daniel p wrote:Is awakening (in the Buddhist sense) a myth?
It is assumed that many great teachers were awakened. But were/are they really? One is generally discouraged from making enlightenment the focus or goal of one's practice. But occasionally we find ourselves questioning why we are even practicing.There may be some benefit, but if there is no enlightenment then why practice? Why even consider the teachings? Or to phrase it another way, does the path leading to the cessatation of dukkha actually lead to the cessatation of dukkha?
Basically, you've been trying a bunch of stuff in your lifetime to make things right. Let's forget about the big words for a second. Your whole life you've experienced states of dissatisfaction, need, want, etc. The hardest thing I find for most people is being vulnerable and open all the time. People harden into forms and decide on rules, but there is a basic simplicity to just breathing.
So everything you've tried has had some success to varying degrees in the moment to distract you from the underlying richness of any given moment. Addictions of all kinds cover up the simplicity of the openness, the shaky tender space of being the kid who gets made fun of in school, or the child who trips and is self-conscious of having fallen. This kind of self-consciousness is a basic expression I think of your very uncertainty of what will happen next, moment to moment. So we get into habits that protect us from the vertigo of not having anything to fill in the next moment. There are times when not knowing where you're going to get rent money from to make rent this month is filled by your worry and your heartache and your tension. Or it could be anything. You see where I'm going?
I'm not saying this theoretically, I'm saying this very practically. You find yourself coming back to yourself so to speak when you address what makes you suffer, and you naturally seek relief. You know deep inside, this is not the best you can be, because you know that something hurts, but it's always like it's hard to spot exactly what's wrong this very moment. Why am I upset, unsettled, why am I constantly the cloudy storms of passing repetitious suffering?
What you seem to be asking, beneath the words at least, is how do I know that what I believe about Buddhism is actually true? I am assuming all these teachers are enlightened, but how do I know it's true? A very good question, IMO. So going back to what you've tried so far. What has worked, what has sucked? Think about it in your own time, even if you don't reply.
The thing is you came to Buddhism because of karma and part of that karma is recognizing continuous wounding in the form of inevitable change, impermanence, death, sickness, loss of what you want, finding what you don't want, this ache permeates every level of your being and you constantly feel the discomfort because you constantly seek. No discomfort, little motivation to venture out. No mud, no lotus. You need the thorns to spur you push further, to grow up and out of your desires and ideas. But that's all well and great, but how? How do I just connect my heart to your heart? Past the words, the fears, the armor I wear to protect that vulnerable inside? How do I do that? Because that is what makes me feel alone and unimportant and it's a really dark and awful feeling to feel like a "bad person."
Suffering is the covering up of what makes us a bad person with what we feel would make us a good person. It's a kind of stress we put on ourselves, and I think Buddha felt so much kindness to people because he knew, we're not humans trying to awaken, we're awakened experiencing being human. Being human hurts and gives pleasure. It is the nature of being in this body, with these bones and this skin.
So then you came upon these teachings, and this path. You aren't sure now, and that's actually great. Because you don't have something to fill the next moment. Your question itself is the expression of the nervous uncertainty that gives you that knot of doubt in your gut, the kind you feel when you've just been betrayed, or tricked.
But you can be sure of one thing, what you've tried so far has not really given you the ultimate relief you've wanted. So now you side with what truth resonates the deepest, and I'm sure you still discovering your truths. This is a path, it's walked with steps, little steps make long journeys just like tiny droplets of moisture eventually add up to the oceans and rivers. All kindness matters.
So in a nutshell, I'm totally with Keith here, the only way to know is to go there. The only way to see if it works is to try it. If they were right and truly awakened, you will know the tree by its fruits.
In any religion, you know teachings and what they're worth by seeing the students that gravitate to them. If the students of a religion are curious, calm, you can know the teachings are angled that way, to nurture that kind of energy in the student. If the religion is belligerant, emotional, instigating, then you know that the students it picks up will always find themselves tangled in this or that fight, squabble, or contention.
Because like attracts like, you can see the tree in the fruit. How healthy or diseased it is manifests in the growth that comes forth. I think this is concept that is important in karma, some of the more educated buddhists here should correct me so I'm not totally mixing and matching.
When evaluating the Buddhas as awakened teachers, look deep in the doubt and investigate what his most notable students act like. Look at this best students and see how they act in their daily interactions, with the driver, the lady selling flowers on the street, the "least important" people around them. See how they treat every living being and how they treat life itself, and this will tell you a lot about the importance of kindess that goes to the very heart of any matter in Buddhism.. How they encounter every little day is a very useful guide on what the theory teaches.
If you start to notice the suffering is a little less, in what I'm mentioning to reflect upon, even if your life conditions are mostly the same, times are hard for most people these days, you can see how your level of joy is. If notice you are less tight inside, but life is basically still intrinsically the same, (you still wake up every day, have bodily needs, mental formations, etc,) yet you have a bit more confidence to meet the conditions that arise in you that will bring about inevitable bits of pain and sadness life brings, I'd say this is a good compass to guide you.
If you find your ability to meet challenge with a sense of curiosity and not a sense of dread of encountering the sufferings of life, I think that's a good indicator you're at least nurturing yourself with good food that will help you dispel the wraps of your own ignorance, because you will be able to just be open and fearless. I see dharma as fearlessness made into a path of life.
The key is relaxing into the tangle of doubts, and realizing your thoughts and worries are just clouds and your awareness is the sky. Really all you need to get there, in my direct experience, is patience and the kind of love that never lets you give up on yourself. Everyone has it. Deep under their neuroses is simple love that just gives when it sees need for touch or warmth. But the reason no one can describe what it's like to really go over the edge of duality is because those who've found it have gone and not come back to tell the tale.... well, save a few... like the Buddhas. But they're few and so far in between, it's easy to forget, or get distracted by the noise of our own urges.
Not too loose, not too taught, concentrate, but don't stress.
That's what I focus on in my daily practice. It does not have big religious terms attached, but is direct and allows me to apply the 4NTs simply to the best of my limited ability. May you reach awakening before I.