The Quest for Enlightenment

The quest for enlightenment is the quest for truth or reality. It’s not a quest for ideas about truth—that’s philosophy. And it’s not a quest to realize your fantasies about truth—that’s fundamentalized religion. It’s a quest for truth on truth’s terms. It’s a quest for the underlying principle of life, the unifying element of existence.

In your quiet moments of honesty, you know that you are not who you present yourself as, or who you pretend to be. Although you have changed identities many times, and changed them even in the course of a single day, none of them fit for long. They are all in a process of constant decay. One moment you’re a loving person, the next an angry one. One day you’re an indulgent, worldly person; the next a pure, spiritual lover of God. One moment you love your image of yourself, and the next you loathe it. On it goes, identified with one self-image after another, each as separate and false as the last.

When this game of delusion gets boring or painful enough, something within you begins to stir. Out of the unsatisfactoriness of separation arises the intuition that there is something more real than you are now conscious of. It is the intuition that there is truth, although you do not know what it is. But you know, you intuit that truth exists. Truth that has absolutely nothing to do with your ideas about it. But somehow you know that the truth about you and all of life exists.

Once you receive this intuition, this revelation, you will be compelled to find it. You will have no choice in the matter. You will have consciously begun the authentic quest for enlightenment, and there is no turning back. Life as you’ve known it will never be quite the same.

A great Zen master said, “Do not seek the truth; simply cease cherishing illusions.” If there is a primary practice or path to enlightenment, this is it—to cease cherishing illusions. Seeking truth can be a game, complete with a new identity as a truth-seeker fueled by new ideas and beliefs. But ceasing to cherish illusions is no game; it’s a gritty and intimate form of deconstructing yourself down to nothing. Get rid of all of your illusions and what’s left is the truth. You don’t find truth as much as you stumble upon it when you have cast away your illusions.

As the master said, “Do not seek the truth.” But you can’t stop seeking just because some ancient Zen master said to. Seeking is an energy, a movement toward something. Spiritual seekers are moving toward God, nirvana, enlightenment, ultimate truth, whatever. To seek something, you must have at least some vague idea or image of what it is you are seeking. But ultimate truth is not an idea or an image or something attained anew. So, to seek truth as something objective is a waste of time and energy. Truth can’t be found by seeking it, simply because truth is what you are. Seeking what you are is as silly as your shoes looking for their soles by walking in circles. What is the path that will lead your shoes to their soles? That’s why the Zen master said, “Do not seek the truth.” Instead, cease cherishing illusions.

To cease cherishing illusions is a way of inverting the energy of seeking. The energy of seeking will be there in one form or another until you wake up from the dream state. You can’t just get rid of it. You need to learn how to invert it and use the energy to deconstruct the illusions that hold your consciousness in the dream state. This sounds relatively simple, but the consequences can seem quite disorienting, even threatening. I’m not talking about a new spiritual technique here; I’m talking about a radically different orientation to the whole of your spiritual life. This is not a little thing. It is a very big thing, and your best chance of awakening depends on it. “Do not seek the truth; simply cease cherishing illusions.” And if you’re like most spiritually oriented people, your spirituality is your most cherished illusion. Imagine that.

© 2007 by Adyashanti.

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