Enlightenment is a tricky word: it means different things to different people. For some, it’s the path that leads to the summit of spiritual attainment. Others think it’s complete and utter baloney. Still others see it simply as a state of consciousness. Whatever the case may be, the tricky part of enlightenment lies within the word itself. Its definition lacks the universal (or objective) notion of what enlightenment actually is, hence the confusion.
The term “enlightenment” simply means to add more light, and to receive more knowledge and truth. In other words, enlightenment is the natural process of expanding your consciousness by way of reason and truth, through self-development or soul growth.
But is enlightenment simply a matter of knowledge? Can I be enlightened by merely reading books?
Absolutely not! Enlightenment demands a more holistic approach towards being; specifically, a thorough yet balanced management of work, study and rest. Every aspect of your life counts. Every minute and every second is a contribution to the whole. And that’s why enlightenment goes hand in hand with a solid identity, responsibility and control—it is, fundamentally, an art of self-mastery.
Therefore, the aspirant—he or she who aspires to add more light—should centre his or her life around four main questions:
» Who or what am I?
» What am I doing here?
» What is the nature of my reality?
» Why do I suffer?
The answers to these questions will arise from intense spiritual labour that acts as a catalyst for inner transformation. You will not find them by sitting in the lotus position and gazing into an abyss for hours—that would be a waste of precious time (and space).
Misconceptions about enlightenment
The biggest misconceptions concerning enlightenment are to be found in the arena of popular spirituality. Today, people assume that they’re enlightened too quickly, when they’re actually just copying and modifying the words (and behaviours) of guides and gurus who are, in fact, no more enlightened than themselves. True enlightenment is necessarily based on reason, truth and, most importantly, personal experience and hard work. There’s simply no other way to get there—you need to grow, and to do so, you must learn to embrace your dark side.
Here are some common misconceptions about the idea of enlightenment:
You must live in the moment – The ability to live in the now is the mere result of eradicating your lower nature (your dark side) over a vast period of time. In the first phase of your spiritual quest, you must explore the path that leads to living in the moment (which is a state of balance), without directly jumping over it, as many people strive to do.
You can achieve ascension – Face it—you won’t suddenly disappear from the Earth because you’re too good for it—ever. A lot of people are tempted by the idea of ascension, but no university student has ever received a master’s degree before actually succeeding in their final exams. Our physical reality is a learning school, and must be considered and respected in this way. Hence, it’s best for first-degree spiritual aspirants to focus only on self-knowledge and serving others, as at this stage, anything else is completely redundant.
Belief in dogma and superstition is essential – Since enlightenment is, simply put, the search for truth, it cannot be found in the carnivalesque concepts of the outer world. The trendy and well-hyped dogmas of today are tomorrow’s latrines. Therefore, the serious aspirant will always look for the universal and see through the ephemeral. Moreover, he or she will follow neither creed nor teacher, but maintain belief in the (hitherto latent) powers that reside within himself or herself. Truth is always found by going inward, not by believing in and copying what’s on the outside. Knowledge is the wisdom of the mind, whereas wisdom is the knowledge of the heart.
Three phases of enlightenment
The spiritual quest that leads to enlightenment is threefold. It includes:
» Looking inside (youth)
» Going inside (adolescence)
» Remaining within (old age)
In the first phase, the aspirant confronts himself or herself, and learns to remember who he or she really is, through some serious spiritual labour. Self-knowledge and serving others are of the utmost importance during this primordial quest.
Enlightenment is not only the search for truth, but it also involves a ride down the bumpy road that leads to self-mastery. In the second phase, a student must learn to control his or her emotions and, as a result, come to a point of balance. Furthermore, he or she must learn to transform destructive emotions into constructive actions, an undertaking that can sometimes be quite difficult and precarious to navigate.
The universe is completely mental—all is mind. He or she who masters the mind is the master of his or her universe. Consequently, the third phase of enlightenment focuses on the freedom of the mind.
In that sense, the core of the enlightenment process (or the transmutation of the soul) is to simply make an effort to eradicate your lower nature (your inner beast) and, thereby, bring in more light (truth). This inner transformation is an automatic process within, but again, it must be stressed that the steps towards it are to be respected and meticulously executed.
The main reason there are so many misconceptions in the arena of spirituality today is that people hate truth, because they don’t like to be confronted with themselves. Instead, they prefer to believe in the fairy tales of self-proclaimed gurus who are leading the masses astray with hollow promises and idle words. However, as difficult as this may be, the road to true enlightenment necessitates a serious study and investigation of the self that requires daily work based on courage, perseverance and integrity—it’s a battle between the good and evil within us, so to speak.
Only then will we remember that the laws of creation—the marriage of spirit, space and matter—are applicable to all living creatures and entities, and that receiving truth is simply a matter of executing the long-forgotten analogy: “as above, so below.”
Read more about the spiritual path in PURIFICATION OF INTENT: A spiritual seeker’s guide to understanding awakening and the path>>