I sometimes doubt enlightenment is possible for me or anyone else, aside from the most devoted practitioners and teachers. They seem to be onto something. The average person? Not so much.
Its possible! Devotion comes from within. There is no telling who is and who is not devoted. Just because someone does a billion accumulations of something doesn't mean they are more devoted than the person who does zero. The ego can easily fuel our aspirations and create the appearance of being a devoted practitioner. True devotion is in the heart, and its tied to the desire to liberate all sentient beings and free them all from suffering.
Someone on here posted a list of like 20 complex meditations to master before even thinking about enlightenment.
Heres my thoughts on this matter, I don't know if this accords with any Dharma teaching, its just my own personal conclusion.
Theres only two kinds of meditation. Analysis and concentration. Meditations of analysis are geared towards understanding the functioning of energy. Meditations of concentration are geared towards stilling the mind and revealing its true nature, then abiding in that. Meditations of analysis have two modes. The first is taking the objects as real and seeking to understand how they interact with each other. This is like seeing your marriage is failing and introspecting to understand why you got with this person in the first place, why the marriage failed, what could have been done differently, what might be done to save it, and so forth, as well as analyzing your own emotions and thoughts in the same way. The second is taking objects as unreal. In this case you would examine the same problem, but seek to understand how all things are impermanent, transitory, dream like and empty. The second kind of analysis is the more powerful of the two because it applies to every situation and not just one in particular.
Meditations of concentration appear diverse but really its just one meditation with many different focuses, but each focus can become a distraction until you reach the true nature of the mind. Hence focusing on formlessness, bliss, form, and so forth all produce their own kinds of karma and rebirth. The goal is just pure spacious awareness. But this kind of meditation is difficult and easily disrupted if you haven't first strongly established emptiness because whenever a strong thought and emotion arises the temptation is there to believe in it as objectively real.
One could say that meditation on bodhicitta is one kind, and meditation on equanimity is another, and on the preciousness of human life a third. But these are just meditations of either analysis or concentration. One is either analyzing and considering suffering, turning it over and over in the mind, or one is simply concentrating on the feeling of compassion for all sentient beings. Or one is contemplating what equanimity is, or one is concentrating on equanimity itself, maintaining equanimity towards all reality and situations.
That was my main allergy to Zen. I've had troubles with specific defilements before, and the solution given at the local Zen place was just to sit, sit, sit. Sit like a statue, the bird that just crapped on your head is beyond concepts.
Thats one solution. Its the most direct. An indirect solution would be analysis of the problem first as being real, so you understand how it came about. Then analysis of the problem as being empty and unreal, dream like as all things are. Then you sit with that. So when the thoughts and feelings emerge you've already worked the problem out, you can then just remind yourself of its emptiness and continue focusing on your breath or whatever you are concentrating on. This is how the two kinds of meditation complement each other and actually feed into each other. The more you realize emptiness, the stronger and more consistent your concentration becomes. The stronger your concentration and more consistent it becomes, the deeper into realization of emptiness as truth you go. The deeper realization makes analyzing things as being empty easier, and on and on it goes. But first you have to get some experience in emptiness and meditative stability, and continuing in those you will make progress.
Since we're on pointless questions, long term? Paradoxically hope for enlightenment but give up hope of anything; let's set a goal to draw you in, then say the goal doesn't matter. What the hell?
This means that you shouldn't have a strong attachment to the concept of Enlightenment. You should truly desire it for yourself and others, but you need not focus on it constantly. The fundamental teaching of Dharma is to cultivate non-attachment, one should have the desire for enlightenment but not attach to it. We are deluded in the west because we think attachments are not just needed, but healthy! The goal doesn't matter because enlightenment is an organic, living experience that flowers in the present moment. Its not something we will obtain and hold one day, and thinking we are holding it and actually believing that its being held is in fact an expression of ignorance and not enlightenment.
What do we focus on then? We focus on our own mind, what its doing, and how to bring it to stillness. We accomplish this by study and practice, contemplation and asking questions.
And short term, this weird emotionless gulf and tangible alienation from people around me, whatever my actual feelings towards them may be.
Actual feelings are a funny thing because they change so often, who would call them actual? One day a person is our friend, the next our enemy. One day our lover, the next a constant reminder of loss and pain.
It seems like Buddhism sets an incredibly low and incredibly high bar.
It sets all bars. Anyone can benefit from Dharma if they desire to do so. There are means and ways for every kind of mind. But much of the work is up to us, and not the system we are engaging with.
Work for all beings, but if you do your best and still feel miserable, oh well!
All suffering is unfortunate, and even more so if you are suffering and are yet working for the benefit of others! It shouldn't be that way, but it is. It is that way because regardless of our actions today, if we haven't tamed our own mind then suffering will run rampant. We can help a billion people, but if we are still attached to objects of the senses, if we still believe in the reality we have created with our own mind as being objectively real, we will suffer.
There's this undercurrent that it's always just your fault and not a problem with the conceptless, pure, etc. Buddhist teachings. I'm reminded of some serious questions being posed on another forum, and a Zen practitioner replying, "just look at the plum trees in the orchard" or something. All righty then
Our mind has been conditioned in one way, we can either take responsibility for our mind and therefore all the suffering it brings us, or we can reject responsibility and blame our suffering on external objects. But if we do that, then we are also placing our enlightenment in dependence upon external situations. External situations can support us, but they can never enlighten us. We need not place blame on anything or anyone, including ourselves. Just take responsibility for our own state of mind. Say "I am responsible for what I am feeling, and even if I can't control it, I'm responsible for how I will let it affect me, how I will react to it, and whether or not I will continue to train and seek to understand my mind or not". The problem with blaming ourselves is that even if its our own karma that created our situation, its also our karma whether or not we punish ourselves by blaming ourselves or just take responsibility for a situation. Its like being in a superior position at a job. You may not have created the problem, or you may have, but either way its your problem and you have to do something about it. Blame in those situations rarely does any good, what does good is action and implementing solutions.
Pema Chödrön says to use the raw energy of doubt, fear, anger, etc. to reconnect with our soft spot and see the ways we protect ourselves.
She is saying that when we feel these things, our reaction is to cover our wound. Its not to just sit with it and examine it and experience it, its to run from it. She is saying don't do that. If you feel anxiety, go into it and inquire about its origin, its roots, its reality, and why you feel that way. She is saying to act with fearlessness. In each case we try to avoid pain, but there is no avoiding pain. You either suppress it and make it worse or you confront it and heal. There is no other way.
Remember to take it easy on yourself and cultivate compassion for yourself since you are also a sentient being that suffers.