Realizing Spiritual Enlightenment — A Rough Guide
Countless teachers, gurus and books offer the secrets to spiritual enlightenment. But few can get you there and even most of these will not understand the multiplicity of enlightenment.
ANYBODY AIMING FOR ENLIGHTENMENT is on a trip to a mythical destination. It is a journey that, however long and arduous, is believed to be necessary only once in our lives (or once in all all our incarnations, if we believe in many). For when that destination is finally reached, the traveller has arrived at a state of mind/spirit believed to be permanent: the spiritual Rubicon has been crossed and more travelling becomes unnecessary because the ultimate goal has been realized. At least that is the theory, and it is an idea that has driven countless seekers to all corners of the Earth, following all kinds of teachers and practices in order to achieve this prize. And the fact that so few seem to achieve it is no discouragement; in fact, it only makes the jewel all the more attractive because of its priceless rarity; it retains its mythical status, and nothing is more seductive than a myth. (I am using the term 'myth' in its deeper sense of a deeper truth of the collective consciousness, as opposed to mere fantasy.)
The simple fact is that 99.9999% or more of people who aim for enlightenment in this lifetime will not achieve it (according to their own definitions), and in the process of not reaching it they will enrich the lives of many thousands of enlightenment teachers and gurus around the world, with both attention and money. Enlightenment is an industry, a profession as old as prostitution, and just as every trade needs an exchange, the student of enlightenment needs to give something to the teacher/guru in exchange for the spiritual directions that will lead her to that door of awakening. (Even enlightened gurus have to eat, although it is debatable how many Rolls Royce's are actually necessary.) But if 99.9999% (some thought did go into this figure… but not a lot) of individuals are not getting what they pay for, perhaps it is high time that Trading Standards was advised of this scam, or a consumer group do an exposé. And yet, the enlightenment industry flourishes, despite these ridiculous odds of success, perhaps for the same reason that national lotteries do — the value of the prize more than makes up for the subatomic odds.
In fact, the enlightenment industry has a fair bit in common with the lottery industry: the chance of success for the participants is minuscule, and that the vast bulk of profit made actually goes to the people who run the lottery — the teachers and gurus of enlightenment. What is being sold is a dream: in the case of the lottery, it is dream of being a millionaire and living the rest of your life as a permanent holiday; in the case of enlightenment, it is the dream of being enlightened… and living the rest of your life as a permanent holiday. The reason that these sorts of "holiday" dreams are so attractive is that life is unpleasant for most people, and a lottery or enlightenment win seems to at least offer a chance to walk away from it all and into everlasting bliss.
If we desire to travel to a destination, we need to know a little bit about this destination before we go to the trouble to journey to it. Otherwise, we could waste a lifetime aiming for a perceived paradise only to realize that we don't like endless sunshine, white beaches, crystal blue seas and green parrots. What is called for is a "warts and all" travel guide, NOT as a substitute for the journey, but as a means to help us make the decision whether we actually want to go to the destination at all.
Most people get their idea of enlightenment from other people who either claim to have it, or who claim to know or to have known someone who has had it. But the people producing these guides are the travel companies themselves — they have a vested interest in selling holidays, just as so many gurus and teachers have a vested interest in selling courses, meditation techniques, spiritual blessings, healings, books, CDs, DVDs and their often enormous egos. Would you trust a travel guide put together by a company selling holidays?
This article is a short travel guide for enlightenment. It has been written to someone who has been there a number of times, just as you probably have (but never realized it). And you can rest assured that I have nothing to sell and no ego worth promoting. As a result, the enlightenment that I describe is very different from the glossy holiday-brochure type guides that you are used to: it won't give you pat and formulaic answers, it won't have the highly-selected and air-brushed photos, it won't try to sell you a particular method, technique or allegiance, and it won't to be comprehensive, definitive or universal. This is a rough guide for those who want the low-down… and nothing else.
A Rough Guide to Enlightenment
Most of you reading this will have tasted enlightenment without realizing it. And you will not have realized it because "it" is usually so different from expectation that you probably missed the significance of those moments. Going back to the earlier analogy of paradise: if your concept of paradise involves warm water, white beaches, pink flowers and green parrots, then a visit to stunning Patagonia will remain unappreciated. It is important, therefore, to first unlearn our concepts regarding enlightenment, for as long as we hold too tightly to these concepts we will never realize that the concept is polluting our experience — scuppering our chance to reach our mythical destination.
The biggest problem with the "holiday brochure type" enlightenment being promoted is the belief that it is one thing — a single and definitive state of mind. As a result, different teachers around the world are giving out conflicting advice on what it is and how to attain it. This is akin to holiday companies arguing which part of the world is "paradise", and refusing to accept that, for someone else, paradise might be in a different location. Sure, paradise locations around the world might have certain common characteristics, for example they are probably all clean and beautiful, but there are not enough common characteristics to singly define all enlightened states — there is much more that differentiates them.
If we understood that the process of enlightenment and perhaps the goal of enlightenment itself is not one thing, just like understanding that there is more than one path to God, then we learn better social and spiritual integration, without the need to judge whether we or our neighbour or that person over there in another country is doing "it" right or wrong. And in understanding the multiplicity of enlightenment, we can choose a teacher or path to which we are better suited, vastly increasing our chance of success.
It could be that, although there are many different paths to enlightenment, the final goal is singular, just as all religious paths in theory lead to "God". Unfortunately, that is pure conjecture, and it has become a dogma of the enlightenment industry. It is time that there was an alternative enlightenment perspective to challenge that dogma, and to open up more discussion in an area that most spiritual seekers feel themselves unqualified to discuss. It is time for each of us to take back the process and concept of enlightenment from its controllers — the teachers and gurus that profit so greatly from their monopoly — and become unafraid to make up our own minds what enlightenment is for us and how we intend to reach it, if indeed we even want to. As long as something like enlightenment remains undefined and controlled by a spiritual elite, we are not spiritually free to realize our true divinity, or to express it in a way that suits us individually.
Here is an alternative view of enlightenment. Perhaps the reader will gel with it, perhaps not. But by presenting an alternative, I hope to start eroding the enlightenment dogma that is being spread by spiritual controllers, and to encourage the reader to find his or her own truth.
* * *
What enlightenment is to you will depend on the type of person you are, and this will also determine which route to enlightenment is likely to be most productive for you. Here are seven main archetypes of spiritual enlightenment that are found in human society today (I am sure there are more or different categorizations that could be used, and most teachers will promote a combination of these types — this is just for illustrative purposes to show the multiplicity of spiritual enlightenment):
Physical Enlightenment: This type of enlightenment is when we are completely absorbed in the physicality of our bodies and is characterised by a peaceful emptiness of movement and mind. This does not mean that it is a materialist perspective, only that the physical aspect of our being is used as the anchor of focus. This type of no-mind, no-emotions, no-mystical experiences path is favoured by the stoic Eastern mind. The focus is on developing pure and basic awareness of the physical processes. Whilst physical enlightenment is expressed in the East in a formal Zen style, in core Buddhism and in the more physically focused types of yoga, here in the West it tends to be pursued in physical sporting activities and exercise regimes. This is the slowest path to enlightened and it can take a lifetime of empty activity to reach. In fact, because of the basic nature of this form, those that reach physical enlightenment are usually unaware of it.
Intellectual Enlightenment: This type of enlightenment uses intellectual reasoning to realize the limitations of mind in knowing what is real, and in so doing it produces a state of liberated mind. It is characterised by an empty and peaceful mind. This path is for the more intellectually inclined, but it is ultimately anti-intellectual in that the intellect is used in the realization that it is unable to ultimately determine truth and so needs to take a back seat. The mind is used here to surpass the mind. This type tends to be favoured by more independent gurus, more sophisticated Zen teachers, many Western teachers of a certain generation that favoured Zen and those who gel with A Course in Miracles. (We are so "mindy" in the West that this is more popular than the plain Physical Enlightenment favoured in the East.) The anchor used here is awareness, and it is closely related to physical enlightenment because, with no mind, awareness will often fall back onto the physical processes such as the breath. You will find a lot of introverts on this path, and it is also favoured by men. This form can be quite fast (even just a few years) if we are focused enough and use the mind's intensity to propel us on the journey.
Psychological Enlightenment: This type of enlightenment uses introspection, psychoanalysis and the natural maturing process of the self to reach total psychological integration whereby the ego is not obliterated but integrated. This state, sometimes called individuation, is not usually regarded as an enlightened spiritual state as such, although there is no reason not to regard it this way. The path tends to be favoured by introverted people, but extroverted individuals can thrive on it if they understand that the inner psychological processes and the outer material world share a synchronistic link — something that tends to come naturally for the introvert. As a result of this connection, by working actively with the inner psychological processes and understanding how we assign meaning to our world we become more conscious of our true self, of which the ego is only a part. This process of bringing the unconsciousness into consciousness is the alchemy of psychological enlightenment. This type of enlightenment is rooted in the Western mind, and most of those in the West need to incorporate some level of this inner work. Psychological enlightenment is ongoing, so that with this type there is no spiritual retirement. With the right teacher, the process of individuation can take a lifetime because it is integrated into our life-stages from birth to death.
Devotional Enlightenment: This type of enlightenment involves the direct love of God(s), or the love/devotion of a manifestation of God — the guru. It is characterised by the all-consuming heart of compassion. This path is best for those who emotionally relate to the world, and project what is within out onto others — the path of the extrovert. The focus here is on relationship and the other, and this is where the enlightening process is taking place. Devotional Enlightenment is by far the most common form as it is more communal, and it forms the basis of most major religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism focus on our relationship to God and His/Her intermediaries — the priests, imams and gurus. In the West, this type of enlightenment is slightly favoured by women over men because it is the path with the most heart. With the right teacher or guru this can be a relatively fast path, in as little as 10 or 15 years. (That said, 99.99% of teachers/gurus do not have what it takes to bring even a single devotee to the threshold of enlightenment — whatever that means.)
Energetic Enlightenment: This type of enlightenment focuses on the body's energetic systems and focuses on raising the Kundalini and opening/clearing the other energetic pathways. It tends to be favoured by introverts and is characterised by powerful energetic states, psychic/healing powers, esoteric knowledge and a strong influence on others. This is the path of Buddhist tantra and certain forms of tantric yoga including Kriya yoga. A guru or teacher is often involved, but the emphasis is not so much on devotion to the teacher as to the practice of tantric exercises that the teacher/guru teaches. Enlightenment on this path is totally unpredictable, and can develop spontaneously at any time or be the result of a lifetime's focus of building the right energetic vehicle. (Pure tantra is a notoriously quick path and supposedly can take just a few years.) It is more suited to those who naturally internalize — introverts — and is popular in the West in healing circles. Extraverts can gel with Energetic Enlightenment on the more relational expressions of the path such as tantric sex.
Shamanic Enlightenment: This type of enlightenment focuses on self in relation to others, but unlike Devotional Enlightenment, this one is based more varied energetic connections than just plain heart/devotion. The shaman has a full give-and-take relationship with other beings and uses that relationship to affect change in everyday life — perhaps to heal someone or ward off bad influences. You could think of it as the Energetic Enlightenment for extroverts. Throughout a shaman's life, he or she will build up stronger and stronger relationships to spirits, learning to move through dimensions and into other worlds with greater ease and alacrity. At first, this is piecemeal, only occurring when the shaman goes into trance, but with years of experience, the shaman becomes more aware and connected to those other dimensions and spirits in everyday life until the point at which life and trance merge. Shamanic Enlightenment tends to be handed down from teacher to teacher who can introduce the student to the spirits that the teacher has built up a relationship with. Those who get involved with this form tend to be extroverted, who see relationship as more important than enlightened states, so the question of how long shamanic enlightenment takes does not have much meaning.
Mystical Enlightenment: This type of enlightenment involves a direct mystical union with the divine — the path of the mystic — where the inner becomes the outer and the outer becomes the inner. It is characterised by grand visions, prophecy, spiritual experiences and direct knowings. Mystical Enlightenment is the rarest form and the most spontaneous. It is less of a path and more of a natural mystical vocation that one tends to be born to, although there are absolutely no rules with this type. Those who have it will often have mystical experiences from early childhood and it can be the most frightening of the paths as even basic awareness is not enough to anchor the practitioner during these experiences. Those on this path who are not born to it, tend to develop it spontaneously at some point in their lives. Mystical teachers tend to be more difficult to understand and do not usually welcome followers. They tend to be outcasts and loners, often appreciated only after they have died.
Whether or not you agree with the detail of the above is immaterial: The point I am making is that there is more than one type of consciousness that can and is labelled "enlightenment". In fact, any long-lasting altered state of consciousness that has what are considered "spiritual" characteristics, and is not substance-induced, can and often is regarded as an enlightened state. (Even substance-induced states of consciousness are considered full-fledged enlightened states in some circles.)
What are these spiritual characteristics that define enlightened states? That depends upon your cultural and personal beliefs. These beliefs determine how you label a state of consciousness, and how you label that state of consciousness will determine your reaction to it and your behaviour within it. It will also determine other people's reaction to you whilst you are in that state. For example, what appears as an enlightened state to an Intellectual Enlightenment group might appear as a pathological state of consciousness from a Psychological Enlightenment group perspective. What is considered enlightenment varies considerably from group to group, often leading to intolerance between groups.
You see this intolerance of belief everywhere — even in those that are regarded as enlightened — and it arises when individuals hold their beliefs and feelings above those of other individual. This is fundamentalism. It is just as extreme and intolerant as the fundamentalism of the Islamic militant. Fundamentalism after all is fundamentalism — it occurs when we are unable to separate our beliefs from the reality that we experience. And nobody can be as sure of themselves as a fundamentalist, which is why so many people are attracted to them: in a complex and uncertain world, anybody convincingly offering pat answers to life's questions becomes exceedingly popular. Confidence, misguided or not, is a central quality of charisma.
So any enlightened individual or seeker of enlightenment who is too stringent in his or her definition of enlightenment is actually falling into the fundamentalist's trap. To illustrate this point, let's look at a case study of someone claiming enlightenment. I could choose any number of enlightened individuals from around the world but I have actually chosen a man who is particularly lucid and rational in detailing his own type of enlightened state and the process by which we can arrive at that state. That individual is Jed McKenna, and his first book Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing gives a fabulous insight into the mind of an individual claiming and considered by many to be enlightened.
McKenna's spiritual heritage is Zen Buddhism and the enlightenment he claims for himself is Intellectual Enlightenment. Of course, he does not put it that way. For him, Intellectual Enlightenment is TRUE enlightenment, and everything else is just a spiritual charade. He claims he has no teaching, but actually his teaching is very specific: repeatedly ask yourself what is true, and continue that process until you distil out pure awareness as the only truth. With that realization, you reach enlightenment. The only problem is that it doesn't actually work for everyone because not everyone is intellectually inclined — different minds have different modalities, and this intellectual approach will only work for those… well… like Jed McKenna. Someone who is emotionally or mystically orientated will just not get "it" that way, as McKenna himself admits in his book when he is interacting with these types of people. But rather than accept that different individuals have different paths to enlightened states, McKenna dismisses every other path as fantasy and puts those he believes will never gel with his particular form of enlightenment into the "hopeless box". This is spiritual fundamentalism. It could also be called spiritual fascism.
As a result of this fundamentalism, McKenna appears very intolerant on many issues. For example, he is adamant that enlightenment (whatever that is) cannot arrive instantly but only as the result of an intellectual process of questioning truth, and yet many of us are aware that it can come instantly and some of us have experienced this — there are many enlightened individuals have claimed arriving at realization without going through the sorts of processes that McKenna describes. And when individuals come to him with glimpses of other types of enlightenment — for example mystical enlightenment — he tells them that these experiences are just distractions along the way. He is right — they are distractions — but only if your goal is Intellectual Enlightenment — that one specific type of enlightenment.
If you are a born mystic, those mystical experiences are actually signposts that you are being true to your own spiritual modality, that you are squarely on the right path for you. But McKenna cannot see this because he is blinded by his own intolerant view. He cannot step outside his own belief system and see it for what it is — a paradigm and not reality. Instead, his world is THE world. His beliefs ARE reality. This is fundamentalism. McKenna even admits to this intolerance when he labels himself a solipsist. When only the certainty of self exists, everything that self believes IS reality, by definition.
The irony is that the core of his teaching is that the ego has no reality outside of a two-dimensional character on the world stage — it is an illusion — and yet solipsism can also be defined as "absolute egotism". When egotism becomes absolute, the boundaries of ego paradoxically dissolve because ego encompasses everything. And McKenna's egotism comes across in his first book mentioned above, and certainly in his second book, Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment, which is a poor read because it is so self-centred; it leaves no room for the reader.
McKenna's response would probably be that nobody can pass judgment on matters of enlightenment unless they are themselves enlightened — a point he makes in his book. But this is actually no different to an Islamic fundamentalist saying that nobody who isn't an Islamic fundamentalist can understand, let alone judge, what Islamic fundamentalism is about (forget the evidence of our own eyes of murder and mayhem). This is actually a standard defence of the fundamentalist, and whilst most of us in the West can recognize its invalidity in religious fanatics, especially those of other "exotic" faiths, we are blind to it when it comes from rational, softly-spoken Western spiritual teachers like Jed McKenna.
Please do not interpret this as meaning that McKenna's teachings are unhelpful. If you are focused on Intellectual Enlightenment they are one of the best around. Extremely well written and lucid; fantastic stuff! I am not aware of an Intellectual Enlightenment guru that teaches better than McKenna. But also be careful if this is the path for you: understand that these teachings apply to you but may not apply to everybody else. Otherwise, McKenna ends up teaching fundamentalism along with Intellectual Enlightenment.
What fundamentalists have that is so attractive to many other people is CERTAINTY. Certainty is a priceless commodity in a world with so much uncertainty and chaos. You could say that we spend our lives trying to raise and consolidate our life's level of certainty and predictability, only to have it continuously eroded by fate's capricious nature. Most of us die with a negative certainty balance whereas some have certainty to their last breath. The reason that certainty is so important is that our egos rely on a predictable reality "out there" in order to maintain a sense of self. Without a solid foundation of reality, that sense of self crumbles away. It is for this reason that nearly everybody is driven to find certainty. And when we find someone who appears to have it, especially in the big questions of life (the ones that are traditionally dealt with by religion), we either want some of that certainty for ourselves if we are more introverted, or we want a strong relationship to that person if we are more extroverted.
Individuals who are labeled by themselves or society as "enlightened" exude certainty, which is why they are so popular. But just because someone is certain does not mean that they have truth, only that they are certain of their own truth (or putting on a great act of certainty). And another definition of someone so certain of his own truth that he no longer questions it is a fundamentalist. I am not saying that all fundamentalists are enlightened individuals — most miss that mark by a mile — but maybe most enlightened individuals are fundamentalists. After all, when you hear or read the teachings of anybody perceived to be enlightened either by themselves or those associated with them, they are almost always confident in those big questions of life, even if that confidence is to say that the answers to these questions are unknowable. Perhaps that confidence is in a process rather than knowledge — the process of self-enquiry, meditation, raising the Kundalini etc. — but it is certainty nonetheless.
There are many reasons why a man or woman can be so certain of something that the rest of us are uncertain about. Maybe they have looked deeper at the issues of life from their own perspective (how could it be from any other perspective?) and arrived at some deeper understanding or conclusion. Maybe they have spontaneously arrived at a state of consciousness that they themselves or others around them consider to be "enlightened" because it appears so blissful and spiritual, and they have managed to maintain that state of consciousness either through continual focus on it, by meditation, by faking it (often unconsciously) or by living in a community whereby "enlightenment" is their emotional assignment (everyone else can act out all the unenlightened states that are being denied). Maybe that person has a psychological disposition to what is considered "enlightenment" — in other words, maybe they are insane. After all, nobody can be more convinced of their own delusion than someone suffering some form of mental delusion. And anybody who has hung out around someone who is delusional will know how infectious that can be. Maybe it could be a combination of the above or something else. Maybe some individuals are genuinely enlightened or awake, whatever that means.
Whatever the case, we can never tell the difference. Instead, we play this game of being with the enlightened person as much as we can, projecting all our spiritual hopes and ideals onto them. Sometimes we will form a stable and life-long symbiotic emotional relationship with them whereby we agree to act out the seeker role and they agree to act out the enlightened teacher role. Or we model their behaviour so completely that we end up having the same state of consciousness — we also become "enlightened". (Ever spent time with a wildly optimistic person or a depressive? You soon pick up their prevailing state of consciousness. That is why psychologists who work with the mentally ill are always a little unusual. Emotional states are infections! McKenna, incidentally, denies that this is possible, and he is wrong on this one.) Perhaps we find that the enlightened teacher does not live up to our projections of spiritual perfection so we become deluded and move on. Or not move on and just switch our projection from spiritual adoration to anger and resentment. (Most enlightened teachers accumulate their fair share of disillusioned ex-followers and angry "ex" websites.)
This is the enlightenment game, and it is almost always pursued for unconscious reasons. We think we are being spiritual in playing it, but that is just a label that justifies a relentless pursuit of certainty. We don't want to live with a question mark. And we will hunt out those who seem to exude the certainty we crave, and either model that state or we buzz around them like hungry bees to honey, never having the confidence to make that proverbial jump off the cliff's edge… into delusion.
The delusion I am referring to is not the delusion of spirit but the delusion that spirit comes in a package that with an end-goal called enlightenment, after which there is some sort of spiritual retirement in which we live happily ever after, just as it is delusional to regard the end goal as a single state of consciousness, a state we label "enlightenment". Most of us want that inner certainty, we want to reduce the diverse weather of the inner and outer environments to continual sunshine, or nothingness. But actually, this can only ever be an ideal for most of us because it flies in the face of what it is to be human. Those who do manage to maintain spiritual states are not necessarily more evolved, as mentioned earlier, they might well be insane. Or maybe that is just who they are… but that does not mean that that is what we should strive become.
A good way to illustrate the nature of these different types of enlightenment is to regard them from from the perspective of the teachers teaching each particular form. So here is a quick guide for teachers:
Physical Enlightenment: To be a teacher of Physical Enlightenment you have to be a true disciplinarian and thick-skinned. This is not vocation for those who are "fluffy" in any way for they may even require you to physically hit your students in order to discipline them to not only use the physical as an anchor of being but to surpass it with empty awareness. It helps if you are from the far East as you are more likely to have the type of personality that thrives being a teacher of Physical Enlightenment, and it helps if your students have an introverted "empty-mind" type personality in the first place. Keep ideas and theory to an absolute minimum, and nip any form of projection in the bud as quickly as possible. To maintain your status as a Physical Enlightenment guru, keep your students hard at work so that they focus on you as little as possible. Beware extroverted students: they can be disruptive to the group by forming external bonds.
Intellectual Enlightenment: To be a teacher of Intellectual Enlightenment you need to be intellectual (obviously) and quite thick-skinned. You need to be able to throw caution to the wind and hit your students with the truth as you see it, and not to worry about the consequences. Brutal honesty is the name of the game. To maintain you status as an Intellectual Enlightenment requires you to keep your students analysing the truth within as much as possible, and not analysing you. They must be kept internalised as much as possible, and one of the best ways to do this is keep personal contact with them to a minimum. A very skillful intellectual master, like Jed McKenna, can lead his students to a place where the intellectual process of enquiry is recognized as redundant and therefore ceases. As with Physical Enlightenment, beware extroverted students as their desire to form relationships with you and their fellow students will disrupt everybody's focus.
Psychological Enlightenment: To be a teacher of Psychological Enlightenment requires many years of understanding inner psychological processes and how we inject meaning into our experience. There are a few different systems of psychology that can produce this level of integration, but perhaps the most far-reaching and insightful is Jungian psychology. Because the processes of the psyche are ongoing and change with the seasons of life, psychological enlightenment teachers continue the process of introspection and integration their whole lives. There is no spiritual retirement (except perhaps death… but even that is questionable). This type of enlightenment is one of the more difficult to fake as it requires personal interaction with students. It should therefore only be pursued by genuine teachers. (It is much easier to fake other forms of enlightenment.) Ideal students are introverts, but extroverts can work with psychological conditions if they understand that the inner and outer environments are connected.
Devotional Enlightenment: To be a teacher of Devotional Enlightenment you need to first understand that you are there as an external canvas for your students to paint their inner guru upon. In other words, you are entering into an agreement to play the external representation of their own divinity, and play it so convincingly that their relationship to you will become profoundly transformational. You will naturally attract people-person students, but be careful of the introverted and intelligent ones who try to pin your philosophy down (they are the ones that can cause problems in devotional groups). It is often a good idea with this path to talk only in very general and indistinct terms to minimize engagement of the intellect which would weaken the emotional projection. Unless you are genuine, access to the guru should be limited to mass rallies and teachings; personal contact should be minimized so that the cracks in the mirror are not visible. The skill of the genuine teacher is to act in a way so that the projection eventually internalises so that the external guru is no longer necessary to maintain the enlightened state. This type of enlightenment is the easiest path for the fake teacher because it is the student that is doing all the projection. But watch out if you fall from grace!
Energetic Enlightenment: To be a teacher of Energetic Enlightenment requires that the student focuses as much as possible on the inner energetics, and so you must constantly try to move that focus inward and away from yourself. It is much easier, therefore, to choose more introverted students and to keep them occupied on spiritual techniques and visualisations that develop those inner energetics. This is one of the easiest forms if you want to abuse your students because that abuse can be justified in terms of energetics: so you might have the case of the tantric master who wants to have sex with one of his or her students justifying it as some form of energetic initiation or method to open the second Chakra. (This is not to say that there are no genuine initiations that involve such activity, but how would you know the difference?)
Shamanic Enlightenment: To be a teacher of Shamanic Enlightenment requires you to introduce the student his new "family" — other beings from other dimensions — who will in turn eventually help that student to affect changes in his/her own and others' lives. This means that you can only be a genuine teacher of Shamanic Enlightenment if you have build up yourself a very close and substantial relationship to spiritual beings for the purpose of affecting our reality. The type of students that this will appeal to tend to be extrovert relational types, so you are as central in the Shamanic Enlightenment path as a teacher is on the Devotional Enlightenment path, so many of the considerations above in that category will also apply. Due to this dynamic whereby students will be projecting their own shamanic powers onto you, this type of enlightenment is actually quite easy to fake, and explains why there are so many fake shamans around.
Mystical Enlightenment: To be a teacher of Mystical Enlightenment you basically do whatever you do and let anybody around that might call themselves a student pick up your pearls of wisdom and use them in any way they see fit. Genuine mystics don't cultivate a following but instead concentrate wholeheartedly on the mystical processes that grip them. Fake mystics do cultivate followers and play out more of an Devotional Enlightenment scenario. Probably better not to fake this one as fake mystics are easy to spot because they are constantly looking over their shoulder to see if anybody is watching.
Each of these types of teacher can bring us to a heightened state of awareness or altered state of consciousness called enlightenment. Most will actually fall into more than one of these categories. Whether or not enlightened states are permanent, however, is pure conjecture as the future is always full of surprises. Enlightened states may last a second or an entire lifetime. One of the biggest misconceptions is that enlightenment is concurrent with the dissolution of the ego. This only has partial truth with certain forms of enlightenment. Without a sense of self we could not function in a physical body or in a society. When the mind is in an enlightened state, the sense of self is still there, the difference is that it is not entangled in our experience — inner or outer. The ego does not dissolve, it just takes a back seat (which from the point of view of our usual hyper-egotistical society can seem like it has disappeared altogether).
If enlightenment does not last, then the ego once again becomes entangled in experience and we soon find ourselves looking back with nostalgically at our period of clarity. If the ego cannot deal with enlightenment's loss, then it will unconsciously or consciously simulate it. There are many teachers of enlightenment out there who do not themselves realize that their own experience of enlightenment was temporary and that they are now inadvertently operating entirely from an ego simulation of that previous state of consciousness. And there are many more who are aware that they are faking what was once, to them, a genuine state of consciousness.
The reason enlightened states often come and go like this is that our awareness tends to be in constant flux, moving between many different states of consciousness, states that are actually happening concurrently. Waking consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg (known as "consensus" reality although, take a poll and you won't find much consensus). With enough focus, we can keep our awareness longer on different internal states, and sometimes keep it there pretty constantly. Whether we should want to or not, or whether there is any use in doing so, is quite another matter.
Why are we attracted to these states? From the ego's perspective, as described earlier, the allure is the allure of certainty. Of having all the answers to life's questions. Of reaching a state that we believe will be immortal. From the deeper self's perspective, however, the allure of enlightenment comes from the yearning to be free from the limiting states of consciousness that define most of our waking states. Some liken these limiting states to a dream, one that we needing to wake up from. But it does seem to be a natural propensity in humankind to seek out altered states — to be free from consensus reality. In fact, altered states have fascinated humankind since the birth of our species, and there is good evidence to suggest that the pursuit of altered states through ingestion of plants, drumming, dancing etc., was the main civilising factor in humanity's evolution. Altered states give us the larger perspective, and by taking us out of normal everyday consciousness we actually come to understand that everyday consciousness better because we have viewed it from the "outside".
So enlightenment can be regarded as specific altered states of consciousness, ones that awakes us from living the dream (or nightmare) of a "normal" life. This is the ego's dream of who and what we think we are in relation to ourselves and to others. From the Physical Enlightenment perspective, that dream is ended by getting out of the head and into physicality. From the Intellectual Enlightenment perspective, the dream is ended by using the intellect to deny its reality. From the Psychological Enlightenment perspective, the dream is ended by bringing out our inner psychology into conscious awareness. From the Devotional Enlightenment perspective, the dream is ended by superseding it with a divine relationship — inner and/or outer. From the Energetic Enlightenment perspective, the dream is ended by losing ourselves to the greater reality of energetic systems. From the Shamanic Enlightenment perspective, that dream is ended by the experience of visiting the shamanic realms and interacting with non-physical beings. And from the Mystical Enlightenment perspective, the dream is ended by surfing time and space itself, and in the dimensional expansion of self. But what is important to realize is that all these are completely different types of awakening, not just different flavours of awakening.
When we dream, we still exist in the waking world, but we just exist there unconsciously. The same holds for enlightenment: enlightenment is the background noise of our ordinary lives. The higher states of consciousness we label as enlightenment are always present as background hums. Most will never hear these hums; some will hear them periodically and not focus on them; some will hear them and try to focus on them; and some will focus on them their whole lives. But eventually, we ALL tire of foreground distractions and focus on aspects of ourselves that are much deeper. To do this, we disentangle the ego from everyday living, and this disentanglement is a requirement in order for us to experience these deeper states of consciousness. Otherwise, we are glued to the play of life in the same way that we find ourselves addicted to a television show or a cinema film, lost in the story because we have identified with aspects of it. But once again, this is not a process of dissolving the ego, just as when the cinema film ends our ego merely disengages back to a greater reality as the credits role.
There are numerous ways of extracting our identity from everyday experience so that we can reach the different types of enlightenment. Anybody who has THE solution, THE state and THE method is just spouting spiritual fundamentalism. The beauty of the spiritual path is that it is often unique for each of us, especially in the West where individuality is more pronounced. This is because the ego plays its part in the enlightening process for Western type minds. It is NOT the bogeyman that needs only to be annihilated. It can be our ally, and we only fool ourselves if we think that the solution to the narcissistic egotism that grips Western society is the annihilation of the ego altogether. Rather it is the integration of ego so that it plays its proper function. (If you want to see how egoless people function in this world then you might consider visiting a mental health hospital rather than an ashram.)
So involving the ego in spiritual practices is fine. Believing in angels, feeling the vibrations, connecting with Ancient Egypt or ETs — all these can be part of the awakening process. On our journey to awakening there are many stories that we will tell ourselves about ourselves, and those stories will change over time and be replaced by new stories. But to try to tell no story at all because we think we should be silent is not a viable spiritual path for most Westerners. It is for some — those who have an natural Zen/ Buddhism affiliation — but not for the majority. And to try to impose a one-method-fits-all process to the awakening process is insanity, and those that do it should know better, but they don't because they are fundamentalists. So when teachers like McKenna dismiss "fluffy spiritual beliefs" as counter-productive on the road to enlightenment, he is only showing his own inflexibility and inability to see outside his own type of enlightenment — Intellectual Enlightenment. "Fluffy spiritual beliefs" CAN be very helpful for some people, not in these beliefs themselves, but in the way that they add new dimensions to the story we tell of ourselves, dimensions that open us up to better integration of the ego. Jung called this process individuation.
Two final enlightenment dogmas that need to be exposed are, firstly, that enlightenment is a state that arises when we focus on the present moment, that it is synonymous with "now-focus", and secondly, that it represents a state of absolute unity with All-That-Is — a state of complete oneness.
Whether the "now" perspective is a symptom of enlightenment or a cause will depend upon what type of enlightenment is being pursued. If you are seeking Physical or Intellectual Enlightenment, focusing on the present moment is central to your path. But, if you are seeing Psychological, Energetic, Devotional Shamanic or Mystical Enlightenment, then such focus on the present moment is a symptom of your spiritual path and not a cause, and pursing the present moment in itself will not be as productive for these particular paths.
As for oneness, that tends only to be a characteristic of "empty mind" types of enlightenment. Psychological Enlightenment, for example, considers separation and objectivity as vital to the integration process. We need a strong ego — a separate part of ourselves — before we can find integration. And that integration does not involve the dissolution of all boundaries for evermore. So from the perspective of this type of enlightenment, oneness is just another name for unconsciousness, for how can we ever be conscious of something that we have no separation from (in the same way that a fish is unconscious of the water it swims in). The same applies to the other more extravert types of enlightenment that involve relationship. Oneness is paradoxically anathematical to relationship, which relies on some level of separateness or complex oneness in order to maintain its existence. Naturally, ultimate oneness exists by definition — how could All-That-Is be anything but one — but we can only realize that oneness if we become unconscious of it.
So the central lack of understanding of what enlightenment is is the ignorance of its multiplicity, and the intolerance to other paths and individual expression that this ignorance produces. This is why so few realize these enlightened states in their lifetime: the odds are minuscule because so few have the confidence to authentically walk the path that is right for them; most would rather have the "proper" teaching from the proper teacher. And those few who stumble across a teacher with real understanding of a particular path will find the whole process hit-and-miss because the multiplicity of enlightenment is not being respected — there is no attempt at understanding the self before embarking for an ideological destination.
This is what Carl Jung meant when he wrote that "Enlightenment is not imagining figures of light but making the darkness conscious." This darkness represents those aspects of ourselves that we are in the dark about because we have not shone the light of our awareness and acceptance in that direction — they are our unconsciousness. Only when we begin to understand and integrate all aspects of our being can we understand let alone walk our individual path to enlightenment.
When we realize that all this time in spiritual circles we have been dealing with different states of spiritual consciousness — which we have collectively and confusingly labelled "enlightenment" — we start to understand the enormous creativity of the universe and the blessing of our individuality. And in this realization we can relax and open-mindedly explore. We begin to realize that life is a creative and explosive venture; we do not return to the source but the source comes to us as we spiral out into infinity, spinning our creative dreams of ever greater possibility. (Just stop me any time… I am just expressing my mystical/psychological truth and I am sure you have a different and equally valid truth.)
Enlightenment is what you make it. So rather than regard it as an elite spiritual club that divides the enlightened from the unenlightened, throw away your coveted membership application and start honouring the living spirit that is working in your life each moment. Relax and go with the flow, ride life's waves, even if you think that in moments you are being unspiritual and unenlightened. Only when we stop using awful labels like "enlightenment" and "spiritual" can we find the path that we are meant to take, a path with no destination, that is itself a destination. Let go of spiritual fascism and open to a true respect for yourself and your neighbour on this journey towards the infinite.
[New Age music begins and credits start rolling… ]
* * *
So you still want to be enlightened? Here is a simple formula that should work for most people:
1) Put aside the folklore about what enlightenment is and understand that it can be many different things depending upon your personality, beliefs, culture and so on. There are no rules, and NOBODY is an expert for everybody.
2) Determine want particular type of spiritual enlightenment suits you you the best. Usually, it will be a combination of paths you need to express. If in doubt, discuss it with a friend who knows you very well. This is actually 90% of the work is for Westerners on the journey to enlightenment.
3) If you still feel that the goal of enlightenment — whatever that means to you — is something you want to pursue, go for it. And remember, as you grow along the path(s) that you choose, the goal will change as you change. You may even abandon your search altogether if your perception of enlightenment no longer holds the same attraction for you. The trick is not to get too stuck on a particular path — relax — and leave room for change.
4) If you do reach that goal of enlightenment, don't come running back to the unenlightened world and try to convince everyone that you are somehow an expert on enlightenment… you can only ever be an expert in hindsight on how you yourself reached what you consider to be enlightenment.
5) Remember to keep your sense of humour. You will need it when the unexpected happens, as it inevitably will.