I was watching a documentary the other night with my wife. It was a rare night for us — all alone in our home — so we snuggled in, lit a fire, and watched a “weird” documentary we had been saving to watch for a night when the kids weren’t competing for the remote control.

The documentary was about the rise of Eastern spiritual practice in the West. At one point in the documentary someone who had studied with many of the great masters of the East said that one of them had told him, “If I’d lived in a house with a wife, two kids, and two automobiles, enlightenment would have been very difficult.”

I thought about that statement for a while and then told my wife I didn’t believe this was true. “It’s not that enlightenment would have been more difficult, it simply would have had a different definition,” I said. ┬áThe visual image of what spiritual mastery looks like would have had fewer caves, mountains, and long white beards and more moms, dads, and long nights of homework.

And that got me thinking.

… What if Buddha had been a mom?

Would she have left her children behind to seek enlightenment? Or would nirvana simply have included the attachment between mother and child and the responsibilities that come with it? Would she have breast-fed under the Bodhi tree? And if so, would we still think that meditation is all about no distraction? Or would life’s beautiful distractions — like nurturing your baby — have been included in the practice? Or …

… What if Jesus had been a dad?

Would he have played flag football with his son in between healing the sick? Would he have made the time? Would the advancement of his spiritual beliefs have gone as far if he had known that dying on the cross would leave behind an orphaned son? And would God’s law have included a commandment for cuddling your children at night while you tuck them in? Or …

… What if Lao Tzu had lived in Manhattan?

Would the analogy for The Way still be a garden, or would it be Central Park on a Sunday morning, or perhaps the lights of Time Square? Would he have gone to shows at The Garden and, if so, which ones? Would those shows have become part of the text and attract spiritual seekers from around the world paying homage to the master’s favorite band?

… What if Krishna had owned an iPhone?

Would we still have kirtan with musicians playing the harmonium or would we use an old original iPhone and simply press play? Would we memorize the many names of God or look them up in our contacts? Would there be so many manifestations of the divine or an app that shows them morphing from one to the other and from you to me?

What if enlightenment is simply our ability to live as we do while not seeking a magic panacea for life’s challenges … and what if that includes not comparing our current world to the world that existed in the times in which those masters lived?

...And I Breathed

It’s not that I don’t deeply value the teachings of all the great spiritual pioneers, because I really do. I have dedicated the last several years to the study of their teachings. They are like members of my extended family on whom I count for inspiration and guidance, and I think sometimes the reverence we give them fosters the kinds of attachments, comparisons, envies, and guilts that they spent so many volumes teaching us to overcome.

Look up the word “enlightened” on the Internet. There are thousands of articles talking about beautiful teachers of yesterday, and none about the enlightened masters of today. Is this because there are none? Or because our definition of enlightenment doesn’t allow for the realities of our modern life? After all, do enlightened masters shop for yoga cushions on Amazon, drive their kids to school in Teslas, and check their Twitter to see how many retweets their last inspirational message got?

For me, the answer is unequivocally YES … yes they do … and yes we do.

What if Buddha had been a mom? What if Jesus had been a father? Would spiritual mastery look more like you and me?

This week I want to invite you to allow for the opportunity, the beautiful possibility, that you are enlightened. Open yourself to the perspective that all of the things you do in your life, the nitty-gritty living parts of life, are included in the definition of what spiritual mastery means. The distractions that you meditate through, the school schedules you work your yoga classes around, the hugs and kisses you find time for in between emails, tweets, and conference calls, and all the work and money and all the other things we call distractions … each and every one of them is part of life. Our ability to breathe through all of these diversions is the real enlightenment of today.

Big hugs of love,

Jason

  1. wendy st. john-devereaux says:

    this was, as always, a wonderful article…..and very important as well…..modern life is such a juggling act, with so much to do and so little time…..

    enlightenment happens while you are living your life……what matters is that you always find the time for your spiritual life….

    ian and I have found that, when we put spiritual matters first, everything else falls into place for us……

    thank you again for this great article….

    much love xxoo
    wendy

  2. I think it’s the Hindu culture that says we have four homes..physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. We strive to visit and stop awhile in all four rooms of our homes every day. Thanks for this thought provoking post Jason. <3

  3. Very beautifully expressed Jason, these question were wandering on my mind from how many years. I do believe there are enlighten people exists in today’s world. In fact they have overcome many challenges to becom enlighten. Living your routine life and practicing spirituality at the same time is the biggest challenge in itself. Kudos to all of them.
    Smriti

  4. First off, Buddha DID leave his young wife and their baby. Second, Jesus told his followers to leave their families if they wanted to come with him. You must be young because although you are smart and sensitive, you don’t seem to understand what it takes to become enlightened. To “wake up” is THE most demanding activity you can undertake here on the planet. Being a parent is “lite work” with a smattering of suffering compared to finding Ultimate Truth. And that’s why you have to go solo. And that’s why you choose before you come into this world to go that route. It is not accidental or haphazard. It is something you must give your entire life to and the pain and suffering that must be experienced is dreadful. Healing is hard work. It wears you out and turns you inside out and spending lots of time alone in nature is the best way to cope. So if you are a parent and you love the job, chances are this is not your lifetime to become enlightened.

  5. Thank you so much for writing this Jason. LOVE THIS! I remember watching a PBS show about the history of Buddha. At one point in the story, it talked about how he just up and left (my take=abandoned) his family (wife and several children) to go in search of enlightenment. Right in that moment, Buddha lost some credibility and respect for me. Oh sure, he’d have us think it was just his calling, he had no choice. How convenient. What parent hasn’t been tempted to walk out, go far away, be alone where it’s quiet with no distractions, no schedules, no worries, and just BREATHE (breathing? what’s that?)? I agree that spiritual mastery comes with taking care of our responsibilities. Doing our best to raise responsible children. Helping others when we can. Going to work when we would rather not, day after day, year after year. I wouldn’t trade the moments of Bliss I have experienced being a parent, wife, daughter, daughter in law, aunt, niece and sister, for anything in the World.

    • Thank you Peg for reading and sharing your views. I try to always remember that all of the great teachers were human beings, just like you and me. From them we have the beautiful opportunity to learn tools that are designed to bring joy to our lives. We don’t have to take everything they teach as the end all way — instead we can take the parts that fit for us and that bring us love and joy. Each of us has our path, thats the wonderful and interesting part of life. I deeply value the teachings of all the masters. I asked the questions I did to provoke a dialogue and perhaps a confidence that we are all perfectly on the path to our own enlightenment. big hugs of gratitude – Jason

Leave a Reply