The Feeling Of Enlightenment

Byron Stevens

Dear Collectors;
There are so many stories where does one start? I have one which may or may not provide benefit, but at least hopefully some mirth. I also apologize in advance for any errors of omission in the re-membering and re-telling. Specific details have undoubtedly been smudged with time, but I'm sure others will recall those better than I.

I'll call this "The Feeling of Enlightenment" as nothing in words could ever adequately convey what that experience must actually be :-)


It was one of those typical grey days in Toronto. I can't recall if it was summer, winter, or spring - such days are frequent in Toronto. The date is also rather fuzzy, but the class was held on a weekday morning in the front room of the Palmerston Avenue house. Namgyal Rinpoche, (I think he was Namgyal by this time), held an ongoing series of classes on subjects of all kinds, always intensely interesting, and not to be missed if one was able to attend.

Rinpoche was in a relaxed and jovial mood and announced that since it was such a grey day we would abandon the usual class format. He would just take any questions. The mood in the room was very informal, spontaneous, and light. We were all enjoying it. At some point in the proceedings, Cecilie Kwiat put up her hand to ask a question.

Rinpoche, with characteristic gleam in eye, and glance over the top of the perpetual coffee mug says, "Yyyeeesss?", in that long drawn-out and mischievous way that immediately sets us all to laughing.. and silently congratulating ourselves on not being the one who put our hand up.

Cecilie, unruffled, asks her question: "Sir, what does it feel like to be enlightened?"

Sitting in the back of the room, I'm thinking, "What the.. kind of question is that?" I would never have dared to ask such a question. I know only too well what usually results: the not so esoteric teaching on the form and function of the flying coffee mug of awakening! Expecting some kind of quick retribution from Rinpoche, I'm surprised to see from his face and manner that he is actually going to answer the question as posed!

I look at the students around me. We are all on the edge of our cushions with anticipation. "I can't believe it! He's actually going to tell us what it's like? Oh my god!

Rinpoche begins to wind up, "Well, it's like.." (long pause).. "it's like.." - he's looking upwards as if searching for the right words. There is total silence and full concentration from everyone in the room. "It's like.." - (I can't take it any more.. please tell us!)

"Naaahhh! It's no good. I can't tell you. It would be impossible, and would lead you astray from the path!" says the Rinpoche.

The whole room erupts in sounds of disappointment and release of pent-up expectations - a chorus of "Please Sir, please", pleading, laughing, pleading again! This is a lot of fun in a fish-on-a-line sort of way. I'm sure I hear the sound of a reel being wound in as Rinpoche smiles, pretending to drink his coffee while casting that sly mischievous look over the rim of his mug as he observes the pandemonium.

When some calm is restored, Cecilie, undaunted, asks her question a second time: "Please Honourable Sir, what does it feel like to be enlightened?"

Rinpoche immediately replies that it's no good, and the look on his face indicates that it's over. Then just as we are all reconciling to the fact the we will all have to take the usual path of work to discover what enlightenment feels like, Rinpoche suddenly relents and looking at the ceiling says, "Well maybe, maybe if.." and pauses long enough to make sure the hook is well and truly set. Again the room is as silent and intense as if our lives depend on the next utterance. "Well it's like, hmmm, like.."

"Naahh! Can't do it! It would lead you all astray. No words can even come close. Anything I say would be so far off the mark that it would interfere with your awakening." Rinpoche is laughing hard now, the chorus - loud and desperate, knowing that we are on the hook and unable to let go. "Please Sir! Oh please, pretty please!"

Cecilie, unbelievably for the third time asks her question: "Oh please Most Noble and Honourable Teacher.. what does it feel like to be enlightened?"

Now nearly collapsed from laughter, hope, and disappointment, I'm looking at Rinpoche's face and vaguely remembering something about asking a teacher three times, but without hope that we would get anything but a playful response. As I look at him, this time seems different but we are all so played out that I just wait for any answer.

"Well it's like.." (here we go again).. "it's like.." but he looks actually serious this time - could it be..? Rinpoche very thoughtful and with deliberate delivery says..

"It's like you have one foot on solid rock..

and the other foot over the abyss".

It struck me like a massive thunderbolt, and I'm happy to say I've never recovered.

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