Tales of Enlightenment
I can recall only one occasion in my life when, ever so briefly, I fondly imagined that I was about to become enlightened. It was way back in 1978 and I was sitting in the cold winter sunshine on the shores of Rabbit Island, near Nelson in New Zealand, looking out across the great sweep of tidal flats and water that stretched out beneath an immense vault of blue sky.
For some months I had been soaking up the little gold nuggets of Zen Buddhist teachings and now, beguiled by a soothing breeze and the calm emptiness of sky and sea, I began to feel some otherworldly, existential joy stirring deep inside me. It was an inner ecstasy, a glimpse of the soul's delight and its freedom from all of the things of this world, and I hunkered down in the warm sand and the afternoon sun to wait for this great joy to engulf me entirely. Seated in some absolute stillness – a frail monk peering into eternity – I watched as out of the matrix of silence, the beautiful pageantry of life unfolded – the simultaneity of a million events, lives, causes, all interconnected in the river of being and time. High up against the blue sea birds crossed the sky then vanished into the void, the sounds of the waves lapping very quietly, a soft persistent cadence. Ego, mind, body all fell away – I felt I was only spirit, enraptured in my new-found oneness with all of life.
Alas, as the hours wore on my euphoria receded, along with my expectation of an enlightenment experience, and I realised that I was about to rejoin the great Multitudes of the Unenlightened. The tide had come in and one of my discarded shoes, mocking my dismay, bobbed past me in the tide, enjoying its own brief liberation from worldly constraints. But the doorway had opened and I would never forget this sweet feeling of the inner life, like the distant memory of a happy childhood awoken by the fragrance, half a lifetime later, of a single tiny flower.
And years later as well, Sri Chinmoy's lovely words would validate my experience when, in response to someone's question "When will I realise God?" he replied; "How do you know that you have not realised God? Everybody here has realised God. But there is something called conscious realisation of God and something called unconscious realisation of God. Unconscious realisation you already have – now you have to realise God consciously."
Sri Chinmoy then tempered these reassuring observations with a final delightful proviso. "There is an earthly calendar and there is a Heavenly calendar. In terms of Heavenly time, you will realise God very soon. In terms of earthly time, perhaps you will have to wait for a few more years."