Advaita Articles: The Enlightenment ‘event’
A discussion from Advaitin Mailing List:
Dennis: What is the nature of the event that must occur before we can make the ‘transition’ from an intellectual acceptance of who we really are to full liberation?
I am not asking ‘what do I have to do’ or anything similar – I know that there is nothing that ‘I’ can do; indeed nothing that ‘I’ do at all. It has also been said that enlightenment is rather a ‘non-event’. What I am interested in is the ‘lead up’ for want of a better phrase to the ‘paradigm-shift’ of realisation.
Greg: The lead-up is quite often a two-phase process.
The first phase is often a very strong desire to know the Truth, to finally BE it. This desire is sweet and benevolent, not agitated. It is stronger than anything else, and it places itself in the background behind all other thoughts and feelings. Whenever you are not thinking about the business of the day, you will think of getting at least a tiny glimpse of this Truth. Your mind will just be there, aligned with that desire to Know/Be. The strength will develop so that it’s more important than life itself.
The second phase, closer to the ‘non-event’, is often an indescribably sweet feeling of being summoned home. Of being beckoned back to a place that you can’t describe phenomenally, but which feels soft and inviting and altogether familiar nevertheless. And as time goes on, there is a greater and greater feeling of confidence and realisation that this will happen. From this perspective, it is probably considered a real and quite momentous phenomenal event, but the feeling of momentousness and reality attributed to this event also softens with time.
Dennis: Some of the new, ‘neo-advaitin’ teachers are saying that no ‘event’ need actually occur. Once we have an intellectual appreciation of the truth, the seeking can effectively end and we should simply wait for this knowledge to ‘sink in’, as it were. What do you say to these claims?
Greg: Definitions such as ‘Enlightenment = the end of seeking!’ are a logical misunderstanding, and even a trivialization of enlightenment, compared to its articulation in the great traditions such as Advaita Vedanta.
If we propose two definitions:
(A) If Enlightenment, then no seeking. (B) If no seeking, then Enlightenment.
The logical misunderstanding consists partly in confusing (A) with (B). According to most time-honoured definitions of enlightenment, something like (A) would be true, whereas (B) would be false.
Incidentally, one thing that modern interpreters of Advaita do is to attribute a lion’s share of suffering to the seeking itself. I’ve heard many spokespeople say: “Enlightenment = the end of seeking!” This is quite a psychological definition of enlightenment, together with a personalized preoccupation with one’s feeling states and one’s progress on the path.
This kind of seeking-based suffering is often a self-indulgent and intellectually-acquired thing. There are lots of other kinds of suffering that can remain even when seeking ends. E.g., I know one lady whose seeking ended, but in despair. She even had a mild resentment towards what she considered the charlatanry of some modern teachers, and went on to live her life doing other things. No more seeking, but still various kinds of suffering.
Dennis: But what about the actual transition?
I mentioned, before, the idea of a paradigm shift. I suppose it must be something like the change that came about when man, originally believing that the earth was the centre of the universe, suddenly understood the implications of Copernicus. And yet there, the event that tipped the balance was the assimilation of new knowledge. Is this all (!) that is happening here? In fact, could it happen without the knowledge of the shruti (direct or indirect)?
What ‘sort of’ event is it, in vyaavahhaarika terms? Is the elusiveness caused by trying to describe the indescribable again, because the ‘event’ is a sort of intersection of noumenal and phenomenal?
Greg: In the same terms as your question — It’s the transition between seeing it as an event, and not seeing it as an event. It’s the transition between seeming to experience a real difference between the noumenal and the phenomenal, and not.
As seen from ‘before'”, there’s a before and after, and an imagined phenomenal distinction. As seen from ‘after’, there is not.