddhist terms, the way things really are is enlightenment, and our experience of the way things really are is also (the same) enlightenment. It is the vast and awe-inspiring nature of the universe itself, and it is the way each of us thinks, feels, and acts when we’re aware of and participating in that vast enlightenment manifesting as us. In contrast to enlightenment, “awakening” feels more like an unfolding process, which might explain why over time the ways of referring to it have differentiated and proliferated: liberation, seeing one’s true nature, being purified and perfected, attaining the Way, opening the wisdom eye, undergoing the Great Death, and becoming intimate, to name just a few. COURTESYOFTHESHELLEYANDDONALDRUBINPRIVATECOLLECTION The Buddha touches the earth at the moment of his enlightenment. According to legend, he said of his realization, “The earth is my witness.” LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2018 41