Why is it that we meditate but can’t get enlightened?

Why is it that we meditate but can't get enlightened?

In the Shurangama Sutra, the Buddha tells Ananda the reason why we meditate but can’t realize the unsurpassed enlightenment of the Buddha:

  • It is because we start off on the wrong foot and keep heading in the wrong direction, never realizing that we are driving east when we are supposed to go west.
  • It is because we start off with the wrong root foundation – and the tree that grows from this root is the wrong tree.

So it’s very important to have the right root foundation as the basis of your own practice – otherwise, what will sprout out from those roots that you’ve planted early on may be weeds rather than strong trees.

So what are the 2 roots that we absolutely MUST be aware of when meditating?

  1. Using the false, thinking mind in our meditation – this mind arises and ceases with thoughts – all that arises will eventually cease.  All thoughts are transient – and so are subject to birth and eventual death.  So how can you what is transient as the foundational basis to seek an escape from decay and death?  You will still be stuck within this realm of decay and death if you use this type of root.
  2. Using the awareness itself – so using the awareness of thoughts and not the thoughts themselves as the basis.  Because the awareness does not change when the thoughts change.

Put simply, your enlightened mind is not within the realm of intellectual thought – this is called Atakkavacara.  So if you try to think your way to enlightenment, you will be setting yourself up for failure from the start.

So, we are mistakenly using our thinking mind, which is dependent upon perceived sensory perceptions to find our real mind – because our thinking mind can only think using thoughts which are shadows/memories of what we receive from our senses. So this thinking mind is dependent on our senses because it only knows things through data from the senses.

We think that our thinking mind is our real mind and who we really are (e.g., Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am”), but thoughts are just thoughts and is not the perceiver of the thoughts (the Mind itself).

The Buddha here, says, don’t use the thinking mind – don’t use the ephemeral thoughts as the basis for your cultivation towards enlightenment because thoughts are subject to death and enlightenment is freedom from death – enlightenment is everlasting life. In fact, you already possess this enlightened mind but you just don’t realize that you have it – you think that you’ve lost your enlightenment and have to go find it. Out of habit, you go look outside for your mind, looking up, down, everywhere for it, never realizing that your mind was with you all along and never leaves you.

So use the Mind that is not subject to death, not subject to change as the basis for your meditation towards enlightenment:

  • Instead of the focusing on the changing thoughts, notice “that which is aware of the thoughts” – this will allow you to detach from the thoughts and realize that the thoughts are actually separate to you.
  • Realize that “that which is aware of all the changes you observe, is itself not changing”.
  • Realize that “that which is aware” of delusion is not deluded.

This will save you years of wasted effort and will keep you on the right track.

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