Roadside Assistance: Becoming Enlightened

Roadside Assistance: Becoming Enlightened


Rabbi Rami Shapiro answers pressing questions on America, immortality, and enlightenment as a goal.

My number one New Year’s resolution is to become enlightened. Do you think this is a worthy goal? Do you think this is possible? Can you tell me what enlightenment is and how I might get enlightened?

RABBI RAMI: I do think enlightenment is a worthy goal, and like my perennial New Year’s resolution—losing 20 pounds—it is possible, just not for me. Simply put, enlightenment is (1) the realization that you and all life are a manifesting of nondual Aliveness called by many names: Mother, Kali, God, Brahman, Allah, Tao, YHVH, Aliveness, Nature, Great Spirit, etc., and (2) embodying this realization by acting godly, which is to say justly and with compassion. As to how you might get enlightened, I suggest you start by acting godly. That way, even if you never realize you are God, no one will care, not even you.

I admit to watching too much television news, and the America I see is an America steeped in fear. Is this my country?

Yes, it is, but there is more to America than fear; there is also an America of love. It is just that you won’t see that America on television because fear sells more pillows than love. The aim of television isn’t to keep you informed but to keep you consuming. If you want to see all of America, turn off the television and talk with people.

I find so much wisdom in religion. I can’t limit myself to just one, so I’m put off by Jesus in John 14:6: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” Was Jesus such a narcissist?

The key to understanding John 14:6 is to read it as a Jew rather than a Christian. As a Jew, Jesus would have understood “I am” as Ehyeh, the divine I AM that is all reality the way an ocean is every wave. When Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” he isn’t speaking about himself, but the Self that is the true Self of all beings. The only way to awaken to God is by realizing this Self as your Self. Jesus was a God-realized Jewish mystic. When he challenges you to follow him, he challenges you to be the same: God-realized! The Jewish part is optional.

I am a young woman craving immortality. Eternity in Heaven as a disembodied soul and reincarnation in a different body, however, don’t satisfy me. I want immortality as me, the me I am now. It is for this reason that I have become a Jehovah’s Witness. My concern is that I am being selfish, and if I am, I worry that Jehovah will deny me immortality and consign me to Hell instead. What do you think?

Concern with immortality is the narcissism shared by billions of human beings. The cure is to realize that the “you” to which you desperately cling isn’t the true You at all. The true You is God, birthless and deathless. As for Jehovah consigning you to Hell for your selfishness—you’re in luck! Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in Hell at all.

My Starbucks friends follow a famous Indian guru and urge me to join them. My problem is that he charges a lot of money for his teaching. I can’t afford to follow him and worry that I am losing out. Why does he do this?

I guess he knows his American audience. Spirituality in America is a business, and whether we are talking about jeans, sneakers, or gurus, the higher the price, the more cache the product is thought to have. The truth is, the Truth is free: You are God. So are your friends. So are your enemies. There is nothing that isn’t God. When you know this, you won’t need a guru. Until then, you might want to skip buying a latte once a week and save up for your friends’ pricey guru.

My girlfriend and I made love for the first time a few days ago. I was so shocked to find a swastika tattooed high up on her inner thigh that I lost my erection. I said nothing about the tattoo, and we laughed it off as performance anxiety, but I’m a Jew—it was Nazi anxiety. We haven’t tried again since. Should I break off our relationship?

Before ending the relationship, talk with her about the tattoo. Ask her what it means to her. Tell her what happened to you. Chances are she sees the tattoo as an eastern symbol of divinity, and you might be able to make peace with that. If, on the other hand, she’s a Nazi, you might want to rethink the relationship.

I give subscriptions to Spirituality & Health as birthday presents. The other day a cousin texted me asking if the magazine had an angle. “What are they trying to sell?” How would you answer this?

Open the magazine randomly, and you will find two voices on almost every page: text and art. The text is “selling” open-mindedness, and the art is “selling” open-heartedness, and both are working in service to cutting-edge ideas about life and how to live it with meaning and purpose. I can’t think of a greater birthday present. Except maybe a pony.

My first-grader came home from school the other day with three questions I couldn’t answer: What is God? Where is God? Why are there so many Gods? What would you say?

I love first-grade theologians! They’re too wise for grown-up theology. Here’s what I would say:

What is God? Imagine an infinite ocean waving count-less waves. Each wave is precious and unique, and yet all waves are nothing but the ocean waving. God is like this infinite ocean, and you and everything else is the waving of God.

Where can I find God? You don’t find God, you meet God. You meet God when you meet people, animals, bugs, trees, rivers, and even poop. (My first-grader grandson and his friends are really into poop.) When you meet God, you are called upon to act godly: to treat everything with kindness and respect.

Why are there so many Gods? Let’s change metaphors. Think of God as a ray of sunlight. When a ray of sunlight passes through a prism, it reveals different colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. One ray, many colors. It is the same with God. One God, many forms: Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, etc. The difference is that while some people prefer the color blue to the color green, no one ever imagines the color blue is better than green. When it comes to God, some people who like one form better than another do imagine that their form is better. They will even fight to prove their form is better. Fighting over which God is better is like fighting over which color is better. It’s silly. I’m proud of you that you know better.

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Roadside Assistance Becoming Enlightened

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