Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,
Lecture 4, Part 16 of 19 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.
Student: I have a question that I’ve been wondering about. Have you actually met anybody personally that you would think of as an enlightened being, or…?
Student: Or admitted to being enlightened?
Student: Admitted is one thing. Anyone that you thought was actually enlightened though?
CTT: Well let’s take the admitted part first because that’s easier. I’ve met people who let their students claim that they’re enlightened, but they are too humble to actually claim to be enlightened. Now from one point of view, yeah, if you felt relatively enlightened it would be sensible and courteous not to make any claims to that effect. On the other hand, if you are in the guru business for fun, profit, fame, and money, it’s good to let people think you’re enlightened and just have a little secret smile when they ask you about it, but don’t actually answer them. I mean there are lots of games that could get played here.
Now so have I met anybody that’s enlightened? I’ve met people that I think are more enlightened than me. Now that’s easy to say because I know I’m not at all enlightened. Okay. But let me put that more precisely. I’ve met people who I think have kinds of spiritual knowledge which I would like to know, that I think are very valuable, and I have a special kind of respect for those people.
But I don’t think of “enlightened” in absolute terms anymore. I don’t think there’s some certain point a person gets to and then, click, they are now perfect in every single thought, word, action, feeling, experience, etc. I tend to think more about how there are moments when a person is more or less enlightened in particular things they do. So you may have someone who is pretty enlightened in certain ways or when they do certain kinds of things and then in other areas of life, they screw up.
One example, a good controversial example, is we have a whole history, even in this brief 30, 35 years of Transpersonal Psychology, of famous Eastern gurus coming to teach in this country, and they were thought so enlightened by so many people. Then it ends up that they sleep with little boys and sexually exploit people and do all sorts of things and it makes you wonder. The thing I wonder is, some of these people were charlatans, but I don’t know how many of them were actual charlatans.
But it could very well be that when you’re raised in a certain cultural setting, there are certain human skills and problem areas that you never have to deal with, because the culture handles those things very well. And you come into another cultural setting and you may have gotten pretty enlightened in your first setting but now you don’t know how to handle things in this second setting. And so stuff that hasn’t been worked on comes out. So I’ve met people I’ve respected a lot and wanted to learn from, but nobody that I have thought was enlightened in any absolute sense. And how would I know?
Student: But there’s no test certainly.
Student: I know a group of people who have been asking this question for the last 15 years: the editors of the magazine, What Is Enlightenment?
CTT: Oh yeah.
Student: I don’t know if they have answers yet.
CTT: They don’t have a list of the approved enlightened beings?
Student: I don’t know. The editor himself, Andrew Cohen, wrote a book of Enlightenment Is a Secret. That’s a big answer to me.
Student: I don’t think they’ve got a real investment in figuring the answer to that question out, right?
CTT: There’s a book – I don’t know if our library has it but it would be well worth reading if you could get your hands on it – and the title is something like How to Become a Modern Guru, by Norman Livergood.
And it’s got all the tricks to make yourself look like a major spiritual teacher and acquire lots of influence. [the book is now (April 2010) available for free downloading on the web]
Norman, Norman Livergood. That’s the guy who wrote it. Norman Livergood. I met him. Nice fellow. He had his own group of course.
So even while he was writing a book on how to fake it all, he had a group that thought he was pretty enlightened.
Student: That’s a testimonial.
CTT: Yeah. But when you read the book and see how easy it is to fake it, it really makes you wonder.
Student: I just thought of Enlightenment for Dummies. That would be…
Student: That’s a great one.
Student: That would be really good.
Student: You should send them an email.
CTT: There is a Meditation for Dummies book that actually is a very good book on meditation.