The Paradox of Seeking Enlightenment

You set out seeking enlightenment as the solution to all the ills that beset life as is ordinarily lived. On this quest, if you are lucky, sooner than later you get told “You are that which you are seeking. The seeker is the sought.” There may be several reasons that are offered as to why that is so, and if your mind is mature and ripe you grasp the Truth of that at once and your search is at an end and you become enlightened.

But, with the majority of us what happens is, although our intellect takes on board the reasons offered and may even be convinced more or less, still there may be a gap between intellectual understanding and actual understanding. To bridge this gap, your mind makes enlightenment a goal to be pursued. Once you do that, you search for various methods, techniques, practices, teachings etc. to bridge the gap. These may help to an extent along the way by making the mind less scattered and distracted, but the goal of enlightenment is not attained thereby.

Then somewhere along the line you are told your very efforts are the problem because there is no gap to be bridged because the gap is an illusory construct of your mind, and hence all you need to do is be silent and soon you will discover the Truth for yourself. At this juncture, you may again start your old routine of “How do I become silent?” But soon you will realize that silence is not something that needs to be cultivated or practiced or manufactured, but silence is the ever present background which is masked by thoughts. Then you understand that it somehow suffices to understand “why” the mind needs to be silent and you don’t have to search for “how” to make the mind silent.

The seeking could end then and there, but what might happen is, the old momentum of the mind makes it difficult to “Be Still” and so again the goal of enlightenment reappears on the horizon. Then while you are playing this game you are told, “It is the pursuit of the goal of enlightenment which is preventing you from being enlightened. The goal of enlightenment prevents you from living in the now by accepting ‘what is’ and thus being free from suffering (which in any case is what you are seeking by pursuing enlightenment), because a goal brings the future to the table, and paradoxically the very seeking prevents the attainment of the sought; it is a bit like continually thinking about the various ways of being silent, whereas if you stopped seeking for ways to be silent your thinking in that direction would stop and lo and behold silence would be there which was hitherto covered up by your very seeking of it. Seeking implies activity of the mind and hence you are not being still, and hence you will miss the Truth.” You hear this and you tell yourself, “Yes, that makes sense” because it dawns on you that holding on to the goal of enlightenment prevents stillness of mind, and without a still mind you cannot recognize the ever present Truth. Seeking comes to an end. It is a bit like when you board the bus to Sri Ramanasramam, you put up your feet and relax because you know that the bus will take you to Sri Ramanasramam. And that bus to enlightenment is a Still Mind.

But, when you “become” enlightened it will be a bit like waking up in Sri Ramanasramam from a dream in which you erroneously thought you were away from Sri Ramanasramam, then frantically searched for bus time tables and boarded a bus to Sri Ramanasramam in your dream, and then woke up to realize that you had never left Sri Ramanasramam, and all the thoughts of being away from Sri Ramanasramam and your journeying in a bus to Sri Ramanasramam were only a dream, mere imagination.

(Acknowledgement: The above reflections are based on a tete-a-tete with my brother-in-law Suresh Boddapati a couple of hours ago over a cup of coffee at Cafe Coffee Day in Hyderguda, Hyderabad, India.)


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