Enlightenment 101

Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [Dare to Know!] "Have courage to use your own understanding!"—that is the motto of enlightenment.

— Immanuel Kant, 1784

The notion of Enlightenment is a term that can mean and presuppose many different things depending on the tradition through which Enlightenment is considered. It can refer to a belief state, condition, theory, discernment, practice, realization, or quality, thereby is regarded under many different names. Whether Moksha, Mukti, or Advaita (Hindu), Bodhi, Satori, or Nirvana (Buddhist), Cosmic Consciousness, Gnosis, or Nonduality, the concept of Enlightenment is both overly simple and unnecessarily complex, dynamic and enigmatic, selfless and subjective at the same time.

So what does this really mean? What's the point? What is Enlightenment? And—for all you capitalists out there—what does it really buy you?


In his excellent Foreward to The First and Last Freedom by Jiddu Krishnamurti, author and essayist Aldous Huxley succinctly qualifies the problem of mistaking abstract (symbolic) words and language for tangible reality:

an is an amphibian who lives simultaneously in two worlds—the given and the homemade, the world of matter, life and consciousness and the world of symbols. In our thinking we make use of a great variety of symbol-systems—linguistic, mathematical, pictorial, musical, ritualistic. Without such symbol-systems we should have no art, no science, no law, no philosophy, not so much as the rudiments of civilization: in other words, we should be animals.

Symbols, then, are indispensable. But symbols—as the history of our own and every other age makes so abundantly clear—can also be fatal. Consider, for example, the domain of science on the one hand, the domain of politics and religion on the other. Thinking in terms of, and acting in response to, one set of symbols, we have come, in some small measure, to understand and control the elementary forces of nature. Thinking in terms of and acting in response to, another set of symbols, we use these forces as instruments of mass murder and collective suicide. In the first case the explanatory symbols were well chosen, carefully analysed and progressively adapted to the emergent facts of physical existence. In the second case symbols originally ill-chosen were never subjected to thoroughgoing analysis and never re-formulated so as to harmonize with the emergent facts of human existence. Worse still, these misleading symbols were everywhere treated with a wholly unwarranted respect, as though, in some mysterious way, they were more real than the realities to which they referred. In the contexts of religion and politics, words are not regarded as standing, rather inadequately, for things and events; on the contrary, things and events are regarded as particular illustrations of words ...

Even the best cookery book is no substitute for even the worst dinner. The fact seems sufficiently obvious. And yet, throughout the ages, the most profound philosophers, the most learned and acute theologians have constantly fallen into the error of identifying their purely verbal constructions with facts, or into the yet more enormous error of imagining that symbols are somehow more real than what they stand for. Their word-worship did not go without protest. "Only the spirit," said St. Paul, "gives life; the letter kills." "And why," asks Eckhart, "why do you prate of God? Whatever you say of God is untrue." At the other end of the world the author of one of the Mahayana sutras affirmed that "the truth was never preached by the Buddha, seeing that you have to realize it within yourself". Such utterances were felt to be profoundly subversive, and respectable people ignored them. The strange idolatrous over-estimation of words and emblems continued unchecked. Religions declined; but the old habit of formulating creeds and imposing belief in dogmas persisted even among the atheists ...

While Huxley makes clear the problem of mistaking "purely verbal constructions with facts" what does this have to do with Enlightenment? Well, everything it turns out, as we shall see.

What is Enlightenment?

For the most part, Enlightenment isn't something one attains or learns, but rather unlearns. It is one's 'natural state' or condition before one falls prey to the illusions of this world. Being able to recognize these illusions for what they are is an important step on the path of Enlightenment or Awakening.

In the East, Enlightenment goes by different names which essentially represent the same idea although defined in different ways:

  • In India, there are three main concepts which represent Enlightenment (although there are numerous substrata of these as well):
  • In Buddhism, Enlightenment is considered using terms that can seem mutually exclusive:

In the West, Enlightement is defined by similar concepts:

Irregardless what it's called or how it's defined (using positive or negative language), Enlightenment is a condition that is already present but for most people is somehow obscured (or hidden) behind various world illusions. What feeds these illusions may be surprising to most: words!

What is meant by 'natural state'?

All of us, everything in the world, all things living or dead, are in a natural state. There is no other state we can be in, however we can presuppose or fabricate notions about ourselves that are quite unnatural and therefore counterfeit or illusory. Sometimes these come in the form of mental images (we either pretend and imagine ourselves behaving in such-and-such a way or else suffer from hallucinations), but most of the time these presuppositions and fabrications are the mental by-products of words, of language, of things we are told. The natural state precedes words and language, exists prior to words and language, exists without words and language. If the only way you can know something is through the use of words and language, this is not the natural state, but abstraction, conceptual invention, un-natural, un-real, an illusion.

What is meant by 'illusion'', 'illusions', or 'world's illusions''?

Basically these are tantamount to the same thing. If you are unable to know or experience something without relying on words and language, then that is an illusion. Remember, your natural state not only exists prior to words and language, but exists without words and language. This is true of the 'real world'. The real world is that which exists without words or language since it is the natural state. You can live a full and productive life without language, without ever speaking or hearing words or reading. Mankind did it for millions of years before the modern era, and animals do it today. The natural state has nothing to do with language. The real world has nothing to do with language. And knowing this makes for a good barometer of nature and reality. Whatever you know and experience without the use of language is natural and real; whatever you cannot know and experience without the use of language is neither natural nor real. In other words, abstraction, conceptualization, illusion.

If words and language are illusory, what does this make of school books, history books, scientific books?

For the sake of deciding whether something is 'true' or not we categorize books as belonging to either 'fiction' or 'nonfiction'. If a book is fiction we know that it is 'made-up', an invention of the author's, and not real. If a book is nonfiction we think of it as true, as describing something that actually happened, as representational of something that occurred in time and space. This, of course, is an illusion. All writing is fictional. No matter how you sort or categorize a book it is conceptual, abstract, compressed, unnatural. A book is not a natural state nor what it describes the real world. Why? Because it is comprised of words.

Here's an example. World War II lasted approximately six years (from September 1939 to September 1945) and involved millions of people all over the world. Even if a historian writes a thousand-page book describing the war during these six years this book is not World War II. It is a subjective, compressed, and condensed interpretation of events that were cherry-picked from among millions of people and a trillion separate events to fill a thousand-page book, a sizable tome to be sure, but one that one could read in about a week if enough time was dedicated to it. A single book read in a week does not equate to six years of war, millions of lives, trillions of events. Even if the historian describes a separate event in his book this does not mean that it is 'true' because history is written different by the victors and losers, by the nationality and education of the historian, but the historian's own biases, prejudices, and political agenda.

Now scientific books and journals are a bit different. They are actually a kind of dynamic 'blueprint' which allows for the replication or duplication of experiments and findings in the real world. If I read a science book that claims water boils at 100° Celsius using a specific type of thermometer, I can actually test this claim in the real world. I can replicate through experimentation what was claimed in the book. In this way the book is a type of placeholder tool (or recipe book) which allows for identical experimentation to be carried out in the real world. If the claims of the scientific book or journal can be tested and have the potential for being proven wrong, then they are said to be falsifiable (according to Karl Popper, no empirical hypothesis, proposition, or theory can be considered scientific if it does not admit the possibility of a contrary case). Now, whether the claims of a scientific book are proven correct or proven incorrect, the experiments that were done make those claims inessential. It's like a recipe for a chocolate cake. Once the cake is made you no longer need the recipe. The recipe is merely a linguistic 'placeholder' for the duplication of something in reality. The recipe is not reality. It is only a collection of language constructs. As far as science, technology, and mathematics are concerned language is a kind of reference tool so you don't have to 'reinvent the wheel' each time you want to study something, invent something, advance or append a theory...but you could if you wanted. You could return to previous experiments and equations and rework them to test their reliability, and if by chance you found a previous claim or equations was incorrect science would in time readjust itself accordingly after extensive retesting and peer review. Science would rewrite the books. This is quite different from religious books and their advocates, especially those who assert their books are inerrant (free from errors or contradictions), the inspired Word of God, set in stone (so to speak) never able to be changed or appended as new evidence is brought to light and new discoveries made. They've fallen into the trap of not recognizing the built-in illusion of language constructs by assuming the words they serve are somehow more real than the immediacy of their own lives. They've failed to realize that all words are abstract, conceptual, illusory.

What is meant by 'language constructs'?

Basically, there are four types of language constructs:

  1. those that are representational of specific things that exist in the real world. For example,
    • My son, Ryan, and daughter, Lindsay
    • My Boston Terrier, Schatzie
    • The fir in my back yard
    • The Space Needle
  2. those that are generic placeholders and represent broad groups of things sharing common traits and attributes in the real world
    • Human beings
    • Dogs
    • Trees
    • Buildings
  3. those that represent traits and attributes using comparative and relative identifiers as encountered in the real world
    • Thin man
    • Fast car
    • Green apple
    • Hot stove
  4. those that are not represented by anything in the real world but only through the use of other words.
    • God
    • Life-After-Death
    • Heaven and Hell
    • Angels and Devils, Werewolves and Vampires, Ghosts and Goblins, Fairies and Elves

Please bear in mind: irregardless as to what type of language construct is used, all are abstract, conceptual, intangible, not real. While the first three types can be considered representational of things and traits (however subjective and relative) experienced in the real world, the fourth type is represented only by words pointing back and forth to other words. I can determine the traits and attributes of my daughter without language, I can determine the traits and attributes of a tree without language, I can determine the traits and attributes of a car without language, or a dog or a building or a river or a rock, but I cannot determine the traits and attributes of God without language, or Heaven or Hell or Angels or Eternal Salvation. In regards to the real world, these exist only as words among words and nothing else.

Does this mean that religious language is ultimately meaningless?

Not surprisingly, yes. All religious language is meaningless because any words can be invoked to imply meaning. Why? Since there are no traits or attributes derived from anything tangible outside the use of words, religious traits and attributes are 'supplied' only by words themselves pointing back and forth to each other. This is a closed loop and inherently meaningless.

When someone makes the claim that "God is love" how did they come by this information? How were they able to determine this attribute? Where did they point? If they can only point to words to gather this information, then they can point to any words with the same degree of certainty. Saying "God is love" is as meaningful as saying "God is hate" since both phrases rely on words alone to determine what God is or is not. No matter what you say about God—or Heaven or Hell or Angels for that matter—you can't prove or disprove it because it all comes down to words and language. All of it. This means you can say anything, absolutely anything at all to define God, because a word is a word is a word. If this is the case, if you can only point to words to determine religious traits and attributes, then religious language is ultimately meaningless. One word is as good as another. If you can't encounter God (or Heaven or Hell, etc) in the real world outside of the use of language constructs (religious terminology) then religious claims are inherently meaningless and illusory.

If religion is inherently meaningless and illusory, then why do most people embrace some type of religion?

Because religion relies solely upon words (disconnected from our natural state and the real world) and because so many people embrace religion as an assumed matter of course, this reveals the extent by which the majority of people are under the spell of the world's illusions. And when I say 'world's illusions' what I really mean is serving words, believing that words are somehow more real and important than the life they're living right now.

Without words, without language, without religious books, religion is impossible. Religion is not a part of our natural state because religion needs words to exist.

Where would Judaism be without the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), Christianity be without the Old and New Testaments, Islam be without the Qur'an, Hinduism be without the Vedas, Buddhism be without the Sutras, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints be without the Book of Mormon, and so on? For the most part, all these religious books are mutually exclusive and their respective adherents each think that 'their' religion is the one true religion. Why do they believe this? Because this is what they were told. Because of words. Outside of such words there is nothing to support the legitimacy of one religious book over another because the words themselves point to nothing in the real world that could possibly legitimize their proprietary supernatural language. Irregardless of what people claim, nowhere in the real world is there the supernatural circumvention of the laws of physics.

People embrace specific religious teachings solely because of things they were told and not because of anything in the real world. Choosing to adhere to a supernatural religious teaching that directly contradicts the real world indicates the extent by which believers are under the spell of illusion, the artifice of words . The real world needs no words, the natural state needs no words, but religion needs words because without them religion cannot exist. The supernatural only exists in words.

If you want to know whether something is 'real' or not, here's a simple test: Whatever is claimed, can you know and experience it without words? If it can be experienced without words then it is real. If it requires words in order to be known, then it is not real.

Would you have any reason to believe in Yahweh or Allah, Heaven or Hell, Adam and Eve, Angels and Devils, Sin and Salvation, etc, if it wasn't for the words? Remove these words and what do you have left? The real world! And what does the real world teach us about supernatural claims?

Reality really is that simple.

Although some of my thoughts are comprised of images, most of my thoughts are made up of words, of language, basically of me talking to myself inside my head. Since this 'interior dialogue' consists of words, is it also just an illusion or is it part of my 'natural state' in a way I'm unable to understand?

This 'interior dialogue' as you call it—really it's an ongoing monolgue or soliloquy—is what philosophers and sages call 'mind'. In it's purest form, we might think of mind as that faculty which allows an organism to mobilize itself in the direction of satisfying a need, although 'need' is a subjective term and given to broad interpretation beyond the basics of survival (food, shelter, sex, comfort).

When the mind is not mindful, then the notion of 'need' is replaced by 'want' or 'desire' or 'hope' or 'wishful thinking' which may be mistaken for need when clearly these are not. What drives wants, desires, hopes, and wishes is not mind in it's purest form, but a mind that has fallen prey to the illusion of words. In it's purest form mind is simply being and awareness—these are it's natural state. Beneath the 'interior dialogue' going through your head, behind all your wants and desires and hopes and wishes, there is still only being and awareness. This has never changed. It is always already present. It is prior to words and the interior dialogue, prior to wants and desires, hopes and dreams, guilt and fears, jealousy and anger, all of which feed on language, are empowered by language, made possible by language. There is no good or bad, sin or salvation, truth or falsehood without the prior use of language. As such, none of these things have anything to do with your natural state or the real world. They are the products of language. You are who you are, where you are, what you are, and always have been. To think differently, to consider your self in terms of being sinful or requiring salvation or behaving immorally has only come to you because of something you were told or something you read, because of words, none of which have anything to do with your natural state.

Enlightenment is simply becoming conscious of this, of knowing yourself prior to the by-products of language, recognizing what has always been present as being and awareness. You are not the 'interior dialogue' constantly running through your head—you are that which is beneath the 'interior dialogue', who sees yourself talking to yourself and listening to yourself, who knows the difference. Enlightenment is nothing more than awakening to the natural state of being and awareness and no longer mistaking yourself for the words rolling by. Words are artificial and abstract, you are not. Words are symbolic and conceptual, you are flesh and blood. Words have nothing to do with the real world, but you have everything to do with it.

You are more important than words. You have always been and will always be more important than words. To think otherwise is to suffer the worst kind of delusion, to fall prey to illusion, to deny what has always been in front of you by surrendering to language rather than embracing life itself.

This sounds as if 'illusions'' can be applied to other types of words as well, and not just 'religious'' words. Is this correct?

Any word that you believe carries more weight and more importance than the immediacy of your own life, of being and awareness, becomes part of the illusion. If you alter your behavior because of words or something you were told, if you allow yourself to go off and get maimed or killed because of religious language or political language or ideological language, then, yes, you are a victim of illusion. You haven't understood that life is more important than all the words in the world. Words like 'country' or 'freedom' or 'patriotism' or 'honor' or 'war on terror' or 'jihad' are abstract and conceptual, but you are flesh and blood. There's a kind of game that churches and governments play on people, and they count on people to accept the rules of the game without question. Of course the 'rules' are comprised of words, and the key word used is 'versus' ..

In order to better comprehend the nature of the game, there should be a clear understanding of its rules at the onset. The rules themselves are defined initially by the notion of "versus" (or "vs.") as in Good vs. Evil, Freedom vs. Repression, God vs. Devil, Light vs. Darkness, Positive vs. Negative, Duality vs. Nonduality. But there's more going on here than meets the eye. You see, a closer examination will reveal the rules are an illusion. The concept of "versus" is really a trap. The game, which at first glance appears competitive, combative, and contentious, is really just a game of Solitaire. There is no competitor other than the language of the rules themselves.

The word Duality has a variety of different meanings in different contexts:

  • In Philosophy, Duality (or Dualism) is a set of beliefs which presupposes the claim that the mental and physical have a fundamentally different nature, that mind and body are two irreducibly distinct things, two unique halves where never the twain shall meet.
  • In Physics, Duality is present when two different scientific models actually turn out to be equivalent, as in wave-particle duality.
  • In Mathematics, Duality describes a pairing of concepts, objects, or numbers that have some features that are considered opposite or complementary as found in algebra, geometry, graphy theory, and calculus and represented by points and lines, vectors and matrices, etc.
  • In Analytical Psychology, Duality is an archetype representing the powerful symbols of the functioning of the psyche, as in Oneness (Unity), The Two (Polarity), Feminine/Masculine, Animus/Anima, Incubus/Succubus, Apollo/Dionysus, Hades/Hermes, etc.
  • In Western Religion and Theology, Duality is considered the distinction between that which is God and that which is not God, between Obedience and Disobedience, Life and Death, Heaven and Hell, Salvation and Damnation, Christ and Antichrist, etc.
  • In Taoism, Duality is represented by Yin and Yang which describe two primal opposing but complementary forces found in all things in the universe, wherein Yin, the darker element, is passive, dark, feminine, downward-seeking, and corresponds to the night, while Yang, the brighter element, is active, light, masculine, upward-seeking and corresponds to the day.

For the purposes of this discussion, we shall interpret the word Duality to correspond with the term dichotomy, a differentiation of awareness of any type into two distinct and divisive halves.

What is Nonduality?

Nonduality (or Nondualism) is the understanding that Duality (or Dualism) is really a misinterpreted belief system based on an illusory distinction separating mental abstractions.

What does this mean in plain English?

It means that philosophical notions of Good and Evil, God and Not-God, Heaven and Hell, etc are artificial constructs extrapolated only after observing the physical properties of the natural world: hot and cold, light and dark, male and female, life and death, animate and inanimate, etc.

Because we are able to qualify and differentiate properties in our immediate environment according to some sliding scale of interpretation—for example, whether the sky is clear or overcast, whether we are walking uphill or down, whether it is an icy January or a humid July—we presuppose that purely mental concepts are themselves subject to the same notion of either/or and so render our perception of the universe according to these imaginary scales we carry around in our heads.

Simply put, by observing physical dualities in the natural world—hot or cold, wet or dry, etc—we visualize mental dualities that in no way could have been deduced from our environment then go on and attribute to these an authority and power to which we subjugate our very lives. We alter our behavior, the choices we make, how we view the universe, not by viewing the universe or interacting with our environment, but by granting power and authority to the mental constructs of duality we've presupposed are more important than us, the choices we make, our own lives. For the sake of 'god', 'salvation', 'eternal life', 'freedom', 'patriotism', 'the war on terror', etc, we surrender ourselves and the choices we make instead of simply interacting and connecting with our natural environment. We allow ourselves to be convinced that mental constructs, based on an interior dialogue of duality, take precedence over our lives, define who we are, determine how we are to live. Because of this artificial duality, young men and women willingly permit themselves to go die in battle half a world away, disturbed parents drown their infant children (who have presumably not reached some theological 'age of consent') so as not to risk God's wrath or potential of Hell, priests and nuns deny the splendor of their own sexuality then wonder why they pursue sex in shame and secrecy. Instead of celebrating the mystery and majesty of their own unique lives, people are conditioned to believe their behavior is somehow more noble or righteous if they deny themselves, or abstain, or sacrifice, or die, all for the sake of the mental constructs of duality they carry around in their heads.

Whenever a 'cause' or 'idea' takes precedence over one's own life, then mental constructs, artificial words, imaginary language, are allowed more power than the unfolding energies inherent in the physical world itself. In short, it isn't war that kills people. It's attributing to the words and ideologies of war the power over one's own life that kills people. Wars would not be fought, soldiers would not die, missles would not be launched if it wasn't for blindly surrendering one's power to abstract mental dualities. From the perspective of a unique individual, isn't preserving one's own life a more noble cause than tacitly allowing it to be sacrificed to an abstract mental duality? Isn't life more precious than slogans and words, imaginary boundaries, geo-political lines of demarcation?

Make no mistake: I am neither advocating a moot passivity when it comes to protecting one's family or homeland nor suggesting that the sacrifice of those troops who do are somehow diminished by their decision to fight. No, I wholeheartedly agree that any immediate threat to home and hearth should be answered in force and kind. My dissension with policies of war and unwavering patriotism is with those who blindly support the 'terms' of war—and accompanying flag-waving, chest-pounding, drum-beating, sabre-rattling—not because there is any physical threat but solely because the language of ideology and jingoism has been deemed somehow more important (of greater instrinsic value) than the lives of those asked to fight. I do not think that the lives of soldiers—all unique and remarkable human beings—are expendable in any number simply because our elected leaders speechify using terms like 'freedom', 'democracy', 'patriotism', or 'war on terror'. Why should troops be asked to "stay the course" if that course was delineated only in the mind and not on one's doorstep? If there is no threat, then battles fought half a world away simply because of words or ideas devalue the lives of our sons and daughters and make all too apparent the callousness of our elected officials. It's up to parents to intelligibly dissuade their children from buying into the warrior politics of leaders who all-too-willing are asking them to die. And for what? Words! The slippery rhetoric of patriotic words! And, so, too, it's up to our children to remember that their lives are infinitely more valuable than any combination of words our leadership might use to motivate them to enlist and fight.

But aren't you setting up a duality by talking about Duality vs. Nonduality?

When talking about duality vs. nonduality there is an inherent paradox, that word versus. It is language—the artifice of words—that creates the paradox, the puzzle, the enigma that seemingly must be overcome. In reality, there is no paradox because words do not possess physical characteristics or contain tangible properties. Words are not forceful or can forcibly manipulate you in any way.

Words have no dimension, no power, no ability to move you one micron. If you move at all, or alter your behavior, or abstain from joy, or enlist to fight someone else's battles, it isn't words that have done this.

It's all been you. All of it. You. You've empowered words and allowed them to convince you there's an obstacle that must be overcome—a perilous mountain, an original sin, the search for moksha or satori—then spend the remainder of your life trying to work around this obstacle, or climb over it, or dig through it. You permit yourself to believe in a thing—whatever "it" is—that must either be rejected or received before you can move forward. You've convinced yourself you need to "get rid" or something or else "come into possession" of something before you can become the person you are really meant to be. And whatever this turns out to be—whether it's sin or salvation, Jesus or Allah, fame or wealth or power or wisdom—it's only an idea, a cognitive element given form only by your acceptance of it.

The person you are, your 'true' and 'real' self, is not a composition of ideas with no corresponding properties in nature, not the unfolding processes of speculative or supernatural words bouncing around in your head, but flesh and breath and blood. You eat and sleep and egest and copulate, and all the rest is an abstraction you've empowered, because you were taught to empower it. You were raised (indoctrinated and enculturated) to afford words and language and ideas and concepts with values that exist nowhere outside the mind. You can't point to God, but only the word 'God'. You can't point to Jesus, but only the word 'Jesus'. You can't point to Satan, Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, Heaven or Hell, Angels, the Rapture, or Seven Years of Tribulation without opening a book. Nor can you point to Nirvana, Samsara, Karma, or Dharma. And, truth be told, neither can you point to Love, Compassion, Justice, or Empathy. You can interpret and infer your feelings, define your emotions, generalize your fears and anxieties, but beyond this dualistic dialogue teeter-tottering inside your head all you really know is your own physical being and the way it interacts with your environment. All the rest is words—words that you've empowered to control your life, motivate your beliefs, restrain your feelings, manipulate your behavior.

As you become aware of the illusory nature of duality, the paradox of the word versus, the antinomy inherent in contradictory language, you slowly begin to wake up to the realization that words—all words—are weak abstractions and flimsy nuances with no executable bearing on the person you really are, your 'true' self, that element remaining if all words and language were magically removed from your life.

In the absence of words, in the removal of philosophical and ideological arguments, religious terms, sacred texts, scientific and mathematical formulas, what is left? Without deferring to words you can no longer define yourself as 'Human' or an 'American' or 'Christian' or a 'Republican' or 'Pro-Life'. Without words there is no Bible, no Koran, no Upanishads, no Tao Te Ching, no references to Yahweh or Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed.

Without words, what is it that you might believe? Without words, is belief even possible?

Well, yes and no. Without words belief would be tied only into the way you interact with your immediate environment, in the assumptions of causality, the experimental considerations of cause and effect. You might believe that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, that if you let go of a rock it will fall to the ground, that eating food reduces hunger and drinking water eliminates thirst. Without words, without the artifice of language, the only belief system capable of being entertained is strictly cause-and-effect oriented, empirical and experimental, scientific in a non-verbal way. It is only after introducing abstract language that you are able to embrace abstract entities and concepts—gods, ghosts, devils, life-after-death, eternity, infinity, enlightenment.

The 'true' you, the 'real' you, is not the person defined by abstract entities and concepts, but who is immediate and who exists prior to the use of all language, despite the use of language If you want to discover whether or not something is true, whether or not your beliefs are true, whether you are being true to yourself, remove all references and deferrals to language. In the absence of language, whatever remains is true. If what you understand to be true requires language to be communicated, needs to be preserved in a book, constantly referenced and quoted for argument, you can be rest assured this has nothing to do with what is true.

And this is the paradox of nonduality.

You use a thorn to remove a thorn, and then throw both away.

After coming to the understanding that words are artificial and that any distinctions made by referencing words are themselves illusory, only then are you capable of recognizing your 'true' nature and 'real' self, what is meant by 'truth', what it means to become 'enlightened'.

But 'true' and 'real' and 'truth' and 'enlightenment' are all just words themselves, as abstract and artificial as 'god' and 'heaven' and 'paradise' and 'nirvana'.

And that is why you find yourself playing an epic game of Solitaire. If you want to change the game, or stop playing it all together, you need to recognize the rules for what they are.

You use a thorn to remove a thorn, and then throw both away.

Wow. I think I understand 'Duality'' and 'Nonduality'' and even what 'Enlightenment'' is, but I guess I'm a little fuzzy on how Enlightenment works. How do you "get there" and how do you know when you are there?

How do you know you're alive? You just know. You don't have to do anything or say anything or prove anything or alter your behavior or surrender or confess anything to 'be' alive. It's effortless. If you tried to do things in order to 'make' yourself alive or prove yourself alive or keep yourself alive moment by moment, you'd fail miserably or else fall victim to some type of compulsion or mental disorder. The notion of 'Enlightement' is similar. If you're doing all kinds of things in order to become enlightened it's like mentally trying to keep your heart beating each second. Not only are your attempts not keeping your heart beating, but you don't have to do anything to keep your heart beating. Enlightenment is simply the realization that your heart is beating all by itself. You can 'believe' that you need to do something in order to keep your heart beating, but this belief is an illusion. Living under this illusion can be scary or stressful, or it can embolden you with a false sense of accomplishment that you're doing something remarkable or noble when in fact you're not doing anything at all. Embracing religion is like believing the notion that you need to do something to keep your heart beating or that you can do something. You don't need to do anything and you can't do anything. Now 'undoing' something may be a different story.

What do you mean by 'undoing''?

By 'undoing' I mean undoing a belief state or belief system that's false to begin with and recognizing your natural state without it. In all instances such a belief state or belief system is based entirely on words, on something you were told, and not on anything evident in the real world. One way of explaining this is through the use of analogy and I have two: one concerns Santa Claus and one concerns an itchy wool coat.

When you were young you were taught to believe in a magical Santa Claus based on the traditions of your family, culture, and society, but as you got older you 'undid' these beliefs because you came to realize that magic—and therefore a magical Santa Claus—just doesn't exist in the real world. Today as an adult there is absolutely no way you could return to the belief state or belief system that promoted the existence of the magical Santa Claus of your childhood traditions—unless of course you became mentally ill or shocked into some pathological form of denial. By 'undoing' your belief in Santa Claus nothing changed remarkably in you. You didn't become a better person or more advanced person or a higher entity, you simply accepted your natural state preceding the words that brought you the tradition of Santa Claus.

Here's another analogy. Imagine you're living in a hot and humid country near the equator and you're raised in a culture that believes in order to be 'saved' from the Wrath of God everybody needs to always be wearing a long wool coat. Never mind the fact that the coat is extremely uncomfortable or that it makes work difficult. As you get older you see that in other cultures they are not wearing long wool coats and when you question your elders you are told that these coatless people are infidels and sinners and all headed for Hell. As you get older still you realize the only reason you're wearing the long wool coat is because of words in a book and not because of anything warranted in the real world. In fact, you realize the wearing of the long wool coat is in direct contradiction to the demands of the real world. One day you build up enough courage to 'undo' the buttons of your long wool coat and let it fall to the floor. Immediately you feel liberated, refreshed and alive, and can embrace life with a newfound awareness and understanding. As far as your natural state goes, you are still the same person outside the coat as the person who was wearing the coat, but by 'undoing' the coat and letting it fall away you are now better suited to your natural state and the real world, no longer needlessly suffering inside of something you didn't need to be inside. In fact, the only reason you were inside it at all was because of threatening words and nothing else evident in the real world.

In both cases you 'undid' something you never needed in the first place, both of which came into play simply because of words and tradition. With the undoing came 'liberation', and with liberation comes new awareness and understanding which some traditions call 'awakening'.

Is 'Liberation'' the same thing as 'Awakening''? Is that what you mean by 'Enlightenment'' or is there something else as well?

Of those people who are enlightened, no two share enlightenment the same way nor come to it by walking (pursuing) the same paths. Each person has a specific set of beliefs and baggage they need to 'undo'. Each person is unique and has unique cultural prejudices, religious biases, fears, hopes, dreams, hang-ups, etc. How I understand enlightenment may be completely different from how you understand it, although its outcome will be similar. Any description I have for enlightenment is my own. In time you will have your own description, although where we end up will be the same without need of description at all. Right now I'm using words, but in time these too shall pass. You use a thorn to remove a thorn and then throw both away.

So, what is your 'description' of Enlightenment? I understand this description doesn't have anything to do with me, although I suspect it will help me along my own journey.

For me, enlightenment consists of three parts (perhaps steps) which can occur rather quickly or may unfold slowly (some would say deliberately) across years or decades. These are:

  1. Liberation (or License)
  2. Awakening (or Understanding)
  3. Silence (or Repose)

Some people believe enlightenment can be any of these three, but for me it is a three-step process unfolding in just this order. Please do not think that because I use words like 'steps' or 'process' or 'order' that I'm suggesting there's anything I need to do or can do to manipulate or control the outcome. This is merely my interpretation of an 'undoing' or 'unfolding' that has nothing to do with words or language or practice or exercise.

The first state, Liberation, is an enigma and a paradox because it can be both a blessing and a curse, a kind of trap or cul-de-sac preventing the next step, Awakening, from ever occurring. In order to awaken one must first be liberated, but what is one liberated from? Again, liberation is different for each person going through it, but for me it means liberation from dogma, the fear of judgment, the fear of death, and articles of faith. It means having the understanding that not only are each of us free to do anything we want, we have always been free to do anything we want, and whatever we are doing right now we have chosen to do, that the choices we make have always been our choices although not necessarily mindful, educated, honest, or rational. For many people—myself included—because Liberation frees you to do anything you want, because it gives you complete license, this freedom can be misused and abused. You can be seduced by your own liberation and fall prey all the various enticements that liberation provides. Once liberated, you can become a not-very-nice person, a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a complete jerk. For this reason Liberation alone is not Enlightenment, but a means that makes Awakening possible, however long it takes. One cannot awaken until one is liberated and one cannot be liberated until one has been freed from dogma, the fear of judgment, and the fear of death. For some the path from Liberation to Awakening only takes a couple of years, for others considerably longer. Each person is different. Some are liberated but never awaken. Some awaken eventually, it's just that it's taken thirty years.

The second state, Awakening, follows Liberation and may take years or decades to unfold. While Liberation frees you to do anything you want, Awakening reveals that most everything you want to do—or think you need to do—is complete and utter bullshit. Everything. All of it. Bullshit. Everytime you second-guess yourself or chastise yourself or seek to alter your behavior or set yourself straight or get on the right path, whatever you imagine it is, you're effortlessly aware it's all motivated by bullshit. And you know it, you can't help but know it, and that's the Awakening part. It's like when you see yourself seeing yourself in the dual-reflection between two mirrors...it all keeps bounding away from you in a seemingly endless array, and every image, every stance, every face shown to the world is not real, it's an illusion, it's total bullshit. And this realization is the real eye-opener. At first, after becoming aware of your awakened state, you may think you need to start behaving like an Awakened Person and clean up your act, but how is an Awakened Person supposed to act? That's just it. An Awakened Person doesn't act, but is simply awake, and that's when you realize any desire to act or change or 'put on a show' of righteousness is also bullshit. It's like your awakening caused a long convoluted track of dominos to start falling over where each piece knocks down another piece, and so on and so on, until all you have left are pieces falling away as fast and as far as you can see, and there's nothing you can do to stop it, that anything you think you can do or need to do or have to do is just more pieces that will fall way. In time you simply sit back and watch the pieces fall and the universe unfold and sure it can be loud and noisy, but behind it all you begin to notice yourself dwelling in Silence, in a kind of effortless Repose that doesn't need to do anything or prove anything or change your behavior or alter your lifestyle.

The third state, Silence, is quietude, a state of mind that may be interpreted as being at peace and tranquil, but these terms are something of misnomers. The Silence in this case is to accept one's natural state unburdened from the artifice of words, the dogma of language, a series of symbolic abstractions that reference things found nowhere in the real world. It is to be alive in the real world, to know the real world, to trust the real world unfettered from illusions that exist only in words and the mind.

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Copyright © 2007 by Craig Lee Duckett. All rights reserved
LAST UPDATED: October 17, 2006
October 17, 2006