This one is a bit difficult to explain and understand, if we think of enlightenment as reaching a state of “godliness” and Buddha as a God.
Most of us, are hardwired to accept figure of authority since we are born. It is therefore not surprising that people relate to a religious founder as a supernatural supreme being, the ultimate big boss. Someone who is there to punish or reward our behaviour.
Enlightenment is not like that
The next point for measuring our spiritual progress is, humble self awareness. It is a constant self checking attitude that is built upon a sense of humble self awareness in our daily practice.
True Humility is a state that is only possible when we have given up our illusionary self worth. (Also known as EGO)
Therefore, contrary to the idea of an authoritative figure with power over others, an enlightened being is without ego. Coupled with awareness, it becomes an effortless self checking function.
Before we reach enlightenment, effort is needed to maintain this humble awareness; and it has 2 application. Internal and external.
Internal humble awareness means that we (practitioners on the path) constantly reflect on our action, speech and thought. This is to determine if they accord with the Buddha dharma. To self examine whether there are hatred, craving and ignorance driving our life.
It is like a clear mirror that is constantly reflecting what is going on in our being. Awareness. Mindfulness.
External humble awareness is a compassionate consideration for others. Whether our state of being benefit others.
In that sense, a practicing Buddhist does not have an egoistic view that they are superior to others. Even when we are diligent in our practice, we do not adopt an “I am mightier than you” mentality.
We are humbly aware of our limitation and strive to best benefit others according to our capability.
For most of us, the best way to serve others is to be a “better me” Whether at work or at home. Trying our best to practice the Dharma will result in a ‘better me’
Those who got it wrong, practice in the opposite direction.
If people mistaken enlightenment as a position of power and superiority. They will be building ego instead of eliminating them.
For example, a monk recounted how an unkempt man appeared at his temple one day; Wreaking havoc and vandalising the property in his temple. That man claimed to have just completed 3 years of meditation retreat and had experienced insight. He was shouting and making a scene, saying that recitation of scriptures are wrong practice. The monks are wrong to just just chant all day long. His behaviour is obviously socially unacceptable and contrary to enlightenment. In the end, the police had to be called upon for assistant to arrest him. The monk who narrated this episode was saddened by the man falling into wrong views.
In another case, a woman began to dress in white and constantly display mudra of Kannon (Guanyin) whenever she interact with others. Trying to imitate the pose of Buddhist sculpture. Even to the extent of soliciting praises that she resembles kannon in behaviour.
Perhaps the most jarring example was an infamous cult leader from Japan. He met the Dalai lama once. During the interview, His Holiness the Dalai Lama remarked and reminded this cult leader that he possesses the Buddha nature. Perhaps it was the interpreter’s fault. What the Dalai Lama said was a common Buddhist topic. However, that guy believed otherwise, thinking that the Dalai Lama had endorsed him as Buddha. Unfortunately, he did not become compassionate like the Buddha. Instead, he ordered his cult disciples to commit terrorism in the subway to punish people, killing innocent lives.
Above are just some examples of practitioners misinterpreting the teachings and cultivating wrong views.
If we learn the Dharma properly, we will not have the wrong idea of enlightenment.
So in this point of measuring our spiritual progress. We should observe ourselves. Are we becoming more intolerable, more egoistic? Thinking that we become more powerful (over human or spiritual beings)? If so, we are going down the wrong path.
When we practice correctly, we should become more humble, constantly seeking to improve ourselves and benefit others.
Have fun with the self check up. May all be well and happy.
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