Enlightenment, Lotus

Photo Attribution Parshotam LalTandon

Doug Duncan Sensei shares about awakening, enlightenment and wisdom. This is an excerpt from the Kyoto Journal article ‘Moving Into the Stream: An Interview with Dharma Teacher Achariya Doug Duncan‘ by Brendan Joseph Ries.

What is awakening? Is “enlightenment” the same phenomenon?

Doug Duncan Palenque Tower Chiapas

Awakening and enlightenment for all intents and purposes are the same thing. I would use them as verbs. Again, the Western approach is that it’s a noun, a fixed thing, but I choose to see awakening as a verb.

What is awakening? From the point of view of the East, awakening is any realization or insight or knowledge that one didn’t have before.

In Dharma terms it usually refers to the first stage of the path, when three or four particular hindrances fall away from the human consciousness. The clinging to “skeptical doubt,” “belief in a permanent self-identity,” and “rite and ritual.”

Skeptical doubt is when you don’t believe that there is another state that is similar to your normal one, but different. Are you feeling brainwashed by the teacher? Maybe it’s just a big con? That’s “skeptical doubt.”

The biggest hindrance is “belief in a permanent self identity.” Trying to tell “unawakened beings” what “awakening” is and not having the identity of being a particular, independent, permanent kind of ME is huge. The third one, “belief in right or ritual” speaks to formulaic thinking. For example, if I do A, I get B right? If I do enough mantras I’ll get awakened, or, if I do this I’ll get awakened.

If you could explain simply and briefly “how” one awakens — how would you describe it?

The “how” of awakening is the willingness to find out what it is.  If you don’t have the aspiration or the motivation you can’t find it. You have to want it and you have to trust that it’s there.

Jumping into a spiritual path

© D. Steinbock

Imagine me asking you to jump off of a cliff into the void and I tell you that you’re going to land in another situation that’s going to be greater. One, you’re going to have to believe that it’s possible and two, you’re going to have to want to do it. It’s like swinging on a rope over a river, are you going to let go? Swinging out and back and out and back.

Tibetan, Enlightenment

Photo Attribution Nick Kenrick

Eventually you let go into the river of awakening because you can’t hang onto the rope anymore. Hanging onto the rope is too tiring. Hanging onto the belief in a “permanent self-identity” is exhausting and this promise of another place where you’re free of that helps you eventually let go because you’re exhausted. You wouldn’t be there if you didn’t have the aspiration and motivation. It’s a three-fold thing.

You have to have the aspiration, you have to be willing to swing out onto the rope, and you have to, at some time, be willing to let go.

What are some of the processes that help you find wisdom?

The number one way to get wiser is falling flat on your face and looking like an idiot. There’s no better way to get wiser than to fail. Obviously I’m not encouraging failing, but if you’re not stepping over the boundary of standard knowledge or experience, you’re not getting any wiser.

Karma Yoga Dharma Training

In order to get wiser you need to go like Star Trek, where no being has been before. Make a lot of mistakes out there. If you’re not willing to make mistakes you won’t get wiser. If you’re not willing to take risks you won’t get wiser. In what venue or mode that is done can vary, but for me it’s in Dharma and teaching. My teacher said, “The thing about tripping is you always fall forward.” You kind of trip your way into wisdom.

Are there particular Truths that you live by?

Loving kindness, compassion and the seeking of understanding and wisdom. Wisdom isn’t a done deal. You don’t just get wise and you’re done. Wisdom ripens throughout one’s life experience.

Doug Duncan and Catherine Pawasarat

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