When I was a student at Maharishi International University in the late 1970’s I studied the various descriptions of enlightenment proffered by the organization at the time. There was a general sense that the higher states of consciousness were very clearly defined and somewhat static experiences delineated by specific, very clear threshold experiences. You wake up into Cosmic Consciousness one moment and your life is different from then until you reach the next stage when it becomes different again, and so on. It was a linear progression with distinct states. I have described that conceptual view in my “What is Spiritual Enlightenment? Part 1” essay.
As I mature and as I study the experiences of others as they mature, I find that the lines are much fuzzier than previously described. My friend, Jill, suggests that these definitions from my school days are simplified constructs designed for beginners on the spiritual quest. I would tend to agree. It would be complicated to explain to someone who is learning meditation in order to help himself get better sleep and ease the worries that their world will be turned upside down by their eventual awakening. They would rather know that life is going to get better and that it will happen in an expectable progression.
Anyway, I was wandering through the dining hall one evening and I saw another student wearing a t-shirt that read “enlightenment is a process”. Now, I had never heard Maharishi say those words, so it caused me to pause and reflect on it. While it went counter to the sort of absolutism apparent in the official descriptions, it lingered in my mind as an intelligent observation.
Now, many years later, I observe how evolution is a constant process. Even as the “higher states of consciousness” roll by, they are a constant state of flux. The relationship of mind to body to universe to the indescribable nothingness is like the rolling surface of the ocean. One day it is placid, the next a windy hurricane. The sun warms it as the breeze cools it. Who “I” was yesterday is a far cry from what “I” was last week and surely different from next month. The whole concept of “I” as a person is suspect.
Jill suggests that there are typical landmarks along the way but that the process is ever changing and is different for each person. There is no prescription for enlightenment yet the path can be found by anyone by following his or her own nature. Find a teacher you trust and keep your eyes wide open along the way. I like her approach. It certainly makes the whole process quite interesting since there is no way to face it other than brutally honest self-observation and following the road no matter where it bends.
There is also a collective element to awakening. No one does it alone. One of the most miraculous elements of this process is the phenomenon of “transmission”. When an awakened person places his or her attention somewhere, there is a communication of an ineffable wisdom to that object. If you are sitting with that person, you will find that the peace, joy and wisdom of the awakened soul bleeds over into you as if by osmosis. This is the most ancient way of teaching, and is still the most profound.
In days of old it meant sitting at a guru’s feet and aligning yourself with his will. Nowadays there is so much wisdom flowing that we could honestly say that the master’s feet are everywhere. One person’s enlightenment can spread via the internet all over the world, for attention flows through many channels. And there is a groundswell of teachers spreading their light all over the world. Time is making it easier and easier to awaken. It might be suggested that the collective consciousness is awakening and we, as individuals are simply participating in our part of that process. That’s certainly how it feels to me.
The old model of stages of enlightenment still holds, only it must be understood to be a simplistic framework to describe what is, essentially, a messy process of deconstructing the conceptual world and replacing it with pure openness. For each of us, this is an epic process – and the only process truly worthy of undertaking.
We are all Enlightenment becoming.