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Hotei Has Returned to the Market Place

This essay is in response to many discussions I have had with students over the years. Its purpose is to help clarify certain aspects of the awakening process. In this essay, I am not going to be overly concerned with the politically correct semantics of “enlightenment” or “advaita,” but simply point out some things that may be useful to know about.

As awakening happens, there seem to be several stages that many people go through. These stages can be a little confusing because they are not delineated anywhere on the maps of our day-to-day consensus reality, nor on most religious or spiritual maps. Please remember, these guidelines are descriptions of what may happen, not prescriptions for what must happen. The process is different for everyone.


The first stage is the apparent separation between “me” and “everyone and everything else.” We click into this stage around two or three years old. In this stage, we become very aware of the phenomena and people out there at the other end of our senses. We learn that the way to survive and thrive in this world of appearance is through the effective control and manipulation of the “me-in-here” and the “everything else-out-there.” For instance, we may be taught that life is easier if we have a pleasing personality so we learn to smile a lot and say please and thank you. We notice this usually has a positive effect on “them-out-there.”

We are taught that life works better if we do things like get good grades, empty the garbage, work hard, remember appointments, follow through, make money, and have all of the right thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are considered “good,” “healthy,” and “successful” by our society. We learn to “fit in” with the rest of herd and follow the consensus map of reality without ever really questioning it. Questioning the accepted maps of reality tends to confuse and upset the herd as they believe their maps are reality.

In a nutshell, we learn to manipulate “in here” and “out there” to conform with what we have been conditioned to “believe” is best. We discover there are lots of things “in here” and “out there” to manipulate, control, and keep track of. And they all seem to keep changing all of the time, no matter what we do! This is due to the relative and transitory nature of phenomenal reality. It is hard to keep all of our ducks lined up in a row. Reality just continues to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, whether we think it should or not!

It is important to realize that almost everything that falls in the categories of religion, spirituality, psychology, metaphysics, and philosophy is in this stage of separation. When you enter a religious/spiritual/psychological belief system, you are being taught to translate and manipulate your experience, inwardly and outwardly, according to the system’s map. All maps are an overlay on reality. As Alfred Korzybski pointed out, “The map is not the territory.”


If one pursues a spiritual/religious path and learns to translate and manipulate the mystical process well enough, or sometimes quite by accident or grace, one may fall into the Absolute. In the unqualified Absolute all separation, and thus all phenomenal existence, disappears. There is only the unborn — vast, timeless, deathless, and free. If there were still a separate someone able to talk or think about it, they would say in amazement, as great realizers have, “From the first, not a thing is!” or, “Nothing has ever happened!” or, “There is only vast emptiness, no holiness about it!” But since there is no “one” and no “thing,” nothing is said or expounded. There is only vast emptiness, still and silent. And herein lies the peace of God! No spiritual teachers or preachers saying anything! Thank you, Jesus!

Once the initial terror of self dissolving into Nothingness wears off, this stage is quite addicting. It is a great hiding place. The bliss and peace of absolute samadhi seems infinite. It is like deep sleep wide awake. The relative world is an old dream that never happened. In some systems, this stage may be (This article continues…)

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