Enlightenment – What it is
There is an abundance of ideas on what enlightenment is. These ideas involve
- the enlightened one, trying to express his reality in words, i.e. trying to translate non-duality into a dual language-system;
- the unenlightened person trying to understand those words. Here it is inevitable that his mind creates an idea of its own.
Of course there is also the situation in which someone makes statements about enlightenment that are merely founded on his ideas as he does not know exactly what he is talking about. His ideas are then translated by the listener (who knows just as little what is meant) into his own world of ideas.
No matter how one looks at it: in any case, the result is nothing but an idea. Only the enlightened one can know what enlightenment is. All others just have ideas. These may be close to reality or far removed from it, but they are never congruent.
On the personality level things are similar: no-one except me alone knows how it is to move through life with this body-mind-system. The difference to the transpersonal level lies in the fact that each individual has a different attitude towards life – which is impossible to communicate. Enlightenment, on the other hand, is exactly the same for everyone, yet cannot be communicated either.
What are these ideas?
Here just a choice of some of these ideas on enlightenment:
The enlightened person no longer has a self; he is empty and his mind is only operated if he chooses to do so.
When he is asleep, he is always conscious and when awake omniscient, at least if he wants to be.
He is always in the present; past and future do not exist for him.
He is always in an exuberant state of bliss and avails over supernatural powers, even if he doesn’t talk about them.
He perceives the world entirely differently from common mortals.
He is without desires, has neither preferences nor dislikes, nor expectations.
He loves everyone and everything likewise and is always aware of what is going on in his body-mind-system and in his surroundings.
Meanwhile, word has spread in the spiritual scene that extreme forms of expression are not necessary, although most people secretly expect for them to manifest themselves – at least in their teacher – and in case they do not, they assume that the teacher is merely too modest to reveal them. Furthermore, they hope that enlightenment will go hand-in-hand with extraordinary forms of expression in their own case: such as an overwhelming charisma, always and continuously sending out love and bliss, eternal vigor, strength and health – and at least one ought to be able to decipher the Akashic records ...
Apart from that, there are many ideas regarding the moment when enlightenment happens, a moment that has to be staggering as well. Maybe one has read that this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, but this could be probably an understatement: something so extraordinary, as the moment of enlightenment simply has to be staggering!
And what about reality?
As mentioned before, all ideas about enlightenment are false – simply because they come from the mind of someone who does not know. Hence, to begin with, one has to counter these ideas with a definition of enlightenment that is as simple and clear as possible.
Enlightenment irrevocably reveals the True Self, which has always been there already, but not yet evident to the seeker. This True Self is not something one does not know and which one suddenly discovers for the first time: after all it is one’s own self. It is rather something one knows very well, but its immense meaning has not yet been revealed so far. Enlightenment means that this immense meaning has become clear and remains clear.
Consequently the True Self is not something that can be found somewhere else in time and space, but it has always and continuously been at the core of one’s own being and it has been overlooked always and continuously.
As the True Self is always there, it is also always part of everything one experiences. Actually everyone experiences it at any given moment. No matter how grand, terrible, boring, metaphysical or “spiritual” – any experience consists of the True Self (which is its witness) plus the shape the respective experience takes. While the shape changes constantly according to the great variety of experiences, the True Self remains unchanged. The True Self may perceive these changes, it does not change because of them, nor does it have any impact on them. The True Self is free.
All experiences – of the world, of the one’s own body, of one’s own thinking and feeling – all these experiences lead to what we experience as “me” which is not the True Self but the self we normally identify with, I tend to call it the “I”. This I minus all experiences is the True Self. As we don’t know this, we will regard “enlightenment” as an experience, too, which happens, just like any other experience, to the I, thus “enriching” it.
Here is some logical thinking:
If enlightenment is the indelible knowledge of the True Self and at the same time enlightenment is something that happens to the I, this means that the True Self happens to the I. As compared to the True Self, one cannot call the I “true”, because why not then stick with it instead of starting to search for the True Self?
That which is true thus happens to that which is not true. That which is true is added to what is not true. Guess what will happen? What happens if reality is added to a dream idea? There is only one possible answer: If what is true is recognized by what is untrue , that which is untrue (including its recognition) is “swallowed” by what is true. The construct of the I (including its search for enlightenment) vanishes. The True Self remains.
While the I becomes richer with every experience, the knowledge of what it actually is seals its expiry.
The seeker, however, has the idea that on his spiritual path one spiritual experience is followed by the next one, gradually enriching his I, up to the point of enlightenment, when the I is handed the crown of all experiences: the crown of the True Self.
Most ideas regarding enlightenment obviously reflect a “more” of desirable conditions and their desirable outcomes – not a more that may pass continuously, but a more that will continue to exist eternally once enlightenment has happened: omniscience, omnipotence, bliss, unconditional love, unconditional contentment, health, supernatural powers (part of omnipotence) and a great charisma. Even if we talk about emptiness or being free from thinking, the feelings associated with the idea of enlightenment are highly pleasurable, and these pleasurable feelings happen to the I and enrich it.
However, if we follow the above analysis and recognize that the I, which hopes to finally encounter all the pleasures of this wonderful state of being at the end of the path, will not survive this end, it may become a little easier to at least question one’s own set of ideas about enlightenment.
Ideas and the Spiritual Search
Even if the message of an enlightened person or of a holy scripture may be true, the idea which thus arises in the seeker may so false that it puts massive barricades on the path of the seeker. In the next essay I would like to outline how the respective ideas on enlightenment may hinder or help the seeker. I, therefore, invite all readers to communicate their ideas or ideas they once had on enlightenment.
Every single idea has different advantages and disadvantages, but the biggest hurdle is always the seeker’s striving for what is impossible to reach: The I wants to be enlightened, thus becoming the True Self. Why is this impossible? Because the I defines itself by its separateness from everything else; otherwise it would not be the I. It may feel embedded, but ultimately it is different from the other I-s and the world. The True Self, on the other hand, is non-separate and limitless. Hence, in a manner of speaking, it doesn‘t take credit for anything, if because it doesn’t have anything to call its own. After all, for the True Self there is no Other. In contrast to this, the I refers everything to itself, it takes credit for everything. Even if it suffers due to its separateness again and again, it holds on to it, because its entire identity rests on the idea of separateness. Minus this separateness there is no I, but just the True Self.
Part 2 follows in February, titled: Enlightenment – What it is not
 In Advaita Vedanta this is referred to as “Akandakara Vritti”.