Recommended Posts

Enlightenment by Adyashanti

Hey all. Here's a good piece about enlightenment. It's actually chapter 19 from Adyashanti's book Emptiness Dancing.


Over the years of giving talks and having discussions with people about freedom,

enlightenment, and liberation, I have discovered that most of the people who are seeking

enlightenment or liberation have no idea what it is. It is ironic that people who are

spending a great amount of their energy, even sacrificing their lives in some cases, by

locking themselves up in monasteries, or coming to satsang whenever a new teacher

comes into town, and spending all of their extra money on books, weekend seminars, and

evenings like this where they ponder spiritual matters intensely, really don't have any

idea of what they are after.

This came as a bit of a shock to me when I started to ask people what it is they

think enlightenment is. The most honest would usually kind of scratch their heads as it

suddenly would dawn on them, "I really don't know. I'm not really sure." And those who

weren't quite capable of mustering that much authenticity would usually spit out what

somebody else had said, such as, "Well, it's union with the divine." Other people would

come up with their own ideas. In modern vernacular, we call those fantasies. "When

enlightenment happens it's going to be ..." fill in the blank. Usually the expectation is that

it's going to be something like an infinitely extended orgasm.

We say in Zen, "If you sit down, shut up, and face a wall long enough, something

is going to happen." Many people have done this and then had an enjoyable experience—

perhaps a very extended pleasurable state that lasted a few minutes or hours, or perhaps,

if they were lucky, throughout a whole retreat. Maybe this feeling lasted only a few

seconds in a given meditation before the mind said, "Now if I just extend this experience

infinitely through time, that is what freedom is going to be like."

However, my experience of enlightenment was simply the demolition of

everything that I thought it was going to be. And I have never met anybody who has truly

and authentically awakened to the Truth who has ever said anything other than that. I

have never met a single person who has come back and said, ''Adya, you know it's pretty

much like I thought it would be. They usually come back and say, "This is nothing like

anything I thought it would be. And this is nothing like any of the spiritual experiences I

have had before in my life, including experiences of bliss, love, union with the divine, or

cosmic consciousness."

Again, as we say in Zen, "If you sit down, shut up, and face the wall long enough,

then all of these experiences are going to happen to you." And then guess what is going

to happen to those experiences? They are going to pass away. Now, most people who

actually know this pretend that they don't. Most people who have been through the list of

spiritual experiences know that not one of them has lasted because, if it had, they

wouldn't still be seeking the next experience. So most people who have been at the game

of spirituality long enough know that no experience has lasted.

Nobody wants to face this. Students can hear hundreds or thousands of times that

enlightenment is not an experience, and still they bring the concern to satsang, ''Adya,

what I gain in satsang when I come, I lose when I leave." And I always say, "Of course. It

doesn't matter what experience you have, you're going to lose your experience. That's the

nature of experience."

It sounds good to say that freedom is that which doesn't come and go, but the only

thing the mind can do with that is imagine an endlessly extended experience that doesn't

come and go. And then it thinks, "I just haven't come up with the right endlessly extended

experience that doesn't come and go. I haven't got it right."

For some reason, and I take absolutely no credit for this whatsoever, while I sat

and faced the wall for fifteen years as a Zen student, various experiences occurred. These

events included mind-blasting kundalini experiences, mystical union, bliss, and being

flooded with divine light and love. Like most people who sit facing a wall, I found these

experiences didn't happen nearly as often or last nearly as long as I would have wanted

them to. At particular points along the journey, there was a tendency to think, "This is it!

This experience is so overwhelmingly pleasurable that this has to be it!" My

consciousness expanded infinitely wide, and I was pounded with more insights than I

could take in. If you want these experiences, there is a prescription for getting them—just

sit and face a wall for endless hours a day.

But I received what I found out later was an incredible grace, which was that right

in the midst of these most amazing, beautiful experiences, that didn't happen nearly often

enough, an annoying little voice would come in every single time and say, "Keep going;

this isn't it!" The rest of me would be thinking, "This indeed is it because everything

about my body and mind is telling me this is it. All signals are go. The pleasure has

become so immense that this has to be it." Then the little voice would come in and say,

"Don't stop here, this isn't it."

If I had my choice, I probably would have taken that little voice and thrown it out

the window because I noticed that other people had these great realizations too, but at

least they got to enjoy them for a few days, weeks, and in some cases months, being very

convinced that they had arrived. And I rarely got to groove on one of these realizations

for more than ten minutes. That doesn't mean it would stop happening immediately. It

just means that while it was happening, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this

wasn't it, no matter what the experience was. I say this was a tremendous grace because

time and time again it pushed me out of the place where I probably would have liked to


If you hold on to any experience, you will experience suffering as soon as it

passes. It's amazing that so often this suffering does not get us to move on, but causes us

to turn back 180 degrees to look for the experience we lost. So many times this suffering

is a complete waste of time because we don't get the lesson that any experience that came

and went is not enlightenment, and we try to repeat or sustain it endlessly.

If we are really lucky, either we know right away that a passing experience isn't it,

or the experience fades and we don't do the 180-degree turn backwards. We realize that

whatever the experience was, it wasn't enlightenment. Because all these experiences are

something that are happening to a me, and any experience that happens to a me is bound

by time, which simply means it's going to come and go. For me, this was a grace because

I saw whatever experience that came down the pike wasn't the enlightenment I was

seeking. It shortened my journey immeasurably.

When we talk about seeking enlightenment, which is about the most abused word

in the spiritual dictionary, what we are really seeking is the answer to, "What is the

Truth?" That question is an entirely different orientation than, "How can I get that

experience?" and "How can I sustain it?" Asking, "What is the Truth?" is a demolition

project. Most of spirituality is a construction project. We're ascending and ascending—

ideas are ascending, kundalini energy is ascending, consciousness is ascending. It just

keeps building, and a person feels, ''I'm getting better and better."

But enlightenment is a demolition project. It simply shows you that everything

you ever believed was true isn't. Everything you take yourself to be, whatever your self

image is—good, bad, or indifferent—you're not that. Whoever you think others are—

good, bad, or indifferent—is not true. Whatever you think about God is wrong. You

cannot have a true thought about God, so all of your thoughts about God tell you

precisely and exactly what the divine is not. Whatever you think the world is tells you

exactly and precisely what the world is not. Whatever you think about enlightenment is

also precisely and exactly what it's not.

Do you get the flavor of it? It's a removal project. What does it remove?

Everything. And unless it's a removal of everything, it's not ultimately liberating. If there

is one thing or a single viewpoint that hasn't been removed, then liberation hasn't

happened yet.

In the lives of most human beings, everything is about an avoidance of the truth.

The truth that we are avoiding is the Truth of emptiness. We don't want to see that we are

nothing. We don't want to see that everything we believe is wrong. We don't want to see

that what everybody else believes is wrong. We don't want to see that our viewpoint is

wrong and that there is no right viewpoint. We don't want to see that everything we think

about God is what God is not. We don't want to see what the Buddha meant when he said

there is no self.

We would rather quickly insert a positive statement. So instead of seeing that

there is no self and that everything the mind holds as true is ultimately empty, our minds

will quickly insert something positive like, "I am consciousness," or "All is bliss," or

"God is love." We do not want to see that there is a gaping void at the center of our


Throughout the centuries, when spirituality is spoken of in a way that is as close

to Truth as the spoken word can possibly come, it is covered up as fast as possible. Even

in Zen—which as far as I can see is one of the purer forms of chasing the Buddha's

enlightenment experience—there is often an avoidance of the central teaching, which is

that there is no self. That's why when you open a magazine, even a Buddhist magazine,

you cannot find the central tenet of the teaching. It's not there. Instead, most spiritual

writing tells you how to be more compassionate and loving, how to meditate better, count

your breaths, say your mantra, or visualize your deity, and on and on. Even in Buddhism,

it is often covered up, though it is a little difficult to hide the central tenet of the founder:

there is no self. Even if it's not hidden, it's rarely talked about, and when it is, it's kind of

dressed up. The real teachings about enlightenment are like a sword blade that swooshes

right through whatever direction you were going in. They cut your legs off, and you find

yourself nose-down on the floor, bloodied from the fall.

It was said long ago that it's the truth that sets you free, and the most

compassionate thing that we can do for anyone, including ourselves, is to tell the truth.

What is not liberating is to tell ourselves or tell each other only what we want to hear.

That's not compassionate. That's cruelty in a hidden form because it enslaves us to an

endless cycle of chasing something that doesn't exist. The Truth might make our minds

feel somewhat helpless, but that is the whole point! That's what surrender means.

Surrender doesn't mean, ''I'm going for the divine, giving everything up, giving my life,

my heart, my everything. I'm giving everything up so I will attain the ultimate spiritual

goodie." Many of the people who are doing their hundred thousand prostrations around

the Himalayas are doing them only because they think it's going to get them the ultimate

goodie. Have you ever thought about it? If I didn't think it was going to get me the

ultimate goodie, I wouldn't be doing it, for Pete's sake. A hundred thousand prostrations

is a real pain in the ass.

Surrender is the same bow down, internally or externally, but made without

seeking anything in return. The rest is a game. It's ego. ''I'll pretend to be spiritual because

it's going to get me something." The truly spiritual is, "I want only the Truth. I'm willing

to give up everything that's not the Truth. It doesn't matter whether I like to give it up or I

don't like to give it up. It doesn't matter whether it shakes the whole foundation of my

being or it doesn't. And it's not that I want the truth as an acquisition that I can hold and

possess. It's that I want the Truth, which by its nature has to be that which is not an

acquisition." There has to be an absolute release, an absolute letting go, but not for

something in return. The absolute letting go is letting go of the one who is letting go.

There's nothing in enlightenment for the me.

In one sense, enlightenment is realizing that there is no separate self. We might

hear that a hundred thousand times, "There is no separate self." But what happens when

we take it inside and seriously consider what it could mean? We would find it means that

everything I as a separate self holds as true isn't.

The taste of no separate self is totally liberating. "No separate self" does not mean

there is a spiritual experience that goes something like, "I have extended myself infinitely

everywhere, and have merged with everything." That's a beautiful, wonderful experience

for a separate self to have, but that's not what Oneness is. Oneness is not merging.

Merging happens between two and since there is only one, then any experience of

merging is one illusion merging with another, as beautiful and wonderful as that

experience may be. Even when I experience having merged with the absolute, with the

infinite, with God, it simply means that my fictitious self has merged with another fiction.

Mystical experiences aren't enlightenment.

Oneness is when there isn't another. Oneness is—there is only this. There is no

that over there, there is only this. And that's all there is. There is only this, and as soon as

you say what this is, you've just defined what it's not. This is only realized in the utter

demolition of everything that it's not. Then that awakening is an awakening outside of

everything that comes and goes. It is a total waking up outside of time.

This awakening is just like waking up from a dream at night—which is why that

metaphor has been used so often throughout the centuries. The dream is as real as this

moment. If you think your life is threatened in your dream, you're going to panic just as

much as you'll panic if you think your life is threatened right now. But when you wake up

in the morning you think, "My goodness, it wasn't really that real." It was real as dreams

go. It existed as dreams exist, but it doesn't have the reality we thought it did when we

were in the midst of the dream.

Human beings don't know how significant it is to wake up from a dream in the

middle of the night. You literally woke up out of a dimension that you took to be just as

true as this dimension. It's a cataclysmic change of consciousness. Everything that I

thought was true in that dream ends up not being true.

When there is real and authentic spiritual awakening, the impact is exactly the

same. I'm not saying this world is or is not a dream—it's pointless to define this world.

But I am saying the experience of awakening is exactly like that. It's the experience of,

"My God, I took myself to be a human being named so-and-so and I'm not. And it's not

that I'm something better or bigger or more expansive or more holy or divine. It means

I'm not. Period."

That doesn't mean there is not a body. There is obviously a body. That doesn't

mean there is not a mind. There is obviously a mind. That doesn't mean there is not a

personality. There is obviously a personality. There is also a sense of self Enlightened or

not, you will have a sense of self. Otherwise consciousness couldn't work in a body.

Otherwise someone would call your name, and you would never respond. As far as I can

see, every sage throughout time has somehow been able to respond.

Ramana actually put it the opposite way. He said "There is only the Self," which

is just, "There is no self," turned upside down. It's the same thing. What is there when

there is no self? What do we call that? Ramana decided to call it the Self. But really the

Self is what is there when there is no self.

I guarantee that you will have a sense of self after enlightenment. Your body

could not operate without a sense of self. So it's a myth that somehow when you get

enlightened, you're going to lose your sense of self. It is possible when meditating to

temporarily lose your sense of self, so that if somebody called your name you would not

turn around. I have seen people in meditation not even be able to get up. In India they call

that nirvikalpa samadhi. It's a nice experience. Some insight might come out of it. Some

insight might not come out of it. You can have the experience called a temporary

cessation of the experience of self, but I guarantee that it will be temporary because your

body cannot function without a sense of self.

If you really drop into no self, it's outside of time, which means it doesn't last a

short period of time, and it doesn't last a long period of time. It is a timeless realization,

and if it's not, then you haven't realized it yet. Then, at best, you have had an experience

called "I temporarily lost my sense of self," which is not what "no self" means. No self

means, with or without the sense of self, that you directly know thoroughly that there is

no self, which also means there is no other. There is only one thing going on. Whether

you call that one thing God, the divine, consciousness, Buddha nature, emptiness,

fullness, leftist, rightist, it doesn't matter. But when there is only one thing going on, there

is only one thing going on. There is only emptiness and its infinite display of itself.

Freedom is the ultimate demolition project because it steals everything from you.

That's why it's liberating. It steals your argument with yourself because there isn't one. It

steals your arguments with others because there aren't any. It steals your argument with

the world because there is only That. There is only one thing going on, and that is never

in argument with itself. Never. Ever. That's why it's so freeing, because you are freed

from this endless twoness.

When there is awakening to our true nature, our minds are no longer looking at

emptiness because there is no separate somebody to look at it. We realize that the only

thing that's ever looking at emptiness is itself. That's another reason why I am not the first

to say there are no enlightened individuals, there is only enlightenment. Enlightenment

wakes up. Not you or I. You and I are rendered insignificant and nonexistent.

Enlightenment wakes up. That's why it is said that everybody is inherently enlightened.

But that statement is misleading because it implies that everybody is a separate, special,

unique little somebody who is inherently enlightened, and that misses the point. An

illusion can't be enlightened. So it's not really true that everybody is enlightened. It's only

true that enlightenment is enlightened.

The other part of it is that enlightenment steals everything from you. That's how

you can spot enlightenment—whatever body it has happened through is robbed totally

blind, and it knows this, but it couldn't care less. It is so happy to be robbed blind, to not

have all those points of view, to not believe the opinions of the mind—which will still

have some opinions because there is still a body, mind, and personality that will have

their ideas—but these are now seen as meaningless. That's when you know something

authentic has happened.

I have steered away this evening from talking about many of the positive aspects

of enlightenment, but there is no way you could really see the truth and not be giggling in

some way for the rest of your life. There is no way that you couldn't just love this world

to death, even though you know it's not half as real as you thought it was. There is no

way you could not love people a hundred times more, even though you know that they're

not what you thought they were. But I don't want to speak too much about that because

the mind starts to think it's being handed candy when it's not. It's being handed a sword.

Santa Monica, California: February 8, 2002

  • Upvote 1

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Restore formatting

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.