the Wanderling

"Many people have the Great Vehicle Root Nature, but there are also many people who lie. Having cultivated without success, such people claim to have the way. Though they have not certified the fruit, they claim to be certified sages."

Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch to Hui-K'o, the to-be Second Patriarch

Exploring if an outside observer can, in all cases, determine if a person is Enlightened or not, the venerated Indian Sanyasin, Sri Adi Shankara (sometimes spelled Sankara) (788-820), in his work The Crest Jewel of Discrimination [1] or as it is sometimes known, Viveka Chudamani [2], states that the Knower of the Atman (i.e., a person Awakened to the Absolute, Enlightened) "bears no outward mark of a holy man" (Stanza 539). Continuing, although there are variences found in the actual wording between various translators and translations the gist behind the words remains the same, Shankara writes:

"Sometimes he appears to be a Fool, sometimes a wise man. Sometimes he seems splendid as a king, sometimes feeble-minded. Sometimes he is calm and silent. Sometimes he draws men to him. Sometimes people honor him greatly, sometimes they insult him. Sometimes they ignore him." Sri Shankara goes on: "The ignorant see the body of a knower of Brahman and identify him with it. Actually he is free from the body and every other kind of bondage. To him the body is merely a shadow."

A longtime chronicler of the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi by the name of Arthur Osborne --- and whose son Adam Osborne I knew briefly as kid --- spent a good portion of his adult life in and around the ashram of Sri Ramana, and in the process produced several books on the Maharshi. He offers the following in his book My Life And Quest (1991) about the ability of someone recognizing an Enlightened person:

"In speaking of spiritual men, the question also arises of their recognition. It is not uncommon to hear some one express confidence that he would recognise a spiritual man if he met one. This, however, is not always possible. High spiritual attainment, even complete liberation, is not always recognisable. Naturally, it is not easy to give examples of this, for this very reason that they are not recognised, but one very striking one is that of Christ before he set forth on his mission. According to Christian doctrine, he was born without original sin (which means Self-realization from birth) and attained no new state when he went forth on his ‘Father’s business’; and yet he exerted no influence on others before that but went completely unrecognised. Not only is there no record of crowds flocking to Nazareth, as they would have in any country or age to the seat of one recognized as a holy man, but, on the contrary, when he returned there with his disciples his fellow-townsmen expressed surprise, if not incredulity that the local carpenter should have turned out a prophet. The Maharshi also was not recognized when he first attained Realization but only later when he began to shed Grace on others and act as a Guru."

Continuing on in a similar or like vein, in Dark Luminosity the following is cited from the Sutras:

When the Buddha was walking along the road to Benares following his post-Enlightenment pause he was approached by a wandering ascetic. According to the custom of the time the ascetic greeted him and asked who his teacher was or what doctrine he followed. The Buddha told the wanderling that he was "the Victor and Conqueror of the World, superior to gods and men, an All-Enlightened One beholden to no teacher." The wandering ascetic could see no hint of anything of the Buddha's nature and wandered off as wanderlings are oft to do, mumbling under his breath something like, "If it were only so!"

Later on in the text, making reference to the fact that the wandering ascetic, even in the presence of the Buddha himself, was not able to recognize anything significant about the Buddha, the Wanderling writes, speaking of his own Mentor:

What I am saying is, whether a deeply religious follower, an Enlightened master of the first degree, or just a poor working dolt with no penchant toward things religious, sometimes Enlightenment can be recognized in others, sometimes not. In my case, even though I didn't know it or what Enlightenment was at the time, I still recognized whatever it was in the man I met.[1]

The following article How to Recognize Enlightenment is the combined three parts of a three part article writen by Alex Bunardzic and published in the alt.zen newsgroup June 24, 1998, selected and, with some changes, links, updating, and additions, edited into HTML format by the Wanderling for presentation here because of its verbal accuracy and relevancy:

by Alex Bunardzic

At the very outset, this question may be meaningless to the core. Even the poor wandering ascetic in the story from the sutras above, in the actual presence of the Buddha himself, was unable to discern the Buddha's Attainment. However, repeatedly we come across people who ask such questions, and it really doesn't help if we try our best to enshroud this issue in the cloud of ineffability. The experience of Enlightenment may be incommunicable, but the "finger pointing to the moon" may, in some circumstances, make all the difference in the world. Also, Katsuki Sekida (in his book "Zen Training") expressed his unwavering faith that one day, a Zen genius will appear who will be able to elevate the practice to even higher grounds and to tear asunder some widely accepted barriers. This proposal sounds very reasonable to me, although, as of this moment, no such geniuses have made themselves known to us.

With this in mind, let us first dismiss with some of the cliche answers. Like, the perennial one: "if you have to ask for clarification or verification, then you certainly don't have it", or the other answer that is a staple of all spiritual debates: "it is self-validating beyond the trace of a doubt", etc.

The fact of the matter is that the experience of Enlightenment is so overwhelmingly rich and devastatingly fulfilling that it takes a lifetime to digest, incorporate and integrate into one's everyday life. It is a small wonder, then, that volumes have been filled with the afterthoughts.

Let us start with one thought from Bhagavad Gita; in it, Krishna says to Arjuna: "What is day for me is night for all beings, and what is night for me is day for all beings." In my view, this is the best description of the Enlightened mind in everyday terms. It is extremely difficult, though, to understand it thoroughly. People don't like that quote. People frown when you bring it up. It goes against the grain, and it undermines the very fabric, the very root of human existence.

However, human beings who have reached the other shore and returned to the source (that is, to everyday life) all testify that this is true. Still, it is very hard to grasp, and it's even harder to embrace it.

Consider this: in our everyday state of consciousness, we regard our body to be extremely limited. What's more, we feel that this body is the major source of all our sufferings -- the feelings of pain arise in the body, the fear of illnesses and death are intimately connected to the body, etc. On the other hand, we think bright, encouraging thoughts about our minds, and our imaginative capabilities. Whilst the body is weak, limited and prone to breaking down easily, the mind is sovereign, it is our sanctuary and can give us a glimpse of the victory over our humiliating conditions. Our conscious thoughts seemingly know no bounds -- we can fantasize to our hearts content about ideal conditions, distant lands, nice, heartwarming events and circumstances. We can easily imagine pigs with wings -- something that's impossible for the nature itself to accomplish. What can possibly stop our imagination? And look, it's not only idle daydreaming -- all the achievements that the science, technology, art and philosophy can boast of, all have their origin in our imagination.

Well, the experience of Enlightenment changes all that. Strictly speaking, it turns things on their heads. Upon opening our mind's eye, we see that it is our conscious mind that is extremely limited, feeble, and prone to easily break down. Our body, which we have despised so much, turns out to be the wondrous limitless reality -- we can go anywhere, climb any mountain and hill. Our body enables us to truly live.

With this provisional introduction, I'd like now to briefly outline some of the characteristics of the experience of Enlightenment that are hard to find in other areas of our existence:

1. The experience of nothingness:

No other state of human existence gets to be permeated with the all-encompassing feeling of nothingness. Regularly, we go through life by experiencing the feelings of gain or loss. We reach for something and attain it, or we fail to attain it and then have to cope with the rejection. Or, the flip side of the coin would be that we try to avoid the unpleasant situation and manage to succeed doing it, or fail and have to face the consequences of enduring the unpleasant ordeal. Whichever the case may be, there is no place in this busy enterprise of ours for any feelings of nothingness to creep in.

Upon suddenly seeing into our true self-nature, we are left with that unique 'aroma' of nothingness. Some people think that it is a literal, that is a literal black-and-white not anything nothing nothingness (meaning either everything becomes either pitch black or totally white, with no discernment and differentiation.) Not true. Everything is as it is, and if at that moment a car is rushing toward you, you would see it and you'd move out of its way. So, in this respect, it is important to stress that Enlightenment is not a state where all the cortical neural activity has ceased. You continue to function as every other sentient being.

What is this nothingness business then all about? In Buddhism, Zen, and Enlightenment nothingness is refered to as the "great void" or Sunyata, and in general, presented in the sutras and elsewhere similar to the following:

The sutras often use the word "great void" to explain the significance of Sunyata. In general, we understand the "great void" as something that contains absolutely nothing. However, from a Buddhist perspective, the nature of the "great void" implies something which does not obstruct other things, in which all matters perform their own functions. Materials are form, which by their nature, imply obstruction. The special characteristic of the "great void" is non-obstruction. The "great void" therefore, does not serve as an obstacle to them. Since the "great void" exhibits no obstructive tendencies, it serves as the foundation for matter to function. In other words, if there was no "great void" nor characteristic of non-obstruction, it would be impossible for the material world to exist and function.

Enlightenment, is a very unsophisticated state of affairs. To the mind that used to harbor lofty ideals and grand plans, it is a very disappointing incident indeed. You may be saying to yourself: "All these years I have spent building a more perfect head to put on top my own head, and now I see how it's been totally in vain!"

2. Everybody else is also Enlightened:

The insight that everybody and everything has surfaced to the Enlightened state of mind simultaneously with you is definitely accompanying the very moment of Realization. This is why you know that the reality is perfect. It is not perfect in its potentiality, it is perfect in its fully actualized state, standing with you hand in hand, face to face. The "everybody is also Enlightened" statement can become confusing, of course, because the first thing everybody says is "Hey, I'm Enlightened." However, the Enlightened state is a "non-dualist" attainment, thus there can not be an "I'm," nor a "you Enlightened, them not" as there is no longer a you and them (dualist). In the story at the top of the page the wandering ascetic, called Upaka in the Sutras, meets the Buddha face to face and was unable to discern his Enlightened state. When the one-day-to-become Sixth Patriarch Hui-neng was Awakened out of nowhere as a young boy and met the Fifth Patriarch Hung-jen for the first time, Hung-jen, although remaining silent in front of his disciples, recognized Hui-neng's Attainment. In When Infinities Collide there is another outcome.

In Buddhism, Zen and the Enlightened sphere the foundation of the non-dualist realm is Dependent Origination:

NOT ONE THING Anekaartham:

Dependent Origination, properly understood, denies that anything is absolutely singular. A thing is nothing more than the coming together of all its causes, and no thing has a single cause. So even though a thing may be perceived a single thing, reflection will always reveal that it is in fact a multiplicity of factors complexly arranged. What we take to be an individual (literally undivided whole) is never in fact indivisible. For Nagarjuna this means that no physical thing is simple; every thing is composed of parts, and therefore is liable to decompose. But it also means that no concept is primitive and basic. Every concept is built up of related concepts. Every concept has meaning only within a specific context of other concepts. And so the very attempt to arrive at primitive ideas, or axioms, from which other ideas can be derived, is doomed to failure.

NOT MANY THINGS Anaanaartham:

Nagarjuna was very fond at applying recursive logic. Recursion is the name given to using the output of an operation as input to the same operation. Now we saw above that nothing is simple, because everything is made of a multiplicity of factors. So, for example, we could say that an apparent whole W is in fact a set of parts {a,b,c,d....}. But we can now substitute any one of those parts for W, with the result that we realize that none of the apparent parts of the whole is itself a simple thing. Indeed, if we continue the process of analysis to its logical conclusion, the result is that there are no things at all, even to serve as parts of larger wholes. But if there are no parts at all, then it is really NOT true after all to say of a whole that it is in fact made of many parts(nanaartha). (source)

3. Immediate welcome:

Somebody, something, somehow welcomes you. It is a silent welcome (a thundering, deafening silence), but you definitely feel it in your marrow -- your liberation is being silently celebrated throughout the reality. This is probably why we read that on many accounts people, upon attaining liberation, have exclaimed: "The patriarchs and the Buddhas have not deceived me!" Or, that people say how fish swim in the trees, birds chirp and flutter in the depths of the ocean, and mountains straddle the river.

4. No need to talk about it:

This feeling is extremely pronounced in the first several weeks following the Enlightenment. Talking, even thinking about it is felt to be as superfluous as asking a fellow passenger on a train: "Are you, too, traveling in this train?" It's meaningless. Since everybody else is also Enlightened, what's there to talk about? You just live.

5. The profound body of spiritual literature falls short of capturing it:

You may start developing a mild urge, after several days or so, to go and re-examine and compare your experience with the accounts recorded in the holy scriptures. Prepare yourself for a very disappointing experience. All the exalted words will look very pale and lifeless when put side by side with what you've been through and one of the reasons such historical notable Zen adepts as Te Shan burned all their Zen books and commentaries in the immediate moments following Attainment.

Actually, the entire body of the world literature that was accumulated in thousands of years of written history looks like no more than twenty six letters of the alphabet when compared to the richness of the experience of Enlightenment. Learning and mastering the entire human thought, as it is recorded in the world, would amount to no more than grasping the alphabet. From there on, you'd have to learn to form the words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, books. Immeasurably much more work lies ahead.

No wonder then that accomplished Zen masters speak about the stink of Enlightenment (or, the sickness of it). It can get unbearably grand.

6. The realization of the sublime cosmic joke:

Earlier we said that the all-pervading feeling of nothingness means that there is nothing to transmit, nothing to get, nothing to lose, nothing to achieve, nothing to learn, etc. Now is the time to discuss how the Enlightened being realizes that the Enlightenment is just a first step, and that the learning has just begun. This is the paradox, or the 'cosmic joke', but only in the linguistic sense. In actuality, it is something of a Koan:

Another way to look at it is to recognize that what is characteristic for an Enlightened being is to be in the state of the perennial beginner. This, of course, has to do with the freshness of the general attitude, and with the mind's emptiness (or the lack of experience thereof) which is making the process possible. But, the beginner can exist only in relation to the accomplished master. So, one realizes that at all times, one is the beginner and the accomplished master simultaneously. Since there is no way to express it otherwise, we refer to it as a cosmic joke.

7. All the questions have been answered and exhausted:

Typically, a person who experiences the wondrous Enlightenment is a person who's been on a long, intense journey, searching for something. Usually, such person has some pressing questions, something approaching the matters of life and death in its seriousness and importance. In addition, it is very likely that such person has been through some inordinately strong, long phase of suffering. This may not always be the case, but it's more likely than not. What the Enlightenment does to such person is it dissolves all those things. Everything's gone up in a puff of smoke! The search is once and for all over (but don't fool yourself -- the new one begins!) I will make a very bold statement here and say that if, after attaining what seems to be an Enlightenment, you still have some of the old questions pressing as hard as before, you may have to work some more on your breakthrough.

Not to be mistaken, though, we should stress that usually the first breakthrough is somewhat shallow (Kensho) and will not manage to uproot all the seeds of the habitual consciousness (Satori)). So, the pressing questions will most definitely return (although they've been so gracefully dissolved), but never with the same Fear of Death intensity. This time around, the suffering such thoughts may give rise to will be similar to the suffering we feel upon waking from an unpleasant dream: there are all the symptoms of suffering and uneasiness, but at the same time we don't really care, knowing that it's only a dream. As the great guitarist John McLaughlin once said: "Everything's there but nothing is traumatic."

Yours in faith,



Many seekers seem to be unaware of a very simple fact that there are actually many levels of Self-realization as exemplified in the Eight Jhana States, the Five Degrees of Tozan and the Five Varieties of Zen. There is an enormous difference between say something like a rather uncomplicated early stage such as as Laya to the somewhat further-forward initial step of Kensho and the actual State of Enlightenment at the level of the Buddha refered to in the scriptures as Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi. Even the venerated Indian holy man, mentioned previously above, the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, who was known by all to be a fully Awakened being following what has come to be called his First Death Experience as a teenager, still ripened and deepened that experience fifteen years later at age 32 following a Second Death Experience.

Before he became the Buddha, at the beginning of his spiritual quest, Siddhartha Gautama studied with two teachers. The first teacher taught him the First Seven Jhanas; the other teacher taught him the Eighth Jhana. Both teachers told him they had taught him all there was to learn. But Siddhattha still didn't know why there was suffering, so he left each of these teachers and wound up doing six years of austerity practises. These too did not provide the answer to his question and he abandoned these for what has come to be known as the Middle Way. The suttas indicate that on the night of his Enlightenment, he sat down under the Bodhi Tree and began his meditation by practising the Jhanas. When his mind was "concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of imperfection, malleable, wieldy, steady and attained to imperturbability" he direct it to the "true knowledges" that gave rise to his incredible breakthrough in consciousness known in the sutras as Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi, the Consummantion of Incomparable Enlightenment, beyond the beyond of the Eighth Jhana.

It is said both in myth and in legend, and by some as fact, that there is an ancient mysterious hermitage of immortals hidden somewhere beyond time in a remote and unknown area of the Himalayas, reachable only through spiritual powers and not material means wherein Enlightenment for all is a natural state. Below is a click-through link to one of the most comprehensive internet sites related to the lost Himalayan hermitage, also known as Shambhala, and Gyanganj:




Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.



(please click)



IN THE WAY OF ENLIGHTENMENT: The Ten Fetters of Buddhism




(please click)


ENLIGHTENMENT: can you do it?






Although I did not know Enlightenment in a surface-level intellectual sense, at the time it was not a totally foreign concept to me either, albeit subdued. With my first brush with Enlightenment other things were at work that later impacted my overall perception of same. Somewhere hidden deeply below the surface of my then day-to-day Samsara mind-patterns was an unconsciously and ungrasped shadow-like footprint imprinted echo-like across a residual background-base of another state. The reason that state was not recognized or known that it even existed --- even though it was previously experienced --- is fully outlined in:


There is additional follow up to the above incident in THE MEETING: An Untold Story of Sri Ramana. The second occasion occurred a few years later, albeit still a young boy, when I was introduced to Franklin Merrell-Wolff --- a basically unhearlded and overlooked American of great spritual Attainment.(see)

Interestingly enough, Upaka the Ascetic, mentioned in the above text was not the only one to walk away from the Buddha, under virtually the same circumstances. In the Madhupindika Sutta, known as The Ball of Honey or Honeyball Sutra a man, Dandapani the Sakyan, was out roaming in the woods and ran across the Buddha sitting under a tree. He exchanged courteous greetings with him then asked "What is the contemplative's doctrine? What does he proclaim?" The Buddha's response was not to dissimilar to the samething he told Upaka, and Dandapani, "upon hearing his response shaking his head, wagging his tongue, raising his eyebrows so that his forehead was wrinkled in three furrows -- left, leaning on his stick."(source)