I got an email recently that was pretty cool. In it the anonymous writer rather pointedly suggested that I was wrong to suggest that Alan Chapman’s self-professed “full” enlightenment, documented over at his site, Open Enlightenment, was at best an example of a “partial awakening, not fully integrated.”
To be fair, I have no way of judging whether Alan is enlightened or not, nor does it concern me. Nor am I interested in jousting with people, especially anonymous emailers who are interested in defending a person they obviously admire. However, I do think that I should set the record straight as far as my critique of Alan’s position is concerned.
I have repeatedly made a point as a writer and as a teacher that an authentic awakening is radically compromised whenever it is viewed as a personal attainment. Doing so merely confuses the map with the territory, to borrow a phrase. There is nothing personal about enlightenment.† On the other hand, enlightenment happens in whatever body we find ourselves in at any given moment. Still, when we start confusing or conflating a personal experience with an embodied awakening ego is suddenly let in through the back door of the process and does its best to manage enlightenment. Ego (or we could also say ‘the mind’) derails things by mistaking the experience for what the experience points to. When this occurs, we can find ourselves walking around as enlightened egos; entirely limited and yet believing ourselves to be Absolute. I’m not trying to be patronising or smug since I know how much these qualities annoy Alan:
Iíve been on the wrong end of a patronising postmodernist a few times, and Iíve been so enranged [sic] and sickened by his or her unexamined smugness, that Iíve responded by informing them that, actually, Iím at a level of development above and beyond theirs, and so theyíre just incapable of understanding me. Ha!
But I am trying to clarify my point in what has become muddied water. It should be noted that I’ve tried to do this before when I suggested that despite Alan’s apparent attachments, his points should be considered. He followed up my suggestion with an offer to:
… take part in a dialogue about enlightenment (especially regarding your comments about the impossibility of personally becoming enlightened) that we can make available to the public (for free of course), for the benefit of anyone interested in enlightenment.
I looked forward to the discussion and suggested that we do it as a podcast of a Skype call to be shared on our respective blogs. One of his readers suggested he take me up on the offer to which he wrote:
I would if I thought the guy was genuinely interested in exploring the beliefs we might hold about enlightenment, instead of just generating content for websites.
After I asked him about his interesting characterization of my offer he then went on to say:
Iím not capable of rigourously investigating my beliefs about enlightenment Ė to the best of my ability Ė via dialogue in real time, and I donít think anyone can. I think it is a great idea to share and learn from each other, but I really really want to get to the heart of understanding enlightenment.
Herein lies further reason to view Alan’s claim of full enlightenment to be incomplete. From where I sit the seeking is what points to the partial nature of Alan’s claim. First, just as no one is ever really fully educated, no one is ever fully enlightened. Similarly, one’s beliefs (mine included) about enlightenment should not be confused with enlightenment itself. Second, any attachment to the desire of getting “to the heart of understanding enlightenment” can only serve to limit its expression.