You Are Already Enlightened! True or False?

Via Ramesh Bjonnes
on Jun 14, 2011
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You have heard it many times. You have heard it from New Age gurus. You have heard it from contemporary nondual teachers on the popular lecture circuit. You have heard it from Indian gurus. You have also heard it from some Indian anti-guru gurus.

You have heard that you already are enlightened. You have heard you have already arrived. All it takes is to put your attention to that part of you which is already enlightened, and voila, you are home free in your inner state of everlasting nondual bliss.

Some New Agers even say: it does not matter if you are ignorant or enlightened, it’s all the same. Samsara or Nirvana—it’s all the same enlightened breath. No matter what, you have always been in an ever-present state of enlightened arrival.

In other words, is Instant Enlightenment really that easy? Or is it more truthful to say, as they do in the financial world, “if the deal sounds too good to be true, it really is too good to be true?”

To cut to the chase, straight to the vegan substance of the matter: if yoga philosophy is our guide, does any of these statements make sense?

Enlightenment is a complicated term carrying a lot of historical and psychological baggage.

For starters, many people who claim the high hat or turban of Enlightenment have displayed many less than enlightened personality traits. Habits such as alcoholism, smoking and sex with students have been explained away as part of the Crazy Wisdom of the Enlightened soul, who displays such flamboyant tendencies to impart upon the students some secret teachings beyond their rational understanding. The wilder the sex, the more Crazy Wisdom the teacher displays.

In some Left-handed Tantric and Buddhist schools, there may have been some genuine sages who fit this category, but it is impossible to know as their behavior transcends ethical, social and psychological boundaries. Hence, when some teachers leave a trail of wounded women and generally confused students in their wake, it is difficult to vouch for their “Enlightened behavior.”

Then there are “Enlightened” teachers who, as Yogananda said, are considered saints, because “a saint is a sinner who never gives up.” In other words, they are genuine adepts and teachers with genuine human flaws and humble hearts walking the potholed path toward sainthood, toward Enlightenment.

Then there are those like my own teacher, Anandamurti, who defies categories, who are both giant intellectuals (he authored more than 300 books on everything from Tantra to economics to yoga psychology, and he composed more than 5000 Indian classical songs) and humble yogic sages who are walking encyclopedias of wisdom and sitting saints of spiritual effulgence (he revived dozens of Tantric meditation practices and wrote perhaps the first complete set of Sanskrit Yoga Sutras since Patanjali). And because of his criticism of the caste system, the Hindu dogmas, and the excesses of capitalism, he became more controversial in India than the sex gurus.

Then there are those sages, like Ramana Maharishi, who are not famous for their intellectual erudition or contributions to music or science but simply for their effulgent transcendence and genuine love-hearts of quiet beatitude.

Outwardly, Enlightenment is not a plateau of spiritual arrival, a mountain top of psychological traits that looks the same to all who look for the signs of recognition. Only inwardly are the signs the same.

Enlightenment is, after all, an inner place of soul awareness, unfettered by outer accomplishments, a place of silent and constant all-pervading bliss amongst the world of constant change. And, I believe, there are very few who have arrived here. There are very few Einstein’s of yoga, indeed.  Even so, according to yogic scriptures, we all have the potential to arrive, to let the mystery of that sacred space be revealed to our inner sight. Most importantly, glimpses of insight, glimpses of Enlightenment are available to us all—all day long.

It is very much in harmony with yoga philosophy, in fact, to say that all human beings have the potential for enlightenment. Why? Because Consciousness, or Brahman, the Enlightened awareness is ever present. It is the Ground of Being, it is the core awareness of our soul, the ever-present witness of our mind; the I AM of our being.

Using different philosophical terms, Krishna spoke of it, Patanjali preached it, Ramana Maharshi lived it; and Nisargadatta Maharaj seemed to breathe its essence with every word.

According to the yoga scriptures, we require only three practices to arrive in that enlightened statehood: chanting the name of the Divine; thinking of the Divine, meditating on the Divine. It’s that easy.

They all say it’s that easy, right?


Anandamurti, my guru, said: “struggle is the essence of life” and “love is all there is.” Practiced together, these two quotes are no longer contradictory; they teach us how spiritual practice creates a beautiful and intense friction in the mind, a one-pointed spark that illumines us from within, and when, during intense meditation, during intense inquiry, or contemplation, this spark reaches the heart, all we feel is love.  All we feel is the ojas, the vitality of the soul.

“When the Guest is being searched for, it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that does all the work. Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.” –Kabir

In sum, the potential for enlightenment is available to all, because it is the Ground of Everyone’s being, but Enlightenment is not simply knowing this intellectually, Enlightenment is realizing it with our whole being.

Before Eckhart Tolle wrote his nondual bestseller the Power of Now, he sat on a park bench meditating for months on end; before that he was severely depressed. People took him for a crazy fool. In other words, he spent a long time suffering in the dual realm before he glimpsed there was a way out of his spiritual nightmare, a way out of his feeling trapped in the dark night of his soul.

If we read Tolle’s book thinking that we will soon arrive at enlightenment just by reading it, just by thinking about his teaching a few times a day, just by thinking about the idea that we already are enlightened, then we are not quite ready to do the work, the struggle, the sadhana. We are not ready to go through the same intense seeking that Tolle himself went through.

“If you don’t break your ropes while you are alive, do you think ghosts will do it after? –Kabir

What most of us seem to want is instant gratification. But true spiritual practice is quite the opposite of instant gratification. It’s intensely and radically different.

Just think Nisargadatta Maharaj. To be able to speak the words of wisdom in that 550 page masterpiece of a book, I AM THAT, he spent years meditating ceaselessly under the tutelage of a guru.  In other words, he was a fierce meditator for 18 hours plus a day for years before he could say (and truthfully mean):

“You are already perfect. What you seek is to express in action what you are. For this you have a body and a mind. Take them in hand and make them serve you…Go for it resolutely.”

What I am getting at is this: We need to go for it resolutely, just like Ravi Shankar. To become Ravi Shankar the world famous classical maestro, he practiced for years for 8-12 hours a day on his sitar. For master Iyengar to become the hatha yoga genius that he is, he molded his body and mind for hours on end, day in and day out. Why would it be any different for someone who trains his or her mind to become one with Spirit?

Perfection in body and mind takes practice, intense practice. It’s simply no way around it. Instant enlightenment is only possible after years, even life times, says the yoga scriptures, of prolonged and intense practice. Therefore it’s no longer instant, it’s a gradual unfolding into ever-present origin, into ever-present awareness. An ever-present unfolding into the awareness of that which we already are. All of the time.

And what is this Enlightened state of mind, this spiritual love?

“Kabir will tell you the truth: this is what love is like: suppose you had to cut your head off and give it to someone else, what difference would that make?” –Kabir

That is, the sages walk into death’s teeth with the same detached attitude as they have when changing a shirt. What is this body, anyway, this head? Simply a container for a wandering, eternal soul!

We are Divinely Enlightened all of the time, because that is the ground of our being. Like oxygen; it’s ever-present in our blood. But if we intellectually take that for granted, it’s just the same as taking for granted that our oxygenated blood is keeping us alive. Which is to say: we are simply oblivious. It’s the same as being unconscious. Unaware. And Enlightenment is the opposite—it means to wake up from unconsciousness, from oblivion.

In other words, thinking about enlightenment, or contemplating the great wisdom of the Gita and the Upanishads, even be awed to tears by those same words,  is not the same as actually experiencing Enlightenment.

“The Sacred Books of the East are nothing but words. I looked through their covers one day sideways. What Kabir talks of is only what he has lived through. If you have not lived through something, it is not true.” –Kabir

Enlightenment is such a fiercely one-pointed state of mind that Ramana Maharshi’s was completely oblivious to the world for long periods of time. That is, until he found his balance and this world and the next became one seamless being, like water flowing into water, like butter hidden in the whiteness of milk.

Thinking we have arrived is being caught in a subtle intellectual game of make believe—the mind thinking it is what it is not. And Enlightenment is not at all about thinking or believing we are Enlightened. Rather, it is a state beyond thinking, beyond belief.

In his small classic book, Coming Home: The Experience of Enlightenment in Sacred Traditions, Lex Hixon describes Ramana Maharshi as a person who achieved “natural enlightenment.” Someone who after several near-death experiences entered a state of natural, nondual awareness. He would eventually be drawn, like a spiritual moth to the source of light, to a Shiva temple on Mount Arunachala where his “mood of unity consciousness” would become an enduring, 24/7 experience.

Is it easy to experience and to maintain this state of natural enlightenment?

“Precisely because unsupported by intellectual or emotional articulation, [this state] can be painfully difficult to sustain. Constant vichara [the inquiry meditation taught by Ramana ] resembles the attempt to remain awake for days at a time. The sleepiness that overwhelms us in this attempt is distraction from the source of awareness by the various objects or structures of awareness. This path of staying awake to primal awareness, which Ramana characterized as most direct and simple, is perhaps the most demanding of all.”

Not only is vichara meditation the most demanding practice, all authentic spiritual practices are the most demanding of all. Each one. That is, all spiritual practice aiming at enlightenment involves an intensity of focus normally reserved for mad artists, acrobats, and daredevils.

In other words, to be abnormally awake, we need an insane drive for uncertainty, an inner thrill seeker’s love of the unknown. Otherwise the magnetic pull of “real life’ will simply be too strong.

To stay in touch with our Enlightened Self, that part of us which we always and truly are at all times, is as intense a practice as trying not to fall asleep for days on end. That is, until that practice becomes natural, become the very breath of our being.

So, yes, it is true that we all have the capacity for enlightenment, but it is not at all true that having this capacity means that we all are already enlightened. What matters is to have the spiritual desire and stamina to remain awake to the intensity of natural awakening.  One breath, one mantra, one asana at a time.

In that state “water” and “wave” is the same thing. In that state “inside” and “outside is the same thing.  In that state “body” and “spirit” is the same thing.

When we are intensely seeking Sprit in our practice, Spirit reveals Itself in our body, in our very Soul. Often instantly and unexpectedly!

“When you really look for me, you will see me instantly—you will find me in the tiniest house of time. Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God? He is the breath inside the breath.” –Kabir


About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes is the co-founder of the Prama Institute, a holistic retreat center in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and the Director of the Prama Wellness Center, a retreat center specializing in detox by incorporating juice fasting, ayurveda, meditation and yoga to cleanse, relax and rejuvenate. Bjonnes is also a writer, yogi and workshop leader. He lived in India and Nepal in the 1980s learning directly from the traditional teachers of yoga and Tantra. He has taught workshops in many countries and is the author of Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit (InnerWorld) and Tantra: The Yoga of Love and Awakening (Hay House India). He lives and practices in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.


30 Responses to “You Are Already Enlightened! True or False?”

  1. Ben_Ralston says:

    Ramesh this is the best thing I've read in ages.
    Did you write it just for me? Because honestly, if you knew how much I needed to read this right now, you would have…
    Thank you.

  2. Ramesh says:

    Ben, I am happy to hear you liked it! I wrote it first for myself, then for you! Meaning, I write mostly about what inspires me, then I think, how can I phrase this so others may enjoy it to, or, how can I phrase this so that i can get a good discussion going.
    The great sages are the inspiration for my own practice, so I thought I's share some of that fire!

  3. Mat Witts says:

    Put simply there is absolutely no work ethic within the domain of enlightenment. When the sages are talking about enlightenment they are talking about enlightenment – not the potential or capacity for some heroic ascecis that you want to bootstap onto it – or some mind-boggling experience – something that is forever just around the corner for us mere amateurs. No meditation – no yoga – no authority – no expertise. It really is that simple. You don't have to get up off your couch and turn off the TV. You don't HAVE to do anything – all this 18 hours of meditation stuff is absolutely NOT necessary – but for readers that are skeptical of this – then please go ahead and try it – you will spend twenty years only to return to yourself!! I suggest that a better use of your time is to you forget that and return to yourself right now – the first thing you might want to do is quit yoga and meditation. Namaste.

  4. Padma Kadag says:

    Hi Ramesh….another one of your taunting articles. I am reminded of what has been on my mind lately while reading Julian Walker's articles and those of Remski as well as others…I started reading this blog maybe 2 years ago and it is the first blog which openly discusses Buddhism and tantra I have participated. To be honest I am not sure I agree with the premise of discussing mostly what for me is a private path. Yet I read. My comment regarding your article is simply that People do not seem to be "driven" to become enlightened. We are resigned to discussing it. There are people and there have been people who would have lived for nothing else other than to be liberated, enlightened, even if it cost them their life. Now this is being a fanatic. Yet these socalled fanatics of yesterday and today are the source of all that we take for granted. People are resigned to enjoying samsara and all of it's pleasure and pain. Now it is acceptable to be "human" and accept everything we encounter and feel everything. Spirituality is now a path which is no different than what we do to live each day. The inner drive to seek the "Truth" is all but gone and considered a waste of time.

  5. Ramesh says:

    So, then why did most all of the great sages spend a long time doing practice if it's a waste of time?

  6. Ramesh says:

    I mostly agree, and that was my point: true enlightenment is very rare, and those who say otherwise are fooling themselves and others. But it is not anymore rare these days than before. Indeed, I think it is on the rise…. but the main point is that spiritual progress does not come without putting in some sweat equity… it's that simple, and in that regard, not much different than any other pursuit. You want to learn and grow, then put in some time!

  7. Ramdas says:

    because they belief practice could be an subsitute for honesty and surrender.

  8. Ramesh says:

    Ramdas, describing the view from on top of Mt Everest is different than describing the way up there. But in order to describe the view, you have to climb up on top. Most spiritual writers simply repeat what the yogis say about enlightenment's view from on top of the mountain, they do not describe the way up there, because they have not walked it themselves. It's an intellectual trap to simply repeat second hand information about enlightenment.

  9. elephantjournal says:

    Buddhist teachers say "no." Fundamentally, sure…but "no." ~ Waylon

  10. Ramesh says:

    Yes, Waylon, and that is essentially the thesis of my article as well: one needs to walk the talk, not just talk the talk.

  11. Ramesh R says:

    In my view, there is no enlightenment state ever …by definition, a state persists, even temporarily and can be pointed at, if not in space, in time. I cannot achieve enlightenment, and point to that state in the future, and say you know I was enlightened, or if I am in the present, state that I will be enlightened in the future after this and that happens. Enlightenment is not a state, it is an action! It is vibrant and can only exist outside the realm of meaning. It appears at least to me, that when this state is active on its own accord, as I cannot bring it about/cultivate it etc…, pain, unhappiness, happiness, restfulness, confusion, doubt, anger, lust, love, hate, all appear as they are and rest in consciousness loosely … even if all physiological signals dance their own dance according to Karma/conditioning. If we cannot express taste convincingly without having recourse to a reference … we cannot claim to be able to explain enlightenment which is without reference. Oh yes we can explain santosha which is completely different, we can cultivate santosha, we can quiet the mind through yoga etc… to produce pleasant state that our ego will greedily swallow … not here there is an absence of resistance, and then may be a flicker of enlightenment can emerge but that will be seen to have nothing to do with the pleasant feel. The ego hates this story because as we can see over and over again, the ego believes it can master and switch elightenment on and off … this is what I have found so far. It may be total BS. But at least am looking.

  12. Ramesh says:

    Yes, Ramesh R, you are right, the ultimate state of Self-realization, of Enlightenment is not a state, nor an experience, according to yoga philosophy. This nirvikalpa (without attributes) is beyond all concepts and imagery and of course cannot be explained, cannot be experienced. This also called Moksa. But there are other "stages" in which the I "experiences" its own bliss, its own oneness as a subtle witness, and this is the savikalpa samadhi, or Mukti. While moksa is permanent upon leaving the corporal body, and only temporary while alive, mukti can be a prolonged state while in the body and someone in that "state" is a jivanmukta, a liberated being, an enlightened. A Jivanmukta is presumably someone whose karma, or samskaras, have been exhausted in the fire of self-transformation, while someone who only occasionally experience enlightenmnet, or samadhi, still has karma to deal with, hence the impermanence of these temporary states of samadhi or enlightenment experienced in deep meditation or in sudden insights. Anyway, this is the philosophical explanation…

  13. Ramesh says:

    From Facebook
    Meditation Masters
    Brilliant article that cuts to the heart of contemporary spiritual issues and the essential difference between intellectual and experiential understanding of the 'enlightened ground of all being'.

  14. Padma Kadag says: seem to have clarified the subject of the view which I was trying to point out. Your comment, "more fitting approach to enlightenment" is the crux of what I am wanting to talk about. This really leaves me with more questions for the EJ reader. Assuming that both of us are talking about enlightenment as a liberation beyond any state which is still subject to karma…If we know that there is a "way out" of suffering or confusion which has a long list of male and female "goers" then why don't we embrace that technique? Your cave comment is interesting and I understand it. In ancient India there were the 84 Mahasiddhas, all who attained enlightenment while engaged in their respective jobs. King Trisong Deutsen in old Tibet was responsible for hundreds of people and their livelihoods and attained enlightenment. In modern times there are many "hidden yogis" who have liberated at death doing Buddhist Tantra.

  15. Padma Kadag says:

    Increasingly we are watering down the path and therefore watering down the result….as a small example, the term "being mindful"..Being mindful was actually another way of checking your mind in a buddhist practitioner sense. No political or social implications. Rather, those who have gained some realization had to be mindful in that they needed to guard their minds and be aware of their motivation from moment to moment. This is a deeply personal technique not meant for discussion let alone to be used as a political battle cry for "food moralists", etc. So it is that "enlightenment" is being watered down to fit our "enlightened lifestyles". What would have driven so many in the past, and a few in modern times, to leave their families and money in order to find the Truth? There is something to be said for action and commitment. With all of our discussions if we were to die right this moment what would we have achieved?

  16. Padma Kadag says:

    Mat…there is nothing you have said which is not true. Is this true for you? I mean, are you right now beyond karma? I really hope that you are. I hope that you require no effort and that you will remain here in samsara and teach.
    There are those who choose to come back and teach as they are enlightened. There are those that require only to see a symbol, hear a word, or see their teacher and are then completely enlightened. There are those who require more work and a Guru and are able to put the teachings to work and are then enlightened in one lifetime. There are those who must return again and again purifying karma and practice dharma inorder to attain enlightenment.

  17. Ramesh says:

    Carol, Yes, I agree with you that there has always been a small minority involved in the Atman Project, the pursuit of personal liberation and enlightenment. Most of the societal support for these pursuits have been in Asian countries, most particularly India, China, Tibet, Thailand, Burma, etc. And of these, India has in particular been a hub for thousands of years. Anyone of us could jump on a plane tomorrow and get lost within the ashram system of India and live the rest of our lives without spending a penny in the pursuit of liberation.

    In America today, there are various spiritual communities, mostly Buddhist, who also support these pursuits to some extent, but on a very small scale. But it is growing, and it does exist, albeit on a very small scale.

    The point of my article was mainly to debunk the idea that enlightenment comes easy and does not require intense work…

    A second article may focus on what enlightenment is, philosophically, spiritually, practically, culturally.

    The motto of my own guru was personal transformation and social change. So I also agree with you that the larger enlightenment project needs to include this balance of inner and outer liberation. Indeed, this twofold approach has been integral to many yoga traditions, we see it already in the the Gita on the focus on all three forms of yoga–karma, bhakti and jnana–service, devotion and knowledge. But we also have seen the more ascetic paths who only focused on the self to the exclusion of society and the other, and that model, I agree, is no longer compelling in a globalized world.

    Finally, I would also questioned the necessity of just meditating for liberation…. and the Gita would certainly do so, since selfless service in the tradition of mother theresa would also qualify. had the great mother been practicing yoga and deep meditation would not that be a radically different model. Nelson Mandela as yogi activist? Che Guevara as liberation tantric?
    In many way my own teacher fit that mold, even though he was mostly a mystic he shook up the Indian status quo…
    So, yes, I am with you Carol….

  18. Carol Horton says:

    Thanks, Ramesh. All of that makes sense to me. I would like to see that second article. It would be a good complement to this one, certainly, as it is true that contemporary Western ideas of "enlightenment" all too often make it sound like there's much more pleasure than work involved – which I just don't believe is true.

    Plus I am always surprised by how relatively little interest there is in issues of social justice and community engagement in so-called "spiritual" circles – it is a much more individualistic orientation than I personally would like to see. In part I think that this is escapism from the anxieties of life today, partly conformity to the dominant culture, and partly just "human nature" (selfishness etc.). Alternative models are definitely needed.

  19. Will Price says:

    You're becoming my favorite blogger. Thanks.

  20. Ramesh says:

    Carol, having never really practiced in a yoga studio culture and mostly with engaged yogis deeply involved in social justice issues, yet having followed popular yogic culture through the media, I have that sense as well. But there are engaged yogis also, but we are in a minority. Still, the fact that we do exist is heartening and the continuation of a historical trend that goes way back to the Gita, Kabir, Mirabai, the Viracara tantrics, Vivekananda, Aurobindu, Anandamurti, etc. all great souls who saw yoga as an integral liberation of the individual as well as society. But by and large the yogi enlightenment project has been intensely individualistic and that needs to change… I'l try do do that second article, then….

  21. Ramdas says:

    with "practice" i was refering to meditation and asanas.

  22. Aren't we all enlightened, it's just whether we can be bothered to do anything with the areas we are enlightened about…

  23. Stellar! Love the Kabir quotes! Love Ramesh Maharashi …. The words and language, your analogies and examination of this topic is so beautiful! Really such a dance this hovering around the light can be…. Like the moth to the flame…. We are mesmerized , as you say, one breath, one mantra at a time!! So true! Really great article …. Thanks!!!

  24. Ramesh says:

    Having the capacity to be well-heeled does not mean you are, same with enlightenment…

  25. Ramesh says:

    Thanks so much for your wonderful comments, Melissa… sometimes I inadvertently leave the light on at night outside here in my forest home and I am amazed at how the moths are attracted to the light, intensely so, some of them as large as medium sized birds.. for some, the pull toward the inner light is as intense and carefree…

  26. Ramesh says:

    Effort and effortlessness goes together, you said, and I say, struggle and love merge in the one wave! YES AND YES! Jiivadhara, you wrote it like a sage!

  27. Ramesh says:

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Will. Om Shanti!

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  29. Ramesh says:

    Thank you, Bob!

  30. Jiivadhara says:

    Part 2:
    The most simple way to find out if we have an aversion to practice is to practice. Perhaps we find out that we do not like to meditate. That means that there is still some practice to do to feel more comfortable in our mindscape and thoughts. Anyway, spirituality is a a paradox and that paradox is an inspiring, almost a mental trickery, a "push and pull" ever in and out of practice till we are more established in it.

    The truth is that many of the masters and seers practiced a lot in order to share the statement that we are already enlightened. These statements are inspirations and not as a free ride to stop practicing altogether – although one always can choose to do just that too.

    "in the pellucid ocean, bubbles arise ad dissolve again. Just so thoughts are no different than the ultimate reality, so don't find fault, remain at ease. Whatever arises, whatever occurs, don't grasp — release it on the spot." (Niguma, 11th-century female master).

    Thanks for this wonderful article. I enjoyed playing with the paradox of spirituality here. 🙂