Before I really understood what it was, I wanted to be enlightened.
Bit of a cryptic title, isn’t it? Well the topic itself is somewhat shrouded in mystery.
What is enlightenment? I thought I knew what it was. Being One with God, right? Glorious joy. Endless bliss. Infinite knowledge. That’s what I thought and none of it wrong at all. But there was one key and major stumbling block that was firmly cemented in my mind that I was unaware of that kept my real understanding of enlightenment at arm’s length. Or, at ego’s length, I’d better say. That error of perception of enlightenment was ever in tact throughout my years of study of Kabbalah. That’s not really Kabbalah’s fault, except for the fact that knowledge pertaining to enlightenment is either missing, is quite hidden or the way the material is generally presented keeps the most important aspects from gaining light in the conscious mind. It wasn’t until I allowed myself to delve into the ancient and open source of Yoga that my understanding deepened, and I approached full realization of enlightenment.
Yoga is pretty much a wide open book as far as the sharing of knowledge. An incredibly ancient practice that is incredibly well developed on multiple levels. Philosophical teachings. Abundant writings. Practical applications like asanas (positions), pranayama (yogic breathing), bandams (squeezing of certain muscles at key points to increase the flow of prana), Dhyana yoga (meditation), profound philosophy, and much more.
When I first began to study Yoga, I was flabbergasted at how freely and readily knowledge was made available. Sure, not every single Yogi is standing on the corner throwing pamphlets of truth for all to read and some of the ancient Siddha Yogis from Tamil Nadu were harshly criticized for their free sharing with the public. I developed a Kabbalistic pet peeve whenever a Rabbi would respond, “You’re not ready for that answer.” I figured they probably didn’t have a good answer, or were being stingy. I have always felt, if someone asks a question, you answer in a way that is digestible to them. When there is a question, there is an opportunity for an answer. But, in a short time with Yoga, like a Tolkien dwarf, I was mining massive amounts of precious gems and pounds of gold applicable toward my deep fervorous desire of becoming enlightened.
Until, that is, I realized what it actually meant to be enlightened.
I had always glamourized enlightenment. I desired it as a means of ending the suffering I’d been experiencing, and as a means of becoming a legitimate leader and teacher of others to help end their suffering. That was nobly naive, if I may say. Yet in all my yearning and plodding toward the state of Oneness, I never realized that I was always weaving my ego into it. More rightly put, my ego, like a squirrel burying nuts, was always stashing itself into the soil of my dreams of enlightenment. Enlightenment would bring parades of glory for me. Enlightenment meant the crowning achievement of all my efforts. A sort of proof in the pudding of my (ego’s) worthiness.
It was when I became very sick that I turned to Yoga as a means of healing. I never knew it could bring me so far, so fast along the long road that had gotten dusty and stagnant for me as I spun my wheels in the sands of the stories I was telling myself. The path of yoga I chose was Kriya yoga. My love for this path is deep and wide.
I first found Kriya by watching a Netflix video called Awake: the life of Yogananda. Something called to me very piercingly from this film. I later realized that it was Paramahansa Yogananda himself that had beckoned me toward this path. He signaled me and I was ready. Earlier, before I got sick that second time with myasthenia gravis, I would not have been ready. And had my egoic spiritual journey yielded more fruit, I would never have been able to humble myself enough to turn to Yoga, as I’d always had this cultural bias against it. Being Jewish, and due to a few encounters with some of the spiritual snobs of the yogic world (not very good yogis and a reflection of my own self at the time), I stayed away from Yoga. It was always as if I could feel the painful pressure of how badly I needed it calling me and my ego interpreted that pain to mean it was not good for me. Well, when I did delve into the literature, and became initiated by my teacher, Satchidananda, Marshall Govindan, the boulder in my eye that I was not seeing became clear.
It became so clear and I’ve had many glimpses past it. That’s when I stopped desiring enlightenment. Perhaps the desire ceased by my close proximity to my goal. Like a parched desert dweller, I had longed for nothing more than to drink the cool waters of the well at the Oasis. Finally being right at its side, I could then wait? That doesn’t make any sense and there’s way more to it than that. It’s the very proximal understanding itself of what Enlightenment is that sobered my thirst. Because, my thirst was my ego’s thirst. There is no desire in a Being that is enlightened. We already ARE that so there’s nothing to desire. But we identify with being the different aspects of the ego like the body, emotions, mind, and personality. The more we identify with these impermanent parts of ourselves, the less we experience who we truly are and have always been. We have always been “there.” Of course that is better written “here.” Always. Desire can exist only in that which is not “here,” which is the very definition of the ego. And that is the great irony. The ego desires it but it’s hold on the identity of the individual is rendered completely obsolete in the enlightenment itself. And thus, the ego really desires it only conceptually, but not in actuality, and once it recognizes what is involved in enlightenment, it tends to shy away, at least initially. The ego is sort of all talk, no action in a “I’m going to dive into the pool of blissful surrender” kind of sense.
The word enlightenment is even problematic as it is simply a return to realize what the true Self is and has always been. This is called Self-Realization and is a better expression than enlightenment for the process of remembering the true Self. The One. The Pure Being of God. I am That. I am. Really. So are you!
I never got this basic, most important, Universal Truth about who I Am from Kabbalah. Sure, there are ways of deciphering this through Kabbalah, but not laid out simply in this way. It’s much easier for me to go back now that I have been shown and to see the sparse hints here and there in the accessible teachings of Kabbalah, but I never heard about us as being the Witness, the Seer. The Soul as a basis of all reality and that being the same as God. Jewish mysticism is very careful about not equating the Self that is attainable by a human with God. But is God not One? If God is One, how can we not be That? It was also never brought to my attention that we are not the body, not the emotion, not the mind. I always identified a lot with my mind, proud of my intellectual prowess and intelligence. One of the greatest aspects of myself that I wore like a general’s hat was just another part of the “not-Self” impermanent aspects of the ego. This, I’ve discovered, I am attached to, like a cat clutching on to the sofa to not be dragged into the shower. All of the monumental, massive accomplishments of the development of Jewish thinking in the last many thousands of years also becomes much less important in light of the True Self.
Love never fails, it never fades nor ends. But as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for the gift of special knowledge, it will pass away.1 CORINTHIANS 13:8
It’s a great price, the ultimate price, the ego has to pay to return to that state of Oneness. It must let go of all control, of all notions of being the boss behind the wheel. All ways in which we believed ourselves to be, must go, so that we can merge with what is, was, and will always be. If we carry any notion of “I am this body, this emotion, this mind and any of its thoughts” these are the things that our mental energies fixate on, gathering around those points a tension of swirling mass of ignorance and suffering that taints the emotional and physical as well. From identifying with imposed, required, and controlling conditions of the mind and temporary habitations as being the self, we lose the True Self we really are which is the opposite. None of those things. Not of any thing.
Before offering some of the most profound teachings I have ever received in the third Kriya yoga initiation, my teacher asked those of us in the class, “Are you ready to be nobody? To be nothing special?” That is the rub about enlightenment. You become no body as you merge with the No thing Void Vast luminous space that is the source of everything. Well, the language even gets slightly misleading for this. You don’t become it. you are it, and just realize the case, yet the ego, that part we identify with that desires all sorts of things and in me, desired the glory of the very final hurrah of enlightenment, gets none of it. It’s like you baked the most delicious cake and you’ve waited impatiently for the timer on the oven to sound, and at the very last second, when your mouth is wide and eager with anticipation, as you go take that delicious bite, you become the piece of cake you were about to eat. Not an ounce of the anticipated satisfaction to take a bite is experienced. As the morsel itself, you even forgot what the yearning was.
And here’s the other side of enlightenment. It’s so darned good to be the cake, that no words could do it the slightest bit of justice, and any meaning of this blog post is basically nullified, except as a means for me to share why my ego no longer wishes to eat my Self.
Shalom Aleichem. Salaam Alaikum. Peace be with You.