You might well ask how someone who has not ‘experienced’ enlightenment or awakening can say anything about what it is or isn’t. But it is clear that one in such a position can have an understanding about the subject. After all, it is not necessary to spend a year in gaol in order to write a treatise on, say, the prison system of England & Wales (although an appointment by the Conservative Party of someone to do just that after spending some months in prison perhaps weakens my argument!). Certainly, Wei Wu Wei never admitted to being enlightened but his books leave little doubt that he had a deep understanding of what it is all about and was able to express it in a way that few Sages down the ages have been able to although it is possible nowadays to read many books and look up numerous web sites in which more and more people are tumbling over themselves to describe some form of awakening.

Let’s try to set down some of the features of the enlightened ‘condition’ that can be distilled from the literature that stretches from ancient scripture to recent publications and web sites:

  • There is no longer any sense of ‘me’ – only total presence.
  • Non-duality prevails, it cannot be described in any adequate way due to the wholly dualistic nature of language.
  • It is not a ‘state’ or ‘condition’ because it transcends time and space.
  • Identity still operates but is not held on to.
  • There is no one description of how enlightenment is ‘experienced’ but an infinite variety of degrees and forms.
  • It cannot be induced by disciplines, study, methods or ‘paths’ in spite of what the traditions might say.
  • The ‘happening’ is sudden and unpredictable because it is outside time but may also be unnoticed.
  • It constitutes a ‘knowing’ but what it is is not necessarily known. Understanding of what is known may take many further years – “awakening is sudden,deliverance is gradual”.
  • The sense of Presence has no locality – it has nothing to do with anything or anybody.
  • What we take as reality is now seen as unreal and dream-like.
  • Everything is accepted - judgement ceases because there is no-one to judge.
  • One can be seen to have choice of action but what actually happens may bear no relation to the choice – all and everything happens of itself – there is no ‘doer’.
  • What is at any moment is seen to be exactly as it is supposed to be.
  • Nothing matters.
  • Impersonal awareness or witnessing replaces experiencing.
  • There are no relationships – everything just is.
  • Reactions cease because there is no-one to react and nothing to react to.
  • There is a continuous sense of now – beginnings and endings, past and future become intangible.
  • The world is seen as being constantly created.
  • All needs and wants stop with the cessation of time – desires are replaced by appreciation.
  • There is no longer seeking for the truth because there is the realisation that one is living it – all is known and equally present so there is no longer anything left to get to know.
  • Motivation as the basis for action ceases.
  • Attitudes cease.
  • The faculty we know as mind only operates when it has to or is required to do so – no images, concepts or thoughts occur because there is no-one at home to think them.
  • Emotivity is replaced by peace because there is no holding on to the emotions.

There’s plenty more but this should be enough to give a ‘flavour’ of something that is experienced as a totality and cannot be described. It must also be appreciated that these are bald and bold statements which may give some sense of the overwhelming nature of the state but nothing of the subtle differences in how these features are experienced.

So what happened or is happening to these people? It appears that the conditioning we are subject to from birth from our parents, teachers and, above all, from ourselves that we are tangible individuals with unique identity and a body/mind that ‘belongs’ to us, is somehow dropped or seen through as the construct that it must be. The realisation is that this phenomenal world we appear to live in is a dream. The awakening is not so much a wakening from a dream as the wakening to it being a dream. As someone has described it : it’s lucid living. The actor is no longer playing his part as though it is reality – he is playing with the full understanding that it is a play and with the lightness that comes with that awareness.

But the number of those among us who ‘see’ is still rare. Millenia of attempts to invoke the state have failed to establish a reliable method. The ‘event’ is unpredictable and completely out of our control. The conditioning humans undertake to believe in themselves has proved supremely powerful. Maybe that is what is intended if we can, for a moment, presume a purpose in it all. Perhaps the enlightened are an anomaly, an aberration in the scheme of things. Who knows? The enlightened might retort: Who cares? After all, if the loss of the sense of self is all that enlightenment can be said to be, then non-humans must be assumed to be enlightened all along. It’s just us that have strayed, as the myth of the Garden of Eden so beautifully and succinctly describes. The only difference is that we can be aware of the fact that we are aware which must be some sort of progress. Self knowing itself. Now there’s evolution for you!

What this is leading up to is the supreme pointer to What We Are. What we are not is what we think we are. What we really are is what the enlightened have always understood and seen with that clarity that comes when the elaborate edifice of self is seen for what it is.

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