Styles of Enlightenment

Styles of Enlightenment

As readers of this blog know, I explore various ways of looking at how enlightenment or spiritual awakening is lived. Here, I don’t mean how the changes are experienced but rather the styles of embodying it. The container we experience those changes through.

Here is a brief list of some of the distinctions that come to mind:

1) Orientation – Householder or Renunciate
2) Emphasis – Consciousness and Energy
3) Path – Intellect, Heart, and Body
4) Dominant Sense – sight, hearing, touch
5) Lifestyle and Philosophy – how we apply the above
6) Stage & Cycle – our current stage of development, karma, and time of life

1) Orientation – Householder or Renunciate

We are born as a householder or a renunciate. It’s how we’re wired. This is a black and white distinction. Only a tiny percent are born monks.

This orientation is core to our identity and nature. It is not a choice or something we can escape. It is an aspect of who we are in this embodiment so it’s best to learn to be with it comfortably.

This is also not about appearances or going through the motions. Some may adopt a monks’ role for a time but if they’re not inclined that way, it won’t serve them well long term. On the other hand, the distinction may not be obvious from surface appearances. For example, I know someone who’s married and owns a home but lives a renunciate lifestyle dominated by spiritual practice. There’s no avoidance there, just a natural inclination.

We’re not long out of a dark age where spiritual progress commonly required spending substantial time withdrawing from the world – even for householders. That time is over but there is still a strong momentum in spiritual & religious teachings that emphasize a monks approach. When someone follows a path they’re unsuited to, they’re obliged to act in unnatural ways. Strain and problems arise. For example, a majority of Catholic priests are unable to stay celibate. That is occasionally expressed in unhealthy ways to the detriment of those around them. You see similar issues with Indian renunciates, and so forth. Anything you suppress will tend to leak out sideways.

The more common form this takes is people living in the world but playing at being renunciates. As the texts on dharma express, we will then fail at both.

Not that we shouldn’t go on occasional retreats but for most of us, we will evolve by living in the world and in relationship. That’s why we’re here. And that’s how the human race will continue.

2) Emphasis – Consciousness and Energy

On this blog, I’ve frequently talked about the 2 aspects of spiritual growth – Atman and Sattva. There are various ways of talking about this polarity in creation: Masculine & Feminine, Shiva and Shakti, Consciousness and Energy. Rather than see this as 2 things, it’s best to see this as one thing with 2 sides, like a coin.

This emphasis is determined by our dominant laws of nature – we’ll emphasize energy and embodiment more or consciousness and transcendence more. Again, not out of choice but directly out of our experience of life.

This difference is not black and white but rather is a spectrum. Some people are very transcendental and some just a bit, some are very energy-centered, some just a bit.

Broadly men tend to the consciousness side more and women to the heart & energy more but that’s a broad generalization.

Our practices can have an impact here. A long practice of deep meditation will amplify our sense of consciousness. Work with energy awareness and healing will amplify that side. But our emphasis will attract us to related practices that favour our approach.

As I’ve also discussed, it’s important to have balance here. Unlike our Orientation above, if we’re more transcendent, it’s good to bring balance with energy healing and heart culturing. Nothing forced or unnatural to the person – just some balancing. Inversely, someone heart-centered may need grounding in pure being, in source beyond energy.

Without balance, you can get into extremes. For example, too much astral and you get ungrounded woo-woo and a lack of discrimination. Even flowers need roots. Inversely, in a recent article Lori Ann Lothian spoke of the “Non-duality manscape” of dueling concepts and the “Zen Sickness” of being stuck in empty consciousness. Both are characteristics of an unbalanced masculine.

She included an excellent Adyashanti quote:
“Enlightenment does not mean one should disappear into the realm of transcendence. To be fixated in the absolute is simply the polar opposite of being fixated in the relative. To awaken to the absolute view is profound and transformative, but to awaken from all fixed points of view is the birth of true nonduality. If emptiness cannot dance, it is not true emptiness. If moonlight does not flood the empty night sky and reflect in every drop of water, on every blade of grass, then you are only looking at your own empty dream. I say, “Wake up!” Then your heart will be flooded with a Love that you cannot contain.”

3) Path – Intellect, Heart, and Body

This is another inclination driven by our dominant laws of nature. We’ll naturally be more heart-oriented, more mind-oriented, or relate more with the body and doing.

You see this in the Yoga traditions of India: Bhakti (devotion) for the heart, Gyani (intellect) for the conceptual, Karma (action) for action and perception, and Hatha for the body itself.

There is a broad tendency to relate a conceptual approach to the masculine side, consciousness, and renunciates. As in Lori’s post above, the dueling concepts forums are dominated by men into renunciate non-duality. Similarly, one who is energy-focused will also tend to be more heart-focused. You see a lot more women in such groups.

But we shouldn’t confuse one to mean the other as we are each complex blends of laws of nature. Individual blends of the above will show up in all sorts of varieties. I stumbled a little with these distinctions when I was younger.

The famous sage Shankara revived the monastic tradition in India and had four primary disciples. Three of them where gyanis (intellects) but Trotaka was a devotee, on a heart path. As it worked out, he was the first to become enlightened. He was a renunciate devotee with a strongly consciousness-based emphasis.

I’m a householder but have a strong consciousness-based & conceptual approach naturally. The masculine approach is prominent. But while I’m quite conceptual, my dominant Yoga is Karma, the path of perception, of experiences. The concepts are driven by experiences rather than the intellect.

A friend of mine is very much the householder running multiple businesses. While he has a significant devotional tendency, his prominent path is also through doing and experiencing. In fact, karma yogis are very common in the west.

You’ll also see the intellectual energy healer, the body-oriented householder, and so forth.

4) Dominant Sense

Another major filter that can affect how all the above is perceived is which sense we favour. I’m very visual and because I’m on a perceptual path, I often learn by seeing and being shown things. And I tend to use visual language. Others will be much more attuned to feeling and touch. Sound people will tend to attune to vibrations differently than feeling people. And so on.

While there can be correlations between Path and Dominant Sense, that’s by no means universal.

5) Lifestyle and Philosophy

Clearly, we want a lifestyle and approach that supports our spiritual journey and all the above natural inclinations. Playing at celibacy, trying to escape or avoid who we are, or following what we’re “supposed to” do will just lead to barriers and imbalance. An approach that doesn’t support our natural inclinations is fraught.

For example, I really resonate with Gangaji. But my conceptual orientation is unmet there so she did not serve as a primary influence. We just shared a lot of laughter.

For some of us, our background didn’t culture our natural inclinations. We thus may need some experiences and experiments to find our natural route. Please don’t use this list to determine yours. This is not a conceptual exercise but one of finding what is smooth and natural for us. Funnily enough, some of it may not be obvious to us because it’s so natural. We take it for granted and have never developed a story about it. We may also have to drop some expectations of what our life is supposed to look like.

If you notice the aversion flag, that may indicate what you’re not. But it also may be a marker for avoidance. Make sure it’s not pointing away due to non-acceptance.

As always, the key is moderation and balance.

6) Stage & Cycle

While we’ll have a natural Orientation, Emphasis, and so on, there are various factors that can temporarily shift things to some degree. For example:

Stage of Development

Major changes in stage of development in consciousness can temporarily shift our orientation to some of this.

For example, the initial shift into Self Realization may be soft or may create a distinct high-contrast emphasis on consciousness and detachment from the world. While this is a good step, it’s not where we want to stay. Occasionally people can get a little stuck there due to world aversion and what remains to be resolved. The Adyashanti quote above refers to this.

If a God Consciousness phase unfolds after this, it can be a very heart-centric phase, even for someone very intellectual. That can also be quite balancing.

An aspect of Unity is the progressive recognition that all is mySelf. The intellect has a key role, shifting from looking out and dividing to looking within and joining. This may not be experienced as “Intellectual” but it does have that role, even for the non-conceptual.


If we’re born a householder but have some karma related to prior renunciate lives, that may play out as a more inner phase. But this doesn’t make it our Orientation, just something temporary to resolve.

Similarly, if we have a strong Saturn cycle it may be a time to be more inner. But this doesn’t mean a householder becomes a renunciate – just more inner-directed.

In the old teachings on dharma, they also speak of becoming a recluse late in life. But today I’d say only if this is the natural inclination. Some do indeed become much more inner late in life. But some certainly don’t.

I mentioned the Yuga cycle influence above.

This is just a few ways of looking at the unique flavours each of us bring to the table. We all have our own blend and distinct perspective.

If we allow our natural inclinations to flower with moderation and balance, we’ll make the best progress. However, we also want to accept our limitations and allow for stumbling. This isn’t about being perfect, it’s about having experiences and learning from them.

Last Updated on December 13, 2019 by Davidya

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  1. It’s also worth noting that our temperament will of course also influence the style of living enlightenment.

    Something like Myers-Briggs overlaps the above to a degree (framed a bit differently) but there is also distinctions like introvert and extrovert.

  2. Lilian

    I was going to add a note of appreciation for this post too.

    I have quite a bit of action/intellect path in my personal mix. The situations I have in my life have been a perfect way to walk it.

    I’m often in situations in which I’m the only (or one of the few) women…

    I don’t quite fit into some of the more heart/energy centred spiritual circles I’ve encountered, as much as I appreciate them.

    Absolutely, the current day Western world is the perfect place to walk certain paths. 🙂

    1. “Absolutely, the current day Western world is the perfect place to walk certain paths.”

      Quite agreed, Lilian. I know that certain temperaments favour certain kinds of media, like talking in boxes like this and in discussion groups.

      And such a treasure trove of knowledge at our fingertips, mixed in of course with lots of noise to discriminate out…

  3. Lilian

    Yes, discrimination is key. In this new age, we’re all so aware of “information.” I know you work in IT, similar to me, so you must have had plenty of meetings where people constantly bibble about “information” and “data.” It’s kinda funny.

    1. Yes – treating it like an object of great import but the only value information has is when you know how to discriminate meaning from it. By itself, data is just noise.

      Kind of like the jokes about statistics. You can make it say anything you want. But is that value?

  4. Lilian

    Just for disclosure, I don’t know how close or not I am to enlightenment. For me, Rose gets excited that I may finally integrate my intelligence with the rest of me. I don’t know how to take that. I must be an interesting lab specimen for her. Certainly finding ways to integrate my spiritual path with the intellect is an interesting proposal. For too long, religion has told us not to think and not to act independently…

    Anyway, I’ll read bits of what you have on offer. 🙂

    1. Well – I know Rose doesn’t emphasis this but the question about “how close” is kind of meaningless because it’s not the “I” that gets enlightened. It’s more enlightenment is able to come through the I when enough Stuff (in her parlance) is cleaned up. When the vessel is clear enough. But even then, that doesn’t cause it, it sets the stage for it.

      Of course, that’s the consciousness approach.

      If it makes you feel any better, one of my teachers once joked I was going to analyze my way to enlightenment.

      As for religion, history is full of great teachers and sages who awaken a large number of people. And then things gradually fade, the techniques get distorted, the effects get lost, enlightenment stops happening, and then understanding becomes belief and dogma. In the worst examples, religion puts itself between you and God, making the priest a middle-man. But now we’re in a time where we get to jump past that and true teachers are many.


  5. amaryllis

    “one of my teachers once joked I was going to analyse my way to enlightenment.”

    I think I see now … the analytical/conceptual path is not ‘dry’ and problematic, *if* it’s matched with sinking into/allowing/expressing/being the energy of the heart. Heart/love/surrender seems to be the transmutational substance that takes the little ‘i’ out of the head & into the transcendent reality merge with all … or am I way off base?

    1. Hi Amaryllis
      Well – the key is the allowing/ surrender part which may or may nor show up in a heart way. The heart is key for the refinement and fullness which brings a richness and the Refined stages to the process. So it is an important part of a balanced unfolding. But may not be prominent in some paths.

      The “transformational substance” from a Vedic standpoint is Rajas, fire. The energy of the monkey mind can become the fuel of transformation. Some experience that fire in the gut, some in the heart. 🙂

      But yes, it the reality beyond both heart and mind that is key to awakening. But there is no one answer for all beings. 🙂

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