It is very cool to find ourselves in a time when the subject of meditation, enlightenment and awakening is so globally recognized and explored. In the short time since I began practicing, around 20 years now, it seems like the world is an entirely different place and what used to be only in ‘weird’ books (especially for those of us growing up in middle America) is now literally everywhere.
I remember hearing about “enlightenment” when I was around 17 years old. I nearly shit my pants. Here were a group of people who were apparently very intelligent, kind, famous, well spoken and seemingly very evolved talking about becoming enlightened like the Buddha. Why wasn’t I informed of this before? What else could I possibly justify wasting another minute on instead of trying to become enlightened? Why wasn’t everybody doing this? Who forgot to give me the memo and put me in an enlightenment class when I was old enough to speak? For the first time, becoming Superman was really possible. Holy Fucking Shit.
Hearing about this stuff when you’re a kid is just awesome. In the beginning, of course, I approached spiritual practice from the same egotistical standpoint that I approached everything else. But it didn’t matter. When you read the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad Gita and the Dhamapada a hundred times they change you. Every second of meditation you try in the beginning changes you a little bit. You find your way through endless cycles of trial and error, countless ‘a ha’ moments, plenty of goofy inner experiences and misunderstandings which eventually morph into deeper misunderstandings!
I would not just read Dharma books, I would drink them as if I were dying of thirst and I actually feared I would get hit by a bus or the Government would burn them or something before I could read them all. The Tibetan teaching on “greed for the teachings” obviously hadn’t sunk in yet. However, the Tibetan teaching on using this precious human existence (more rare than a blind turtle popping up from the ocean and randomly sticking its head through a small golden ring) to practice became my constant mental coach. The rest of my life was about having fun, fitting in, finding my place and survival – enlightenment was the real goal.
Later on in my practice I had a little epiphany as I looked back on those first days. Cause and effect are a little like the chicken and the egg. Neither came first. This being the case, karma is not so much a “law” as it is literally what we are in our very DNA. Intention is not merely something we have had, but something that we gave birth to which has, in turn, birthed us. You do not take a vow, you become that vow. We are not the doer, we are the done.
This creates the dichotomy of karma or free will: We do not have free will and yet we do have free will. We do not have free will in the sense that we cannot change what karmic seeds we have nurtured and watered in the past which have created our current circumstances. However, we do have a choice of which karmic seeds we will nurture and water going forward which will create our circumstances in the future. And this brings us to doubt.
Doubt is, perhaps, the single most heinous and destructive delusion that we struggle with as human beings. Because we have not seen deeply enough into cause and effect we doubt that we have total control of our destiny. We know this is foolish on some level but we are still vexed when it comes to nurturing the seeds that we want to grow in the now. In this way we are our worst, and truly our only, enemy.
Though I was very unskillful in my practice during those early days, this was something I could correct through practice and work. But when I first heard the concept of “enlightenment” I never had even a millisecond of doubt about its possibility or truth. Yes, I doubted myself, but I never doubted the possibility of attaining enlightenment. Had I had too much doubt I may have filed “enlightenment” in the same bin as “becoming president,” but somehow this doubt was not an obstacle which deterred me. In short, faith was the only thing I had and the only thing I needed.
This is why I personally cherish intention above all. The Sufi’s call it “remembrance.” Whatever we are, have been, or may become, if we have the intention to attain Buddhahood stamped on our hearts, then we walk the path. If we have practiced deeply enough to remove all doubt of the way, we speed quickly to our goal. Though we may not be capable of perfection in all things yet, we see that we can at least nurture and water this one Vow above all others and rely on the immutable law of Karma for its growth until it overtakes the entire forest of confusion.