Doesn’t it take time for ego, suffering, and/or conditioning to fall away?

I hear many variations of this question and so I hope to answer the spirit of the question instead of each variation.  Doesn’t it take time after awakening?  Time for the ego to drop away or time for suffering to end or time for conditioning to fall away or time for the realization to take hold or settle in.

Unfortunately, this is the ego looking for a back door so that the illusion can continue for a bit longer.  Can “I” have more time to battle the ego, suffering, conditioning, etc.?  It doesn’t have to happen now…because it takes time (or so the myth goes).

Now if you are egoically trying to do something, then yes…it will take time.  So much time that it may never come to fruition in this lifetime.  But there is really nothing to do.  It is a matter of realization.  Put another way, to do something physically takes time, but does a mental realization really take time?  And couldn’t you act immediately on the new understanding through the realization?

If you are about to go outside, heading for the door, and realize you aren’t wearing any pants…are you able to stop?  Or does the momentum of heading for the door take you outside although you know you are not wearing pants; and do you continue right to the mail box because you have not yet come to terms with not wearing pants?

Or to put it in a more classical Indian analogy (where there are poisonous snakes), let’s say you are locked in a dark room and you see a shape on the floor that looks like a snake.  You would worry, fear, and basically suffer…all the while you are stuck in this dark room.  But if the light was turned on for…but for a few seconds, you could see it is a piece rope.  Then the light goes off again, and yet the fear and worry do not return.  You have realized that what you are seeing is a piece of rope.  It no longer fools you…even if the darkness returns.

There is no difficulty in living the recognition of the “snake” being a piece of rope.  The difficulty lies in if it is not truly realized and it still remains unknown for what it truly really is.  You caught a glimpse of that shape in the light and it looked like it might not have been a snake…but the glimpse was not long enough to truly be sure…and so there is still doubt.  And so although you want to live from the recognition of it being a piece of rope…you are still not really sure and think it could be snake.  The illusion only truly falls away when there is full realization…not a passing glimpse that is not fully recognized and so can be doubted.

With realization/understanding, we are able to change immediately…we are not stuck continuing in our actions/reactions until it sinks in.  Our actions/reactions are really based on our understanding (i.e. realization).  The effects of a change in understanding are immediate.

I am not talking about something you mentally learn and need to remember.  I am talking about a stark realization that changes the perceived situation entirely.  Let’s say you are on a bus, and next to you is a man who is just staring out the window as his two children are jumping around and yelling.  You may feel annoyed by the children.  You may think the father is irresponsible and not being considerate of others by not controlling his children.  You’re thoughts and emotions are a result of the situation and the assumptions/beliefs/judgments regarding the situation.

But if you knew the father and his children were heading to the hospital because the father found out that his wife was hit by a car and would likely be dead before they arrived at the hospital…what would you think then?  He is trying to deal with his loss and staring out the window…probably letting the children have a little bit of joy before they find out their mother is dead.  That kind of changes the situation, doesn’t it?  You may be more willing to cut the guy some slack and feel compassion for him…instead of wondering how it is inconveniencing you.  The framing of the situation changes the reaction/action.  The framing is based upon understanding.

Understanding and realization have this effect…changes in understanding through realization immediately reframes the situation.  They change the very parameters on how we react/act.  For example, if you realized there is no other…saw through the fictitious “me”…then you might see that fear has ceased.

It does not take time to become fearless.  We don’t need to try to remember that fear is unfounded or ego-based.  The realization and understanding itself does not allow fear to arise, because there is no “other” to fear…and because there is no “me” that needs protection.

By seeing through the illusion of a separate “me”, so too the conditioning that is based upon a separate entity falls away. Conditioning in this life is based on a trigger that sets off the conditioning. Ring a bell and the dog salivates – basic Pavlovian conditioning. But many reactions are not single trigger based, but require two or more triggers to activate.

For example, we may not normally fear how we are going to make ends meet…but as soon as we lose our job…typically fear and anxiety arises. The triggers are losing a job (income) AND a sense of “me” (what is going to happen to me and possible/imagined futures of my predicament), for the anxiety and fear conditioning to take hold. If you are working…it doesn’t activate because you still have a job with steady income. If there is no “me”, it doesn’t activate because then the question ‘what will happen to “me”‘ doesn’t arise. It needs both conditions for the conditioning of fear/anxiety to trigger.

I will conclude by admitting that not every piece of conditioning falls away instantly upon enlightenment.  Some is backed by some pretty strong childhood programming and seem to be stored within the body.  But don’t turn this into a back door for your own ego, use it as an excuse, or as a way to rationalize daily suffering with the idea of being awake.

I would say over 90% of the conditioning fell away immediately for me…suffering by and large has ceased. These days occurrences of suffering (very mild suffering) is not daily or even weekly…sometimes weeks pass without something triggering suffering (in some form).  I have never identified with the body-mind/ego again…and from that most of the conditioning fell away (as the conditioning was based on identification with the body-mind/ego), but some conditioning has hung on within the body-mind.

I have quoted an old zen saying that goes…when the bottom of the bucket falls out, all the water goes with it.  But that does not mean the bucket is perfectly dry at the moment the bottom falls out…nor does it need to be perfectly dry to be considered awake.

What little remains flares and passes with such speed that it really isn’t an issue…and leaves no residue.  For example, since I was young I have had a fiery temper.  After awakening, I remember driving to or from work and the traffic would get to me at times.  Frustration or anger at people cutting in front of others/me at exits…things like that.  It passed quickly and did not affect me outside of that scenario.  It would not ruin my day.  It was just unpleasant while I was stuck in traffic and forgotten as soon as I passed it.

I had come to understand that frustration and anger are milder forms of suffering as well.  So at some point I just sat with the experience of frustration and anger…fully experiencing it…and then questioned ‘where is this coming from?’  It quickly dawned on me what the deeply ingrained conditioning was…much of it was about general fairness, being responsible for one’s actions, and lack of double standards.  It wasn’t so much about me…but the principle.  So I realized the beliefs that were being held onto.  I recognized the incorrectness of the assumptions/beliefs and also the futility of the idea that my reaction would somehow change what was happening.  I was causing my own suffering and received no benefits from it.  From this understanding, the conditioning vanished.  Now similar traffic situations no longer cause the conditioned reaction.  The new understanding due to realization of what I was really doing and its real effects has changed how the situation is seen when encountered again.

Nisargatta Maharaj, considered by many to be enlightened, was known for his fiery temper and would yell at people.  When questioned about this, he would say it was a bodily habit (samskara) that was playing out and had nothing to do with who/what he really was.  While I do agree that there are some samskaras that stay after enlightenment, I see them continuing because they are simply uninvestigated and continue due to one or more fundamental assumptions/beliefs not being questioned.  I enjoy delving into these and watching them disappear.

Nisargatta didn’t really suffer anymore (as he would say).  Anger could be considered a form of suffering, but when it passes like a lightning flash in the sky…it really isn’t a big deal.  However, it tends to give more suffering to others…and spreads negativity.  For that reason alone, it is worth delving into more deeply and seeing it cease…through deeper understanding via realization regarding the illusion of the mind that is causing it.

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Modern-day house-holder yogi and lover of what-is; living in peace, contentment, and joy.