There was something profoundly touching, deeply human and utterly idiotic about the question.
And I mean it:
A (wo)man on an internet Buddhist bulletin board (general banter) had been to visit a center in England. S/he reported that the instructor there claimed to be Maitreya, the fully-realized future Buddha foretold in some literature... a kind of second coming of Christ without the Christian overlays. And the question posed by the visitor was: "He was a nice bloke but how do we know if one is Fully enlightened?"
No one wants to be taken as a fool. In spiritual endeavor, people open themselves up to one possible way of revising their lives for the better. To open up means to become vulnerable. And that vulnerability hopes not to get blind-sided by manipulators or charlatans. It longs to be nurtured and cared for and not abused. Whether that vulnerability is smart or stupid is not so much the point. The point is, people are vulnerable ... they have made a move and become tender where callouses had previously grown. They have entered a new and unknown terrain. In one sense, they are babes in the wood, no matter what the age. It's a risky move, leaving tried-and-true defenses behind. But no one wants to be taken for a chump.
In the world of Buddhism, I have run into these teachers who are willing to describe themselves as fully-realized beings. When called on these vainglorious assertions -- sometimes asserted quite baldly, sometimes suggested subtly by, for example, assuming a replica pose of some Buddha statue or painting ... you see? I'm sitting just like Kuan Yin so you can imagine I am Kuan Yin -- these people take refuge in the unassailable assertion that we are all Buddhas ... but they know who they are and you don't. "I know I'm Buddha; I know I'm fibbing, but I'm doing it for your benefit. What a good fellow I am." Sometimes, they actually start to believe their own eye wash. It's pathetic. It's sad. And it can be dangerous. What Buddha could possibly claim to be Buddha? When nailed down, these teachers whine, "I'm just a human being too, you know." It's slimy.
But none of these shenanigans are known to a newish and vulnerable student. The student has read books and gathered the inspirations and hopes that sent him or her to a center to further an understanding that is just starting to bud. S/he has taken a big risk, moving from the inspirations of books or talks to the actual-factual, breath-to-breath experience of a practice center. Confidence is wobbly at best because there is no bed-rock experience on which to base any certainty. It's new, it's novel and maybe it's a bit spooky. "What the hell have I gotten myself into??!!"
And if someone claims to be Maitreya, to be the who-is-what-is, how is anyone to know? Yes, there are books that delineate this mark or that evidence when it comes to enlightened beings, but such information and two bucks will get you a bus ride. If you don't know, you don't know and not-knowing is not all that bad. But it is that bad when consulting with the element that does not wish to be taken for a ride, to be taken for a fool.
Written down, all of this takes on a sure-footed cast, as if human situations could be parsed and in that parsing made easier. Seeking to be happy, seeking to be at peace is an utterly human pastime. Everyone wants to be happy, whether they're getting drunk eight nights a week or busting their buns to get a Ph.D. Some choose spiritual endeavor as a road to some something-or-other that will make them happier, more even-keeled, less uncertain in uncertain times. Maybe this guy is Maitreya, but the hard question that needs asking is, "So what?"
The world around us is filled with joy and sorrow, with honesty and chicanery, with delight and horror. Is there any question about this? It's just a plain fact, isn't it? Why should spiritual endeavor be any different? Anyone might squeeze their eyes shut, cross their fingers, and mutter an appropriate incantation as a means of dispelling what is negative or uncertain in their lives, but isn't it a fact that each has to make up his own mind about the world and its wiles and wonders? Never mind spiritual endeavor ... just the regular stuff.
Cross your fingers ... yes, I have met the one true teacher, the Buddha, Maitreya. Now what? Or no, this guy is looking for accolades and the big bucks. Now what?
Profoundly touching. The cries of the world cannot be dismissed or written off or cured with the wave of a wand. This is true stuff.
Deeply human. The longing to dispel uncertainty and to nourish peace and happiness is no small matter in anyone's actual-factual life. Try and fail and try again ... that seems to be the way of things. But it's not a matter of philosophy or religion. Philosophy and religion point ... individuals have to do the sometimes difficult walking. Deeply human.
And utterly idiotic. Imagining there is some other Buddha, some wand-waver, some perfected something-or-other may be understandable in a deeply human realm. But that doesn't change its idiotic nature. No one wants to be a chump. Everyone is a chump. Study and transform this chump ... it's the only choice anyone's got.
If you can't kick Buddha's ass, at least stop imagining Buddha could kick or bless your own.
Don't be a chump.