Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on January 30, 2014

I grew into Buddhism with the idea that it was a graduated path, probably a linear continuum starting from where I am practicing now straight on to my eventual enlightenment -- something like that. I have since found out, in fact, that the actual path to enlightenment is more like an exponential curve, and that it has a very clear speed bump not far from the beginning, more like a dead stop. I wish I had understood earlier that there is this stepping stone (a full stop) between the dharma practice we are doing today and the eventual road to our enlightenment.

There is what in esoteric studies is called a ring-pass-not, an event which must take place within us before we can proceed further. In other words, between practicing dharma as we now do and the road to actual enlightenment, there is an intermediate stage or major step that, while not enlightenment itself, we must negotiate before we can pass through and onward. It comes up as we get into Insight meditation.

I had been under the impression, as mentioned, that the road from beginning dharma practice to enlightenment itself was a continuum, a graduated path with no real speed bumps, much less a stop sign. Well, it turns out that there is at least one major bump or initiation that we each must negotiate and it is called "recognition," as in: recognition of the true nature of the mind. And it is not optional if enlightenment is our goal.

And let's be clear, "recognition" is not enlightenment or anything even close to it. Recognition is more like the sacrament of Confirmation in my Catholic upbringing, literally a confirmation and sign that we are on the right path. Only, in Buddhism recognition can't be conferred by rote, and here is the hard part: recognition is a realization each of us has to come up with ourselves from within, albeit with some help. And by definition there is no faking it. We each have to do this, one by one, and it waits for us until we actually do it, forever if need be. I only wish I knew this event existed before I found out that it did. It would have helped the process.

And this "not-faking-it" is important to understand. You can't get an honorary degree in "recognition," slip by the requirements, just read about it, or somehow place out. We each have to realize it personally. And here is another key thought: chances are that we cannot do this alone. The great rinpoches tell us this. We will need the help of someone who has already mastered this, someone who can succeed in pointing out to us the true nature of our own mind, someone who is kind enough to take the time to do this for us. And how rare is that?

And recognition is quite wonderful. Recognition of the mind's true nature is the point where we begin to see for ourselves how the mind works and (perhaps more important) that we actually can work it, just as we are. Without recognition, there is no seeing the particular dharma path before us that we have to walk. Until recognition, we are in a very real way blind to the future because we have never seen and cannot see where we are going. Recognition gives us a glimpse of the actual path we must walk, plus (equally important) confirmation that WE can walk it. We can do it ourselves, in fact we must.

So, no matter how clever we are, no matter how much intellectual understanding we have accumulated, we are left standing at the threshold of enlightenment without first actually recognizing the true nature of the mind for ourselves. No one can confer it on us or do it for us.

With recognition, we begin see just how to traverse the long (and I imagine arduous) path to enlightenment itself. Remember that recognition is not enlightenment, but only the ability to see where we are walking, to see the actual dharma path to enlightenment that we personally must travel. And that "seeing" is crucial, especially also seeing that we have what it takes to do the job. This is the point where diligence in dharma practice turns into joy in practice. There is no work-around for recognition, but only the actual act of recognition itself. So, it is very precious indeed.

Recognition is part of the process in learning Insight meditation and is the gateway to the more advanced forms of practice like Mahamudra, Dzogchen, and Maha-Ati meditation. In the Zen tradition, recognition is called Kensho. I find it very worthwhile to have some understanding of recognition, at least that it is required and that we can do it with a little help from our teachers.