Most dharmic traditions believe in the interconnectedness of all things. That means everything. You and me. Us and nature. Heaven and hell, enlightenment and ignorance. Opposites are merely perceived just like the crest and trough of a wave or two sides of the same coin.
This concept of interconnectedness is important because if you dwell on it long enough you realize we are all separate only in our minds. Fighting a war is like cutting off your own arm and soiling the environment is like soiling your own pants. The concepts of peace and sustainability become more urgent within the context of interconnectedness.
Also, within this reality of interconnectedness, it’s easier to see the ignorant person doesn’t live much differently than the enlightened person. Both get up every morning, go to their work and relate to the world. An enlightened person might wake up to an awareness some call Nirvana or Heaven, but they will continue to live the same life experiences as the person immersed in delusion. The secrets leading to contentment might be discovered, but that contentment will still be experienced in the material world.
Enlightened people still deal with frustration, anger, and sorrow. They just deal with those emotions in different ways. Also, ignorant doesn’t mean dumb. Ignorant just means a lack of exposure to or ignoring certain concepts. And, enlightenment doesn’t necessarily denote intelligence. Enlightenment is just another word for an awareness or a view into reality which is ignored by others.
However, to the enlightened person, normal life IS Heaven. The two aren’t separate. They’re interconnected. Being awake and aware of the connection between perceived opposites is a feature of enlightenment. There is no separation between normal existence and Heaven other than in our minds. Every-day-life, with all its good and all its bad, is Heaven if we merely get out of our own way and let it be.
I don’t believe Heaven is something which only happens to us after we’re dead. Neither is Hell. I believe both channels course right through the portal of the present moment in each of our lives while our perception, behavior and mental state enable us to tune into the channel of our choice. All the good and the bad in the world happens to both the “just and the unjust.” It’s our reaction to the happening that determines delusion or enlightenment. People are just people, whether they’re walking around in a sluggish dream or fully awake to what’s in front of them in the here and now.
I think both Jesus of Nazareth and Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) tried to teach this reality to their friends. They were both reformers of the legalistic religions of their day and they both transmitted a simple message: We are all interconnected variations of each other, bound by love and compassion in the present moment, and anything that degrades compassion, separates us from our unity, or detracts from Reality is the source for suffering or what some refer to as Hell. I think people have been wrapping religious dogma around those simple messages ever since.
I also think sometimes both sudden stress or an unanticipated moment of bliss can produce a glimpse of this interconnected reality. Many people find themselves on their knees in prayer when they’ve just lost a loved one. In those focused moments, when the world’s distractions are pushed out by their grief, I believe mourners briefly experience Reality in the present moment. Other times a blissful awareness might happen when we’re lucky enough to be on top of a mountain by ourselves or when a child tells us they love us. This is a happier lens into the same reality of the present moment. Many people recognize this as a God Moment and they’re right. All of this is God, but most of the time we’re just too distracted to notice.
The open secret is we can sustain this moment of reality and expand it into our daily lives. Through mindfulness, patience and practice, we can push out distractions and experience peace-of-mind in the present moment. Some people use prayer or meditation. Others use music or exercise. Whatever helps us to reduce mental noise and be aware is worthwhile. Regardless of what works for us as individuals, if we ever hope to experience true contentment we must give ourselves a fighting chance to slow down and live fully within the present moment free of the distractions of past and future fantasies or concerns.
Once we’re in the reality of the present moment, we have a chance to create some room in our minds to wake up and realize the present moment is eternal. It is in fact the only thing which is eternal. Nowhere does the past exist other than in our minds and within various manufactured facsimiles to which we cling. And, the future never comes, because it’s always Now.
When we practice living fully in the present moment as both Jesus and the Buddha suggested, we experience what’s real. But, more importantly, we discover the most generous and precious gift we can ever give our family and friends, which is our full, undivided presence within that present moment. Proof of this fact is as simple and no further away than your child’s smile when they know you are fully with them, both mind and body, and not distracted by a problem at work or focused on some electronic device.
I personally believe this is the Kingdom of God we’ve heard about for so long. When we stop the noise in our mind and the concerns about past and future, the peace of living in the present moment enables us to experience our true Self. And, God. This is the “Peace that passes all understanding.”
And, most importantly, in this moment of full clarity we can experience the fact that there is no separation between our true Self, the Universal Self, and God, other than in our world of ideas, words, and mental concepts. We can finally know that ALL we perceive is God, including ourselves. There is no separation.
You are IT.
- Scott Kinnaird, 1/31/2010