Different Conceptualizations of Enlightenment
Actually, there is no universal or agreed upon definition, or even understanding, of the concept of enlightenment. Different traditions use the word differently. Different teachers refer to different realities when they use it. And most people have not the vaguest idea what they are talking about when referring to enlightenment. Sometimes enlightenment means the attainment of a certain stage of Being. Sometimes it refers to a certain insight, perception or understanding. Sometimes it refers to a certain stage of inner development, usually the final stage, which becomes problematic since different traditions take different conditions to be the final stage. Sometimes it signifies the transcendence of ego, other times the death of ego, still other times the transformation of ego... The concept can be useful only in a teaching that defines it very specifically. But we cannot use the concept assuming it means the same thing in all teachings or traditions.
Pearl Beyond Price, pg. 182
Different Kinds of Enlightenment
In runaway realization, enlightenment is not a fixed condition but an open, dynamic reality, because true nature reveals itself as infinite possibilities and cannot be constrained and defined by one ultimate or another. This does not mean that we are not enlightened if we realize true nature in only one way. If we realize Brahman or the Dharmakaya or the Divine Essence, that is enlightenment. What I am saying is that there are different kinds of enlightenment. We see that enlightenment can be dynamic and can reveal what we are in different ways. These different ways can be seen hierarchically or nonhierarchically. When we look at reality from the nonhierarchical point of view, what we see and what we are as enlightenment, as the ultimate, changes meaning. From the perspective of nonhierarchy, the word “ultimate” doesn’t make much sense, because this view does not participate in the dichotomies of high and low, more and less, absolute and relative, deeper than and not so deep, or subtle and superficial. These are elements of the hierarchical point of view, which is a useful and important part of our work in the first and second turnings of the teaching.
The Alchemy of Freedom, pg. 159
Dynamic Illumination that Comprises both the Illuminating Dynamic and the Dynamically Illuminated
Realization means that we have the certainty and recognition that we are true nature and that our being is true nature. We know that what perceives and experiences and what understands and knows is true nature. So there is a freedom from the usual sense of self. When essential activation is this free, it is runaway realization. Runaway realization is the closest thing in this teaching to what is considered enlightenment. Our experience has become runaway realization when realization keeps changing and morphing into other realizations. True nature continues to reveal different faces of itself, and in each face what we are is true nature. Enlightenment becomes a dynamic illumination that comprises both the illuminating dynamic and the dynamically illuminated. True nature is both the revealing light and the revealed truth of enlightenment.
The Alchemy of Freedom, pg. 158
Enlightenment is Really When Your Problems Start
Some people think that enlightenment is when all your problems end. Enlightenment is really when your problems start. Enlightenment is partly the realization that you are responsible in your life, that your life is completely your responsibility, and you are the one who really has to live it. You have to live life the way you know you ought to do it. It’s not going to just happen.
Diamond Heart Book Four, pg. 79
Enlightenment Means Conceptualization is Ended
Enlightenment does not involve simply the perception that the person is only a concept. It means that all conceptualization is ended; all images and representations in the mind, whether conscious, preconscious or unconscious, are eliminated, or at least not identified with. When this profound stillness of the mind is achieved, it is asserted; true reality is perceived, not by an entity which is a separate individual. The experience is one of unqualified Being, wordless existence, infinite and eternal.
Pearl Beyond Price, pg. 27
Enlightenment Needs You to Recognize Itself
In the nondual condition, the individual consciousness is not foreground. The self disappears, the individual disappears, even the soul disappears—there is only reality. There is only nondual presence. However, if there were no individual consciousness, there would be no perception, no sensation, and no awareness of nondual truth manifesting its possibilities. So you, as an individual, are important for realization. Enlightenment needs you to recognize itself; it needs you as an individual. In nondual truth, your sense of who you are is not as an individual. You are the Living Being that is the nature of everything and that is manifesting and creating everything. However, you as an individual who is practicing is how this nondual truth is recognizing its enlightenment. This points to the importance of the manifestation of the particular. Reality is not only a nondual truth in its oneness and indivisibility. That is important, but the fact that there is individual consciousness is also important. More than that, it is necessary. If there were no individual consciousness, this nondual truth would be manifesting the universe, but it would be an insentient and unconscious universe, not aware of its mystery and transparency. Many teachings, of course, recognize this truth. It’s obvious, unless you abide in the nondual condition for a long time. If that is the only condition you experience, you might tend to forget the value of individual consciousness because the nondual condition doesn’t readily reveal the importance of the individual.
Runaway Realization, pg. 105
Enlightenment of Enlightenment
You might notice that as I am discussing enlightenment, I am not limiting it to the realization of true nature. I am also including our experience of reality. The mountain is reality, and enlightenment includes the truth of everything we experience—how things appear, what they are, what they mean. When a mountain is a mountain without it being true nature or not, then enlightenment is a kind of simplicity that introduces the nonhierarchical view. A mountain is light, a mountain is love, a mountain is emptiness, a mountain is awareness, a mountain is physical, a mountain is spiritual, and a mountain is neither spiritual nor physical. What is it then? It’s just a mountain without anyone left to ponder what it is. All sorts of possibilities can emerge in this simplicity, freeing our experience from the hierarchical point of view. We can experience enlightenment as an enlightenment that has left no trace of enlightenment. Many teachings think of traceless enlightenment as enlightenment that has happened to the degree that there is no more thinking or recognition that something called enlightenment has happened, because it becomes an ordinary fact. This is the enlightenment of enlightenment, meaning that enlightenment enlightens itself to the point that it forgets itself. And what remains is simply living in enlightenment, which is nothing but true nature itself living as true nature.
The Alchemy of Freedom, pg. 162
If We Have to be Something in Particular to be Enlightened then We Lose the Freedom of Total Being
Some traditions believe that when we arrive at a certain dimension of experience—whether it is pure consciousness or awareness or mystery—we have arrived at the primordial, unchanging ground, and that realization then becomes a matter of sustaining that condition. By understanding Total Being, we see that, although this might indeed happen, it does not exhaust the mystery of reality. Total Being might still change or altogether eliminate ground and reveal that reality is much more indeterminate than that. So the perspective of Total Being will disrupt our orderly understanding. This might be disorienting but, at the same time, when we get the thrust of it, it is completely liberating. We don’t need to be anything or to abide anywhere to be free. When I say that we don’t need to be anything, I mean we don’t need to be anything in particular. We can be the body, but we don’t have to feel that we are the body. We can be pure awareness, but we don’t have to be pure awareness. We can be nondual presence, but we don’t have to be nondual presence. We can be pure experiencing, but we don’t have to be pure experiencing. If we have to be something in particular to be enlightened, then we lose the freedom of Total Being. Enlightenment too is only one of the ways that Total Being expresses itself. It also expresses itself by being completely depressed, by being a depressed individual that is Total Being.
Runaway Realization, pg. 98
Liberation of Enlightenment
The freedom of the fourth turning includes the liberation of enlightenment itself. Because all experiences are seen as nonhierarchical, we can experience any kind of realization or no realization, essential experience or ego experience, without disrupting the sense of freedom. Every realization at each juncture on the path of awakening changes our perception of reality and changes what reality means. The fourth juncture shows us that all of reality—Total Being—is true nature and is what we are. This is what makes all of this relevant for you and your life. This recognition brings an unimaginable freedom, a freedom to be exactly where you are without any concern or worry about your realization or lack thereof. Both enlightenment and delusion are manifestations of reality. And because you recognize everything as a manifestation of reality, nothing can ruffle your feathers.
The Alchemy of Freedom, pg. 69
Realization Does Not Mean the End of Delusion
We are seeing that realization doesn’t mean the end of delusion and, actually, that realization is not interested in believing that there is an end to delusions. True enlightenment recognizes that obscuration, ignorance, and delusion are always a part and a potential of reality. Being enlightened doesn’t mean that we know everything; it doesn’t mean that there is no further enlightenment. The dynamism of reality reveals further realizations by revealing ever-subtler delusions. Runaway realization is the magic of reality beholding its own mysteries as possibilities of further realization. The view of totality engages everything and excludes nothing, not even delusion and ignorance.
Runaway Realization, pg. 163
The Issue is Not Enlightenment. The Issue is "What Is."
When you see the movement of your emotions as rejection of the present and desire for something else, when you see the movement of your thoughts as a feverish activity to experience something, to get something, to hope for something, to imagine something that is better than now, you’ll see that the feelings will stop, the thoughts will become quiet, and there will be complete emptiness. The emptiness, then, is the absence of all personality. Then it is possible for essence to be there in the most real way, in the only real way. This can happen only through understanding, only through the truth, and through nothing else. Understanding is simply understanding, not an achievement of understanding. Understanding means seeing exactly what is there. It is the action of selfless love. You can’t see what is there if you are rejecting what is there. You can begin by understanding your rejection of what is there. As you see, this work is not a matter of being better or worse, more or less. It is not a matter of getting your essence, or of achieving enlightenment or freedom. All these are ultimately concepts. The real truth is there, existing as it is, without your mind saying what is good or bad. It is being present with what is there. Any rejection of what is there is suffering, even if that rejection is predicated on the hope of reaching God or freedom or enlightenment. Enlightenment or freedom will come as a result of doing this work, but that is not the issue. The issue is not enlightenment. The issue is not freedom. The issue is “what is.”
Diamond Heart Book Two, pg. 74
The Term "Enlightenment" has No Universal Meaning
So it appears that the term “enlightenment” has no universal meaning. The concept can be useful only in a teaching that defines it very specifically. But we cannot use the concept assuming it means the same thing in all teachings or traditions. The term “enlightenment” is primarily of Indian origin. Buddhism, Taoism and various Hindu teachings employ the concept to signify some sort of ultimate realization or liberation. However, the Buddha is known to have established his teaching because he was not satisfied with the Hindu teachings of his time. Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism all use the concept of enlightenment, but there are basic differences among their traditions, and thus differences in their concepts of enlightenment. In the prophetic traditions, which dominate as we move west from the Far East, the concept of enlightenment is less central, if indeed it is referred to at all. The concept of spiritual development is emphasized without reference to a definitive experience, insight or state. The Hebraic tradition, as reflected in the teachings of the Kabbalah, employs the concept of progressive enlightenment or development. The Sufi tradition employs many distinctions describing the various processes and realizations. It speaks of evolution, development, refinement, purification and enlightenment. All these are taken to be progressive processes of realization, which can include various experiences and insights. The perspective we follow in this book is that the human being is born with many and various potentials. The more he actualizes these potentials the more he develops and matures. This process of maturation is the realization of his potentials. Most important of these potentials is Being, with all its aspects and dimensions. Each aspect, even those of the Nonconceptual Reality and the Absolute Truth, is integrated through successive steps: the discovery of the aspect of Being, the permanent realization of this aspect, and the actualization of the aspect, meaning the complete integration of it in one’s human life. Any of these steps can be termed enlightenment. However, each one of them involves the working through of some segment of ego, i.e., complete metabolism of it. This working through can appear as a process or as a sudden realization.
Pearl Beyond Price, pg. 183
True Nature is the Surface and Depth of Everything
When true nature awakens to itself in enlightenment, whatever form that enlightenment might take, we see that true nature is not only the nature of everything and the being of everything, but it also is everything. True nature is the surface and the depth of everything, and all that lies in between too. As we recognize this identity of true nature and everything, we see that true nature is Total Being, even though in ordinary experience there is a difference.
The Alchemy of Freedom, pg. 175
Two Sides to Enlightenment
Furthermore, enlightenment and liberation, or the arriving home, is not only the realization of true nature. This realization is necessary for enlightenment; it is its experiential ground. Nevertheless, enlightenment also includes the absence of all structuring that may impede any of the basic dimensions of true nature, as those of basic knowledge and creative display of potential. Practically, this means the working through of all ego structures and issues. If there is a structure that one is not aware of, or has not worked through directly or indirectly, it is bound to obstruct or obscure true nature one way or another, at one time or another. Enlightenment has then two sides: the abiding in true nature and the liberation from all rigid and fixed structures. In fact, the more one is liberated from ego structures and their patterning influence the more one is able to abide in true nature.
The Inner Journey Home, pg. 194
When Seeking Ceases and Liberated Living is Continual Discovery
During the first and second turnings of the wheel, this energy appears as the enlightenment drive beginning to fuel our work, leading us always to deeper and subtler realizations. But, at some point, realization can become steady and established. What is spiritual life then? This is the perspective we are exploring in this book. Many traditions believe that after enlightenment, you simply abide in the enlightened condition and nothing new happens, and that is the case for some people. But for most people, enlightenment itself becomes a ground for discovery, and true nature is liberated to reveal other possibilities, not because we are seeking them but because that is how reality expresses itself. Seeking ceases and liberated living is continual discovery. When the essence of our consciousness is activated, it reveals not only the forms and dimensions of true nature but also everything about true nature, all the secrets of reality. This unfoldment is the runaway process of realization realizing further realization, the process of endless, and finally traceless, enlightenment.
The Alchemy of Freedom, pg. 61
When the Soul is Beyond the Concept of Enlightenment
To be established in the non-conceptual is to attain an inconceivable freedom. The soul realizes her nature in such a way that she does not need to know what it is. She does not need to know she is enlightened. She is beyond the concept of enlightenment and liberation. She is innocent, not knowing she is enlightened, and not caring to know. She has attained liberated indifference, for the fullness of realization takes her to such completion that there is no distinction between falsehood and truth, soul and essence, enlightenment or delusion. There is no reflection on one’s realization, no excitement about it, no narcissistic congratulations, and no need to talk about it. One is, Reality is thus, and one goes about one’s business. The aspirant’s mind is open and free, totally unencumbered by any position, philosophy, or system. He has no perspective that he takes to be ultimate and final. Yet, he is free to use any system. Since he is established in the non-conceptual he sees all perspectives for what they are, conceptual perspectives, and hence not ultimate truth. But because he can use his discriminating mind, he can see when a given perspective is useful or necessary for some functioning or teaching, and is free to use it. Nevertheless, he uses it without having to believe it is ultimate and can drop it whenever it becomes unnecessary. He needs no perspective for his own experience, for he lives where no perspective can enter. Although he understands the need for the correct perspective for those who have not attained the non-conceptual, he recognizes that what is necessary for the soul’s freedom is not a particular perspective, but liberation from all conceptual limitations.
The Inner Journey Home, pg. 341
You Can Become Aware of Who You Are Before Enlightenment
It is possible to contact your personal aspect, to become aware of who you are, before enlightenment and loss of ego. The moment you know who you are, it becomes easier to know what is not you, what is conditioned, and what is personality. The work is very clear then; there is a guidance. Before that, you don’t know where you are going. You don’t know what is you and what is not you, what is real, and what is not real—you have no idea. You have only your thoughts and some people’s ideas and instructions. But the moment you know who you are, what it is like to be you, once you can recognize this, then you can tell what is you and what is not you.