There. I said it. I used the E word. It is not a word that I ever imagined using. It’s a word that I have avoided for several reasons, which have evolved. (Today I finally had to add “enlightenment” as a blog category, due to this article.) Years ago, before what I call “the direct seeing,” I read the book After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, and it freaked me out.
Prior to that, I had heard a few short stories of enlightenment, and I was intrigued. I thought, “I want that.” But After the Ecstasy, the Laundry presented nasty stories of extended periods of hell, sometimes called, “dark nights” after an enlightenment experience–and that was the end of that! My life was already way better than that, so why risk it? I put it out of my mind.
Some time after the direct seeing (an event where no desire for enlightenment was present), I began to wonder what had happened, and began researching enlightenment again. But nothing matched. None of the descriptions of what enlightenment was even sounded real; they all were so conceptual.
I also noticed a lot of people writing about enlightenment who, at the end of the article, admitted they were not enlightened, and that made total nonsense to me. Why write about your opinion of it? Opinions of how honey *might* taste could not matter less if you have not tasted it. Who cares? It’s all conjecture. Why waste my time?
Then there were the people who spoke about enlightenment, but with an arrogance and a “bad smell” that came with it. A sense of superiority. I didn’t know what enlightenment was, but I know the smell of rot when it wafts.
Enlightenment became such a strange word for me, with various and completely different confusing accounts, none of them matching the “direct seeing.” Eventually I stopped looking, because, well, I just didn’t care. I was only drawn to the words of sages like Ramana Maharshi, and one day I stumbled across a description that fit. And it still didn’t matter.
(Then one day I came across another man’s story that was an exact match. And he was alive! That was neat. It confirmed that this was not a one-off freak incident in our day. There are others. But it still didn’t matter. What is, is. There is no what was. I never desired the past experience again, because the present Truth is all that matters.)
What is Enlightenment?
So many people use, and abuse, the word enlightenment, that it no longer carries the meaning it may once have, long before I crossed paths with it. Now it means a glorious mental-emotional experience, and people are on the hunt for that.
Yes, the moment of recognition is glorious, but if you think that’s it, you’ve missed the boat. Fireworks are a good analogy. Without the wick being lit, there are no fireworks. So which matters more, the fireworks, or the wick? Which came first? It’s not that the glorious fireworks “enlighten” you; they are a symptom, not the cause. You cannot manufacture enlightenment.
Spiritual Enlightenment vs. Experiences
Yet people try. They seek out altered states, visions, and phenomena, “peaceful, blissful experiences” which they mistake for enlightenment, and which are a dime-a-dozen. So now it seems “enlightened” people are a dime-a-dozen. However, these experiences come and go, leaving the person wanting them again and again. With each repeated experience you are not “getting closer,” to the “final” awakening–you are addicted. Thus, you are “further away” than ever before.
These people don’t know who or what they are, or what the world is, and what’s going on here. They are still full of questions and are seeking. We can experience all manner of altered states, visions, and phenomena, but still imagine separation–self and other–and therefore suffer.
The best thing that can happen after a dime-a-dozen spiritual experience is a humble recognition that things are not as you thought they were. Keep going.
The worst thing that can happen after a spiritual experience is to think you have “arrived” and to use it to delude yourself. Or worse still, to modify your ego, your sense of self, into a “spiritual” one, an ego who is enlightened–and to begin teaching your delusion.
You may not smell your own bad breath, but others do.
This is the worst thing that can happen, not only to you, but to the people you will mislead and draw into your delusion. It will take a long time, if ever, to transcend this happy delusion, because it sounds so good. Suffering has a better chance than this of bringing you to Self-Realization, because you will not be happy, and you will continue seeking truth.
Enlightenment is not acquired
Self-Recognition does not come with an “I” who is enlightened and who can now enlighten others. It comes with utter humility, ordinariness, and silence. Beware of deceiving yourself, and others, for the price of that responsibility is too high.
I have done private one-on-one work to show people who they are not; to expose the ego. That can cause quite a lot of upheaval, a shake-up of your identity, of who you think you are. With this gap, when the false is temporarily removed, there may be an opportunity for realization of truth, but what happens more often than not, at first, is that it is merely replaced with another idea of who you are. Like a “non-person,” or the “unlimited,” or “who I am cannot be spoken,” or worse, “I am enlightened.” These are cheap grabs at another thought-form about yourself. You have not Self-Realized.
Having not Self-Realized, you cannot speak of, or point to, the one Self. If you haven’t tasted honey, you don’t actually know honey, though you may have studied volumes of literature on it and speak like you know. That is just lip service. Book learning is just thought knowledge, not direct knowledge, and so therefore not true knowledge. Not having direct knowledge of your true Self, you know nothing about the Absolute, the Eternal, the Real. So you certainly can’t point to it. All you can speak about are still, peaceful, or happy experiences–all temporary.
Never stop. Never feel you are “awakened” or “enlightened,” for if you do–“Who” is enlightened?
The ego has risen again.
Having done self-inquiry or exposed the ego, and made the discernment and discovery of who and what you are not, stand in that truth, be still, do not grab another false idea.
But do not stop there either; continue to inquire further into your true identity. Knowing who or what you are not, is not the end. “Who are you, factually, permanently, actually, *really*?
And yes, this can be known, but not with, through, or as thought. It does not come with the mind of yourself; it is the end of the mind of yourself. How will you know if you have realized the Self? First of all you won’t be asking this question. (And not as an arrogant “I” who doesn’t “need” to answer this question. The question just won’t be there, because the separate “I” is not there.)
Not being a thought, Self-Realization cannot be imagined. Therefore, it will be utterly shocking. There won’t be “me and my awakening,” and you won’t tell stories of it, because you won’t be able to speak of it.