THE AWAKENED STATE?Many describe the goal of Buddhist training as “awakening.” But does this refer to a state of being, or a process of inner development? The answer is important because it shapes how we relate to the idea of awakening. If awakening is a state, we speak of becoming awakened, enlightened, or liberated, and we define ourselves as occupying or not occupying this state. If it is a process, we speak of awakening as an active and ongoing undertaking. Juniper holds the latter view. Awakening is not a state we occupy or do not occupy but an active, continuous process of learning and inner growth.
To treat awakening as a state is to categorize individuals into those who are awake and those who are not. One danger of this approach is that those who are not deemed awake are, by default, unawake, or asleep. This on or off approach can be discouraging, especially if awakening appears as a goal that is too far beyond us, or can never be attained. Moreover, Buddhist thought is not centered around absolute states of any kind. In fact, it eschews the idea of static and unchanging phenomena, holding that all phenomena are in a continuous state of movement and change.
Buddhist ideas are better understood as a process to unfold our inner potential for cultivating inner calm, clarity and strength. Those who embrace this orientation see themselves on a path that steadily unfolds this potential. Each step toward it is an aspect of one’s awakening. In this view, we do not have to judge where we are; just see ourselves as having the capacity for positive inner growth and change. We are not like a light that is either on or off but like a light that shines steadily brighter.
When we view Buddhist training as a process, we no longer need to separate those who are awake from those who are not. Our teachers may have great mastery and capacity to guide others, but we are all on a path of inward evolution. Awakening becomes a matter of degree. Thus, regardless of whether one is just starting out or is an accomplished master, Buddhist training is not about attaining a specific state but is an ongoing journey to cultivate new dimensions to our inner lives, now and in the future.