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, http://www.beezone.com/AdiDa/completingdiscourses/fundamentalstructureexistence.html%5D.
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