Intimacy with All Things

Listen to this.

Excerpted from the book Astrology Is Real

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Enlightenment is intimacy with all things.
—13th-century Buddhist priest and writer Dōgen Zenji


Should we imagine that “enlightenment” is a perfect and permanent realization of ultimate truth?

Is it a possession we can own?

Once we have acquired it, are we forever guaranteed to understand the nature of reality at the deepest levels?

My guess is that there’s no such thing as this kind of “enlightenment.”

Here’s a version of “enlightenment” that appeals to me: a visceral sensation of feeling close to all living things, buoyed by an ever-renewing empathy.


“Holiness is an infinite compassion for others,” wrote author and activist Olive Schreiner.

“The soul is awakened through service,” said author Erica Jong.

I agree. I say the quest to align one’s personal life with the highest good is at least as much about being in service as it is about attaining a transcendent level of awareness or making pious displays of devotion to a deity or ideal.


According to 16th-century Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria, the idea of “enlightenment” was not some individual personal goal to escape mortal limitations and gain knowledge, but a group process by humans to assist the Divine in bringing creation into alignment with the original plan—i.e., “on earth as it is in heaven.”

—artist Martha Jablonski Jones


Our happiness, potency, and spiritual skill are impossible and hollow unless we are in service to others. With this in mind, I propose an extension of the Bodhisattva’s Vow.

The Bodhisattva Vow: “My own personal quest for illumination is incomplete, and my own personal enlightenment is meaningless, unless I am also devoted to easing the suffering of others.”

I suggest we take this vow a step further and say, “My quest for illumination is incomplete, and my enlightenment meaningless, unless I am also devoted to the goals of easing the suffering of others and helping them experience joy and pleasure and liberation and meaningfulness.”

A cornerstone of this Extended Version of the Bodhisattva’s Vow is that we are committed to providing the fundamental needs of all human beings—their food, shelter, medical care, money— so they have the ability to cultivate joy and pleasure and liberation and abundance.


Proposed bottom-line spiritual philosophy: For any one of us, our life is rooted in the principle that whatever hurts other people hurts us; that injustices experienced by others are also injustices experienced by us.

None of us can truly be free and fulfilled unless we work toward the goal of ensuring everyone is free and fulfilled.

These are not vague abstract ideals. They’re the central source of our soul’s code and how we organize our beliefs, emotions, and actions.


Perhaps there is a version of “enlightenment” that signifies a transcendent level of awareness: a relaxed and savvy understanding of life as it really is.

If so, here are probable rules about that hypothetical state.

∞ If “enlightenment” doesn’t enhance our ability to witness and heal the suffering of our fellow humans, then it’s fake enlightenment.

∞ If “enlightenment” encourages us to imagine that expressing our personal freedom excuses us from caring for the health and well-being of uur fellow humans, then it’s fake enlightenment.

∞ If “enlightenment” allows or encourages us to ignore racism, bigotry, plutocracy, misogyny, and LGBTQIA+-phobia, it’s fake enlightenment.

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