SPIRITUAL ENLIGHTENMENT/SPIRITUAL AWAKENING
Spirituality is the expansion of conscious awareness.
A definition of spiritual enlightenment or spiritual awakening is hard to pin down. Because both terms “spiritual enlightenment” or spiritual awakening” have been used in so many way, similar to the way in which “love” is used to describe everything from a preference for ice cream to merging with everything. Also, because spiritual enlightenment and spiritual awakening are such a rich and complex experience that they are inhately hard to define.
Enlightenment broadly means the acquisition of new wisdom or understanding enabling clarity of perception. However, the English word covers two concepts which can be quite distinct: religious or spiritual enlightenment and secular or intellectual enlightenment. This can cause confusion, since those who claim intellectual enlightenment often reject spiritual concepts altogether.
In religious use, enlightenment is most closely associated with South and East Asian religious experience, being used to translate words such as (in Buddhism) Bodhi or satori, or (in Hinduism) moksha. The concept does also have parallels in the Abrahamic religions (in the Kabbalah tradition in Judaism, in Christian mysticism, and in the Sufi tradition of Islam). In secular use, the concept refers mainly to the European intellectual movement known as the Age of Enlightenment, also called the Age of Reason referring to philosophical developments related to scientific rationality in the 17th and 18th centuries.
A Buddha, or fully enlightened one, is regarded as a sentient being who has developed all positive qualities, and has eradicated all negative qualities. According to the Theravada tradition, full enlightenment of a Buddha is not achievable for most; instead one strives to become an Arhat and achieve liberation from the cycle of uncontrolled rebirth and to achieve nirvana. This achievement is also called “enlightenment”. In contrast, according to the Mahayana traditions, every sentient being is regarded as having the potential for achieving full enlightenment and Buddhahood. In Zen, Enlightenment is the state of being with no mind. It is the disappearance of the ego. It is the loss of all identification with the body and the mind. It is freedom from beliefs, opinions, ideals and concepts. It is always sudden, because it is not an achievement. In Zen it is called the pathless path, that is, it is not something to be achieved, but it is to be Realized and lived. Meditation, with no thought, simply watching, watching the breath, is the initial method to create the space for its occurrence. There have been thousands of people who have been considered Enlightened Masters, such as Buddha, Bodhidharma, Lao Tzu, Osho, and it is seen as everyone’s birthright.
In Indian religions (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism), Moksha (liberation) or Mukti (release) refers to liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth and all of the suffering and limitation of worldly existence. In Hindu philosophy, it is seen as a transcendence of phenomenal being, of any sense of material consciousness, time, space, and causation (karma). It is not seen as a soteriological goal in the same sense as in a Christian context, but signifies dissolution of the material self to uncover the underlying, pure spirit: the undoing of conditioned mentality-materiality or nama-roopa (lit. name-form) to uncover one’s eternal identity. Liberation is achieved by (and accompanied with) the complete stilling of all material passions — a state of being known as Nirvana.
There is the potential for full awareness or becoming enlightened is the same for everybody. If every individual consciousness is infinite in its portential, then each can also be infinite both, in capacity to expand or awaken and in its capacity to contract or identify with a narrow or limited experience. If all consciousness is made of the same essential awareness and light, and if everyone has an equal potential for enlightenment, than all expressions of consciousness are equally valid and valuable. By defining enlightenment in many ways now makes sense, depending on what it is being pointed to.
A spiritual awakening is a sudden expansion or shift in consciousness, especially a more dramatic one (we don’t usually refer to a minor realization as a spiritual awakening). Enlightenment, on the other hand can be used to mark a particular level of realization or awakeness, even if the exact definition varies depending on who is using the word, as it does with every word.
Enlightenment or awakening is a profound mystery, and the best definition may be found in the actual experience of your own shifts in consciousness. Just as it’s more nourishing to eat an apple than read about one, so it can be more rewarding to explore the movements of your own awareness than to try to understand these things mentally. While definitions of such things can be helpful, it can also be beneficial to not have too many concepts, which could interfere with your actual experience. It’s a good thing that language isn’t so fixed or defined when it comes to spiritual unfoldment. Maybe the best definition of enlightenment is no definition. Then there is only what is found in your own direct experience of awareness.
Consider the miracle of a flower. What is it that causes a plant to flower? Does sunshine cause a plant to flower? Does lots of water? Or is it good soil? Maybe all of these together? Or is there really something more subtle in the nature of the flower itself that causes it to flower? Is it something in the DNA of the plant? Does that mean the whole process of evolution over eons of time is involved? What other factors might cause the flowering? Does gravity play a part? The season and the temperature? The quality of the light? (Some plants will not flower under glass or artificial light.) What about animals that eat the fruit and spread the plant? Or the birds or bees that pollinate the flower? Do they cause the subsequent flowering of the newly established plants? Are there even subtler influences? What about presence and love? The intention and attention of a gardener? And is the existence of the world of form itself necessary for a plant to flower? And what about consciousness? Is there an ultimate force that directs the creation and unfolding of all expressions of form that is behind the appearance of a rose or a daisy?
Spiritual awakening is a kind of flowering of consciousness. When consciousness expands and opens into a new expression, we call that a spiritual awakening. And while there are as many kinds of awakenings as there are flowers, they are all equally mysterious. What is it that causes a child to start to awaken to the nature of words and language? What causes the awakening of sexuality in a teenager? How does one suddenly know they are falling in love? Or even more profoundly, how does one explain the birth of unconditional or divine love?
Finally, what are the causes of the most profound spiritual awakenings, where consciousness suddenly recognizes its ultimate true nature? Why does that type of flowering appear in one consciousness today and another one tomorrow? If the formula for a simple petunia is a vastly complex interplay of earthly, human, and even cosmic forces, then imagine how complex the formula is for the unfolding of a human consciousness into full spiritual enlightenment as one’s true nature. The good news is that we cannot and do not need to know the totality of the formula involved to grow some petunias, and we cannot and do not need to know the formula for spiritual enlightenment. Yet, we can be curious about all of the factors involved and even play with them to see what effects, if any, they may have in our individual experience of consciousness unfolding.
Maybe we can hold the question of what role inquiry, devotion, effort, surrender, transmission, meditation, gratitude, intention, silencing the mind, study of spiritual books, involvement with a teacher or master, ripeness of the student, karma, grace, and luck play in our enlightenment with an openness and curiosity, instead of a need to define their roles once and for all. The flowering of consciousness in your own existence is as unique as every flower, and ultimately we are all here to discover how it is going to happen uniquely this time around. What is your consciousness like right now? How open is the flower of your awareness? Is it still budding or has it blossomed? Just as every flower fades and another comes along, what about now? And now? What happens this time when you meditate? What happens now when you inquire “Who am I?” How does it feel right now to open your heart with gratitude even if nothing much is happening?
In the most ancient civilizations of the world one finds great truths discovered by sages through meditation. Religions talk freely of what their Prophets discovered but cannot offer anything to anyone. Before proceeding any further, it is important to understand two things: 1) what is meditation? and 2) what is meditation for?
There is a very old statement which says that “meditation starts when thought stops” and there can be many different forms of meditation. But the subject of meditation I am talking about has nothing to do with any religion, any form of religion or any denomination of religion. It’s about expanding a person’s awareness, increasing their identity, their sense of self, and ultimately, it is expanded to infinity or Enlightenment, which is what lies behind everything and makes the universe possible. Now, that can sound very big, and to some people out there, it might even sound scary. But the reason a man lives a life of fear and anxiety, in fact, it can be said that a man is frightened to live and scared to die, it’s because living down here, he is as far away from the Cause of infinite love as he can actually get. So, as we get closer and closer to the source of everything, the energy and bliss and the love we experience gets greater and greater and greater.
For thousands of years mankind has been baffled by the question as to what is the purpose of human life, why am I born? Where have I come from? And where will I go when I die? Such questions remain un-answered; questions such as what does spirituality really involve, and is it possible to answer this for ourselves? The answer is yes.