Tallinn Intensive, June 9th, 2012
We began the Tallinn intensive with energy work and kept it up for about two hours. It felt like twice that. For the first hour or so, I was enjoying it and noticing effects in my awareness, a lightening and a clearing out. Dave’s advice began to seem doable, and I began to feel as though it was really possible to be disciplined enough for my awareness to re-inhabit the body. I was feeling so uplifted that I began to fantasize about how I was going to be the “champion” Dave was looking for, the one who would carry the Transmission into the future.
I wondered if I was like the inverse of Dave in some way: he had lived a clean, spiritually-focused life from the age of five and become enlightened at a young age. Now he was talking about his body wearing out and the need to find a successor while only in his mid-forties. My own journey had been almost the opposite, a decadent, almost nihilistic youth, followed by psychedelic use and occult dabbling (and more than dabbling); now I felt like something of a physical and spiritual train wreck. Perhaps I had gone through everything I had gone through in order to be able to experience a rebirth in middle age? I could become an enlightened transmitter with a special knowledge of the darkness!
My fantasies began to dwindle and die during the second hour, as I became increasingly tired, and my thoughts grew defeatist and despairing. Dave kept reminding us this was only the warm-up, and that we were rushing through all the exercises and needed to spend much longer on them at home. It seemed as though hours and hours would be needed every day performing energy work just to clear the body enough to allow for the light to land. By the last stretch of the workout, I was beginning to feel like I couldn’t continue any longer. I was relieved to see at least two other people (girls) had already curled into balls on the floor.
Another thing: Since I hadn’t read the intensive description before coming I hadn’t expected energy work. After all that sweating for two hours in my jeans, I realized I would have to wear the same trousers for the rest of my trip. It was an example of my casual, “fly by the seat of my pants” approach being unconscious self-sabotage. I was reluctant to take the whole enlightenment thing too seriously, but as a result I wasn’t taking it seriously enough. This meant I was making simple practical mistakes and reducing the benefits.
For the last part of the day, Dave talked more generally about getting enlightened and the Transmission legacy. I felt a tiredness in the room, both in myself and in Dave. In fact, almost everyone was lying down by now. Dave’s words seemed heavy and intended to pressure us, to drive home the inauthenticity of our lives. I felt as though I had heard it all before, that Dave was banging the same drum and that no one, especially him, wanted to hear it. Later, I thought about how this was perhaps why most spiritual teachers preached that there is “nothing to do,” the alternative being that there really is something to do, which is a message no one wants to hear.
When Dave uses the term “spiritual seeker,” he might as well be using the term “warrior,” at least as I have always understood it. He’s an odd contradiction: on the surface, he seems to employ the most generic and user-friendly terms (enlightenment, spirituality, soul, God), while at the core of him is something rigorous, demanding, and highly exclusive, if only because it is so demanding.
For an enlightened teacher to avoid the slavish devotion or blind admiration of his “students,” simply warning them against these things is not enough. (When a Master says “I am no different from you,” that only elevates him further in his disciples’ eyes: “Oh, he’s not only awesome, he’s humble too!”) Perhaps the only sure way for such fantasies and projections to be kept in check is if the teacher’s limitations are nakedly apparent, to constantly remind the student that the “master” is just an ordinary person with an extraordinary perspective.
This would not only confound our ideas about what enlightenment is about, but also continuously punch holes in any idealized view we might have of the teacher himself. In my case, it leaves me to negotiate with my doubts, and to ask myself how relevant these things really are. Does it matter what Dave is capable of as “an enlightened being,” compared to the question of how reliable, accurate, and useful his guidance and example is to me, and how honest and trustworthy he is as a person? The question of how he fits my beliefs about what “enlightenment” is, is largely irrelevant.
In fact, the whole question, “Is Dave Oshana enlightened?” is a red herring. No one but Dave can know the answer, and it doesn’t actually make any difference, as far as I can see. Well, clearly it makes a difference if he is enlightened or not, but all we can judge are the effects of being with Dave, and of being open to his teaching and guidance. We can only know where he is at by going there. Does enlightenment actually mean anything to anyone who hasn’t experienced it?
For myself, it comes down to a very basic question: Is there a way out? Is there a state of awareness, an experience, that is free from conditioning, delusion, and unnecessary suffering? If I come upon someone who claims to have found a way out, in such a way that seems plausible, I am going to investigate that claim as closely as I can. If I find enough evidence to support their claim, I hope I am willing to throw caution to the wind and (without relinquishing my critical faculties or capacity for discernment) to put my trust in that person’s greater insight and wisdom. There’s really no other way to test it.
My body may know the answer, but my mind can still doubt the body. It is what the mind does best. And in the absence of knowing, all that is left is belief. Believing that the Transmission is real is useless: it is just an opinion. I have to know. But the only way to know is to proceed as if it were real, in order to find out. That means to proceed without believing, which leaves only trust: trust in Dave, to a degree, but mostly trust in myself and above all, trust in life. Trust that this is the path that I am meant to be taking. The funny thing is, I really don’t doubt it. Whatever path I am on, it must be the right one. But I doubt all the rest, the details, the moment to moment decisions, which always come down to the one decision: to surrender or not to surrender.
Many times in the day I just want to yell at the top of my lungs that none of this makes sense and that I cannot possibly be expected to live my life according to such a preposterous and outlandish premise.
Redefining Enlightenment (June 14th)
Mind Without a Center
At the Tallinn intensive, Dave spoke about how, when he first became enlightened, he was unable or unwilling to go back into his mind due to a feeling of disgust. From this I understood that the mind was still present, but that he was no longer confined, restricted, or defined by it.
During an informal, impromptu Skype conversation initiated by Dave on June 14th, I brought the subject up and said that I had not heard a description of this kind from other spiritual teachers. I asked if there was some basic difference between Dave’s enlightenment and that claimed by other people. I imagined his mind as like a snake skin after the snake has shed it, still intact but empty of life. I wondered if his awareness of his old mind as a separate “thing” might be contrasted with people who took their mind with them into enlightenment, and so became an enlightened ego. Maybe the shell of Dave’s mind was there, I thought, as a necessary reminder not to get tricked into identifying with the constructs of belief? I didn’t express any of this fully, and Dave’s response was just to describe more exactly his experience.
He said that, although he was (to this day) able to go back into his mind, it was similar to when a hand is covered with water-resistant cream before submerging itself in water: the cream prevents the water molecules from touching the skin, so although the hand appears to be submerged, it is not actually in the water. Similarly, when he went into his (old) mind, after enlightenment, he was able to look around at the contents without being exposed to them or becoming identified with them. This was even despite his efforts to do so, he said.
On the one hand (no pun intended), he wanted to be able to test his enlightenment through full immersion in those old constructs or beliefs; on the other, he wanted to be able to meet people in the midst of their experience, and to have a fuller understanding of what they were going through while identified with the contents of their minds. Although he had got better at it, he said, he was still unable to go all the way into the mind; it was like he had a bungee cord attached to his back, making sure he never got lost in there.
I said it was probably just as well. He agreed.
I asked if the old mind was the same as “Dave,” the self that died or vanished when he became enlightened. He said that it was all the stuff which Dave had accumulated. I asked if it was “all that was left of Dave” and he said that it was, but that it, the mind, had fallen into disarray since he had left it, because it no longer had an organizing principle or center (he described it as a cobweb without a center). I told him I thought this was valuable information and he suggested that I write it down.
I forget if it was before or after this part of the conversation, but I commented to him that for most people, enlightenment equated with perfect, total realization, infallibility and impeccability. I said that his version of enlightenment refuted such an idea, but that many people didn’t make it past that first, crucial claim of being enlightened.
They never got to see that Dave was redefining enlightenment as something simpler, less grandiose, and more comprehensible. It was, as far as I could tell, simply a permanent leaving behind of the confines of the mind.
The Easter Bunny of “Enlightenment”
I started this document to sum up what Dave had said to me about his relationship to his mind, post-enlightenment. For the writer and the seeker in me, this is where the “meat” is, not only of today’s conversation but of my relationship with Dave overall. How could I not be drawn to find out more about this subject and want to report my findings to the world?
Enlightenment, like all meaningful concepts, has become weighed down by conceptual baggage. It has become shrouded and obscured by presumptions, fantasy, misconception, and self-serving deception. Now millions of people are chasing after and eulogizing over something they do not even begin to understand. The thing with enlightenment is—like “God”, “truth” and “reality”—if there is such a thing, it is the only thing that really counts. Because without it, our experience is by definition partial, incomplete, invalid.
Enlightenment has been misrepresented to the point that people who might actually be capable of experiencing it are not interested: they know better than to believe in such an absurdity.
Enlightenment is supposed to be freedom from illusion. By even the shaky definitions that we have, that’s the least we can expect from it. It’s only natural if people want to argue that enlightenment is really only the ultimate and supreme illusion. That’s one way to take all the pressure off of attempting to get free from illusion. We can tell ourselves that a person claiming to be enlightened is even more deluded than we are. Nine times out of ten (or 99 out of 100), it’s probably true. But what about that one exception?
I am curious about the criteria which people use for dismissing, as they do, a person’s claims to being enlightened without investigation. I am not suggesting that they should investigate every claim of enlightenment, but only to reserve judgment prior to a full investigation or, at the very least, to offer up their criteria for examination by others. In the case of the most common and sweeping criteria—that enlightenment means never saying you are—they could explain the reasoning behind their argument, rather than simply stating it as a self-evident hypothesis. And also, most crucially of all, explain what they think they mean by “enlightenment.”
If our definitions of enlightenment come (according to the skeptical reasoning) from people who were not enlightened, then why are these skeptics using those same definitions to disprove the claims of the enlightened?
What if someone claims to be enlightened but defines enlightenment in a way that is radically (or subtly) different from the standard definitions of enlightenment?