On Awakening
Dr. Stephen Fulder



Awakening is a shift to another way of viewing the world, a sense of perfection, completion and interconnectedness



A villager once met the Buddha walking in the street and was impressed with his presence. "Who are you?" asked the villager, "are you a God, a prince, an Angel?"


"No," answered the Buddha, "I am not a God, a prince or an angel. I am awake."


Waking up is waking up out of the dream of the mundane reality – each moment is seen as a fresh, original and alive moment, that arises and passes like a line written in water, or a bird passing in the sky. These living moments are time-less and don’t belong to me or to anyone.


"On a still night when the stars are clear and close, you would be aware of expanding space and the mysterious order of all things, of the immeasurable and of nothing, of the movement of the dark hills and the hoot of an owl. In that utter silence of the mind this mystery expands without time and space...this is love.' writes J. Krishnamurti in one of his journals.


Awakening is a shift to another way of viewing the world, a sense of perfection, completion and interconnectedness. As such, it need not be obvious or dramatic. As Elijah said in the Book of Kings, it is the Kol Dmamah Daka - "not in thunder...but in the hidden voice of stillness".  It does not need ecstasy, nor does it need to produce it. It may be wrapped inside ordinary reality, like a diamond covered in mud.  It is about stillness with intensity. It is often known by its results: a sense of perfection and of reality.


It is, in my own experience, quickly covered over again by the cruder voices of forgetting and ordinary mind, of sankharas. The fact that the sankharas have so much power to sweep away those beautiful and sublime moments shows me that we are working, in the dharma, against the stream, and we need all our power, courage, insight and commitment. For those sankharas really have developed over lifetimes. All of us have moments of awakening, moments when we look at things more clearly, with insight and with a big heart. Usually they last a moment and are forgotten. I want to give an example of a recent moment of awakening in my own life:


I had just been digging in the vegetable garden, preparing another bed for the summer vegetables. I stood in the middle of the garden and relaxed.  I took in the whole picture and it suddenly felt overwhelming. The garden exploded with richness: the multiple varieties of green, the red roses, the healing and sacred orange calendula, the herbs, tastes, and aromas, the intoxicating smell of deep wet earth. It was the work of my hands and at the same time of everything else in the world. This joyful cycle had no purpose, no end, just the beauty of engagement with life.  What is the awakening? It is the participation. It is melting into the moment. The garden needed me to know it, so we could exist together. As the knower of it, I was just one more necessary part of the picture. Along with each radish.


True spiritual awakening occurs when these moments are more intense and prolonged, such that they become a state, or way of being. Then one can say a person is ‘Awakened’ or ‘Enlightened’.


The journey to awakening is written into the instruction manuals of all the great spiritual traditions. Whether Christian mystics, Muslim Sufis, Jewish Hasidim, or Buddhist meditators, the guidelines are there. Although I must admit a personal preference for the Buddhist teachings as they are so well developed, so clear and accessible, with so little mystification and so much wisdom and expertise on navigating the inner journey.  The way always starts with a base of deep morality, deep purity, what Don Juan in the Castaneda books called ‘impeccablity’. We have all seen that abuse or harming of self or other doesn’t go together with awakening. The path from there involves familiar components: meditation and spiritual exercises, a balanced mind and body, development of trust, faith, concentration, joy, peace and letting go. All held together by a deep commitment to the journey. The journey might be longer or shorter. It might and often does involve extremely difficult periods of doubt, fear, weakness or pain: ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’.  It is generally not a one-off revelation, more of a repeated peeling away of attachments and blindness, like a snake removing skin after skin. Awakening is beyond our mental processes, beyond thought and beyond concept. As such we can never measure it, expect it, design it or plan it.  The more we push for it, the more it runs away.  It is both up to our efforts and quite beyond our efforts. There is a famous Zen quote: "Enlightenment is an accident. All we can do is become more accident-prone".



It may be the greatest task we can do with our one precious life. And it is the journey itself that makes it so, not just the destination.So an awakened life is not about measuring those awakening moments, counting them or adding to them. It is about surrendering to the hidden voice of stillness, and surrendering to the powerful stream of samsara that also carries us. It is being constantly interested and committed to a life of truth, wisdom and heartfulness, for its own sake.