The Recipe for Englightenment

December 18, 2010 By: Michael McAlister Category: Living with Intention, Mind Body Spirit, Teachers, Teachings

Michael McAlister

One of my more senior students recently commented, “You pretty much just point out the shortcuts on the path, don’t you.”

On my best days, yes. It’s what we teachers do. We try to point students in the right direction; one that will help them let go of even more. At least that’s the idea. None of us in the teaching role, however, can enlighten anybody. No one has that power. In fact, if someone tells you that they can enlighten you, run for the hills. Quickly. At our best, teachers offer up ways to speed the process and force the issue of awakening all of the time.

On the other hand, people sometimes show up to hear me speak and tell me afterward that they are uncomfortable with the hierarchy that is at play: me as teacher, them as student.

“Everyone is my teacher,” they’ll say. “I don’t need any one to formally take on that role.”

Of course they’re right on both levels. There isn’t anything in the Universe that can’t be counted as a teacher. But these seekers that aren’t into hierarchy don’t see the hierarchy that they’ve set up; in this case no hierarchy. Their egos are busy trying to manage their spiritual work thus rendering both their seeking and what is sought tragically superficial. Then again, these people aren’t usually looking for enlightenment. Instead, they’re just looking to feel good about themselves and the people they hang out with.

The fact is that nobody needs a spiritual guide as they walk the path any more than someone might need to eat an amazing meal. But if one wants to experience the expanse of an amazing meal and fast food has truly revealed its limitations, then there are two options: either go to a great restaurant for a temporary thrill, or learn to cook and establish an utterly new way of being in the world. I’m interested in showing people how to do the latter.

Learning to cook, spiritually speaking, can happen in three ways.

First, we can grow up in a family where “good food” is continually served. Ideas, recipes and flavor combinations are passed along and supported by tradition. Rarely, if ever, do we see ourselves as eating poorly since cooking poorly goes against what has become a core value of who and what we are about.

Second, we might go off on our own, struggling to establish a sense of what good eating might be like. Discovering satisfaction in this way can take a while. Trial and error isn’t always comfortable, but the break from what we’ve known always offers these cooks new and exciting opportunities outside of their comfort zones.

Third, there are people that are neither interested in learning to cook, nor do they care about eating well in the first place. This third version of eating works out just fine for much of humanity. Unconsciously taking what’s in front of them as it comes is just fine to them and they spend little if any time wondering about other possibilities. But for anyone who has either accidentally or purposefully uncovered the grace and power of an amazing meal, it’s very difficult to go back to slop and be happy about it.

Since you are reading this article, you are either examining the spiritual flavors you’re familiar with, or you’re seeking to uncover something that tastes even better, or you’re doing both. So here’s a “recipe,” or we might say shortcut, that I’ve seen work over these many years on the cushion. It’s tried, true and has withstood scrutiny by those that know how to crank out transcendent spiritual grandeur and mind-blowing simplicity all at once.

Enlightened Living in the World — adapted

Get a life and ready it for frying (this would be you)

Salt & pepper to taste (other practitioners)

2 cup mixture of stillness & wonder (same thing as practice)

2 cups oil (same thing as teaching)

Skillet (same thing as teacher)

Soak life daily for 30 to 40 minutes each day in stillness and wonder mixture.

Couple this soaking with a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper as this will deepen and enhance the flavor.

Let the heat of surrender do its magic on the oil. (note: I recommend a well-seasoned, cast iron skillet as the heat can be more evenly distributed.)

Dip your life, now coated equally and repeatedly with stillness and wonder, into the hot pan and oil.

Fearlessly cook life until the skin comes off and ego is exposed and cooked thru, but be sure to allow for some tenderness by not over-cooking.

Remove life from oil, pat dry, and place back in the world.

Repeat this process in every moment.

Real spiritual work is about evolving from limitation into an expansive and inherently open place of freedom. This recipe works to help us to see this opening. Integrating it comes with repeatedly repeating it, again and again, several times, over and over.

This is the shortcut to an enlightened life, made even shorter when all of these component pieces are of the best quality. Be keenly aware of this as I’m continually reminded that practitioners who come from flawed teachings easily lose their way. This doesn’t mean that seekers necessarily have to somehow connect with a tradition, nor does tradition equal quality. But more often than not, traditions, or teachings that are closely aligned with traditions, offer choices that enhance the outcome of the recipe. No doubt, even flawed teaching has the power to cook us. The problem is that the bad ingredients always produce meals that taste bad even though they might be advertised as being delicious.

Poor results also arise when I can see that an earnest practitioner has either had a bad teacher or even no teacher. Bad teachers can inflict lots of damage. The news is full of their stories of exploitation and deceit. It’s heart breaking. But having no teacher at all, while not as damaging outwardly can still be subtly damaging, leaving us lost on the path. Under the guise of “Everyone is my teacher,” or, “I don’t need any one to formally take on that role,” ego’s begin to manage the spiritual journey by anointing themselves as teacher. These flawed frying pans can always manage the temperature, keeping it hot enough in order to claim progress along the path, and cool enough not to damage its own ability to control the whole endeavor.

So choose your ingredients well, get good equipment, and have the courage to follow the recipe.

Bon Appetit.

Reprinted with permission from infinitesmile.org.

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1 Comments to “The Recipe for Englightenment”


  1. hello~while i appreciate your perpsective~perhaps you might want to read ponlop rinpoche’s latest book: “rebel buddha”. a revered tibetan teacher quite savvy to the ways of the west. he is clear while a teacher can make a difference, it is not necessary.

    as a student off tibetan buddhism for 23 years, i can tell you the great moment of freedom i felt when i dropped my the first set of mala beads i’d ever acquired off a bridge into a rapidly running river below~and stepped into my own spiritual authority and the full on truth that i can trust myself. it was a great moment of embodying the teachings. and you know what? i probably live more closely to the teachings that i’ve had the privilege of receiving, than i ever have.

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