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
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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?

You Are Already A Buddha

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Good morning, enlightened ones. Good news! Did you know? You are already a Buddha.

Even if you’re working for the weekend, even if you’re struggling with an addiction or three, even if you’re angry or sad or lonely or moody or joyful, even if you’re overconfident, and even if you are suffering from an utter lack of hope.

The moment you can drop the you from your storyline, you can tap into your Buddha self. The glorious moment when you embrace the duality, the paradoxical nature of being a being on this amazing planet Earth, the form and emptiness coexisting in everything, including you… that is an enlightened moment.

“The true task of a spiritual life is not found in faraway places or unusual states of consciousness. It is here in the present.” ~Jack Kornfield

So why is life so difficult, so full of pain and troubles? Well, for however many years you’ve been alive (or however many lifetimes, if you’re into the reincarnation thing), you’ve been practicing living in the world of form and running from emptiness. You’ve been given your name, your demographics, your genetics and since you were a little child putting together words and concepts, your ego has been growing stronger and stronger. Your personality does not want to acknowledge that it is ultimately unimportant. That what matters is what’s behind your eyes, your mouth, your heart. Kindness. Truth. Simplicity.

So just a gentle reminder for your Friday, for your weekend, for you anytime: Breathe and look around. Appreciate this, here, now.

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh

No Self, No Suffering?

I’ve been practicing hatha yoga since I was a young teenager (almost 20 years now!) and teaching yoga and mindfulness for the past decade. I started a Buddhist meditation practice in 2004 and have absorbed more and more of the Buddhist teachings through reading and practicing over the past eight years.

I’d had occasional glimpses of the selfless state, but they were few and far between. I was eager to pierce the illusion, drop delusions and live presently… something I’d been doing with increasing consistency, especially over the past three years of living abroad (in Guatemala) and integrating my spiritual practice into my daily life.

But I needed a push.

At the ideal time, I stumbled across the story of fellow Elephant Journal blogger, Lori Ann Lothian. Her personal chronicle of liberation after an overnight “awakening” peaked my interest in the possibility of illumination to the illusion of self sooner than later. I linked from her blog to a website called Liberation Unleashed and soon read the e-book, Gateless Gatecrashers: 21 Ordinary People, 21 Extraordinary Awakenings by Ilona Ciunate and Elena Nezhinsky.

At Liberation Unleashed, they:

guide the seeker to pass through what is often called the ‘Gateless Gate’ or in classical terms, Stream Entry to Enlightenment or Truth Realization, [using] the Direct Pointing method, which consists of a dialogue between a guide and seeker. The guide poses very specific questions in order to focus the attention on the seeker’s experience of the present moment. This triggers the awakening insight often referred to as ‘seeing no-self’.

I was a bit skeptical but figured I had nothing to lose. (Astonishingly, there is absolutely no cost to subscribe.) Seekers may enter into a one-on-one dialogue with a guide, either via private discussion board or Facebook group. One of the co-authors of the ebook, Elena (EN), replied to me (MF). I share excerpts of our dialogue here, with the hope that it may be of benefit to you!

~

EN: Welcome, Michelle Fajkus, great to hear your story! Simple question for you here: what is “I” for you? What is it that you call self? Describe.

MF: “I” is my ego, my identity in society. “I” am a teacher, a yogini, a friend, a daughter, etc. Self is that entity known as Michelle Fajkus who appears to be functioning in society and daily life… waking up, working, breathing, writing. But it’s an illusion covering the truth of interconnectedness.

EN: do you exist?

MF: “I” do not exist. “I” am no more real than my facebook profile… just a collection of colors and concepts that cluster together to create the illusion of Michelle. I get this intellectually but the gut-level understanding comes and goes. It feels like I am pulling away subtle layers of delusion… but I’m still somewhat involved in the storyline of “me.” In looking around with this new perspective, I see how pervasive the concept of “I” is in pop spirituality. It feels liberating to even begin to lift this veil!

EN: “I get this intellectually but the gut-level understanding comes and goes.” Realizing the truth is not a feeling in a gut or in a head, it’s life lived out of the understanding that Life is all there is, no separate I, just an illusion, and in whatever form it may be. So when you say “understanding comes and goes” — that is how life is unfolding itself. So nothing needs to be improved in the understanding. The only what needed is clear seeing of what is. So if you look right now, can you tell me what is missing?

MF: The only thing that is missing for me now is the acceptance of zero control. This quote from poet Wendall Berry came to my inbox this morning: “You can’t know where life will take you, but you can commit to a direction.” The first part is fine (“You can’t know where life will take you”) RIGHT, because there is NO YOU to know. The second part is problematic (“but you can commit to a direction.”) I still feel this to be true, and I am clinging to the desire for it to be true, that my “character” can commit to a direction in “her” life… Even though it cannot be if there is no self to commit to a direction.

EN: so how do you experience the “issue of control”? how does it feel in the body? what are sensations? thoughts?

MF: It feels like clutching to something I’ve been told/learned — that I am an American and I am responsible for taking action and making good decisions that direct and “manifest” my life as desired. Tense neck and shoulders. Thoughts are of anger, irritation, impatience. A few times over the past few days there has been clarity and tears of gladness at the truth of the illusion of self.

EN: When that tense neck, shoulders and anger and impatience come up, look right there into the physical tension and the strong emotion. There are corresponding thoughts there that evoke the body go into contraction. Let’s do this. Invite all the tension and feelings closer, even closer. When you feel like it’s all over you, peek behind the anger, look behind all the tension. I want to hear what is there, honey. If you can’t look behind, call it to come closer; no worries, nothing will happen, but we are used to stopping feeling just at a safe distance, therefore we are like a witness constantly. Let it engulf, let it ripple in the body so you are lost, you are confused, you are one raw gobble of feeling. Then you quietly ask the tension what it is here to protect. Then listen. Breathe steady and be quiet. Listen to what will surface in the mind. Let me know what came up for you.

MF: On Friday morning, I lost my temper with one of my students. The anger came because I felt disrespected. My ego was attacked, and my image as a calm, collected teacher was ruined. It took me a whole day to let go of the irritation and subsequent neck tension, even though when I looked behind the anger and the superficial offense, there was absolutely nothing. As I traveled through various airports later that day, looked at strangers and saw us all as expressions of universal energy. Now I’m in my hometown for the weekend, because a friend died recently. My best girl friend was very close to the deceased, and she is so identified with her “self” and suffering so much as she clings to every memory and possession of her dead friend. I’ve been talking to her about no-self and universal energy. Noticing direct experience and not taking things personally. There is no desire to drink or smoke, which is unusual, especially under the current circumstances (grieving, being around my Catholic mother, being with friends who are using). There is only the flow of moments and the diverse surprises each one brings.

EN: So what is still missing? Be very honest. Describe in detail, if needed.

MF: Apologies for the delay. My life has changed in a more dramatic way than ever, as I found out (on April 29) that I am pregnant. Or, I should say – pregnancy is happening. This morning I finished reading Gateless Gatecrashers. I feel that much of the time I am able to see through the illusion of self… though there are still moments when my ego lashes out. Overall though, this experiencing of each present moment without the addition of a self needing to do anything is super helpful right now, as a flood of overwhelming emotions and sensations overtake this physical body.

EN: Michelle, it’s great news. This is so awesome to conceive a life inside a life! So let’s chat more and see if anywhere you get stuck. We do not want you to be stuck at the gate. We want you through and to serve others. I will give you some questions. You ponder, look and reply as detailed as possible, okay? So here they are:

1. You said: “though there are still moments when my ego lashes out.” What does it really mean? Do you feel not awakened at those moments? Please elaborate on this.
2. Describe in a simple words to somebody who is searching what is awakening is.
‎3. Do you feel liberated? Tell in details.
4. What comes up if I tell you “You do not exist”? Read it, feel it, look at this phrase, look and tell me.

MF: Thank you so much, Elena. Here are my answers.

1. The moments when my ego lashes out, I do not feel awakened. It’s like my mind is clinging to an old storyline and fears letting go completely of my identity. Behind the fear is emptiness but nevertheless it happens (for example, when I am in traffic and get ‘road rage’) but it is seeming to happen less and less frequently.

2. Awakening is plainly and simply seeing through the illusion of having a separate self. It is experiencing the flow of life from moment to moment without attaching to our judgments, stories, fantasies or any of our fleeting thoughts or emotions. Liberation is available to everyone, because it is just a matter of being what we already are.

3. And yet… I do not feel liberated. I think I am stuck at the gate. I accept and am grateful for the truth of no-self, but I am still living 50% of the time from my limited ego view and I don’t know how to get unstuck.

4. When you tell me I do not exist, there is pure relaxation, gratitude, joy and utter trust in the flow of Life. Resistance melts away.

EN: you are talking a lot about ego. At the same time you are talking about flow of Life is all there is and seeing that is an awakening. Is there ego and egoic self outside of the flow of Life?

MF: No.

EN: So when the ego arises, what happening to Life? Life disappears, Life becomes less, Life becomes more? What is happening?

MF: It feels like life constricts… gets narrower… less spacious and not enjoyable.

EN: Life not enjoyable for whom? Is there anybody outside of Life?

MF: Oooh, good question. Life is not enjoyable for ME — the fiction of me — only when I believe that fiction to be fact. There is no one and nothing outside of Life! No self, no suffering.

EN: what is egoic self you mentioned? do you suffer from it?

MF: The egoic self is the separate, individual identity… Which is an illusion. I can’t compose this sentence without the word I, but I think I made it through!

EN: Are you liberated, Michelle? Go ahead and write more.

MF: It’s so subtle, but I think so. Liberation is here. Your last question… “life not enjoyable for whom?” helped push me through. As well as the experience of getting pregnant (which was unplanned and unintended) and now being pregnant… it makes “me” see in a deeper way than ever before that there is nothing to hold on to, that my “self” is a process and not a fixed entity, that I am not in control of anything, and that Life is just Life, always moving and changing and unfolding each moment as it comes. I still have strong emotions, and I have been crying often, but not identifying with the thoughts or emotions anymore. Much love and gratitude to you!!!

EN: I am glad to read that, Michelle. I appreciate that you took the time with me here. Much love to you too, and best wishes! Motherhood is one of hell of an experience! What an amazing journey to motherhood with clear seeing!

The Ultimate Beginner’s Mind Guide to Buddha’s Eightfold Path

The foundational teachings of Gautama the Buddha are these Four Noble Truths:

  1. Life consists of suffering.
  2. We suffer because we cling.
  3. There is deliverance from this suffering.
  4. It’s called the Noble Eightfold Path.
For your entertainment and enlightenment, here are eight links to eight articles about the eight steps of the Eightfold Path. Which are actually not linear steps at all, but rather eight aspects to cultivate on the path toward full liberation.

Wise View: see the unfolding of Life.

Wise Thought, also known as “Right View,” is the beginning and the end of the path; it simply means to see reality as it is. We grasp the truth of impermanence and understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. Teachers can show the way, but you must see it for yourself. According to Osho, “Knowing means you open your eyes and you see. Knowledge means somebody else has opened his eyes and he has seen and he talks about it, and you simply go on gathering information. Knowing is possible only if your eyes are healed, then it is authentically your experience.”

Wise Intention: surrender and be kind.

The Buddha explained Wise, or Right, Intention as threefold: the intention of renunciation, the intention of goodwill and the intention of harmlessness… as opposed to three parallel kinds of wrong intention, those governed by desire, ill will and  harmfulness. Wise Intention is exemplified in this short poem. After thieves broke into his hut in 1079, Monk Ryōkan wrote:

At least the robbers
left this one thing behind —
moon in my window.

Wise Speech: say what is true and useful.

Buddha’s four classical teachings on Wise, or Right, Speech are to: abstain from false speech; not slander others; abstain from rude, impolite or abusive language; and not indulge in idle talk or gossip. This is easier said than done! Remember the Buddha-like advice of 18th century essayist Samuel Johnson: “Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.”

Wise Action: do no harm.

Wise, or Right, Action means following the five precepts… but these are not the five Buddhist Commandments. Hold them lightly. Have discipline, but don’t beat yourself up when you falter. Stated positively, the five precepts ask us to (1) act with reverence for all forms of life, (2) be honest, (3) have integrity in relationships, (4) speak wisely, and (5) consume healthily.

Wise Livelihood: make work worthwhile.

The Buddha warns against careers that harm other beings and suggests that we avoid any occupation that would violate the principles of right speech and right action. He says, “The master of the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which; he simply pursues his vision of excellence in whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both.”

Wise Effort: never give up.

There are four Wise, or Right, Efforts, according to the dharma teachings: (1) Preventing the arising of unwholesome states; (2) Abandonment of any unwholesome states that have already arisen; (3) Cultivation of wholesome states that have not yet arisen; and (4) Keeping wholesome states that have already arisen. As wise old Sir Winston Churchill said, “Continuous effort—not strength or intelligence—is the key to unlocking our potential.”

Wise Mindfulness: be here now.

When the mind understands what causes suffering and what leads to happiness, mindfulness will naturally move toward happiness by letting go of clinging and craving. Paradoxically, this takes daily practice but also unfolds naturally. According to Mindfulness in Plain English, “Mindfulness alone has the power to reveal the deepest level of reality available to human observation. At this level of inspection, one sees the following: (a) all conditioned things are inherently transitory, (b) every worldly thing is, in the end, unsatisfying; and (c) there are really no entities  that are unchanging or permanent, only processes.”

Wise Concentration: focus on the path.

The eighth aspect of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, Wise Concentration, is to cultivate a mind that is not multitasking but rather directed toward a single-pointed purpose. There are two categories of concentration: one-pointed focusing and moment-to-moment concentration (i.e., mindfulness). All forms of meditation employ both concentration and mindfulness; what varies is the emphasis on each and the specific technique of instruction.

http://www.buddhagautama.com/

Crown (7th) Chakra

Awake to reality, to truth, to things just as they are. ~Lama Surya Das

Crown chakra concerns: spiritual growth, wisdom, union, divine connection, insight, equanimity, awakening, enlightenment

Music:

  • What Light by Wilco
  • You are a Tourist and Unobstructed Views by Death Cab for Cutie
  • Shanti (Peace Out) by MC Yogi
  • Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin
  • Gracias a la Vida by Mercedes Sosa

Literature:

Want to learn more about your crown and the other 6 main chakra points? Get intriguing information, essential questions, yoga practice suggestions & guided meditations for each chakra in the new eBook, Flow & Flower: a guide to your 7 chakras.