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