Benighted, Illumined, Awake or Enlightened

Enlightenment, what a concept!

If we, for the purpose of amusement, allow ourselves to forget for a moment that it is actually much more than a concept, then what do we make of all the conflicting and confusing claims and descriptions? I have met a wide range of people who claim to be enlightened. Some possess blazing siddhis, some have astonishing transmission capabilities, some just sit there with all the charisma and presence of Uncle Fred reading the morning paper. Some seem even more ordinary than that! And then there are the scary ones.

And what of all the varying declarations that attempt to illustrate this exulted state? Can they all be correct or describing the same experience?

I don’t think so.

In this essay I’m not at all interested in suggesting a superior path to enlightenment, or, for that matter, any preferred realization. I am simply trying to clear a little bit of the confusion from the descriptive term ‘enlightenment’.  This term has been used to describe what seems to me are clearly different experiences and realizations, and it only makes sense to begin to if possible, attempt to organize these different realizations into distinct categories, with specific names.

The Truth itself being unspeakable, saying something unambiguous about the various paths of Truth is likewise foreboding. Yet, there is so much confusion about the question of exalted states of being, spiritual principles, teachings and realizations, that I thought I would like to do my bit to straighten out what I can, and try to bring a tiny bit of order to the whole affair.

In the course our lives we all encounter advocates of many various spiritual ‘brands’ who champion ideal Masters and Teachings, Principles and Practices, sometimes assuming good-heartedly that all ‘brands’ are the same, and at other times assuming that each is an entire universe to itself. What follows will be a ‘meta-path’ discussion that delineates the essential principles that most of the great spiritual traditions of humanity are built upon. That, not to sow differences between people, but just to keep it real.

About that long standing tradition of good-heartedly affirming that ‘all paths lead to the same goal’, that statement is not actually true, except in the ultimate sense that we all are of One Source, and must also ‘return’ to that same Source. Adi Da Samraj wrote a fine book on the subject that was entitled “The Great Path of Return” in which he identified the distinct and varied Samadhis and Realizations. In it he made it quite clear that different paths were of very differing qualities. I want to build upon that insight and offer a broader picture that takes into account the cultural and communications developments of the last 35 years or so since that’s book was published. I also want to suggest a naming convention to the various realizations identified. Because, in spite of the feel-good rhetoric evidenced in many of the great traditions and paths, worldviews and teachers, there clearly are, to my mind, very significant and fundamental differences between the lot.

The premise that I will be working with is that there are 4 major regions of human evolution: materialism, mysticism, presentness, and enlightenment. As for the question: “what is Enlightenment”, I suggest that there are two fundamental criteria that are useful in assessing a given realization: disposition and capability.

In order to illustrate the handling of these 2 basic principles it will be useful to first discuss the context from which these principles are extracted. For convenience sake I would like to apply a label to each of these 4 key regions of human development in order to make the discussion a little simpler and more manageable. However we have all used these terms in the past is no great matter to me here, as there are so many contradictions in usage that it’s impossible to appease everyone. So I will utilize these labels somewhat arbitrarily, noting that some readers will inevitably have preferred different verbal usages.

The 4 categories are :

1. the benighted state

2. the awakened state

3. the illumined or mystical  state

4. the realized or enlightened state

the Benighted State is perhaps the easiest category to locate and could be characterized by a profound self-division wherein one is locked into lower, gross functional awareness, and due to the pain and suffering encountered in holding such a disposition, usually striving to be elsewhere, in another state of being (safer, richer, more popular, more pleasurized etc. ). It has often been described as the Materialist path. “There is nothing ‘above or beyond,’ so let me just have my fun before I go into that Dark Night.”

The Awakened state can been described as a disposition of acceptance of exactly where you are at, focusing on one’s present experience, feeling of being, or state. Adepts of this lineage eschew seeking of any kind. The awakened state (as either a goal or as an attainment) is usually characterized by a disdain or at least disinterest in higher mystical, spiritual or cosmic experience. It is fundamentally grounded in the present tense, not only in time and space but personhood- where and who you are right now.  Jed McKenna and Advaita appear to speak this gospel.
This realization is probably to be associated with awakening to the causal self. The paragraph below features Adi Da Samraj describing the qualities of this realization, and he makes it quite clear that there is a contracted form of this realization, as the causal self, as well as a free, divine aspect as well.
“The right side of the heart is associated with the deep principle of the ego, the deep subjectivity of egoity. It is the root of attention and the feeling of relatedness or “difference”. That is the causal body or causal subjectivity of egoity. Beyond that, in the Perfectly Subjective Depth beyond the causal knot, is the Domain to be Realized. It is Perfectly Subjective, not objective. Attention cannot reach to It. Only when attention is transcended is there entry into that Domain. But because the process of Awakening to that Domain is associated with the transcendence of the causal knot, I say that the right side of the heart is also associated with the Realization of the Divine Self-Condition”  [The Great Path of Return vs. the Radical Path of Understanding by Ruchira Avatar Adi Da Samraj, Chapter 3, The Paradox of Instruction, 1977,

We may assume that some people claiming ‘enlightenment’ are indeed referencing some degree of attunement to the contracted and limited form of self known as causal self. It may indeed be a relatively liberated state, but it is not enlightened, it is ‘Awake’ .

(Indeed I would go so far as to speculate that this ‘awakened state’ is the human equivalence to the non-anxious-connected consciousness that animals seem to enjoy. Animals cope rather well with the fact that, even in the wild, when only a few steps away from a browsing predator, they do not become neurotic nuts. They appear awake, but as I understand them, they are neither illumined, nor realized! (both of which I will explain below).

The Illumined or mystical state refers to the achievement or goal of traditional spiritual cultures and it’s aspirations to achieve union or reunion with the Source, as God-head or Creator of ‘All that Is’, by ascending to the interior heights of human structural functionality, located in the subtlest reaches of the mind. It proposes Seeking as a method, and rejects the wisdom of acceptance of what is (even while often proclaiming it), and what one has manifested, and instead prescribes methods and relationships designed to wrangle the disciple into another space and time, and an expanded subjective self-sense. That space and time is characterized and identified with all the bells and whistles of higher evolutionary consciousness of unity with All that Is. Christianity, Yoga and Hinduism fall into the category of seeking.

In this case, yogis, spiritual adepts, and spiritual mystics who commune with the proverbial ‘Blue Pearl’ and all the high Samadhis are indeed ‘illumined,’ but not necessarily ‘awake’ or ‘enlightened’, because they famously refuse to be at peace with their humanity and mortality. They are either seeking for something or even seeking an absence of seeking.

I believe it might be fair to say that traditional Buddhism is a hybrid of the awakened path and the illumined seekers path. It is based partly on no-seeking for change of state, yet gives the practitioner a full and consuming lifestyle of practices to sustain their drive of ascetical avoidance, and denial of worldly functions and desires. It is not interested in higher mystical or spiritual experience or capability, but is willing to load up the practitioner with practices designed to affect change of state. Perhaps we could call this the aspiration of seeking for no-seeking.

What we can deduce by distilling the essential truths of these 3 great human paths discussed above is that there are indeed 3 great verities involved in achieving the ‘Completed State’ of human potential-

  • capacity for lower gross functionality, as acknowledged by the Materialists of the ‘benighted’ crew,
  • capacity for connectedness to the Source points of Creation, as affirmed by the ascending paths of mysticism and spirituality and yoga.
  • complete acceptance of what and who you are.

So if we extract the values of all 3 paths we find that we must acknowledge the lower values taken for the Materialists, and then join that with the higher experiences prized by the Mystics, they can then be combined to produce a single compounded principle of ‘full-spectrum functionality’.

The compounded value of ‘full spectrum functionality’ next combines with the principle of Acceptance (quality taken from the Awake-No-Seeking path of total acceptance). This combination reveals what I believe to be the fullest expression of human evolution – the Enlightened State. I suggest that Enlightenment is the capacity for complete Acceptance combined with full-spectrum functionality’.

We are then free to describe the qualities of the fulfillment of human evolutionary potential as ‘the Realized or Enlightened State’

The Realized or Enlightened man or woman would be as a person who is free to function at every possible level of human experience, from the most mundane or gross level, up to and including the most sublime, spiritual and mystical states of experience without any form of self-division and separativeness. He/she would also be accepting of whatever his current moment to moment experience is, and he would not be insistently refitting himself to some desired state of better or higher consciousness, although he may have easy access to it. Not insignificantly, he would also be comfortable with his or her base or lower self and its needs and preferences.

In short, the Realized or Enlightened State could be described as one of acceptance of whatever one is and is faced with in the any moment, combined with the natural capability of accessing the core bliss-freedom of higher consciousness, at will, and without extreme effort or splitting off from the mundane lower functional awareness. In my opinion this Realized State is the true ‘Enlightenment’.

Note: to complicate things even further, my ex teacher presented himself and his teaching as such an inclusive and complete entity, although many have asked serious questions over the years, not about whether or not he functioned easily in both higher (and lower areas) of human experience, or whether he was grounded in the ‘Eternal Now’ of presentness, but whether he had simply bypassed something as simple as basic moral responsibility and sensitivity to the needs of those around him. That was said because he often seemed oblivious to the common human anguish and practical human needs of those around him. He insisted upon being regarded as God Incarnate, and demanding absolute indulgence of his every whim and fancy, present and future.

Upon further reflection it may be noted that his ‘acceptance’ capability could also seem to be limited, as he was always driving everyone to save the world from itself, and also ruthlessly and relentlessly chastising devotees for their spiritual and developmental limitations. None of which is a compelling demonstration of acceptance, I would think. The point being that these qualities suggests that it is possible to miss an important ‘piece’ somewhere along the way, even while presenting to the world a very convincing and accomplished image.

Overview and Summary:

The mystical or illumined state refers to the achievement (or aspiration) of traditional spiritual cultures (for higher Attainment-Acquisition). The paths leading to this realization tends to ignore or deny the wisdom of acceptance, by insisting upon attainment of higher consciousness using practices and exercises that are considered essential and appropriate for spiritual life (since what you have in this moment clearly isn’t enough!). Even great success on this path often leaves the person with lingering lower issues yet unresolved. (think of the many scandals involving great eastern saints and western religious leaders who are eventually revealed to be not-so-free-after-all from their lower appetites.)

The awakened state cultures typified by the modality of Acceptance and No-Seeking, produce paths that may tend to ignore or deny or denigrate the connection to the ‘Well’ of deeper, innate and inherent ecstatic joy, having seen themselves and too many other seekers seduced by the lure of higher spiritual experience, and, as a result, becoming ‘spiritual materialists’. About those who have apparently mastered this path I can only speculate. Perhaps Jed Mckenna or U.G. Krishnamurti would be examples of such an ‘Awakened’ success story. But I wouldn’t know enough about either to say much about them or any actual personal limitations.

All that being said, I must confess that, having spoken in absolutes, and in terms of distinct categories and states of being, I would say that any of these realizations must likely be seen in relative terms. In other words, it may well be that some great master was ‘relatively enlightened’ at one point in their life, (whatever Path they trod), and likely became after some more time, MORE enlightened. Just as I think any serious spiritual practitioner would allow that they are more ‘enlightened’ now than when they started out 10 or 20 years ago. My ex teacher described four phases of his enlightenment: “Divine Indifference, Divine Transfiguration, Divine Transformation, and Divine Translation”. That said it has been argued very well and very forcefully that ‘relative realizations’ especially concerning ‘enlightenment’ are anything but relative. I think Adi Da put it this way: ‘it would be like being ‘a little bit pregnant’. But that is my opinion at this point.

In summary, what we can deduce by distilling the essential truths of these great paths is that there are two great verities involved in achieving the ‘Completed’ state of human potential- ‘Enlightenment’ = utter acceptance of what is, and full capacity to function in every structural dimension of our humanity, as both are required to ‘achieve’ full and true Realization.

Both the acceptance path and the seeking path (not to mention the materialist path) are founded on one hand upon truths, but on the other, hampered by a subtle forms of self-division and limitation.

The Acceptance path produces a present and grounded ‘realist’, yet who is tending to be cut off from our inherent joy and ecstasy, for fear of being seduced by spiritual materialism.

The Attainment path in its fulfillment produces a spiritual mystic, who is to some degree, fearfully cut off from his lower self and its functions by a fear of being seduced by its charms.  The Attainment achievement may produce a somewhat hollow human expression as a result of abandoning the lower limb of the human personality.

All the paths of human experience can produce results and changes of state. But the great variety of extraordinary states accessible to us means that one simple term cannot be used to describe them all without completely losing its meaning, a consequence that has befallen the term ‘Enlightenment,’ as well as terms such as Love, God, Truth, and Spirit.

My hope is that this discussion will shed a little bit of light on a very confusing area of spiritual conversation and consideration.

Last edited on March 15, 2011 at 11:01 am


22 Responses to Benighted, Illumined, Awake or Enlightened

  1. Reading ‘Non-Duality for Dummies’ has made me suspicious of all dividing lines delineating categories, however handy they might be for shoring up belief structures. Therefore I have written an essay titled: ‘The 7 Stages of Realizing There are No Stages to Realize’. I hope this helps.

  2. letranger101 says:

    This is something Jed really hates, but there is a perfectly good scientific explanation for awakening and truth realization, based on the ideas of the one-world-per-observer paradigm of modern cosmology (cosmic solipsism) and the holographic principle of quantum gravity. See: for the details.

  3. nondoer2013 says:

    The complete and utter annihilation of boredom…an ongoing participation in a meaningful life.

  4. Iain says:

    how is language an imposition?

  5. rubenmoon says:

    Growing up in the drug culture this idea didn’t shock me. I have seen the damage drugs have done, especially the ones that came after LSD, cocaine and crack, but I have noticed one thing. Those who haven’t done drugs haven’t had the experience, even though he experience is different for everybody. To me, it was an experience of oneness, seeing the inch-relatedness of the universe, but that particular kind of LSD for some reason doesn’t exist anymore.

    Of all the comedians, the one that stands out is Bill Hicks. Now Bill wasn’t into drugs per se, more into alcohol, but his drug experience shifted his point of view that other comedians didn’t have. The other probably did drugs, but it affected Bill in a way that was kinda “spiritual.”

    I think that’s what Jed was getting at. When you’re stuck in a perspective, something drastic needs to hit it to see something else. I use to get that from pot. I can’t smoke it anymore, thank goodness, but when I took it I would automatically see how stuck I was in way I was seeing life, it was a shift, but then the demons would show up later…..but the insight was priceless.

    The point is, after all this spirituality stuff humanity has been doing, very few are waking up. Anything to shift our perception can help, but can also damage, but we’re already damaged. We’re headed into the 6th extinction, a person starves to death every 3.6 seconds, the corral reefs are dying, we need a shift, and what we’re doing ain’t working.

    I have tried to share information that incorporates the essence of all religions and quantum mechanics and it has literally baffled me the disinterestedness of others. Now they never tell me why, but what I have seen is that most have found a “school” of thought and anything out of that pigeonhole is not let in.

    It’s the human condition, the ego has its walls, and anything, mostly Truth, won’t be let in, for it will be a destruction, as Jed so well described. We don’t want the truth, we can’t handle the truth, for it will annihilate the ego and its ideologies and philosophies, its boundaries.

    I think that’s the appeal of drugs, breaking on through to the other side. I think it’s cheating, for me it was. But after the experience I knew there was more to life than the matrix. Perhaps that’s the point, get a glimpse of being out of the matrix and then come back and work your ass off the see beyond it while in it, not escaping it, just seeing the dream for what it is and playing your role as you see fit. IMHO.

  6. heldenkline says:

    Jason Kephas writes: “the one thing about the writings that has seriously created doubt and skepticism in me about JM is his avocation of LSD in the bonus material of Spiritual Warfare. I was totally flabbergasted by this. For someone who deconstructs just about every form of spiritual technique and philosophy he can put his scalpel to, to say that LSD had the potential for an authentic planetary awakening made no sense at all to me.”

    In my new copy of “Spiritual Warfare” I came across those same passages from “The Notebook”, and my stomach just dropped. His friend (Frank, was it?) had thought out this theory about a conspiracy of repression in the USA. Okay–interesting idea. But, will LSD make us better people or just make us want more experiences? I won’t write it off entirely, because if your thinking is entirely hidebound, maybe that will give you a little glimpse of how arbitrary perception is; how the brain can work differently. Oliver Sacks has a new book out about his own drug experiences–it’s interesting. But is Dr. Sacks a better scientist or more awakened because of them? No.

  7. rubenmoon says:

    Waking up to see no one to wake up. Maya, or untruth never existed. Truth is!

    Roger Ebert on the upcoming movie “Samsara”:

    “I learn from Wikipedia that ‘samsara,’ literally meaning ‘continuous flow,’ is “the repeating cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth” within such Indian religions as Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.”

  8. Plinio A. Iglesias says:

    A copy of Notebook in my hand, start reading the blog, half way reading I am deep in another layer of sleep ; Niguelmartin “wakes me up” thanks Niguel! ………and there I go for another Stop & Go.
    nice blog to be in. guess this awakening state is as good as flowing with watever the river brings.

    Thanks for being there.


  9. rubenmoon says:

    Yepper. I think these guys can’t give it to us, they just make us more thirsty. The irony of the whole thing is that they stoke our desire to find out that which is beyond desire. It’s the goofiest thing in the world. Buddhas trying to be Buddhas, a fish looking for the ocean. What a journey to find out there isn’t one. The paradoxes pile up quick. What a trip!

  10. James says:

    The more I read the more I realize I just need to find out for myself.

  11. Doug says:

    Just joined the Blog and it doesn’t feel like”Jed space” at all. Feels like I took the road more traveled. Best to retrace my steps.

  12. rubenmoon says:

    My take on it is that it’s almost impossible to wake up, so any device can be used. I’ve noticed a difference in people who have taken acid, their perception of life is not as solid. The perfect example is Bill Hicks. The stuff he came up with was because he got to see a much different perspective on life than someone who works the 8-5 until he dies of a heart attack before retirement. I know these are all generalities, but any shift in perception can help to realize there’s more to life than what we’ve been taught. Check out DMT movie on Hulu. I myself don’t even smoke pot anymore, because even if you cheat and go to an altered state you still have to come back and face the lies that you live by. Remember, what we’re doing has an almost absolute failure rate. Good luck!

  13. jedmckenna says:

    Yeah, I had the same reaction. I don’t know what to make of it. They are being looked at these days in terms of treating alcoholics, so I am sure they have some value to some people, but…

  14. Jason Kephas says:

    I wasn’t sure where to post this, hope this is suitable enough.

    the one thing about the writings that has seriously created doubt and skepticism in me about JM is his avocation of LSD in the bonus material of Spiritual Warfare. I was totally flabbergasted by this. For someone who deconstructs just about every form of spiritual technique and philosophy he can put his scalpel to, to say that LSD had the potential for an authentic planetary awakening made no sense at all to me. I was left wondering if JM was pulling our legs or deliberately undermining his message by making such a dubious argument.

    I’ve had dozens of experiences with hallucinogens and I am not awake because of it. Far from it. Nor do I know a single person who shows evidence of being awakened due to their use. On the other hand, I’ve seen stacks of evidence that hallucinogens cause ego inflation, psychological imbalance, and physical (or energetic) damage. Over all, I’d say the loss definitely outweighs the gains, my own case included. And I wasn’t using them recreationally either, but “shamanically,” or so I believed at the time.

    I’d certainly like to call Mckenna to task on this one – if only I could find him!

  15. jedmckenna says:

    Why don’t you do us all a big favor and tell us what is on your mind, rather than fobbing your sarcasm off with a meaningless reference to Jed. The piece is NOT about Jed’s POV, That should be most obvious.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Have you ever read one of Jed´s Books?
    If you do, you have missed the point!

    Just read it again…

  17. daz says:

    I found some accuracy in your description:

    “The Realized or Enlightened man or woman would be as a person who is free to function at every possible level of human experience, from the most mundane or gross level, up to and including the most sublime, spiritual and mystical states of experience without any form of self-division and separativeness. He/she would also be accepting of whatever his current moment to moment experience is, and he would not be insistently refitting himself to some desired state of better or higher consciousness, although he may have easy access to it. Not insignificantly, he would also be comfortable with his or her base or lower self and its needs and preferences.

    In short, the Realized or Enlightened State could be described as one of acceptance of whatever one is and is faced with in the any moment, combined with the natural capability of accessing the core bliss-freedom of higher consciousness, at will, and without extreme effort or splitting off from the mundane lower functional awareness. In my opinion this Realized State is the true ‘Enlightenment’.”

    In my experience, when the last remaining doubts dissolve [ a seeming spontaneous by-product of a proper inquiry ] the entire creation simply folds within the Self. [ Self being awareness, consciousness or Light.] There is nothing without me and I remain as I am, whether the world is engaged or entirely dismissed in me. “There’s no need to indulge in that!”

    One of the greatest aids to inquiry on this journey, was an exposure to a teaching that described the creation and my true place in respect to it. Understanding which clarified my previously limited comprehension, and invited a deeper and fruitful inquiry into my experience. We are whole and complete, ordinary, changeless awareness and all fluctuation simply appears in us.

    I would also caution the use of the word ‘state’ to identify ‘enlightenment’ as states merely appear temporarily in the real.

    I appreciate your efforts here.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this article! Very interesting, helps me clarify some stuff I have been thinking about myself.

  19. jedmckenna says:

    Thanks Nigel. All I would remark about your comment is that old saying “first there is a story, then there isn’t, then there is”

  20. nigelpmartin says:

    Anything we are told, read or hear in regard to any subject is second-hand information. It may be true, it may not be true. The whole religious experience may be nothing short of a kind of madness… Those who need to believe there is a god to look after them will derive a certain comfort to help live a life fraught with problems. That’s OK.

    What does seem clear and testable on a personal level is our lack of awareness of life. We seem to be in a half sleep. Stuck In our mind’s stories that seem to have a life of their own. I cannot chose to stop them. Nevertheless the extraordinary capacity to stand back and observe the mind seems to be the only true option? It is not an obvious option and it was suggested to me from something I came across quite a while back. But that is really the end of the story.

    Where it take us, what it does, how it does it, why it does it, etc?… is irrelevant. But actually seeing that stories will never give you anything but confusion and conflict brings us to the only choice we have; to see what’s really going on within us.

    All this said about the nature of words… words also act as inspirational reminders to bring us to leave their webs and shift focus into “seeing”. This radical change of habit is not easy and takes time to break. What can we do be allow our passion to flow through words. The great danger is the growth of a magnificent spiritual story that could go on for ever and ever. Holy thoughts are no better than any other thoughts, they are all distractions…

  21. nigelpmartin says:

    Yes, it’s a well articulated article but isn’t it just a whole load of speculation? It occurs to me, that the whole religious, spiritual enlightenment game is nothing but a story. An elaborate story similar in structure to all the other stories we’ve managed to cook up. Now just in saying that I see that there is a human tendency to be “into stories” as we enjoy and seem to need the buzz they give to our lives in meaning and purpose and quite simply give us something to do. This obsession with inner thought stories seems to be the essence of the human condition and that’s OK isn’t it? Why not? It’s what we are? It’s what we do? It’s what I am doing now?

    All the words and concepts and ideas seem to require a “belief in them” for them to have any significance or meaning. But words don’t seem to have any relationship with life. They are stories about life… what it may or may not be or become… A point comes where words really lose their meaning and value. Obviously they have a place, a limited place in living; sounds uttered that help us locate and hunt and gather and reproduce for survival purposes… as do animals. That’s fine and very useful time saving and worth passing on. The bus leaves at 10:22pm.

    To arrive at “seeing” the meaninglessness of words, would it seems, unravel and release us from the “story addicted mind”. What is it that see through the false pointless sea of word games is a mystery… And what is left? A place too boring to be true? A place where the mind is still? A place where seeing is all that is left… just a place a simple place where seeing looks upon the the inconceivable through eyes that stopped belonging to a story. What now? Just this.

  22. carrie says:

    The imposition of language impedes our understanding of so many things, doesn’t it?

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