Making the mountain an inner forest may ease your way
“[We’re] already in the state of awakening; we just have to discover that.” ~Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
I’ve found there to be two main schools of thought which attempt to describe the realization of nondual, or primordial consciousness: the ‘glorious mountaintop’ school and the ‘chop wood, carry water’ school. These denote the metaphor systems employed to make the description. The first makes heavy use the attributes “up,” “higher,” “greater,” “perfected,” “pure,” “chaiste,” and “divine.” The metaphor is one of having defeated the temptations of the world by conquering desire, thus allowing one to ascend the difficult path up the lonely mountain, arriving at a summit that is full of peace, happiness, perfection, magic power, divinity, and the absence of anything that could be considered suffering—but only after the complete extinction of our individual sense of self.
The ‘chop wood, carry water’ school is quite the opposite in terms of its use of superlatives and attributes. We merely see what has always been present, as the Rinpoche describes. When this moment occurs, there is a recognition of what has been ongoing in our awareness, albeit seemingly overlooked. While a subtle shift in personal identity may occur at this moment, nothing else really changes in a life. Why should it? Or more to the point, how could it? The neurobiological component in personal consciousness is subject to its biological processes. Shifts in mind may be immediate, but shifts in personality usually occur over a longer period of time, usually years in most cases.
The ‘glorious mountaintop’ is the defacto home of the folk theory of enlightenment. Most of the Vedic-based systems of thought are saturated with it, as well as their Western deriviates, the neo-Advaita schools. ‘Chop wood, carry water’ finds its purview in Zen, Ch’an, and Dzogchen Buddhism, as well as with just about every individual I have met personally who I regard to be a jnani, or knower of nondual consciousness.
I’d like to suggest that the main problem is simply that our embodied minds take these metaphors too literally. Thus, to make enlightenment something that is higher, greater, more perfect and/or more pure, is to remove it from ourselves in the moment, resulting in the occluding effect of the folk theory of enlightenment.
We cannot escape metaphor, but we can be more strategic in how we employ it. Thus, rather than being something that is higher than where we are right now, our nondual consciousness can be said to be the very heart of our personal identity in each moment of our lives, albeit one that seems apparently, momentarily obscured. Rather than being a journey up a difficult mountain path, we could instead explore our own inner forest. Both require the fearlessness that is a pre-requisite for any sincere spiritual exploration, but one keeps us where we are at, as well as keeping our goal inside us. While the difference may seem slight to some, to our embodied minds, the contrast could be like day and night.