I always had an interest for things hidden to the naked eye. I was always curious about the meaning behind the symbols and the essence behind the spiritual ceremonies. I searched for alchemy teachers and for the very purpose of existence in many places. It all spoke of consciousness and of transcendence, of a spiritual world beyond all thought and of galactic origins beyond this world. I was mind blown to say the least, the very core of my being shivered with excitement and curiosity just to think about it.
I must admit however, at the beginning of this journey I was more of a goal-oriented person and rather scholastic in my approach. Sailing through books of intellect, I read about enlightenment, awakening, self-realization, Samadhi, Nirvana, Tao, Satori, and other related final stages of personal development. As I read, the possibility of such achievements gave meaning and motivation to the long efforts it would take to get there, so I was committed to practice. Since then I have been definitely aligned with those efforts, yet a part of me always knew that success was also in the journey, not just in the destination.
I always searched for the experience of transcendence, a big word, which meant to me to transform the experience of reality, whether we have arrived at the final destination or not. To transcend is defined as “to be or to go beyond the range or limits of something.” In the spiritual context, to transcend is to realize the essence of our being to be not of material but of spiritual nature, it is to realize the essence of our Self to be such consciously aware of itself.
For me, to transcend meant to set the right stage of mind, a fertile ground for continuous transformation, a non-judgmental, open and courageous approach to life itself. It meant to embrace what is hidden to the physical eye, and to realize that the refinement of that perspective blurred the lines between the destination and the journey itself, both evolving as an ongoing thread.
Buddhists would say our consciousness is like a river that flows through time and space and that it accompanies us (like a drop within the ocean) from lifetime to lifetime, circling through Samsara (illusion). Classic Hindu Yogis would say that our soul retains consciousness in this lifetime while in the body, and it is regained on the next lifetime as the soul incarnates to continue the work in Prakriti (material world).
Milarepa (a Tibetan sage) would say we work to accumulate merit to realize the nature of our mind as consciousness flowing forward towards evolution. Others would say that self-verification is the inherent nature of consciousness searching for itself. Patanjali (Indian sage) would say our goal is to attain Yoga (state of conscious one-ness with a Universal Spirit) and to retain our consciousness beyond our body’s death. This means to reach Moksa or Liberation, and to realize the true nature of the Self (Purusha) as pure consciousness.
Buddhist practices to attain this state are mostly ‘non-dualistic’ in nature. Through the observance of mindfulness, non-judgment, non-attachment, compassion, kindness and benevolence one learns to accept “what is” as a result of our Karma (Previous words, thoughts or deeds as a cause to some reaction; Karma). One also learns to move forward and through, by dedication to the Dharma (One’s path, mission and highest aspirations). The goal is to realize the truth of who we are as our eternal essence, in constant contrast with the impermanent nature of all other things.
Most practices proposed by Patanjali, in turn, stem from an underlying ‘dualistic’ understanding of reality (Purusha and Prakriti, Subject and Object, Individual and Universal, Matter and Spirit, etc…). Through the practice of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, he proposes we reprogram our process of identification, resetting the body and the mind, to identify with the Spirit and the Universal consciousness as Isvara (God).
In the attempt to actualize these ancient teachings, we discover that along with them, we would have to update our very notion of existence, our very paradigm of reality, and the realm of what is humanly possible. Thus, in the attempt to change the words we change our relationship with the words and the teachings themselves. To change our consciousness implies to change our relationship with things, of all sorts, including the very notion of what is true and what is real.
In this day and age, and during these very special times of transition, we need to understand that we are as close as we have never been in our lives to finally realize who we are in essence. People around the world have been and will continue to experience these profound changes of consciousness, leading to spontaneous realizations and perceptions of these more elevated and subtle states. It seems as if there was a momentum building and then finally reaching a critical mass for transformation. Some call it spontaneous enlightenment, or illumination. At such moment, our consciousness becomes the Light itself, the goal and the journey, and ultimately a beacon of hope for those who follow.
From a more pragmatic perspective, we may still wonder where all of these above mentioned paths essentially overlap and what is the, or a, correct practice to reach those states? How to understand then our daily work and how to translate these elevated truths into a daily spiritual practice? What happens when we get there, if we get there? What is “there”? Few enlightened teachers exist today and even fewer actually share a doable process to attain such state in this very life.
I understand that every moment we are conscious of something, we are planting, sprouting, growing or supporting somehow the growth of a ‘seed of consciousness.’ Like Patanjali would say, Purusha keeps watching Prakriti transform itself. The practice and the roots of the practice for self-transformation delineate a process of purification and re-identification. This is called Yoga, and it is described as transcendence of the mind thorough the practice of meditation, which is defined as sustained one pointed concentration.
However what meditators do not realize is that most “masters” in the world today are meditation masters rather than enlightened individuals. In other words, they have cultivated and mastered a particular aspect of the mind, but have not yet pierced through the entire barrier of delusion. This delusion is defined as created by thoughts, and in order to reach the fundamental state beneath all thoughts and all things, the fundamental substrate, our essence and original nature, we must stop the fluctuations of the mind as thoughts, even as a one-pointed attention. More so, in cultivating Samadhi as a blissful state, they are still cultivating thought states rather than abandoning their involvement with thoughts. Only in the later stages of Samadhi, Yoga proposes the ultimate surrender of our individual identity.
To reach the stage of spiritual realization called enlightenment or the Tao, we must abandon all clinging to thoughts. This is also called ‘Self-realization,’ because we are realizing our true Self / original nature as beyond thoughts. This process is many times seen as a change in the way we think, but rather it underlies a change in our relationship with ourselves and all else, which may trigger different kinds of thoughts, which we must transcend as well. So in essence what we are doing is engaging ourselves in a process of detachment from everything that comes from the mind, to transcend the mind, to connect with and ultimately become the pure consciousness beyond the mind, the unaltered state of existence, unaffected by the ego as a creation of the mind.
In fact, we must strive to abandon the idea of being an ego or an individual because an ego does NOT exist as “real” – it’s just a thought, a construct of our mind; and it is not real because it is subject to change. We could also say that the ego is as real as everything else created by the mind, and that the only truly real thing is the witness consciousness behind the mind. When we reach this critical point of realization with experiential abandonment, we call it “seeing the Tao.” When we see the Tao for long enough it starts to shift our paradigm of existence.
Eventually, this internal shift of awareness leads to the knowledge that everything in the universe is interconnected and that it all exists at a microcosmic level within us. When this realization stabilizes and continues to support our relationship with ourselves and the world around us on a daily basis, we can say we are enlightened. A common issue is to see people perform spiritual practices without knowing why the do them or how they relate to a bigger scope of things. This is because spirituality has become dogmatic and cultish, while very few teachers share open the path and the true spirit of freedom. To meet a truly enlightened master who can show us the way and guide us is very rare — we can go through many lives without ever meeting one.
Buddha for example taught people to realize the Tao directly. If they could not, he taught them how to cultivate the Samadhi stages as training grounds or practice grounds to help them approach the Tao progressively until they were mature enough to let go of thoughts altogether. Most of the people we see cultivating superpowers and Qi Gong (cultivation of life force) and Nei Gong (inner martial arts) today are cultivating Kung Fu (skill achieved through hard work) rather than the attainment of the Tao itself. That’s a BIG distinction. Of course it is rare to see results if no effort is put to get there; however most people get lost in a trip of power and miss the true goal of spirituality and the ticket to real freedom in everyday life. I give you two slices of wisdom: Never stop searching for the honey, and make sure you taste it.