Though it’s fallen from the limelight, The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment by Thaddeus Golas is one of my favorite books. That’s been true since 1971 when I found it on an obscure shelf at a local bookstore.
I still have that copy — heavy underlined and filled with marginalia. It’s stained with coffee, red wine, and few tears for good measure. Over the years the pocket-sized paperback has morphed into a homely, sacred object.
I remember the bolt of realization that hit me when I read the Guide’s first paragraph:
I am a lazy man. Laziness keeps me from believing that enlightenment demands effort, discipline, strict diet, non-smoking, and other evidences of virtue. That’s about the worst heresy I could propose, but I have to be honest before I can be reverent.
By the end of those 42 words, I was hooked.
I still am.
How the Guide came to be
When you pick up the Guide for the first time, please be patient. It has some opaque passages. The 1960s language is dated (hippie jargon and lack of inclusive pronouns). I also find myself in loving disagreement with some of Thaddeus’s ideas.
Just keep reading and re-reading, however. Go slowly and let the words sink in. Over time some of them will sink into your awareness and massage your mind.
Knowing the context might help. At one time Golas was taking a lot of LSD. In fact, he originally wrote the Guide as a manual for coming down from a “bummer trip.”
What Golas — and thousands of loyal readers eventually discovered — is that his ideas can be lifesavers in the midst of any stressful situation, drug-induced or not:
My intention is not to pretend final truth, but to suggest certain simple attitudes that will work for anybody and stay with you in the most extreme freak-out or space-out, even when your mind is completely blown.
The big ideas: expansion, contraction, resistance, enlightenment
Golas’s premise is that our basic function as human beings is to move between states of expansion and contraction.
Expansion has a lot of synonyms — enlightenment, serenity, unconditional joy, happiness, present moment awareness.
Contraction, on the other hand is suffering, pain, unhappiness, fear, anxiety, insanity — you get the idea.
In any given moment, Golas wrote, we are in a state of expansion, a state of contraction, or somewhere in between. And in any moment we can expand — instantly, effortlessly.
How? By remembering two words that summarize the entire book: no resistance.
- Denying unpleasant thoughts and feelings — pretending that they don’t exist or trying to push them away.
- Clinging to pleasant thoughts and feelings — trying to make them last, even though they are fleeting and fluid.
This is nothing new. It echoes the concepts of attachment and aversion, which the Buddha pinpointed as the origin of suffering.
According to Thaddeus, enlightenment is nothing mystical or other-worldly. It simply means noticing your resistance and then dropping it.
What if you’re feeling so contracted that the very idea of dropping resistance seems impossible?
No problem. Just notice your resistance. And just be willing to drop it. Willingness is everything.
As Thaddeus put it:
Love as much as you can from wherever you are.
Note: This attitude of non-resistance does not mean that we turn into passive victims. Thaddeus is referring to internal resistance — the irrational demand that life should be free of discomfort. We can drop this demand even as we take action to solve problems and achieve social justice.
Taking pain-in-the-butt people as our teachers
It’s a New Age cliché to say that the people we find most irritating have incarnated along with us for a reason. They offers reasons to take all our ideas about unconditional love and actually practice them.
Golas says it in a more pragmatic way: We tend to condemn the very qualities in others that we deny seeing in ourselves.
Morever, it’s useless to lecture people or implore them to change their behavior:
If he knew what he was doing, he wouldn’t be doing it, true enough, but he is just as capable of knowing it as we are. If he doesn’t see it of his own free will, is he any more likely to do so when we tell him? By denying him his freedom to be wrong, we are equally wrong. Giving others the freedom to be stupid is one of the most important and hardest steps to take in spiritual progress. Conveniently the opportunity to take that step is all around us every day.
The lazy man, then and now
Thaddeus left his physical body in 1997.
Had he lived into the twenty-first century, he would have never appeared on Oprah. Even back in the day he refused to join the spiritual superstar circuit.
He didn’t lead workshops or seminars. And for decades he had only one title in print — the Guide.
When people asked him for further teachings, he demurred. Just read the book, he said. It’s all there.
Unfortunately, Thaddeus’s publications are hard to find. Seed Center Books published the Guide and other books by Thaddeus. I’d check other online booksellers, libraries, and used book shops as well.
My favorite aphorisms from the Guide appear near the end of the book under the heading Even Lazier:
What am I doing on a level of consciousness where this is real?
Whether I am conscious of it or not, I am one with the cause of all that exists.
Whether I feel it or not, I am one with all the love in the universe.
Go beyond reason to love: it is safe. It is the only safety.
All states of consciousness are available right now.
Enlightenment doesn’t care how you get there.
There is nothing you need to do first in order to be enlightened.
This, too, can be experienced with a completely expanded awareness.
I wouldn’t deny this experience to the One Mind.
What did you think it was that needed to be loved?
When you learn to love hell, you will be in heaven.
Thank you, brothers and sisters, for letting my consciousness be in this place.
My letter from Thaddeus
Back in the days when people wrote letters, I sent one to Thaddeus to tell him how much the Guide meant to me. Shortly before he died, he replied to me with a kind note.
That letter from Thaddeus ended with a new aphorism that he described as “the sum of his knowledge”:
No matter what happens, I am conscious all the time.
Life has a nasty habit of occasionally backing us into a corner and bringing us to our knees. In those moments we’ll probably find it hard to remember Thaddeus’s grand summary.
But, again, there is a chance that we can remember those two words:
Thanks, Thaddeus, for reminding us.