Around 2003, remarking upon the all the mystical and meditative books available, I said “someone could probably achieve enlightenment on their own.” The remarkable rare texts, deep analyses, and thoughtful translations were stunning to me. No monk, magician, or meditator could match what we could get with a trip to the right bookstore, a catalog, and a few clicks online.
This is not to say it would be easy – one would need dedication and research. One could doubtlessly make mistakes, as I did examining various Taoist practices (let’s just say physical pain and leave it at that). This is also not to say that learning from a person is inferior, it’s merely that enlightened teachers seemed in short supply. But the knowledge was there, and it was impressive and humbling.
At least one could get pretty far along, I’d figure.
(The fact I am of the opinion there is an identifiable form of enlightenment is something for another time, of course. I like to keep these columns of a reasonable size).
As time went on, I came to realize that even if I was right – and I arrogantly assume I am more likely right than not – it’s gotten harder because of all the damn stuff out there.
How much could a seeker dig up that is Theosophy wearing a funny hat and carrying a fake ID? What books are out there that are merely well-designed rehashes, Robin Hood’s barn’s of meditation and contemplation? How much is manipulative near-criminal bullshit designed to pull you into a very criminal cult – or help you found one?
Then you’re up to your armpits in podcasts, TikTok videos, and people trying to sell you something! There’s distractions beyond books – and things that may be helpful that look like distractions! Even if Sturgeon’s law wasn’t true, it’d all be more than a bit much.
It makes me understand why some sages and such grab a pile of books and high-tail it to a shack. Or the modern equivalent, which I guess is a studio apartment.
For modern seekers of spiritual knowledge, sincere people who want to learn and grow and attain some kind of Enlightenment, you can’t rely on the market. You have to research and talk, be skeptical and test, and above all walk that line of skepticism and enthusiasm. We’ve given the spiritual seekers all the tools the could need, and scattered them inside a junkyard.
In many ways, this just reveals the value of having fellow spiritual seekers to work with and consult with. We need people to talk to, to recommend things to us and to recommend things to. We need people to sort through the bullshit for us and with us, people we can trust.
Any enlightened teachers out there are probably pretty busy not just teaching but helping people avoid and filter bullshit on a level unseen in history.
Maybe it’d make them harder to recognize because they’re helping clean up the trash.