What Is Enlightenment? (And What It Isn’t)
NOTE (July 18, 2009): My latest inner research has taken me to new depths and fullness in both experience and understanding. So, the following description of the basics of Free-Beingness is still substantially correct, but there is an entire other dimension to it – a dimension of radiance and feeling that comes right from the heart of Pure Awareness itself. Pure Awareness is absorption in utter and complete Silence, Emptiness and Stillness (SEAS) but it is not a dead silence, not a emptiness that is void, not a stillness that is flat. It is full of life, its own inherent life. In fact, this liveliness of Pure Awareness is the very wellspring of all Life itself.
Awakening to this liveliness of Pure Awareness is what transforms your whole outer psychology, emotions and personality so that all of you gets absorbed in Pure Awareness, not just your inner perceptions. What I have found is how to activate the lively love-bliss radiance inherent in Pure Awareness into these outer aspects of your being. This brings you back to the point of “primary infant bonding” that is incomplete for all of us and which must be completed in order to fully live the Bliss Of Peace. This completing of the primary bonding has usually been called the “second birth” but I have never seen it related to incomplete infant bonding, where it must be in order to really succeed in being a true birth into your whole outer being – psychology, emotions and all!
So read the following with the knowledge that it is only the foundation, and that the “bliss” part of the Bliss Of Peace is not addressed there.
Our bodies are given life from the midst of nothingness.
Existing where there is nothing is the meaning of the phrase, “Form is emptiness.”
That all things are provided for by nothingness is the meaning of the phrase, “Emptiness is form.”
One should not think that these are two separate things.
– Hagakure, The Way Of The Samurai
This is not an abstraction about “the way things are.” This is the actual tangible experience in your whole body and in all your experiences when you fully realize Free-Beingness. It is what gives you the experience of complete and utter freedom in your ordinary everyday life. “Nothingness” and “emptiness” are Pure Awareness (Pure Silence, Pure Stillness.) “Form” means all appearances (all experiences), including your most intimate experience of your bodily self. Read on for a complete explanation of all this, and how it gives you not only a sense of total freedom but a whole new level of higher functioning in all areas of your life..
NOTE (Nov. 7, 2008): Here’s a succinct definition of what Free-Beingness is. It is the tangible, bodily realization of Pure Formlessness (Pure Awareness), taking your sense of self and all your experiencing and doing beyond all forms and limitations, even beyond experiences of expansiveness and/or spaciousness – to the total freeness realization that comes from existing totally and completely in Pure Emptiness.
Pure Awareness is simply the silence or stillness that you can easily feel inside you (at least, when you are guided into that), that you then get absorbed in, so that you are not observing it but immersed in it. All objects of perception cease in that. That is why it can be called Emptiness.
When this gets integrated into your whole inner body experiencing (which, actually, includes all your experiencing) you realize the total free sense that is that Pure Emptiness, in your whole body and in every experience that you have, because they all flow from your bodily experiencing.
When you get to this in your own body you actually feel and sense unlimitted freeness in a totally tangible way – in the actual sensations of your body, as felt from the inside (not body as object.)
In Free-Beingness, the freeness that is in emptiness is more free than spaciousness, and it is more tangible than simply a realization in consciousness, because it is the bodily realization of emptiness. That is what is unique about it. And, anything less than this is not a full realization, and doesn’t give you the true bliss of complete liberation.
There are very many results that flow from this, and they are quite remarkable, but none of them is the main event. What I write about here is the main event, and is the main criteria for knowing when you have attained Free-Beingness.
NOTE(Feb. 28, 2008): The primary “object” that makes the difference between suffering and enlightenment is our own “self-object” (fundamental core sense of self.) This is the central point of all our experiencing, around which all that is formed. Like all objects, we either experience it as having a statue-like substantiality (which leads to all forms of sufferning), or we experience it as similar to a hologram, which seems solid and substantial at a distance, but when you get near it you can run your hand right through it. You can’t run your hand right through objects, but when you realize Pure Awareness in all objects, you run your consciousness right through them, their seeming opaqueness thereby evaporating. When this happens with your sense of self (your self-object), you are free beyond all suffering and illusion. That is the true realization of enlightenment.
NOTE(May 3, 2008): I have found that it is not just the self-object (ego) that is mistaken to be substantial. The whole activity of the ego is one of constantly maintaining itself by self-monitoring. This activity is also mistakenly perceived to be substantial. Substantiality in an activity means that there is grasping, holding and efforting involved. This results in contraction of the whole body-mind. When both the self-object and the self-monitoring activity are tangibly realized to be nothing but luminous emptiness (Pure Awareness) in their substance, then this self-contraction is transcended, and the whole body-mind profoundling relaxes. That is the complete realization of Free-Beingness.
I am not going to revise this section right away, but keep these additions in mind as you read the rest of this.
Free-Beingness comes from a holistic rational philosophical tradition, originally focused on the study of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato’s way to enlightenment (see my Depth Dialogue site.) It has always been my aim to bring holistic rational Platonic enlightenment back into the world, as a living realization of true freedom and higher human functioning (not as an intellectual project, as Plato’s philosophy is usually seen.) I feel that what was demonstrated in Plato’s writings and lived in his Academy is more true to what higher human possibilities are than any Eastern mysticism or Western religious tradition.
This unique orientation allowed me to explore all the Eastern and Western traditions of enlightenment without falling into their irrationalities and mysticism, or to the authoritarianism of many of the guru teachings or religious teachings. Holistic rationality based on Plato’s wide view of things clears through all the crap that mires both theory and practice in those other traditions. The result is clarity in both understanding and in practice that is not even approached in any of those other traditions.
So, because of this, I was able to get to a clear description of what enlightenment really is, based on my decades of holistic rational exploration into all aspects of what has been presented as enlightenment and practices to attain it. This investigation allowed me to clear away all the mysticism and authoritarianism associated with the topic and its practices. What I present here is the clarity I attained, based on both experience and clear concepts coming from that.
This does not come directly from Plato and doesn’t mimic the method he presented in his Dialogues, but I feel that it is true to the spirit of his rational, clear view of enlightenment. Even though the conclusions I came to and the method I developed come solely from my own investigations and research, it was all inspired by Plato, and I believe that it remains true to his transcendent philosophy and to the philosophical tradition he started. What I present here, then, can be seen as a development within this tradition.
I call what I discovered “the clear and distinct idea of enlightenment” to distinguish it from all the mysticism and mysteriousness that abounds around this topic.
My Free-Beingness guidance is a direct result of achieving this clarity. It is “enlightenment without the crap!” (If you’ve been a seeker for any length of time you know what that crap is. I hope you do, anyway. Wake up!)
(For exactly what holistic rational inquiry is, take a look at my Free-Beingness Blog article entitled Holistic Rationality.)
It is very important to know that you cannot attain enlightenment by imagining or mimicking this description. The means for attaining enlightenment are completely different, based on practical considerations of method. These means are as sophisticated and rationally clear as the idea of enlightenment, but they were come by through a separate line of exploration. What is presented here fits with the method only as a reference point for realization experiences once they are attained. Or as a preparation for what is coming, so as not to be too surprised by how radically different your new experiences will be.
I don’t really like to use the word “enlightenment” because it has come to mean so many different things. This is why I have made up a new name, Free-Beingness. But I will refer to it as enlightenment here so that for now we will have a common word for what I am writing about. Just remember that it is specifically Free-Beingness as enlightenment that I am referring to.
The clear and distinct idea of enlightenment starkly contrasts with all previous presentations about enlightenment. Up until now, all views of enlightenment have either been inadequate (in light of the necessary rational distinctions that were required in order to reach clarity in this investigation) or have been mystical or mysterious in one way or another. The most common way that descriptions of enlightenment have been mysterious is that they have been presented in the form of imagery, metaphors, analogies or allegories. (For instance, one analogy is that “life (or world) is an illusion.” A little bit later, I will give an adequate rational idea that presents this with clarity.)
All of these introduce distortions, because the imagery is only a vague approximation of an actual experience. They are also very misleading because often they are taken for literal truth when in fact they are only metaphors or analogies, although not stated as such. Holistic rational investigation of all these imagery presentations shows that they are not adequate representations of just what enlightenment is.
In contrast, the clear and distinct idea of enlightenment is
- A concrete description of the actual experience of enlightenment, and
- A rational conceptualization of that concrete experience that is adequate to the experience without introducing any mysteriousness through the use of imagery, analogy, etc. etc.
This is what the long development of rational inquiry over the last several centuries that I wrote about in Raids On The Unspeakable has given us the ability to accomplish.
And so now here it is –
What it is (the concept)
The actual and tangible sensation of complete and utter freedom in your whole self, your whole body-mind, and in all the experiences of your ordinary everyday life (objects, other people, world.)
Description (the tangible details)
You actually and tangibly sense Pure Awareness (Pure Silence, Pure Stillness, No-Thing-ness, Total Aware Emptiness – which is actual freedom beyond all experiences) in all your experiences (including yourself, your body, all bodies, other people, things, the whole world), giving all those experiences a mirage-like quality of insubstantiality. You experience Pure Aware Emptiness as the only substance of everything – and that is the experience of complete and utter freedom, completely clear of all the experienced limitations and boundaries of seemingly substantial material objects (which you no longer experience as being substantial, but as Pure Awareness itself)!
Yourself, your body-mind, and all your experiences of the world, things, etc. are mere appearances spread out in space and time, without any feeling of substantiality. The main element of your experience that you are aware of is Awareness itself, as Pure Aware Emptiness. All the rest seems to be suspended in the void of this Awareness. It is as if yourself and all your experiences became lighter and lighter and lighter, and then went all the way and became completely insubstantial, although they all still have the same shape and appearance as before. (This is your experience, not “the way things are” – which is basically unknowable.)
No experience is eliminated. Some teachings say that ego (or some variation of it, like the fundamental “self-contraction” of self) is what is in the way and must be eliminated. But self (ego) is the central organizing structure for all other experiences. Without this central organizing activity there would be no experience at all. So, not only can ego not be eliminated, it is a delusion to believe that it can be. What happens when you try to eliminate the ego is simply psychological dissociation – pathology rather than enlightenment.
What actually happens is right in line with the general description, above. Self is real, and it does not disappear. However, like all experiences, the seeming substance of self is perceived as Pure Awareness, as Pure Aware Emptiness. The old substance of self was based on memories, thoughts, sensations, impressions, and set behavioral patterns (called “karma” in the Eastern schemes), etc. held together by continual self-focusing (self-consciousness, “self-contraction”) that is mostly unconscious. None of this disappears, but it becomes filled with Pure Awareness.
The center of your self, which used to be based on memories, sensations, emotions, and fixed patterns of these, is replaced by Pure Awareness. You now experience yourself as Pure Awareness looking through the lens, so to speak, of your individual egoic characteristics, to a world that is itself Pure Awareness. You realize that, as such, you are the “eye (the I) of the world.”
This is the greatest feeling of real freedom. The old contents of self, because of the nature of being separated from Pure Awareness and experienced as substantial, were felt as self-concern, anxiety about self, defensiveness about self, limitations and fixity in patterns of action, etc. etc. This is because in that old mode, self is perceived as a substantial material object, and can be hurt by other objects in the field of objects bumping up against one another. When all of self is filled with Pure Awareness, all this self-consciousness, self-contraction and self-concern (the major sources of all kinds of suffering) is eliminated. Self is not eliminated – just the inherent suffering of the self that is perceived as a separate material object, is eliminated.
The actual, tangible experience of this is a sensation of self as free, of being a free being – Free-Beingness! The contents of the remembered self (ego) still act as ego, but ego now has the function of an instrument of Pure Awareness. You experience yourself as totally free Pure Awareness acting through the instrument of your egoic self. Pure Awareness is the sense of total freedom – egoic functioning is your presence in the world. (And remember – the world is now also only appearances filled with Pure Awareness – and so there is complete continuity between your experience of self-freedom and outward experiential freedom.)
(For more on this see my article Real Freedom.)
Note: Another result of this explosion of real, tangible, experienced freedom is that you are set free from your old fixed patterns of action and experience (old “karma”) along with all the limitations, dysfunction and pain these bring, on many levels. In place of these you become more and more spontaneously creative in all aspects of your life, at all levels. Life, conditions and situations open up for you in ways that you couldn’t even imagine before (or wouldn’t let yourself imagine because of the limiting patterns.) All of this is not the main event (which is as described above), but it is certainly a welcome development. It is Free-Beingness spontaneously manifesting in your ordinary everyday life.
Radiant Pure Awareness
There are very many other results and benefits that come to you naturally and spontaneously from attaining enlightenment, including many, if not most, of the characteristics that are traditionally attributed to enlightenment. But these are not essential characteristics, and so I don’t want to get into them now, because they are a distraction from the defining characteristic of enlightenment which I have presented. In fact, as I show below, they can be major distractions and even impediments, if they are taken for enlightenment, thereby becoming a substitute for the real thing.
By far the most important secondary result of sensing Pure Awareness in yourself and in everything, is actually inherent in Pure Awareness. I have written more about this earlier (The Bliss Of Peace Realization), and it is this: Pure Awareness is utter stillness and silence, but it is not dead silence. There is a natural liveliness to this silence. That liveliness is the natural bliss inherent in Free-Beingness. I used to call it the Bliss Of Peace, but this was confusing because by Peace I was referring to the Pure Silence, the Pure Aware Emptiness that is Pure Awareness beyond all experiences, and not to some peaceful state of experience. But it is blissful – a bliss beyond all experiences, actually, the bliss of being beyond all experiences.
With Free-Beingness you do enter into a free-floating bliss that is that liveliness of Pure Awareness. Again, as above, I am not emphasizing this aspect of the realization because it can be distracting. If you are looking for some experience that you associate with bliss, or if you experience that natural radiance of Free-Beingness and get seduced by it, you can stop short of full realization, which is not basically that bliss, but the utter and complete freedom of Pure Emptiness in everything.
So, Pure Awareness is a Pure Radiance of Bliss, an effulgence of luminosity. You experience that deeply, concretely, tangibly in your whole body, self and world. But this is like the light that emits from the light bulb. Free-Beingness is about fully realizing that you are the light bulb, not the light that comes from it, although that light is inherent in you and inevitably flows from you. When it simply flows, you are free in Pure Awareness. If you focus on it, you get lost in it and it takes you out of Pure Awareness into the illusion of substantiality in experiences that I wrote about above. Being innocent in that bliss flow, you are free.
So, it is important to know about it, but then to forget about it, so that you go all the way to the full realization. Only when you are truly and fully the light bulb does this light flow. Only when you are nothing but Pure Awareness do you innocently flow in the bliss of it, as Radiant Pure Awareness.
Traditional Knowledge Explained
The most succinct expression of the truth of real enlightenment (real liberation, true freedom) comes from the Vedic Upanishads. It is called the Maha-va-kya. It goes like this:
I am That.
You are That.
All this is nothing but That.
That alone Is.
The clear and distinct idea of enlightenment fully explains this with rational clarity, taking away all of the mumbo-jumbo of Eastern mysticism and modern “non-duality” muddled thinking (for more on this see my article on The Faulty Absolutism of “Non-Dualism.” )
From the description and concept of the real enlightenment experience that I have provided, it is evident that “That” is Pure Awareness, or Pure Aware Emptiness – the who or what that experiences everything, from the pure silence, the utter stillness, beyond all experiences.
The four lines are not separate but make up the whole of what liberation enlightenment really is. I.E. “That” (Pure Awareness) in everything – from “I” to “you” to “all this” (all things, the whole world.) And finally summing it all up by stating that “I,” “you” and “this” have no existence or substantiality of their own. That “That” alone exists, and is the very substance of all appearances. Because all appearances have no substantiality of their own, Pure Awareness alone Is.
Another, more simple, way of stating the Maha-va-kya is this:
There are not many selves.
There is not one Self.
There is ONLY Self.
(Only Pure Awareness.)
The clear and distinct idea of enlightenment makes it totally clear that this is not speculation or theory, but the actual realization experience that you tangibly and concretely sense, feel and know when you are enlightened.
Many people could imagine that they are enlightened because their perception is merely out of focus (i.e. they are “spacy” in one way or another.) The “mirage-like quality” of experiences is not the main characteristic of the realization experience. That can easily be imagined, or faked, to yourself. What really characterizes realization beyond a doubt is the actual presence of Pure Awareness (experienced as actual tangible aware emptiness – not space, spaciousness, or anything of the like) in all your experiences. The mirage-like quality of experiences is just the result of that presence, and is actually just a rather trivial sign.
Actually, all the outward forms of your experiences remain the same, and even become more focused. This includes boundaries, all five senses, your bodily felt sense, and even sensations of density, tangibility and the like. The “mirage-like quality” of experiences is more that experiences take on the quality of a hologram – completely in focus, sharp and bright just like the most solid object, but basically experienced as insubstantial. The experience of substantiality is replaced by the tangible experience of aware emptiness (Pure Awareness.)
This tangibly gives you a reference point for what real freedom (“liberation”) is. Anything less than Pure Awareness in all your experiences (including your most intimate bodily experience of your self-sense) is not enlightenment, in the sense of that which gives you the true happiness of real and true freedom (in Plato’s terms, living outside of the Cave.)
Please notice that this idea of enlightenment has no mention of Consciousness (or of experiences on the same level, such as Pure Bliss, Peace, Love, Radiance, “energy,” vibration, spaciousness, expansiveness, etc.) This is because Consciousness, even in its most expansive state, is an object of experience similar to any other object. Pure Awareness is that which experiences any and all objects, including Consciousness. Real freedom (true enlightenment) happens only when you realize the freedom of Pure Awareness in and as all things, i.e. the insubstantiality (tangibly aware emptiness) of all things, including Consciousness, energy, vibration, etc. etc.
This is very important because this degree of clarity separates what really is enlightenment from what may seem to be enlightenment but isn’t. The real thing gives you the complete and utter sensation of freedom that alone is true happiness. Anything else – even the most sublime experiences – does not give you this, but actually keeps you from it!
So, here it is – none of the following has anything to do with the liberation-enlightenment we are talking about here, that really sets you free: Consciousness, Pure Consciousness, Radiance, Love, Love-Radiance, Unconditional Love, God, “God-realization,” Bliss, Light, Pure Light, Peace, Deep Peace, Oneness, Unity, Wholeness, “higher states of consciousness,” mystical experiences, ecstasy, and the list could go on and on.
Actually, most if not all, of these arise naturally and spontaneously as a result of Free-Beingness enlightenment. But taking these results for the essence of enlightenment is a sure impediment to attaining the real thing. And that is why I strongly emphasize that these experiences are not it!
The sensation of the Free-Beingness enlightenment realization is its own bliss. It is the feeling of true happiness – the happiness of feeling totally and completely free. But this bliss is completely different than that in any mystical or expansive consciousness state. It is not an experience, not even a subtle experience like mystical ecstasy. It is the same sensation as the feeling of freedom. Like what a prisoner feels when he gets out of prison – free/happy, both as one! Pure Awareness is Pure Bliss – beyond any bliss the mind can imagine or anticipate.
Along the above lines, a lot of fruity new age stuff has already been excluded, but this makes it abundantly clear that things like “ascension,” “raising your vibrations,” etc. etc. are just simply irrational nonsense that someone dreamed up (i.e. imagined, fantasized.) None of these things hold up to clear-eyed scrutiny – which is the only activity that yields knowledge of what is real and what isn’t. Only when we clearly distinguish between what is real and what isn’t can we practically and effectively get to the realization of what is real. All the irrationality of new age mysticism only keeps us away from the goals it seemingly aims for.
I am not saying that other ideas of enlightenment are wrong or that other experiences are not valuable. I am just saying that only the above described realization experience is what really and truly constitutes true experiential freedom, and therefore is the only ultimate self-realization. This is one of the main reasons why I made up a new name: Free-Beingness . This distinguishes what I am writing about here from all other ideas of enlightenment, which have their own validity and value at their own levels. All I am saying, though, is that none of them is the realization of the ultimate freedom I am presenting here as the clear and distinct idea of enlightenment.
Other enlightenment experiences are just that – experiences in the world of appearances. And all experiences, when taken to be substantial, take you away from Free-Beingness (Pure Awareness in all experiences, actual liberation enlightenment.) So, because of this, “higher states of consciousness,” for instance, are not enlightenment but mere experiences. Not only are they not enlightenment. They keep you in the “mirage” of experiences, like any experience does. The only difference is that these experiences are on a much more subtle and refined level – which actually can be more powerful and seductive. The interpretation of them as ultimate enlightenment most certainly has a bad effect, because you then stop short of really getting free.