What is Enlightenment?

“What is enlightenment, no, I mean really, like what is it?”
by Steven Norquist, the author of
Haunted Universe: The True Knowledge of Enlightenment

Many friends and family have been after me for some time to write about my experience and understanding of this topic. I have hesitated to write about it not because enlightenment itself is so hard to describe, but because enlightenment tends to make one quite lazy. Before my change I was a busy beaver, reading and writing and playing music and sports and really actively getting out there. But after “the change” as I call it, there was a clear vision of how silly all this activity was and how much incredible effort is required to perform it.

But before I get ahead of myself let me lay out one basic fact, I am awake. I woke up about a year ago. I know what I am, what I have always been and what it is impossible to stop being. Some call this enlightenment or ultimate truth, unity consciousness, infinite mind and so on. But all those names don’t tell the non-awake what it is. Even I calling it “the change” is not really accurate because nothing really changed, yet paradoxically, huge change took place. In simple terms I was once Steve living his life but now I am the experience of Steve living his life. It is a shift in perspective. Before this perspective shift occurred I had practiced about three years of medium intensity meditation consisting of some breath watching, a little mantra repetition and some light self inquiry Ramana Maharshi style. These techniques were coupled with an intense desire to find and know the truth. I read everything on enlightenment I could get my hands on.

After about three years of this I had my first experience of “nonduality” as it is called. I had just read a passage in Ken Wilber’s “The Spectrum of Consciousness” where he points out that ordinary awareness is ultimate awareness. This struck a chord in me, I set the book down and stared at a paper that was sitting on the table in front of me, after about a minute or two an exciting and frightening thing happened, I disappeared! By that I mean the middle fell right out of the equation. Normally there would be Steve over here looking at the paper on the desk over there, now there was only the experience, “paper” but no Steve over here seeing it. It was clear that the middle that normally separated the paper from Steve did not really exist, there was only the experience, “paper.”

Now let me try to make this more clear by giving an illustration.

Imagine as clearly as you can that you enter a large house that you have never been in before. You feel strange and kind of scared, there is furniture and drapes but no people. You wander around feeling the creepiness of being alone in this big house. You go from room to room not knowing what you will find. You start to get nervous and a little fearful being alone in this big house. You wonder how long it has been empty like this. In time the sense of the bigness and emptiness of the house starts to weigh heavily on your nerves. Finally, when you can not stand it any longer a shocking realization occurs to you, your not there either! Only the experience, “house” exists.

This is how nonduality feels and is the real truth of existence. Remember the question, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Now you know the answer.

You see, with enlightenment comes the knowledge that even though there is much activity in the world, there are no doers. The universe is in a sense, lifeless. There is no one, only happenings and the experience of happenings. Enlightenment reveals that the universe emerges spontaneously. It’s emergence and pattern are perfect in mathematics and symmetry and involve no chance. Nothing is random, everything emerges exactly as it has to. There is no random chance, or evolution based on chance. The universe is perfect, nothing is wrong or could be. There seems to be chance or unpredictability from a human perspective but that is only because our time frame reference can not see the universe emerge through its whole life span in a matter of minutes. If we could see that, then we would clearly see how every event was not only perfect and necessary but even predictable.

Now lets summarize so far, the universe is perfect, no one exists, yet the experience “universe” persists. How can this be? Consciousness. Consciousness is aware. If it were not, then there would be no universe. The very nature of existence implies consciousness. One can not exist without the other.

There can never be a universe that does not involve consciousness. There are no universes or dimensions where there is no consciousness. Matter and form would never arise without consciousness. Universe/Consciousness, Mind/Matter, Wave/Particle, call it what you will, the reality is that the manifestation, the very appearance we call the universe, is consciousness.

Now don’t mistake me here, there is no observer. There are no persons in existence experiencing the universe, but more than that there is no Ultimate Person, God, Mind, or anything else observing the universe. There is only the experience of the universe being there with no experiencer.

This seems like a paradox but who cares, this is the way it is. Experience “is,” that is all, that is the way the universe is, an experience by no one. The universe spontaneously arises out of consciousness yet at the same time is itself consciousness. We must lose the idea of matter being observed by something we call consciousness, that is not true. Some teachers talk of the Witness, the ultimate passive mind that observes all things moment to moment. This implies some level of separation, a witness over here watching the universe over there. It’s not like this, there is only the experience, universe. There is no observer. Even if there were no manifestation the feeling would be the same. Once again let me make this clear: consciousness is not aware “of” the universe, consciousness is aware “as” the universe.

Now don’t mistake that last sentence. Don’t think, “Oh yeah Steve, I get it now, consciousness is not aware of the universe from a vantage point separate from it, like a disembodied soul, consciousness is instead aware of the universe as one of the billions of beings in it, like man, or dog, or fish.” No! Such thoughts are false. When I say consciousness is aware “as” the universe I mean the very act of existence is consciousness. A carrot is itself consciousness, is itself awareness. There is not carrot aware of itself as carrot nor disembodied invisible consciousness aware of carrot as carrot, there is only the experience “carrot” and that is consciousness and that is enlightenment. There is no observer.

Let’s talk now about how this fits in with human life. All people who do not know what’s going on believe that they are the people that they are, an individual with thoughts and desires and hopes and dreams, a body and a house, a wife and a child. The list goes on but you get it.

Now the truth. Even though the above is happening, it is an automatic machine like emergence out of Universe/Consciousness and is following a strict nonchance pattern. More importantly, no one is performing any of the above and Universe/Consciousness is what is going on.

To make it more clear, stuff is happening but no one is doing it. Emergence proceeds and consciousness is aware. The unawake person, the person that doesn’t know what’s going on believes that they are acting, that the human them exists. The reality is, the body exists, the thoughts exist, the memories exist and that is consciousness and that is all.

Someone might say consciousness has temporarily mistaken it’s experience of the body and the body’s memories as a person. But even though that answer may seem to explain the why, really there is no mistake at all. Universe/Consciousness has never been confused. The person can fall away at any moment restoring the original state of matter and consciousness which has never actually been obscured. This happened to me, but in that happening nothing was lost because there never was a me to lose, only a confusion to correct that never existed.

Knowing this, I mean really knowing this, not intellectually, but as a direct experience of everyday life is enlightenment. Now once this is known it is impossible to go back. Once you have drawn the curtain and seen who Oz really is you can’t cover him back up and pretend not to know the truth.

So how do we proceed once we know? We let experience manifest unmolested. As has been said, “The universe is perfect, intervene at your peril.” The enlightened person never acts. This is the riddle of karma solved, there is no karma, never was, never could be. There is no reincarnation, how could there be? Who is there to reincarnate? There are no persons, there is no birth or death, there is ultimately nothing except Manifestation/Awareness.

99.999% of the spiritual books and teachers out there are completely wrong. They are wrong for one simple reason, they are not enlightened, they don’t know what’s going on. So in order to keep the illusion of personality, of the idea that there is something or someone, they invent stories, or theories, or ideas, wear special clothes, perform certain rituals and so on. They teach this stuff. But the truth is so simple, it is laughable.

Now let me make a clear distinction on one point, mystical experience is not enlightenment. You may have mystical experience, see God, get abducted by aliens, receive messages from an angel, contact your spirit guides, the list could go on. But always and forever, no matter what is going on the truth is, every experience, mystical or ordinary is a happening of Universe/Consciousness.

If I could teach the world a lesson it would be, no matter what you experience always remind yourself, “There is no experiencer, there is no observer.” If you do this long enough and often enough you will one day know what’s going on. When that day comes you will realize nothing has changed, yet everything has changed. It is a feeling and a knowing. An inescapable falling away of untruth. If you think you know it then you don’t. When you know it, you do. And when you do know it, no one can take it away from you.

Some points to clear up. When I said the enlightened person never acts I did not mean such people sit in a cave and die of starvation and exposure. I mean the body can be quite active and manifest all manner of good and bad behavior, the mind can be racing with thoughts and feelings, but consciousness, now enlightened, knows no one is acting. It is only the universe blossoming forth spontaneously and perfectly.

As consciousness you are more aware of the feelings of the body, physically and emotionally. You don’t feel these things but you are aware of them because there is no division between them and consciousness. The Universe and Consciousness are equivalent, remember the formula, U=C. Also the thing we call personality or ego does not totally vanish. It can remain intact along with the body. It behaves and interacts and changes over time like any person would but the enlightened one knows they are not that ego.

Some schools emphasize the destruction of the ego as the only means of liberation. All that is really required is the realization that you are not that ego. That the ego really doesn’t exist, is an illusion of sorts that can be left to it’s own designs. It’s not really there, but it appears to be there and that is just fine, don’t worry. If the ego begins to fade that’s ok. Remember, there is no experiencer.

Let me talk briefly about practice. Meditation and book study are useful and can ripen an individual towards awakening, but the most important thing is to change your perspective. You must learn to see what is really going on. Understand, in reality everyone is enlightened, but not everyone knows how to perceive this. The reason is, enlightenment is so natural, so obvious, that from birth we have become accustomed to ignoring it in preference to anything else that manifests. Meditation can train you to still the mind and gain concentration but it will not give you enlightenment. A radical shift in perspective must occur, the habitual focus of your awareness and your way of perceiving must be changed.

Study of books will not get you there, you need a shock. The easiest way I know is for an enlightened person to talk you into this perspective shift. The best books I have read were the ones that talked you into enlightenment. Feeling experiments such as the house scenario above are good to help evoke the feeling of enlightenment. Feel what it is like to not be there. The real breakthrough will come when you “feel” the truth.

It’s creepy, not blissful or ecstatic. It should scare you, the body should react defensively, or there could be uncontrolled laughter at how stupid you have been for so long. It’s like one of those 3D dot pictures, you stare and stare at those dots until bingo the picture emerges! After that, you can always see it, you can’t unlearn it. The same with enlightenment.

Basically any practice that can shock you into seeing what is really going on is acceptable. But understand, you want to know what’s really going on, to feel it, to contact reality. It shouldn’t take long, a few years at most, less for some. If a practice or a teacher tells you it will take 10 or 20 years, find a new practice or teacher. Remember you are your own salvation, ultimately it is you who will wake you up. Any method that can shock you into seeing what is really going on is acceptable but the perspective shift must occur.

Let me try to bring some clarity to the subject of enlightenment and morality. It has been said that enlightenment produces compassion and love and that many enlightened ones forgo release into Nirvana and reincarnate again and again until all souls have obtained enlightenment, the Bodhisattva vow and such. None of this is enlightenment. Enlightenment is not about morality or vows, it is simply existence in the truth, that is all.

Enlightenment carries no requirements and expects nothing, the universe manifests and just that is enlightenment. We don’t seek enlightenment to be happy or to give our lives meaning or to feel bliss or ecstasy. Loyalty to a flag is not enlightenment, love is not enlightenment, hate is not enlightenment. If you see these as the fruit of enlightenment then you are wrong. Instead each of these are enlightenment themselves. Each of these are spontaneous emergences out of and as consciousness. Action, feeling, creation, performance, love, hate, murder, salvation, compassion, each is enlightenment itself. There is no doer, no experiencer, only manifestation. This is the truth, this is enlightenment.

I want you to understand that while nothing ultimately changes, in human terms much change takes place. This happens because once you recognize what’s going on the main motivations of life begin to drop away. The level of dropping away is no doubt unique to the individual but is directly proportional to how much you desire to resolve into reality. What I mean is that it is possible to be enlightened and still try to retain a level of unconsciousness in order to interact in human affairs. As time passes this state will be harder to maintain.

It is similar to suspending your belief when watching a movie. You pretend to believe the reality of what is going on. You cry with the characters, you laugh with them, you hope with them etc. You do this for the entertainment, to get your moneys worth. This is the way real life is with enlightenment. You know there really is no one. You know that it is just a display, a machine like emergence out of and as consciousness. Yet you must believe it at some level or you will simply lose the ability to interact in the world.

I can see why some enlightened ones have isolated themselves or become hermits. For the last year this has been an issue I personally have struggled with. How to know the truth and continue to interact with the world as if you believe it? You basically have to employ a little Orwellian 1984 doublethink. You have to pretend to believe while always knowing the truth. Some things are unavoidable of course, I was an avid reader but now can barely open up a book. I loved and played the guitar for years but now have zero interest in picking one up. Even writing these few words is a colossal effort. The reason is that deliberate effort is an affront to reality where nothing is deliberate, everything is spontaneous, and nothing at all is going on.

Don’t mistake me here, I have not invented a rule of behavior where I have decided I must act less because to do otherwise would be an affront to reality, rather the natural outcome of enlightenment is less and less action, less and less thought. This is a natural development within the enlightened person. Eventually all action will be spontaneous and the person will not be acting.

Of course to say this is not ultimately true, because in reality no one ever acts. But from the human vantage point this is how it plays out. Memory is also a tricky thing, the memories of your life are still there and can be jogged into awareness but as time progresses and enlightenment begins to dissolve you, your access to them becomes more difficult. Your awareness becomes centered in the events of the present as they manifest, this is natural since these are the only events that actually exist. The person and the ego are simply dissolving. They don’t really exist but the illusion that they do becomes less a part of awareness. You don’t remember and you don’t care.

Let me make a point about Zen breath watching. Most people just don’t get it and most Zen schools don’t make it any easier for students to get it. There are all kinds of books on Zen meditation, catalogs where you can buy all the cool silk clothes, cushions, gongs, incense and a host of other aids to Zen breath watching. But once you have all that stuff and finally sit your butt down, close your eyes and start watching your breath what exactly are you doing? Why are you doing that? I ask people this all the time and really piss them off, “Why do you meditate? What are you trying to accomplish? Why do you watch your breath?” I have never met anyone that has given me the correct answer.

The reason they don’t know is because they are not enlightened. If they were, then they might not even meditate anymore, or they might, it would make no difference. You see, the simple truth that is missed by almost every meditator is this, the act of sitting there watching your breath is enlightenment. That is all. You are not doing something to gain something, just sitting there is enlightenment. That still state with calmed mind, just that is enlightenment, yet that annoying gossip over there interrupting your meditation, just that is enlightenment and that guy flipping you off in commuter traffic, just that is enlightenment. There is no doer, no experiencer, no one who acts. Manifestation emerges, actless, mindless and just that is enlightenment.

People meditate today because it is popular or because they want to have a mystical experience or just relax. The latter reason may actually be the most legitimate for the average person. But no one I know says they meditate because they are deliberately engaging in an actless act, or attempting to resolve a false sense of being into a beingless existence. And of the many meditators out there, I suspect that the majority would be shocked if I told them the guy flipping them off in traffic is more enlightened than they.

The point I’m trying to make and have been trying to make is that enlightenment is so natural and so easy that any attempt at deliberate practice towards it will get you farther from it, yet paradoxically, you have never once not been enlightened and no matter how strained and deliberate your efforts towards it, you never once acted!

So in closing, Enlightenment can be talked about, it can be understood, it is not mysterious nor does it need to be cloaked in a secret “Boy’s Only” club language. Enlightenment is the feeling/knowing that no one exists including you and that everything that happens does so spontaneously and perfectly. Enlightenment is the feeling/knowing that what exists is Universe/Consciousness, they are the same, U=C. Existence is itself consciousness and that is why there is something rather than nothing. This is the real state of things and because it is so natural, so simple and so obvious, we miss it daily.

Six years after writing “What is Enlightenment?” Steven Norquist published, The Haunted Universe, “a book that has the potential to guide ‘he’ or ‘she’; to the place where they will have the chance to contact reality, to experience it.” Though 200 pages long, it is a short book designed with few sentences per page. Written in a strong voice; it’s just possible that some of its hammer-like phrasings might punch through your defenses….

The Haunted Universe is now available as an audiobook. Steven’s measured reading gives space for the feeling behind his words to tug at your reality. The professionally produced CD is available from Haunted Press.

Lastly, as a thank you for visiting, enjoy free shipping and get a signed copy of my book Subtraction: The Simple Math of Enlightenment for only $12.95.  If Steven’s work appeals to you, my should as well.

16 thoughts on “What is Enlightenment?”

  1. Seeing your explanation of ultimate reality it felt like the ordinary life is much more happy and worthy to be sought than the spiritual one. Not a single place there is any mention of happiness or bliss. whether the i thought is there or not that does really not mater whether you are one with truth or god is not the concern but whether you found yourself as your won source of joy is what matters ..a joy more lasting and intense than the one experienced in sexual orgasm is worthy to be sought being one with the whole or infinite or whatever might just give heavier explanation to satisfy complexity seeking so called scientific mind . The guy above seems very intellectual and make things appears like some physics and explains things like that as if relaity is just meaninglessly boring and not worthy to besought . it is better if he can go beyond his own imaginations and interpretations and tendency to make it appear like some quantum physics. He might have some glimpse but to get established is the real deal and then only after he can really come up with more objective explanation of reality. whatever he is writing here can be written by analysing the teaching from ramana maharsi , osho and eckhart tolle and the experince of relaity cant be a boring as dull as explained above even a expericne of a fragment of it is very blissful so whole cant be dreary and dead.
    Thanking you.

    Sushil Subedi

    1. Thanks for the comments Sushil. I can’t speak for Steven, but I can say that not everyone is searching for happiness, bliss, or joy. I also find Steven’s view unusual, and not something that could be derived from simply reading. He seems very based in experience, but not an experience that many find attractive.

    2. Thereb is nothing wrong in what Steven has said Sushil.. Brahman is.. what I mean is “I am” as suggested by Nisardutta maharaj or Ramana maharishi.. Forget about manifestation unmanifestation or beyond.. So absolute truth as experienced by seers is No one doing anything, no creation no dissolution nothing at all. NOTHING EVER Happened. Even when you talk about about Manifested Brahman it’s YOU who are saying Brahman manfests .. Brahman never says that… So whether some one calls it creepy, bliss … all these are explanatory terms.. ignore..

    3. Also Sushil… What seers experienced was Brahman manifested or un manifested is same .. beyond comprehension.. so they all said Brahman is beyond existence or non existence as you can’t quanitfy .. What Steven meant was the same … there is only experience no “experiencer”… Since it’s way too difficult for all to understand.. What Ramana maharishi said consider the world to be non existing .. coz once the Rope snake illusion ends (you can read it in Maharishi’s teachings) then you can clearly see The world exists .. but is transitory.. So thats why Till the time self realization occurs take all perception as explanation whether some one calls it blissful beyond happiness or sadness or creepy or anything… it doesnt matter. Namaskar

  2. you wrote:
    “Loyalty to a flag is not enlightenment, love is not enlightenment, hate is not enlightenment.”
    And then couple sentences further you wrote:
    “Action, feeling, creation, performance, love, hate, murder, salvation, compassion, each is enlightenment itself.”

    Now, is this not discrepancy? First you wrote that love and hate are not enlightenment, and then you wrote that they are enlightenment itself?
    Are you really enlightened when you don’t know or tell the truth? Both statements can’t be true, one must be lie.
    What is the point of stating something only to negate it later. Do enlightened people do that? I don’t think so.

    Another discrepancy: “teachers out there are completely wrong. They are wrong for one simple reason… they are not enlightened.”
    Later in the same essay and another one you wrote: “in reality everyone is enlightened”
    One minute you are saying that teachers are not enlightened, and the next you are saying that everyone is enlightened.
    Dude, make up your mind!

    Another discrepancy: “Even writing these few words is a colossal effort.”
    You wrote that enlightened person don’t act and don’t read or write books, and that “Deliberate effort is an affront to reality” but you wrote a book afterwards. How do you explain that?

    Another discrepancy: “You are not doing something to gain something”
    Then why did you write a book? I suspect you will say that you didn’t write it to gain something but why are you then selling it instead of offering it for free? Other enlightened people I know of, like Buddha, Krishna, Jesus etc never charged for their teachings. So you are acting and doing it to gain money! Doesn’t that make you a hypocrite?

    The essay is written so that much of it sounds ridiculous, not enlightened, and as self-proclaimed enlightened person you should know better than to make high claims of yourself and talk disrespectfully of other teachers. The world doesn’t need enlightened people if that is what it comes to!

    Right, there is no karma and reincarnation, ha-ha. Then Buddha, Krishna and others who taught it were not enlightened or telling the truth, but you are! Right, we believe you.

    You call others delusional (well, not in those words, but not enlightened) but you are the one who is delusional. I don’t know what you are on, what you are using, but you should keep it to yourself, instead of spreading your delusions.

    I don’t know what your point of this essay is other than trying to show off as enlightened person and disrespectfully saying that all the other enlightened persons were not enlightened or right about karma, reincarnation, the worth of meditation and so on.

    I feel compassion for you, for you are living in delusion, believing it is reality. I hope you wake up from your illusion one day.

    an enlightened person (as you say we all are)

    1. Hi, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I can’t speak for Steven, but I would recommend that you examine your words from as objective a standpoint as possible. There are a lot of assumptions and beliefs in your views, and as often the case what a person reacts to in others is present in themselves. “The paradox permeates all,” is another thought that comes to mind. I don’t think one can talk about awakening without raising up the paradox, and in that light some of one’s reading is best done at an intuitive rather than a logical level. By all means apply logic, but also try to feel what is “between the lines” or “behind the words.” The spirit of an author can shine through even though they be long passed.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience.
    You mentioned that enlightenment can make you lazy.
    I am living a family life, and interested in enlightenment.
    Now, the thing is, who will make the money to run the house if I reach that?
    Will this be taken care of?
    I am sincere in my desire to “lose myself”.
    But my family relies on my income.
    I wonder if I should even risk doing meditation. What if I become enlightened and then become lazy? Who will pay the bills? If God takes care of the bills, and I see that first, I will gladly jump into this as deep as I can, as fast as I can. Life has been too painful for “me”.

  4. I went to the trouble of reading steve’s little book. Distinctly unimpressed.

    To parody the Buddha, there are those with no dust in their eyes who see Truth easily. Those with little dust in the their eyes, who see Truth with a little help/practice. Those with a lot of dust in their eyes, who need a lot of help/practice, and those with too much dust in their eyes who will never see the Truth. Seriously, if Douglas Harding’s excercises really worked on everyone, we’d be living in a deva realm now.
    (http://www.buddhanet.net/4noble3.htm & http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn06/sn06.001.than.html)

    In my judgement, Steve falls into ‘little dust’ catagory, or ‘paccekabuddha’. Sadly he is not a teacher, or one capable of passing on the ‘knowing’ or what ever you want to call it.

    Further, from a Daoist perspective, like many ‘enlightened’ thingies, do they really know to what they have attained? Karmic body or of essence body or body of the Dao?

    The eight energy bodies connect you to the energy bodies of all living organisms throughout the universe.

    The Eight Energy Bodies:

    The flesh of the physical body.
    The chi body, which fuels the physical body.
    The emotional body, which gives rise to your emotions, both positive and negative.
    The mental body, which causes thoughts to function, whether with clarity or confusion.
    The psychic body, which allows us to find our hidden internal capacities and helps our intuition or psychic perceptions become concrete.
    The causal body, which causes karma to flow.
    The body of individuality, which enables the actual birth of the full spiritual being commonly referred to as our essence.
    The realization of the Tao or the entire universe, which few people ever actualize.
    (From: http://www.energyarts.com/learn-taoist-meditation)

    But one must ask, in an Infinite Reality, does ‘enlightenment’ ever stop?

    This quirky little book by Joseph Jenkins of ‘Humanure’ fame (an apt analogy for much of human ‘spiritual’ wisdom) expresses exactly the double bind of tiny insignificant beings trying to understand the infinite reality that they find themselves in. (http://www.josephjenkins.com/books_balance.html)


    1. Hi Sid,

      Thank you for the note. While Steven’s work doesn’t appeal to you (and many others), it is based on experience rather than conceptions which makes it a useful data point.

      1. I concur. It is a useful point on that level. And some will find it a useful waymarker on their own jouneys no doubt.


  5. Hello Steven, Shawn

    I do like this article very much. I can recognize a lot in it. This kind of writing doesn’t appeal to a lot of people, but it seems a very honest and an open attempt at explaining the Understanding. It clears up a lot of misunderstandings.

    thanks for sharing Steven!

  6. Unless you want to starve to death and waste away on the streets, you had better let some sort of activity take place. Even if that activity is perfect in it’s imperfection and visa versa. Can’t say I totally buy everything in this essay, but it certainly is serious food for thought. I will share that an teenage experience with LSD produced an out of body experience and this experience was impossible not to un-experience. In that respect I had one of those moments where “I” disappeared. I was 16 yrs old and had no spiritual experience to prepare me for such an event. I often feel that we’re just running out our programs/karma/fate/destinies or not! Lets face it, if anyone of us dies tomorrow, universe consciousness will go on forever without us, or not.

  7. The question is – how did awakening affect your psychology ? Did life and reality seem as pointless to you as they apparently seem to Steven? On the question of happiness as a goal for spiritual seekers, while it does seem loftier to say that we are seeking the “Truth” and not happiness or bliss, the fact remains that a sense of lasting peace and inner resolution are probably the only way you can know that your realization has some fundamental ontological significance and wasn’t just a brain stroke. I mean there is neither a Nobel Prize in his category nor a certifying authority 🙂

    Also, while one can buy the idea of “asshole before enlightenment, asshole after enlightenment”, it is hard to buy “depressed and lonely before enlightenment, depressed and lonely after enlightenment.” Your thoughts and personal experience ?


    1. I’m assuming your “brain stroke” comment is referencing Bolte-Taylor’s “Stroke of Insight.” Otherwise, that’s quite ironic!

      I counsel against preconceptions about enlightenment. It’s not that seeking Truth is loftier, it’s that it is a useful abstraction. What the heck is “Truth” with a capital T? Have no idea? Good.

      You could seek anything, really, and come to an awakening. If you really, really, really wanted to know what love was, that would take you on quite a journey, and you might land squarely in questioning who it is that wants to know about love.

      Marriage, post-awakening, has taught me that I’m not immune from anything. The real difference is in the gravity of experience. My ground of being is no longer that of a self alone against the universe.

      1. Makes sense I guess. I don’t think anyone is so enlightened as to be soaking in bliss while a close family member or friend is suffering. But it still seems reasonable to suppose that there is an equanimity that is not contingent on circumstances. The examples of Ramana Maharishi and Nisargadatta Maharaj come to mind. Both suffered physical pain before death. Neither seemed immune from suffering but neither appeared to slip into despair either.

        On marriage, Ram Dass suggested that spending time with ones parents could be a good test of enlightenment. I suppose he could have added marriage to that. 🙂

        It’s just that when people say that enlightenment is a “change in perspective” , I wonder how different that is from a religious conversion or a philosophical shift if nothing fundamental has moved in the psyche.

        On a different note, have you ever looked at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi framework, where they speak of levels of enlightenment, with the conventional awakening (“Self Realization”) being seen as only the first stage. Check out Davidya dot ca if you aren’t familiar with that perspective. Would love to know your thoughts.


        1. If we ponder the number of religious converts who died at the stake rather than renounce their convictions, versus the number of present-day teachers of nonduality who whine about inconveniences when not on the stage, it should give one pause. I think religious conversions and philosophical shifts bring about shifts in the psyche, but I understand what you are asking: doesn’t enlightenment carry a deeper shift that a mere “ah-hah” moment or someone who “comes to Jesus”? This directly relates to your question about levels. A religious conversion can be seen as a level of attainment, just as can a philosophical shift.

          Daniel “Hardcore Teachings of the Buddha” Ingram is fond of pointing out the many levels of attainment, and I’ve had that criticism leveled at me — that I am only at such and such level. This is why I emphasize going after “the Truth” – whatever that may be. Back away from untruth until there is nowhere to go, then whatever that “is” will be YOUR answer versus the answer that came from someone else’s teaching.

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