Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
Both enlightenment and endarkenment need each other, each completes the other, and without each other, awakening is not complete. —Roshi Joan Sutherland.
I’m pursuing Joan Sutherland’s path of endarkenment, through her online teachings and through her book, Vimalakirti & the Awakened Heart: A Commentary on the Sutra That Vimalakirti Speaks.
I seem to be entering a new stage of awakening. I have rejected not only religion, but ‘spirituality’ as well. There is such a thing as being ‘too spiritual’. And being ‘spiritual’ or ‘transcendent’ is not what awakening is about. It’s this heightened sense of reality. I sense the world around me in an intense way. It crackles with energy. I see everything so much more clearly, even though I have really poor eyesight, and it’s getting worse. But it’s not that kind of ‘seeing.’ It’s more like ‘sensing.’ But it’s not sensual, it’s kinetic, it crackles with intense energy. You feel and sense everything so much more intensely. Reality is more real. You feel so much more awake and alive. I don’t want spirituality any more. I don’t want to walk around in that gauzy haze of dissocation and bliss. I don’t want god or heaven or some kind of ‘spiritual’ life. I want to connect with this reality more intensely than ever. It’s a sense of being absolutely dead on with now, with reality as it is, not with a fantasy, not with what you wish it to be.
It’s partly the recent influence of reading the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra, but it started before that. I think I ‘grokked’ the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra because I have already had this awakening experience—of being truly awake. I feel so much more passionate about things. I have more of a sense of conviction, of truth, of what must be done for the climate, for the earth, for the good of people. It’s not a feeling of happiness or bliss. That seems fake much of the time. Fear gets in the way of experiencing this too. You also cannot have a lot fear, or you will run away from the experience and avoid it. But facing reality helps you overcome the fear. No, it’s a feeling of vibrating to an intense sense of the truth. It’s coming to terms with reality that is both light and dark, the starkness of reality. You see it and feel it more intensely.
It’s a refusal to escape or avoid this life as it is. It’s a refusal to take refuge in religion, god, spirituality, philosophy—anything that shields you from the starkness of reality. But it’s not painful or scary. It doesn’t ‘feel good’, but it doesn’t ‘feel bad’ either. It just is, very intensely. This is Buddhist Realism. It’s knowing that this reality, tathatā, is also the ultimate reality, there is no other. Samsara is the Buddhafield. Practice in the Real World. So says Vimalakirti.
One thing I got from Dzongsar’s teaching on the Vimalakirti Sutra: what is Buddhist meditation as opposed to other kinds of meditation? Buddhist meditation leads you to an experience of non-duality, such as Vimilakirti described. It’s not about calmness, or serenity or feeling good or bliss or peace, although those are all good and valid experiences. It goes beyond that to the gnosis of non-duality, that this reality and ‘ultimate’ reality cannot be separated—they are non-dual. Dzongsar was right, the Vimalakirti Sutra is a complete path, the path of realism. Vimalakirt’s path is the path out of Buddhism-as-a-religion into Buddhism-as-hyper-reality, as wisdom, as Prajnaparamita.
My sense is that continuing this experience has to do with rejecting any conventional notion of god, religion, spirituality or practice. You are liberated from ‘religion’, liberated from ‘spirituality.’ It is the wisdom of no escape (Pema) from reality, no escape and not wanting to escape from feeling and sensing life more intensely.