05 February, 2013

Enlightenment Road

Hey, Readers!

Sometime last year, my mother gave me yet another wonderful gift: a small box of cards, labeled "Words of Wisdom from His Holiness the Dalai Lama." She got the set from a friend and thought I would be interested in it. She knows me very well! I immediately read the biographical information about the Dalai Lama on the first card, learning a lot that I hadn't known before just because I never really researched him specifically. Then I decided to look at one card each day. I kept that up for a while, but of course missed a lot of days, as well. Now, I change to the next card whenever I remember or feel the need to. Sometimes one message is necessary for more than one day.

My "Words of Wisdom" card for the day.
Today, I switched the deck to show the next card in the stack:


My enlightenment rests on my shoulders.
Your enlightenment rests on yours.

This is a very important thing to remember. It is not Enlightenment (capital E) that rests on you, only YOUR enlightenment. It is personal and individual. No one else is responsible for our own personal journey to enlightenment, whatever that means for us. And likewise, we are not responsible for anyone else's journey. Each of us will get there in our own way, in our own time.

Luckily, we can still help each other along the way, sharing ideas and insights and experiences, and we will and DO benefit so much from each and every person we encounter. This is wonderful and beneficial to all involved. The past several weeks at the UU church I attend have been centered around Buddhism, the basics of the beliefs/philosophy and how we can incorporate them into our own lives. I really like the unison Chalice Lighting we have all said each week, and I think it applies here:
"May no one who encounters us ever have an insignificant contact. May the mere fact of our meeting contribute to their fulfillment. May we be a protector of the helpless, a guide to those traveling the path, a boat to those wishing to cross over. May we be a lamp for those in darkness, a home for the homeless, and a servant to the world."   -Shantideva, 8th cent. Buddhist spiritual master and mystic
A Unitarian Universalist "Flaming Chalice"
Photo by Nancy Pierce, from UUA.org

For those unfamiliar with Unitarian Universalist practice, the Chalice Lighting is whatever words are said to accompany the physical lighting of the Chalice, a symbol of UU faith. It has a specific look in most cases (the photo at left shows a traditional style), but can be any style of lamp or flame. At my church, the Chalice is a stout pillar candle sitting in a large, shallow ceramic bowl on a stand. The bowl/stand itself is a work of art, clearly handmade though I don't know by whom.

The words said vary from week to week, but always reflect the idea of the congregation being a light, illuminating something for ourselves and each other and the world. So for this Buddhism series, the minister chose that quote and chose to have us all recite it. (The first week, we were also making scarves for the homeless, making our position as "a home for the homeless" that much more relevant. I'll write about that another time.)

The Dalai Lama's words are important to think about. This past Sunday at church, we focused on meditation, and this card's simple message could be a great mantra. Shantideva's words are also poignant and meaningful. While these two ideas may seem contradictory--one saying it's up to you, and the other desiring involvement in other people's journeys--they really do work together. We can and should be helpful in other people's lives, and we should strive to make every meeting and connection a positive one for all parties involved and for the world at large. And that striving to positively influence others is part of developing our own personal journey to enlightenment. My personal enlightenment absolutely includes leaving positive impressions on everyone I come into contact with, as well as learning from those who can leave a positive impression on me in return.

I'm aware that this sounds a lot like the cycle of Selflessness-to-Selfishness that my undergrad history class discussed in relation to Saints and other religious figures. The idea is that although people are being selfless, putting themselves out there as servants of God, it is also because the work makes them feel fulfilled or promises them a good afterlife. Therefore, the more selfless their work, the more selfish they are, and in being selfish they work harder to be selfless for other people. It's impossible to tell exactly where in this cycle they lie, because it goes around continually. So yes, this topic sounds a bit like we're being selfish, but that makes sense. Of course my own enlightenment is about me! Yours is all about you, too! It is self-centered, by nature, in the most literal sense. Our journey is centered on our Self. It has to be. If we do not put our own enlightenment into our own hands, who will? No one else is responsible. Other people can help, and I could name so many people right now who have been and continue to be instrumental in my journey! But it should not offend them, nor should I feel that I am offending them by saying, that when it comes right down to it, we are all responsible for taking action toward our own Truth, our own Enlightenment.


It doesn't mean that we can't assist others, or that we should ignore others by focusing resolutely on ourselves. It simply means, to me, that I have to remember one thing: If I desire to be Enlightened, then I have to make that effort. It's not up to the people who help me along my path to make sure I reach Enlightenment. I have to make the effort, put in the energy, make the changes myself. I already know that my personal Enlightenment Road passes by many areas where I help others and they help me. But I also know that I've already had to explain to some people that THEIR personal enlightenment/journey/spiritual experience is not my responsibility. I can lend a hand, give ideas, and share what I personally have experienced, but that cannot and will not replace someone's own experiences. I can write as much as I want on here, or make as many videos as I want sharing what I have learned, but that will never substitute for my readers or viewers having their own epiphanies. (And knowing how great those moments are, I would never dream of taking them away from someone!) Similarly, I can seek advice from my spiritual friends, but it only supplements my own path. I have to do the work of thinking about their advice, ruminating on it, trying things out, and figuring out how it applies to me. And I believe it is the same for you, and for everyone.

Paths cross. People walk together. One long, wide road is made up of many smaller, overlapping paths. Whether moving forward in a crowd, or taking another route utterly alone, you are on your path and no one else's.


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