I present 22 enlightenment experiences and then offer arguments both for and against the existence of enlightenment. I am biased in that I doubt if a state of enlightenment exists, but I am willing to accept the possibility that enlightenment may be real.
I don’t want to make waves for anyone who is claiming to have had awakening shifts so I am referring to experiences without using names. Most of the stories mentioned below were gleaned from interviews on Rick Archer’s website Buddha at the Gas Pump. As far as I know, all 22 people are still living. At least six of them could be described as full-time gurus.
Enlightened #1 (E#1) was depressed often from early youth to 29 years of age and also had trouble with anxiety and fear. As a child he had suicidal ideation. In college, he studied philosophy, psychology, and literature; he had a scholarship to do post-graduate research at Cambridge University but dropped out soon after starting. When 29 years old, on one day he started to identify with consciousness instead of “the voice in the head”. He stood back from his thoughts and there was a separation. He decided, “The unhappy I was not me.” The next morning there was an underlying peace. The understanding of awakening was not there at first so he investigated numerous spiritual traditions to get the understanding. For several years he wandered around “in a state of deep bliss” and frequently spent time sitting on a park bench; one day somebody asked him a philosophical question which led others to also ask him questions; these park-bench-questions ultimately led to books, TV appearances, and seminars around the world. According to ABC newsman Dan Harris, E#1 is able to describe very deep incisive aspects of human experience but can quickly veer into Looney Town, and his statement that he never gets into a bad mood seems unbelievable.
Enlightened #2 had mystical experiences as a child; sometimes he would be walking around not knowing who he was, as if his identity dropped away and emptiness was looking through his eyeballs; he would feel incredible intimacy and oneness with his surroundings. These childhood experiences got stimulated in a new way when he started to meditate. While in his early 20’s, he had an intuition that he was going to die at 25 years of age. On one day when he was 25 years old, he was intensely trying to have a spiritual breakthrough, and he was meditating with all of his will, but instead of a breakthrough, he felt defeated and he felt that he should give up his spiritual search; however, immediately (at the moment of surrendering to defeat) he had a kundalini awakening and his heart began racing; then he thought his heart would explode and he was going to die; as he peacefully accepted this outcome, he went to an “infinity of black” and he felt that he was that “infinity of black”; then he had many insights coming so rapidly that he couldn’t differentiate between them or articulate what they were. After a while, the energy calmed down and he came out of meditation; then he started laughing hysterically about his chasing of enlightenment. For the next 5 years, he said that the ups and down were so intense (as he worked out emotional, ego, and spiritual issues) that he wouldn’t wish those experiences on his worst enemy. At 32 years of age he had another awakening that created a clear, stable state. He described awakenings as first being very vivid, but later the feeling of “Wow, look what I am realizing!” falls away and it is not such a big deal. He also admits that some seekers are spiritual shipwrecks who don’t have a full awakening and whose lives are damaged.
For 6 years after having an awakening shift of consciousness, the life of Enlightened #3 (E#3) was difficult as he avoided normal life pressures and lived penniless in the home of his sister. Later while he was visiting his guru, he was told: “If you desire to be one with truth, ‘you’ must completely disappear”, at first he felt anger and resistance to this statement from his guru, but later that day the anger lifted and he felt great peace, emptiness, and love towards the guru; he felt he was not the same identity as before; he was an immensity and there was a silence about everything. It was like he was in a vast universe, but he was also the universe. At a much later time, his eldest son died unexpectedly, and a couple of E#3’s elderly gurus died. In the recounting of his awakenings, he said that at one time even though he felt he was very humble, he still had to “puke out” a lot of arrogance before his realization became complete.
Starting at about 15 years of age, Enlightened #4 spent over 20 years in an all-out quest for enlightenment through the self-inquiry of Advaita (2) although he was able to make a living making art at the same time. While with a guru, he had a realization that sensations of experience did not occur in his mind or body, but rather in an open aware presence; that presence was awareness. This realization was at first only experiential before it became rationalized. Then he realized that all experience which used to seem to be outside of himself actually took place within him and the experiences were made out his Self. He said that knowingness or awareness pervades all experience, and it became clear to him that he was that awareness.
One day when Enlightened #5 was sitting on a small hill, the difference between what is me and what is not me disappeared; he said, “What is me was just spread all over the place.” Tears came to his eyes and every cell was bursting with ecstasy. He did not know what the experience was, but he didn’t want to lose it because it was the most beautiful thing. If he looked at the sky or at anything else, tears would come. He stopped telling people about his experience because tears would come while telling them. At that time, he was familiar with Western philosophy but did not know much yogic philosophy or knowledge; people thought he was having amazing Samadhi experiences and were pestering him so much with questions about spirituality/life that he wanted to get out of town. (E#5 has a following, but he has also been accused of being a charlatan and criminal.)
When about 5 years old, Enlightened #6 started seeing a “bubble of light” that surrounded his body. At about 8 or 9 years of age, he sometimes experienced intense energy and over-whelming happiness, and he discovered that walking/running for hours helped him to manage it. When in high school, he felt awake inside when going to bed at night, and he didn’t feel that he slept. After he started TM as a young adult, his experiences ramped up to intuiting, hearing, and seeing subtle levels of creation. He later became a successful artist and businessman, but for a couple years as a young “awakening man” his wife was needed to keep him going in the everyday realities of life.
Enlightened #7 is healer, yoga teacher, and counselor. She said she started seeking at a very early age. As an adult, she had a 9-year bout with a chronic, debilitating illness. She was involved with yoga, meditation, Tibetan medicine, massage, and philosophical inquiry. On the night before attending a Satsang, she was emotionally unsettled after having an intense discussion with her significant other. At the Satsang she shifted to “identifying with unbounded awareness”. Subsequent to the Satsang, she had a couple other shifts to greater unity, peace, and knowledge of God.
While on a 9-month TM teacher training course, Enlightened #8 started to witness sleep, dreaming, and waking. He described his reaction to witnessing as being “over-observant” to indicate that his relative self may have been somewhat involved in witnessing his sleep, dreaming, and waking. He started to have advanced spiritual experiences such as Hiranyagarhba and visions of Krishna and subtle entities. Hectic life activities of jobs, marriage, and children pushed his exuberance for spiritual progress to a back burner for many years, but when his life eventually slowed down, he attended Satsangs and spent time gaining yogic knowledge. He had a series of awakenings and considers himself to be in an advanced state of enlightenment. He cautions that when bliss kicks up, “you better hope that it doesn’t happen in public”. He said that he has memories from past lives which were mostly past traumas.
During an extremely traumatic experience when Enlightened #9 was 5 years old, she said that she was in deep silence separated from the horror. When working on an art project when she was 16 years old, she had a celestial experience that was so beautiful that she could hardly bear the ecstasy. She later had another celestial experience while riding on a bus which led to her being put in a mental hospital because she stayed on the bus far too long hoping to re-capture the experience. She practiced 2 kinds of meditation in her life and spent some time living in a spiritual community. She had an emotional trauma when her husband left; she said that it took 16 years to heal, but her colleagues were unaware of her suffering since they always thought of her as being unusually calm; she maintained the inner silence during this emotional time and described it as “watching this creature suffer”. She said a level of silence is always with her no matter what happens. From her awakening, she feels secure, and she feels that nature guides and protects her.
Enlightened #10 describes his childhood as hell due to having an alcoholic father and a mother who was in mental hospitals several times. As a child, he had some experiences of overpowering love. Once when he was deep in TM meditation, he was mildly concerned when he observed that he didn’t seem to be breathing; it occurred to him that it would be okay if he died at that moment because he had lived a good life; then he decided to “push it” by continuing his meditation even though he thought he may be dying; then he heard a loud noise, felt a vibration in every cell of body, and saw a bright explosion of light; then there was silence, nothingness, and infinite awareness; he said that prior to this meditation, he identified with the person that was born on his birthday, but after that meditation he realized that “ the I” was Being who had been mis-identified with his small self; he said, “Before I was in the world, but after this meditation the entire universe was in Me.” He said it took about 4-5 years to re-engage in the world and that it was challenging when he did not feel attachment to his wife, children, and all things. His awakening was difficult for his wife who left him. He said that his awakening led him to lose his fear of public speaking. He admits that he has brief experiences of depression.
Enlightened #11 said that he was philosophical at an early age and sometimes wondered, “Am I alive? Is this really happening?” He said that as a child he sometimes had terror attacks. As a young teenager, he accepted Christ and had a born again experience. He went on a church mission trip. Through business connections, he was convinced to start TM. After hearing about Cosmic Consciousness (CC), he expected to achieve CC soon, and he asked for CC in his prayers. At his first TM residence course, he started witnessing which lasted a couple weeks after the course, and then witnessing faded away before coming back again later. He said it was a profound joy having pure awareness under-girding everything; he was witnessing all experiences, even depression.
Enlightened #12 is a musician. He was fascinated with psychedelic drugs for about 5 years from 15 years of age to 20. While being a part of the TM movement, he was a strict adherent to doing his long, twice-a-day meditation program in a group that was assembled in the Golden Domes of Fairfield, Iowa. One day he walked into his house, and suddenly everything that he knew about himself was thrown up in the air, and he considered whether all of his previous knowing of himself was not true; it was as if the rug was pulled out from under him and challenged him to really think about who he really was. As time went on, he adjusted to knowing that he was pure consciousness. While knowing himself to be the silence of pure awareness while in activity, he had another profound shift in awareness in which “the edges of things seemed to disappear”; he later understood this to be the beginning of Unity Consciousness where he saw his inner unbounded value to also be in his experience of the outer world. He said that he thinks a lot about things and that he concludes that consciousness does the labeling of things and that which is labeled is also consciousness; he said that when a person realizes that “I am That” and “what I see is also That”, it is a major change. In a self-reflective mode of thinking, he realized that the “dark corners” that he didn’t like about himself were also consciousness, and that like them or not, he said, “They are Me”; when he realized that sadness and defeat were also “Me”, a sense of relief and acceptance followed which seemed to propel him into more awakenings to Silence; he accepts that the Silence is Me and that the other concepts of my individual self are also Me.
Enlightened #13 was interested in infinity as a child. She noticed that colors seemed brighter on her very first day of starting TM when she was 17 years old. After meditating for many years, her spiritual experiences dramatically increased after marrying a gung-ho TM meditator. She said that her experience inside meditation is the same as her experience outside meditation; she suggested that meditators who don’t know if they transcend in meditation might be having the silence of pure awareness along with thought. She has been surprised by quite a few experiences like experiencing the life of a fish while tasting fish and knowing the quality of other people’s lives from the sound of their voice. She has experienced celestial beings at times; she understands she couldn’t exist without the celestial beings and that the celestial beings could not exist without her.
Enlightened #14 avoids conversation about if he is enlightened, but he had a front row seat to two enlightened people. From 1973 to 1998, his life revolved around Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and he was in the inside circle of followers for most of those years. In 1998 when the number of TM initiations were way down, he was a successful TM teacher in the field, teaching far more people by lecturing and by referrals than other TM teachers. In 1998, he considered going back to Maharishi, but instead sought out another spiritual teacher. In an interview with Rick Archer of BATGAP.com, he said, “Some of the people who have the deepest, clearest, most fantastic spiritual experiences, can be outrageous narcissists, immoral bastards, and sometimes right out jerks.” He also said that spiritual experiences often don’t last and often don’t lead to enlightenment.
Enlightened #15 studied to be an artist and has a successful career as an artist. He had some semi-witnessing experiences when young. He noticed that he would have witnessing experiences when reading philosophy. He endured a teenage trauma when a mentor was murdered and another trauma as a young adult when his 6-year old daughter died in a traffic accident; after taking a year or two to heal emotionally from his daughter’s death, he helped other parents to grieve and address the death of their children; he feels that his daughter’s death acted as a trampoline to lift him into spiritual development. During sleep one night, he had a dream in which he was initiated into a meditation technique, and he subsequently practiced that meditation for over a year. When meditating with his significant other (who was a hatha yoga instructor), he shocked both of them with a shaking kriya that he couldn’t stop for about 30 minutes. After that, all of his meditations had head swaying which he described as being pleasant. Not knowing if his kriyas were a good thing, he was led to start TM at the urging of his mother. After starting TM, a TM teacher saw his head movements and told him that he would evolve very fast and that he should take the TM-Sidhi course. Because he had a busy life, he just continued to do TM twice per day for 5 years and the kriyas of his head continued; he even noticed that while saying grace before a meal that his head would shake. Although at first he was somewhat skeptical and cynical of Maharishi and the TM movement, he noticed that the silence of meditation became more profound when he delved into Maharishi’s translation of the Bhagavad-Gita and other spiritual treatises; soon he became a flag-waving exponent for TM. At this time in his career as an artist, creativity was pouring out of him; he said that he disagrees somewhat from Maharishi’s statement that suffering isn’t necessary in order for artists to make outstanding art because there are so many examples in history of artists who used suffering to provide a profound ground for consciousness to express itself in an uplifting, powerful form of art. When he took the TM-Sidhi course, he said, “That was the end of me,” which alludes to an awakening in which “I ceased to exist as I had previously known myself”; while on the TM-Sidhi course even before learning the TM-Sidhi on levitation, kriyas had his body jerking all around; he was feeling the deconstruction of personality with every day that passed on the TM-Sidhi course and by the time the levitation sutra was given to him, he felt that he no longer knew who he was, and he was confused when discovering that Emptiness was at the core of his life. When first given the levitation sutra, he felt nauseous, he felt as if he was dying, he felt that he couldn’t take it anymore, then he visualized a 3-dimensional image of Maharishi which led him to stop worrying, and then he sensed a big ball of white light above his head, then it seemed like his body jumped into the ball of white light, then there was only being one with the white light with no “me” left; when this experienced waned, “I was apparently jumping all over the place and the TM-Sidhi administrator was preventing me from hopping into a metal radiator”. While having the ball of white light experience, he had no sensation of what his body was doing. Afterwards in a group meeting, his speech was impeded; it took quite a bit of time and effort for him to simply say that he had experienced something that had surpassed all of his previous experiences; as he was talking 3 ladies started laughing so hard hysterically that they were rolling around on the floor (which turned out to be some kind of release because these ladies started hopping during the TM-Sidhi program on the next day). After the TM-Sidhi course, his body jerked around with all kinds of kriyas as soon as he closed his eyes to meditate. A few weeks after the TM-Sidhi course, he was worried about flying on a plane because he couldn’t sit still on account of all kinds of kriyas. After some time had passed, he had a couple of other awakening experiences; one experience was a sensation of energy in his feet moving up to his neck upon which he heard a beautiful, ecstatic, flute-like sound that kept him in such elation for several days that he can’t remember doing anything other than listening to that beautiful sound; during another experience when laying down, he felt a fizzing-like sensation behind his eyes which led to a feeling that his forehead had been slashed and opened up which in turn led to an inner manifestation experience of an equilateral triangle that was pouring out light that subsequently and immediately become the universe; in this experience, he understood that the universe is eternally coming out of his own unbounded I-ness. It took a couple of days before he regained a normal awareness of his body, but then he had a strange reaction to the question of “Who am I?” Later he learned that he had experienced a total depersonalization such that the ego is completely gone. This was the beginning of a 5-year-long process of integrating That into his life, and it was not easy. Some of his friends felt he had gone crazy. He lost enthusiasm for life and felt that he was experiencing a déjà vu. His idea of free will was being rearranged.
The education and career of Enlightened #16 is in art. He had light and bliss as an infant. At about 14, he started to meditate and experienced bliss and energy moving up. At 17, he learned TM, and TM teachers did not know how to respond to his experiences of the “sizzling” of his crown chakra. At 19, he was meditating and had a longing for God who he assumed was Krishna; he saw a blue pearl in the center of a blue eye in his inner vision which was extremely blissful; he entered into the blue pearl which was an infinite space of blissful, blue consciousness; he knew that the blueness was pure Being which was his Self; he still had a longing for God and then saw Krishna (or some other blue being) in the Namaste hand gesture; he completely surrendered to Krishna and then he went unconscious. Afterwards when he opened his eyes, he had wild kriyas of heat, electrical shocks, and jerking for a couple of hours. Then he saw God in everything or pure existence in objects for about 6 months, but there was no witnessing. Then it faded out in a couple of years. After having this experience, he became a TM fanatic because he thought TM was responsible for the blue pearl experience. Later he took the TM-Sidhi course and had a chance to ask Maharishi over the phone about the blue being, but Maharishi ignored his question. He was curious about what the blue being was and its significance. After the great appreciation of God faded away, he became depressed when he was 23 years old. He then found another guru who was rather worldly since he had a wife and job, and since he ate meat and drank alcohol; on one of the meditation weeks with his new guru, he was working in the dining room when he had an urge to meditate; he went unconscious during the meditation, and when he woke up he had blissful crying as if some major release was occurring; when he told his guru about the experience, the guru asked him what his name and age was, but he couldn’t answer, and instead he started having flashbacks to previous incarnations; he temporarily lost all identification with his personal self, but the next morning his personal identity was back. Then he had some very tough years with depression, with life being meaningless and with no reason to live; psychoanalysis did not help him. He learned that his spiritual energy was contagious in group meditations in that others had kriyas and experiences of love. Over a span of about 15 years, he completed his education and attended Satsangs with a couple other gurus. Then he used 4 months to one-pointedly meditate for 6 hours per day; on the last day he felt kundalini energy go up into his brain. Then he had violent kriyas with electric shocks; he found that these kriyas were also contagious to others in group meditations. He stopped meditating, but he still had Shakti running up his spine. After receiving “shaktipat in absentia” from a guru, his kriyas ended, and he could re-begin meditation. Depression was pretty much gone at this time. He saw the Self in everything, but at first there was no bliss and it was vague. As a couple days and weeks passed, it became more clear, and bliss started to erupt in the body. He said that he has been in this state for the last 6 years (up to the time when the interview was recorded). He said that although bliss goes up and down, there is always a baseline of bliss.
Enlightened #17 is married with 2 children, and he has experienced the ups and downs of life as a businessman. He was very active in the culture of the TM movement besides having a very active interest in psychology, philosophy, and religion. After practicing TM for 25 years, one day he was driving his car while was bemoaning the fact that he wasn’t enlightened yet; he decided to try the advice from a professional motivator that if he didn’t feel free to ask himself if he could let go of the thought that “I am not free”; when he let go of the thought “I am not enlightened and therefore not free”, suddenly a cone of silence came down upon him; this was his first major awakening and that silence has never left him since that moment; within minutes of the cone of silence and after realizing that he had probably just been enlightened, he also realized that he still didn’t have the power of Maharishi or Ammachi, so he wondered what would happen if he let go of the thought that he didn’t have the same power as they had; immediately after having that thought, he seemed to go even deeper in the silence, and as he was in that silence, all of creation started to pour out of that silence with all the gods coming out first, then masters like Maharishi and Ammachi, and then quite a bit later all of creation appeared. After this awakening, he describes his next 2 or 3 weeks as having a “loud silence”, but then it became normal. He said that enlightenment is not a way to escape from feelings, but he did notice that feelings did not hook him the way they used to and that feelings don’t last as long as they used to. He said the backdrop of his life is bliss and out away from that backdrop is the activity of life that has many ups and downs. His witnessing of sleep was crystal clear for a few weeks, but after a while he said he didn’t care if he was witnessing sleep, and he no longer bothered to notice if the Silence was there in sleep. He said that I have been blessed with many spiritual experiences, but it is always a battle with pride to deal with the thought that “I am so spiritual” or when conveying spiritual experiences other to think “I am so cool”.
Enlightened #18 is involved with dance and alternative healing. She had her own dance company while in high school, but she said that she was extremely emotionally disturbed which led to a nervous breakdown. Her spiritual awakening occurred after about 10 or 11 years of TM, but she is unsure if she had some mild awakenings prior to that. She had devoted 2 years to doing long meditation programs, and during this time she had some volatile emotions such as being angry, upset, sad, fearful, anxious, and prone to crying. She met someone who helped her work on things that were going on emotionally for her. She said that with spiritual development you seem to grow to a point, and then you have to surrender and let go of something; if you are ready, this leads to something really cool happening. Her spiritual awakening occurred after she had cut back on the length of her meditation; she had a shift in attitude during one meditation in that she didn’t care anymore and in that things didn’t have to be a certain way; and this attitude shift led to waves of bliss; then she had a visualization of Maharishi and Guru Dev, then she saw a celestial gold light and celestial pink light and lotuses; and then she felt like a huge weight was lifted of her physiology so she felt lighter, healthier, and more energetic; she felt unbounded, and she worried that it may go away, but it never did. When her eyes are open now, she said she knows herself to be more than her body, but when her eyes are closed she feels like she is God or a goddess; when she closes her eyes the center of the universe is right in front of her or in her heart. She said that she has briefly had the feeling that she doesn’t exist as a person, but that it didn’t affect her ability to function in the world and that she believes that this is just a transitory stage to higher states of consciousness. She has had a number of awakenings and expects that her experience will continue to grow and integrate into her life. She said that she got to her awakening by confronting her emotions and feelings, and it was hard.
Enlightened #19 had a high stress job, was a 4 pack per day smoker, and regularly drank hard liquor. He started TM in 1973, immediately gave up hard liquor, and stopped smoking 18 months later. He started the TM-Sidhi program in 1980. In a 1983 car accident, he experienced white light in a near death experience. After having a deep experience at a TM center, he said that he heard people’s thoughts, but at the time he did not consider that he had been enlightened. While attending a Natural Law Party convention in 1996, he had an awakening in which it felt that all of his emotional stresses were lifted which caused tears; later the tears turned to spells of laughter which lasted for 2 days; then when he looked into his heart (which used to have so many stresses), he saw the world; in the next day, he saw the whole creation in his heart but he still did not consider himself to be enlightened. After moving to Fairfield, Iowa in 1999, he discovered that different spiritual teachers and healers who came to town were helpful to him; he appreciated videos discussing awakenings, and he especially appreciated confirmation of his awakening from real live people; these programs helped him realize that he himself was consciousness and that everything else was a manifestation of consciousness; he also realized that he had been awake for some time, but didn’t have the knowledge to understand his experience. He said the good news about an awakening is that you are awake, but the bad news is you are starting at the kindergarten level and have a lot to learn since the concepts of who you think you are no longer true. Some of his experiences were so beautiful that it was almost too much to bear, but he said the body acclimates to it so what was once a flashy experience is integrated into normal life. He said that an awakening is just another thing you acclimate to.
In 1976, Enlightened #20 was unhappy, smoking, and drinking during his first year of graduate school. Then he started TM, but he said he was still caught up in the world. A few years later he started the TM-Sidhi program but still had some old habits. In the 1990’s, he thought he needed to develop some qualities of the heart so he visited some other spiritual teachers and techniques; he felt good when attending retreats, but the benefits faded when he left the retreats. After 30 years of seeking, silence seemed to stick around all the time, and a Satsang group helped him to recognize the silence that was there. Paradoxically, it appeared that life was still the same as it was before but also completely different at the same time. He noticed that he still had all of his foibles such as a poor reaction to criticism and being upset by things, but he noticed he could be attached to the silence which was always there. Then when he found some spiritual practices that helped him to address his foibles, he noticed that his relationship to the silence changed in that his awareness found it enjoyable to rest in the silence and become identified with the silence. In the 1990’s he became involved with at least 3 well-known gurus. He said the gift of silence helps him get along better with people because he has a settled mind that is ready to listen. He feels that God is taking care of him and that life is positioning things for his benefit.
Enlightened #21 said that he is enlightened but also just an ordinary person and that he is not promoting any books, a website, or anything else; he likes to go the baseball games of the New York Yankees. As a child, he was aware of a vast stillness each night when he closed his eyes and laid down for sleep. When he was in the army, he remembers having had a witnessing experience when performing his job as a photographer in front of two 4-star generals. After getting out of the army, he opened a photography business, but he smoked marijuana every day for about a year. In an attempt to get away from marijuana, he tried hatha yoga and meditation from a book. In 1972, he started TM and had such pleasant and beautiful experiences that he went to TM teacher training about 7 months later. He noticed that things didn’t bother him anymore and that he and his wife would often say that things don’t matter anymore. He taught TM until 1976, but decided he should get a job since he was only making about $25/month teaching TM, and he had a baby on the way, but his circumstances allowed him to take a 6-month advanced teacher training for TM teachers before getting a job. On the 6-month course he started witnessing after opening a box of Rudraksha beads. He describes witnessing as being a change of point of view such that stillness is experienced inside and outside is relative life going on; you step back from your normal position of experience to just watch what is going on; however, during this 6-month course instead of identifying with the silence, he felt that his individual self was aware of both silence and activity; this type of witnessing lasted about 3 years, but did not include witnessing of sleep. For the next 8 to 12 years he continued to meditate regularly while he was involved in job and family, but witnessing faded away except when he consciously brought it back. Because the TM movement strongly discouraged seeing other gurus, he hesitantly went to a meeting in 1999 with another spiritual teacher who was recommended by friends; at his first meeting, he immediately went into a very deep silence in which the world seemed to drop away; for 2 or 3 years, he kept seeing this spiritual teacher until he decided to drop all gurus and just be on his own; during this period of time in his life, he and a friend exchanged numerous emails describing their spiritual experiences. One day in 2002 as he was staring at a tree, he came to accept that he would never understand witnessing so he should let it go; when he let it go, then he shifted from his old style of witnessing where he was watching the silence and watching the mind to realizing that “I am that silence”; he explained that it used to seem like the “small me” (where thought existed previously) wanted to own both silence and mental activity, and that was uncomfortable; the “small me” then decided it wasn’t going do that anymore so the small, personal self faded away; he said the old style of witnessing was boring and flat, without much happiness. After the Self was realized in 2002, his subsequent changes in life have to do with perception and how the mind and body react to life. He describes his subjective experience of thinking, decision-making, and activity as happening by themselves; the impulse to thinking and activity seem to arise without individual will. Everything is going on by itself, things are happening as necessary, and there is an experience of peace.
After Enlightened #22 had her consciousness awakening she said “her mind was gone” for months and she had all kinds of light experiences, but then her mind came back with a vengeance. Since her spiritual teacher didn’t know how to help her, she went to India to be with Papaji where she experienced extreme peace at times and more phenomenal experiences, but also doubts and self-loathing. She didn’t feel that proponents of Advaitist teaching were taking her unpleasant experiences in relative reality seriously. She came back to America from India very sick, and she was mostly bed-ridden for 18 months with back pain and other issues, and she didn’t care if she died; she decided to deal with her mental and physical pain instead of trying to dismiss it by thinking it didn’t touch her as some Advaitists think. She said that some aspirants do spiritual techniques to get away from pain thinking that identifying with consciousness would get them out of pain; she wonders what people are trying to push away who claim that there is no small self. She adds that if Advaitists are trying to push something away, then even they have duality. She now believes that besides realizing the divine Self, spiritual teachings need to account for and make space for being human. She became a leader in the Trillium Awakening movement which recognizes that humans are finite embodiments of infinite consciousness; some people in Trillium Awakening feel that the knowledge of enlightenment in the 21st Century has evolved beyond what ancient yogis knew.
Each of the next paragraphs has a topic, a point of view from a Believer in enlightenment, and then a counterpoint of view from a Skeptic of enlightenment.
More and more people are becoming enlightened although it is still relatively rare. Believer: There are many stories of enlightenment on the internet which provide evidence that a state of enlightenment does exist and that enlightenment is attainable. Skeptic: 1. If a state of enlightenment does exist, and only a few ever attain it from the tens of millions who start the spiritual path, then the likelihood of enlightenment is dismal for most people. 2. There are untold stories of people who quit the journey due to harmful effects or lack of benefits. There are untold stories of spiritual shipwrecks who are the people who continue to arrange their lives for an all-out effort to reach enlightenment. The stories and legends of enlightened people who eventually overcame suffering provide false hope to seekers (who may or may not be in a spiritual crisis) to increase efforts (beyond reasonable) to reach enlightenment.
Different people have similar experiences of enlightenment. Believer: 1. Different spiritual seekers and even some non-seekers have remarkably similar experiences of enlightenment, and this is evidence that a state of enlightenment does exist. 2. The human nervous system acts like an instrument in a scientific experiment to verify the experiences and knowledge of enlightenment. Skeptic: 1. The experiences of seekers may be similar because everyone has been influenced from hearing spiritual discourse and previous enlightenment stories. Non-seekers having unexpected spiritual breakthroughs gravitate towards explanations that they are far along in the enlightenment process. 2. Even if conceding the point argued by Robert Forman that people are having some of the same mystical experiences all over the world regardless of their religion, there are still a wide variety of experiences which make it difficult to pinpoint what enlightenment is and what the stages of awakening are. 3. The experiences of enlightenment and psychotic episodes (like mania and depersonalization) are similar in many ways and might have the same underlying causes. 4. Even if the subjective experiences of samadhi and enlightenment are repeated by numerous people, the enlightenment theories that explain these experiences are open to debate.
Witnessing. Believer: 1. When the silence of the Self becomes awake, there is sense of separation between the Self and outer experience; when identifying with the Self it feels like one has taken a step back to witness outer experiences. 2. Witnessing sleep, which is maintaining silent inner awareness while sleeping, is a conclusive test for the development of Cosmic Consciousness. Skeptic: 1. The descriptions of witnessing vary from person to person, and some people have described witnessing as being unpleasant. 2. Some people who think they are witnessing sleep are probably not asleep and are mood-making. If someone has mental activity that “I am witnessing sleep”, they are not asleep. Some people who claim enlightenment imply that witnessing sleep is not a necessary aspect of enlightenment. Some people who claim enlightenment say that when they wake up in the morning, in retrospect they don’t feel that they were ever asleep. 3. Witnessing seems to be uncomfortably close to Depersonalization Disorder that is explained in the 2014 article entitled “Enlightenment’s Evil Twin” at The Atlantic; a reader of that article wrote the following comment: “I have been completely from one end of the spectrum, spending long periods of time in a disassociated and derealized hell and very quickly bouncing to the other, obtaining moments of pure enlightenment and awe of the perfection of everything to the point of laughing and crying at the beauty of creation for hours. I have threaded the so, SO thin line between enlightenment and insanity my entire life, having spent periods of time at both extremes and constantly weaving between the two, often as an intellectual excessive with myself to find absolute truth but finding nothing but entirely subjective perceptions of the universe that I can change at my whim.”
Enlightenment provides support from nature. Believer: Nature or God arranges things in life for the good of enlightened people. Skeptic: The lives of enlightened people are not perfect just as non-enlightened lives are not perfect. Everyone has good things and coincidences that happen in life, but some people interpret them as being caused by a special support of nature. If one has heard that nature celebrates the enlightened, then an enlightened person might even think that a fish that jumps out of the water is celebrating his/her enlightenment (which is what Matt Landing thought during his kundalini crisis).
Overwhelming spiritual experiences. Believer: It is understandable and worthwhile that preliminary and secondary experiences of enlightenment may be so overwhelming that they adversely affect daily life for days, months, or years. Skeptic: Although overwhelming spiritual experiences may have a mixture of good and bad effects, the bad effects of delusions, overconfidence, and poor decision-making outweigh the benefits. It is a big deal that overwhelming spiritual experiences disrupt everyday responsibilities and activities. Some God-intoxicated people require caretakers. Here’s a link to a page on Kundalini crises that describes some overwhelming experiences.
Rough times adapting to enlightenment: Believer: The dark night of the soul and other hard times right before an awakening and right after an awakening are just adjustment periods in order to integrate to a new spiritual viewpoint. Skeptic: Some seekers and enlightened people have endured unpleasant times that have lasted from weeks to decades. Why do people choose to spend time and money to go after enlightenment while knowing about the hell that many enlightened people have experienced and the hell that some seekers have experienced?
Are the benefits of enlightenment exaggerated? Believer: 1. Humans are meant to be enlightened. 2. Enlightenment provides wonderful experiences of bliss, ecstasy, equanimity, mystical visions, and God. Enlightenment cannot be oversold. Skeptic: 1. If humans evolved from primordial life forms, it is difficult to see how humans are meant to be enlightened. There is no proof that a state of enlightenment exists. 2. Even some enlightened people state that the benefits of enlightenment are being oversold. Some enlightened people have stated that there are emotional issues and other foibles that need to be worked on after enlightenment.
Pride and ego. Believer: The ego fades away completely (or almost completely) in the state of enlightenment, and the impulse to action comes from universal need (or Brahman or nature). Some enlightened people claim that they are Brahman and that there is no individual self. Skeptic: When watching so-called enlightened people, it seems obvious that they have pride and ego. Even some enlightened people have said that they have a continual battle with pride. Believing that one has achieved the difficult and rare state of enlightenment will make one feel special and great, and therefore it is not surprising that quite a few enlightened gurus willingly accept praise and adoration. Having followers or others who show respect can be a way to skyrocket pride, self-worth, and ego.
Enlightenment is a real experience, not a delusion. Believer: Human beings have a mind and nervous system that is capable of knowing, experiencing, and being the ultimate reality that underlies the illusory relative existence. Skeptic: 1. There is no way to prove the existence of Being. Even if there was a way to prove the existence of Being, there is still no way to prove that the inner subjective experience of silent awareness is actually the experience of Being. 2. A long time ago, someone may have jumped to a false conclusion that a subjective experience of powerful silence is an experience of Being; this subjective experience may have been caused by a certain functioning of neurotransmitters in a similar way as what happens during psychedelic use, near death experiences, traumatic experiences, and psychotic breaks.
Experience and understanding. Believer: 1. Understanding of reality and understanding of spiritual experience complements spiritual experience. 2. Understanding of non-duality and Being can facilitate awakenings as is the case with hearing Mahavakyas which are the great sayings from the Upanishads. Skeptic: 1. Understanding in life generally complements experience, but the experience of enlightenment could be a delusion. 2. Neuroscientist/philosopher Sam Harris states that spiritual experiences of transcending the self tell us nothing about the cosmos because what happens in the subjective expanse of a meditator’s mind cannot be extrapolated to make claims about God or the universe. Some other subjective experiences that can’t be verified to exist on any level other than the mind include regular dreaming, lucid dreaming, astral travel (2), and near death experiences. The experience and understanding of enlightenment could be as fanciful as traveling to the moon in a dream.
Trauma and enlightenment. Believer: In some cases, an experience of trauma can cause an awakening experience and start the activation of kundalini. Skeptic: Trauma is more likely to lead to mental illness than to enlightenment. Emotional and physical trauma are injuries to health; some people recover and become stronger, but thinking that trauma leads to enlightenment seems delusional. Quote from the National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Dissociative disorders are characterized by an involuntary escape from reality characterized by a disconnection between thoughts, identity, consciousness and memory. … The symptoms of a dissociative disorder usually first develop as a response to a traumatic event, such as abuse or military combat, to keep those memories under control.” Witnessing during a temporary stressful experience is not a sign of being highly evolved. A link to a blog post on Kundalini awakened by trauma
Spiritual experiences in childhood. Believer: Spiritual children must have been spiritually advanced in their previous incarnation, and therefore they are ready to quickly complete their journey to enlightenment in this lifetime. Skeptic: Some so-called spiritual experiences during childhood are within the normal range of experience. Having some childhood spiritual experiences may indicate a susceptibility to mania and other altered states of awareness.
High intelligence and high creativity. Believer: Many enlightened people and exponents of spiritual paths are highly intelligent and highly creative; they believe the spiritual knowledge that they eloquently describe and share. Skeptic: 1. All humans including highly intelligent and highly creative people have an almost infinite ability to fool themselves. 2. Speaking eloquently about the intellectual spirituality that has accumulated over centuries does not prove the existence of a state of enlightenment, and cognition of non-duality and other aspects of reality are subjective experiences that can’t be verified. 3. Some researchers and some experts have said that there is a statistical association between high intelligence and mania. With the passage of time, even those with mania can probably adapt in order to make use of the benefits of their psychotic break and to minimize the detriments of their break. It is unlikely that an intellectual who thinks that they are enlightened will accept opinions that they have had a psychotic break, and especially unlikely if they have their own followers or if they live around other seekers.
Surrender, letting go, giving up. Believer: Many people on the way to enlightenment made fast spiritual progress by letting go of ideas/ambitions or by surrendering to a higher power. Enlightened people are not attached to things. Skeptic: 1. There are lots of unenlightened people who take life lightly and who are not rigid in the way that they think. So-called enlightened people may say that they are not attached, but they still show emotions of anger, sadness, and disappointment. 2. Some spiritual paths create a huge desire for enlightenment and then suggest that one must surrender that desire; the mental gymnastics on spiritual paths can cause altered states of consciousness which may also be described as a psychotic break, a spiritual crisis, or mania.
Physical and mental health, longevity. Believer: Enlightenment is a culmination of the growth that humans are meant to have, and is therefore the highest state of health. Enlightenment is a state where all stresses in the physiology have been released. Skeptic: Enlightened people and spiritual seekers don’t seem to have any better health or longevity than other people. Enlightenment does not appear to jive with the 3-billion-year evolution of life and the natural selection involved in survival of the fittest.
Escape from depression. Believer: When some people become enlightened, they make an abrupt shift from depression to blissful equanimity. Skeptic: It is a good thing if an enlightened person has escaped from depression. People who have Bipolar Disorder sometimes go from deep depression to mania, so if someone is depressed, everyone around them should be on the lookout for future symptoms of mania such as grandiose delusions, overconfidence, energy, greater creativity, and impulsive behavior.
Flashy spiritual experiences. Believer: Flashy spiritual experiences such as powerful silence, white light, unbounded awareness, etc. indicate that enlightenment may be nigh. Skeptic: 1. It seems that people who are emotional are quite often the type of people who have flashy experiences, and that stable people are not as likely to have flashy experiences. Very few people become enlightened, and very few people who have flashy experiences become happily enlightened. 2. People who suffer from depersonalization sometimes experience “visual snow” and heightened acuity; this seems somewhat close to descriptions of celestial perception and a description of Unity Consciousness in which the edges of things seem to disappear. People with mania can experience more vivid colors. When perceptions change after an awakening, the perceptions are influenced by mental bias. With the passage of time, flashy experiences usually seem to calm down and therefore do not catch the attention of people who claim enlightenment.
Osmosis and radiance: Believer: Meditating in a group, receiving shaktipat, attending Satsangs, and being in proximity to enlightened people are ways to reach enlightenment faster. Spiritual energy can be contagious. Skeptic: 1. Spiritual radiance may possibly be explained by a placebo effect. 2. It could be that a radiance effect from spiritual people could affect others in a similar way a.) to how people are affected when around individuals who are sad, laughing, or angry or b.) to how people respond to crowds when attending sporting events, concerts, or movies. Spiritual radiance might have a deleterious effect on some people, especially those who are ungrounded. Having a so-called awakening shift by virtue of shaktipat or radiance may not be a good thing.