I saw a quote on Facebook today:
There is no such thing as “samskaric burdens” except in the imaginings of the mind. When the mind drops away, so does that which imagines itself to be burdened with karma. It is instantaneous. “Cleaning the container” is certainly good for reinforcing the illusion of a more peaceful ego, but it has nothing to do with awakening. You can polish a tile until hell freezes over and you will never turn it into a mirror.
I don’t agree with those who teach “immediate awakening” or “instantaneous enlightenment.” That doesn’t work for most people. It’s not as simple as just “waking up.” We are often so deeply identified with our egos, so immersed in the ego self and the objects of our minds, that such propositions just doesn’t work most of the time. But perhaps there is a “middle way.”
A similar sentiment is found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Hebrews:
The law of outward rules and regulations is only a symbol of Joyful things ahead, a foreshadowing or indication of future Realities; it is not the Truth of Reality in itself. Because of this, following these laws will never, ever, ever, obeyed for all eternity, bring worshipers to realize their Perfection.
(Hebrews 10:1, BHT)
Of course, all of those laws were supposed to cleanse us, weren’t they? So what does this mean?
I think it can be helpful to realize that we will never be able to completely purify the mind, or more specifically, the ego. We can try all of our lives to become a saint through more strict obedience and more ascetic spiritual practices, and we will ultimately fail in our objective. I think this is the trap that many spiritual seekers find themselves in, and wonder why they aren’t awakening. Why? Because it is the ego, or this psychological self, that is trying to become a saint. Our soul is already a Saint (our eternal divine nature), but the ego covers this up and obscures it. We “see in a mirror, darkly” because of the ego (1 Cor. 13:12). The ego is that darkness, or often manifests that darkness.
True purification and sanctification is the surrender of ego, not the perfection of it. We are cleansed of ego. It is chipped away, bit by bit, through disidentification with it and all its manifestations, until it falls away, is “crucified,” and what is revealed underneath the ego is Perfection, the True Self, the Christ, already there, already brilliant and as more radiant than the sun. Spiritual practices, such as meditation, are very good and useful when they help in this process of shedding and disidentifying with ego and all its manifestations (objects in consciousness).
If such practices build up the ego in any way, making the ego think it is so “good” and “virtuous,” then they are futile, and can actually be quite counterproductive and a stumbling block in one’s spiritual progression. Even Jesus questioned one who called him “good,” saying that “only God is good” (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19). It is the ego that is burdened, that suffers (has samskaras, or conditioned patterns of the mind), that causes illusions and delusions of perception, that inflates itself in pride and superiority over others, that thinks it is “good” and others are “evil,” that can even think it is God (2 Thes. 2:3-4).
Only by relinquishing this ego, by allowing it to dissolve completely, do we eventually awake to reality. When we “put off the natural man,” then the Saint is revealed in us as Love, Peace, and Unity (Mosiah 3:19). Then we see that our true nature is One in God, and always has been. The ego will never know this, or be this. It can only reflect this deeper truer nature, and the more we can abide in that divine consciousness, the more the ego can reflect it, until our whole body is full of light and there is no more darkness in us (3 Nephi 13:22; D&C 88:67; Matthew 6:22). Then with Jesus we can truly say “I am Light” (John 8:12, 9:5, 1:9, 14:6; Matthew 5:14). That “I” is not the ego, but a reflection of the deeper Self in God, the “I AM,” even true material/spiritual reality as One (because we really are made of light, or energy, not only spiritually but physically).
It can be quite easy for spiritual practices and teachings to shift from surrender of ego to aggrandizement of ego. No one is immune, and spiritual teachers can fall into such illusion and deception. They are deceiving their own selves. It is good to recognize this, to discern the difference, and to abide in the former consciousness, not the latter. I see meditation not so much as polishing a tile, but as chipping away at the tile of our ego that obstructs the Divine Mirror that is already there, hidden eternally behind it. We are not the tile, but we are the Mirror, and only when the tile is gone can that Mirror fully reflect reality. I think this may be what this statement is trying to get at by the futility of “polishing a tile;” we can polish that tile for eternity and never glimpse the Divine Mirror behind it.
One might ask, “but if the ego can reflect our truest divine nature, then isn’t the ego the Mirror?” No analogy is perfect, just as no language is perfect. The ego could be said to be a very dirty Mirror, which obstructs light and vision from being reflected in it (being dark or dim as in 1 Cor. 13:12). Cleansing the Mirror would allow it to fully reflect reality. But there are a couple issues with this. First, all the typical defilements of ego would not be the Mirror, but be the dirt on the Mirror. And second, if a Mirror perfectly reflects reality, then it is actually nothing in and of itself. It is impossible to see a perfect Mirror, because it only reflects the other. It is the other, and all that is other. And so, even in this analogy, the ego “self” is no more. The True Self is the all that is reflected.
Only when we [ego] become nothing do we paradoxically realize we [God] are everything.
(See also Moses 1:10; Mosiah 4:5, 11; Helaman 12:7)