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I’ll Have One Order of Buddhism, Hold the Enlightenment

I’ve always had this problem called being an overachiever. I frequently have unrealistic expectations of myself, and mentally beat myself up when I fall short of these ideals. So when I first started becoming interested in Buddhism I said to myself, “Oh great. Enlightenment. Another ideal out there to hold myself up to that I will never achieve. This is good.”

I began practicing meditation during a very tumultuous period of my life in high school, when two of my family members became ill with cancer. Prior to this I was a good Jewish girl, and when all this sickness started happening, my shaky grasp on religion couldn’t keep holding on. This was around the same time as 9/11, and as cliché as it may sound, it felt like all the supposedly infallible institutions in my life (mother, God, country) were floundering. Thankfully my family members made a full recovery, but for the first time in my life, it got me thinking about death.


Calvin and Hobbes really tends to hit it home for me, with pretty much everything.
calvin an dhobbes heebie jeebies.jpg

When I first started meditating, not knowing anything about Buddhism, I’d become fixated on certain sensations I’d get in my body, or light patterns in my visual field. When these sensations would come up, I’d say to myself, “Oh. Good. That’s it. I’m getting somewhere. This is what’s supposed to happen. I feel different. This is special. This is it.” I think the “it” I was looking for was proof of something meaningful, because not a whole lot felt meaningful then.


I didn’t become obsessed with achieving enlightenment, but the idea of drastically changing my perception was definitely on my mind. Can you blame me? And the thing was, at the time, those little flickers of light and buzzing feelings ultimately gave me what I needed: I was so interested in this new thing called meditation that I was motivated enough to go out and seek a community. This community got me through painful times without even knowing it. I heard their personal stories of sadness, the things they struggle with. Along the way, it hit me:

Other people don’t need to be enlightened in order to help me…and I don’t need to be enlightened in order to help others.


I want to be aware of my actions and the way my mind and emotions work. But I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’m going to screw up, a lot. My idea of practicing Buddhism is doing the best I can as a human being for myself, for my loved ones, and for the world. That’s meaningful to me.

I’m going to practice meditation and do the best I can, and I’m not going to worry about enlightenment.

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Julia May

posted July 21, 2009 at 10:35 am

“It’s either mean or it’s arbitrary, and either way I’ve got the heepie-jeebies” Ha!
This weekend at our retreat I touched a great sense of “no failure”. No matter what happens, you can always come back – and the only action you have to take is one of noticing. Lost. Found. Gone. Back. Sadness. Fear. Resistance. Joy. Enlightenment could never be a static phemonemnon – it is always so funny how I treat it as a place rather than something shifting and active.

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posted July 21, 2009 at 11:25 am

To the author of this article,
You’ve got your heart in the right place-you understand sufferring and feel compassion. To me thats 9/10th of enlightenment anyhow! You hardly ever hear HHDL talk about gaining enlightenment either, he talks about human kindness, and the depth of the wisdom of that is often not appreciated.
You wrote, “Other people don’t need to be enlightened in order to help me…and I don’t need to be enlightened in order to help others” From the school of Buddhism I’m exposed to, what you expressed here IS enlightened nature,or Buddha nature, which we all already have, which peeks through us all the time, like the sun light through the clouds. In other words you don’t need to seek enlightenment, its already there, and always has been, and you’ve expressed it nicely! Thanks!

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Your Name

posted July 21, 2009 at 4:03 pm

I’ve been practicing many years and originally wanted to become enlightened … to find the answer … I wanted visions … etc.. luckily I never got those things (some people do) … I learned not to seek happiness but to accept contentment … happiness… grief all are fleeting emotions … being content is acceptance. For years i ended each meditation with a bow and the words “may love compassion and wisdom fill my heart” one morning I realized I had it wrong and began another phase “May love compassion and wisdom manifest in each of my actions this day.” It sounds to me as though you’ve already come a long way… gashho … deepest of bows to you.

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posted July 21, 2009 at 4:05 pm

Great post. A nice counterbalance to the flash of jhana, nana, and path chasing.

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posted July 23, 2009 at 9:38 pm

In I’LL HAVE ONE ORDER OF BUDDHISM, HOLD THE ENLIGHTENMENT, the author inadvertently, unwittingly, yet incisively insightfully, transposed a physical sentence into a very metaphysical thought, a thought most worthy of true meditation, be it Buddhist or whatever. What she wrote was ‘I’ve always had THIS PROBLEM CALLED BEING an overachiever.’ The transposition of ‘being called’ into ‘called being’ made me think. This IS the problem … (being)called being. Our objectification of existence, even into the simplicity of the printed word, habitually suckles our intellectual predisposition for a dualistic understanding of it. Dualism is separative. Dualism is divisive. It separates us from our true selves. It divides our very essence, which upon the final unitive realization of it is logically indivisible, …indivisible truly in the contemplation of Logos according to its original Hellenic sense.
…Progrediamur Abambagibus.

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posted July 24, 2009 at 11:16 am

The Bodhisattvas stop and turn around at the cusp of enlightenment because they realize that Samsara and Nirvana are the same wheel, in fact, the same point, transcendent of time and space. Duality (and further perceptive fragmentation) is our experience of unity in our universe.
Being yourself is very much being that aspect of the universe that IS yourself, and can therefore be considered a personal verb, or, perhaps, perfection.

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