WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT?
Enlightenment means that a human being is radiating the light of consciousness itself, the light of Being, free from the limited dimensions of his or her personality. Such an individual is a window to eternity, a passage through which higher consciousness enters into the world.
If we ourselves go very deeply into meditation – reaching a state beyond the body, beyond the mind, beyond the world, beyond time – we can experience this pure consciousness which is unlimited, formless Being. Nothing exists in that pristine emptiness and yet it is the very source from which the whole universe emerged and is still emerging, including you and me. This experience is deeply liberating, because in that no-place we discover the deepest part of our own self, the absolute Self, which has never entered into the stream of time. In this state of pure consciousness there are no conflicts to resolve, no problems to overcome, no goals to attain. It is the experience of ultimate relaxation and liberation.
Enlightenment in the traditional sense is about discovering unconditional freedom through awakening to this source of limitless being. This eternal self becomes the permanent abode. It is not so different from the Christian Western religious model, in which eternal salvation is found in a blissful heavenly realm beyond the world. In both traditional Eastern wisdom and traditional Western faith, the ultimate goal is a final state – a transcendent state of consciousness that promises release from this world.
It is important to understand that at the time when these great traditions flowered, people had a different understanding of the world in which they were living. For example in the East, it was believed that history moved in circles, eternally repeating the same process. For one who “awakened” in that context, the path to liberation and salvation meant to get off the wheel of incarnation, so one could abide forever in the bliss, freedom and eternal peace of the formless realm beyond time and space.
However, over the last few thousand years we have learned a lot about who we are and about the evolving cosmos from which we emerged. One of the most important things we have discovered is that the movement of time is not cyclical, but a linear developmental process. Fourteen billion years ago, a tremendous energy burst forth from nothing, and over time evolved from light to matter to life. And with the emergence of life, consciousness entered the dimension of time and form. Life and consciousness are one, and the greater the complexity of the life form, the greater is its capacity for consciousness. The miraculous phenomenon in us human beings is that, because of our highly evolved brain, we have the unique capacity to know that we know. In human awareness, consciousness has gained the capacity to know itself and everything that exists within it, including the entire evolutionary process from which that very capacity emerged.
Our self-reflective awareness is without doubt the highest and most profound expression of the “Big Bang”, and when we begin to realise this, it radically changes our understanding of the goal of spiritual life. The new understanding of evolution leads to the fact that the very concept of enlightenment needs to be updated, so that it is in accordance with the scientific facts of today. Because the universe is evolving in time, to become one with it, we have to become one with the process of evolution itself at the level of our consciousness. This implicates that we human beings become co-creators in the next step of evolution, the evolution of consciousness. In fact, a new definition of enlightenment must express that, from now on, our conscious participation in the evolutionary process has literally become essential to the creative unfolding of this cosmos. The power, energy and intelligence that created this universe are now dependent upon us, human beings, as the highest expression of evolution. Being an incarnated human being, being you and me, is miraculously transformed into a sacred event. It is exactly here, where we find a new definition of spirituality, which the well-known spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen calls “Evolutionary Enlightenment”. This new spirituality meets the reality of our human predicament and potential at this particular time. Evolutionary spirituality is the most challenging endeavour because in it there is no promise of escape. No heaven, no Nirvana.
Too many of us still secretly hope that one day we can rest forever. Only when we are willing to face the enormity of the evolutionary context in which we are living and its profound transformative implications for ourselves personally, will we begin to develop genuine spiritual maturity. This world desperately needs mature, enlightened human beings who are willing to wholeheartedly take responsibility and participate in the creation of the conscious universe.