How Do You Know if You’re Enlightened?
Well, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. (Laughs)
How do you know if you’re enlightened…? Well, first of all, you have to come up with a definition of what that means—to be enlightened. It’s a great question, by the way, and I think it’s a question that we all have to answer at some point if we want to wake up spiritually, if we want to become enlightened. This very quest has caused all kinds of crazy things to happen, some really negative, because sometimes you get teachers who claim enlightenment, and they’re anything but enlightened. Maybe they have some charismatic gifts and can project state experiences so that people really feel a wow! in their presence, but oftentimes they have so many shadow issues that they end up creating cults, acting out, and abusing people financially, physically, sexually, or spiritually.
Being able to project really ecstatic states through your teachings or your presence doesn’t necessarily mean you’re enlightened. If that were true, Hitler would qualify. In his early career, he could whip crowds up into ecstatic states—he could mesmerize people. Looking back at the footage, it looks kind of silly, but he had that presence. So that isn’t it. So, what is it? Psychologist Roger Walsh, M.D., Ph.D., and DHL, says that perhaps we should talk about it in terms of spiritual maturity instead of enlightenment, because the word “enlightened” itself has all kinds of baggage.
But I think that as we grow, there is a threshold of experience and understanding that we pass that changes everything. Arjuna Ardagh wrote a book called The Translucent Revolution that is really very helpful in understanding this. He says (and this is happening with people all over the world, in and outside of spiritual traditions and religions—it might be the janitor, the woman at the bakery…) that what seems to be happening is that the ego structure begins to become a little more translucent. That’s a metaphor for the deeper spiritual understanding, the unitive, nondual understanding. And it’s not just an intellectual understanding. You can understand intellectually, which is not a bad thing, but that’s not the whole enchilada. That may be the tip of the iceberg, the smallest part of it, because when you cross this threshold, there is a deep understanding of the connectedness of all things and that there is a mysterious something behind it all, a foundation that is “it” at all times.
In the Hindu tradition, they say Atman is Brahman, Atman being the deepest part of the human being—your soul, if you will. The deepest part of you is the same thing as Brahman, the all-powerful creator. So that which is in you is also the “all” in the Hindu tradition, which is perhaps one of the most ancient religions on the planet that we know about. There was the realization that the deepest part of you is the deepest part of me and is the deepest part of everything, and that all is connected, all one. We’re not just talking about some kind of quantum reality, where we realize that there are fields that connect us all—although maybe that’s part of it. But the other part of this realization that accompanies these deep experiences of grounded being is that it is all very, very good. Somehow, what emerges from this is deep joy, deep bliss, deep compassion, deep love, and deep honesty.
Often this kind of understanding is going to be a state experience. A state is like turning on a TV channel: it’s there and then it goes away when the program’s over. Like, “Dude, I was in Oaxaca in ’68 and I took these mushrooms. Wow, that was so cool. I got it.” Well, yeah, that was in 1968, but what’s going on now? If we are graced with such an experience and finally do reach this level (you don’t have to use psychedelic drugs to experience this), we really have to work with and stabilize our understanding.
A super important thing that we’ve learned from a lot of these enlightenment traditions is that one of the messes people get into is thinking, “Ah, I’m enlightened. The ego doesn’t really exist. It’s just a misunderstanding. It’s a lie. It’s false…” Until the ego then kicks their butts! If you don’t deal with getting the kinks and shadows and conditionings out of your ego structure, as well as your emotional and physical structures, you won’t have a healthy vehicle to be a channel of this deeper kind of spiritual understanding. So, yeah, it’s complex.
When we are in these states, I think that with practice, time, and maturity, they become more stabilized. It’s like in quantum physics when they began to realize the deep paradoxes at the essential levels of being. They began to understand that if you looked at one of these entities one way, it was an individual particle, but if you looked at it another way, it was a wave that extended into infinity. So, which is it? Well, we’re both. We are individuals, and we do have an ego. We have an identity. We also have stories that need to be worked with in such a way that we become an instrument. As St. Francis said, “…Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” so that we become worthy of these deepening understandings of the essential oneness, the ground of being. We can become beautiful, loving, compassionate, wise, skillful—all these things emerge from there, but we have to work for it.
Ken Wilber once said that saying you’re totally enlightened is like saying that you’re totally educated. What the heck does that mean? Have you read every book in the world? No. Do you speak every language? No. Have you mastered every form of science, mathematics, art, sports, music, all the stuff that makes us human…? Of course not. So, what does being enlightened mean? It means a deep, abiding awareness of the essential unity of all things, and how, at that level of reality, there is perfection and goodness. Even in the face of the horrors that are going on in the exterior world, the essential ground of being is good and well. So, maybe we should just call it “spiritual maturity.”
As Ken Wilber has pointed out many times, to be enlightened is not an endpoint. To be enlightened is to have a complete understanding of the unitive, nondual aspect of all our beings, and a mastery of the current evolutionary state of the manifest world which changes all the time. If there is such a thing as total enlightenment, and if you were totally enlightened last week, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be totally enlightened next week because things have changed! You have to stay on top of it. There’s no way to actually accomplish that as a human being. Maybe that gives us a little humility.
But as I began to say when I was talking about Arjuna Ardagh’s book The Translucent Revolution, we can become lighter. All of the different traditions around the world talk about the same light, the same deep ground of being and goodness, the same underlying spirit, underlying mystery, underlying presence. As we cultivate our relationship with that and realize that we are that in every moment, not just as an intellectual idea, but in a deep and fully embodied way, then perhaps we can talk about that as a form of evolving enlightenment.
Big thanks to David Holladay, primitive skills expert, artist, craftsman, and wilderness guide, for sharing his beautiful artwork. See more at www.davidholladay.rocks.
Adapted from iAwake Technologies’ free, weekly teleconference call on February 25, 2015.
Join our weekly calls!
To receive information on how to join the weekly iAwake coaching calls that John leads, sign up for the free meditation download and you’ll be put on the email list. You can also access the phone-in information on our Teleseminar page.
John Dupuy is the CEO of iAwake Technologies and the founder of Integral Recovery, a holistic addiction treatment approach inspired by Ken Wilber’s Integral Model. He is also the author of the award-winning book Integral Recovery: A Revolutionary Approach to the Treatment of Alcoholism and Addiction (SUNY Press, 2013). As a pioneer in the use of brainwave entrainment in therapy and personal development, John has dedicated his life to helping others deepen their spiritual practice and transform their lives.
Leave your comments below
Leave a Comment
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Great Article. You are a wonderful writer. I love watching what my Mind does with the word Enlightenment, as it thinks it is something it can achieve, that “the other” doesn’t have. LOL. It is either all awake or it ain’t. But don’t tell my mind – it is so busy with the enlightenment thing it is freeing me up to be creative here, now. Yippee!
Awesome, refreshing reminder. Humbling and so simple. Thank you!
John, this was really beautiful. It holds a lot of encouragement for me and the reminder that studying and learning without working to also stabilize and turn these states into stages is to only do half of the job.
Hi, interesting question! My understanding of it is quite simple. As long as you have or ask that question, you are not (yet) enlightened. I imagine if one is enlightened there are no more such questions.
To our all awaking, Wolfgang