Spiritual enlightenment is one of the most elusive ideas in our lives. Nobody actually knows what it is, apart from a few people who are indeed enlightened. We don’t know who they are, as we don’t know what enlightenment is, and whether those people are honest or not, after all. If they are truly enlightened, they don’t talk about it, as there is no need for that, or it’s simply indescribable.
We could even say that every attempt to explain enlightenment or talk about it is rude or presumptuous. Maybe it is, but sometimes we simply are too curious and bold to do such things.
Nonetheless, if we want to talk about enlightenment, we have to define it in the first place. It’s not an easy task, however, and in this article I will use two sources: enlightenment as considered by some of the eastern spiritual traditions (as western traditions can have a completely different understanding of this term), and spiritual symbolism that can be found in modern physics.
If we want to talk about enlightenment, we have to define it in the first place.
The idea of spiritual enlightenment is present in all of the eastern spiritual traditions. The main four of them are Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Jainism, which offer these terms:
Although differing greatly in their views on enlightenment and one’s supposed path to it, these ancient spiritual traditions seem to agree upon this: enlightenment is a permanent, irreversible state of highest happiness, perfect stillness, inner freedom, liberation from suffering and rebirth, and realization of the highest truth.
Ancient spiritual traditions seem to agree upon this: enlightenment is a permanent, irreversible state of highest happiness, perfect stillness, inner freedom, liberation from suffering and rebirth, and realization of the highest truth.
Stages of Becoming Enlightened
In my opinion, it is not possible to distinguish any levels of enlightenment itself, as it is the final stage of awakening, the absolute liberation (whatever that means) and as such unequivocal and definite.
However, as there are many paths leading to it, there are numerous stages leading to that state, too. For example, in Theravada Buddhism, there are four stages of enlightenment. In this case, I would re-formulate this overview as the stages to enlightenment, except the fourth stage, which refers to the attributes of an enlightened human being.
These stages represent signposts on the gradual path of expansion of consciousness that leads toward the final goal, liberation.
Some spiritual traditions, however, like Zen Buddhism or Dzogchen, have a rapid or sudden approach to attaining enlightenment. Through their practices, they are trying to swiftly leave the mind behind and realize the Truth. While that approach is simpler and seemingly faster, it has its traps and may easily lead to a false sense of enlightenment.
 Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_stages_of_enlightenment
Some spiritual traditions, however, like Zen Buddhism or Dzogchen, have a rapid or sudden approach to attaining enlightenment.
There are also people, for whom the spiritual work is not necessary for achieving the final liberation. These relatively rare individuals apparently have mysterious inherent abilities and pre-conditions for attaining enlightenment. They usually achieve liberation suddenly, with little or no effort at all.
Here is an amazing story of Eckhart Tolle’s awakening:
“One night not long after my twenty-ninth birthday, I woke up in the early hours with a feeling of absolute dread. (…) ‘I cannot live with myself any longer.’ This was the thought that kept repeating itself in my mind. Then suddenly I became aware of what a peculiar thought it was. ‘Am I one or two? If I cannot live with myself, there must be two of me: the ‘I’ and the ‘self’ that ‘I’ cannot live with.’ ‘Maybe,’ I thought, ‘only one of them is real.’ I was so stunned by this strange realization that my mind stopped. I was fully conscious, but there were no more thoughts. Then I felt drawn into what seemed like a vortex of energy. It was a slow movement at first and then accelerated. I was gripped by an intense fear, and my body started to shake. I heard the words ‘resist nothing,’ as if spoken inside my chest. I could feel myself being sucked into a void. It felt as if the void was inside myself rather than outside. Suddenly, there was no more fear, and I let myself fall into that void. I have no recollection of what happened after that.
I was awakened by the chirping of a bird outside the window. I had never heard such a sound before. My eyes were still closed, and I saw the image of a precious diamond. Yes, if a diamond could make a sound, this is what it would be like. I opened my eyes. The first light of dawn was filtering through the curtains. Without any thought, I felt, I knew, that there is infinitely more to light than we realize. That soft luminosity filtering through the curtains was love itself. Tears came into my eyes. I got up and walked around the room. I recognized the room, and yet I knew that I had never truly seen it before. Everything was fresh and pristine, as if it had just come into existence. I picked up things, a pencil, an empty bottle, marveling at the beauty and aliveness of it all. That day I walked around the city in utter amazement at the miracle of life on earth, as if I had just been born into this world.
Viewing your Face in the Mirror of the Universe
Based on the first pillar of the Reintegration System
“Knock, And He'll open the door
Vanish, And He'll make you shine like the sun
Fall, And He'll raise you to the heavens
Become nothing, And He'll turn you into everything.”
Moving from belief to awareness
This passage by the poet Rumi, is both inspiring and profound, yet it is more than that. Rumi was describing the essential aspect from which all of existence arises from. It is this aspect of which humanity has been aware of since the dawn of its existence. For the most of this span of time, this aspect has been referred to as being a deity or the universe. Both of these terms have been widely used for as long as there have been discussions on creation or the nature of existence, though no person has ever seen a “god” or a “universe”. It is like the discovery that the world is round or that the Earth is not the center of the solar system. Unless you are a former astronaut, who has actually witnessed these things first hand, the best we can do is to accept it through faith and the credibility that we give our science community.
The evolution of human consciousness is approaching a level where we are coming closer to answering all of its existential questions as never before. It is not that this level of consciousness was not there before; it is our awareness of it that is creating a seismic shift in our understanding of what it is to be human or the nature of existence.
How do you know anything?
How do you know of god, or the lack of existence of one? How do you know if the universe is just a concept or if it actually exists? How do you know if the Earth is round or flat? How do you know of the solar system, this blog, or even of your own existence? The answer to all of these questions is awareness. Nothing can exist if there is a lack of awareness of it.
Taking it a step further, you are not aware of god, the universe, the Earth, the solar system, this blog, or yourself, you are aware of the thought of it. When we go into deep sleep, we have no experience of it, which is why you have no memory of experiencing deep sleep, when you wake-up the next morning. Though you have no memory of your experience in deep sleep, there is a lingering awareness that you did spend time there.
There is a reason why you lose all sense of self or sense of experience during deep sleep. The essence of who you are is awareness, not a mind and body. Further, your sense of personhood or “I,” is perceived by awareness as well. The truth of who you are is awareness or consciousness; everything else is just a thought. This is why you lose all sense of identity or experience in deep sleep, the awareness that is you is free from thought; all it knows is of itself. This is why you have appeared as a mind and body.
In order to expand itself, consciousness needs to experience contrast, which can only happen if it creates separation by manifesting itself as phenomena. As humans, we have been gifted with both thought and self-awareness. Thought allows us to experience contrast: We can learn the difference between light and dark, pain and pleasure, transcendence and suffering, or connection and isolation. It is through that which we focus on that informs pure or universal consciousness of itself. In response to this understanding, pure consciousness manifests the people, circumstances, and situations that are consistent with that which we are focusing on. It is this dynamic that is the heart of the Law of Attraction.
Uncovering the truth of your being
Everything is an aspect of consciousness. Since you are aware of yourself, the only thing that you can be is consciousness. You are the localization of universal consciousness experiencing itself as you, the “person.” With this understanding also comes the understanding that you are not in the universe; rather, the universe is within you. Everything that exists is appearing in your awareness, which is the most essential aspect of your being.
A useful metaphor for your relationship with consciousness is the ocean. The ocean is vast and mysterious, yet a drop from the ocean may seem insignificant. However, the drop is inseparable from the ocean, containing the exact same composition and ingredients as the ocean itself. All the rivers of the world drain into the ocean, and traces of all rivers can be found in the drop. The ocean is universal or pure consciousness, and you are the drop, the localized expression of it. But even this analogy is inaccurate as you cannot discriminate the drop of water from the ocean when the drop merges back into the ocean. Similarly, the belief that you are separate from consciousness is just that, a belief.
Here is a simple self-inquiry exercise to assist you in coming to this realization.
Returning to the last line of Rumi’s poem:
“Become nothing, And He'll turn you into everything,” the “He” is you as consciousness.
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