“The potential for human wholeness – or in other frames of reference, enlightenment, salvation, transformation, blessedness, nirvana – is present in every human person.”Wayne Teasdale, The Mystic Heart
Maybe you’re here because you’re curious (or skeptical!) about what enlightenment is and how to get there. Is enlightenment real and beneficial, or is it some unattainable, mysterious mystical state that has no practical value?
Or, maybe you’re in a season in life where you feel suffering, struggle, pain, lostness, confusion, stress, anxiety, worry, overwhelm, insecurity, trauma, grief, broken relationships, or failure. And maybe you’re here because you feel that enlightenment might give you freedom from that suffering.
Yes, enlightenment is real. Yes, it is attainable. And yes, it can bring you freedom from the suffering we all experience in life!
So I will try my best to share what enlightenment is, and how to become enlightened.
The process is fairly simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s super easy.
Enlightenment is just like exercising a specific muscle: A little painful and difficult at first, but it gets easier and stronger with practice.
My Path to Enlightenment
So I know how pretentious it might be, not just to say that I am enlightened, but also to try and teach others how to become enlightened.
But I think enlightenment is an accessible thing. Just because I am enlightened doesn’t mean I’m a guru. I don’t claim to hold any special knowledge about it. The information is out there, and there are way better teachers than me out there too.
Information about how to become enlightened through meditation has been around for thousands of years. But now in the 21st century we have easy access to all of that ancient wisdom, made possible by the internet.
Again, it’s just like getting in shape. There is a wealth of information out there about getting fit, but not everyone will do it (either because it’s hard or not taught well). Same with attaining enlightenment.
There are many paths to enlightenment, like the Hindu Vedanta or Yoga tradition (such as the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali). The word yoga itself means “union”, or union with the divine. Rupert Spira does a superb job of distilling Vedanta Yoga into easy-to-understand terms. I would highly recommend his book Being Aware of Being Aware. If you’re interested in the Hindu path of contemplation, I would also recommend connecting with Jory at Methods of Contemplation – he’s very knowledgeable about many aspects of the tradition!
There is also enlightenment through the Christian contemplative prayer tradition. I’d say the most clear teaching in the Christian tradition is by Father Thomas Keating in his book Open Mind, Open Heart.
The Buddha also did an amazing job of simplifying and systematizing the path to enlightenment.
My point is that all spiritual traditions can lead to enlightenment (or what is often called the presence of God). It doesn’t matter what path you take, so do what seems right to you. Hopefully the resources I mentioned will be helpful to you in whatever tradition you choose (or are already in).
I will try and explain enlightenment, based on my studies of all the traditions that I’ve mentioned.
I started on the path to enlightenment, not really knowing that it was enlightenment that I was seeking.
After many personal failures, I lost everything at 23 and dedicated my life to learning wisdom. I was raised Christian in a family of pastors, but I started to study the spiritual traditions of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and other paths. I also sought out classical philosophy, including Marcus Aurelius, Emerson, Nietzsche, and more.
I knew that I needed to grow my heart and mind before I could get better results in my career, relationships, and inner peace.
The most important thing I learned after 10+ years of study: Much book knowledge and wisdom does not matter as much as the wisdom we have within us.
My foolishness and unhappiness continued, as long as I sought wisdom outside of my divine self. We attain our deepest wisdom, happiness, joy, love, and peace, through enlightened meditation or silent prayer.
The Benefits of Enlightenment
The benefits of enlightenment are pretty much the same as the benefits of meditation in general. The difference is in the object of what you’re meditating on. For instance, meditating on the breath brings a sense of calm, peace, openness, and gratitude. But objectless meditation (or nondual awareness) brings an even deeper sense of inner peace, joy, love, wisdom, and intelligence.
So, the many benefits of enlightenment include:
- A deep sense of purpose and belonging, independent of outside circumstances
- Inner peace
- Love and joy
- Increased intelligence and IG
- Wisdom in life
- Emotional intelligence and self-awareness
How Enlightenment Taught Me True Wisdom (aka, how not to f#@% up my life)
Yes, enlightenment brings a deep sense of peace, joy, and happiness. But it also brings profound wisdom. There is one school of Buddhist meditation called Vipassana, which means insight.
I learned to value meditation and prayer because if I did not, I usually created more destruction in the world than healing.
But how does enlightenment bring this wisdom and insight? What kind of wisdom does enlightenment bring, exactly?
I have found that enlightenment brings us deep wisdom, by giving us objectivity. By staying detached from the worries and thoughts of life, our perspective changes. We start to see the forest instead of just the trees. We start to see the bigger picture.
By accessing that bigger picture, we have better insight into how our actions create our life (via karma, or cause and effect), as well as insight into what matters, what doesn’t matter, and helps us create solutions to life that are only possible with a broader perspective.
By the way, recognizing our karma (cause and effect), as well as what matters and what doesn’t, is a part of Right Understanding in Buddhist thought. Right Understanding is the first step to enlightenment, and is a key step in the Noble Eightfold Path – a crucial system in Buddhism.
The more we understand our karma, the more value we will put on becoming enlightened, because enlightenment produces better karma in our lives.
Put another way: We plant seeds in life – seeds of hatred or love, fear or openness, ignorance or wisdom. Our spiritual soil plants those seeds, and those seeds create our results.
So since enlightenment cultivates a deep sense of peace, joy, love, compassion and wisdom, enlightenment improves our spiritual soil and helps us plant better seeds (which improves our karma).
Meditation is also now being shown to produce measurable results in the world around us as well (aka, the power of prayer). Studies show that meditation and loving intention produces healing in ourselves, in others, and peace in the world around us.
I also believe that we are just scratching the surface of what deep meditation and enlightenment can do. For instance, evidence shows that it is likely that Jesus studied in India and Nepal, and that’s where he learned his supernatural abilities. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali also explain how levitation, invisibility, and other supernatural powers are possible. Thomas Aquinas was supposedly also able to levitate. The Buddha supposedly was able to become invisible.
I have experienced supernatural healing firsthand in others, and in myself as well. I believe that what we call “supernatural miracles”, are in fact scientifically explainable (and we just haven’t fully discovered the science). I believe we all have the ability to become superhuman (as Dr. Joe Dispenza, the Heartmath Institute, and Dr. James Oschman are finding out). At the time of this writing, it’s one of my next research projects to learn how we can re-discover this ancient knowledge of achieving supernatural abilities.
How Long Does It Take to Become Enlightened?
Supposedly the Buddha was able to bring others to enlightenment very quickly, within weeks of attaining it for himself. The process is fairly simple, but does take work. Just like exercising a muscle, we have to exercise the “letting go” muscle in our minds.
Though I will say, not everyone explains enlightenment in a clear, easy-to-understand way. This can slow down the process of enlightenment, when people don’t understand or communicate enlightenment in a clear way.
Often people try to describe enlightenment when they don’t really understand what it is, in the classical sense. I’ve also read a lot of quotes from great spiritual teachers about enlightenment, and was still confused about what it is. It took me a lot of digging and contemplation to understand what enlightenment is, and now I realize that it’s way simpler than is often taught.
As far as how long it will take for you, I do not know. It could take weeks or months or years. But, I do believe that if you take your time with this article, and understand the philosophy and concepts behind meditation, that will speed up the process greatly. The hard part is, enlightenment has to do with states of the mind, which are invisible. It’s not as easy to describe and teach those states, when we can’t see what those states are.
That’s where we get our concepts of God. Seekers through millennia have experienced the mystery of enlightenment, but inject that spiritual experience with theological math that isn’t absolutely necessary. This is why religion can be such a difficult subject, and also why Buddhism is becoming so popular (because it doesn’t inject any religious concepts into its understanding of enlightenment)
But, if you pay close attention to the quality your mind has at any given moment, you will reach enlightenment faster. It’s just like tasting wine: You start to notice and describe the little details of what you’re tasting. Same with meditation training – You start to notice and describe the states of your mind: Soft, hard, brittle, busy, fiery, calm, sensitive, distracted, and more.
The better we understand the qualities of our mind, the faster we can attain enlightenment.
What is Enlightenment?
“The highest meditation is simply to be.”Rupert Spira
“If you want to find God, hang out in the space between your thoughts.”Alan Cohen
Before I go into how to meditate or pray to reach enlightenment, some philosophy and concepts are necessary. We can’t achieve enlightenment until we understand what it is.
So what is enlightenment? Enlightenment is merely a state of mind – a very normal, natural state of mind. There’s nothing particularly special about it, and it is attainable by everyone, anytime.
Even though enlightenment is normal and accessible, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to achieve. Society is just too busy to slow down and stop our seeking.
We seek for happiness “out there” somewhere, but happiness is right here – if we’d just learn to let go.
“The very desire to seek spiritual enlightenment is in fact nothing but the grasping tendency of the ego itself, and thus the very search for enlightenment prevents it. The ‘perfect practice’ is therefore not to search for enlightenment but to inquire into the motive for seeking itself. You obviously seek in order to avoid the present, and yet the present alone holds the answer: to seek forever is to miss the point forever. You always already are enlightened Spirit, and therefore to seek Spirit is simply to deny Spirit.”Ken Wilber
Enlightenment is accessing the state of awareness that underlies all sensory experience. It is resting in our own consciousness, without thoughts and attachments to cloud that consciousness.
Enlightenment is not a state to achieve – it is a state that is revealed. It is a revealing of the pure, peaceful awareness that is already there. We can only access this state of infinite awareness by letting go of the usual thoughts and desires that stand in the way.
This infinite enlightened awareness expands in all directions, without object or separation of any kind. We experience total harmony with all reality. There is no self and the universe – everything is one. Then we become one with God.
Rupert Spira likens it to a movie screen. You have moving images being projected onto the screen at all times, so we forget that the screen is even there. But if you turn off the constant barrage of images being projected, you become aware again of the screen itself. Without the screen, no movies could be played. Turn off the movie, and you have a blank screen, full of possibilities.
It’s the same with us. If we turn off the movies in our mind – our thoughts, pictures, feelings, attachments, and desires – we access the infinite awareness underneath. That is enlightenment.
“And this process of watching is the very alchemy of real religion. Because as you become more and more deeply rooted in witnessing, thoughts start disappearing. You are, but the mind is utterly empty. That’s the moment of enlightenment. That is the moment that you become for the first time an unconditioned, sane, really free human being.”Osho
So, if we learn to let go of our thoughts and desires, we will become enlightened – a state where the burdens and suffering of life dissipate, and we experience infinite peace and clarity.
We become enlightened when we grasp for nothing, seek for nothing, and rest in our own infinite awareness. Every spiritual tradition has this “letting go” at the center of their practice.
The more we let go, the more infinite our awareness becomes, and the deeper our enlightenment.
“If you let go a little you a will have a little peace; if you let go a lot you will have a lot of peace; if you let go completely you will have complete peace.”Ajahn Chah
A story from Seeking the Heart of Wisdom by Jack Kornfield & Joseph Goldstein illustrates this perfectly:
“This is illustrated by a story of an old Chinese Zen monk who, after many years of peaceful meditation, realized he was not really enlightened.
The monk then met an old man, carrying a big bundle. The old man asked, “Where are you going, monk?” The monk answered, “I’m going to the top of the mountain to sit and either get enlightened or die.”
Since the old man looked very wise, the monk was moved to ask him, “Say, old man, do you know anything of this enlightenment?” The old man, who was really the Bodhisattva Manjusri – said to appear to people when they are ready for enlightenment – let go of his bundle, and it dropped to the ground. As in all good Zen stories, in that moment the monk was enlightened.
“You mean it is that simple; just to let go and not grasp anything!” Then the newly enlightened monk looked back at the old man and asked, “So now what?” In answer, the old man reached down and picked up the bundle again and walked off toward town.”
In the “nothingness” of letting go, is everything we need. We cultivate a sense of infinite peace, where all attachments pass by like clouds in the sky.
“You may have expected that enlightenment would come Zap! instantaneous and permanent. This is unlikely. After the first ‘ah ha’ experience, it can be thought of as the thinning of a layer of clouds.”Ram Dass
As the clouds of experience thin out, then we can practice gratitude for the peace we’re experiencing. This gratitude creates a sense of infinite love (which is where Christianity and other religions get their view that God is infinite love).
This method of practicing objectless gratitude is my favorite spiritual practice. It’s easy, simple, and incredibly fulfilling.
How to Become Enlightened
Understanding what enlightenment is, is half the battle of enlightenment. Now that we know that enlightenment is simply our conscious awareness, unobstructed by thought, feeling, desire, or attachment, we can move forward quite easily.
Here are the steps to enlightenment. Spend only about 30-60 seconds on each step leading up to enlightened awareness (then feel free to stay in your enlightened state for as long as you’d like).
Through the whole process, you will have thoughts and emotions wanting your attention. Let them go one by one, and return to the object of focus (the breath, the body, etc). Watch your thoughts go by like clouds in the sky. This can be difficult at first to let go, but keep at it. Soon you will find that the number of thoughts will slow down, and eventually will cease completely.
Every time your mind gets distracted by a thought, don’t beat yourself up! Instead, congratulate yourself every time you notice the mind wandering.
You will notice that the “orb” of awareness in starts out large, and shrinks with every step. At first we start noticing sights and sounds around us, then inward toward the body, then inward further to the nostrils, and then any object of awareness collapses completely, and we are left with pure enlightenment.
Steps to Enlightenment
- Get centered in the moment by noticing sensations in all 5 senses (the sound of the A/C humming, the birds and wind outside, the sound of your breathing)
- Get in touch with the body (mentally scan the body from head to toe, notice any feelings of pain, pleasure, heaviness or lightness), notice the sensation of breathing (the feeling of the lungs expanding and contracting)
- Focus on the sensation of breath through your nostrils
- Let go of all focus and let your awareness dissolve into nothingness. This is the point where your awareness is a blank slate, empty of all thought and emotion. Your awareness expands out in all directions into infinity.
- As you rest in pure awareness, congratulations – you’re enlightened!
- From here, practice gratitude for the infinite space and peace you are experiencing. This infinite gratitude will provide a sense of infinite love and bliss.
There are many paths of cultivating this nondual awareness, but they are all equal – Dzogchen, Zen, Vedanta Yoga, Christian contemplative prayer, and more. But psychologically speaking, they all consist of the same pattern of letting go, transcending, and arriving at infinite love and peace (aka, the perennial philosophy).
At some point, once you understand what the state of enlightenment is – and how simple it actually is – feel free to skip all the steps and go straight to pure awareness. Focusing first on sights, sounds, sensations, and the breath, are great ways to center the mind, in order to let go and access pure awareness. But once you know what the end goal feels like, there’s nothing wrong with going there right away. Rupert Spira suggests asking yourself “Am I aware?” as a fast, dependable way of accessing enlightened awareness.
As we practice enlightened awareness (daily ideally), we learn to live with an attitude of mindfulness, appreciation, gratitude for everything that arises in the moment, and a lightness that brings deep happiness.
This state has been practiced by traditions all over the world for thousands of years. By practicing this ancient method of meditation and prayer, we learn probably the most important skill of being human – achieving our greatest potential, intelligence, creativity, joy, happiness, and wisdom.
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