Enlightenment as a Skill — Part I: A Practical Definition of Enlightenment
What is enlightenment? Few can agree. In ten minutes of online research, I found the following “definitions.” Enlightenment is…
- A sudden insight into a transcendental truth
- Self realization
- Pure awareness
- Nondual consciousness
- Witness consciousness
- The collapse of perceived boundaries
- Separation from thoughts
- A state of perfect knowledge or wisdom, combined with infinite compassion
- The loss of all sensual desire, ill will, conceit and ignorance
These definitions are too vague for my taste. They are too open to interpretation. The last two are fundamentalist ideology. The remainder are the results of enlightenment — symptoms of it — not what enlightenment is.
I like clear definitions. I like things I can work with. I like definitions I can test and use to track my progress.
My definition of enlightenment has changed over the years. At first, I was just as guilty of confusing the symptoms with the cause. One of my first definitions was: Enlightenment is when you no longer identify with your thoughts. But that is a result of awaking, not what awakening is.
Over the years, as my understanding grew, my definition became more clear and practical. It has boiled down to this simple, easy-to-test definition:
Enlightenment is the skill of being able to unite the personal and the impersonal on demand.
Probably not what you were expecting, but bear with me.
Personal: That which feels like me.
Impersonal: That which feels like other.
Practically all the results listed above occur when you are able to unite the personal with the impersonal. They are experienced when the felt sense of me and the felt sense of other feel the same. They are not the cause of this unity, they are the result of it. They are what we experience when the me and the not me merge.
When the personal and the impersonal unite, the boundaries between self and other collapse. Everything becomes one thing. Everything feels like it is you while at the same time, everything feels like it is not you. Everything feels like it is in here, while at the same time it feels like it is out there. Everything — thoughts, trees, mountains, emotions — all feel the same. They are out-there-in-here-personal-impersonal-me-other. All at the same time.
This sounds like a paradox, but it’s not. When there is no separation between the personal (you) and the impersonal (other), then there is only one thing: YouOther. There is no longer a separate you, nor is there any otherly stuff. It is all the same thing.
Skill: Uniting the personal with the impersonal can be taught. It can be learned.
The ability to unite the me with the not me is a skill. It is what I call the Witness Aspect. It’s not easy — sort of like learning how to wiggle your ears or play a musical instrument at the professional level — but it is a skill that you can learn.
Witness consciousness is what happens when the personal and impersonal are united. Witness consciousness is the experience of the Witness Aspect. Witness consciousness is the result of enlightenment, not the cause.
On demand: At will. When one so chooses.
The on demand clause of my definition may surprise you. It may even anger you if you are a believer of enlightenment mythology. If this is you, just ask yourself a simple question. “Do I know of any living person who is aware of pure awareness 24/7?” Not someone who is dead. Not someone who claims they have it. Someone you know for a fact who is always conscious of their own awareness.
An awake individual may rationally know they are pure awareness, but they are not aware of this fact 24/7. They don’t experience it 24/7. To say someone has “abiding nondual awareness” would be like saying someone has “abiding atomic nature of physical reality awareness” — that they are always aware that stuff is made of atoms. Physical reality is made of atoms, sure, but no one is aware of it all the time. No one has abiding awareness of it.
I’m not trying to anger you if you are a believer. Believe away if that floats your boat, but personally, I need evidence. There is no evidence — zero — that anyone maintains a single experienced state of consciousness 24/7, let alone “abiding nondual awareness.” Lots of people have claimed it, but there is zero evidence to support their claims.
On demand witness consciousness though, is a wonderful thing. It is far more wonderful and enjoyable than the fabled 24/7 enlightened state. By being able to turn off witness consciousness, you can lose yourself in a good book or movie. You can swim in the depths of sensual, separation-required, lust and love. You can choose between Thai or Italian for dinner. The world of separation is beautiful, and filled with sensual delights.
The on demand clause means you don’t have to live within the constraints of 24/7 oneness. When you want to slip into witness consciousness, you can. It’s like flipping a switch. Say your feeling fat. Click! Oneness. No more feeling fat. Then an attractive person comes up and starts to flirt. Click! Separation. Lust, love, and excitement. It’s wonderful. On demand witness consciousness opens up an entire realm of new experiences.
Enlightenment though, the Witness Aspect, is but a single tool in our repertoire. It is only one color of the nine in our pallet. There is an entire tier — the Tier of Peace — above it.
Always remember though, that you are the Artist, not the paint. You express yourself through the Nine Aspects — but you are not the Aspects.
And Mystical Oneness? Mystical Oneness is when it all comes together. When you-the-Artist become so proficient with the Aspects-the-paints that you in essence, become one with them. All paradoxes collapse. Life lives through you. You live separate from the All and one with it at the same time. Your experience of “you” is that of an individual and the Divine operating concurrently and in harmony. There is no separation, yet there is. There is no you, yet there is. There is no God, yet there is. All true. All One. All paradoxes are transcended. Mystical Oneness is when it all comes together.
Enlightenment — the Witness Aspect — is not the end. It is a doorway, not a destination. It is just one Aspect of nine.