The Gates of Awakening
Every spiritual tradition has stories of those who have awakened from their usual dreamlike state to a sacred way of being. Through initiation, purification, or prayer, or by a great spacious surrender to the dance of life, they come to know that which is ever-present and holy. The founder of Japanese Zen, Dogen, explained:
“The human mind has absolute freedom as its true nature. There are thousands upon thousands of students who have practiced meditation and obtained this realization. Do not doubt the possibilities because of the simplicity of the method. If you can’t find the truth where you are, where else do you expect to find it?”
There is a part of each of us that knows eternity as surely as we know our own name. It may be forgotten or covered over, but it is there. Like Nachiketa, we have only to ask for the truth, and we will learn that it is found in a mirror. My teacher Ajahn Chah called this center of wisdom within us, “the One Who Knows.”
But the One Who Knows is not found in practitioners alone. One famous study of American spiritual life found that the majority of those interviewed had had a mystical experience at some point in their life. However, the researchers also discovered that most people would not want it to happen again. Why is this?
What we have no words for, we cannot understand; it does not fit into our view of what is real. And if we stumble upon it, as the study shows, we may be taken by surprise, and frightened. On the unknown places on their maps, the ancient cartographers wrote, “Here there be dragons.”
Yet, as surely as we inhabit the mystery of birth and death, as surely as the night is full of stars, as surely as we know the necessity of love, we contain the possibility of awakening. Even today, in many parts of the world, many people are recognized as enlightened or illuminated with holiness, and sages are widely revered. The sage in us can be awakened as well; the One Who Knows can be found it our own lives.
There are numerous entry points to the eternal wisdom of the heart, which can be called “the gates of awakening.” Each gate is a doorway to ourselves, a doorway to the truth.
This excerpt is taken from the book, “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path.“