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Lions Roar : March 2019
izes there actually is no north or south—that these are just names people give to this way or that way, and that, no matter where he is, he is in fact here, where he has always been and will always be. Immediately, that man no longer has a feeling of being lost. Likewise we are lost when we don’t settle our lives in suchness. Misperceiving the wholeness of our mind, we see confusion and lack, which naturally gives rise to desire. We desire a destination, a state, that will bring us peace. But we don’t know how to get there. We feel lost, ungrounded, desperate for road signs. “Delusion” is the place we are fleeing. “Enlighten- ment” is the destination we seek. But it is a false des- tination. The path and all its teachings are like north and south, names for various directions that have some provisional value but in the end only confuse us if we take them as real in a way they are not. Since people need maps and directions when they feel lost, enlightenment is proposed as a destination some distance from delusion. The teachings are ser- viceable, if provisional, navigation aids to point us in what we believe to be the right direction. But after we have gone on long enough to have calmed down a bit, we see the truth: there is nowhere to go and no way to get there. We have been there all along. In Mahayana Buddhism this is called original enlightenment, or tathagatagarbha—the Womb of Suchness. This same point is made in a famous parable in the Lotus Sutra, an important text of Chinese Buddhism. People are lost. They hire a caravan leader who takes them to what turns out to be an illusory city, where they find some respite. Somewhat refreshed, they are then told by the caravan leader that this is not and has never really been their destination. The destination is endlessly far ahead. In effect there is no destination; they have always been where they wanted to go. But if the caravan leader had told them this at the outset they would never have believed him. Now lets get practical. Given all this, what does what we think of as enlightenment actually amount to? Are these teachings proposing, as they seem to be, that we give up practice altogether and somehow sud- denly leap out of what we experience as suffering, by some kind of mental magic trick? That we somehow will or think ourselves into enlightenment? No. The entire culture of practice (including medi- tation but also study, dharma relationships, ritual, and much more) is necessary. But not in the way we thought it was, not as a way to make things different. Rather, we practice to shift our understanding of our lives. In effect, as The Awakening of Faith puts it, “The LION’S ROAR | MARCH 2019 55