Imagine You're Enlightened

Let’s start by asking, What might deity practice look like if we eliminated the forms and went directly to the actual experience of being awake?

Awake, in One Personality

Spiritual practice is primarily a destructive process. It destroys the habitual tendencies that cause us to take subject-object duality, emotional reactions, conceptual processes, and sensory sensations as concrete realities. In particular, we ordinarily regard ourselves as existent entities, an identification that is intimately intertwined with our personality. In deity practice, we experience personality as a fortuitous accumulation of habitual patterns and see that, at its core, there is nothing with which to identify. With the destruction of the ordinary personality, along with its dualistic fixation, all the qualities of being awake — power, openness, insight, and compassion — are free to express themselves in our lives.

What is personality? Most people take it to be the complex of behavioral, temperamental, emotional, and mental attributes that characterizes us as unique individuals. We usually see personality as fixed. However, we don’t have to look very hard to see that it varies radically from situation to situation. We may display care, patience, and restraint at work but not show the same patience or restraint with our families. Or we may be kind and loving with our spouse and children yet angry and impatient with employees and colleagues. When situations change, everything about us can change, too — what we think, feel, do, how we see the world, even what we believe and understand about life.

Far from having a single personality, we are like the shards of a shattered mirror, each piece reflecting a different picture of the world. Yet we think of ourselves as the same person, a single entity that is consistent throughout the day. We are largely unaware that we are acting on the basis of the reflections of one shard in one moment, and another shard in the next.

What would life be like if we approached life, our world of experience, consistently — that is, with a single personality, an awake personality, rather than as a collection of shards?

I use the term awake here instead of the more commonly used word, enlightened. Enlightened implies a state of being based on an idealized conception of human perfection — an enlightened person as opposed to an unenlightened one. Awake is probably more accurate, because it points to an experience, not a state. Awake also avoids the rational, political, and philosophical associations connected with the Age of Enlightenment. Finally, when asked what was different about him, Buddha Shakyamuni replied simply, “I’m awake.”

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