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Posts Tagged ‘irreverence’

Rubes surprised me again today with a pointer to something else that was on my mind, the whole question of of “what’s being enlightened like”:

Rubes 2/27/09

Rubes 2/27/09

This calls to mind our good friend Ikkyu, the iconoclastic Zen monk, who it’s said would go to brothels in black robes because he considered it a religious rite.  Yeah, he was a pretty wild guy.  But he also is considered to have been extremely in touch with what we call “enlightenment”.  So what’s the deal?

I think the deal is that “enlightenment” could be better phrased as “getting to see and understand the gears that make life tick”.  Rather than pursuing this understanding as something that will take you out of the world, many people see it as a way to better live in it.  The way I see it is best summed up in this Zen proverb:

This old rural monk is walking down the road to the stream, a big bundle of clothes slung over his back because it’s his turn to do the laundry.  A guy from the nearby village stops him to chat just a bit.  He’s mystified by the great spiritual work they do at the monastery, and asks him, “What is enlightenment like?”  The old monk slips the big bundle off his back and straightens up with a bit of a stretch and a deep, contented breath at the release of the burden.  The guy sighs too at the thought of it, and then excitedly asks, “Then how about after you’re enlightened? What’s life like then?”  The old monk just picks the laundry up, hoists it onto his back, and starts walking again toward the stream.

Hence the saying, “After enlightenment, the laundry.”

To me that is totally the point of “enlightenment”. It’s not this otherwordly sense of disembodiedness from the toils and trials of everyday life, more like an understanding of what it’s all about for you, so the toils and trials aren’t quite so miserable.  Shines a light on the ordinary so you can better see the miraculous in it, and illuminating the miraculous so you can recognize how very everyday it is.   There’s even another saying for that:

“When an ordinary man attains knowledge, he is a sage; when a sage attains understanding, he is an ordinary man.”

Hopefully that makes “enlightenment” sound more like something you can actually reach for, and actually use in your life.  Sometimes it’s a lot easier to figure stuff out if you can get into some kind of hermitage or retreat and disconnect from all the hangups and static noise of daily life.  You know, step back so you can see it all better.  But once you get that understanding, the real work of ‘enlightenment’ is then getting right back into the business of living.

That’s the hard part, going back into situations that were stressful while carrying with you the strong resonance of inner serenity.  Hard as it is though, the world needs it. The books and sages don’t need your light. We do. I think that’s the whole point.

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