What is enlightenment and how it can be achieved?
We hear a whisper rustling in the wind, a force as nurturing as the earth.
We feel a rhythm that entices with mystical notes of harmony, and a
kiss that tastes as sweet as honey. We feel a sensual touch that
excites our soul, with waves of ecstatic delight. In this is the void:
the mind of Eternity.
Contents of this article:
The term “Enlightenment,” came from an intellectual movement which began in England in the seventeenth century, that represented an “illumined” intellectual skepticism to traditional beliefs and dogmas, in contrast to the supposed dark and superstitious beliefs of the Middle Ages.
The term later became associated with various schools of Indian philosophy, Yoga and Buddhism, and is now a general term for spiritual illumination or divine signs in all the religious and spiritual traditions.
The idea of spiritual enlightenment is not a new idea and there have been numerous examples of people throughout history that have claimed to have become illuminated. Although spontaneous enlightenment without even searching or making an effort to attain the phenomenon of enlightenment is a modern twist on a tradition that has existed in every culture.
Some of the terms used for spiritual enlightenment by the main religions are:
- Buddhism — Nirvana, Liberation, Awakening, realization of the Atman identity.
- Yoga — Liberation (moksha, also called vimoksha, vimukti and mukti), Realization of the true self (Atman), Detachment (kaivalya: detachment of pure consciousness from matter)..
- Vedanta — Self-realization, Self-knowledge, Jnana (meaning knowledge of divine reality).
Note: Self in Indian Philosophy is often used as an interchangeable term for Atman, but in western philosophy Self is considered the Ego or personality. Similar modern concepts of Atman are Higher-self, Enlightenment and Heightened awareness. When I use the term Atman I am following the more modern understanding.
- Christians – Receiving the Holy Spirit, and the experience of Unification or Sanctification. An example of receiving the Holy Spirit is the twelve apostle at the last supper. Once you received the Holy Spirit you are then called a Prophet. The term Saint in its original meaning was similar to mystic or yogi. (It is important to distinguish these early Christian mystical concepts from modern Christianity which has corrupted the terminology for the needs of a mass audience that was desperate to escape the oppression of state sponsored Christianity).
- Judaism and Islam — The two other major Abrahamic religions also have prophets like Elijah, Ezekiel, Moses, Muhammad and Jesus which is Isa in Islam. In fact, both religions have subset sects who focus on the attainment of spiritual knowledge as their primary goal. Judaism has the Kabballah and in Islam, Sufism or Taṣawwuf is the equivalent to a mystic or yogi, one who pursues mystical understanding.
But before we can clarify what is enlightenment we have to first distinguish the different states that are often confused with enlightenment. Examples are: Euphoria, Self-actualization, Psychedelics experiences, Inspiration, Insight, Epiphany and Intuition are the main states that are often also called or connected with enlightenment.
- Euphoria is a physiological phenomenon where the endogenous compound dimethyltryptamine (5MeO-DMT), is flushed into the blood stream. This is usually catalyzed by physiological stresses, such as fasting, sweat lodges, dancing, chanting, emotional stimulation (and other methods of promoting exhaustion). This when combined with emotional commitment towards and object, personality or event, creates the emotional and physical high that many religions, cults and gurus use to create a religious or mystical experience.
Is Euphoria spiritual enlightenment? No its not. Is Euphoria a mystical experience? No its not. But it is a valid development for some individuals, and can be linked to the self-actualization theory, as a developmental stage in the personality’s growth.
- Self-actualization is a term that has been used in various psychology theories, often in slightly different ways. The term was originally introduced by the organismic theorist Kurt Goldstein for the motive to realize one’s full potential. Expressing one’s creativity, quest for spiritual enlightenment, pursuit of knowledge, and the desire to give to and/or positively transform society are examples of self-actualization. This theory was later used by Abraham Maslow as the hierarchy of needs theory, which states that the final level of psychological development that can be achieved when all basic and mental needs are essentially fulfilled. The “actualization” of the full personal potential takes place as a sort of emotional and intellectual self-realization.
Now this state is much closer to spiritual enlightenment and usually is the same state experienced by those who practice meditation for long periods. Self-actualization and even the idea of Self-realization are NOT true states of spiritual enlightenment, all through they are precursor states that can lead to true spiritual enlightenment.
The one fundamental reason that Self-actualization and Self-realization are not true states of enlightenment is because they are Ego based states of consciousness, Self is Ego. Whereas spiritual enlightenment is a state outside the Ego, outside the Self, outside the Mind consciousness, outside Humanness and can be more rightly called a state of non-self.
- Psychedelics have also been used to expand consciousness outside of the Self and outside of reality, and this does have some valid spiritual experience, but its effects are temporary and do not in any way support lasting spiritual development. This method really is dangerous, addictive and steals any personal power you would need to dissolve the Ego state.
- Inspiration, Insight, Epiphany and Intuition are intellectual, emotional or empathic understandings that trigger an experience or moment of sudden and great revelation, realization or creative burst. Such inspiration has been a commonly reported aspect of many religions, artists and intellectuals for thousands of years, and is often closely tied to the concept of Divine revelation, and the belief that information was revealed or disclosed through communication with a deity or other supernatural entity or entities. Or it can be a flash of creativity, intuition or intellectual understanding that acquires knowledge without proof, evidence, or conscious reasoning.
These experiences are true Divine glimpses but are not enlightenment, and although many use these experiences as their claim for being Gods chosen or as proof that they are enlightened. Mostly this is a delusional belief of perfection.
How one achieves enlightenment
- First the one common denominator is that every occurrence of enlightenment has come after the mind has been stilled within the person who has experienced it. By bringing calm to the conscious mind, gradually we clear the storm of emotions and thoughts that often swamp the mind. Most often this is done through the process of Meditation in some form, the pinnacle achievement of this process is the stopping of thoughts. Since thoughts are what create and maintain the self/ego, you can understand why meditation is a fundamental requirement and the single common denominator among enlightened sages.
- Meditation was the precursor, it cleared the mind so that we could see the Self/ego in all its glory, and all its faults. Material, emotional, cultural or habitual values can be considered the hardest things to detach from or to understand, but these may be the very things that create a barrier to spiritual progress. It’s the Ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself”.
- Thirdly we need Faith, and I am not referring to a belief in God (saying Faith is a belief in God really is an ignorant understanding of the concept). Faith is about gathering energy a form of power to energies the mind beyond intellectual learning, this is a fundamental pre-request in the same way meditation is a foundation ability you need to develop. Having Faith is to understand the nature of awareness, for example your thoughts are not awareness, they are a process that consumes awareness, your emotions are not awareness they also are processes that consume awareness. In fact, any action and any reaction consumes awareness. Awareness is not Will Power, and it is not strength of mind over matter.
We only have a limited amount of awareness, and we can consume that awareness to live and function in society or we can withdraw little by little from the human world, saving our precious awareness until we have the Faith to pull down the cage of humanity and in doing so we join our small awareness with the Atman Awareness.
Meditation also has other layers of development from increased detachment, mindfulness, increased observation of the Self and many other side effects from health, concentration and work efficacy.
This second tool is all about self/ego, which is why this aspect is not as simple as it may sound and can become a complex psychological pit if it is overly analyzed, but it can also be vary vary simple, yet simultaneously it is almost impossible to let it be simple. Sounds like a contradiction I know, so let me clarify further. The Ego or Self cannot be objective, it is trapped in a subjective reality, but the Ego/self thinks it is objective. Ego/self because of its belief that it can understand subjective reality, effectively creates a screen or delusion that locks awareness in a cage, and this cage is your humanity. If you want to know Divinity then you will need to pull down this wall, pull apart the self/ego and finally die to be reborn a new being, a true witness that stands between the Self/ego and Divinity.
Once you understand that it is your humanity that creates subjective reality and it is this subjective view that stands between Self and Divinity. Then you can understand, why so few people realize spiritual progress. It can truly be one of the hardest thing you will do.
To put it even simpler, you are attached to yourself but you need to become detached from yourself, and the only way this can be done is to tear down the walls of Self/ego and to step outside of yourself. Once you achieve this you will become a partially enlightened being or what’s referred to as entering into the witness state.
Finally we get to the Question. What is enlightenment?
In Hindu and Buddhist texts, enlightenment is defined as having four stages of development, whereas Christian and Islamic texts talk only of the final third (3rd) and fourth (4th) stages of the Divine Spirit’s indwelling and Assumption where the saint is raised to heaven by God’s power.
Stage one: In Hindu and Buddhist texts, enlightenment is defined as having four stages of development, and through constant practice and through perfect establishment in vairagya (spiritual discrimination or discernment, meaning ascetic disinterest in things that would cause attachment in most people), one reaches samādhi. Samādhi itself is not enlightenment, and it does not mean that a person who has attained samādhi is an enlightened sage. One has to proceed through a further three (3) stages and as one persists in the practice of samādhi, one is taken to the highest state of super-consciousness or transcendental illumination where the Atman is finally liberated.
Samādhi is Self-realization, but this is still an ego based state were the mind is stilled to the point where one can feel the light of Divinity shining through. This state is usually experienced in short bursts which needs continual boosting to be re-experienced, but also it is a state that is easily corrupted by the ego/self and drunk on the spiritual ecstasy this state induces, Self frequently suffers the master complex of Holiness, which is a Self-important Self-realization leading to the delusion of pious perfection, and in its most excessive form, it creates a type of religious messiah complex. So this first stage of Pre-enlightenment is considered a deadly trap, one that needs to be overcome to become enlightened.
- Hinduism — Laya-samādhi, identification with an object accompanied by higher thought, which for the seeker of Divinity can be described as a state of joy, deep and general well-being, and peaceful meditation and a state where the Sila Nexus is active a state of Faith before one opens the veil between humanity and Atman).
- Buddhism — Sotapanna (Pali) or Srotapanna (Sanskrit), meaning “stream-winner,” refers to a person who has eradicated the first three fetters (sanyojanas) of the mind. Sotapannaship is the first of the Buddhists’ four stages of enlightenment.
The deeper the trance; the deeper the madness.
Only Eternity remains as Divinity flutters by.
Stage two: is the Witness state. This is a genuine state of enlightenment, as it is a state of Non-self. The ego/self although it is not yet destroyed, it is remade or reborn as a witness to awareness, Divinity is now seen with clarity, there is no longer any discourse, no delusion, all is a wondrous delight—a transcendent state of awareness.
In the state of Non-Self, the mystic is living more than one reality at the same time; these realities are contradictory or even implausible to the subjective mind. The mastery of such realized non-subjective perceptions makes it possible to see reality in many dimensions and can be likened to peering into a jewel of a thousand different facets. Yet within this jewel of awareness seeps the echo of Eternity, a relentless wind blowing through the cracks of the Mystic’s mind, a haunting insanity that is as elusive as twilight.
- Hinduism — Savikalpa-samādhi, this state of transcendent awareness is for the yogi liberation while still in the embodied state (total enlightened bliss, a state were awareness perceives the Unknowable reality of the Divine Brahman); Self no longer sees itself as truly “human” in relation to social culture. The yogi comprehends the vastness of Brahmans Unknowable reality, and just as a ripple fades into nothing the Self is lost in the ocean of Divinity. It is also called the Witness state or Atman Awareness, a state where the Sri Yantra becomes active and changes the mystics energy configuration.
- Buddhism — Sakadagami (Pali for “returning once”) is a partially-enlightened person who has cut off the first three chains with which the ordinary mind is bound and has significantly weakened the fourth and fifth. Sakadagamiship is the second stage of the four stages of Buddhist enlightenment.
- Christianity — The Holy Spirit or the Divine Spirit is the Spirit of God in mainstream (Trinitarian) Christian beliefs and is considered the third person of the Trinity. For Christians, when the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciple or follower of Jesus, he becomes a prophet and can act with authority as God’s messenger. This is what could be described as the Christian version of a Pre-enlightened sage.
(This should be differentiated from the modern born-again style Christian beliefs, where anyone, whether sinners or saints, can receive the Holy Spirit. But since this version of Christianity is really about numbers and corporate churches run by charismatic individuals intent on gathering as many converts as possible, it is easy to see the Euphoria effect in play here.)
- Islam — The Holy Spirit designation is another way to refer to Gabriel, the high-ranked angel who was assigned by God to deliver his revelation to all prophets. He is also the angel who delivered the Annunciation to Mary and the Qur’an to the prophet Muhammad in the cave, Hira, in Mecca. He is called the chief of the four favored angels and the Spirit of truth. In some views, he is a personification of the Holy Spirit.
In the Islamic version of enlightenment, the Muslim defeats all nafs and worldly desires, transforming those nafs into nafs ul mumaina—meaning that rather than your nafs desiring a haraam thing, they only desire the halal; instead of lusting over women, they lust over salaat or dhikr. It is complete tawhid when one realizes that all, good and bad, comes from Allah—that one has already been allotted one’s share in this world and nothing can increase or decrease it except Allah. Upon realizing that there is no Might or Power except for Allah, this person has knowledge of both Self and creation, even if the particulars of the creation have not been revealed.
In Islam, and more specifically in tasssawuf, there is little use for the word “enlightenment” because it connotes a meaning of full awareness and all-encompassing knowledge. These are attributes of Allah and the Muslim who becomes enlightened fully rejects this term all together; the only thing such people have been enlightened with is full understanding that they are but slaves of Allah. All light, or knowledge, comes from Allah and can be taken by Allah. They are in FULL submission to the Enlightened, An Noor.
After this, I looked and saw a door that opened into heaven.
Then the voice that had spoken to me at first and that
sounded like a trumpet said, “Come up here! I will show
you what must happen next.” (King James. Rev. 4:1)
Stage three: The mystic has now dissolved subjective reality and joined the Atman, which now moves within Self yet is still dependent on Self and exists only within the shell of Self; for mystics at this level the Bindu point is the final alignment for ascension of the Atman as it collects Amrita, the nectar of immortality.
Only in the Atman stage of Nirvikalpa-samādhi, can the mystic distill Amrita while in dreaming awareness. This substance that is collected in the dreaming awake state is used in forming the “immortal body” (soma athanaton) in preparation for ascension. It is also known as the “supra celestial body” in Sufism, the “diamond body” in Daoism, the “light body,” or “rainbow body” and in Tibetan Buddhism. “Amrita,” which literally means “immortality,” is often referred to in texts as a kind of nectar. In yogic philosophy, Amrita is a fluid that can flow from the pineal gland down the throat in deep states of meditation. It is related etymologically to the Greek “ambrosia,” and in ancient Greek mythology, ambrosia is sometimes the food or drink of the Greek gods, often depicted as conferring immortality upon whoever consumed it.
Yet for the mystic to cross into this third stage they must also defeat the self/ego which will take on the form of a serpent, if the serpent is overcome then you enter into this third stage of enlightenment from which there is no return. This is why serpents play such a central role in many mythologies, but the serpent also resents the oldest part of the brain, the brain stem, responsible for primitive survival instincts such as aggression and fear.
- Hinduism — In Raja Yoga, nirvikalpa samādhi is a synonym for Asamprajnata Samādhi, the highest stage of samādhi. In Shaivism Nirvikalpaka yoga is a technical term in the philosophical system of Shaivism, in which there is a complete identification of the “I” and Shiva, in which the very concepts of name and form disappear and Shiva alone is experienced as the real Self.
At this stage the yogi through dreaming awake collects Amrita which is needed to build the immoral body, yet it is the Atman that controls the dreaming awareness as Self can only experience ordinary dreams. The Atman awareness can move out of the lucid dream state and enter into the unknown, unifying the energies of the Yantra chakra with the energies of the Bindu chakra. In many ways, ordinary Self becomes the dream and dreaming becomes the reality as the Atman develops.
- Buddhism — An Anāgāmi (Pali for “non-returning”) is a partially-enlightened person who has cut off the first five chains that bind the ordinary mind. Anāgāmiship is the third of the four stages of Buddhist enlightenment.
- Christianity — In Christian theology, it is expressed as “Redemption, Regeneration, and Glorification,” the final unification process being Unification or Sanctification. God gives the believer hidden mana and a white stone. The name written on the stone is not an actual name, as Revelation 14:1 mentions that the name of Christ is written on the foreheads of the saints. (This has parallels with the location of the Bindu point.)
In the movement of the Way there is no Destiny. The finder preempts the cause,
participating in the perfect accident. Such wonderful irony, such a precipitated fate.
Stage four: this would be equivalent to Buddha nature, the Son of God, or Paramatman union.
- Hinduism — Asamprajnata Samādhi or Sahaja Nirvikalpa Samādhi is a state in which the silent awareness of the Atman is simultaneously operating with the full use of the human faculties. Kevala nirvikalpa samādhi was temporary, whereas sahaja nirvikalpa samādhi is a continuous state throughout daily activity In Shaivism Nirvikalpaka yoga is a technical term in the philosophical system of Shaivism, in which there is a complete identification of the “I” and Shiva, in which the very concepts of name and form disappear and Shiva alone is experienced as the real non-Self. The Patnatjali yoga sutra defines Asamprajnata Samādhi as: – There is another meditation which is attained by the practice of alert mental suspension until only subtle impressions remain.
Nirvikalpa-samādhi, is the state where the Atman (Pure Awareness) and Self merge step by step until Self and non-Self are in agreement; subjective Self is dissolved. The Atman awareness having dissolved subjective reality moves within the wind of Divine union. Ahamkara (Ego) consciousness exists only as a shell created by the Atman consciousness. Spirit is seen as existing simultaneously, a Divine ocean where the ripple of physical reality rises and falls. Eternity shifts within awareness formless and free. The mystic in the Nirvikalpa state may even engage in the performance of his material duties with no loss of the Divine union. Nirvikalpa-samādhi is difference from the other samādhi states, in that there is no return from Nirvikalpa-samādhi into lower states of consciousness. Therefore, this is the only true final Moksha (enlightenment).
- Buddhism — Stage four is that of Arahant or nirvikalpa-jñāna, a fully awakened person. They have abandoned all ten fetters and, upon death will never be reborn in any plane or world, having wholly escaped samsara.
Theravada Buddhism defines arahant as “one who is worthy” or as a “perfected person” having attained nirvana. Other Buddhist traditions have used the term for people far advanced along the path of Enlightenment, but who may not have reached full Buddhahood.
Arhat (Sanskrit) or arahant (Pali), in the shramana traditions of ancient India (most notably those of Jainism and Buddhism), Arhat (Buddhism) signified a spiritual practitioner who had “laid down the burden,” realizing the goal of nirvana, the culmination of the spiritual life (brahmacarya). Such a person, having removed all causes for future becoming, is not reborn after biological death into any saṃsāra realm.
In early Buddhism, the term ‘suññatā’ or ‘śūnyatā’ is used primarily in connection with the ‘no-self’ (anatman) doctrine to denote that the Five Aggregates (skandhas) are ‘empty’ of the permanent self or soul. See (Stage four that of Arahant or nirvikalpa-jñāna which is the no-self stage).
But since there cannot be anything that is not the Buddha-nature (buddhatā), all that appears is in truth devoid of characteristics. So the concept of ‘Nibbana’ which means ‘attaining salvation by merging into the void of eternity’ is the Buddhist equivalent of ascension. A Buddha is no longer bound by Samsara, and has ended the suffering which unawakened people experience in life.
- Christianity — The Roman Catholic Church distinguishes between “The Ascension”, in which Christ rose to heaven by his own power, and “The Assumption” in which Mary, mother of Jesus, was raised to heaven by God’s power. (Enoch and Elijah are said in scripture to have been “assumed” [experienced assumption] into heaven.)
- Islam — Islamic teaching states that Muhammad ascended into heaven alive at the site of the Dome of the Rock. However, this ascent was temporary and he came back to Earth. It is ascribed to the exact descriptions presented in both the Quran and the Hadith.
For most if not all religions Ascension or entering Heaven alive (sometimes also called assumption) is the belief that one may enter into Heaven without dying and is considered a sign of God’s special recognition of the individual’s devotion. The source of the word Ascension and the thinking that creates this idea operates from a hierarchical mindset, and since this type of thinking can only see the final stages of enlightenment as rising up to a God that lives in a higher place, the unenlightened will always create religions and heavens to believe in.
But for the mystic Ascension or the final enlightenment is a receding from the world of structure, a state of supreme absence. It is the mathematical equivalent of an empty pair of parentheses, it does not even contain nothing. This absence has no effect on any equation that is placed around it – because the parentheses ( ) is empty, not even 0. For example, 9 + ( ) = 9. Manifestation + (absence) = Manifestation.
The enlightened being recedes from the world of structure until they become absent. Ascension is a misunderstanding of the nature of enlightenment. The entity rather than rising up into heaven recedes from structure, until they become hidden, hidden even from God. Enlightenment when fully realized is free even from the structure of God.
This is also the very reason there are no fully enlightened beings, as a being ascends to full enlightenment they simply recede from the structure that created their delusion, and vanish into an empty mathematical parentheses ( ).
Interestingly this metaphysical concept of ‘absence’ or ‘void’ gave rise to the concept of ‘zero’ in Indian mathematics and subsequently, this became the foundation for modern mathematics.
It is almost a cosmic joke that absence gave rise to zero and from zero we are able to calculate into infinity. Yet this is also the very reason that mathematics cannot calculate or create a formula for Gods existence. Mathematics uses zero and then calculates to infinity, the very opposite of God which is absent or simply an empty parentheses ( ).
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