The myth of enlightenment
- Justus Kramer Schipper -

Enlightenment, liberation, redemption, self-realization: these are all words that point to a condition about which every seeker has his own imaginings. It must be very desirable otherwise it would not be sought so much.
The greatest misunderstanding concerning enlightenment is that it is seen as a property, that can be acquired. Something that will be added to your existence, to your life, and that is pleasurable to have. Yes, maybe the most desirable that you could possibly imagine. It can even become an obsession in which happiness can only be yours if the necessary condition of obtaining it is completed. And so, as long as we are looking for this property, this enlightenment we are from time to time deeply unhappy and desperate. When will I finally reach the state of enlightenment?

Enlightenment, liberation, redemption, self-realization: these are all words that point to a condition about which every seeker has his own imaginings. It must be very desirable otherwise it would not be so sought so much.
The greatest misunderstanding concerning enlightenment is that it is seen as a property, that can be acquired. Something that will be added to your existence, to your life, and that is pleasurable to have. Yes, maybe the most desirable that you could possibly imagine. It can even become an obsession in which happiness can only be yours if the necessary condition of obtaining it is completed. And so, as long as we are looking for this property, this enlightenment we are from time to time deeply unhappy and desperate. When will I finally reach the state of enlightenment?

The problem lies in the fact that enlightenment is not something that is added, but is the state that remains when non-enlightenment falls of or is dropped. What remains after you move all the furniture out of your room? Right! Space, emptiness, which is needed in order to place furniture. Where was this space? The space was always already present in the room: with or without furniture, the space and emptiness are always there. But, we only notice the space when the furniture is removed. Something like that happens with enlightenment. Enlightenment is always there, it is the background, the space, the emptiness, that we are and from which we witness the non-empty. Nothing can be said about emptiness: it has no dimensions, you can't take hold of it, you can't understand it, or contain it, it has no properties, doesn't weigh anything, there is absolutely no way to perceive it. But nevertheless, it is a necessary condition for creating objects in the emptiness, if we want to perceive anything at all. Manifested objects are of an infinite variety. Anything that can be perceived against the background of emptiness is an object, also the thoughts that flutter by like clouds in the sky. What is there between two thoughts? Nothing, emptiness, the background from which we perceive, perception itself. All thoughts taken together, form in another object that we call the body, an ego. So, that ego is made of a series of thoughts, reactions to thoughts, that are thoughts themselves in their turn, preferences (nothing other than a thought that some perception is better, preferable to some other perception), rejections, wishes and longings. All these thoughts arise out of the emptiness, in the emptiness, and there is one more thought added namely that we are that complex of thoughts. That is called identification. We forget that perceive out of the emptiness, yes are the emptiness. That is silence, because there is nothing more to think or to talk about. But, we think we are that one who is perceived, instead of the perceiving itself. That is where the confusion, the pain and the big problem arise. Because then, who seeks when we go seeking for enlightenment? Certainly not the silence and the emptiness, because these are silent and still. Thus it is the complex of thoughts, the ego, that proceeds with thinking and longs not to think anymore. But that is a thought in itself, it is a mirror-like tunnel of infinite regression that has no end. Because longings are thoughts and thus you can not long to have no more thoughts; because after all as soon as you long for that you are thinking.

But what then is enlightenment? Once again: the emptiness, the silence about which there is nothing to say. Actually the giving of a name (in this case silence and emptiness) is already saying too much. But that stillness and emptiness is there all the time, has never been away and is in everyone. As an experience for reference you could some time look very carefully at what happens in the space of time between two thoughts. Then you experience the silence. You are not unconscious, but there are no thoughts, only clear presence. That does not mean that you know what the state of attention is, the silence, but you can experience it. So what enlightenment comes down to is not the adding of a quality, but just the other way around the falling away of a quality; the continuous, uninterrupted continuity of the stream of thoughts. What remains when that falls away is the state of enlightenment. And that is thus there always as a background for everyone, it has never not been. As soon as the ego falls away enlightenment is what remains. But watch out: longing for enlightenment makes the ego stronger and makes it seem as if it is further away. Seems, because it is always just always available as background. The state of enlightenment is thus not reachable by the wish for it.

It is a changed stated of witnessing in which identification with the witnessing takes place instead of with the witnessed. The difference between 'enlightened' and 'not-enlightened' is in whether there is identification with the silence, the emptiness, the background, the perceiving itself, or identification with the perceived objects such as ego, job, my boss, colleagues, relations, a new car, bank account, etc. Enlightenment is the falling away of the 'wrong and troublesome' identification.

If the ego falls away, then that 'thing' that actually only chatters in terms of good, bad, desirable, undesirable, what is nice and what isn't, pleasant and unpleasant, etc., falls away. Check it out; go to a terrace and follow the various conversations from a distance. An estimate is that 90% of the conversations consist of communications about what went wrong, how dumb my boss was, what a sourpuss my colleague is or how mean, how smart Pete himself is, how stupid Jan is, how my daughter just complained, how my father had no attention for me, what a dumb plan the municipality has again, the horribly high taxes, the much too low benefits, too warm, too cold, too wet or too dry and so forth, and so forth. Imagine that this chattering falls away, isn't it then also not so that the preferences and judgments fall away? And if there is no for or against, no judgments, would we not be able to consider that to be a state of neutrality? What then remains is emptiness, silence, a clear, alert state of perceiving that is not disturbed by the claiming of thoughts. A state in which What-is is accepted, without rejecting or accepting, without preferences. Actions still take place, but these are witnessed as are all other manifestations without identifications with them. That is enlightenment. Before the ego falls away you do the dishes. After the ego falls away you still do the dishes. Enlightenment is that close. But there is one solid difference: without enlightenment there is resistance, there are opinions and opinions unavoidably give pain. After, there are no opinions, no resistance and thus also no pain.

But how you can let the ego fall away? There is the trap again: this question is a thought that can be perceived and is part of the ego. If the ego keeps itself busy with discontinuing itself, it is like squeezing a balloon. The air does indeed disappear from the spot where you squeeze, but a bigger bubble appears somewhere else. What can we do then? Only if the insight is there that there is nothing that can be done, can the identification with objects (thus also thoughts) dissolve. The actual question that matters is; am I the perceiver of objects/thoughts or do I identify myself with objects/thoughts? As soon as there is identification, then there is a relation of pain/pleasure bound together, just as the head and the tail are the two sides of a coin. Identification arises because we think that we can have pleasure without its opposite pole, pain. If you consider that deeply you will see that it is not possible. Moreover our searching for enlightenment comes out of that: we want only pleasure without pain. But that can never happen, that is a myth, it is even a lie! Enlightenment arises when the longing for pleasure (and with that pain) is solved without any action of the will and acceptance of What-is replaces it. Acceptance of What-is, without resistance, without opposition, without opinion. That is enlightenment and lasting happiness.

[Costa Rica, may 2002, Justus Kramer Schippers]