The Quest for Enlightenment

I once believed that spiritual enlightenment was a state of mind one accomplished at the end of a very long journey. My understanding, however, has changed. Enlightenment is not about achieving a level of development that transcends the soul’s present condition. Enlightenment is experiencing this journey from the awareness of the soul’s completeness. There is no place on earth we can go to get more of who and what we already are. No amount of study will increase the force or constitution of the soul. No achievement can bring us closer to the omnipresence of God than we are already.

The standard model of the quest for spiritual understanding is based on a negative: I am currently something less than I will be in the future. To be spiritually enlightened is to understand that I am already everything that I will ever be. This doesn’t mean that the limited self-image I have adopted is adequate just as it is. The self-image will never be adequate. Nor does it mean that I am finished aspiring, dreaming and achieving. It means that I recognize myself now as something much more than this body-based facade that I call me. The spiritual inadequacy I feel is not remedied by the consumption of more spiritual information. The remedy is removing the blinders of the self-image that block the truth of who and what I am at the soul level.

The concept of soul development is a spiritually debilitating myth. Instead of embracing what I am, this concept directs my focus on what I am not. If I live with the hope of one day becoming something more than I am right now, I do not allow myself to consider the truth of my fundamental nature. It sounds arrogant to say I am complete, for the myth of soul development says that only a rare handful of humans have attained spiritual enlightenment. How can I claim that I am even close to having what they had?

The problem is that we do not know what they had. We only assume we know. We lay upon them our manufactured template of enlightened master with the negative assumption that whatever they had was obviously something more than we have. If this were true, why would these enlightened souls bother to tell any who would listen that the things they were doing, others could do as well, and greater things? Why would they circumvent the religious elites, the blind guides who loved their positions of authority and the wealth it generated from keeping people as spiritually confused as were they themselves? Why would genuine teachers of the soul devote their lives to opening the spiritual eyes of others if those others were restrained by laws of evolution that ensured their spiritual blindness? Of what value is a spiritual teaching that promises fulfillment in a future state that cannot possibly exist outside this now moment?

The soul is not a thing to be developed. It is now complete. Being unaware of this truth does not make it less true. Spiritual enlightenment occurs with the first glimmer of understanding that it is true. The morning sun does not peek over the horizon to tease us with the promise of light and warmth. It does not place the condition of its appearance on years of study and discipline. It does not withhold itself from those who retreat into the shadows of ignorance and superstition, or believe they must acquire something more to be worthy of its gifts. The sun appears in its fullness and freely gives itself to all who will partake of its radiant being. We can believe in the long shadows we cast while looking away from the sun, or we can turn our face to this perfectly placed star and partake of its life-affirming gifts.

Though we don’t always live from the truth we know, this momentary lapse cannot pull us back over that threshold of understanding we’ve crossed. We can never return to our former conviction that we are something less today than we will be tomorrow. We are bound by the truth that omnipresence can never be something more, that we can never be closer to God than we are right now.

Because of the conditions we place on the notion of spiritual enlightenment, it is probably best to purge such terms from our vocabulary. It stirs emotional distance between where we think we are and where we think we should be. The hard work of eliminating this perceived gap is misplaced effort. In meditation, we close our eyes and search for something foreign, something we believe the great masters could see but we cannot, at least not yet. We do not see it because it does not exist. We are chasing the phantom of false perception. What we intuitively long for, what we deeply seek to experience, is found with our eyes open or closed. It can be known in quiet and busy moments. We can experience it in the peaceful rush of the surf, or in the noise of the busy city. It is not possible to be separated from the presence of God.

We will never find what we hope to become. We can only find what we are already. And what we are already exists fully and completely in this moment. It cannot be anything less or anyplace else. This now moment in which we exist is the holy ground of the Eternal. It is here and here alone that our quest for enlightenment ends.

The Truth You Seek

“What we are trying to grasp with our head (intellect), the heart has always known. The spiritual pop culture worships the quest. It thrills in filling its bookshelves, accumulating credentials and traveling through all the wide gates of the world in search of the fulfillment that can only be found at the quiet center of every individual.”

Question: Could you elaborate on this part of your previous post? I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying.

Response: If you declare yourself on a spiritual quest today, you will be on a spiritual quest tomorrow. You will still be on this quest a year or ten years from now. This means you are not finding what you seek. Because you are not finding what you seek, keeping the quest going becomes your objective.

The truth is that God is centered in you. To experience God, you must make a conscious connection with this divine center. At this moment of awareness, your quest ends because you now know the location of that which you seek. You are the man who finds the treasure hidden in the field. His quest for wealth is over. Knowing this, he is entirely devoted to letting go of that which is of less value than the treasure he found.

The trap that many fall into is that they tie the spiritual quest to unity/oneness among people. Because global unity becomes the benchmark of success for so-called spiritual movements, we consider the success of such movements as a sign that collective spiritual progress is being made. This deception turns the individual away from their inner connection to God and places their hope in the growth and success of the external movement. They then take their cues from the movement, which can only promise a perpetual quest and a dissatisfying spiritual void that never can and never will be satisfied.

The world changes but Truth does not. All valid spiritual disciplines teach that the individual’s connection with God is internally accessible. The spiritual movement, the book, or that particular teacher that reminded you of this truth is not the one that will make it real to you. They were but the catalyst that reminded you what you already know at the deepest level of your being.

Have enough faith in yourself to uncover this buried treasure, to declare an end to your quest for Truth, and dare to live the life your soul longs to express.

 

The Fullness of Emptiness

Many who teach the philosophy of nonduality encourage the practice of self-inquiry. This involves the process of letting go of all roles connected with title, gender, the act of spiritual seeking, long-held spiritual perceptions, concerns around age, all ambition, goals and intentions, personal history, marital and parental status, education, place in family, regrets of the past, anticipation of the future, today’s to-do list … everything. The idea is to bring your awareness to that part of you–the I–that requires no effort to sustain, that very essence that you are. For those who struggle with meditation, this practice may provide a more concrete approach to reaching a profound point of stillness.

In letting go of all these things, you are emptying the vessel that is the self-image. Jesus referenced such a practice when he said,

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:29).

To leave these things does not necessarily mean we are to literally divest ourselves of them. In the safety of our own quiet time, we let everything go so we may experience that part that needs no propping up, that needs no further achievement of anything to make us more than we already are in truth. Jesus’ phrase, “for my sake,” is not a personal reference to himself. It is, rather, a way of saying, for the sake of the truth I am teaching. Spend periods mentally and emotionally letting go of all these pursuits and relationships and delve down into the very core of your being, that part of you that needs none of them to simply be. Here you find your complete soul.

The self-image has tricked us into believing that we are not enough, that something more needs to be added to become whole. We need to find our other half, or make enough money to gain power and control, or get that degree to prove to the world that we are capable of handling anything that comes our way, at least in our chosen field.

I was thinking about all of this as my wife and I undertook the project of stripping old wax from the kitchen floor. Over the years, as the floor appeared to need something more to make it look better, layer after layer of wax was applied. As we stripped the floor to its original condition, we were totally amazed how good the floor looked. We had considered replacing it only to discover that removing all those layers of wax was what was really needed.

The self-image is layers of accumulated buildup of things we’ve added, often to compensate for feelings of inadequacy. This is not to say that everything we have achieved or acquired is our attempt to fill some empty space. A loving relationship, for example, is a good thing as long as we’re not trying to use another person to make us feel whole. The best relationship is not two half-people trying to make a whole. It’s two whole people coming together to share from their strengths. Likewise, the best relationship you can have with your work is one where you are giving to it as much as it is giving to you. Those who work only for a paycheck or benefits are not usually interested in giving more than they have to.

I’m sure most of us have been in both kinds of situations. You may be in one now. In all cases, the practice of self-inquiry will provide some enlightening benefits. You and I are not lacking power, peace or the inspiration to engage life at an exciting level. The weight of the baggage we carry has no value, as it provides the illusion that this weight is actually a signal that something more needs to be added. In truth, much needs to be released. Nothing is needed to compensate for the wholeness of the soul, for the soul needs no compensation. Think of this kind of releasing as self-denial, or self-image denial. Denial is not the art of pretending a thing does not exist; it is a letting go of all those pieces of baggage that blur our spiritual vision.

Spend quality time stripping yourself down to your original “floor” and you’ll quickly see that you already have what you’ve been trying to get from people, places, and things. When Jesus said that by letting go you will gain a hundred times as much, he was pointing to the fact that your world will look like a very different place when you are free of this taskmaster that is your self-image. You will never acquire what it is telling you that you need for happiness. Nor do you need to. But you will never know this for sure until you free yourself from the task of trying to fill this bottomless pit and make a conscious connection with the truth of your present, spiritual completeness.

In Response to a Comment …

To me it seems rather disingenuous that one who writes a blog about spiritual matters seemingly disparages the very readers of the blog he writes by announcing how superfluous it is they continue to seek. Readers who, like him, seek to more fully understand and live the truth they have experienced – that they are a complete soul now and not the self image associated with the temporal body which carries the soul during this earthly lifetime – appreciate being able to read those who elucidate and verify their experience. Teachers, prophets, ministers, churches and now bloggers come and go with their various messages, but the complete soul remains, and we continue to appreciate having this truth verified.

Perhaps I’m missing something here, but even the individual in your favorite parable engaged in a search before he found the treasure that was hidden. The fact that it was hidden implies that it must be sought before it is to be found.

This is a comment that deserves a fuller response that will, hopefully, clear up any misunderstandings around yesterday’s post.

Suppose you are car shopping. You’re driving down the street and you see the most beautiful car for sale. It is everything you want. Right color, right style, right everything. Guess what? Your search is over. You are no longer a car seeker. You found the right car. So what’s left? Now you have to figure out how to buy it, a whole different kind of activity. You may have to sell your present car or borrow the money. If you really want it, you’ll figure out what you need to do to get that car.

Of course there is another option. You can leave the lot without buying it. Every day you can drive by that car, admire its beauty and hope that some day you can figure out how to own it. Here’s the important point. You know which car you want. You need look no further. You are enlightened.

With this analogy, the spiritual quest is like car shopping. This is the process all of us were engaged in before we found what we believe is Truth. We were taught that God was in the sky and we were on earth, separate from God. We could not quite buy that so we searched for something more, something that appealed to our intuitive logic. When we heard that God was within, our soul rejoiced. We found what we were looking for. That was our moment of enlightenment.

So, do we spend the rest of our life looking for what we have already found? This would be like driving by that car we love every day but never really believing we can possibly own it. Maybe in ten years or maybe next lifetime I’ll be so prosperous I’ll be able to buy this car or something better.

This is exactly how many (myself once included) approach their quest for Truth. We’ll say, I know where God is. I know my soul is complete, but I don’t have the spiritual capital to make the experience of either a reality. These are glittering concepts sitting on the car lot that I drive by every day and imagine owning. I love to read books about them and have bloggers tell of their wonders. I love to attend seminars and travel around the world hearing about God within. It feels so good when I hear someone tell me what I already know.

We all know there is a vast difference between ownership and wishful thinking. Many on the spiritual path have come to know that God is within and that their soul is accessible. But this is not their experiential reality. The car remains on the lot and they remain the passer-by. In the parable, the man’s search ended the moment he stumbled upon the treasure. Jesus was saying, the next stage is ownership. I’ve told you the treasure is within. You know this is true and you love hearing it. So now you have to come into possession of this truth. You’re enlightened. You know where to look. Now do what you need to do to own that treasure.

When Jesus said to seek, knock and you will find, I believe he meant it. Many of us have, in fact, done exactly that. We know where our contact with God is. We can accept that the soul is complete now. So our search is over. What is left is to make the soul our core identity, to build our house on this rock rather than ride with the ever-shifting wind blown sand.

I hold that anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time is spiritually enlightened. But not because you follow this blog. You have discovered for yourself where your contact with God is, and this blog reaffirms this. No one can argue you off of this understanding. What I hope to accomplish here is to encourage the shift away from the notion that you are an eternal seeker and start owning the truth of what you have actually found, what you know to be true. This is a very different process.

To say the soul is complete sets a very high bar. If I’m complete, why don’t I feel complete? The answer. I have some selling to do. Here is what I know. I am no longer a seeker of Truth. I have found what I was looking for. I know without any doubt that my soul is complete and my oneness with God can never be compromised, not even in my darkest moments of ignorance. Have I sold all of my possessions to come into full ownership of this truth? No, I’m still doing that. But the coordinates of my treasure are marked. I know exactly what I am looking for and where it is located. And I’m willing to bet the farm that you do too.

Questions and Answers

[Note: the following is commentary on questions raised and questions that may be raised on yesterday’s post. JDB]

You use the metaphor of the caterpillar and butterfly as a way of illustrating transformation. Aren’t you talking about a form of evolution?

No. The caterpillar does not evolve into a butterfly. It is a butterfly even at the caterpillar stage. Evolution might suggest the caterpillar becoming something different, a lizard, for example. Or it remains a caterpillar but takes on colors that provide better camouflage. The soul does not change. The self-image, on the other hand, changes all the time. It is a linear creation that exists in and is subject to time and space. The soul is eternal and is not subject to time and space. When people refer to soul evolution, they are referencing the belief that one day the self-image will become what the soul already is. As I pointed out with the caterpillar/butterfly example, the “I” of the caterpillar is the same “I” that is the butterfly. The I is the essence of this creature. If the butterfly should emerge from the chrysalis and immediately fly in front of a passing car, the I still exists, though not in the form of the butterfly. The I of the caterpillar and the butterfly is the same as the I of you and me. What is different is the capacity for creative expression (the faculty of imagination) in each creature. In other words, we share the common soul. This is why I said, “The soul is not ours to evolve. We are its.”

You wrote, “With only a few exceptions in terminology, I find the Complete Soul rests quite comfortably in this philosophical framework (nonduality).” Can you give some examples?

The nondualist usually uses the term mind or body-mind where I would use the term self-image or, body-based self-image. We appear to mean the same thing. I am more comfortable with self-image because the term image implies a replication of the genuine article. An image of a person painted by an artist, for example, is something very different from the actual person. Our self-image is our created replication of the soul. As in the case of the artist, regardless of how good a painter they are, they can never bring their image on canvas to life. We may say a painting is so life-like that it almost speaks to us, or it almost jumps off the canvas. Neither, of course, is true and neither is possible.

The self-image can study the works of spiritual masters and it can take on the demeanor and language of these individuals, so much so that they can convince the world they are enlightened. This is simply a self-image posing as a spiritual master. A spiritual master actually gives voice to the soul.

Jesus was called a blasphemer because he spoke from the soul. “I am the way, the truth and the life,” is not a statement any self-image can make, regardless of how spiritually polished it may be. Only the soul can make such a statement. If you were a caterpillar, you would not follow and study another caterpillar to learn how to become a butterfly. You would follow the same I the other caterpillar follows, the same I that is seated in every caterpillar on earth. Only in this way would you fulfill the soul’s activity as expressing as a butterfly.

The nondualist uses the term Consciousness to indicate the single, underlying, invisible reality behind all that we see. Awareness indicates consciousness. One of Rupert Spira’s suggested exercises is to simply be aware that you are aware. Most of the time our awareness is focused on some thing. I am aware that I am thinking about what to buy at the grocery store. I am aware that I argued with my spouse. I am aware that my paycheck was not as large as I expected. Engaging in the exercise of being aware that you are aware can indeed awaken you to the more universal experience of consciousness. When practiced by the self-image, however, it can also fall into an ineffective word game.

What the nondualist calls Consciousness, I would call God. And in fairness, they do not seem to shy away from this term. That point where God, the universal, expresses as the individual, I would call soul. As I’ve pointed out in past postings, the writer of John made the distinction between God and the Word. These are one and the same, but the Word is the creative aspect of God and is the maker of all created things. Because the Universal cannot enter into the personal and remain Universal, the soul/Word provides the mechanism for this to happen. The soul is the basis of this interface between the unseen Universal and the visible expression. In one sense, the soul is the prism that allows universal white light to be broken down and observed as a rainbow of color.

As I point out in The Complete Soul, I use the word consciousness to indicate the sum of our ideas. This is common usage in New Thought circles. In terms of their influence, the most important ideas are those associated with the way in which I see myself. Both the self-image and the soul generate consciousness. When consciousness is generated by the self-image, it is false because it reflects my understanding of myself from the basis of the body. Paul refers to this as the carnal mind or mind of the flesh. When consciousness is generated by the soul, it is true because it reflects what is true at the unchanging spiritual level.

The self-image can generate a consciousness filled with spiritual ideas. This would be like someone showing you a picture of a mountain and then you try to imagine what it is like to experience the world from this peak. You form concepts, some of which may be good. But these are immediately dispelled the moment you actually sit on the mountain. The self-image lives with a consciousness of perceptual replicas. The soul lives with a consciousness of direct experience.

Why do you consider the speculations of the beginning of life and the creation of the cosmos an important part of your spiritual understanding? We’re here. What difference does it make how we got here?

Every major world religion explores the notion of creation, of the ultimate beginning. Science, of course, has adopted this same practice. They justify their exploration with the importance of knowing where we came from. The same can be said of religion. Science says we came from matter. Religion says we came from God. Understanding both perspectives addresses the more pertinent question of why we are here. Why would this matter? Because our cosmology provides the context from which we live our daily life. If you adopt the context of orthodox science, you will look out at your world and say, “I am a product of matter. When my body dies, I will be no more.” With this attitude, you will live your life one way. If you look out at your world and say, “I and all that I see are a product of God,” you will live your life in quite another way. The materialist believes it is impossible for the consciousness, the soul, to survive the loss of the body. The nondualist holds that the survival of consciousness is not dependent on the body. The illustration usually used is the brain and body are like the television set. The programs transmitted by the set are not located within the television. The programming, like the soul, continues even if the television set is destroyed.

There seems to be a growing number of scientists with nondualistic leanings. What impact might this have on our understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe?

By all appearances, nondualists in all branches of science, including medicine, are a minority and will remain so for some time to come. While this has not always been the case, it certainly is now. Watch any of the latest presentations on how the universe came to be and you will see the latest discoveries couched within the parameters of this assumption: The universe came from matter and here’s how we now believe that happened. As exciting as science is, it will be even more exciting when it begins to explore the cosmos based on this assumption: The universe came from Consciousness (God) and here’s how we now believe it happened.

Orthodox science is a long way from even considering this premise, but if and when it does, the textbooks will all be in for some exciting new revision. An entirely new science, in fact, will be born.

To be continued …