I think the state of nirvana we are striving for, and the pitfalls we experience along the way, are not unlike a mission to become a champion video game player. Dodging attacks from mutant alien warriors, you fight to survive and protect yourself and your home base. The first wave of aliens doesn’t seem that nasty. They move fairly slowly and you’re able to avoid their arsenal of bombs and bullets. You take your time, aim, and shoot. You’re proud that you’ve won your first challenge.
This is just the beginning. You find the second, third and fourth levels prove to be more challenging. Showing no mercy, the mutants are almost impossible to avoid now. They move more swiftly and have more accurate lasers. Your only defense is to scurry away from their attacks as you fire uninterrupted streams of ammunition at whatever comes in your way. Still, you survive. In fact you win.
You gain a certain confidence and start taking more and more uncalculated risks. You fall and get captured. You lose your status as a rising master warrior and get exiled to a deserted planet. There you meet a wise and benevolent wizard who instructs you in a greater strategy for the battlefield. He teaches you to move carefully, evading enemy fire. He urges you to trust your own intuition. You’re ready to take on the mutants once again.
Yet this time as you play, you realize that being relaxed and in the moment you become an entirely new class of warrior. You become faster, stronger and more resilient. Your skill improves and you instinctively know your enemy’s moves. You fight harder and smarter and quickly climb through higher levels of the video game ladder. Winning or making it to the finish line is not a goal for you anymore. You enjoy playing the game. It gives you the feeling of being an empowered and invincible superhero. And then, Eureka! The screen lights up like it’s the Fourth of July. You’ve reached the highest score possible and become “Super Video Game Master!” Still, it is not the end. Dodging attacks from mutant aliens and protecting your home base is still very exciting. There’s no choice. You continue to play.
As a novice or maven your activity remains the same. On the surface it seems like nothing has changed. Yet from the level of experience it is a completely different game. Perhaps there is some truth to the old Buddhist saying, “Before enlightenment you chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, you chop wood and carry water.” It is not what we do but how we do it. The easiest way to be on the spiritual path is to no longer look to accomplish anything or strive for a goal. Instead the way we move on the path can become the goal.