by Yoah Wexler
This article is about Enlightenment and how to accelerate the enlightenment
process. It is a companion text to the video entitled, Enlightenment.
Part One clarifies what enlightenment is. It defines the meaning
of the word enlightenment and reveals what different people and traditions
have said about the experience. Part One appears below in this issue
of the Journal of Enlightenment.
Part Two will be published in the next volume of the Journal of Enlightenment.
It talks about the Enlightenment Intensive Retreat and describes the principles
behind the acceleration of the enlightenment process.
Keep coming back to the present moment
Where everything you've ever wished for
is already present.
Part One: What Is Enlightenment?
Have you ever looked up at a dark night sky sparkling bright with hundreds
of millions of stars and wondered, “who am I and how did this all come
about? Have you ever been so shaken or burdened by a crises
in your life that you couldn't help but wonder, “Is there a purpose and
meaning to life.” These enigmas often inspire or even
drive one to contemplate on self enlightenment.
In recent years the word enlightenment has increasingly been used to
generally describe expanded or altered states of consciousness. But
what is it specifically describing? And how do you know if you've
I've talked to many people about what enlightenment is and found
that it is not commonly understood. Many people
have a mistaken or preconceived idea with regards to what it actually is.
But I've also discovered that there are a growing number of individuals
who know exactly what it is because of their own direct personal experiences.
On a warm summer Saturday morning I visited an outdoor cafe and
spoke to several people sitting in the sunshine enjoying breakfast.
I asked them what they thought enlightenment is.
A young blonde women in her twenties giggled, shrugged her shoulders,
shook her head back and forth and said smiling, “I never heard of that
A young man in his twenties, dressed in black, wearing a beret, thought
a moment and confidently said, “I think its just awareness of self and
the transitory nature of the universe.”
A man in his early seventies, dressed in a tweed sports jacket and speaking
with a British accent said, “Enlightenment is to shed light upon.... to
lighten up one's mind. It also refers to the time in European history
around the 17th Century known as the Age of European Enlightenment.”
Some people simply looked up at me shaking their head and with
a bewildered smile said, “I don't know.”
Age of European Enlightenment
The dictionary says the word 'enlighten' means to '..to illuminate
or...to see or comprehend the truth of something you want to know.......or....to
free yourself from a state of ignorance, prejudice or superstition.'
It also says, ‘the Enlightenment’ refers to the period of European history
that began in the 13th Century and lasted through the 17th Century
becoming known as the Age of European Enlightenment.
The Age of European Enlightenment brought about a renaissance of liberated
thinking that valued rational thought, social democracy, science,
medicine and technological development. It brought Western
Civilization out of the dark ages of superstition, church dogma,
authoritarian rule, and sexual repression. It gave birth
to the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Materialism that continues
to influence our world today.
Rene Decarte, the French philosopher, author and scientist, born in
1596, influenced this renaissance of thinking through
his essays and books. He wrote what has become a well known
phrase that embodies the sentiment of the European Enlightenment, “I think
therefore I am,”
Descarte’s ideas significantly influenced science, mathematics
and philosophy. He is considered to be the father of
modern materialism. This philosophy of materialism holds that
knowledge of oneself and one's world can come only through the use of reason,
intellect and logic. Materialists believe matter is the
basis of all that exists and all that exists is matter. In the 15th,
16th, and 17th Centuries this world views came to be called enlightened
For the last several hundred years this materialistic world view became
more influential and prevailed upon western civilization. In the
20th Century it has permeated throughout the remaining
cultures of the world and has had a profound effect on every aspect of
daily life including politics, education, religion, agriculture, science,
medicine, health and sex.
This world view has produced wondrous discoveries, revealed many secrets
of nature and ushered in a renaissance of new ideas and
rational thinking that has profoundly changed the face of the earth.
It's not only given birth to material wealth and abundance, but to
a growing number of disaffected individuals troubled by the dramatic
changes taken place in the way people relate to their environment and live
their daily lives.
Over the last century, social scientists, philosophers, psychologists
and social commentators have observed and written extensively about
the dramatic changes born from the Age of Materialism and the Industrial
Prior to the Industrial Revolution most people lived a rural agrarian
life style in small towns and villages. They were born, lived their
lives and died in the same towns and villages. They followed the
same patterns of life as their parents and their grandparents. They
grew up in a social environment that was generally predicable and engendered
a sense of certainty in the way things were and would be. Life
didn't change quickly and it usually moved along at the pace of a horse,
an ox or person walking.
But as the forces of materialism and the power of the Industrial Revolution
grew more powerful, life began to rapidly change. It began to change
at such a dizzying pace that inspite of the great material wealth
that the industrial revolution produced, growing numbers
of people began to feel as if they were living in a vast, mechanized
impersonal world that they had no individual control over.
A world that became increasingly obsessed with chasing material
power, controlling the destiny of others and domination over nature.
In the face of this social and technological hyper-change, more and
more people began feeling lost and disconnected from their traditional
ways of life and the natural world in which they were born. Social
unrest and mental illness began spreading with symptoms characterized
by excessive aggression, acts of violence, obsessive rationality,
compulsive obedience to authority, chronic anxiety and confusion as to
the purpose of one's life and uncertainty as to who one is.
The fundamental existential questions, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is
life?’ have always been a part of every culture and country throughout
history. Such questioning and questing is often a normal short term
healing process brought about by a personal life crisis such as personal
illness, the death of a loved one, war and the life transitions such as
puberty or middle age.
The few men and women who have taken up the quest for self knowledge
as a more full time preoccupation were a very small minority who became
the philosophers, healers and mentors of one's community.
But as these accelerating changes in the patterns of social life
continued to disrupt the fabric of agrarian society, the 20th Century
saw greater and greater numbers of people drawn to reflecting
on the meaning and purpose of their life as a way to heal the spiritual
emptiness and enigmas of modern life. This increasing preoccupation
with self reflection opened the way to a new renaissance of self
discovery and enlightened thinking in the 20th Century.
Enlightenment and the 20th Century
Looking to the west for answers to the enigmas of life at the
turn of the 20th Century people discovered the newly emerging science of
psychology dominated at the time by Freudian psychoanalysis with its emphasis
on pathology. By the mid 1960's,
Humanistic Psychology with its focus on well-being rather than on illness
became firmly established in western society. In the popular mass
culture it became known as ‘the human potential movement.’ It
viewed human beings as a whole organism, not merely a synthesis of its
many parts. The term ‘holistic’ grew from this approach of bringing
together science, medicine, the arts, humanities and religion to help individuals
reach their full human potential.
Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of Humanistic Psychology,
had a passion for wanting to improve the human condition after having
been influenced by his observations that marriage, friendship, parenthood
and spiritual experiences were being replaced with increasing violence,
alcoholism and spiritual emptiness after World War II. Seeing
that healthy and wholesome human experiences were being devalued
by modern society he became an articulate voice echoing the feelings of
millions of people with a spiritual yearning to fulfill themselves.
By the early 1970’s Transpersonal Psychology was born.
It emphasized a personal experiential exploration into
the nature of consciousness and assumed that everyone had the
capacity for self healing. It views the ego or separate self as an
illusion to be transcended. In the popular culture it became
known as the ‘new age movement’ and embraced techniques from
both the East and West in seeking answers to the problems of daily life.
In the late 1800’s interest in the mysteries schools and philosophies
of the East had begun to spread westward when India became a colonial
part of the British Commonwealth Empire. English soldiers,
diplomats and scholars such as Sir John Woodroofe and W.Y. Evans
Wentz became interested in the country and began to expose the Eastern
teachings to the west in the many books that were written.
As Westerners looked East toward India, China and Japan, they discovered
the practices of yoga, meditation and the non materialistic
philosophies of Asia. And with typical western enthusiasm
they curiously visited Eastern spiritual teachers and invited
them to teach and settle in the West.
As the 19th Century came to a close, several Indian yogis and teachers
of meditation were invited to visit and teach in the west.
In 1893, the World Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago.
An Indian teacher, Swami Vivekananda, gave his first western lecture
on yoga philosophy to a full auditorium. He was sent to the conference
by one of India’s greatest modern day holy men and mystics, Ramakrishna,
whose many other Indian students subsequently made several visits to
America and Europe, establishing centers for teaching yoga philosophy in
the west .
The author of Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda
first visited the West in 1920 after being sent to teach yoga by his guru.
He was very well received in America and subsequently founded
the successful Self Realization Fellowship with teaching centers
in Southern California and throughout the United States.
A continual stream of teachers from Asia were flowing into the west
by the 1960’s. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi became well known after teaching
a simple and effective meditation technique to John Lennon and Paul McCartney
of the Beatles fame. In the 1960’s, another Indian guru, Swami
Prabhupada, brought shaved heads, orange robes and chanting of Krishna
to the streets of the New York and London. And Tibet’s
leader in exile, the Dali Lama, along with scores of other exiled
teachers from Tibet brought the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism
to the English speaking world.
Westerners were open, enthusiastic and hungry for spiritual awakening.
Inspired to look within, they found personal mysticism and revelation
in addition to their already developed capacity for rationalism and reason.
Westerners purchased and read books on self development and spiritual
growth. They also wrote books themselves as their experiences unfolded.
Madame H.P. Blavatsky founder of the The Theosophical Society in 1875,
published many books. Rudolf Steiner, a German educator and
mystic wrote over 60 books stressing the wholeness of humanity. He
inspired the creation of over 100 Waldorf Schools world wide.
W.Y. Evans Wentz was the first westerner to bring the hidden secrets of
Tibetan Yoga to the west in the 1940’s when he translated and wrote
what is now a classic, The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
New words, ideas and techniques came into the English language
that described a variety of meditative practices and states of consciousness
as a result of the influences from reading spiritual books,
attending courses on Eastern theories of consciousness and traveling
The Word Enlightenment Begins To Change in The West
As a result of the Eastern spiritual influences, the meaning of the word
Enlightenment began to change in the west. At the opening
of the 20th Century the word Enlightenment referred to the renaissance
of thinking that was sweeping first through Europe then the West and later
the world since the 17th and 18th Centuries. It meant
to free yourself from ignorance and superstition through
the powers of intellect and reason. It meant to use rational
thinking and logic to uncover the truths of life.
In the 21st Century, the word enlightenment continues
to mean 'going beyond ignorance,' however now, it
also includes going beyond the limitations of reason and logic by
using the powers of meditation to reveal what Zen Buddhists call
direct knowing or direct experiencing of reality.
Philip Kapleau, an American Buddhist, began to use the word enlightenment
to mean ‘direct experiencing of reality.’ He popularized this new
use of the word in his books about
Zen Buddhist meditation. Kapleau translated the
Japanese word ‘satori into the English word enlightenment.
In his 1970’s book, Zen, Dawn in the West, Kapleau wrote that
the Japanese word, ‘satori means enlightenment. He said
that enlightenment was “awakening to the truth lying beyond all dualism
and discrimination. Far more than ecstasy, psychological or philosophical
insight, satori is spiritual awakening that brings a fundamental transformation
of personality........ and a wholly fresh vision of the world.”
Kapleau wrote that satori or enlightenment was the elevated state of self
realization that all zen meditators seek. Satori
or enlightenment is also the state of consciousness that practitioners
of the Enlightenment Intensive retreat set out to experience.
People around the world point to the enlightenment experience
and call it by many different names and in many different languages:
Satori or Kensho in Japanese, Samadhi or Moksha in Sanskrit, Enlightenment
or Self Realization in English. The enlightenment experience
that a Japanese person has is the same enlightenment experience as a French,
English, or Indian person.
At The Moon Is Not The Moon.
The Zen masters of Japan say that "pointing at
the moon is not the moon." That is to say that the idea of
enlightenment shouldn't be confused with the thing itself. One uses
language to point at the enlightenment experience but the act of pointing
at it is not the enlightenment experience itself. The enlightenment
experience can't be described. It is beyond words and defies description.
But it can be pointed at.
The Englishman and theologian, Alan Watts was one of the first writers
to popularize the subject of enlightenment and meditation in the west.
He wrote that “to know what enlightenment is and especially what
it’s not, you have to directly experience it. Reading, thinking
or day dreaming about it is not enough.”
Seng Tsen is credited with having written the first Chinese Zen poem
on enlightenment. He lived a simple life of meditation and spiritual
discipline in 6th Century China. In his poem, Affirming
Faith in Mind, he points his finger toward the enlightenment experience
calling it ‘the Great Way’:
The Great Way is not difficult
for those who do not pick and choose.
When preferences are cast aside
the Way stands clear and undisguised.
But even slight distinctions made
set earth and heaven far apart.
If you would clearly see the truth,
discard opinions pro and con.
To founder in dislike and like
is nothing but the mind’s disease.
And not to see the Way’s deep truth
disturbs the minds essential peace.
The Buddha also described the enlightened state of consciousness when
In what is seen there should be just the seen;
In what is heard there should be just the heard;
In what is sensed, there should be just the sensing;
In what is thought, there should be just the thought.
D.T. Suzuki, a 20th Century meditation scholar and author helped bring
the term ‘enlightenment’ and ‘satori’ into mainstream public awareness
through his many books on Zen Buddhism in the 1950’s. When asked
how it felt to have attained enlightenment he replied that it was,
"just like ordinary everyday experience, except about two inches off the
In the 11th Century, Han Shan, a meditation master wrote down what the
enlightenment experience was like for him:
"I took a walk. Suddenly I stood still, filled with the realization
that I had no body or mind. All I could see was one great illuminating
Whole, omnipresent, perfect, lucid and serene. It was like an all
embracing mirror from which the mountains and rivers of the earth were
projected....I felt as clear and transparent as though my body and mind
did not exist at all.”
Zen Buddhist meditation masters have poetically described satori
or enlightenment as Opening the Minds Eye or Awakening to our True
Nature. They say it is a direct pointing to the heart of one’s
being, to a state of awakening unmediated by words or ideas.
Enlightenment is directly seeing into the nature of things
instead understanding through analysis and logic.
The creator of the Enlightenment Intensive retreat, Charles Berner,
echoes the words and sentiments of past and present experiencers
of enlightenment: “Enlightenment is impossible to define and
it can’t be done. But we can take some words that point in the right
direction and that have some value. Enlightenment is the direct experience
of the truth. In the case of self-enlightenment, it is
the direct experience of the truth of you. By direct
experience is meant, by no way or no via.
Not by seeing, thinking, believing, deciding, reasoning, feeling......
or not by any other way of. Direct experience of the truth
is enlightenment. The experience takes place but there is no
experiencing. In the state of enlightenment there is no difference
between that which one is enlightened on and the one who is enlightened.
It and them is the same. There is no separation.”
A 1000 Different Descriptions of The Same Moon
If you ask 1000 people to describe their enlightenment experience you'd
hear 1000 different descriptions all pointing to the same moon. Enlightenment
experiences can happen to anyone, at any time and in any culture.
It is not owned by any religion or spiritual path.
And it often occurs in settings that are ordinary and secular.
Yet in spite of the great and wide differences of culture, time or language,
the descriptions of the enlightenment experience has many common
1. There is often a sense of union or oneness.
2. The experience is always instantaneous and sudden.
3. Obvious. In fact so obvious that you didn't
know that you already knew.
5. Funny, very funny, a cosmic joke with you as the punch
8. Imbued with a sense universal love.
Jeff Love learned about the enlightenment dyad process from Charles
Berner and was a participant at one of the first Enlightenment
Intensive retreats. He began facilitating Enlightenment Intensive
retreats in the early 1970's. When I spoke with Jeff he said,
“Enlightenment is direct and immediate. The way it is classically
described is that there is an at oneness. There is no difference
between the observer and the observed. It is the same in that moment
of experience. It is self evident truth. We can find it only
by clearing the mind, the emotions, pre conceived ideas, beliefs and suddenly
what is real here and now, comes into focus always in the present.
It is always surprising.”
I spoke with Lawrence Noyes, an enlightenment master who learned the
process from Charles Berner, the creator of the Enlightenment Intensive.
Lawrence told me about an enlightenment experience he had on his first
Enlightenment Intensive. He described it as very surprising,
unexpected and most obvious.
“I was in a dyad and I directly experienced who I am. It was like
I stumbled onto it. It was completely unexpected......... The whole
thing took me by surprise. And I had one of these experience that
people often have....which is, I know what I've just experienced.
I just didn't know that I knew. Its like the who that I experienced
was the who that I've been my whole life. I didn't experience
a different who. The who am I that I experienced is me. The
same me who I was as a kid. It was me when I was as a teenager.
I am the me that I always thought I was. I knew that I’d experienced
IT....... I didn't really have an idea of what a direct experience was
before that. But when I hit this I knew ‘that's IT.”
Vina Hotich participated in Enlightenment Intensive both in Germany
and Australia. She said, “There is this absolute knowledge.
It isn't good or bad......or this way or that way. There is no interpretation
of it. It is just so. Words can't describe it. Enlightenment
experiences are just so IT. I had this firmness about it. I
know this. It can't be described.”
Kate Feeley expressed her enlightenment experiences by saying that “we
are all little parts of this big conscious being.....that is beyond us.
For maybe a second, because that's all that my puny little body could handle,
I got that who I am is God. I am God, you are God....everybody is
David Granger, another participant of the enlightenment process described
his enlightenment experience this way. “Then BANG! it hit me. I became
totally and wholly connected to the source. I realized in an instant
that it was ME giving myself all this love ..... I AM the source.
An unending source of unlimited love and energy. Suddenly I burst
into laughter. I laid there with a big grin on my face, realizing
my true self .
Enlightenment experiences have happened to different people, in different
centuries and from different cultural and religious settings.
Yet they are all pointing at the same enlightenment experience.
Here is an enlightenment experience from St. Angela of Foligno who as an
Italian nun that lived in the 12th Century. She's was a Franciscan
mystic who kept a diary of her spiritual experiences.
One time when I was at prayer and my spirit was exalted.
God spoke to me with many gracious words full of love. And when I
looked, I saw God. The one who spoke with me.
But if you want to know what I saw, I couldn't tell you anything,
but that I beheld a fullness and a clearness, and felt them within
me so abundantly that I can in no way describe it, or give any likeness
of it. For what I beheld was not corporal, but as if
Enlightenment, though it cannot be described, can be pointed at.
And many have done so. It is completeness. It is satisfaction.
You don't have to believe in anything or be a follower of anyone
to enter into the fullness of enlightenment. It is the fullness
of your very own self. That fullness is the heart of your existence
and you are its source. It is you. If you have not tasted
sweetness you don't know what sweetness really is. To know the sweetness
of Self, you have to taste it yourself.
“God is none other than the Self. To see the Self is to see God; all
else is but a vision of the mind.
There is no moment when the Self is not. The Self is ever-present.
You are always That."
Ramana Maharshi, the ‘who am I’ guru of the 20th Century
I am not ever going to forget
Who I am.
I am the sound of the bells
And the wind that moves through them
I am the journey and the destination
I am the breath
And the body that breathes it
I am the foot and the earth that touches it
I am the lover and the beloved
I am the cat crying
And the one who comforts it.
Ageless, faceless, timeless, nameless,
Unborn and undying,
Constant yet ever-changing,
I was before the earth began
I will be after it is gone.
I am not ever going to forget
Who I am.
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