Recognition Is the Key to Enlightenment
a talk by Da Free John
November 26, 1980
“Master, when I took certain drugs before I came here, I experienced the phenomena of the red light and the white light described in the traditions. Is that vision a simulation of the death experience?”
DEVOTEE: Master, somehow I had understood Realization of the Clear Light to be a terminal, ultimate, and absolute event.
MASTER DA FREE JOHN: This conception of zero is common to Western consciousness. It is because of this and other like structures of consciousness that Westerners find it difficult to understand Buddhist texts on such states as Shunyata (“emptiness”), or the void, or Nirvana. The tendency of Westerners to associate such conceptions with the zero of nothingness undermines the paradoxical suggestion in Buddhist literature of the identity or equation of Nirvana and samsara. Realization is utterly coincident with phenomenal existence, and it is not at all coincident with the motive of dissociation or separation from phenomena.
This life, this world, this experience, is the Clear Light. If you cannot recognize it as such in Truth, then you are only associated with phenomenal conditions themselves, and with the pattern of arising experience. Thus, you can conceive of Liberation only as separation from this experience. But when you recognize this experience, then the paradoxical equation between the Clear Light of Nirvana and the multiplicity and complexity of samsara is evident. That Nirvana and samsara are the same is obvious, but it is also a paradox. It cannot be explained, because its Truth is coincident with this present experience, not something else to which we can point and refer.
The process whereby Enlightenment is achieved or Realized is the same in every moment of this pattern of arising! It is always a matter of recognizing phenomena as nothing but modifications of what the Buddhists call the Mind, or Fundamental Reality, and what I call the Radiant Transcendental Being. Whatever arises has neither independent significance nor necessity and is fundamentally transparent in the moment of recognition.
Enlightenment is associated with recognition whatever the phenomena, whether gross or abstract or subtle, and whether arising in life or after death. What arises after death is subtle or abstract. The forms that typically arise in ordinary life are gross forms, but during our lifetime we may also encounter subtle and abstract experiences, which must also be recognized. Such subtle experiences are not the signs of Realization or Enlightenment. They are characteristics or attributes of consciousness. The fact that we can attain a state of subtle awareness, therefore, does not signify that we are Enlightened or exalted to a great spiritual plane.
Very often, the capacity for subtle or abstract vision is regarded by practitioners of yoga to be an end in itself. I have criticized traditions that value abstract and subtle visions of light or some Divine Being in some other world. To regard the having of subtle visions (that is, phenomena not associated with gross manifestation to be Enlightenment is precisely the illusion that must be overcome from the point of view of the highest teachings.
To regard any phenomenon as exclusively Divine or Illumined or Enlightened is the illusion. While we are alive we associate happiness and pleasure with what we desire. We do not therefore recognize the things we desire but rather let them determine our experience. Likewise, after death or in meditative states we are similarly attracted to subtle and abstract visions, and we take similar pleasure in them.
The phenomena that may arise after death and in meditation, like those that may arise during outward, waking life, have nothing whatsoever to do with Enlightenment. They are demonstrations of our possibility for experience and knowledge, and they must be recognized rather than held on to. To cling to an abstract form of light is ultimately no different from clinging to some person in the waking state, or to some environment, some pattern of associations in the gross state or of visions or apparitions in subtle worlds. All clinging to phenomena is egoic and self-possessed, creating forms of confinement and illusion that prevent us from recognizing the true nature or Condition of phenomena. Enlightenment or God-Realization is the Realization of ecstasy, or self-transcendence, based on the recognition of all phenomena, whether gross or subtle or abstract.
All phenomenal appearances are dependent on the same psycho-physical, egoic structure. Thus, the same problem, so-called, faces us in death that faces us in life. We are attracted to or repelled by what arises, reacting either positively or negatively to phenomena. This principle is true in the waking state while we are alive. It is true in dreams. It is true after death. It is true in all the categories of our possibility during life and after death. Truth is always associated with the recognition that phenomena are nothing other than non-binding modifications of the fundamental Reality, the Radiant Transcendental Consciousness or Being.
When this is tacitly realized to be true, when we can therefore recognize whatever phenomena arise, then we exist in the state of Enlightenment, fundamentally free. Whatever arises is not binding in any ultimate sense. We remain radiant, or the fundamental Reality remains Radiant, even in the face of what arises. But if we do not enjoy this capacity for recognition, then phenomena themselves are our limit, a process of changes that transform and control attention and produce binding effects.
In recognition there is no bondage, but apart from recognition of phenomena-pleasurable or painful-there is only bondage. This has been the fundamental and highest Teaching since ancient times, and it is the same Teaching that you consider with me.
DEVOTEE: Master, when I took certain drugs before I came here, I experienced the phenomena of the red light and the white light described in the traditions. Is that vision a simulation of the death experience?
MASTER DA FREE JOHN: Yes. Death removes you from the setting of gross phenomenal states of perception and conception and associates you with subtler ones. Hallucinogenic drugs in effect associate you with phenomena similar to those that arise after death. Under the influence of the drug you may not tend to experience such phenomena with the same clarity as you will after death, partly because the return of bodily states is imminent. The necessity to transcend phenomena is therefore not so urgent, since you will return to your so-called normal state eventually. Nevertheless, one can experience through the use of drugs the same subtle, abstract phenomena that one can experience after death.
Likewise, through techniques of meditation and the force of uncommon experiences one can withdraw from the perception and conception of gross conventional reality and its relations and associate with abstractions of light and sound or with subtle, visionary apparitions of energy that have discrete individuality. Such subtle and abstract phenomena may arise through meditation, shocks, drugs, death-any one of many disturbances to our conventional state of gross perception can regenerate or awaken us to the perception of these phenomena. They are not, however, identical to the Mystery or the Great Affair, because merely to have these perceptions is not to transcend them, not to be Enlightened. To take a drug does not yield any great capacity for recognition. Neither does conventional meditation or the shocks of life.
If your entire attention is reduced, or expanded, to the perception of a radiant spot or a great field of light, you can realize the experience to be not fundamentally different from the ordinary experience of the waking state in which you are seeing others and environments. In The Knee of Listening I have described this recognition or realization in my own case. I experienced all kinds of great yogic phenomena, but always there came the tacit recognition that having a subtle, mystical vision was not fundamentally different from perceiving in the ordinary way. Nothing different happened in meditation from what happened in ordinary awareness. The features of the phenomenal appearance changed, but the fundamental pattern or structure of awareness of phenomena was the same in the abstract and subtle states of awareness as in the gross states of awareness. Nothing was changed fundamentally by changing the features of the objects of awareness.
This recognition made it tacitly clear that Realization has nothing whatever to do with the changes of experience that can be attained by any means. God-Realization is the recognition of the habit of association with phenomena. In the course of my own spiritual practice, therefore, this disposition of recognition became primary and ultimately consequential, and all the other media or means of attaining experiences became unimportant.
Thus, in the history of my Teaching Work with people I have constantly criticized that disposition in us that is fascinated with the possibility of an alternative reality or the possibility of subtle or abstract phenomena. Nevertheless, in the Way that I Teach, we do not prevent such phenomena. In fact, in the devotional and meditative exercises that we engage, all kinds of gross or subtle or abstract phenomena may arise. All of you can report such experiences.
The spiritual process is not a means for attaining those experiences, but it is the process that can, that must, go on in the midst of those experiences. If now, presently, the experience arising is essentially the pattern of gross awareness, or gross phenomenal existence, you must recognize that. If now you are having a vision of a subtle being or subtle environments, the Spiritual Master in a form of light, heavenly worlds, gods, goddesses, you must recognize that. If now you are seeing white light, yellow light, blue light, a spot, a field of light, radiance, you must recognize that. To recognize all phenomena, all experience, is the Teaching.
We must recognize that whatever is arising, even this moment of gross perception, is a non-binding modification of the Radiant Transcendental Reality, what is called the Buddha Nature, or Nirvana, or Brahman, or Parabrahman, or Very God, or the Ultimate Divine, or the Truth. Whatever the name given to the Ultimate Realization, it is That which must be Realized on the basis of the recognition of whatever is arising. Therefore, it is not necessary to achieve an alternative reality or an alternative state of experience in order to be Happy or to realize the Truth. Rather, Happiness or the realization of Truth is a matter of recognizing whatever happens to be arising.
EASY DEATH (1983)
Part III: Beyond the Traditional Wisdom on Death
Recognition Is the Key to Enlightenment
a talk by Da Free John
November 26, 1980