There is a problem with enlightenment. The problem is that it seems to have a myriad of definitions. If one cannot define it, then how, even after fifty years as a seeker, would one ever know one had achieved it. This shocking thought has probably come to most seekers at some point. Ramesh Balsekar talks about this in one of his videos on youtube.
Most seekers start out reading about enlightenment, trying to understand. There is a lot of literature that talks about experience, especially the Western mystical literature. The experience of the Saints describes a variety of mystical experiences in the pursuit of God.
Seekers read these accounts with avid interest. The experiences seem out of this world, way beyond normal, and seekers may unconsciously take in the belief that enlightenment requires one to have this type of experience. Worse yet, the seeker may take on the belief that this type of experience is enlightenment.
Sooner or later, the dedicated seeker is likely to have one or more of this type of experience. These are very powerful, and often carry an authority that is beyond words. The power of such an experience is utterly meaningful, and has the feel of the absolute.
Then the experience, however wonderful and ecstatic passes, and one is dropped back into one's normal state.
Dropping back into one's normal state after an ecstatic experience of Oneness is not fun. It feels like one has lost one's most precious friend, lost the most meaningful experience one has ever had.
This loss may even lead to depression, because after the experience has gone, the normal state of the world seems barren, like a desert, a no man's land. This is a problem.
The problem with these experiences is largely due to their power. They are so powerful and meaningful that one is easily convinced that "This is it. This is enlightenment. This is what I have been looking for. This is what I have to keep to be enlightened." And so the experiencer is off in hot pursuit of regaining the experience.
But what if such experiences are not enlightenment? What if this is just an experience, although a powerful one, and not enlightenment? What if enlightenment is not an experience? What if the experience is just a message, a special message, designed to wake you up to something more permanent?
Experiences come and go, no matter how mundane or high and out of this world. Doesn't enlightenment have to be something more permanent than a state, an experience? Realization is a waking up to Reality, and Reality is unchanging. What do we do then, with an experience that is mystical, beatific, ecstatic beyond words?
The only thing we can do is examine it. What is the message of such an experience? Obviously it is a message that points to something deeper, more permanent. So we need to ask questions. We need to know what the experience means. What might it be pointing to?
We could ask, "Who did this experience come to?" Now we are back into "Self Inquiry." A good place to be, as this self
inquiry is a method expounded by the sages. Self inquiry is also not a search for experience, but for knowledge and understanding.
By the time a seeker is having mystical experiences of this nature, it is likely that they have also discovered that we are not who we thought we were. Perhaps we have even read that we are consciousness, and that life is actually impersonal. If we apply this knowledge to our mystical ecstatic epiphanies, we can go deeper yet.
As all experiences come and go, this ecstatic experience is like all others, a pointer, not the Reality, because Reality is unchanging. If the experience then, is not enlightenment, and we need deeper understanding, what do we use?
This is where the mind comes in. On examination, we can come to some conclusions. Since experience comes and goes, it can't be enlightenment. So what doesn't come and go? Awareness doesn't come and go. Where is awareness? Everywhere. I have awareness. My teacher has awareness. My dog and cat have awareness. Awareness never changes. Awareness is real.
One plus one equals two, no matter what experience you are having. Awareness is, no matter what experience you are having. It is the background of all your experience. You are Awareness whether you know it or not. But when you know it, it is knowledge you can count on.
Considering the unreality of experience, and considering the fact that you exist and are aware, it is apparent that enlightenment is the knowledge that one is Awareness. Of course this is not just an intellectual knowledge, but a deep and abiding knowledge, an understanding that includes one's whole effort: experiences, thinking, intuition and heart.
If one knows that one is Awareness, with conviction, on direct observation, including all one's experience, all one's thinking, and all one's heart, then one's knowledge is firm. This understanding is enlightenment. Understanding is all.