Enlightenment is simply the direct recognition and understanding of how things actually are. It is the realization of the true nature of reality.
There are many concepts that point toward this understanding: terms such as "awakening", "non-duality", "prior to understanding", "consciousness-without-an-object", "pure being", and so forth. All these concepts are sound. But they are pointers, not the realization itself. The realization itself is a knowing of a different order beyond conceptual categorization. It is radical, revolutionary, and always now. It turns everything upside down, and is a full stop in the groping of confused thought.
Enlightenment is the understanding of what consciousness is, and of the essential non-existence of the willful self, the person consumed by fears, attachments, and cravings, who thinks that they can control things and believes they have free will; even the person who thinks they want (or need) to become enlightened.
Enlightenment is not non-dual, as that is yet another category applied by the mind. Nor is it dual. It is neither, beyond both, and nothing. It cannot be seized and catalogued. That does not mean that enlightenment cannot be approached via thought. It certainly can, and it can be described and understood intellectually. The mind, clarified and sharpened, is an important tool for undoing the delusions of the personal self. But the mind only takes us to "99 degrees celsius". It does not take us beyond the boiling point of realization. It ushers us to the door, along with its essential companion known as "passion".
Enlightened consciousness sees and understands the intrinsic and seamless perfection of each moment. It sees and understands that the personal self does not, and has never, had any substantial existence, beyond being a mental construct: a collection of memories and identifications, a presumed "center of gravity" inside that does not exist in any absolute sense.
Enlightenment cannot be realized if we are run by desires generated by the phantom of the personal self. The personal self seeks many things, the endless Holy Grails of the world. Enlightenment will simply be yet another of its desires if it sees something desirable in enlightenment. The personal self thinks that perhaps this "enlightenment" will relieve us of certain things, and certain responsibilities. The personal self usually has a wrong motivation to seek enlightenment, and in time this wrong motivation is revealed, resulting in a decline of interest in enlightenment. This decline in interest most often takes the form of becoming distracted by other matters. These distractions are in fact the personal self seeking to escape the business of enlightenment, and reacquiring its old hold and habits.
For the personal self, enlightenment is ultimately terrifying, because it is a call to abandon ship entirely. It is the death of all cherished illusions. As such, it is not possible for us to embark on this path unless we are truly tired of our illusions, and of the utterly repetitive nature of ego-generated suffering.
Enlightenment is liberation from illusion, freedom from ignorance. But in almost all cases enlightenment is not a one-shot affair. Its realization is radical and immanent, but rarely complete and total. The personal self does not give up its cherished illusions so quickly or easily. It usually puts up a good and sustained fight.
Because of this, it is useless and pointless to turn the personal self into some sort of enemy. This will just be the spiritualized ego fighting with the personal self. It will be illusion at war with illusion. Many spiritual seekers fall into this trap. To do this is not to become liberated, but rather to become inwardly divided, to ultimately become little more than a moralist, an insufferable priest of the church of Phony Holy.
A more reliable approach is to bring awareness into our personal self. Instead of making it an enemy, or running from it in fear and judgment, we must become deeply familiar with it. This inevitably involves the need to be exploratory with life to some extent. We are better off exercising some of our desires in order to become fully familiar with them, rather than controlling and repressing them in the name of a sought enlightenment that is really more of a frightened escape from our human condition.
To be exploratory is not license to indulge. We avoid the extremes of repression and indulgence. In so doing, we seek to realize truth on both absolute and conventional levels. We seek to realize truth in silent meditation and contemplation, and in the noisy market place or when quarreling with our lover. We seek to realize truth in focused and inquiring thought, and in the expanding awareness of silent observation of that which observes. We seek to realize truth in sensual contact and in ordinary activities, by being fully present in all acts.
We have no hope of walking the path to enlightenment without a deep and sustaining passion for truth. At first, and possibly for a long time, this will seem like "my passion for truth". Eventually we will recognize—always now—that this is truth discovering itself, and that the personal self, with its agendas and prized dreams, is gradually consumed by the fire of this passion.
Enlightenment is not about renouncing the world. It is not about renouncing anything. It is rather an opening to what is, and a realization of the perfection of what is.
This is accomplished by realizing the nature of illusion as it is generated by the personal self -- me, my desires and my fears. That, combined with a passionate and abiding interest in ultimate truth, are the twin tools for recognizing the true nature of reality. However -- and this is a crucial point -- to recognize the illusions of the personal self does not mean that we leap over the personal self, in some misgiuded attempt to bypass it rapidly, to dismiss it as illusion, when in fact we are still in its grips. If we attempt this we will likely fail. Instead, what is required is a full investigation of the personal self, a mature willingness to be responsible for its manifestations, and to take full ownership of it. We cannot drop a ball unless we are holding it in our hand. We cannot drop the delusions of the personal self until we have seen and understood the full extent of our identification with it. This requires a profound level of honesty, and a consistent willingness to face within.
Copyright 2010 by P.T. Mistlberger