Now and then I participate in conversations about Enlightenment and non-duality, most of the time because people ask me about these things, either in my private practice or the group workshops I run.
A while ago, I was present in a conversation where someone was describing his life after “awakening”. He used usual clichés like “it is all a dream”, “it is not real”. He even went as far as stating that he hardly gets out of his house, because talking with the neighbour “does not make sense anymore”.
I completely understand his perspective and what I understand even better is where he is in the path to Enlightenment and that is not in the end of it. Not that I believe that there is an end but anyway.
In my view the path is like a circle. One “walks” in the circle feeling that it is a line. The scenery varies as well as the way of perception of the scenery. The circle has never a point of beginning nor a point of end. But if one really wants to mark a point of beginning, then the point of end is the same one.
In Zen there is this saying that “before Enlightenment mountains are mountains and trees are trees and after Enlightenment mountains are mountains and trees are trees”. But what does this really mean? Why going the circle full time if one ends on the same spot? What is the meaning of this if there is no difference? Well, the difference is huge, but please bear with me.
One can state that from the point of view of the Absolute there are no circles, beginnings, ends, trees or mountains, but this is recognizing only the static aspect of It.
Keeping the imperfect example of the journey on the circle, I have noticed one pattern. When one starts having non-dual experiences (Samadhis, Satoris etc), one begins to sense more and more themselves as the unmanifest. That is something that is changeless, borderless, timeless, limitless, etc. As one experiences this more and more, then “That” becomes his/her new identity. One identifies him/herself with That.
Some argue that this is Enlightenment, but in reality, this is just the first step. The problem is that “That”, which they identify with, exists in opposition to everything else that is manifested, moving, changing. If one is sincere enough not to mentally strangle the voice of intuition that further progress can be made, then the next linear stage is where “That” encompasses everything that is manifest. In other words, the world and others appear as manifestations within. Unfortunately, the majority of “non-duality teachers” are talking from this stage, even from the previous one. The characteristic of these two stages is that one is there relatively effortlessly and “relatively” is the keyword here. There is still some sort of practice going on, in most cases meditation.
As one progresses further then the relative aspects that appear within “That” start to loose their individuality. For example, if “That” is a white light and the rest have shapes, shadows and colours, the white light becomes so bright that everything else looses its shape and colour. There is an experience of sameness. The steady experience of this sameness indicates a progress from the previous stages.
On this stage the sense that this is it and that this is the end is stronger than ever. Also, a tendency for isolation appears. Even though there is a sameness and an onlyness, this tendency for isolation suggest that there is still some separation there, since there is a tendency to withdraw and avoid. The “problem” here is that the separation is invisible. The “light of sameness”, produced by the fusion, screens all the separate aspects that are still there. One sees only unity and the radiance of this unity hinders one from the ability to perceive the differences inside this unity. What I am talking about here is very subtle, but if one is one this stage or more importantly on the next one, they can understand what I am talking about. Of course, there are people who fake this state. I remember a conversation I had with a friend of mine, who is a spiritual teacher and he told me about this guy who had a hamburger and a drink in from on him and he was suggesting that they were both giving him the same experience, upon ingestion. Of course, this is utter bullshit. Again, what I am talking about is subtle and for the record, I enjoy hamburgers a lot.
If one is lucky, or blessed enough, not to stop in the previous stage, then the next stage is reached. The difference of the previous stage to the next one is huge. What is responsible for this is the existence of the felt sense of “I”. This “I” feeling, or, the “I-thought”, as Ramana Maharshi called it, this primordial I-ness is in the way. When this is dissolved, the next stage is reached. The characteristics of the next stage is that everything is effortless and natural. It is effortless in the sense that practises do not change it and it is natural in a sense that it is extraordinarily ordinary. The radiance of unity is lost and the world and others appear again, with all their colours and shades as before. The difference now is that there is no sense of separation, while they retain their individuality. There is the recognition that everything is made of “That” and everything manifests as “That” but at the same time everything, in a very natural way has an individuality and can communicate with other individualities. These communications now make perfect sense and there is no paradox about “That” communicating with “That”, as before. In the previous stages, one can feel that there is no point of communicating as they see themselves in others.
In true Enlightenment, these notions are abandoned. There is no duality or non-duality as these are just concepts. Things are just the way they are and that’s ok. Things that are not ok are ok too, since they could have not been another way. Everything is as it was before and everything is somehow different and that’s it! Trees are trees and mountains are mountains again.