We hear the term ‘awakening’ thrown about today like a rag doll. And as is the case with almost all spiritual terminology, there seem to be levels and levels of meaning for the word ‘awakening.’ It is important to first recognize that we are not necessarily using a common language. When I see what the word ‘awakening’ is being used to point at, from the plethora of spiritual teachers that exists today, it is evident that it is being used to denote many different things.
And it is not just the spiritual teachers who use ‘awakening’ with different meanings; you can find references from the Enlightened Masters as well. There are times in the many books of Osho where he refers to ‘awakening’ as the final enlightenment, and sometimes he is pointing to a step that precedes enlightenment. I find the same situation in the works of J. Krishnamurti, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Ramana Maharshi, and Meher Baba. Although if one looks carefully at the context in which the words are being used, it is not as confusing as it seems.
However, in writing this I am not interested in repeating the words of those remarkable Enlightened Ones, but rather this understanding that I wish to share, is one that has been taking shape over the last twenty years and has only now become sufficiently stabilized that I feel willing to express openly.
Before we even begin to look at the different meanings we might ascribe to ‘awakening,’ let us first acknowledge that all individuals are moving through their awakening at a different pace. It is clear that we did not all begin at the same point. This is illustrated when we see that a sage like Ramana Maharshi realizes his enlightenment at the age of sixteen seemingly without effort. In contrast is the experience of Nisargadatta Maharaj in whom enlightenment happened much later in life. Some were prepared from their very childhood for such an event, and some worked through their own efforts at removing the obstacles to the ‘natural state.’ Some of us have lived a life centered in meditation from a young age, and some of us stumbled upon it much later in life perhaps after some major crisis turned our world upside down. So it is important to understand that just because we have not had a certain understanding does not mean that one of our fellow travelers has not. It is equally important to note that if we have experienced some insight or transformation, it is not likely that many will understand what we are talking about.
So let us begin with what each of us (at least anyone who is reading this) has probably experienced. For some of us it might have come like a bolt of lightning, for others it may have always been intuited as truth. And that is that life, the world, is appreciably different from what we were conditioned to believe. Many may describe this realization as an awakening and indeed it is. This awakening would demark the beginning of the journey. It would denote a tremendously important change of direction and priorities in one’s life.
Having changed direction in life, we embark on searching out information, knowledge, understanding, and perhaps a teacher to help guide us along the way. We may be fortunate and come across that guide early on or for some it may take many years. And some may not find the guide in whom trust is a natural and spontaneous flowering and so may just wander from teacher to teacher. Regardless, even without a guide, and certainly with one, it is possible, after an introduction to meditation, after reading the words of those who have known the greatest mystery, after the necessary inner work, to come to an “intellectual understanding” of the lay of the spiritual land. Jean Klein refers to it as a “geometric understanding.” One can almost visualize the obstacles that lie before. This understanding often can come as a flash and could certainly be described as an ‘awakening.’ But here, it is important to note that this intellectual understanding is not the same as being understanding, is not the same as knowingness; it is more like knowledge.
Next, we come to what seems to me to be more worthy of such a moniker as ‘awakening.’ This is when one realizes oneself to be out of the mind’s conditioning. The “goose is out.” Here one is being out of the mind and is able to see the mind clearly as an object of perception. It is not that the mind has disappeared, no, but one is not living within the mind. And it is here that witnessing really emerges. In fact, this is the witness. The mind is still present but one is not captive to its many grips. But it is important at this stage to allow witnessing its full force through meditation. It is here that the “emptying of consciousness” must take place. If one is not mindful, it is extremely easy to slip back into the clutches of the mind. But one is also able to see the horizon. One knows what needs to happen. One cannot make ‘it’ happen, but one does need to create the opportunity. With this awakening the taste is known and so it is natural that real earnestness arises.
For what follows, we will have to take the words and expressions of those who have known as a hypothesis. We accept the hypothesis and in our laboratory of meditation discover for ourselves if it is indeed true. The Enlightened Masters have all said that there does come a complete annihilation of the separate ego-mind, one that is irreversible, and surely it is ‘this’ that deserves the name “Enlightenment.”
So here we come to the point that has been the fuel for this inquiry all these years. Without exposure to the presence of an Enlightened Master, and unfortunately for some even with, it is very easy to believe that the “awakening of the witness” is the end of the journey, is itself enlightenment. Some fellow travelers might very well believe that there is no ending of the mind because that is the limitation of their own experience. They become teachers and this then becomes part of their teaching, thus misdirecting their students. Just as importantly their unfolding stagnates, believing that they have reached the end thus not allowing the space for the “emptying of consciousness” to take place. This is where the exposure to a fully enlightened master should prove extremely helpful. The master does not allow us to make our house in the sand. He continually goads us to keep on to the very end. May we all continue to the very end, Charaiveti, charaiveti (go on, go on to the very end).
This is from the collection of stories, essays, poems and insights that is compiled to form the book From Lemurs to Lamas: Confessions of a Bodhisattva. Order the book Here.
Here is a follow up post After Awakening Before Enlightenment.
See a related post The Seeing I.
Below I am including some links to a few postings that illustrate, much more deeply, what is being said.