First of all a brief summary of what enlightenment, nibbana, moksha actually means:
The most important aspect to remember is that the personal self no longer exists once this realisation or change occurs. Not wishing to split hairs but strictly speaking even calling it a realisation is inaccurate – there’s no-one to realise, and also change – it’s the way it’s always been in reality so in one sense nothing changes. But the ‘sense’ or belief in a personal self disappears and with it consciousness operating through that ‘mode’ no longer occurs.
The main problem when trying to communicate this is that it’s virtually impossible not to use some sort of personal pronoun in sentence construction, ‘I’, ‘me’ or possive pronouns, ‘mine’ etc. but if you remember this is a convention of language rather than the way it is you’ll get the idea.
Following on from this, with no personal self there are no longer any personal desires. There is, simply put, no-one to do the desiring. That can and does manifest in a lack of goals or motivation at one end of the scale, up to lack of desire for personal gratification or anything the consumer culture in which we in live has to offer. Such things are now meaningless.
With no desire comes no emotions. There is nothing to feel happy or sad about. If you think about it you’ll realise emotion and desire are basically linked: I get what I want, avoid what I don’t want = happy, fulfilled, content; I don’t get what I want, get what I don’t want = sad, frustrated, upset. Personal praise or blame, worldly achievement, sensual gratification – none of these will bring pleasure or happiness and their lack will not bring unhappiness. There is no-one to feel happy or unhappy at any outer circumstance.
The thinking mind is unaffected and rattles on much as it always did. It won’t become smarter or less intelligent, though for myself I find I’m a little more absent minded. I put this down in part to living without the matrix of daily desires which formerly were part of the structure of my life.
Ona a more abstruse note, the ‘higher’ or abstract mind seems to be completely gone. That part of my former self seems now to have ‘opened up’ to the universe and all speculation drifts off into silence or space. At some point the ‘answer’ to speculative enquiry arrives back in my rational mind as if from nowhere. I would suggest that this change is strongly linked to it being said that after enlightenment there are no further incarnations or re-births, but more of that if anyone would like further discussion on that point.
Now while it might be true to say that there is no path that can lead ‘Directly’ to this thing termed enlightenment, I would suggest care should be taken in understanding this further. There are a nuumber of Western ‘Gurus’, some of whom seem to me by their writings to be enlightened (and some who I belive are not) who are less than clear on this point. At least a couple of them go out of their way to state that ‘there is no path’.
While it might be said there is no ‘direct’ path to take you all the way, so to speak, there are a number of paths that, figuratively speaking, lead to the edge. There have been a significant number of Buddhist practitioners that have achieved enlightnment and I’m sure the followers of Yoga and Advaita Vedanta would claim the same. It’s true, you might not ‘need’ such practices to facilitate Awakening, but it is simply not true to say that such practices can’t greatly benefit the individual and lead one close.
It seems to me that part of the issue lies in the person who is enlightened. Sometimes they seem to come at it from a perspective of, ‘my way is the only way’, sometimes from the perspective of, ‘there is no way’. The latter is very confusing for anyone who feels they are on a spiritual path. The main point I’d urge you to remember is that whatever your tradition or cultural background, this path or journey is yours and yours alone and you must take full responsibilty for it, not abdicate that responsibility to a teacher or spiritual tradition. It is very much a mistake to think: ‘this practice will lead me there’ or ‘this teacher’s words will lead me there’. They won’t, although they might be very useful signposts.
So it’s about holding the teachings and offerings of others in the right way. If they seem to be useful, take it on board for consideration. If they don’t make sense and don’t strike a chord with you, then for now, just put it on a shelf.
For myself, I’m certainly not offering these thoughts as the ‘only way’ and they may not even constitute anything like a ‘path’. These are merely thoughts and refelctions for your consideration and are offered as such. I hope you might find them of use.
Hi, I’m very happy for you that you have reached this amazing state 🙂
Can you share your views on, How one should go about mixing the worldly experiences and the divinity?
I’m sure, once you’re in the state of perfect peace, you get over the illusionary world. How do you then manage your relationships with the beings around you? Does everybody in your family from parents to children accept this.
Do you try to bring them along on your path to liberation.
How is it that you go about it?
Hi Pankaj, thank you for your comment and questions. In terms of your first question I wouldn’t use the word divinity. It might seem like that beforehand but the state of enlightenment is an at-one-ment, there is no perception of divinity or anything that can be added or perceived as extra. It is a state in which there is no separate observer and observed. As for mixing it, the world is still the world and this physical form is in it so no choice there.
Those around me wouldn’t know unless I told them and so far I’ve only shared it with my partner and best friend. What others see in me is what they create: my children see their father, my colleagues their workmate, a shop assistant would see a customer. When they are not there there is no ‘I’ present.
I don’t think I can ‘bring them along’ directly but can use what wisdom and guidance I can offer when called upon in everyday life to do so. Enlightenment is not to be taken lightly, it is as serious as life and death, not wiahing to sound dramatic but the change that occurs is on that scale. I wouldn’t recommend it or push it on anyone unless they chose it and regarded it seriously. Don’t mean that to sound too heavy but it is a big deal and there’s no going back.
Thanks, for giving me an answer I was looking for so long.
Questions for you: did you follow one path mainly before you got enlightened? Did you meditate? Or do something else? Thanks for the blog – good to have some straight-talking about this.
Hi Lyn, Thanks for your questions. I hope this won’t sound like a cop-out but I think each person’s ‘path’ is unique and what might help one won’t necessarily help others. Having said that I have read several key books that shifted my perspective quite radically and listened to talks by some teachers who inspired me and helped me to see things in a different way.
I would say that meditation is important though I strongly recommend combining it with everyday mindfulness practice (let me know if you want more on this).
It’s important to note that no path leads directly to this realisation but many lead in the right direction, so to speak. It’s also important to say that the realisation of no-self, resulting as it does in the complete extinguishment of the sense of personal self, means that one can never say, ‘I am enlightened’. That might sound pedantic but it is in effect an oxymoron.
The practice I found most beneficial to me and which guided me the most over recent years has been the Thai Forest Tradition of Theravada Buddhism. I particularly benefitted from Ajahn Sumedho’s insights. You might also find some of Eckhart Tolle’s perspectives of use.
The idea of the blog is to put the state of having realised no-self in plain English (as far as I can) as there isn’t much of a tradition of it yet in the West, so we inherit by default terminology derived from other languages which can make it seem really complicated – and it really isn’t complicated. We’re complicated but reality is simple!
Thanks for that, Interesting! I too practise a variety of Thai Forest Monk meditation – samatha meditation as taught at the Samatha Trust in Wales. I also practise tai chi and teach beginners. You write about the nature of ‘having realised no-self’ well and I think your blog is a good project. Buddhism is bringing some very good techniques to the west – it’s a bit like when Christianity arrives two millenia ago. But ‘extinction’ or ‘extinguishment’ does sound horrible, doesn’t it?
Yes, frankly it does sound horrible to us. The sense of personal self through which we operate is at the same time the cause of our suffering and very insecure about its/our continued existence.
This reply is taking a long time to write with quite a few deletions because this isn’t easy to describe in a way I’m convinced will be clear when you read it but… when the realisation of no-self occurs it can be seen as apparent that the ‘self’ didn’t actually exist as a ‘thing’ it’s more like a mode of consciousness through which we operate. I know the sense of self is totally convincing and real when you’re operating through it – that’s what makes it hard to put across in words, but it’s not a thing. When you realise no-self there is just one thing – all.
It’s funny and I can laugh now because on one level it’s the simplest thing in the world, like a fish suddenly realising that the water he’s been looking for has always been around him and in him. In another sense it’s a radical shift, a massive change on a par with life and death.
So hard to describe and sorry I’m not doing a better job at it! But it’s not in fact horrible, it’s very natural. One of my other reasons for writing the blog is that there are aspects of it that no-one told me and I never read, and I think I’d have really appreciated it if they had. Having said that I didn’t perhaps look hard enough and when the moment happened I wasn’t expecting it and so wasn’t really prepared for it – well actually that last bit is a huge under-statement.
Thank you again so much. Your efforts are truly appreciated. You are doing a good job of expressing something probably inexpressible. I feel as if there is a corner of my mind which understands what you are saying but its kind of folded over and if I unfold it I blank out. Another question: has it affected your (?) creativity, either positively or negatively.
Yes, in one sense. Perhaps to start by saying what is left after realisation would be the best way to explain. There is still a form, obviously, and that form represents a conscious piece or area of the universe, but one without a personal sense of self. But having no personal sense of self there is no strong motivation to create. I graduated in Fine Art so have formerly been quite creative.
The realisation of no-self brings perfect peace, but I don’t want to give you the impression that it’s a stagnant peace. I don’t have a motivation to outwardly create (although I could do so if I chose to, I think) – even the writing of this blog was done out of a sense of duty rather than desire (there are no desires after realisation). But in simply being there is a creativity. In there being no-self there is just one and the experience of that oneness as all changes constantly is something I wish I could share with you. It’s very hard to describe the state of being where you are not and all is one. I can’t find the words to say I’m not really in this body it’s just there as a (more) conscious part of the all. I can’t bend this language to say what I would like to convey so sorry to offer another long answer to a simple question. Perhaps I should aim for a simple yes or no next time.
I will leave you in peace (for a while anyway) but just wanted to say thank you for this last. That’s the hardest thing for me: I can’t imagine not feeling the desire to make things – cakes, films, friends, groups etc. And yet it’s true that a part of me does not really want to to do anything. Your answer was really illuminating and generous – where does this sense of ‘duty’ come from, I wonder. You don’t have to answer that – now anyway. Goodbye from wet Wales.
I really don’t mind your questions. I mind some of my answers, they look clumsy to me so thanks for your patience with them. Hope the screenplay’s coming along well.
Well, I do have some more questions! Did the realisation come gradually or suddenly? Did you have any sense of it coming beforehand, or did it take you by surprise? Have read accounts of realisation by Krishnamurti and Barry Long, but would love to hear yours, if you are willing. I understand that from your side it feels ‘clumsy’, but from my side it is all very helpful, and I hope points me in the right direction. Thanks for asking about the screenplay – it develops quite well and our conversation here is rather relevant to it.
Okay well, here goes. I had been following quite a ‘spiritual’ path mainly through Theravada Buddhism, with influences from Krishnamurti and Eckhart Tolle amongst others. My personal experience of my practice was that it has involved a gradual simplifying of my life and adopting the Five Precepts as a guide. I have and still do meditate virtually every day as well as practicing mindfulness.
One day, several months ago, I was walking along contemplating how everything is cause and effect and the present is our awareness of the manifestation of this when it occurred to me that all I was: every thought, feeling, trait, habit etc. was simply the effect of a cause, giving rise in turn to a subsequent effect and so on (I’ve written about this in the blog).
Suddenly something shifted – an overwhelming experience quite beyond words – and I found myself in inner space. A vast emptiness, outside the familiar closeness of the sense of self. A single thought penetrated this, ‘It’s empty, it’s all empty.’ There was simply nothing and at the same time the knowledge that there never really had been any ‘thing’, just the belief in a sense of some ‘thing’.
The ‘feeling’ was akin to a weight being lifted from one’s shoulders, one hadn’t realised was there. The state that emerged was perhaps best described as a vast openness. Just one thing. No self.
With no-self there can be no desires and with no desires there are no feelings. So I couldn’t feel panic, or confusion – which in itself was a revelation as the experience was of the magnitude to certainly have triggered this response had I been capable of experiencing it. My rational thinking mind remained the same (actually not but I didn’t realise this at the time) and it tried to make sense of what had just happened. Of course it couldn’t and my thoughts quickly tumbled to chaos. Still my thoughts raged on and on in a torrent trying to grasp what had happened and it wasn’t until I asked myself the question, ‘What am I?’ that the torrent fell silent.
It was after this that I discovered that my capacity for higher abstract thought has gone, whilst the lower mind remains. This in itself is very strange and as I mentioned just one of a number of things that I was unaware would or could result from this ‘realisation of no-self’. Now it’s as if all abstract enquiry floats off into the void and after a period of time the answer returns or develops inwardly but without it involving a ‘thought process’. Again, very strange.
Perhaps most strangely of all though is that outwardly, no-one can tell. What they see in me is what they project.
Although I don’t (can’t) have likes and dislikes in a personal sense any more, I consider the most beneficial aspect of this change to be the at-oneness. Simply being. To explain clearly – I’m not ‘one with all’. There is no ‘I’ there is just ‘All’. And as I said in my first post, walking through the world completely without fear is something I wish I could share – hence the blog I suppose.
Well you are sharing it very skilfully, and I am considering your words and descriptions carefully and finding them helpful and encouraging. Re: the disappearing of feeling, I am presuming that there is still enjoyment when you eat a good meal , affection when you are with family or friends, satisfaction when a job is well done – but no longer any clinging or anxiety or worry if things turn out wrong? How about pain? What happens when you witness pain in others?
Very interesting question. As I mentioned without sense of personal self there can be no desire and no desire in turn leads to no feelings (hence no suffering)- that obviously takes a lot of ‘unpacking’ to go through the full implications which I’m happy to do if you’d like me to at some point.
Second attempt to write this – To answer your question more directly, there is no enjoyment at a nice meal. You can still taste all the flavours as before but there is no sense of enjoyment, disappointment etc. There are basically no emotions that I can relate. But it’s not a state of emptiness either – although in the first moments it felt that way. There is no sense of self – no ‘I’, there is just all. Very hard to explain but it’s not being one with all, there is simply all.
This is at-onement. The relationship to any other ‘part’ of all is akin to how I might have formerly felt about part of my own body. It was part of me so there was no need to feel anything separate for it. So now, there is a complete closeness like that to all, rather than separate feelings.
Without the sense of ‘I’ everything changes and it’s hard to describe. If I feel pain in my body it still feels like pain, as hunger feels like hunger, thirst like thirst, but there’s no personal element to it, it can’t cause suffering. As for witnessing the suffering in others, I can still recognise it as before but there is no sense of personal feeling attached to that. It still leaves me free to act to alleviate it if I can.
Not having feelings is not a partial thing, they’re all gone the nice ones as well as the unpleasant ones. This may change for me, goodness knows it’s early days which is part of my wishing to record it.
Thank so so much. I have been pondering your reply, which is very interesting. The state your describe seems very far from our normal one, which is full of negative elements but also full of joy, fun and relish. But I dare say you only experience realisation when you are ready for it. However, it seems to me that, even in the state of union which you describe, there must be some sort of separation between elements. Eg, I may be part of ‘all’ for you, but I have experiences, memories etc, which you do not and cannot share which would give me a different ‘view’ of ‘all’, even if I too had reached realisation.
I think of the rather few people I know who are realised (as far as I can judge!) and they do have a lot in common in their way of being. But they are also quite different: one of them (now dead) could be quite grumpy, another is very humorous and warm. A third had a very intellectual approach.
Thick fog on my Welsh hillside and it will be here for two days. Good incentive to work. Thanks again.
Thick mist and fog in the North East as well. I like the way it makes everything look different. I’ve seen lots of photographers out trying to capture images of it, so it seems I’m not the only one.
It’s not always easy to tell who has realised no-self and who has yet to do so. I think you’ve got to use your heart as a guide and in one way, if what that person says makes sense to you, then maybe it’s not so important.
Just to be clear, on the state of realising no-self, it’s not that there’s a huge in-rush of new information or cosmic wisdom or anything like that. It has just a few simple characteristics: no sense of personal self; no self = no desire; no desire = no feeling; no feeling = no suffering. Beyond that, what others can claim for it I can’t at this stage attest to, that’s really all it is for me.
So in one way, it’s normal, it’s simple. The fact that there is complete peace, equanimity, at-oneness doesn’t mean I can know everything about all that is around me. The conscious bit of the universe that is within this form is still within this form, not in the air around it or ground beneath it. I wouldn’t know what you’re thinking or feeling but I wouldn’t also feel separate from you as there is no ‘I’ to create a sense of separation.
I get what you mean about the personality of those who have realised no-self. The rational mind stays, and habitually we carry on much the same as before, part of why this realisation is almost impossible to detect from the outside. So you can seem grumpy or jolly but for one who has realised no-self there would be no connection in that to an inner feeling.
When I used to feel emotional pain I used to feel it literally in the centre of my chest, fear was in my lower abdomen, a little to the right. Now there is just emptiness there, a beautiful space that all falls into and disappears. It’s a void as vast as space, bottomless and yet not empty for it’s just the same as all around it.
The very strangest part and probably the hardest to explain is that I can still laugh and cry – which I would have thought were surely emotions, but even though there is no connection to an inner emotion, these outer expressions remain as they have always been. Now I really can’t explain that, so as you see I don’t have all the answers and still quite a few questions.
Beautifully put! I have found this exchange very intereresting. Now my fountain of questions has dried up – for now! Will keep reading the blog and respond when I have more. Thanks again. You feel like a friend now.
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