What Spiritual Awakening Is
If you’re wondering what spiritual awakening is all about, here’s the scoop.
We can situate spiritual awakening by saying that it’s a beginning — the beginning of a new way of being. And we can give the flavor of spiritual awakening by saying that this way of being is characterized by freedom in the here-and-now.
Spiritual awakening is waking up from the dream of a separate self. The person you imagine yourself to be is not who you are. In fact, there is no “you” to be anything at all.
Most people live in a world constructed by their thoughts. The “I” or ego acts as the center of this constructed world. This perspective forms a filter through which reality is perceived. Forces within the mind — the defense mechanisms and conditioned habits — are continually constricting awareness.
This is not the only way of constructing reality. Some people awaken from this way of seeing. This is spiritual awakening.
Spiritual awakening is not a philosophy. It can’t be brought about by describing the end results. And there are no step-by-step instructions that guarantee awakening.
Spiritual awakening is about discovering what is already true. What is already true needs no practice. A spiritual practice can only prepare the ground, clearing out wrong ideas rather than adding right ones. Practices conducive to awakening require the observation of experience as it already is. Sitting still for long periods of time, being alert, is the king of practices.
The moment of awakening is often filled with unusual experiences. These aren’t significant in themselves, even though they can be strange and colorful and exotic. It’s the transformation of perspective afterward that counts. Awakenings can be followed by a period of bliss and optimism. If you arrive at this kind of episode, it’s important not to make any major life-decisions during the bliss phase. The mind isn’t yet stable.
After awakening, life appears to be a three-act play. Awakening is the end of Act One. What happens after awakening is a period in which residual selfing continues to briefly arise. A very, very few people get to the end of Act Two, which is full enlightenment, or the end of all traces of selfing. So the period after full enlightenment you can think of as Act Three of life.
In the oldest parts of the Pali canon, the process is compared with crossing a river. An ordinary person is on the near shore. An enlightened person is on the far shore. Awakening is the point of stepping into the river. In the ancient texts, this is called “stream entry,” and one who steps in the river is a “stream enterer.”
At the same time, with spiritual awakening it becomes apparent that there’s another way of seeing things. From the point of view of eternal life, nothing really changes with awakening. Before awakening: chop wood, carry water. After awakening: chop wood, carry water.