Francis Bennett, a former Trappist monk and student of Zen, Vipassana, and Theravadin contemplative traditions, spoke in Berkeley with Adyashanti recently. They talked about how the big moments of awakening get so much attention that they distract us from the more ordinary and difficult work of emotional, spiritual, and psychological growth.
To illustrate the point, Francis talked about the current fascination with reality TV shows about weddings. “Bridezillas,” for example: women so obsessed with the perfect wedding that they turn into raging monsters. “But you wonder,” Francis mused, “whether they have the same concern for the marriage as they do for the wedding.” Just so, he said, the real challenge of the spiritual life is our “marriage” to the ultimate – our longterm growth, our health, our emotional maturity and balance, not the big “wedding” moment of awakening.
Adyashanti agreed: “I think we’ve all known `enlightened’ masters who are on their third or fourth marriages, who clearly have huge challenges in their families and primary relationships... If you really want to know if someone’s enlightened, talk to their kids, talk to their spouse or partner.” Awakening doesn’t instantly heal your emotional wounds; it doesn’t turn you into a perfect being.
This is the tricky, paradoxical part. In the non-dual world, a teacher’s claim of enlightenment is presented as their primary teaching credential. Just about every biography of non-dual teachers emphasizes their awakening experiences. Those of us on the other side of that experience thirst for the Big Event that will solve all our problems and bring us to some kind of endpoint, and so we cling to those who have had that experience as if they can take us there. Variations on the theme of “how do I get enlightened?” motivate many of the questions raised in dharma talks.
Even after spending two hours talking about its relative unimportance, audience members kept asking,“Tell us about your awakening experience!” Clearly, our fascination with the Big Experience betrays our illusion that awakening is the endpoint, when in fact the harder one works toward it, The paradox of awakening means that as soon as we think we “have it,” we’ve lost it.
“The first shall be last; the last shall be first” – Jesus
“My weakness is my strength.” - Paul