Rebel Zen and the Art of Imperfect Enlightenment

By Seamus Anthony

You Are Already Enlightened!

That’s right, and no – I’m not joking.

Zen Masters have publicly said that we are all enlightened, the trick is knowing it (or getting in touch with it). And if you haven’t any idea what it feels like to connect to this state of being then all I can say is it is very difficult for anybody to express in words. To briefly try (not the main point of this post) let me paraphrase Rachel Pollack’s words about the Hanged Man tarot card (from her book Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom): It’s feeling free to be who you are, even if everybody else thinks you have everything backwards; it’s the feeling of being deeply connected to life.

But here’s the rub: “perfect enlightenment” is probably a myth. A beat up. It’s a bit like saying ‘perfect musicianship’ or ‘perfect scientific methodology’.

These things most likely can’t exist and in fact, certainly in the case of artistic endeavour, absolute perfection ruins things. It stifles the life out of things and therefore makes them inherently imperfect again in some kind of weird feedback loop to nowhere.

The flaws are an integral part of the appeal, of what’s good about things.

And yet “imperfect enlightenment” is so discounted, or just not thought of, as to be almost completely overlooked. This is akin to refusing to acknowledge somebody’s skill (in any given area) just because they are not 100% perfect at what they do: “Sorry mate, you’re great at guitar, but I will only come to hear the most perfectly brilliant player who can prove they are better than Hendrix. Nothing else is good enough.”

And yes, enlightenment is a skill set, one that stems from a knowledge base deep enough to allow for the practising of the skill set. That is why meditation is always referred to as a practise, for when you meditate you are practising enlightened states of being (although meditation is not the only way to do so).

New Age Wankers Ahoy!

Enlightenment has become a bit of a wanker-flag over the last few decades. It brings to mind shonky gold-digging gurus and shiny-toothed charlatans. But bear in mind, these types always claim ‘perfect enlightenment’ and Steve and I here at Rebel Zen are NOT by any means claiming this. We are simply claiming that after a lot of personal work we have improved our already inherent, imperfect enlightenment experience. And so can you. And you can make use of the myriad of information that is available to you – in historically unprecedented amounts – to do it yourself. No gurus needed.

Not that you should discount bona-fide gurus out of hand. If it works for you, go for it. But buyer-beware (and all gurus are selling something, even those who say they aren’t).

And to Prove I’m not a Guru-Basher…

At the risk of sounding like I’m telling you what to do, may I suggest that you don’t meditate or read or pray or chant or practice martial arts or flower arranging to get closer to achieving enlightenment. Rather, do so to improve or deepen the enlightenment experience you are already having.

And for those moments when you truly don’t feel very enlightened at all, when you’ve lost your temper or said something cruel or disappointed yourself, I will leave you with the words of the very inspiring Swami Shankarananda:

“Very often our awareness is limited by our limited understanding of who we are and what the Universe is about.”


After all, we are just a bunch of imperfectly enlightened beings, let’s take it easy on ourselves…

Hi, I'm Seamus Anthony. I am an author, artist and musician from Australia. Here at Rebel Zen, I document my journey as an creative artist and human and in doing so, hopefully help you in your own progress through your life of creativity. Go get your free E-book by me: "Taming The Monkey Mind".

8 comments Write a comment

  1. Nicely put. Enlightenment is simply a switch in who you are, relative to your own perception. Its nothing to do with perfection. Indeed it can be quite sloppy. And take practice as you suggest.

    As has been observed by several gurus, in the end our ideas about enlightenment can be the last barriers to being it.

  2. “the feeling of being deeply connected to life”, I like that. I once read that enlightment is not about adding anything new, but about chipping away at all of the unnecessary stuff we’ve added along the way. So this would go along with what you’re saying: underneath all of the layers we’ve wrapped ourselves in, we’re already enlightened.

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  4. Thanks all for the feedback. And for the additional comments. Although on the layers and the enlightened state being like a core in the middle somewhere – for me it’s not so much a matter of stripping away layers of the personality but just accepting what is.

    God knows that makes it easier to look back at my behaviour over the weekend – which is a nice segue into Steve’s next post 😉

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  6. It seems enlightenment is a relative term. Deep contact with that inner sacred space feels so vast and so beyond (Gate Gate, etc.)that those who feel they experience it 24/7 on a permanent basis often tend to use phrases like “complete enlightenment” or refer to an “absolute” state. For example, the three seals in Zen (then the fourth) and a Buddha realm that is outside of the cycle of birth and death.

    Perhaps all of these are mental constructs. I like that pop song about God being “just a slob like one of us”…

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