Dirty Enlightenment

May 30, 2021 | Building on others

A teaching on the inherent perfection of imperfection.

Although Peter Brown spent decades pursuing practices and philosophies from a wide range of spiritual traditions, he now realises and teaches that no practice or philosophy is required for enlightenment. He invites us to pursue these if we wish but warns they are likely to get in the way. Instead, he urges us to engage non-conceptually with our current, direct experience to access the truth that is always available — that we are the undivided, all-inclusive, eternal reality that perpetually creates (manifests) and experiences itself.

The practical implication is that nothing needs to be different from how it is right now for us to be okay. There is no problem with the way things are in this or any moment. This understanding can yield a deep relaxation in which personal ups and downs unfold. We partake fully in life’s full spectrum of experience from a standpoint of existential safety.


Radiant Presence

Brown has named his teaching the Yoga of Radiant Presence, and its essentials align with those of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition called Dzogchen (Great Perfection).

If any condition IS, it is inherently absolutely perfect. (Peter Brown, 7*)

It is important to grasp the comprehensiveness of this brief statement. Think of a condition as a phenomenon, as anything that is experienced or could be experienced. In fact, the sense in which a condition IS (using Brown’s emphasis), is that it is experienced.

With this in mind, we boggle at hearing all conditions are perfect. How can this be true? Yet Brown doubles down on it:

ALL phenomena are the expression of the perfection of being, EVERY aspect of the universe is an expression of that same perfection, including run down houses, wars, all our problems, as well as what we consider beautiful and holy. You can’t separate anything out, it’s all a whole system, a package deal. (131)

So yes, the perfection of being applies to cancer, paedophilia, nuclear weapons, overflowing septic tanks and our favourite sports team’s arch rivals. At the heart of this hard-to-swallow inclusiveness is the wholeness of experiential reality. Our experience is an unbroken, orchestral flow. This is true, even though the symphony includes interpretations of itself as moments and components — sights, sounds, thoughts, emotions.

Experience is also absolutely comprehensive. This means any dissatisfaction, judgement or deemed shortcoming lies within it, not outside looking in. Comparison is a prerequisite for ‘problems’. In reality, there are no two things to be compared. There is only unbroken, all-inclusive consciousness.

Personal Problems

This self-knowing and causeless radiance includes people, their life circumstances and their actions. The consensus picture of reality takes persons to be the observers, the subjects of experience, with all else (thoughts, perceptions, sensations) as experiential objects. And of course consensus says we are persons, but this is a misunderstanding.

What if the “problem” isn’t that we need to be different than we are, but simply that we don’t understand, or notice, what we actually are ALREADY? (31)

The way the truth of “spirituality” solves the problems of our life, is to show us that the way our life has ALWAYS been, is in actuality NOT a problem. (157)

If we understand what we are — not what we could become, but what we are right now — then our problems evaporate. They are ‘solved’ just as simply as we solve the problem of our lost keys by realising they’ve been in our pocket all along.

Creative, all-inclusive reality — Radiant Presence — is what I am experiencing right now and always. And yet, this (and all) yoga reveals that this Radiant Presence (or consciousness or life, if you prefer) is its own sole experiencer. Both the previous sentences are true, and the only way for this to be so is if I am that unbroken, self-generating reality. This is the yoga (‘yoking’ or uniting) of the seeming subjective and objective constituents of experience into non-dual experiencing.

Life as Dream or Play

The metaphors of play and dream are helpful here. In our dualistic language, yoga tells me I am life’s dreamer (or observer of life’s play), while ‘my’ world is the dream (or play) and ‘my’ person is the lead character in the dream (or play). We needn’t dwell on this for long before we realise the dreamer that I am is also the dreamer of every dream world and every lead character.

But the dreamer is not a person, so is not limited to experiencing one dream at once. Radiant Presence dreams all worlds, including all characters, eternally. More precisely, it is the dreaming that includes all seemingly distinct dreams. The dreaming is its own content and its own knowing.

This realisation has liberating practical implications.

The human being, the character that appears as the lead character in my experience, doesn’t need to win or lose; it’s irrelevant, because it’s NOT ME. (134)

So we can chill!

broken cup showing the perfection of imperfection
Photo by Tomáš Mrkvička

Before we throw the person out with the bathwater — descending into nihilism, taking our ball and going home — we might remember that the person (and all else) is composed of nothing other than Radiant Presence. I transcend experience but am also imminent in it. So I am subjectless, objectless, perfect experiencing, AND I am (in this dream) the lead character. I am the Father and the Son. That is the mystery of life!

So we don’t need to stop the play from happening or enjoying it, we just need to notice that it’s a play, and be aware of our complete reality. (186)

Realising I am the dreamer doesn’t stop the dream. When I recognise life as a play I both perform and witness, the show doesn’t close. I play my part without fusing my identity with the character, a little like Sylvester Stallone does when he plays Rocky Balboa.

Being “enlightened” means the perceiver is known with certainty to be beyond circumstances, outside the dream. You KNOW you’re the dreamer of this dream, now, and that “you’re” not in it. (191)

Enlightenment is when the character’s experience (the experience ‘coloured’ as if it belonged to the character) includes realisation that the observer is not the character but the dreamer. Awakening is knowing that, essentially, that which we are (the observer) is untouched by the life events and circumstances we experience.

So our life problems are not issues. They ‘fit’ perfectly within the symphony of life’s radiance. They leave us (as that radiance) unchanged, always moving without pause to create and experience our unfolding.

Dirty Clarity

Now, about the ‘dirty’ aspect of this enlightenment… For me, Brown’s playful choice of title does two things. It reminds us of the all-inclusiveness and full-spectrum nature of radiant reality, the good and the bad. It also speaks to the pathlessness of this yoga, and that deserves more consideration.

Brown’s is a clarity-based teaching. The knowing, or realisation, of our true nature catalyses a powerful realignment of perspective. Our ‘world’ shifts, although no change occurs in our circumstances. In fact, we look back and recognise our past experience in the light of this understanding, realising what we see now has always been so. Many have highlighted the dangers of ‘spiritual bypass’ in such explosive revelation, seeking and thinking we’ve gained a ‘fast lane’ ticket without needing to check our baggage.

It’s always worth keeping an eye on ways we can fool ourselves and adopt spiritual egos in our efforts to shed our conventional ones. But a nuance both reduces this risk and hints at the value of practice (or perhaps we should call it preparation) in facilitating more accurate ‘seeing’.

The seeing we are talking about does not occur through the lens of collected knowledge or via a clever bit of thinking at a pivotal moment, logically revealing the truth. It is a direct, experiential knowing that comes from intimate engagement with what is happening right now. This type of understanding, while possible through ‘lightning bolt’ revelation, likely benefits from cultivation.

By listening to or reading the works of teachers, we begin to question consensus understanding. We look with greater precision at our experience. We follow pointers and employ careful logic to root out nonsense and reveal weak (and previously unseen) assumptions. All of this loosens our grip on conventional interpretations of experience, opening the door to direct and open engagement with the present. Then we have to keep paying attention.

So when YOU get clearer on the things that are stopping you from seeing, is when you see it more and more. You have to notice what’s tripping you up. (149)

Pathless Path

So far, so good. It is at this point we must take care not to replace one system of interpretation with another, even if the second is ‘spiritual’. Human experience has a predilection for disaggregation, labelling and conceptual juggling. If we term the activities in the paragraph above loosely as preparation, we might be less likely to lock ourselves into a conceptual matrix than if we call them a path. Perhaps this is what Brown and others who teach ‘pathless paths’ are trying to help us with.

Preparation does not earn enlightenment or guarantee crossing a finish line. The dream will include realisation that it is a dream if and whenever it does.

Well, you see it when you see it. (148)

This is hard for us to swallow, but ultimately, the character in the dream does not control the dream, despite how strongly the dream ‘makes’ her long to do so.


So here’s what we can do while we still believe and feel ourselves to be persons seeking enlightenment:

  1. Use pointers from teachers to help unfreeze conventional interpretations of reality and highlight new perspective. Consider the possibility that we and the world are not what we have taken them to be.
  2. Remind ourselves these pointers do not contain the truth, ultimately casting them aside.
  3. ‘Turn to’ (as if we need to!) our own direct experience with an open and curious mind, no longer wedded to consensus views.
  4. Note and learn from the ‘triggers’ or ‘hang-ups’ that seem to take us away from clear seeing.
  5. Live! Repeating 3 and 4. Maybe the seeing and sense of expansion will come.

* All citations refer to page numbers in the Kindle edition of Peter Brown’s Dirty Enlightenment: The Inherent Perfection of Imperfection.

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