Decades ago, I had a friend, an intellectual, a fellow American, who knew a lot about India, its religions, its obscure languages, its culture. He once declared to me, Americans want to possess enlightenment. This insight was so accurate that it has stuck with me all these years.
I can’t pretend that I haven’t gone through stages of wanting to possess enlightenment myself, to possess psychic powers, to raise my stature in the world through the spiritual. Experience has taught me that spirit works otherwise.
Years after we had lost touch, it occurred to me that my scholarly friend didn’t himself meditate. He wanted to possess knowledge about enlightenment, without going on the journey.
My friend reminds me of scientists putting a Tibetan monk into an MRI machine, showing that This part of the monk’s brain does That when the monk meditates. The meditating monk’s brain exhibits different behavior from his own brain’s non-meditating state, and from the state of non-monk, non-meditating brains, and perhaps from non-monk brains in a meditating state.
The scientists have learned something about the images of the brain during meditation, and the images tell us with distinct colorations that the physical condition of the brain changes with meditation. But we don’t know beans about what the monk experiences during meditation. We’ve left out the spirit.
Scientific thinking, and adoration of it, is so pervasive, so ubiquitous in our culture that we aren’t aware of its constant influence. Science is to our minds like water is to fish. We don’t notice it’s there.
While the reductionist thinking of science has been extremely useful to our human animal existence, the non-cognitive knowledge that comes to us intuitively is often ignored. A path to this knowledge is meditation.
Leaving science at the side of the road, if we meditate will our experience be identical to that of the monk? I don’t know. Will we become enlightened? I don’t know. If we become enlightened, how will we know? I don’t know. What’s the point?
The point is, spirit doesn’t have to possess anything. Experiencing the meditative journey is all that we really need.