The Five Stages of Enlightenment… by Bill Harris (May 19th, 2008), continued
The second step is even more difficult: submission. Submission is generally accomplished by submitting to the living embodiment of the Way, the Tao, the way things are. In Zen (and in other traditions) this means submitting to an enlightened teacher, one who is the embodiment of the Way, the Tao, or whatever you want to call it, though it could also mean submitting to Jesus, for instance, or some other idealized or non-physical representation. It just turns out to be easier to submit to a living embodiment rather than an idealized one.
Westerners, of course, have a lot of trouble with this one. This is probably because we have such an independent point of view and the idea of submitting to another leaves a bad taste in our mouth. But we also resist it because there are so many egoic and false teachers around and we’ve become jaded and untrusting (for good reason). It’s difficult to trust that a teacher could really have our best interests at heart and not have some personal agenda. What if he brings out that big barrel of kool-aid?
Submission, though, is essential for the next step (or at least makes it MUCH MUCH easier), because in the next step you have to do what in Zen they call “stepping off the one-hundred foot pole”–stepping into the unknown–and that takes a lot of trust. You have to know that if you step it will be okay, that someone will catch you. The teacher, having already done this himself, helps you realize that it can be done (he seems to be okay, in fact, more than okay). His example and reassurance allows you, hopefully, to take that leap, that step into the unknown. Submission is, at least partly, your saying, “Okay, I trust that it will be okay when I take that step.”