What is enlightenment? How to become enlightened
One of the problems in explaining enlightenment is that we have to use words. Words are only symbols and don’t give the real understanding. The letters of a word are merely a code that the mind translates into meaning. Words only have meaning if you already have an experiential knowledge of what the words mean. If you were blind could you understand color through just words? Can you describe music to someone using only words? Can you describe the emotion of love only using the symbols of words? Words are only effective at communicating experience if the experience is already known. You know color, music, and emotion because you have perceived them directly. Enlightenment is not an experience that one already has a reference for and so a word description is not likely to be meaningful enough to convey an understanding.
Through years of schooling we are taught to believe that if we can describe something accurately with words then we “know” it. This is a very limited kind of knowing. It’s like reading someone’s experience of surfing and assuming you know what it is like. Or reading the flight manual for an airplane and assuming you “know” how to fly because you “know” what is in the book.
The best we can do in explaining enlightenment in everyday language is to accurately give words to the experience. Perhaps for some the description will inspire their imagination and give them the desire to experience it themselves. This is just like a good flying story that inspires others to reach for the sky.
If you’ve ever had an epiphany you have had a little awakening. In that moment of realization your mind stopped thinking and you knew and felt beyond an intellectual logic. You perceived something directly in a way that transcended word descriptions. It is the kind of knowing that makes you look at the world, or yourself in a brand new way. Those little awakening experiences are moments when our previous assumptions or belief paradigms burst. My high school science teacher would say “the light went on.” Enlightenment is the big light bulb. It is the direct perception of knowing the nature of the world in one great continuous epiphany.
The Divine Comedy
When you have the spiritual awakening of enlightenment it is like seeing the funniest joke ever played. It appears that you are at a costume party and everyone is role playing the character they dressed up as. Except their costume is the personality made up of all their beliefs about what they are, should be, shouldn’t be, should do, and shouldn’t do. Their personality mask is a big set of agreements about themselves. The most hysterical part is that behind the mask is actually a being of infinite consciousness that is wearing the personality.
The Infinite Consciousness is so powerful that their intent to play the personality role at the party of life keeps them in the role for years, sometimes even a whole life time. In this way they have completely thrown themselves into the role of their costumed personality. They are acting in a silly personality of pretend and are ignoring the consciousness and power of their Divine make up.
Seeing something all knowing and powerful pretending to be a human personality is a phenomenal performance of folly. One of the particularly funny aspects is how seriously the personality believes everything when another part of their consciousness knows it is just made up.
I went to see a hypnotist once. During one of the sessions he took a group of people and hypnotized them into believing they were in the first day of kindergarten. I was rolling off my chair laughing at adults really believing and acting like they were children. In another session he had a man acting like a chicken. You know these people are capable adults just temporarily believing they are something they are not. It is belly aching funny to watch. The difference with people in the world is that they hypnotized themselves by believing their thoughts or someone else's suggestion.
Seeing with Enlightened Eyes is Funny
My explanation with words certainly isn’t that funny but direct perception is. That’s because you can’t explain what is funny. What makes us laugh is not logical. It’s like a Far Side cartoon that rocks you with laughter. When you try to explain it with words the direct perception is lost in the symbols. Humor can’t be explained with the logic of words. The symbols of words start engaging the mind and analytical thinking takes over. When the analytical program of the personality is engaged our opportunity for direct perception is lost to the mind.
When we are laughing at something funny our internal dialogue is generally turned off. We are not analyzing or being logical with our thinking mind. We directly perceive and we know something is funny. We may not be able to explain what is funny, but we know by direct experience. Having a quiet mind allows a person to perceive directly and is an attribute of an enlightened state.
If you are evaluating spiritual teachers take notice of their sense of humor and how much they laugh. The measure of their humor, happiness, and laughter can be a measure of how clearly they see the world as it is. No need to make this the only criteria but consider it with many others.
The Enlightened Mind is Quiet
What keeps us from seeing the beauty and humor of humanity dressed up in personality masks is that we interpret through our mind. The mind adds dialogue of descriptions and interpretations about what we see. Most come from the voices of the inner judge and victim. We then hypnotize ourselves by believing what we think about what we see. Our attention fixates on these descriptions and we perceive our descriptions instead of perceiving the world directly. Like explaining or interpreting a joke, these descriptions generally aren’t that funny.
Spiritual traditions will describe this paradigm as being steeped in illusions. Our eyes are closed and we are asleep in a dream of our own interpretations. Some will call these interpretations filters, lenses, stories, projections, or false beliefs.
Consider the woman who is anorexic. She doesn’t see her body as it is. Instead she sees what she believes her body looks like. To measure this distorting dialogue you might notice the opinions you have about this article, your body, or other people. Often this dialogue is most obvious when we sit to mediate quietly and find that we can't turn it off.
When we dissolve the dialogue in the mind and start living in a realm of silence we open our eyes to see a different world. Rather than see a world made of descriptions and opinions, we see one that is orchestrated by a conscious intelligence that transcends words. For communication purposes I’ll use the symbol “Divine” to denote that intelligent force of Life. It is the force that makes plants and grass grow, the planet spin, and the sun and stars shine. It’s a pretty incredible force. And darn smart too.
How to become enlightened
If it is enlightenment that you seek you will need to engage in experiential practices. These are actions that will quiet your mind so that you can perceive directly. Spiritual traditions around the world each have their own methods. They quiet the internal dialogue by eliminating the false beliefs, dissolving personal importance, and they train you to focus your attention into a silent world. Meditation and prayer are practices that engage you towards direct experience.
I direct you to practices instead of reading books because symbols aren’t likely to lead you to the experience. The more you read the more you fill your head with concepts, descriptions, interpretations, and expectations that form the matrix that traps perception. Reading conceptual ideas makes our analytical mind more dominant instead of more silent.
There are wonderful books that can help you with small epiphanies, but do not expect them to take you to your final destination of direct perception. Use what you read to give you some guidance and new perspectives if you like but more importantly practice something directly.
Humility is the Path to Freedom
Much of the chatter in the mind is born out of the beliefs we have invested in. Some of the major beliefs to be eliminated have to do with our self importance. Self importance relates to believing that you personally are the cause or center of what happens. This kind of belief paradigm comes in two forms. One paradigm is that we have the solutions to the world’s problems. The other paradigm is that we are somehow the cause of the world’s problems. In one direction we are the greatest person in the world and in the other direction we are the worst person in the world. (I use to think that if everyone approached their life the way I did the world would be a better place. At the time I didn’t notice it as self importance. I just thought I was right.) In either case our mind focuses on us in the story. A clue to our self importance is the number of times we use the words “I” or “me” in a sentence or thought.
You might find the inner judge and victim use these references to our selves to do comparisons between us and other people. When you dissolve the beliefs relating to your self importance you will have dissolved many of the stories in the mind and gone a long way towards inner silence. Without these false beliefs filtering your perception you can more easily see the world as it is. You will also see yourself more clearly as you really are.
The result of dropping your self importance is humility. Many people misinterpret humility to mean that they are less than other people. They take it as the opposite of arrogance. Humility doesn’t mean believing you are less than anyone else. It means being aware that you aren’t more important than anyone else while at the same time being aware that no one is more important than you. You treat yourself with respect and you treat everyone else with respect also. You no longer compare yourself to others in any way because you know through direct perception that everyone is equal.
You will find that highly conscious people who have dropped their self importance don’t make much of an effort to be heard or seen. A humble person will more likely listen than speak. They may be quiet and inconspicuous to the point that they don’t make much of an impression on you. In this way you might be in the presence of a master and not even know it.
An enlightened person will not generally put their agenda ahead of yours, even if your agenda will lead you into illusion and emotional suffering. Their respect for you as an equal capable of making your own decisions and dealing with your own consequences relieves them of any need to direct your life or worry over it.
To Become Enlightened Practice Expressing Love
Being happy is the result of expressing love. As you dissolve self importance and other agreements in the mind we spend less time thinking and more time feeling our emotions. Without judgments we don’t have excuses to not express our love. We don’t have to be serious and important all the time. Instead we learn to be childlike which is what great masters taught. The seeking of pleasure and enjoyment is our natural way and results in expressing love in everything that we do. The result of expressing love is that we are happy like children.
All aspects of elevating consciousness produce greater happiness. It is not linear as we will have our momentary ups and downs during the journey. Over all, happiness in your life is one of the best barometers to use to determine if you are headed towards higher consciousness. Don’t measure progress weekly or even monthly. As you wrestle with your inner demons, give yourself time to get back on your feet before determining if you are going forwards or backwards in your overall happiness. I personally suggest referencing back at least six months to measure real progress.
A World of Non-Duality is an Intermediate Step
If you are fortunate enough to make the journey to dissolve your self importance, quiet your mind, and open to love unconditionally you have done the hard part. In this level of consciousness you no longer react or feel victimized. You can live your life without fear, and be at peace within. Quite a few make it to this point of quieting the internal dialogue, and expressing love. (Quite a few is a relative term meaning about 1 in one million people.) In this state one lives their life full of compassion with everyone in the world as their equal.
Some people refer to this level of consciousness as enlightenment; however in my experience there is still further one can go. The final step is to open your spiritual eyes and see directly the Infinite consciousness alive in everything. With these eyes open you are aware of the costume of personality that Consciousness is wearing.
From this level of awareness the dance of life becomes that Divine comedy I mentioned earlier. It is not a simple trick to shift your perception to this heightened state of awareness. It is usually a challenge to do something that you haven’t done before. And since it takes place in the field of the mind behind the eyes you can’t just model someone else’s movements. It is difficult to elevate ourselves to a level of consciousness when we don’t know where that level is. It is for this kind of leap in perspective that an experienced teacher is extremely helpful. They may be able to give you a boost that opens your eyes to a world you hadn’t imagined before.
Once attained it is not likely that you will hold this enlightened point of view. The first time it may only last a few minutes or a couple hours. But once you have experienced this viewpoint you can bookmark it so you know where to evolve your consciousness in the future if you desire. Like opening your heart or being consciously happy, it often happens only for moments in the beginning. As you consciously practice those moments become longer and with less time in between until it is your normal state of being.
If you never make this final step you won’t be disappointed or feel like the failure. You will still be walking around with a quiet peaceful mind and love and happiness flowing out of you. With a fully compassionate mind there is no failure, disappointment, or sense that your journey has been wasted. The benefit of a quiet mind and experiencing your love coming out of you is enough to satisfy you everyday of your life. Enlightenment or not.
In the Beginning was the Word, and Immediately Following was Misinterpretation
When I describe that an enlightened person laughs at people some people are confused. They may interpret that the laughter comes from laughing “at” someone. This type of interpretation usually comes from the mask of the victim or judge personality. There is laughter, but it is not without love and compassion. Most often the laughter is only expressed inward. Outward it may only appear as a calm smile.
It can be funny listening to children make up ridiculous things. You love the children but you know that they are not aware enough to know what they are doing. They make you laugh while you adore them and their stories of fantasy. You don’t believe their stories, but you love them.
When you see a dog chase its shadow you don’t think less of the dog. You love the dog and you laugh at its antics. Their antics might even make you love the dog more. You are aware that the dog doesn’t know the difference between its shadow and something real and therefore you don’t judge the dog or think less of it
When you see a human chasing stories and illusions in the mind it can also be funny. With awareness it is clear that believing in the illusions is ridiculously funny. You laugh at their antics. At the same time their illusions about relationship and a false self image may be causing them emotional suffering. The emotional suffering aspect is not funny. Awareness doesn’t mean that it is without compassion and understanding for their emotional pain. Enlightenment allows us to be compassionate while at the same time being aware that the end of suffering can be just a shift in perspective away.
Becoming Enlightened in Steps
If you desire to become enlightened I suggest that you break up your journey into some smaller steps. The first task is to practice love and become happy. Enlightened people are both happy and loving. A simple step towards being loving is to accept where you are on your journey of conscious evolution. It might seem counter productive to accept yourself just as you are when you are striving for consciousness. But this is usually the distorted logic of the mind that doesn’t know the way to enlightenment.
Enlightened people accept themselves just the way they are. This begins by being aware of any self critical thoughts and then deciding that they are not true. The second act of acceptance is to accept other people and the world as they are. Enlightened people love and accept others just the way they are too. This also begins with being aware of thoughts and opinions and deciding not to believe them. Do what enlightened people do and you will be headed in their direction. I said these were simple steps but I didn’t say they would come easy.
If you are finding it challenging to be completely accepting of yourself and the world it is likely that you are stumbling over self importance issues and agreements in the mind. These are likely to show up through the inner judge and victim that make up the voice in your head. To overcome these obstacles to happiness and love you will need to identify and change these stories of the personality.
Once you have taken care of this bit of business you will be happy in your life and love will be easy. After that enlightenment just becomes a matter of expanding your consciousness to the point of view of Infinite. Becoming enlightened isn’t a way to measure your spiritual progress or success. This is just something the inner judge does. The enlightened person doesn’t measure success because there is no failure.