It’s Now or Never | Enlightenment Now Book Review by Daniel Reid

  • June 23, 2017
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If you’ve read Enlightenment Now by Jason Gregory, or plan to read it, you’re a fully enlightened being and you know it, but you’re probably still pretending that you don’t in order to avoid responsibility for behaving in accord with that state, here and now. Enlightened behavior essentially means the proper management of how you use your energy in the world through the three faculties of body, speech, and mind, the source of all your actions, words, and thoughts in life. If you plan to continue putting off enlightened behavior, you’d better read another book, because this book won’t let you off the hook about delaying it any longer. You’ve delayed long enough already, and if you put it off much longer, you’ll lose your chance altogether because life is short and things change fast these days.

This is a short book that’s easy to read. Its message is as simple and clear as saying, “The earth is round not flat, and the sun rises in the east not the west.” How many ways are there to say that, and how much evidence do people need to understand such obvious things? This book is more of a reminder than a revelation because we already know the truth it discusses. It’s basically an expanded prose version of the ancient Heart Sutra, the favorite scripture of Mahayana Buddhism in China. It’s a wake-up call for all you sleepy heads out there who claim that you wish to be enlightened but think you still have plenty of time to put it off and keep snoozing through life. You don’t, because time is an illusion. There’s no such thing as linear time in our lives.

Let’s deal with that first. As the title indicates, Gregory’s book is about “now.” It’s always now. Have you ever lived in any time other than right now? The past and future are mental constructs that only serve as excuses for not being—and behaving—here and now. They don’t actually exist. People say, “Time passes,” but what they’re talking about is not time. It’s space and form in a state of constant flux, and it’s always happening right now.

Take aging for example. People think it’s “caused” by the passage of time, but it’s not. It’s simply an ongoing process of deterioration that happens to all material form, without exception. Hair turns white, skin wrinkles, muscles atrophy, brains get rusty, and it’s all happening right here and now, in the eternal present moment. That’s not time.  It’s the basic nature of composite form. This is one of the first truths the Buddha taught, and he called it “impermanence.” He didn’t call it “time.” To paraphrase the Buddha’s last words to his time-conscious disciples, “Get your act together now! What are you waiting for?”

So why do people waste time that doesn’t even exist? Why do they live in the illusion of past and future rather than simply being here now and living in harmony with their own original nature? People choose to live in the illusion of time in order to avoid taking responsibility for living the way enlightened beings should live right now. Persuading yourself that you’re spiritually ignorant and immersed in delusion is the perfect excuse for all your misbehavior. If you accepted and lived by the enlightened awareness with which you were born, you’d be responsible for using your energy with the innate wisdom and compassion that enlightened awareness activates. You could not possibly allow your behavior to be motivated by anger and hatred, envy and greed, jealousy and lust, and all the other negative emotions that drive most behavior in the world today. You’d have to become a wise and compassionate person right now, and for people with other agendas that’s not convenient.

Gregory doesn’t mince his words when discussing this problem. He describes most of the formal spiritual practices that people use to comfort themselves from day to day and assure each other that they’re on the way to enlightenment as nothing more than “spiritual postponement.” Meditation, yoga, breath work, visualization, reciting scriptures, and other practices that are repeated day after day for years and years in order to gain something that we already have makes no sense as a logical proposition, much less a spiritual path. It’s just another way to shirk responsibility for behaving according to the basic virtues of enlightened awareness right now. “The real spiritual practice,” states the Dalai Lama, “is daily life.”

“Yes, yes, I know that we should treat starving refugees with generosity and compassion—but not now. We’ll plan to do that later. Meanwhile, let’s get these bastards out of our country! Let them go some place else.” Sound familiar? That’s essentially what Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Turnbull are saying in Australia about people who go there in desperation to seek refuge. These are the same hypocrites who, when it comes to election time, claim to be devout Christians who practice the teachings of Jesus. It’s much the same in America and Europe, though perhaps not quite as blatant. Jesus didn’t postpone his practice of what he preached, and neither did Buddha. They both walked their talk, and the reason their teachings still inspire people today is because they were not just barking in the wind. They lived by what they knew to be true. Postponing your enlightenment and not enacting it here and now is irresponsible and a denial of who we all really are.

The fundamental issue here is freedom and how we use it or lose it. H.L. Mencken wrote, “The average man doesn’t want to be free. He simply wants to be safe.” He pawns his precious freedom in exchange for money and material security that are as illusory as all material form and which disintegrate just as fast. The awakened man realizes that life is risky by nature and the notion of material security is an illusion, so he chooses instead to cultivate the only thing that he knows he owns outright and forever as his birthright, and that no one can ever take away from him, and that’s his awareness as an innately enlightened being. In order to do this, he must be free—free to act, speak, and think according to his true nature, free not to believe and enact false ideas, and free from the illusion and empty promise of material security. Freedom to be your true self is all it takes to be enlightened. You don’t need to practice being what you already are.

Freedom is essentially the freedom of choice. When we choose not to be enlightened now, which is our real condition, we are giving up our freedom to be who we really are. If you’re free, how can you choose not to be what you already are? That’s an ignorant and irresponsible choice and a rejection of freedom.

The reason people surrender their freedom to be and behave as enlightened beings now is because they want to put it off till later so they can chase after money, possessions, sex, and social status now, and do things to get them that no enlightened person would ever do. “I’ll do the enlightenment thing later,” they say, “but first I’m going to do this.” In reality, however, “later” never comes because it’s always now. In the chapter on “Fast-Food Spiritual Junkie” Jason writes,

We even attempt to control when and how we will become enlightened, as we bounce from one spiritual retreat to another, from one guru to another—and all the time this “enlightenment” is supposed to be right around the corner. But chasing enlightenment like this is really chasing just  another pleasurable experience…We replace our old interests with spiritual interests, but this only does more damage because it masks the latent pain within our psyche. Born-again Christians and New Agers tend to mask their spiritual pain even more than others, because both groups believe they have spiritual knowledge over and above the ignorant masses. They view themselves as saved according to their doctrine, when in truth salvation comes only from within…

This sort of behavior is like sleepwalking through life. People who live this way think they are doing so by choice, but in fact they are driven by ignorance. They have relinquished their freedom of choice because the only possible choice that a free person who is sane can make is the choice to be what he really is—a fully enlightened being—and to act accordingly. Any other choice is self-deception, and anyone who chooses to deceive himself is basically insane. That’s no surprise these days because we live in a world that’s gone insane, but that doesn’t mean you have to act this way yourself because you already have the antidote to insanity within you.

Jason describes the way most people perceive the world and their place in it as the “monarchial view of the universe,” a view that’s taken for granted as the natural order:

This perception of life as a monarchical order has become so indoctrinated into humanity that we do not even question its authenticity…We are so conditioned with this view that we passively acquiesce to anybody who has an apparent hierarchical position. Whether in the workplace, religion, nation, family, or anywhere else, many people unconsciously submit their whole being to whom or what they believe to be on a higher level…rather than seeking to find the source of one’s submissive attitude through questioning our conditioning.

Those sitting on top of the monarchical hierarchy maintain their privileged position with the threat of punishment for misbehavior by those in the herd below. Most religions, especially those with angry, jealous gods who watch your every move, constantly preach to their flocks about sin and punishment. They list all sorts of bad behavior and call them sins for which you’ll be punished not now but eternally after death. In fact, there’s only one sin that really counts and it encompasses the Ten Commandments, the Seven Deadly Sins, and all the other offenses listed in Judeo-Christian, Islamic, and other monotheistic religions. You only need to understand and avoid this one all-inclusive sin in order to avoid trouble after you die.

That single all-embracing sin is the mismanagement and abuse of your energy in this world through your actions, words, and thoughts. Each of us is born with the sacred gift of life, and what fuels our lives is the energy we bring into the world with us and use every moment from birth to death in our relationship with the world and others with whom we share it. We manifest this energy every day through what the Buddhist teachings call the “Three Gates” of body, speech, and mind. If you kill people or steal from them, you abuse the way you manifest energy through the gate of body by depriving others of their lives and things that belong to them. If you lie and say things that harm others, that’s a misuse of energy through speech. And if you harbor bad thoughts and ill will toward others, and use your intelligence to hatch schemes that are harmful to others, you’re abusing your gift of energy through the gate of mind. Every sin listed in all the scriptures of every religion on earth is covered by this one simple rule—do no harm. So why not keep it simple and just stick to this one universal law?

Gregory’s book makes it clear that the antidote to misbehavior caused by the misuse of energy is to manifest your energy, every day and every way, only in accordance with your real condition and your true nature as an enlightened being. That requires no scriptures because enlightened awareness naturally gives rise to two basic universal virtues—wisdom and compassion.  If you never do, say, or think anything that conflicts with wisdom and compassion, you will never mismanage your energy with a single act, word, or thought that’s sinful and gets you into trouble after you die. This is the universal law of karma, and it applies equally to everyone without exception.

Karma is not a complicated doctrine associated with any particular religion. The word “karma” simply means “action.”  Your karma is the sum total of all your actions, words, and thoughts during the course of your life, and it constitutes your personal “karma account,” the net balance of which determines exactly where you go—and where you belong—after you die. There’s no angry god out there who’s going to judge you and send you to heaven or hell. Your own behavior in life, i.e. the way you use your energy, determines precisely what happens next after you die. Gregory states this idea very well on page 20:

We are again giving away our sense of responsibility here, because we expect God to punish us for our sins, rather than admitting that we are punished by our sins.

It’s really quite easy to avoid a bad outcome in the afterlife. Simply stop accumulating negative debit and start accruing positive credit in your personal karmic account now, by being careful how you spend your energy in life. Be enlightened now. Manage your energy with wisdom and compassion, and behave yourself. Gregory’s book is a simple user’s guide to enlightened awareness that tells you how to do it.

Westerners usually view karma as an “Asian concept” associated with Hinduism and Buddhism because the word “karma” comes from Sanskrit. That’s a convenient excuse not to accept and live by its truth as a universal law. So let’s call it by more familiar terms, such as “cause and effect,” “action and reaction,” or “positive and negative.” These are proven laws of physics that govern energy, and they apply as much to the way we use our energy in life as they do to electric currents, magnetic fields, and jet propulsion.

The real problem for Westerners who don’t understand karma is not the word but rather the fact that most Western people don’t understand how energy works. Your personal energy is what drives every action, word, and thought that you manifest in the world, and you alone are responsible for how you use your energy and how it affects others. Not “believing” in karma is like not believing in the way a magnet works or electricity moves through a wire or a jet engine propels an airplane. At heart such professed disbelief is nothing more than a convenient way to avoid taking responsibility for the consequences of what you do, say, and think and how it affects other people. However, as they’ll tell you in any courtroom, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

So what’s “enlightenment?” Enlightenment is awareness of your true nature as an enlightened being and your responsibility for using your energy accordingly. In Sanskrit it’s called Purusha, in Chinese it’s known as Tao (the Way), and in the Dzogchen teachings of Tibet it’s simply referred to as the State. It’s something that cannot be described in words but can be realized with awareness. The opening lines of the classic Taoist text Tao Te Ching (“The Way and its Power”) states unequivocally that “the way that can be spoken is not the real Way” and “the name that can be named is not the real Name.”

In Dzogchen, the primordial state of enlightened awareness is referred to as Vajra, a “diamond” or “lightning” with three basic facets: it’s essentially “empty,” which means it’s formless and immaterial; it’s naturally luminous, which means it glows with its own inner light; and it’s endowed with infinite potential energy that manifests continuously without interruption, and that’s the energy we use to live our lives.

Truth is always self-evident. It doesn’t need to be proved or debated. It just needs to be realized and practiced. The journey to the goal of enlightenment cannot be separated for a single moment from the goal itself, because both the journey and the goal are integral parts of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If enlightenment is your goal, then you must use your energy in an enlightened way with every step you take, here and now. Otherwise you’ll never get there, because the journey and the goal are one and the same. How can deluded behavior ever lead to enlightenment? Of course we all slip and misstep on the path, but if we keep our minds on what we’re doing, saying, and thinking here and now, and don’t let our attention wander off to a non-existent past and future, we’ll always correct our mistakes the moment we make them and stay on course.

The problem with most religions, especially the hell and damnation and pie-in-the-sky salvation variety, is that people believe it’s all right to treat others like shit as long as they go to church and pray to their god for forgiveness. They think this absolves them of responsibility for what they’ve done to others. They believe they can cancel the debts they accumulate for their misbehavior by subscribing and paying their dues to the right religion, which usually means the religion into which they were born by happenstance. They take it all on blind faith and never realize why it provides no relief for their suffering in life. Conventional religious belief is nothing more than an easy way to avoid taking personal responsibility for one’s daily behavior in life. It doesn’t work, and it doesn’t protect you from the consequences of your bad behavior after you die.

The only thing that works is realizing your true nature as an enlightened being, a nature that you share with everyone else on earth, not just with those who follow the same religion, and then to behave in accordance with universal law by applying the virtues of wisdom and compassion that arise from enlightened awareness. It doesn’t matter whether you call it Purusha, Tao, or the State. It’s all the same, always and in all ways.

If you’re interested in these things but don’t have much experience with metaphysics and spiritual work, you can count on Jason Gregory to point you in the right direction and save you the trouble of following paths that only lead to dead ends. Jason is a reliable, insightful guide to the magic and mystery behind the material world that we perceive with our physical senses and interpret with our worldly minds. He offers spiritual friendship and guidance to anyone who reads his books with an open and inquisitive mind.

This book and his previous title, The Science and Practice of Humility, teach you one of the easiest and most effective practices for cultivating spiritual awareness, which is this: the moment you stop doing things, saying things, and thinking things and just rest in your basic unadorned state of being, you’re enlightened and you’ll know it, right here and now, not tomorrow or next year or in your next life. It’s really that simple, and it doesn’t require much effort. All it requires is the practice of presence in awareness, which you already have. As Jason writes on the last page of this book,

To search for enlightenment is to postpone it, as the Buddha realized. Searching for something that we already have is useless. The great Zen master Po-chang was asked about seeking our Buddha nature (that is, our original nature, or enlightenment). Po-chang answered, “It’s much like riding an ox in search of an ox.”

The ox is here with you now and always has been. So what are you waiting for? It’s now or never.

By Danial Reid

Daniel Reid has a Master’s degree in Chinese language and civilization, and he studied Taoist practices in Taiwan for 16 years and in Thailand for 10 before moving to Australia in 1999. He is the author of several books, including The Tao of HealthSex & Longevity and The Complete Book of Chinese Health & Healing, and the translator of My Journey in Mystic China, John Blofeld’s autobiographical account of his years spent in pre-Communist China. http://www.danreid.org/

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