chop wood carry water,
chop wood carry water.
This is not a comprehensive article about what enlightenment
is. I actually question what the enlightened state might be, and might not
be, or in what context one might view it. For too long we have accepted
a general definition of enlightenment as it was traditionally passed on.
When one starts to ask questions, it becomes much more complicated, but
also more interesting. I think it is high time to start a discussion of
what enlightenment really is.
What is enlightenment? I often
wondered what it really meant. It is said to be the goal of the spiritual
path, but what does it mean? What happens when you reach enlightenment,
liberation, realization? A lot of people talk about it, but they don't define
it. When I started to get interested in spiritual things, I had all kinds
of ideas what it might be. As I started reading up about it, I discovered
I had it all wrong. I had to adjust my concepts many times. I also found
that a lot of people are confused too about what enlightenment is.
brother once had a friend over for couple of days. She was involved with
some spiritual path. She was constantly telling my brother and his wife
what they should and should not do. My brother was getting really annoyed,
and when she then told him "I am enlightened", he threw her out.
How do we trust people who say they are enlightened? Are people of whom
it is said that they are enlightened truly enlightened? I have always wondered
why so many gurus of whom it is said that they are enlightened (and with
some it is clearly the case) have peculiar characteristics that seem in
contrast with what we understand by the term enlightenment.
It is generally
believed that one needs to meditate long and hard to get enlightened, not
to mention the supposed requirements of finding a guru, an isolated spot,
certain spiritual practices, certain diets, etc. But when you look around
you find some strange contradictions to all this. Ramana Maharshi, for example,
attained liberation at age 16. After devotional visits to the nearby Meenakshi
Temple in Madurai, and associated with this bhakti, he later reported fever
like sensations. Soon after, on July 17, 1896, at age 16, he had a life
changing experience. He spontaneously initiated a process of self-enquiry
that culminated, within a few minutes, in his own permanent awakening. As
he was totally absorbed in meditation, he stayed in a temple refusing food,
and neglecting his body for some time. I always wondered why enlightened
beings sometimes neglect their physical bodies. I understand the concept
of being unattached to the physical, but why not partake of it? Ramana also
hardly spoke, he preferred to "teach in silence", that is by the
energy of his presence. This is another characteristic often present in
some of those that are enlightened; the lack of actively teaching people
about spiritual matters and the path to enlightenment. I do have to
mention that Ramana did have valuable teachings.
Ramana Maharshi described
his enlightenment as: "From that moment onwards, the I or Self focused
attention on itself by a powerful fascination. Fear of death vanished once
and for all. The ego was lost in the flood of Self-awareness. Absorption
in the Self continued unbroken from that time. Other thought might come
and go like the various notes of music, but the I continued like the fundamental
sruti [that which is heard] note which underlies and blends with all other
Is the state of enlightenment difficult to reach? Does it
take an entire life of mediation to finally reach that ultimate goal? Some
people do indeed mediate or do spiritual practices their entire lives and
never reach the state of enlightenment. On the other hand, some get enlightenment
at a very young age, and with little or no mediation. Just merely being
in the presence of an enlightened being, can bring on a permanent state
of enlightenment. Arunachala Ramana achieved enlightenment just through
looking at a picture of Ramana Maharshi, although he didn't even know Ramana
at the time. Sri Aurobindo also spent three days in constant meditation
(using a Samkhyan-type technique taught to him by a yogi called Lele, about
whom little is known) , after which he had attained the state of Brahman,
the realization of the silent Self.
Enlightenment is often described
as having complete awareness of the self, that is, the divine center we
all have, what we actually are. When one becomes aware of this Self, is
is felt as an infinite existence, as silence, freedom and peace. It is felt
as universal but centered in oneself. Enlightenment happens when one can
stay and live in this Self-awareness all the time.
The description given
when the state of enlightenment is reached are not always the same. It seems
to be a very individual matter, although there is common ground. The enlightened
beings themselves are also very different from each other. Some enlightened
ones can remember their past lives, and others can't. Some of them have
psychic skills, and others don't. Some can give 'shaktipat', the transference
of their enlightened energy and can help their disciples reach the enlightened
state, while others can't. Some give teachings, while others don't say a
word. Some of them can transform matter. Some of them live in perfect, unending
bliss, and others are beyond all emotions, even the positive ones. Some
see the futility of the consciousness in which almost everyone lives. They
just go off and die somewhere. Others are said to practically become immortal.
For some, the sensation of having a self is changed, now somehow 'perfect'.
For others, it dissolves and become 'at one' with 'the father' or 'the one'.
In Buddhism, it's said to have ceased to exist altogether. The only thing
that all of these traditions all agree on is that to get there is to end
a discomfort intrinsic to being alive. The more you look into it, the more
it looks that the enlightened state is actually a whole range of possible
states, with an underlying common state of consciousness.
When you look
at those enlightened beings who forget to eat and drink, don't pay any attention
to the health of their body, just don't move from that one spot for years,
or are not interested anymore in other people, one wonders if the enlightened
state can be unhealthy for a person. After all, we humans beings value not
only the individualized state of being, but also our creative potentials,
and a healthy balance in all our affairs.
But it doesn't make you perfect.
Here is the catch, and the reason why certain enlightened gurus show unexpected
characteristics or even engage in acts that can lead to their downfall.
Sri Aurobindo tells us that the awareness of the Self as we just described,
is only the first stage of realization of the Divine. There are further
transformations that need to take place. With enlightenment there is a gradually
awareness of a cosmic vastness which is filled by a cosmic spirit. The limits
of the ego, personal mind and body disappear, as these are felt only as
a small part of oneself. Herein lies the danger because one has to be on
guard against the play of a magnified ego that easily can take place; and
also against attacks of hostile forces that want to prevent the growth of
the soul into the cosmic Truth. It might be less known by the average meditation
practitioner, but there are cosmic beings who appear to the practitioner
as deities or even in the form of certain masters, bestowing knowledge,
bliss or other good feeling upon the person. Such a person might believe
that he has really advanced upon the spiritual path, even that he is close
to or has attained enlightenment, but in reality these cosmic beings are
just out for their own benefit, and steal spiritual energy from the practitioner
to prolong their own lives. Visions and the appearance of "spiritual
beings" are best avoided. If one avoids these dangers there is an initial
ascent through the layers of the mind, and subsequently a descent of the
higher consciousness into the the mind, vital body and the physical body
which are transformed into the higher. There is both a psychic transformation
and a spiritual transformation. The psychic transformation happens, undetected
ego-knots come to the foreground which are then loosened or burned up in
the psychic fire. The spiritual transformation happens when the Divine consciousness
enters the mind, vital body, and physical body, and replaces their consciousness
with its own.
It seems that some gurus having attained the first step
of enlightenment, being in the constant awareness of the Self, accompanied
by the vastness of the inner self, immense peace or bliss, just remain in
that state and do not undergo further transformation. Thus they are still
vulnerable to the imperfections of their personality. This explains why
some gurus have become wrapped up in scandals. The most common: power, money,
absurd statements, giving misleading spiritual information out of self interest,
sometimes predictions, and most often sexual relationships with their devotees
while officially claiming celibacy. Not that sex is bad, but hypocrisy and
lies are. Sex with underage children is also not that uncommon. A well known
enlightened guru was hooked on laughing gas and valium If you want names,
you can find them on the internet, it is all well documented.
become clear that the common understanding of enlightenment is too simple.
The initial state of enlightenment is still full of pitfalls. Only after
a thorough transformation of the entire human being is one truly liberated
from any Maya or Illusion.
I mentioned earlier that Ramana Maharshi got
enlightened at age 16. How can a person get enlightened at that young an
age? Is one not supposed to meditate for a life time, and practice special
spiritual disciplines? Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh got enlightened at age 21.
Sri Aurobindo became enlightened in a prison cell. Arunachala Ramana achieved
enlightenment just through looking at a picture of Ramana Maharshi, although
he didn't even know Ramana at the time. Why is is that India seems to have
so many enlightened people, while Tibet produced only a few, and the West
even less? Could it be genetics that makes it easier for particular races
to achieve the enlightened state? Over the last decades a lot of brain research
has been done, and it has been found that the activation or deactivation
of certain brain regions result in experiences very much like those encountered
in religious and mystical experiences. It has been suggested that the state
of enlightenment is a restructuring of certain brain activities. This does
not devaluate enlightenment itself, but it shed a different light on what
it is in relation to the human being. The restructuring of the brain can
be done by meditation, but maybe one day it can be applied by external influence.
It is also interesting to note that there maybe other approaches to enlightenment.
At the Tracker School of Tom Brown, Jr., the world’s leading expert in wilderness
skills, a neuroscientist examined the effects of spending time in a pure
wilderness. His findings where truly stunning: While it takes a novice usually
well over a year of dedicated mediation practice to sustain an alpha state
for a few hours, people who never meditated in their lives could sustain
deep alpha for hours after only 48 hours in pure wilderness. It seems that
the brain resonates with a field in nature that is more effective than the
constant struggle in meditation. By the way, some spiritual teachers have
always said to use very little effort in meditation. Who knows, maybe one
day, we might genetically alter the human being, giving it a brain structure
and activity that allow for easy access to the enlightened state.
many centuries we took for granted that enlightenment is the goal of human
life, and because enlightened persons were showing such a blissful state,
it looked like something we definitely wanted. But could it be that enlightenment
has more to do with the functioning of the brain? Jill Bolte Taylor experienced
a stroke and was able to analyze what was happening. Being a neuroanatomist
she was also able to interpret her experience in the light of science. Taylor's
February 2008 TED Conference talk about her memory of the stroke became
an Internet sensation, resulting in widespread attention and interest around
the world. You can find her video on YouTube. She explains that the left
brain thinks linearly and methodically. It is all about the past and future.
It looks for details, categorizes and organizes the information it receives.
It thinks in language, and is responsible for the ongoing brain chatter
that connects your inner world to your outer world. It feels itself as a
single individual, separate from the energy flow around us, and from other
individuals. The right brain on the other hand, is only concerned with the
present moment, the here and now. It thinks in pictures. It connects to
everything around us, and does not see a boundary between inner and outer.
It sees itself as part of one human family. In this moment, we are perfect
and we are whole.
Well, that made me think. As long as we are in the
physical body, we have a brain that allows us to experience the cosmos in
a very particular way. All the areas of the brain are abilities to experience
a part of the cosmos. When a part of the brain shuts down, because of injury
for example, a particular part of our experience disappears, like not being
able to distinguish left from right, or recognize movement of an object.
On the other hand, research has shown that stimulation of certain parts
of the brain brings on full blown spiritual experiences. Before going into
this, it is interesting to note that normal human beings are primarily left
brain, that is, they function most of the time with their left brain activated.
With meditation this activity slows down and the right hemisphere becomes
more active. The description of the enlightened state corresponds remarkably
well with what people experience, from brain trauma or meditation, when
the right hemisphere becomes active. In the enlightened state one experiences
the inner world and the outer world as the same, the sense of individuality
diminishes, one experiences a tremendous vastness of consciousness, a unity
with the environment and the cosmos, and the merging of the individual self
with the cosmic self. Is this really the end goal of human life, or of the
spiritual path? well, I wonder about this. maybe it is not a goal in itself.
I think we human beings have the ability for two dual, opposite or complementary
states of consciousness. One one hand there is the individualized consciousness,
what we usually associate with ego. this consciousness is very much projected
onto the outer world. It allows us the experience the physical reality of
the cosmos in a very personal way. This corresponds with the Shakti aspect
in Tantra. Shakti is (both on a cosmic and a human scale) energetic expression
of the Divine. It is active, dynamic force or energy that moves throughout
the cosmos. It creates and individualizes. It is left brain activity. At
the other hand, there is universal consciousness, a deep peace and bliss,
that sees the world and cosmos as a totality, non-individualized. It allows
us to experience the unity in the cosmos. This corresponds with Shiva in
Tantra. Shiva is the passive consciousness, the observer which is eternally
in rest. It is pure, clear consciousness, unmoved, uncreated.
teachings tell us that Shiva and Shakti are never separate, although we
view them as such. There is always one and the same divine essence, that
can be experienced as dual, and in different states of consciousness. There
are like two poles of a magnet. One cannot be without the other. One can
experience the cosmos from the Shakti point of view, what we all commonly
do, in an active, dynamic, individualized way. Or we can experience the
cosmos from the Shiva point of view, that is one of unity, and in rest,
what people call enlightenment. The Shakti experience, brings about desire,
fear, illusion (Maya), suffering. The Shiva experience becomes unattached
from all this because it sees the larger perspective, and rises beyond all
illusion. The Shiva experience is of course a very pleasant experience.
depending on the person, enlightenment can bring a deep profound sense of
peace, or a continuous blissful state, or other pleasant states. We naturally
crave for pleasant experiences, so who would not want to stay in that enlightened
What bothered me for a long time was that enlightened gurus tend
to just sit there experiencing their blissful state, sometimes they would
give some teachings. But why do they not actively engage in helping their
fellow human being in becoming aware of their divine center and how to improve
their state of being, and to develop their full human potentials? I think
the answer lies in the Tantric teachings that tell us that as long as we
are human we have both the Shiva and Shakti awareness all the time. We are
both rooted in the Shiva consciousness of in rest, observing awareness and
in the Shakti consciousness of dynamic, observed awareness. or, both in
the divine center and in the movement of the cosmic creation. Working towards
enlightenment is indeed a necessary spiritual practice that will not only
improve our own state of being by eliminating the illusions that are part
of creation, and eliminating the self provoked suffering, and giving us
the overall understanding of what creation is all about, but staying purely
in this state alone is in my opinion not advisable. As we humans cannot
be without a brain to experience reality, living solely with an activated
right brain and an almost inactive left brain, is the same mistake as being
solely left brained as most people are. Again, this is the mistake of certain
gurus. They stay in their right brain. Although they might think that they
don't have any ego anymore, the ego, or individualized state is still there.
And if their personality is not purified, they are going to fall into its
traps. There are of course those enlightened beings who are aware that before
or after their enlightenment they have to pay attention to purify their
personality from all imbalances. Those are the ones that keep their left
brain active too, that use their individualized consciousness or ego in
the service of their divine Self, thus keeping a equilibrium between left
and right brain, between their Shiva and Shakti. They don't sit in a cave
their entire lives, nor do they create an entourage of adorning disciples
or build luxurious temples.
To return to the activation of brain areas...
Dr. Michael Persinger, working at Laurentian University, in Sudbury, Ontario,
Canada, has pioneered a method for inducing the religious and spiritual
experiences. Using an ordinary striped yellow motorcycle helmet purchased
at a sporting goods store, which he has modified with electromagnetic coils,
he can place the helmet on your head, connect the wires to a device he has
constructed that generates the proper signals, and when the magnetic fields
produced by the coils penetrate the skull and into the temporal lobes of
the brain, the result is the stimulation of those lobes and a religious
How does Dr. Persinger's helmet work? It works by
inducing very small electrical signals with tiny magnetically induced mechanical
vibrations in the brain cells of the temporal lobes and other selected areas
of the brain, located in the skull just above and forward of the ears. These
lobes are the portions of the brain that produce the "Forty Hertz Component"
of the brainwaves detected in electroencephalograms. These mysterious "forty
hertz components" are present whenever you are awake or when you are
in REM sleep. They are absent during deep, dreamless sleep. What the "forty
hertz component" does is not well understood, but we know that it is
always present during the experience of "self." We cannot have
a "me" experience without the forty hertz component being present.
What this means is that the forty hertz component is essential to our experience
of self. We cannot experience our sense of individuality without it. It
stands to reason, then, that if the forty hertz component could somehow
be suppressed, the sense of individuality would be suppressed with it, and
indeed, this is what Dr. Persinger's helmet does. It turns off the forty
hertz component and with it the sense of individuality which your brain
uses to define "self" as opposed to "rest of the world."
when the forty hertz component is deeply attenuated or entirely absent from,
say, the left side, and there's no "self" experience occurring,
the feeling of unity with infinity is occurring with a sense of an overwhelming
presence resulting from the continued operation of the right hand side,
there is no way to describe it other than feeling that one has experienced
the "infinite presence."
Two researchers, Andrew Newberg and
Eugene D’Aquili, have taken a particular interest in these experiences.
Through the use of a brain-scanning technique called SPECT (Single Photon
Emission Computed Tomography), have produced images of the brains of Tibetan
Buddhists who undergo deep, profound meditative experiences as the result
of years of practice. They have done the same with a Catholic Franciscan
nun, who, after 45 minutes of deep prayer, had her brain scanned to determine
what centers were active and what centers were not. The results show that
in both cases, the pre-frontal cortex, which controls attention, is highly
stimulated. Meditation requires a great deal of concentration. The subjects
are clearly deeply attentive to their task. But the superior parietal lobe,
the center that processes information about space, time and the orientation
of the body in space, is suppressed, and is almost totally quiet. The result
is that any sense of time, space or being in the world is suppressed along
with the activity in the superior parietal lobe. Persinger has been able
to reproduce this by electrically suppressing activity in the superior parietal
lobe using his helmet - and when he performs this experiment on Tibetan
monks and the Franciscan nun, they all report that the experience is identical
to what they experience in their own meditative practice.
take this scientific research as proof that all spiritual experiences are
solely brain states, and that there is no spiritual realm. In a sense they
are right. Religious teachers and mystics have always told us that the spiritual
realms are created by our states of consciousness. They do not independently
exist by themselves. But a human being is more than its brain. But our present
science is not developed enough to look into the higher energetic aspects
of the human being. We are just discovering the science to measure the acupuncture
meridians, and the subtle energetic electromagnetic aura of a human body.
When the human body is left behind at death, the human being still exists
as consciousness and is clothed with other more subtle bodies or energy-structures.
The physical brain allows us to experience the world in particular ways
while we are on the physical plane, but in essence we are pure awareness
that is beyond matter and other creational levels of existence.
have been people who, because of an abnormality, had little or almost no
brain matter in their skull. British neurologist John Lorber has documented
over 600 scans of people with hydrocephalus (abnormal build up of cerebrospinal
fluid). Only half of those with more than 90 % of the cranium filled with
cerebrospinal fluid) were severely retarded. All the rest (50 to 90% of
the cranium filled with cerebrospinal fluid) had a normal IQ. Some of those
people have led a normal life, and never knew their condition until they
developed a problem that led to a brain scan.
Now that you have read
abut all this issues regarding enlightenment, is it worth to meditate? Well,
ask your self this: why did you get onto the spiritual path in the first
place? Most people became spiritual or want to become enlightenment because
one didn't feel at home in this physical world, or in this society, or of
a lingering unhappiness about something. It is only when one's mind is perturbed
that one looks for improvement, and one starts to spiritual quest. There
is nothing wrong with it. We all want to be happy and improve our lives.
Meditation and the strive for the natural state of being will bring this
about. However if you want to be enlightened you will never be, because
the very wanting is a hindrance to get enlightened. Anything you want, or
anything you think you are, creates an illusion that blocks you from your
natural state of awareness. Thus somewhere on your spiritual path you have
to give up all your wanting, all your desires, and let your natural state
of being happen by itself. This is well known in Buddhism. Buddhism also
says that there is no meditation, there is only a changing of habits. We
grow up habituated to a consciousness that is tuned to a lot of illusions
about life. All we have to do is to change this habit into a habit of being
in a very clear state of awareness of Self.
Here are some
quotes about enlightenment, just to give idea how people experience it.
Swami Chinmayananda in Self-Unfoldment: "The ultimate ideal is to divert
our attention from the body-mind-intellect to the Life principle supporting
them all, the unchanging factor of all life. The enlightened being is one
who has chosen this highest principle as his ideal and has dedicated all
his activities to it. Such a person lives a life of total independence and
is free from the influence of all changes, within and without." ... "An
enlightened being is one who has gained mastery over his own mind, who is
always at peace no matter what changes may be taking place in the world
around him. At times, others mistake such a person for being indifferent
and disinterested in the world. The truth is, however, that the enlightened
person experiences emotions, but he does not let them overpower him. Such
a person 'has' an emotion, but does not 'become' the emotion; he does not
Mark S.G. Dyczkowski in The Doctrine of Vibration: "The
liberating knowledge of reality thus corresponds to our regaining possession
of ourselves. We must lay hold of ourselves and abide in our authentic nature.
reality coincides with our own most fundamental state of being, free of
all contrast and contradictions. Once we have overcome the negative forces
that arise from our ignorance and prevent us from abiding in ourselves,
we are liberated. To do this, we must penetrate through the pulsing fluctuations
of objectively experienced states and perceptions at the surface level of
consciousness and gain insight into the timeless rhythm of our own nature
manifest in the universal arising and falling away of all things."
Sri Aurobindo: "My mind became silent as a windless air on a high mountain
summit and then I saw one thought and then another coming in a concrete
way from outside. I flung them away before they could enter and take hold
of the brain and in three days I was free." His mind soared into the
vision of the universe as Brahman. "There was no real world - only
when one looked through the immobile senses, something perceived or bore
upon its sheer silence a world of empty forms, materialized shadows without
true substance. There was no One or many even, only just absolutely That,
featureless, relationless, sheer indescribable, unthinkable, absolute, yet
supremely real and solely real."
"Ramana Maharshi: ""It
was in 1896, about 6 weeks before I left Madurai for good (to go to Tiruvannamalai
- Arunachala) that this great change in my life took place. I was sitting
alone in a room on the first floor of my uncle's house. I seldom had any
sickness and on that day there was nothing wrong with my health, but a sudden
violent fear of death overtook me. There was nothing in my state of health
to account for it nor was there any urge in me to find out whether there
was any account for the fear. I just felt I was going to die and began thinking
what to do about it. It did not occur to me to consult a doctor or any elders
or friends. I felt I had to solve the problem myself then and there. The
shock of the fear of death drove my mind inwards and I said to myself mentally,
without actually framing the words: 'Now death has come; what does it mean?
What is it that is dying? This body dies.' And at once I dramatized the
occurrence of death. I lay with my limbs stretched out still as though rigor
mortis has set in, and imitated a corpse so as to give greater reality to
the enquiry. I held my breath and kept my lips tightly closed so that no
sound could escape, and that neither the word 'I' nor any word could be
uttered. 'Well then,' I said to myself, 'this body is dead. It will be carried
stiff to the burning ground and there burn and reduced to ashes. But with
the death of the body, am I dead? Is the body I? It is silent and inert,
but I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of I within
me, apart from it. So I am the Spirit transcending the body. The body dies
but the spirit transcending it cannot be touched by death. That means I
am the deathless Spirit.' All this was not dull thought; it flashed through
me vividly as living truths which I perceived directly almost without thought
process. I was something real, the only real thing about my present state,
and all the conscious activity connected with the body was centered on that
I. From that moment onwards, the I or Self focused attention on itself by
a powerful fascination. Fear of death vanished once and for all. The ego
was lost in the flood of Self-awareness. Absorption in the Self continued
unbroken from that time. Other thought might come and go like the various
notes of music, but the I continued like the fundamental sruti [that which
is heard] note which underlies and blends with all other notes."