I was a pretty ordinary guy, at least I believed myself to be so. I had experienced a rough path in my earlier life, which resulted in my turn toward a search for enlightenment. I guess its best to start there. My name was Joseph Egareva.
I was born in 1960 to working class parents. My dad was a truck driver, my mom a homemaker. I was the oldest, and following four years of being an only child, my sister was born. About 10 years later another sister was added to the Egareva family. My childhood didn’t have any significant events worth mentioning. Of course there were family arguments, fights with my sister, parental marital discord, but most of this was considered normal.
Bleeding hearts would say I was abused. Conversely, many of that era would say I was disciplined according to the times. Religion dictates “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Despite the physical punishment some would still consider me spoiled.
Whatever led to my trouble, it seems inconsequential now. Or perhaps it was rather destiny. That is for you to decide. In my teens I became very rebellious and began drinking alcohol at 14. I quickly graduated to marijuana, and by 16 was using nearly every substance I ever would: paint thinner, methamphetamine, Quaaludes, Valium, Percocet and codeine. With the substance use came more trouble, driving violations that would result in a suspended license, petty theft, arrests for assault, and other public decency offenses all culminating in a few nights here and there in jail.
Then I found myself at a crossroads. The path I was on was killing me, and although I wasn’t abject to dying, I felt this was a far too painful and torturous way to go. Something inside of me wanted to go on, and to find the good in life. After some counseling I was introduced to other philosophies including metaphysical, occult and naturalistic. I eventually gravitated toward Eastern ways of thought. I also embraced the classic masters like Plato, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Marx, James. I found similarities in their different philosophies and they all appealed to me. I began consuming this literature and my transformation began.
First, I became stoic about life, less involved and more detached. I intellectualized everything, and felt above the normal life most led. I found it took a lot to pry me from this superior (at least in my head) way of being. I required great tragedy to feel, or great elation. Otherwise, I remained detached and felt this was being the “Buddha”.
After a while this detachment felt more like a depression. It seemed I craved the strong emotions to feel alive. I returned to reading, and was introduced to Ikkyu, a Buddhist master who felt a way to enlightenment was to engage in things other monks felt apprehensible. This way seemed more invigorating. Other Zen books, when interpreted in this light, made this life seem like the correct choice. I became more alive, embracing the moments, making impulsive decisions and letting what I thought was the flow of the universe, the Tao, guide me.
It wasn’t long after this transformation I found existentialism in modern words, through the work of Irvin Yalom. Again, much of the existential writing coincided with Buddhism. Embrace the moment, take responsibility for your life, do not work for rewards in the next life, and find your meaning in this life. I became a born gain existentialist, denying the existence of any higher being, seeing those that chose to believe this way as less enlightened, and attempted to educate whoever would listen to the virtue of the present.
Though I kept working my job at the warehouse, I hungered for more knowledge. I took a couple philosophy classes at the community college. I kept buying books on enlightenment, Eastern religions, and spirituality. I read everywhere: on breaks at work, after work, small captions before work, even on the toilet. I meditated in the morning and again in the evening. I went from eating massive hamburgers with bacon to a vegetarian diet. I cut down on sugar and cut out caffeine. I continued to embrace life, to live in the moment, and to find the balance between detachment and being immersed in life. I was self actualizing moment to moment, and being the best person I could be. I was so close to enlightenment I could taste it. A professor commented on what a positive energy I bring to the class, to the discussions, to what seemed everything. People at work started coming to me for advice and guidance. Some wanted to know how it came to be that I was so happy.
I imagine when they found the body I used to inhabit on the bathroom floor it looked like any other, save the Sanskrit words tattooed that many would mistake for women’s names: Tanha (craving) on the right ribs, Anitya (impermanence) on my lower left back. The coroner would say it was a heart attack, probably too many years of eating poorly. No one would know the truth until their time came. Next to me was the tipping point that resulted in the culmination of my enlightenment. Page 32-33 of Stillness Speaks by Ekert Tolle:
The egoic sense of self needs conflict because its sense of a separate identity gets strengthened in fighting against this or that, and in demonstrating that this is “me” and that is not “me.”
The very moment I read that passage I began to feel one with all that is. Although I had had this experience before, this time it grew inside of me like never before. I attained satori, I attained enlightenment. But unlike all Buddhas I did not renounce nirvana until all sentient beings are enlightened. I stayed. Since I did, you never will get to hear this story.