Today I watch the second installment of the Morgan Freeman series The Story of God. This one is about the apocalypse and Morgan explores several traditions’ thoughts on the end of the world. There’s just one problem, which he uncovers in the program. The word apocalypse wasn’t meant to denote the end of the world. It indicates an “uncovering”, a disclosure of knowledge, a lifting of the veil. Using that definition, Morgan is prompted to ask a Buddhist monk what is the meaning of the word “enlightenment”. The monk gives him a sly look and I don’t even recall his answer because “enlightenment” is a loaded word that can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, but the monk does indicate that enlightenment includes seeing things as they are, starting with ourselves.
The very same day a friend poses a question to me. She has been reading my blog and some of my reading recommendations. She says it’s been helpful. But, she’s feeling guilty. We have “Western privilege”. We don’t have to worry about having enough to eat or avoiding dangers of the third world. We have the luxury of spare time to study and money to buy books. Surely spiritual growth or enlightenment comes easier to us than it does to people in the third world and this is causing her to feel a little guilt.
I don’t think that we in the West have privilege when it comes to spiritual growth. Just the opposite. Everything I’ve learned about enlightenment shows it mostly involves a stripping away. We are already that we need to be. We simply forget who we are. The more enmeshed we are with the physical, the temporary, the body the further we are away from the realization of our true selves. As one sutra put it “It is. I am it. I forget. I remember”. This is the only sutra I actually have committed to memory. The thing we seek exists. No only that, we are the thing that we seek. But, as we go along our lives in this world, we forget who and what we are. Then, if we are lucky- we become enlightened. We remember.
I actually wrote a lengthy post on this. I think of it often. I’ve thought about putting it on a t-shirt, but I’m pretty sure I’d be the only one who understood what is is saying. Two of my favorite songs remind me of this principle. Earth Wind & Fire’s “That’s the Way of The World” speaks of how we come into the world innocent and pure and the way of the world clouds that, covers it up, necessitating a personal apocalypse. And Enigma’s “Return To Innocence” is about the journey we make back to who we truly are. Those two songs, when combined cover the sutra perfectly.
When we are ready and usually after we have exhausted all other paths, have looked under all the other rocks we will return to ourselves, look within and discover what we have been seeking all along lies right here. That’s when the apocalypse comes.