spiritual enlightenment – a transformational magic bullet, or a natural state?
By the late Jon Peniel *
Amongst those I deal with at our monasteries in the Far East and Europe, particularly novice monks, there is a near obsession with the concept of spiritual enlightenment. That’s not a problem in and of itself, but the way it is seen and approached, it can be - and often is.
Spiritual enlightenment is sometimes thought of more like it is something "magical" that will change you. But more accurately, spiritual enlightenment is the end result of change - changing yourself. It is also commonly thought of as something that just happens to transform you one day. That is somewhat true, but not nearly the "big picture" whole truth.
I define spiritual enlightenment as realizing the oneness of all things, your spiritual nature and oneness with the Universe or "God/Universal Spirit" - a transformation that takes place during the “death experience” of the separate selfish self (like a near death experience in a way).
The oneness of the Universe - all things being energy, etc., is also reflected in physics, not just theology. The creation of the separate self is explained in the "Lost Teachings of Atlantis" and of course, the biblical stories of Adam & Eve being exiled from God/the Garden of Eden due to their selfish, separate attitude and resultant actions, and in the story of the once great angel Lucifer separating from and selfishly defying God.
Ever heard of Jesus and the new commandment he gave his followers to adhere to? Jesus also taught the above, returning to Oneness with God ("the Father") and gave his life for all. Many have heard He was crucified for our sins, but don't really understand the full meaning of that. He was crucified as an example for us to crucify our selves, to be remembered for all time by all people so His example of Unselfish love and sacrifice for others would be known for all time by all people, and to demonstrate by example the commandment He brought us, in which He proclaims that those who would be known as His followers would love as He loved.
IF you really “walk the talk” rather than just "talking the talk", you can get to what people want to label as enlightenment. But ONLY if you truly exercise the discipline it takes to get there - and what is most important - becoming a compassionate servant of God who cares about that, and subsequently, cares more about others than themselves.
We can also look at it in other terms. Other than a handicap preventing it, anyone can be a great musician (we'll use that as a metaphor for "enlightenment". What does that take? Do you just decide to do it one day, find a teacher, and expect to instantly or rapidly be a great musician? Does it not take years of arduous practice and training? Sacrifice? Discipline? If you don’t instantly, or even quickly, become a great musician, does that mean your teacher is lousy, or the course of study (the path) is bad? Even if you do everything your teacher and course outlines for you to do, it takes a great deal of time and effort.
But if you’re not practicing/learning/applying every ounce of yourself, whole heartedly, or if it isn’t what you REALLY want most in life, you’ll never get it. For instance, let’s say that you don’t do all the practice and work that your teacher assigns for you to do, or you do it half-heartedly. As a result, you’re not a very good musician. Would it be correct then to say that the course is no good? Of course not. Who is to blame? And who is going to “make the grade” and do a recital at Carnegie Hall? Or become the conductor of one of the world’s best orchestras? How many of the millions of music students in the world end up at the pinnacle of their field? Is that something that just magically happens one day, or is it the result of long years of intense dedication, commitment, flawless self-discipline, and gradual accomplishment?
Yet, what if you don’t achieve the highest recognition or status a musician can receive? Was it all a waste of time? Is it still not good to continually become a better and better musician, regardless of what other people think of you, or your "label"?
Guess what? Becoming a true “saint” is even harder than becoming a great musician. And it isn’t a waste of time to keep becoming a better and better person along the way – in fact, it is the ONLY way to reach enlightenment. And even though it's hard, you get inner peace, self-esteem and feel good about yourself every step of the way.
It never ceases to amaze me, that someone who hasn’t even gotten to the point that they’re just basically a truly good and helpful neighbor, has an issue with being "enlightened" or not. How about taking it one step at a time. How about just being a good person, compassionate person, and serving God, whether that means fighting Hitler, or giving someone encouragement or assistance?
No one ever said this is an easy path. At least, no one of our path (some paths or religions are quite easy - but that comes with the price of it not really requiring personal change, and wanting the criticism it takes to truly make a big change in your own life, then helping others). Getting back to our natural spiritual state of existence, of oneness with God/the Universal Spirit, means ridding ourselves of the thing we created that keeps us from it – this separation “bubble” we call the separate selfish self. It thus takes sacrificing everything you selfishly want and dealing with everything you fear or dislike and don’t want to do. Just truly doing that is a great accomplishment, and incredibly difficult for most people. As if that’s not hard enough alone, it’s also just part of a process to transcend your separate selfish self, and make it your servant, not your master. And what is the separate selfish self? A thing that was created that now believes it's "alive" and YOU. And most people believe it is also. At least that's what they think you are. Yet physics contradict that, based on the fact that everything is all one energy vibrating at different frequencies and taking different forms. And many religions or spiritual paths teach that we are really souls or spirits that go on after our body - and separate selfish selves, cease to exist. And even though we aren’t talking about actually committing suicide physically to realize this, having a death experience or near death experience, entails virtually the same feelings, and we have the same aversions to it as actual death. Most life-forms want to survive AT ALL COSTS, let alone willingly going to the slaughter - including the "Matrix-like" illusion we live in of being separate from one another, and God. But you created your separate selfish self, and if you want the associated suffering and problems to end, then you’ll have to make yourself do it. And enlightenment, is not the answer to that, it is the result of that. Just like getting to do a Carnegie Hall recital is the result of being a great musician, or winning Olympic gold is the result of being a great athlete. And attaining those things are easier than attaining enlightenment.
Most people, when they say they want to get enlightened, are really hoping to get something that will by-pass all the sacrifice and self-death that needs to occur, and just all of a sudden magically “be there” – an instant saint. Sorry, in my opinion and those of many other spiritual teachers, that’s not going to happen. And any person or path that says they can give that to you, or make you change in that way, is a con of the worst kind.
Enlightenment is not something that “magically happens”, nor something any path, or any teacher, can give you. A path or teacher can provide opportunities to change in that direction, but that’s it. In most circumstances, anyone can avoid facing that final “reaper” of the separate selfish self (until the body dies). It takes tremendous discipline and drive to corner that wild and elusive separate selfish self, and ultimately “make it surrender" to your spiritual self/God, after it’s cornered.
It is generally a slow process, and a painful one, even though it doesn't have to be.
As I’ve said before, a teacher is grateful if he has one student in his lifetime, who becomes enlightened. Three would be “party time”. Even our founder and grandmaster, Jesus, had no enlightened students at the time of his crucifixion. This is a great sadness to a teacher, and it does happen.
Once, a person getting a reading from Edgar Cayce asked if he would be enlightened in his lifetime. Cayce snapped at him, and said something to the effect that "You expect to achieve in one lifetime what it took the Master many lifetimes to achieve???" (don't ask for details please, it's a long story, and that's from a Cayce reading, not us - but I thought it was worth mentioning here).
This planet has 6 billion people who have mostly all created a separate selfish illusion/existence. To think that you can just begin to realize that’s wrong, and instantly change, is another illusion. It can take a very very long time to crawl out of the depths of the separate selfish self “world” they have created. And most of you are “stragglers” – those who have waited until the last minute of the “end times” to run towards spiritual growth. Thus the potential for a “good crop” is even less than in times past. But, spiritual growth is good, in and of itself, and should not be overlooked just because it doesn’t mean instant enlightenment, or even ever having the label of "enlightened". So, both teachers and students, must be content, and even happy about any PROGRESS in which someone has made themselves into a better person. That's what really matters ultimately anyway.
It is said that the path is lined with roses and thorns, and the way to avoid the entanglements with both, is to walk in the footsteps of the ones who have gone before you. As the line from an oldies song goes:
“Love is a rose, but you better not pick it, only grows when it’s on the vine. Hand full of thorns, then you know you’ve missed it. Lose your love when you say the word, MINE.”
The ironic thing is, spiritual enlightenment, Christ consciousness, or whatever you choose to call it, is our natural true state. All the separate selfish self stuff, is a grand illusion we have created.
The key to enlightenment then, is to peel away all the separate selfish self stuff, and just be who we really are – who we already are, underneath/inside. And THAT is what we should be focusing on, rather than the “magic bullet”.
Who would you rather spend time with, someone who only thinks of themselves and always acts in a selfish self serving manner, or someone whose behavior often demonstrates that they think about you, and care about you – even if it isn’t perfect – even if they aren’t “enlightened”? Not a difficult question to answer, is it? Well, you can’t make someone else be that way, but you can make your self be that way.
Start stripping away the things that impede your Inner Voice/Christ consciousness/unselfishly loving nature. One thing at a time. Get rid of each of those selfish impediments. Make yourself a better person. Make yourself into someone who will be missed if they are no longer around. Make yourself into a positive contributor, instead of a selfish detractor. If you keep working on that, keep making the little changes of replacing selfish thoughts and behaviors, with unselfishly loving ones – you will eventually reach spiritual enlightenment.
I just heard a modern Christian song that said, “I want to live a life that’s showing that I’m undergoing the change”
So, is all the self-sacrifice that it takes worth it?
I once decided to put an end to the hell of my selfish life. I began. Then I realized, I couldn’t do it for selfish reasons (to get my inner peace). Then I went through the hell it took to get free of my separate selfish self. I kept on, out of compassion for others who were needlessly suffering in their self-imposed prisons. Then, hurdle by hurdle, change by change, one step at a time, I eventually became a better person to others, THEN got my inner peace - as a side-effect.
All I can say is it was more than worth it to me, and I’d never trade it for all the money, power, pleasure, or whatever, in the world.
Also see: What is necessary for rapid spiritual growth?
*He was supposed to be here by noon. Even setting his clock ahead by 10 minutes doesn't keep him from being late! (a joke prepared by Jon).
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