In Buddhism, the spiritual and material realm are often referred to as the absolute and the relative, respectively. The relative is form. It is what is perceived through our senses: it is the world of thought, feeling, differentiation, and consciousness. It is the world of objects. It is the world of duality: you and me; self and other; good and bad.
Conversely, the absolute is also referred to as emptiness, the deathless, and nothingness. The absolute might also be referred to as the divine, pure consciousness, oneness, wholeness. It is absolute. It contains everything! It is the source from which form arises. The irony is that there is no thing (nothing) there. And yet, that nothing is us. It is the source of form and, simultaneously is equal to form. That is why in the Heart Sutra of Buddhism, it says “form is emptiness; emptiness is form.
However, there is a bit of a misunderstanding among spiritual seekers. Many individuals who are attracted to a spiritual path do so because they desire inner peace, harmony, and equilibrium, and/or to live their lives stress free. The misunderstanding is that there is the belief that when one awakens to the divine or when one becomes enlightened, something is gained. This is from the perspective of the ego or small self. The thought is that it is the ego that becomes enlightened.
However, in order to even have an awakening experience, the sense of self or of ego must disappear. One must surrender to the divine, to the absolute. One must lose their sense of self; the ego.
What happens for many people is that after an awakening, there is a period of oscillation in which the sense of self arises once again. For some people, the ego might grasp hold of the awakening experience and try to own it, as if it was something to hold on to; but in doing so, the ego only reinforces itself and loses the sense of divinity that was previously experienced. For most people, there is a sense of “I had it; then lost it.” One becomes stuck back in the mind and suffering, which perhaps seemed to have disappeared, arises once more.
However, with vigilance and due diligence, such as engaging in inquiry and meditation, the conditioned patterns that constitute what we think of as the self, begin to dissipate. More and more, turn your attention back on itself. Over time, the sense of oscillation will shift to a sense of stabilization. Our identification with the self shifts to identifying as the absolute, as oneness.
Over time, one becomes more and more rooted as the absolute. As the divine. As emptiness. However, the irony here is that the more one is rooted in the absolute, the more one is absolutely unrooted. This is because putting down roots anywhere other than the absolute involves holding onto something, particularly one’s ideas and beliefs in anything, including the belief that there is an individual or a small self.
Conversely, being rooted in the absolute means to be completely free to be fully present with what arises. You are no longer attached to your thoughts and beliefs. You no longer believe that things should be other than what they are. You no longer entertain thoughts of “should” or “could” or “ought” or “gotta”.
This leads to a wonderful sense of freedom. No longer does the world and other people have to conform to how you think it and they should be. This includes the character you inhabit. You are free to be exactly who you are. You are free to watch the silliness of your own behavior. You are free to watch the thoughts that arise inside your consciousness. You are solid in your awareness of who you really are and that those thoughts and behaviors are not you.
You are also free to pick up any behavior, characteristic, or trait, for example, at any time depending on the circumstances. You are free to embody your awakeness as a human being, living in the world; assisting others in waking up, if that is your calling; assisting others in doing what it is to improve their well-being, if that is your calling; or to merely sit in a cave and meditate, if that is your calling. You are also free to continue to be a shopkeeper, an educator, an artist, a teacher, a politician, or whatever occupation or job or activity that currently occupies your attention. Except that now, how you treat the world; how you treat others; how you treat the planet and all its life forms has changed. Because now, you know the truth: that there is no separation between self and others. You are all other people; you are all other life forms; you are the planet; you are the universe. And consequently, what might have been expressed before awakening as greed for one’s self is now compassion for everyone and everything. As my former teacher, John Daido Loori, Roshi, use to say: “Who you are and what happens to you are the same thing. You are responsible for the whole catastrophe.”
That is because you ARE the whole catastrophe! You are what you perceive. You are just this moment. Now. You are IT!