All living beings, whether born from eggs, from the womb, from moisture, or spontaneously, whether they have form or do not have form, whether they are aware or unaware, whether they are not aware or not unaware, all living beings will eventually be led by me to the final Nirvana, the final ending of the cycle of birth and death. And when this unfathomable, infinite number of living beings have all been liberated, in truth not even a single being has actually been liberated.
Why, Subhuti? Because if a disciple still clings to the arbitrary illusions of form or phenomena such as an ego, a personality, a self, a separate person, or a universal self existing eternally, then that person is not an authentic disciple.
The Diamond Sutra, Chapter 3.
Thus the Buddha explains to his student Subhuti that despite the appearance of individuals waking up, in fact no separate beings ever awaken – there are no separate beings! But although the Buddha knows that there is nothing to be done and nothing to achieve, he nevertheless works tirelessly to awaken all beings.
The appearance of “other” beings is a necessary correlate to your own sense of separation. Once your personal sense of separation dissolves, then the perception of others also disappears. You cannot merge into the one and leave others behind - there is only one One! Once you merge, all becomes one; others are recognized as a part of You.
After a profound awakening, when the character then collects and reasserts itself and steps back to get a good “objective” look at what happened (from the character’s perspective, of course), confusion ensues. You become a living paradox: a separate self claiming to be free of all separation; an enlightened ego; an awakened object; a voice proclaiming Oneness to the multitude.
As your own identity reemerges, so does that of others. And in seeing yourself as awake, you will see others who are not. They need your help and compassion, or perhaps they seem hopelessly deluded, or perhaps they serve to bolster your own sense of attainment by exhibiting their unenlightened attitudes and behavior.
For the character to take on the awakening experience as part of its identity is not a problem as long as it is seen for what it is. It enables the individual to enjoy a sense of awakening, and to help others to achieve the same. The Buddha clearly saw himself as a teacher with something to offer all sentient beings. But he saw through this as well, knowing that “he” was not liberated, nor would anyone else ever be. Oneness engulfs the individual; the wave relaxes back into the ocean. The freedom that is felt is that of the ocean, who no longer need expend the energy required to lift, sustain and move the wave.
When I hear of others’ awakenings, in some respects, this takes the pressure off my character to be awake or feel awake, or to have any particular spiritual experience. I’ve already had it – over there. Of course, “there” is nothing other than a location in my mind, or, more accurately, in Mind. I’m popping awake all over the place! If this particular kernel still hasn’t popped, or if it popped some time ago and is feeling stale, it’s not a problem because other kernels are continually bursting open. I am awake through you and you and you, who are all within me. You arise as little fireworks in my mind as you relate your experiences to me, either directly, by telling me about them, or through the universal knowing. There is no distance between us. It’s all happening right here. I never miss an awakening experience. (I wouldn’t miss it for the world!) We’re all dancing on the pinhead together.
The perception and experience of an individual character waking up is just for fun, just part of the show. Awakeness loves to reveal and share itself through the prism of its creation. The light passing through any given character creates unique patterns and colors, which dazzle and delight.
So when twenty people awaken, does that mean there are twenty fewer unawakened beings in the population? Consider carefully. The math of One is deceptively simple. The truly awakened being has ceased to be an individual, and never was. Nothing is gained, and nothing is lost. It’s all exactly as it ever was, and ever will be. When any or all beings have been liberated, they have been liberated only from the illusion of separation, not from any real constraint upon their person. You have been freed of yourself, of the illusion of yourself. You will still engage that hologram to interact with others and participate in the dream, but you needn’t fall back under its spell.
Strive to awaken, strive to help others awaken. Notice who appears to be awake, and who doesn’t. And know that we are all awake, and always have been. So when all sentient beings have been awakened, have any awakened? In awakening, we lose our selves. But we were never here anyway. Only I was ever here, and here I remain. Here I AM.