Enlightenment is Always Available & Attainable

“No one else has the answer.
No other place will be better.
And it has already turned out.
At the center of your being you have the answer;
you know who you are and you know what you want.
There is no need to run outside for better seeing.
Nor to peer from a window.
Rather abide at the center of your being;
For the more you leave it, the less you learn.”
~ Lao-tzu

Enlightenment is more than a word, more than a challenging concept to be understood. In fact, there’s really no way to explain it through words or diagrams, but I’ll try to point at it through the primary tool I have available right now: the English language.

[First, a disclaimer: I am by no means a fully enlightened being! I have, however, experienced brief glimpses of illumination at various points on the path.]

“Enlightenment,” also known as samadhi or nirvana, is perhaps best translated for our purposes here as Self-realization. Self-realization is not a linear, religious or 12-step program. It is a process that is alive, ever in flux and different for everyone. It is a matter of uncovering and remembering our true nature, also known as Buddha nature, highest Self, pure being or ultimate consciousness, rather than “attaining” anything special that resides outside of us.

In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, our original and true nature is described as prajnaparamita, the heart of perfect wisdom… the Mother of all Buddhas, ‘the one who shows the world as it is.’ According to Tara Brach, Buddhist teacher, therapist and author, “When we are in touch with our true nature, we are completely free of the trance. No longer afraid or contracted, we know our deepest essence as the pure, wakeful awareness that beholds, with love, all of creation.”

At some point in history, spirituality and schooling divorced. Education became all about acquiring knowledge. Wisdom and facts were transmitted from the superior and authoritative teacher to the lowly and ignorant student. Self-knowledge was mostly thrown out the window in favor of other types of knowledge deemed more important and more essential to churning out good citizens who would work and be productive in the existing society with its capitalist economic system.

Now, that is changing. Can you feel the shift? It’s slow but steady. Mindfulness and yoga in school is becoming mainstream. Several progressive education models have been established over the last few decades, and learners in those communities are taking back their innate right: the right to pursue Self-knowledge and to learn throughout life by understanding and pursuing their own interests, passions and strengths.

In a paper they wrote twenty years ago on the educational philosophy and practice of the great modern yogi, Maharishi, James D. Grant and Christopher H. Jones point out, “Maharishi explains that in the highest state of enlightenment, ‘the total creative intelligence of the Self is fully awake on all levels of life—intellect, mind, senses, body, behavior, environment, and to the individual’s relationship with the entire cosmic life.’” And furthermore, “with the knowledge of pure consciousness integrated into the educational system, the potential harvest is rich indeed—a new era for humankind, the dawning of Heaven on Earth.”

OK, so I realize that’s a pretty lofty, utopian ideal. But we can move in that direction. We can move toward more complete education and more conscious learning. Life is not a multiple-choice test. It is not a list of statements to be labeled True or False. It is complex, complicated, simple, confusing, sad and delightful at once.

In conclusion, please remember: everything you need is already within you. Abide in that truth. You are not lacking anything. You are life expressing itself in this precious gem that is the present moment.

“Happiness cannot be found through great effort and will power,
But is already there, in relaxation and letting-go.
Don’t strain yourself, there is nothing to do…
Only our search for happiness prevents us from seeing it…
Don’t believe the reality of good and bad experiences;
They are like rainbows.
Wanting to grasp the ungraspable,
you exhaust yourself in vain.
As soon as you relax this grasping,
space is there — open, inviting, and comfortable.
So, make use of it. All is yours already.
Don’t search any further…
Nothing to do.
Nothing to force,
Nothing to want,
–and everything happens by itself.” ~ Lama Gendun Rinpoche

Photo taken by Michelle Margaret Fajkus
Photo taken by Michelle Margaret Fajkus

A New Initiative for a New Paradigm: EnlightenEd!

Hi there! Just 17 days into the new year, and already it seems like so much has happened. I hope your year has gotten off to a great start.

I’m excited to announce a new initiative I recently launched with a friend, colleague and former co-teacher. It’s called EnlightenEd, and it’s an online community that creates and shares resources to help education evolve into a new paradigm of conscious learning.

Why? Because it is time for the educational system to evolve… or be replaced by innovative methods that make use of common sense. Rather than allowing learners to discover and create in new ways, students are being prepared for (and forced to fit into) a rapidly changing world, a rapidly changing unsustainable society in which “progress” is impeding the natural learning process.

So what’s our end goal? Well, we are aiming for nothing short of utopia!

But, in the short term, we hope to help evolve education, meaning we hope to provide opportunities for learners to evolve through education, one activity or one breath at a time.

EnlightenEd logo

Thanks in advance for your support and collaboration!

How to Blow Your Mind Wide Open.

I have been a grateful sojourner on the winding spiritual path for as long I can remember.

At certain points in the past, I have wished for epiphanies, signals and sudden enlightenment. Of course, life doesn’t work that way. What we seek eludes us. Letting go allows newness to enter.

So, although I would like to gift you with these teachings that have altered my mind and improved my life, they may not resonate with you. The most important teaching of all is that we are each where we need to be when we need to be there, learning the lessons that we need to learn.

{Please read the full version on elephant journal to get all the goodness.}

1) Everything I need is already within me.

2) I can (and do) create my life through creative visualization (to a certain extent).

3) All things must pass.

4) Beliefs separate.

5) Faith is letting go.

6) All meditation is good meditation.

7) Metta.

8) Each morning, I am born again. What I do today is what matters most.

9) Equanimity.

10) No self.

11) Suffering is the result of clinging.

12) Worry is useless.

13) Friendship is the highest form of love.

14) Difficult people are the best teachers.

15) Therefore, be grateful to everyone and everything.

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Seeking: Healers—Inquire Within.

“Few of us are satisfied with retreating from the world and just working on ourselves. We want our training to manifest and be of benefit.

The bodhisattva-warrior, therefore, makes a vow to wake up not just for himself but for the welfare of all beings.”

~ Pema Chodron

A Bodhisattva is one whose aspiration is to attain Buddhahood (enlightenment) for the benefit of all sentient beings. Although the concept comes from Mahayana Buddhism, I believe Bodhisattvas can come from any (or no) faith tradition.

Bodhisattvas are healers. Compassionate, kind, real, patient, mindful and intelligent.

As Bodhisattvas, we take vows—we set the intention of serving others. We aspire to be of benefit to all beings, including ourselves.

Kind of a lofty goal, right? As Buddhist teacher Gil Fronsdal suggests, rather than thinking of the Bodhisattva concept as some huge ideal, we can think of it as the only thing we can do.

There are famous Bodhisattvas like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa, but the beauty of the Bodhisattva is that it is available to each one of us. There are countless souls working anonymously, right now, for everybody’s liberation and enlightenment. Will we join their ranks?

Here are some of my own favorite renditions of the Bodhisattva vows. If they resonate, write them down on a piece of paper and post them in your house where you will see them every day.

The traditional vows:

Beings are numberless; I vow to awaken with them.
Delusions are inexhaustible; I vow to end them.
Dharma gates are boundless; I vow to enter them.
Buddha’s way is insurpassable; I vow to become it.

From Pema Chödrön’s The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times

Throughout my life, until this very moment, whatever virtue I have accomplished… I dedicate to the welfare of all beings.

May the roots of suffering diminish. May warfare, violence, neglect, indifference and addiction also decrease.

May the wisdom and compassion of all beings increase, now and in the future.

May we clearly see all the barriers we erect between ourselves and others to be as insubstantial as our dreams.

May we appreciate the great perfection of all phenomena.

May we continue to open our hearts and minds, in order to work ceaselessly for the benefit of all beings.

May we go to the places that scare us.

May we lead the life of a warrior.

The Dalai Lama’s explanation:

The vow of the Bodhisattva is that she will not go into Nirvana until every single suffering being has entered Nirvana. One has to understand what this means.

Our awakening is not a personal triumph. We do not have to win a spiritual sprint. We are one mind. Awakening is to penetrate more and more deeply into this truth.

The world is alive. And as long as there is suffering then this living whole is shattered. Whether it is my suffering or the suffering of another, when seen from the perspective of the Bodhisattva makes no difference, because, seen from this perspective there is no ‘me’ or ‘another.’

In the Diamond Sutra, “Although the Bodhisattva saves all sentient beings, there are no sentient beings to save.”

These vows are practiced in three ways: restraint from harmful actions, doing wholesome deeds and working for the benefit of others.

How can we cause no harm in our actions? What kind deeds can we do for someone today? How are we working for the benefit of our fellow beings? As MLK put it, “The most important question is: what am I doing for others?”

The world wants—and needs—more Bodhisattvas. Inquire within; are you up to the task?