I met a Buddha the other day. While I was delighted by this knowledge, it did not come as a complete surprise. But where I found this Buddha will probably surprise you
Virtually all of us were brought up to translate vestments and beads into spirituality. We look for our guru’s in churches, or ashram’s, or temples, or in New Age settings. We look for sacred texts, or candles, or certain kinds of music. We seek quiet, somber people who speak in parables and riddles. We will often look outside of our own culture and toward the world’s oldest cultures in Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and other ancient cultures including Native North and South Americans. Many people travel all over the world—literally or virtually—in search of answers. And yet there are Buddhas among us to learn from.
I’ve met this woman many times. She always comes across as very friendly, but I feel confident in saying that virtually no one would sense the powerful depth that is alive within her. When you get to know her better you realize that she truly is thoroughly positive. She compliments others often, she’s very compassionate regarding other people’s suffering, and most importantly she realizes in a profound way that there is no value in focusing her thoughts on narratives that don’t feel good.
My talk with her was thoroughly entertaining in that I was doing exactly the opposite of what I normally do. Because she is surrounded by the controlling egos of unenlightened people, she naturally feels out of step with a lot of what she sees going on around her. So rather ironically, the discussion where I came to realize she was a Buddha was one wherein she was earnestly enquiring into the idea that she may be a sociopath.
Now a Sociopath is someone who lacks a sense of social conscience or moral responsibility, which is why the most notorious versions of them are able to seriously hurt people when others would have a sense of empathy preventing them from doing so. But we’re not talking about someone who puts their needs above others to the point where they would seriously hurt someone. We’re talking about someone who’s free. Truly free. But because freedom is so rare in our culture, her freedom strikes people as unfair. In short, people don’t like that she gets to follow her heart and not feel bad about it.
Guilt, regret, and fears about our status with others are not fences that guide us toward healthy lives. These are cages built by our egos that keep us from living our natural lives. These barriers exist only in our minds—they are not an aspect of the actual world. So if most people feel compelled to leave a relationship, they worry about hurting the other person, they worry about how their friends will react, and they worry if they’re making the right decision. Free people just go toward whatever they are more attracted to and they give it no further thought (except maybe to occasionally wonder why they don’t give it more thought when most people seem to think about these things for years).
Other people’s feelings are their concern just as yours are your concern. If this Buddha was dumped herself, she would simply accept that by not giving it further thought. That would free her up to start looking at her life for the most appealing direction to go. This is what living in the moment is: you move toward whatever makes sense to your spirit regardless of what happened in the past. People who live in ego move toward what they think they should move toward, and they will routinely offer excuses to themselves about why they’re not moving toward what they truly feel excited about. Moreover, they will tend to really dislike people who don’t have those limiting thoughts.
The Buddha and I have a mutual friend who I know much better than the Buddha. What’s fascinating is that the friend is on a very sincere and earnest journey of conscious self-discovery. I’ve always been impressed by his desire to grow and change in these important ways. He reads about the subject, enjoys films and television programs about spiritually healthy living, and he does his best to live a humanitarian lifestyle. I admire everything about him except his contempt for The Buddha. And even there, it is easy for me to see why he wouldn’t be able to recognize her Budda-nature.
Can you see his misunderstanding? He wonders how she can end a relationship and not feel guilt or remorse. And by expecting and looking for that, he fails to notice that she gets to skip out on feelings of guilt and remorse and instead she gets to feel the excitement of looking for her new future. She quite rightly can’t see how thinking those thoughts would have any affect on her life and so she wisely chooses not to think them. So she can do what he aspires to do, and yet in his thoughts she is the furthest thing from what he imagines his target to be. Such is the strange paradox of enlightenment.
If you’re seeking the truth you may find it in a religious setting. You may find it in a New Age setting. You may even find it in a quasi-political setting, as is the case with the Dalai Lama. But where you will always find it is wherever true happiness is.
Everyone spends some time in an enlightened state. But it is worth paying attention to the happiest, most carefree people in our cultures. Because dissatisfaction in life comes from running into the fences that most egos build with their narratives. So the people to follow are the ones with no fences. Like the character Bartholomew in Christopher Moore’s hilarious book Lamb, truly enlightened people rarely have a bad word to say about anyone else, they don’t care what anyone else thinks about how they live, and they laugh and smile a lot. Who knows? Like my friend does, maybe you have a Buddha in your life right now and neither of you are even aware of it.
Being enlightened isn’t made of being good. Being enlightened is made of being free. So stop stopping yourself with words and go be free.
Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.