One of the things I harp on here and in a few other forums is stages of enlightenment. Like all other human development including puberty, it is a process marked with distinct stages. There are quite a few voices who discount such stages, either because their teacher discouraged concepts of stages (like Gangaji) as a barrier to living them. Or because they’ve not yet experienced such themselves. I fully agree that concepts of stages are not reality so should be held lightly. But not understanding the unfolding can cause other issues.
With spiritual awakening or Self Realization, the personal seeker falls away and there can be a sense of being “done”. Some drop practices then. However, this is a little premature. While the “me” does indeed fall away, it does not mean the growth is done. In fact, I would describe Self Realization as the kindergarten of enlightenment.
There have also developed several erroneous concepts around this. Like thinking inner non-duality with a separate outer illusory world is THE non-duality described by Vedanta. However, it most certainly is not.
Last fall, several people I know spoke on a panel discussion at the SAND conference (Science and Non-Duality) on this subject. By discounting stages, several points of confusion arise. People confuse recognition with awakening or awakening with being done. In the discussion, they make the following points:
1) Don’t mistake understanding for Realization
After some deep study, a profound understanding can grow. But it remains an understanding or set of concepts, not a lived experience. If there is a sense of rigidity or belief to it, you’re in the realm of concepts, not realization.
If some experiences are driving the understanding, the memory of those experiences can drive a seeker. If it changes them enough, they may consider it a realization. In one sense, that’s true. But neither a memory nor a concept are a living experience.
2) Don’t mistake realization for Liberation
Deep enough and we discover the truth of our being. That we really are an eternal Self. But a discovery, however profound, is not liberation. As long as the personal me remains as who you are, it is not Self Realization. Is the Self there 24/7, even in deep sleep?
(In the conversation, they use witnessing deep sleep as a marker for Self Realization or CC. But there are a few (like myself) who gained the witness prior to awakening. Is there still a me?)
3) Don’t mistake liberation for Enlightenment.
We continue our work and practice as the journey is not over even when the seeking individual falls away. Mark describes how when the person falls away, nature takes over. The process is no longer your personal job.
The non-duality of Vedanta is a Unity that encompasses both the inner Self and the outer world in oneness. If we’re experiencing the world as a separate illusion, this is duality, not full non-duality. We’re confusing an inner non-duality with a complete one. Holding on to the “world as illusion” and “experiences are maya” is another way to let concepts be a barrier.
It can be noted that renunciates may continue with a “world as illusion” model as a means of renunciation. The same rule should not be applied to householders who need to act in the world. I discuss that here.
They also note that some teachers become awakened without knowing how they got there. People then try to mimic their experience as a technique. But “description is not a prescription.”
Although the piece is titled the 3 Levels of Non-Dual Reality, they don’t explicitly state the 3 levels. They describe them and note points of confusion. To help understand what they’re speaking of, here is a brief review:
The first is inner non-duality, what is commonly called Self Realization or Cosmic Consciousness.
The second is with the awakening heart and refining perception, discovering Divinity in the world. (while not technically a non-dual stage, it leads to the next)
The third is when the world and the Self are recognized to be one and the same and the observer and observed become one, leaving only seeing. This is the dawn of full non-duality, though it usually develops in stages of integration of all values of experience.
The Upanishads describe this as I am That, Thou art That, All This is That, That alone Is.
Here’s the 45 min panel conversation with about 10 min of Q&A on Fora.tv.
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