Dr. Earl R. Smith II

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There is a lot of writing being done on something called the ‘Upward Path’ or the ‘Path’.

The recent TV series Stargate SG1 popularized the idea that it was possible to ‘ascend’ by finding and keeping to this ‘path’. Most of this – including the TV series – is popularized and remanufactured bits of Buddhism. The problem is that it is misleading in several ways – that people who accept that ‘seeking the upward path as the road to enlightenment’ are almost certainly going to be seriously disappointed and waste a lot of living in what could only be called a ‘kamikaze raid on a vacant lot’.

The basic problem with this form of pseudo-Buddhism is that it falls into a trap that Buddha himself warned against – the trap of grasping. A fundamental principal of Buddhism is that many of our problems are self-created through a tendency to hold on to artificial realities – like synthetic versions of our self or visions of the world as we would like it to be. This holding on is called grasping. According to Buddhism, you can’t begin to move towards enlightenment by seeking enlightenment. That, in itself, is a form of grasping – grasping the ideal of enlightenment.

Many students and most ‘casual’ dabblers in Buddhism have a great deal of trouble getting their minds around this simple idea. For some it seems to take away all the purpose of ‘practicing Buddhism’. I have had some ask me “Well, if I don’t have a goal, why practice Buddhism?”

The presumption here is that the individual needs to be in control of their life – needs to direct it towards something that is presumed to have value. In modern terms “If you don’t know where you’re going how will you know when you get there?” The problem with this formulation is that it exteriorizes a journey which is essentially inward – the entire premise underlying the perspective assumes that the process is an outward journey – from here to there.

But the real journey in Buddhism is from here to here – from this present moment to this present moment. The goal is to be truly here – present in this moment – authentically and completely – without reservation or misunderstanding about either what or who is.

In a truer sense, the journey is down and inward rather than outward and upward. But in an even truer sense, the journey of a thousand years and a thousand miles is simply from here to here – no movement – no direction – no upward sloping path – only enlightenment that comes when the mind is finally quieted – the ripples calmed – perversions, misinterpretations and misdirections cast away.

Enlightenment is not a place to go to – it is a way of being. Not a single step in any direction is required to achieve it. Wherever you are it is there with you waiting to be discovered. If you travel half-way around the world seeking it it will still be right there with you.

© Dr. Earl R. Smith II