I’ve blogged several times about how I was trying for Zen enlightenment, by practicing mindfulness and meditation. I’ve decided to give that up (for now).
First, every time I try to live and think in the Zen mindset for an extended time, my mind begins to turn…dark, in a bad way. In the beginning I feel free, happy, peaceful, almost weightless. But after a few weeks, I seem to accumulate a kind of – how can I put it? – a counter-energy, that sends me spiraling into anger and despair. I don’t mean to suggest anything mystical by the word “energy.” I simply don’t know any other way to describe it.
No doubt there are strategies for dealing with the darkness. But I’ve been hurt by it too many times, and I’m wary. For now.
The second reason is that I’ve come to doubt the wisdom of enlightenment itself.
Far from being some abstract religious concept, enlightenment is a genuine mental state, a way of letting go of (and also embracing) yourself, your anxieties, your attachment to pleasures and your fear of pain. It is a supremely transcendent state. Novice that I am, I’ve still tasted a little of it here and there, and it’s truly beautiful.
But it has its problems.
Because enlightenment, for all its joy, is still just a mental state – a perspective, a way of viewing the universe. It does not by itself grant any additional knowledge or wisdom. Although it makes you feel connected and compassionate toward all beings, it apparently does not make you more likely to go out into the world and help people. For all its emphasis on giving up the self, enlightenment is an oddly selfish thing. It’s all about you: your peace, your compassion, your insight, your union with the rest of the universe. And so many Zen masters seem ignorant of this, leading their students to treat them with inappropriate reverence.
You may ask: so what? Why not seek enlightenment for what it is, knowing its limitations, and pursuing the other virtues (like knowledge and kindness) separately?
The problem is that the path to enlightenment is a long, arduous one, demanding enormous time, energy, and dedication that could be spent on other tasks. And even if you do achieve it, what then? What does it really mean to be free of passion and attachment? Doesn’t that mean you aren’t driven to pursue your dreams with the same fire as before? Isn’t that the price of inner peace?
How could it be otherwise?
Could Einstein have discovered relativity with a placid soul?
I’m young, of course, and ignorant about many things, Zen not least. It’s quite possible that I misunderstand the nature of the path. Indeed, the ideal of Zen enlightenment still has a strong appeal for me, and I may turn back to it someday.
But for now, this is where I am.
If you have any insight of your own, I’d be happy to hear it.