If gaining enlightenment is an accident, how to be accident prone?

Gaining enlightenment is an accident.

Spiritual practice simply makes us accident prone.

Suzuki Roshi

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to post more often, and to post about my intellectual travels as a doctoral student in Community, Liberation, and Ecopsychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute.

Conveniently, one of my classes this winter term, Hermeneutic and Phenomenological Traditions taught by Dr Ed Casey requires me to keep a reading journal which I might as well post and share. (Funny, while I’m an avid blogger, I’m NOT into journaling.)

One of our texts is Phenomenology of Perception by Maurice Merleau-Ponty.


“Phenomenology,” Merleau-Ponty  explains in the preface, “is the study of essences” (p. xx)

“Phenomenology involves describing, and not explaining or analyzing” (p. xxi).

Weird words aside, I actually picked up this hefty tome last winter because it looked fascinating, Dr Casey had mentioned Merleau-Ponty several times in our Ecopsych class, and the book store was offering a decent price for this freshly translated edition. So I was actually excited to finally have a chance to read this book–and not just look at it.

Here are two more quotes from the preface that really hit home for me because they connect with my experience in the world, and I like the language used to describe it:

“Everything that I know about the world, even through science,” writes Merleau-Ponty, “I know from the perspective that is my own or from an experience of the world” (p. xxii)

“The phenomenological world is not pure being, but rather the sense that shines,” he asserts poetically (p. xxxiv).

Toward the end of the preface, Merleau-Ponty discusses accidents, which reminded me of this image and quote from a Wake-Up Call from Leslie Wongmo-Rinchin that had been hanging around my desktop since September 2012 waiting for the “accident” or synchronicity to call me to post it.

“If we examine an event up close,” writes Merleau-Ponty, “then everything appears to happen by accident at the moment it is lived: that people’s ambition, some lucky encounter, or some isolated circumstance seems to have been decisive. But accidents cancel each other out” (p. xxxiii).

“There are no pure accidents in existence,” according to Merleau-Ponty (p. xxxiii).

Are these two philosophies or ways of thinking, that of Suzuki Roshi and Merleau-Ponty so far apart I wonder?

There’s tension between these two ideas already, but I want to throw in a third: Jung’s idea of synchronicity which is where an event in the outside world coincides meaningfully with a psychological state of mind.

Personally, I grew up hearing that there are no accidents, both literal and metaphorical ones. And yet, I find I agree with all three of these ideas.

I think Roshi means that through spiritual practice, through intention, through meditation, through menaing making and seeking and finding the divine in daily life, we can experience more synchonicity, and “more accidents” –accidents that are clearly not that accidental in Merleau-Ponty’s view.

Obviously there is a lot more here for me to chew on as I travel. Subscribe in the upper right hand corner if you want to join me.

Image above by Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo. One of the only westerners trained in the rare Buddhist art of silk applique thangkas, she is passionate about the preservation and evolution of this Tibetan cultural tradition. His Holiness the Dalai Lama gave his blessings to Leslie’s work and encouraged her to make images that speak to the spiritual aspirations of people across religions and cultures. Leslie’s fascinating story is the subject of the acclaimed documentary film, Creating Buddhas: the Making and Meaning of Fabric Thangkas. Leslie’s Weekly Wake-ups provide a thread of inspiration to set the week on the path to awakening.


2 comments on “If gaining enlightenment is an accident, how to be accident prone?”

  1. Reblogged this on art predator and commented:

    Accidents. Luck. Synchronicity. Spiritual Practice. Intentionality. Phenomenology and the spell of the sensuous.

  2. Very thoughtful post, Gwendolyn! For me, the idea that enlightenment is an accident calls me to awareness of mystery. We can do what we can do, and things evolve based on our intent and action, on cause and condition, all in relationship with something incomprehensible, mysterious, and ‘accidental’. This accident aspect encourages me to hold my practice lightly — sincerely but not doggedly, with an open hand for mystery to enter. I was touched recently hearing Mary Morrissey say, “You can’t MAKE it happen, but you can make it WELCOME.” I imagine sincere practice makes enlightenment welcome.

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