Monday, September 23, 2019

Sudden and Gradual Awakening

     Full or complete awakening or enlightenment, from a Buddhist perspective, is freedom from greed, hatred & delusion and therefore is a state of "unshakable" peace, equanimity & joy. Unshakable means independent of life's inevitable ups & downs ("8 worldly conditions"): gain & loss, disrepute & fame, blame & praise, and pleasure & pain; and of course also independent of: constant change, aging, sickness & death. To be able to experience peace, equanimity & joy through all of that is literally beyond imagination.
     So is awakening an all-or-nothing situation? Can we gradually work our way towards achieving this desirable state, and gradually reap more & more of its rewards OR must we take a direct path towards sudden awakening?
     Adyashanti recently gave an online course ("30-Day Wake up Challenge") focused on this topic. Below is a short excerpt from one of his talks in the course, discussing sudden & gradual awakening. Adyashanti / Sounds True will offer this (IMHO excellent) course again in the near future:

     "The debate about sudden vs gradual awakening has been going on within Buddhism for hundreds of years. Gradual development of course is a really important part of being a human being. Whether we have sudden awakening or not, if you think you’re going to get out of gradual human development, you’re fooling yourself. In awakening, you can transcend all of your suffering and false identity in the snap of a finger, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that some amount of it isn’t going to be waiting for you when you come back from your transcendent honeymoon. Usually a lot less is waiting for you, but there’s generally something there.
     When we’re really engaged in a progressive path, the positive part is that it can create a real stable container. A stable psyche is not to be underestimated. A good stable psyche is useful. A good functional ('quiet') ego is of profound benefit spiritually.
     And there will often come a time when you just start to feel like OK, I’ve been doing this gradual path but I really want to know the depth of my being. I really want to know that. Then you can really look towards the essential. That’s what this whole ‘30-Day Wake up Challenge’ is. … It’s going after a very particular aspect of spirituality that I think is extremely fundamental – the awakening aspect. That’s the reason I constructed it the way it was. It’s purposefully not dealing with the full spectrum of a human being because we can’t really do the full spectrum really well all at the same time.
     So generally we know what’s relevant to us because it’s what we feel deeply called to. That’s when we know. If I’m called to get my life together, get my ego strong, healthy and also more gradual spiritual development, then great. There’s great value to that. But all of a sudden it might hit you, ‘OK, there’s something I’m still not satisfied with. I’m feeling like there’s a deeper breakthrough that I’m looking for. That’s when you engage in something that’s a little more direct – direct meaning it really zeros in on your true nature. It just zeros right in just like a bull’s eye. That’s kind of what we’ve been doing during this ‘30-Day Wake up Challenge.’
     Most of the questions (posed by participants) deal with things that come up for people (doing direct path practices), so obviously the challenges of being a human being don’t just disappear when you go for a direct path. But the direct & gradual paths really go together more than people think they do. As human beings, we’re all going to be growing our entire lives, whether we awaken or not.
     Hopefully, and at any point in that growth, we can feel really called to get right to the point. Who is this that I call ‘myself,’ that is healing, that is expanding, that is growing, that’s doing all of that? What am I really talking about? What do I really mean when I say ‘me’? 
     When that kind of question hits you, you know it kind of grabs you. When it authentically hits you, you’re not doing it because you’ve fallen for the sales pitch for enlightenment: ‘What’s it going to get me?’ ‘I’ll get bliss’ or ‘it’s going to take care of all my problems.’ When it hits you in a really authentic way, it’s not because of even what you think it will do for you, it’s that something in you is innately wanting to wake up. And at that point, it’s not really relevant any more how that’s even going to feel. When your time’s right, you just have to know. And when you do, that tells you, ‘OK, focus in that direction for a while.'" 
         Adyashanti. "30-Day Wake up Challenge." Q&A session, Sounds True, August-September, 2019.

     IF you're deeply interested in awakening, via the gradual or direct path, (IMHO) a very useful, deep, well-written book is: 
       Guy Armstrong. “Emptiness. A Practical Guide for Meditators.” Wisdom Publications, 2017.
Illustration by Pascal Lemaître in "Listen" by Holly M. McGhee, Roaring Brook Press 2019

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