The definition of enlightenment goes beyond what you’ll read in a dictionary. They tell you it is the highest spiritual attainment in Hinduism and Buddhism. But what really is this attainment? What does it mean to be enlightened?
Spirituality is strange and elusive; often impossible to explain or solidly define. But there are certain elements of spiritual enlightenment that can be pointed to and understood in terms of experiences and states of consciousness. I’ll break it down into elements that can be easily digested, but always remember that the experience itself of enlightenment is beyond communication.
1) Finding the “true self”
It’s known as the true self. Some people use the term “true self” to mean other things though so I’ll try to avoid confusion here. People often use the term to mean “your best self”, “your authenticity” or “the core of your personality”.
Here however I am referring to a part of you that never changes, never thinks anything (See #2: Emptiness, below) and is always fully aware and witnessing your experience.
It’s not just a part of you, it is you. But when you start to find it, it feels like it is some part of you that is separate from the body and mind. The truth is, there is a pure awareness within you which is entirely one with the consciousness of thought, senses, emotions and even physical existence. But the pure awareness itself has no thought, senses or emotions or form. If you think about it… when you have a thought, it is witnessed by your awareness. That awareness is the thing that people don’t tend to be aware of. Ironic, huh? But it’s much like how the eye can’t see itself, unless you hold a mirror up. Enlightenment is like holding a mirror up to the pure awareness, then realizing that you are both the awareness and the mirror.
This is a strange one to wrap your mind around because it doesn’t necessarily mean no thoughts. You can be enlightened and still have thoughts. But many people have found enlightenment through practices of still-thought. The reason that leads to enlightenment is because when your thoughts are still, all that remains in the thought-field is the awareness. But you can find emptiness without using still-thought, because pure awareness itself is empty. It is nothingness, witnessing somethingness.
You don’t have to know you’re one with the universe to be enlightened. But when you are enlightened, you often go into a state of consciousness where all is one. As opposed to being in a state of consciousness where things are separate.
Duality is the way of life most of us grow up learning. I’m me and you are you. We’re different people.
Non-duality (not-two), is the dimension of reality which everything falls into. Because yes, you can see that one person is standing there and another is standing over there, so you can physically see that they are separate from each other and separate from you… However these people are encapsulated in the same reality. Not only that, but we all have the same pure awareness! Pure awareness has no inherent form or location, and enlightenment often comes with the experience of seeing that and seeing that it means everyone’s pure awareness is the exact same thing or no-thing. We’re all looking from the same place or no-place, that is to say. But just remember that the pure awareness is one with the things it sees… So if this person is one with the same pure awareness that everyone else is one with… then everyone is one!
However in my opinion, dualistic enlightenment is just as valid as non-dualistic enlightenment. The dualistic variation of it would be simply to remain in the state of witnessing from the empty pure awareness. Like watching a TV screen from a blissful space of nothing which embraces your whole body and experience.
Bliss is the purest form of happiness. Because you can be happy or sad in your mind, but still recognize the euphoric sense of existing as pure awareness. I call it a sense because the bliss is always there but part of the meaning of enlightenment is the knowing, seeing, feeling, experiencing and sensing of that bliss. If you don’t sense it in some way, you’re not enlightened. Some people go through enlightenment without knowing that’s what they’re going through, sure, but their new experience is in fact a sense that opens up. Which is ironic in itself because sometimes the way to enlightenment is to close down certain functions of the mind.
Some of you may have noticed that I didn’t mention ego death at all. That’s because I don’t believe it defines enlightenment at all. It’s one way to get there, and it sometimes happens when you get there anyway. But it’s a very misunderstood topic.
Enlightenment, to me, is being one with the pure awareness.