One common theme that I see in all my readings about Zen/mindfulness/etc is that one should not seek “enlightenment” for selfish, personal reasons. It is easy to be drawn to Buddhism, yoga, meditation, and similar ways of life as a method for seeming (or feeling) cool. This is not in line with the teachings. Nor should the idea of attaining Enlightenment be seen as a godly, personal achievement.
This type of thinking is rooted in desire and is, at its heart, selfish. Selfishness, of course, is not along the path to enlightenment. One should not obsess about his or her desires and status in life. If you desire to join in the path to enlightenment, you should be prepared to do so with no one watching you. You should be excited to make strides in your practice without anyone knowing about it. Take comfort in that. Practice in private or with groups who do not wish to flaunt the art of mindfulness. True masters of this art would never hold it above anyone else. Why should you?
What is enlightenment?
Enlightenment is the unobtainable. I do not believe it exists. At least not as any standard definition or for any two different people. I have heard some argue that specific moments of clarity felt like enlightenment. Perhaps that was true for them in the moment. Nevertheless, it does not last. No one person is perfect. Enlightenment is perfect because it is unobtainable. This is part of the journey. Can you accept that you will never reach your destination? Can you live with mindfulness, kindness, a steady heart, and a steady mind, knowing that there will always be room to grow? That would be something, wouldn’t it? I hope to work my whole life to do this. I hope my last moments of life are spent in the moment, quietly seeking enlightenment as if I were still a young man with my life ahead of me.
So where can one look for enlightenment?
Mindfulness in itself is a misleading word. We hear mindfulness and think of thoughts, we think of what’s within us. We look to better ourselves and focus on the desire-filled “I”. “My” mind. “My” enlightenment. “My” perfection. That’s the thing… Mindfulness is not about “I” or you or anyone. The answer may not be in your mind. It is more likely in releasing your mind. You need to let go of yourself and begin to realize that your body is just a creature living on a small planet in a gigantic Universe. Your mind is an organic machine, bound by nature. You are not all powerful.
You are a part of this massive balance, this perfect system of nature, this wonderful world we live in! So, in fact, mindfulness is not about hiding within your thoughts, but releasing them. You must lose yourself in order to find yourself.
Something to try:
Set a goal for yourself to meditate. Choose a reasonable goal, even if it’s five minutes a day. Do this and do NOT tell anyone about it. Do not brag, not even to yourself.
When you find yourself wishing to tell someone about your new hobby or almost posting about it on the Internet, stop. This is not about you and how you look to your friends. This is not a badge to wear on your sleeve. This is a way of life that is much bigger than you.
Once you learn to seek enlightenment without selfishness, you will be ready to share this same gift with others.