Saturday, August 2, 2014

Awakening is NOT Enlightenment

Google the term Awakening, or surf Facebook long enough and you are bound to come across someone claiming to be Awakened. An experience of Awakening can be triggered by many different things from meditation to nature to psychological turmoil of some type.

Awakening is characterized by an experience of knowing that the personal self-narrative is not the correct story; there is an awakening to the truth of who one really is. Consciousness, which was identified with the body and mind, dis-identifies and becomes free, hence a realization of higher consciousness is experienced. However, in many cases, this Awakening recedes, giving way to the return of ordinary consciousness. Expressed differently, consciousness re-identifies back with the body/mind and is followed by a period of adjustment, often accompanied by a longing and yearning for the return of the Awakened state. There's no doubt that any experience of awakening, where one experiences a shift that alters consciousness, is transformative, but, at the same time, not always transformative to the level of Enlightenment. Too many people use Awakening and Enlightenment to mean the same thing, but for me, they are different.

Many famous people have had Awakening experiences that were the result of intense psychological trauma — two examples being Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie. Both endured many years of depression. It was a thought that triggered their awakenings. For Tolle, the thought was "I cannot live with myself anymore, who is the I and who is myself." This thought was enough to shock his consciousness out of its normal patterns of identification, allowing him to become aware of who he really was.

I am less familiar with Byron Katie's story, but I believe her awakening was also triggered by a thought. Her method of self-inquiry, The Work, teaches individuals to examine thoughts to see if they are true. As a result of their Awakenings Tolle and Katie are enlightened.

A snapshot of how Katie's The Work operates
The trigger for many awakening experiences is the questioning of thought, or to put it another way, the questioning of the identification of consciousness with thought. The process of questioning or inquiry — frequently a result of great pain and psychological trauma — seems to provide a portal into the NOW, which triggers Awakening. Afterwards, life is never the same. It's as if consciousness recognizes that it had been bound, is now free, and is going to create and create and create; and so you have The Power of Now from Tolle and The Work from Katie. These are two examples; there are more.

My first experience of Awakening was triggered by a painful stressful psychological circumstance. Something happened and it was so shocking to my mind and consciousness that energy rose and I began to shake. At the time, I didn't realize it was an Awakening because I didn't have the words to express it, even though I had practiced Mahayana Buddhism for almost 10 years. It was only in the weeks and months that followed, when life calmed down and I became relaxed, that I realized "something" profound had happened. So while the phenomena of "inquiring into my thought" didn't happen for me, the element of psychological trauma was very much present and is the element I consider to be common in all degrees of Awakening to a greater or lesser extent.

I recently came across some research on this topic for the MSc that I am studying for, which shows that out of a study of 161 people who submitted accounts of their awakening experiences, 23 percent were triggered by or associated with intense turmoil and distress (Taylor, 2012 b). Interestingly, the type of turmoil didn't seem to be as important as the intensity. I didn't take part in this research, but my own experience supports this finding. For many people the experience fades, leaving just the memory and yearning.

Enlightenment is NOT Awakening; it is different in one respect in that enlightenment involves the transmission of spiritual energy and a transformation of identity. The Enlightened Masters in the past could transmit this spiritual impulse to their disciples/devotees. Accounts by devotees about the force of the spiritual transmission felt from their Master abound. It is this aspect of the process that distinguishes Awakening from Enlightenment. It might sound arrogant, and I say so from the place of being Awakened, but not enlightened, that if I don't feel an energy from the person who is claiming to be enlightened, then my view is that this person has had an awakening experience, but is not enlightened. In the burgeoning world of people claiming to be Awakened/Enlightened some tool of discernment is necessary to navigate the precarious, unpredictable spiritual waters without being lulled. Don't get me wrong, being Awake is a huge gift of Grace, but it's not the ultimate.

In the shift from the human to the spiritual that we are going through, many people will be having Awakening experiences and then claim to be Enlightened. This may not be done to intentionally deceive, but only as a result of the ego mind (identity) interpreting the experience and elevating it.

To determine whether or not they reach a state of Enlightenment, Awakening experiences need time to be integrated. Speaking immediately afterwards is not advised. This is where the adage "those who know don't speak, and those who speak don't know" comes from because it takes time for the experience to marinate and incubate, and speaking too soon can affect the process. Awakening is a stage on the path to Enlightenment; it is not IT.

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