Enlightenment - What it is not
To begin with, some excerpts from what readers wrote to me with regard to their (mostly former) ideas about enlightenment:
“The enlightened person is wise (as pointing in the direction of being omniscient or at least able to know the world of another person’s thoughts), gentle, patient, tolerant. Not prone to addictions, not obese, able to meditate for hours, the spirit rules the body, able to heal.”
“Having attained enlightenment, everything is finally alright. One is in a permanent state of meditation. The mind is totally silent. One no longer cares about the body, but it is highly sensitized, since all energy moves toward higher things. Of course one has supernatural powers; one is able to read thoughts etc. One no longer sleeps, nor does one dream any longer.”
“The enlightened person is a sort of Übermensch – better, more dignified and sitting atop of the summit. Loves me and wants to help me grow.”
…is something one can create or obtain, an achievement
… is a spiri-award
… makes immortal
… brings lasting happiness, joy, wealth.”
“An enlightened person knows everything, sees through everything and everyone, never makes mistakes, and is always happy. He is being served and revered, because he is busy working with people at a more subtle level day and night, helping them and healing the world. He has to be protected from the world, because he is totally open and aware of everything.”
“One can no longer live independently and is in need of someone to prepare one’s food.”
“Enlightenment is only something for very holy people. Enlightenment makes immortal, one becomes one with the source.”
“If a person is enlightened, he no longer needs anything, but he receives everything. One has transcended sex and lives constantly on a cosmic high. Thus one is beyond hunger, thirst, the temperature of the surroundings etc. If the enlightened person falls ill, it is only because he has taken over other people’s karmas, in order to alleviate their fate. He knows all past lives, his own as well as those of others.”
About the moment of enlightenment
“As we consist of a male and female energy and have been born into life because of it, I can imagine that this melting also comes with an orgasmic sensation. I don’t how overwhelming this feeling is, but it may be frightening, since the “drop” disappears or dies. Opening toward the vastness of the ocean truly implies courage. One may also die of it.”
All these ideas have nothing to do with enlightenment basically, which gradually becomes clear to most seekers. Still, many ideas stay persistly. One can’t do anything against them directly, except realizing again and again that these are notions that are NOT congruent with their contents. Just like a country one has read a lot about, but which is different, however, if one actually lives there.
Such ideas play the role of a carrot dangling in front of the seeker’s nose initially, so that he may not quit immediately, as soon as the path becomes bumpy. In that respect such notions serve a purpose. But in case they continue to exist, they are obstructive, because they increase the gap between the seeker and what is sought. However, since – ultimately – there is no gap as the seeker IS what is sought, these ideas prevent the seeker from coming closer to the truth.
Another major obstacle for the seeker is the belief that enlightenment is something for the highest developed beings and is thus far out of this reach: the seeker of truth assumes that he will never be a finder of truth. This is a pity, because – after all – just about every finder of truth used to be a seeker of truth.
Some teachers say “You cannot find enlightenment. It finds you.” This is true. However, many seekers read this as “You don’t need to search for enlightenment, because it will find you anyhow.” In fact, it is rather rarely that enlightenment finds someone who hasn’t sought it. Instead of “enlightenment” I use the term “highest knowledge”, as it conveys better why it is necessary to make an effort before one has it. Knowledge rarely comes “just like that”.
Many ideas describe the behavior and experience of the enlightened one rather correctly:
“No matter what happens to him, an enlightened person can deal with it without any problems, beyond the concepts of good and bad.
Emotions appear and pass without leaving a lasting impression; they do not manifest anywhere (neither physically, spiritually nor mentally).”
“No-one can cause any hurt to an enlightened person.”
“One is free of fear; one is free inside, full of love.”
“One is able to accept anything, as it is, and one is no longer in a state of resistance.”
“One watches the game of life while leaning back in a relaxed manner. One listens to the mind, knowing that this is nothing but a flow of thoughts.”
What I said in the previous essay applies also to what is mentioned above and to similar ideas: that the unknowing mind can only imagine enlightenment as a state of being. Yet, since enlightenment is not a state, the ideas are inevitably incorrect, even though they point in the right direction.
A short videoclip (2 ½ minutes) illustrates this point:
J. Carrey says here: “At least I know where I want to go”, thus confirming that certain ideas manage to keep the seeker interested as they serve a certain cause. He also states that “the feeling is amazing”, apparently unaware of the fact that where he actually wants to go cannot be what he has experienced; after all Carrey is not searching for a feeling. Moreover, he is actually looking for something permanent. What he experienced, however, has not remained.
Such distinctions are important, so that the seeker may not continuously run after something he is – at closer inspection – not looking for.
How does enlightenment happen?
I have pointed out many times that according to Advaita Vedanta all exercises merely serve to put the mind into a state of relative relaxation – so that it is then capable of achieving the highest knowledge. What is necessary in order to achieve it? Making an effort, mostly through many, many conversations with a teacher, who has already attained this knowledge. This will rarely be possible all alone. Conversations have to be distinguished clearly from spiritual exercises. Spiritual exercises serve their purpose, but they don’t bring about enlightenment.
From an interview with the Non-Duality Magazine,
Your question hints at the consequences of enlightenment. The decisive answer to this question on the part of Advaita Vedanta is: “uniquely and exclusively understanding/recognition.” However, Advaita Vedanta does not deny that enlightenment may happen in various philosophical or religious contexts. There are wonderful, enlightened beings in Buddhism, in Sufism, in Christianity or wherever. Even if they assume that “their” enlightenment has been brought about by meditation, whirling (the dance of the dervish), fasting or prayer, they nevertheless always listened to their holy scriptures, besides meditating, whirling, fasting or praying. The recognition of one’s own true nature (Akhandakara vritti) can only be the result hereof – while meditation, whirling, fasting or prayer may have generated a conducive, relatively peaceful state of mind, not more and not less than that.
However, most efforts on the part of the majority of seekers seem to always revolve around exercises, actions and to bring about states, rather than around knowledge:
“First, all that is old, bad or unconscious has to go, or it has to be transformed in some way, so that what is conscious and thus enlightenment can occur.”
“The gaps between thoughts become gradually longer, until there is only silence. In case the silence lasts more than 45 minutes, it remains. This is enlightenment”
“Approaching enlightenment is marked by very deep and extraordinary experiences during meditation, supernatural and magical powers, increased control with regard to the ethereal level, which the enlightened person can travel to and from where he is able to work in a healing manner, creating connections with ascended masters and the like.”
Even such ideas may be helpful initially. However, they tend to become obstacles, as they keep the seeker action- and target-oriented. The search increasingly becomes a self-propelling venture . Advaita Vedanta is about knowledge, as we saw before, and the contents of this knowledge is what exists already: (quote from essay 2-2014)
What is revealed irrevocably with enlightenment is the True Self, which already exists, albeit not yet manifest. This True Self is not something one doesn’t know and which one discovers. Rather, it is something one knows very well, but the immense relevance of which has still escaped the person. Enlightenment implies that this immense relevance becomes evident and remains.
A reader who has struggled with esoteric objectives for a long time (in some respects even successfully) says: “It gives me a great sense of calmness to know that even if I am not enlightened in this life, this doesn’t change anything regarding the fact that at the very inner core of my being I already am what I am looking for. Now it is fun again to think, feel, and endeavor in the direction of Moksha, because I no longer have to run after something.”
In this sense the search for knowledge is something for explorers and adventurers. And after all, who wants to spoil the fun of this expedition with complicated objectives?
 See essay 10–2012, on searching