MY TWO ENLIGHTENMENTSCF in 1990, Wearing a Tibetan Jacket
By Christopher Fulkerson

The photo on the right is from CF's 1990 passport

I have twice had the "big deal" Enlightenment experience. That's right, the grand Enlightenment spelled with a capital E, you know the thing that if you study Buddhism you learn the Buddha experienced only twice, once under the tree at Bodh Gaya, and once at death. I too have experienced Enlightenment twice. It wasn't quite the same for me as Gautama Siddhartha; I think I can plausibly claim the second experience didn't occur at my death. Enlightenment was a mixed blessing, that caused one hell of a lot of bother, like reading two whole encyclopedias. Except that reading encyclopedias doesn't complicate your life the way Enlightenment does, so I don't yet have a fully acceptable metaphor for how much bother it is to be Awake with a capital A.

I had in fact prayed, and meditated, for it, but, since not one prayer I have prayed for before or since has ever come true, I assumed without thinking about it, while I was meditating or praying in Tibetan or Sanskrit or English, that it was not enlightenment and Buddhahood (whatever that was) that I was actually going to achieve. I assumed that such a thing was just as out of reach as anything else I had ever prayed for. I assumed that, as usual, the prayers were about the vague, peaceful state that prayer puts you in if you do it that kind, loving way you are told and shown in church. Prayer and spiritual growth were just as ephemeral in my mind, the only difference was that I was switching from one supposed religion to another, to one that seemed a little more esoteric, and had the advantage of being something that not every Christian fundamentalist on the bus to work would spout their version of at me. I really thought that prayer never resulted in anything more than some sort of serenity amid the tensions of life. Christian prayer is all about faith, which ultimately I now believe to be bullshit. Results are all that count; I don't have time for a god who gives no evidence of having heard me, and doesn't have power, and neither should anyone else have time for such a god. Which is why by now I have given up on God with a capital G; he doesn't answer phone calls and he doesn't show up for work. He needs dressing down. He needs a wake-up call. Question the motivation of anybody who tells you that you've "just got to have faith."

When any Christian nowadays tries to convince me I should have faith, I talk to them about Elias and the Priests of Baal, a story I have known since I learned it the children's picture Bible I read as a kid. It was Elias's demonstration of power that won the Israelites over AND silenced the Baal worshippers. And that was not wrong of the Israelites to expect. Some kind of theogeny is not too much to ask for. A real, conspicuous answering of a prayer now and then is the right thing for a god to do. That's my story and I'm sticking with it. Nothing of this sort had ever happened to me, not one single major thing I wanted in life had been satisfactorily, irrefutably and permanently achieved, and, Enlightenment excepted, it still hasn't. I remain underwhelmed by jerks who preach that you have to do it all yourself, for some reason having to do with personal integrity. They are bankers who want to be paid for every scrap of help they offer. One exact and universally acceptable metaphor for what they are saying is that unless you raise yourself and make a career without parents or friends, your achievement is not pure enough, you have cheated somehow. I say, you can't fairly put the whole burden on the individual. Not even Saint Christopher could carry all the karma of the planet across the river, not even he could do it without complaining to Jesus, who was his burden. And the story remains unfinished about what happened when Saint Christopher told Jesus he couldn't carry him. Saint Christopher tells Jesus he's having an awful lot of trouble carrying him across the river, Jesus explains why, and that's where the story always ends. Maybe they both drowned in the river, in the middle of the storm. That appearance of Jesus is anachronistic anyway.

What is this, you ask, am I talking about, "carrying all the karma in the world." Enlightenment is a state of awareness that makes the individual conscious of a greater kind of mind, the greatest. The enlightened one is not only hearing about some greater mind. It is his own mind. When any person learns of, say, some new technology that can rid the world of some problem or other, they often feel this thing should be applied right now, it feels like their own imperative, and they don't understand why others won't implement it. That is what being enlightened is like. I experienced, for days at a time, a capacity of mind that made it indelibly clear to me that there is much, much more that can be done; that the things people say and do are much, much more significant than they themselves realize. I learned then that the world is a living computer with all its parts competing to function. I use the Buddhist term "Mandala" to describe it: it is like a book that communicates with people and phenomena instead of merely words. The world is a three-dimensional, interactive computer, and you have to be enlightened to understand it. When you are enlightened, you don't realize at first that you are not alone. It is the presence of other minds that causes the difficulties. It took me years to realize how this is a saving grace: at least the other minds absolves you from having to take responsibility for every last thing that happens.

When I was a boy I used to hear about teachings that Indian braves would have to give themselves, to learn the ways of the forest. They would go out alone into the world away from the teepee and learn, I remember hearing, about how to tell from the falling of a leaf in one part of the forest, what it was that was going on in another part of the forest. I have had this experience, big time. I put my hand to my heart, and really felt that my hand was made of light. I knew, really knew, that I was made of light. This explains quantum physics in a way that scientists can only dream about. I have a really good explanation for the difference between a wave and a particle. The light is alive, and the wave is its life, and the particles are snapshots along the way. We are all made of living light. And don't forget that what appears motionless is in fact in motion. I experienced the stopping of time, when I sat in the sun for an hour or more and it did not move in the sky. I realized only gradually that time had passed though the things around me had not. I could tell from the patterns in the trees outside the Sangha Room that there was a mathematics to the organization of the tree. I knew that the timing of the wind through the windows was related to the message in the teachings. This was all on Day One of the first Enlightenment experience.

Persons hostile to the reality and wholesomeness of this sort of experience have denegrating terms for it. They are using psychobabble to persecute what they do not want to accept. I don't know how to achieve these results deliberately. It all makes increasing sense to me now, and I don't think there is that much that is special about me that means many another couldn't achieve it. But I'm at a loss to describe a formula for how every person can achieve it. I myself know it is proof that time as it is usually explained to us, and as we usually experience it, does not exist. Certainly, we can reach into the future. And we can reach into the past. The march of history is not the immaleable thing we have been conditioned to believe it is. In about the year 2007 I caused certain things to happen to myself in 1990. Other people were a part of this process, Sogyal Rinpoche actively and consciously, others passively, or through keeping aloof.

When you have a skill, you want to apply it, you may even feel you must apply it. I promised to rid all the hell worlds of suffering souls. I have long felt that I am underappreciated, and that my skills are going to waste in this country. I am in a type of imprisonment. A prophet is not without honor, except in his own land.

By now it should be clear that I had no real expectation that I would actually achieve Enlightenment, still less that it would happen twice, and I had no clue as to how much bother would accrue as a result of it, that being awake carries with it automatic responsibilities. The least responsibility it carries with it is that you have a bigger picture of all the evil in the world, and you realize that the things people say are revealing it to you, though they seldom have much idea of what they are saying, and the reply you make should not make things worse. I guess this is the rule, First, do no harm. But nobody told me this would have to do with stupidly mundane stuff. Glamor, I didn't get. When some kid tries to get you to kick the can, you might want to avoid it, because you hear resonances of what he is saying that he doesn't even realize. Some big deal. First, do no harm. Second, don't go schizophrenic. In that order.

Great awareness is alone enough to empower a person who is awake to do things, if only through coordination. Ultimately, nothing can prevent an enlightened person from changing the world, not even true, conventional imprisonment. This is the meaning of the Biblical expression to "lead captivity captive." Imprisonment itself can be an excuse to simply meditate. Because if you are awake you know things, and you need no more than insight to know them. The playing field is level, and I am winning, but almost never in any material thing. In this sense, being a composer at least gave me the right kind of mind to be able to act constructively, as I crawled agonized from the bottom of the well, or better said the garbage chute, I found myself in by 1991, jobless, bankrupt, and alone. In 1993 my taxable income was $2882. It has taken eighteen years to more or less recover. But I began creating a world, out of the components in the music festival I had already begun composing. Over the years, I have determined to my own satisfaction what it was that happened to me in the summer of 1990, and how to integrate it into my everyday life. And I can tell you that unless you want a shitload of trouble, don't pray for Enlightenment. Try to imagine what it must be like run two multinational companies without any of the salary or perks, or simultaneuously raising two families without ever getting to see them. To have to do everything on your own through insight alone is flabbergastingly difficult and there is never, ever any sense that you are being rewarded or compensated. The feeling most certainly is of being given the hardest job on Earth and having to do it with the least amount of support possible, indeed with nothing but obstructions. I fully understand why some awakened people go utterly nuts. Maybe Enlightenment should be illegal.

I have developed a metaphor for the state of awareness that Enlightenment initiates. The mind is no longer merely like a house, with everything in its place. The mind becomes like a skyscraper, in which certain patterns are the same from level to level, but not necessarily the activities. Yet the activities can be related, and meanings accrue as a result, meanings that sound across other minds and times to create or reveal a larger mind. Offices, entire floors can change, be empty, or be used only for storage with nothing going on. Units larger than the "house mind" most folks are used to become components that are smaller than this "skyscraper mind." You begin to realize, when told one thing, what that means on another level. Being a cab driver for nineteen years has only increased the metaphor, and given me skills at experiencing and describing it. There is a reason that the greatest book of yoga in common circulation, the Bhagawad Gita, consists of vast yogic teachings delivered by a driver of a chariot in the middle of a battle.

Both my experiences took place in the summer of 1990. I had been studying Buddhism, and because the first enlightenment took place in a Buddhist retreat, and certainly seemed to be a result of something my Lama said while giving teachings, I assumed for several weeks that the experience was due to these Buddhist studies. But then a second, slightly less powerful, but more realizationally specific Enlightenment occured while I was at a summer camp at a children's music school, where I was on the faculty at the time. For a long time I didn't understand why this should have happened where it happened, I thought the whole thing was about religion. Evidently it wasn't about religion, it fit into everyday experience, and the first experience could have happened some other way as well. More recently I have realized that what happened was the result of a yoga across time involving artifacts I will not reveal (partly because I am not absolutely certain of what they were, and don't want to mislead anybody) but which are, trust me, very everyday things. At the time of the second Enlightenment, the artifact that squared the whole experience for me was the Bible, where I found a reference at the beginning of one of the Psalms that turned the experience from Enlightenment to what should be called Realization, a more specific form of Enlightenment. By the way, I am calling Realization a more specific form of Enlightenment, because, having first-hand experience of it, I am some kind of authority on this experience, not because I read it in a book. If I ever knew them I don't remember the Tibetan or Sanskrit words for these things, and don't consider that information important here. It may have importance for those who may want to compare what I describe to the terms they can find in books. Maybe after more study, once I find it, and as I continue to tweek this essay, I will add that information.

In the middle of the second experience I made the big mistake of trying to talk to my boss, who had been sitting there at the lunch table when the realization came to me, about the experience in terms of the Bible reading I had just done. Here we were at a summer camp, things were pretty laid back, I thought everybody knew what was happening to me, we were supposedly all friends; my boss's boss, who had hired me and created my position, talked occasionally about how we loved each other, sometimes at the top of her lungs, and was deeply religious. I spoke Bible for less than one line, to a person who had given evidence that such thing supposedly mattered to her, and she put me down severely, walked away, and soon after, she fired me. Don't think that persecution happens at the far ends of the Earth. Don't speak even one line of scripture under the most extreme religious circumstances of your life, or you may lose your job. This was the beginning of that shitload of trouble I referred to.

I now believe that those two Enlightenment experiences were the result of a yoga, which is to say, a union or bonding, across time to artifacts that were not definable for me until many years later. Thanks to the fact that certain very everyday things passed through my life at a later time, the summer of 1990 and approximately the year 2007 were linked, and something you might call my mind was able to bridge them. But I could not at the time have known what was causing the phenomenon. You might say that I knew there was light, but not its source. In the light, you can see things. It's not unreasonable to describe what you see and draw conclusions from it. Just because you can't explain the Sun doesn't mean your observations aren't valid. But I learned the hard way that it's a mistake to talk about what you see to anybody who has any direct power over you. The chances are great they have less realization than you do, and don't want any difficulties to accrue from your being proven greater than they. They won't allow the question to arise. You will be thought less than they who cannot imagine what you have achieved. Unless, of course, they have their own kind of greatness.

Both experiences lasted several days. I don't have the dates at hand, though I will figure them out for a future version of this essay. I remember well that the first Enlightenment lasted from a Sunday afternoon to the following Thursday morning. The second one took place on a Thursday or Friday, and lasted until the following Sunday or Monday. I am reminded of how Baron Munchausen had to carefully explain that it was a mortar shell he rode in the first instance, and a cannon ball only in the second. (Do I misremember Munchausen?)

I now think that the technical term for these experiences is that they were Samadhi experiences, since, as I say, I think they were caused by yoga. When last I looked up the Wikipedia Samadhi page, it spoke pretty well to the experiences I had. Samadhi is Enlightenment, or at least, a very near version of the same experience. It is the experience of awareness caused by a yoga (that is to say, a union) in which "a non-dual form of cosciousness" is achieved "in which the consciousness of the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object, and in which the mind becomes still (one-pointed or concentrated) though the person remains conscious." There were some pretty clear out-of-the body dreams during half-sleep during the first Enlightenment, but at no time were there clear out-of-the-body experiences such as the Hindus apparently ascribe to Samadhi. The dreams took place in that state of half-sleep you probably know from when you have been sick and couldn't sleep but nodded off a bit, into a state that wasn't really consciousness, but which sure doesn't suffice as sleep. Of course for me there was no sense of illness, quite the opposite. Oh, and perhaps I should add that I wasn't "storming heaven," there were no drugs or liquor involved, just in case you wondered about that. There were witnesses, many of them, all apparently ignoring the whole thing. To me that aspect of the experiences remains the epitome of strangeness.

I have learned to distinguish between a "dream" and something that happens "in the dream-state." In the dream-state I reached during the first Enlightenment, I remember my awareness moving along the tiny corridors of a building that was no larger than myself. I was near the building, lying down, and could follow my consciousness in two places at once. It was a bit like the special effects you see on science fiction shows, in which a three dimensional hologram is shown, and somebody takes a stick and pokes it around the hologram to show how to get around inside the building. Except in my case, there was no stick, there was a point of consciousness that was my mind, moving about in the building.

The process of reaching Enlightenment, or at least the quantifiably Buddhist part of the proces, began when a girlfriend showed me a poster she had recieved about an upcoming trip the Dalai Lama would be making to the San Francisco Bay Area. He was to be giving Dzogchen teachings at San Jose State University. I was not particularly interested in Buddhist teachings, though the air that was given was one of serenity, so the space it created in my mind was positive. It was a different version of that serene state I associated with Christian prayer, only there was a sense there might be something a little more specific. I was put off by the whole Asian Religion thing, and didn't know what to think of the chachkas the Dalai Lama was manipulating in the picture on the poster. Certainly, my first thought was that I would not go. But I thought about it some more and decided it would be an historic event and for that reason I would go. But if I wanted to understand the historic event it would be a good idea to take some preliminary teachings, and this I admitted was reasonable, even interesting. This is what got me to the Rigpa Sangha in Berkeley led by Sogyal Rinpoche, the Lama promoting Dzogchen, who had arranged for the Dalai Lama to come.

I think the preliminary teachings took only one weekend, and then a week or more later the Dalai Lama gave the teachings.

Dzogchen is short for Dzogpa Chenpo, which is a teaching that causes the student "to achieve Buddhahood in this lifetime," meaning, to reach Buddhahood without having to die and be reincarnated. The Dalai Lama gave the teachings, which are all about various paths to trod on the way to Enlightenment and Buddhahood. Mixed in with the teachings was, I now realize, a pretty full course in basic Buddhism and the four main Tibetan sects of Buddhism and their lineages and the Nine Paths and the Three Worlds and the Bardo worlds after death and much else. It would be safe to say the weekend was packed with teachings. Most of this background stuff has been heavily edited out of the book that was much later published about that weekend's teachings at San Jose State University; the book does not give a real impression of the occasion. The Dalai Lama told the 5,000 people there that this Dzogchen teaching was being offered quickly, in one weekend, because the Dharma was threatened and there was a need to do quickly what normally took much more time. Well, I got the teachings in one weekend, took the Boddhisattva vow to promise to rid the hell worlds of suffering people, and continued to study sporadically with Sogyal Rinpoche at the Rigpa Sangha. It was all very interesting for about a year. Then the Enlightenments occurred, under what you might call controlled circumstances, certainly I think of them that way. In the middle of the first Enlightenment, while I was sitting there in the middle of the teachings, I began to think that some of the questions Rinpoche was fielding were awfully stupid. I think I growled a remark out, but it didn't change the mood around me. I have already related what my boss thought to hear anything out of me during the second experience. Maybe that is the best reason to keep these teachings religious in appearance. Truly everyday environments may have a hostile element in them. If it weren't for that, I would see no reason that Enlightenment can't be described and experienced in completely everyday terminologies and experiences.

I achieved Buddhahood in this lifetime. I had to sort it all out, being unable to pay my rent, in a time that followed immediately on such great world changes that there is now a new and burgeoning historical field simply of "1989 Studies." Greater changes swept the world than most people yet realize, and I was a material victim at the same time I was a spiritual victor. Anyone who is uncomfortable to hear me describe myself as a "victor," that it sounds like pompous rubbish, needs only to remind themselves that I went through a more or less complete credibility wipe. In particular, anyone who measures credibility in dollars, or in conventional ideas of smoothness and/or orthodoxy of life path, or career success, doesn't have much to worry about in me.


Posted November 16, 2009