No, nothing leads to spiritual awakening…including meditation.
There is a famous Zen story of a monk sitting all day in meditation. The master comes along one day and asks, “What are doing?” The monk replies, “I’m meditating so I can become a Buddha” (i.e. awakened one). The master sits down nearby, picks up a brick laying on the ground, and starts rubbing it. The monk is confused and asks, “master, what are you doing?” The master replies, “I’m polishing this brick to make it into a mirror.” The monk laughs and says, “no amount of rubbing a brick can turn it into a mirror.” To which the master replies, “And no amount of meditation will turn you into a Buddha.”
Alan Watts said they don’t like this story very much in modern day Japan. Zen often focuses all their attention on practicing zazen (sitting meditation) to the exclusion of anything else. Some will even say zazen is enlightenment…which is incorrect. Enlightenment does not come and go, and so often upon getting up from zazen…problems and suffering return. How could that be called enlightenment?
So, getting back to – nothing leads to spiritual awakening. Leads implies causation. Putting bread in a toaster leads me to having toast. Driving westward from my house on Highway 12 leads me to Minneapolis. Leads implies that doing this or following this course assures the goal or destination. There is no practice or doing…including meditation…that leads to spiritual awakening.
Spiritual awakening is a seeing through the mirage called “ego” and never being fooled by the mirage again. What can the ego do to overcome the ego? Nothing. So, there is nothing you can do that will lead to spiritual awakening.
Does meditation help? Yes, it could.
Especially, if it is the simple meditation of being present…just sitting and doing nothing else. Not to get something or become something…just being still…keeping quiet. This is the true meaning of zazen – just sitting.
This is more kinesthetic than it may appear. Feel what is going on. Experience as much as you are able to experience through the senses – without the doing to trying to guide the senses. Being aware is not a doing, because we have no choice but to be aware while conscious. Just be quiet, be still, and awareness continues and so be aware of as much as possible.
Not trying to get more into awareness. It is all coming to you already. The unconscious mind is aware of far more of the data than the conscious mind. It is all already there. You don’t have to get it all and you couldn’t if you wanted to. Just let it come to you…curious to see how much you could be aware of. I don’t want you to make this into another form of doing. Do nothing. Curious, as an attitude, to see how much you can be aware of. This is a deep rabbit hole and at the bottom you may find that the thought stream has ceased.
Sometimes that is all one needs for spiritual awakening to occur…some time where nothing is being done, just experiencing all that can be experienced, and so thoughts cease happening in the mind. In that silence, there may be a realization and insight.
Kind of like when you want to fall asleep at night. There is nothing you can do to cause yourself to fall asleep. Any attempts to try to fall asleep seem to keep us from falling asleep. The mere wanting to fall asleep seems to keep us from falling asleep. But there are things we can do to make sleep more likely. We can turn off the lights. We can go to a quiet room. We can relax our bodies. We can make the environment conducive to falling asleep.
Likewise, meditation is just something that might make falling Awake easier to occur. Meditation makes the environment more conducive to falling awake. If we are silent, still, and without thought, awakening may descend upon you. Not by your choice, not by you wanting it, but by simply letting it happen…it may reveal itself to itself.