Strictly speaking there is no such thing as an enlightened person. There is only enlightened action. – Suzuki Roshi
Searching for total enlightenment is like sitting in a dark room searching for a flashlight, when the only reason you need the flashlight is to find the flashlight you are looking for. – unattributed
We speak of Moksha and enlightenment as if they were clearly defined and understood, but they refer to experiences, identity, and states of consciousness that transcend concept and words. We can infer enlightenment poetically, maybe we get tastes of boundless ecstasy or deep presence in the course of our practices, or lightning-fast action in the moment, and rarely we are gifted with the unqualified, profound experience of universal consciousness and infinite love that is our self-evident intrinsic nature. This is the gift one receives from the Satguru, one whose power is so potent as to be able to induce awakening in people who are ready for it. Yet even when we are blessed with such an awakening, we are unable to define or characterize it with words that are more than a whisper and a shadow of what we experience. With this limitation in mind, we can try to consider enlightened marriage with words.
Enlightenment implies perfection. Yet an awakened marriage is not about creating or attaining a perfect union. No such thing exists, any more than there is such a thing as becoming a perfect person. Advaita teachings posit that we—every one of us—already are the perfection we seek. You cannot attain enlightenment any more than you can attain your face or attain humanness; these are intrinsic to who you are. As with enlightenment, attaining these is an absurd proposition. According to the Trika school of Kashmir Shaivism, enlightenment is recognized, not attained. It is just like when you examine an image of the moon’s surface: it might well appear covered with soft lumps, and even though you intellectually know they are craters, they seem to remain fixed as lumps…until something shifts in your perception, and suddenly they appear as the crisp craters that they always were. You simply recognize what is and has always been there.
The question is not whether you can become enlightened, but rather, how do you express your full humanness and divinity, how do you live consciously, how do you live the love that you are while immersed in your daily life? Do you perceive the highest truth in everyday situations? Can you act with grace, with total commitment, with compassion, commanding all your skills, wisdom and resources? Do you embody love in both its warmest glow and its fiercest expression? Are you utterly and fully conscious of yourself and all that is within you and around you, in the present moment? Can you serve with full-throated conviction and humility? Do you have the capacity to be a vessel for the fire of love, to have the strength for this love to flow through your every action without getting burned? As you walk, are your steps a prayer of gratitude, an offering of love?
Marriage is a powerful opportunity to practice enlightened action. The complexity of two people living life together creates an environment rife with challenges. Some people shy away from intimate relationship exactly because of the hard work it takes to be in relationship with integrity and honesty. Like an ascetic who retreats to a cave to meditate, they prefer the simplicity of single or shallow life over the confounding complexity of relationship that forces them to reflect and dig deeper into the composition of their beings. You yearn for loving sacred union while living as two distinct people. You are paradoxically attracted to one another by complementary forces and yet are repelled by the juxtaposition of the very same contrasting qualities. You strive to relish and magnify your love so fully that your hearts overflow with ecstasy, but you are constantly confronted with challenges by someone who thinks and acts so differently from you. How difficult it is, when your partner vexes you so thoroughly, to perceive the highest truth and deepest love.
But the answer does not dwell in reforming your partner. You – and we all – live your life incompletely: you follow unconscious habits and avoid uncomfortable shadows which limit your experience of and enjoyment of your full self. Over time, the conscious love in your marriage will not tolerate habits, ignorance and avoidance. It forces you to recognize your blindness and warped perceptions that disguise the truth of who you are. While it is true that your partner has his or her own habits to reckon with, you will not evolve and grow if you are distracted by their limitations; in fact, their limitations are a gift to you, to help you change your stance, to shift your awareness to a place where you recognize their divinity, and thereby recognize your own.
Enlightened marriage is not about attaining some state, some “level of consciousness”; that is static. Enlightenment is a dynamic aliveness that brings to bear all your being, all your fullness, each moment of the day and night. It is alive, skillful, nimble, awake. Think of a wine glass, running your finger about the rim to make it hum. It can be hard to start, it can squeak. It might require racing your finger or applying more pressure before an even ringing begins. But then, once it starts humming you find that sweet spot where only the lightest touch and gentlest movement is all that is needed, for the deep sound to emanate from this delicate vessel. In the same way, you and your husband or wife can enter a state of dynamic equilibrium, whereby the flow of love, the flow if wisdom, the celebration of aliveness is maximized. It takes work, you must apply right effort. Life changes constantly, and the two of you adjust spontaneously, skillfully, and gracefully. It does not mean you are without challenges or stresses; no, life is still unpredictable and unfair and all the rest. But you are able to meet it and ride with it, respond as the two of you, and you are strengthened by the effort, thrilled by the collaboration, buoyed by the companionship, and you turn the challenges into a celebration of your love.
Next Section: Basic Practice: Building a Vessel