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A Look at Enlightenment
Chris: So what do you think of people who are considered very enlightened or who have special healing powers that have proved to be valid?
Tony: I think they have simply grown a bit more than we have. We have very definitely grown from seeds — the sperm and ovum — and from what I have seen, general human life is expressing only a tiny fraction of what our potential is. We can see this as we witness the growth from conception, where we see the process of evolution in a speeded up form. So some people have managed to extend their growth much further than the rest of us, expressing more of what is latent in their seed.
I do believe though, that the word enlightenment is deeply misunderstood. I very much go along with the description given by Richard Maurice Bucke in his book Cosmic Consciousness. He says that at one period of time early in the development of the human being there was no self-awareness. The early human beings, or the prototypes of human beings, did not have self-awareness. This view is not one simply stated by Bucke, it is fairly general among people who tried to define the history of consciousness, or the evolution of self awareness. So Bucke says that early human beings had what he called animal consciousness. In other words they lacked self-awareness and the critical faculties that come from language and being able to use language to reason. So they existed purely out of their instincts and thereby had a spontaneous relationship with their environment. They could not ask such questions as, “Who am I? What am I? What is the meaning of life?” This means that they could not look back on themselves, or analyse their own behaviour, as we have the possibility of doing.
Bucke goes on to speculate about what it must have been like for the very first of the human beings who achieved self-awareness. Of course he is not alone in such speculations. Carl Jung has written about this also. What Bucke says is that the first human beings to achieved self-awareness probably did so in their prime, not in their childhood as we do. Also, to wake up to itself in that way must have been an extraordinary experience. It may even have been felt as a sort of possession by some spiritual being. Perhaps it was like a taking over of what had existed, what they had experienced, by this new impulse and awareness. It is interesting that the word identity has in it the word entity, because prior to self awareness there would have been an absence of a clear sense of identity.
We have some ability to grasp what this must have been like from the life of Helen Keller who did not attain self-awareness until she was 11. This because she lived in the untutored world of the deaf and blind. So when she attained self-awareness through learning language, she says that she was born on that day; that previously she did not exist as a person.
But the point I am moving toward is that Bucke says we now achieve self-awareness fairly early in our life. It is commonplace, and we can see the condition has huge variety. Because we are self-aware it does not make us Saints. It does not make us particularly wise, despite the attainment of this extraordinary type of awareness, there is still an immense variety in human nature.
Bucke goes on to say he believes that when we achieve cosmic consciousness, or as we more frequently call it now, enlightenment, there will be just as much variety as there is in the attainment of self-awareness.
So the attainment of self-awareness was probably just as extraordinary an experience, a religious experience perhaps, as enlightenment is for someone today. What Bucke points out, and is one of the major themes of his book, is that just as self-awareness arose out of an evolutionary process, and was at first rare, and has gradually become commonplace, so enlightenment was at one time very rare, and is gradually becoming more common in our times. Nevertheless, it is, dare we say, simply a process of further growth, of another level of human maturity. It is to be doubted that it is the final step in human evolution, the final attainment of all that a human is capable of. It is also fairly obvious that the people we acknowledge as having attained enlightenment, are, as Bucke suggests, incredibly varied in the ways they express or live it.
The attainment of self-awareness brought extraordinary new powers and new abilities. In its wake arose all the arts and sciences, the self-examination, the philosophers, the religious beliefs, and the variety of human societies. With it came the ability to question, to explore, to imagine in a way that may have been impossible previously. Because of it the wonderful arts arose. Music came from the stress and awareness of individual existence, along with architecture and the written word. Those are extraordinary abilities that we perhaps take for granted today, but were certainly not open to our very early forebears.
So, enlightenment will also bring extraordinary changes in the way we see and relate to the world. It will bring abilities and powers and new forms of creativity and exploration. It must be remembered however that no one person has achieved any fullness of the human potential. In fact some enlightened beings such as Aurobindo, and also Edgar Cayce in his writings, suggest that we remain under development until we can completely transform the human body and the world around us. Christ’s Ascension, according to this view, is a map of the way forward. When we can transform the body into cosmic existence, then we can begin to feel we have achieved some level of mastery in the physical world.
Therefore, if we see enlightenment as the extension of self-awareness through a further maturing of our individual self, just as adolescence arises through maturing of the child self, we will look to those around us who have achieved some degree of enlightenment as our older brothers and sisters. We will move toward our own enlightenment by working with our own processes of growth and maturing.
I suppose I love what Aurobindo says – Enlightenment as an experience is just a step on the way. The real work is transformation – not just of personality and mind, but of our whole body. I identify with it because that is what I am finding. In the end there is no separation between the highest and lowest. The body is the Mystery. Dig into the body deeply and you come to the formless spirit. Dig deeply enough into the formless and you arrive at the body/the world.
There is a wonderful description in Ronnie Laing’s book Politics of Experience of Jesse Watkins experience of enlightenment. In the chapter ‘A Ten Day Voyage,’ Dr Laing quotes Jesse Watkins’s own description of his inner experiences. The barriers between Jesse’s known self, and wider self had been broken down by overwork, fatigue, a dog bite, and a visit to hospital. Below is quoted some of his description of what he saw of himself.
“But I had a feeling at times of an enormous journey in front, quite, er, a fantastic journey, and it seemed that I had got an understanding of things which I’d been trying to understand for a long time, problems of good and evil and so on, and that I had solved it inasmuch that I had come to the conclusion, with all the feelings that I had at the time, that I was more—more than I had always imagined myself, not just existing now, but I had existed since the very beginning, from the lowest form of life to the present time, and that that was the sum of my real experiences, and that what I was doing was experiencing them again. And that then, occasionally I had this sort of vista ahead of me … ahead of me was lying the most horrific journey, the only way I can describe it is a journey to the final sort of business of being aware of all—everything. It was such a horrifying experience to suddenly feel, that I immediately shut myself off from it because I couldn’t contemplate it, because it sort of shivered me up—I was unable to take it…”
He goes on to say, “I had feelings of gods, not only God but gods as it were, of beings which are far above us capable of, er, dealing with the situation that I was incapable of dealing with, that were in charge and running things and, urn, at the end of it, everybody had to take on the job at the top. And it was this business that made it such a devastating thing to contemplate, that at some period in the existence of oneself, one had to take on this job, even for only a momentary period, because you had arrived then at an awareness of everything. What was beyond that I don’t know. At the time I felt that God himself was a madman… because he’s got this enormous load of having to be aware and governing and running things—and that all of us had to come up and finally get to the point where we had to experience that ourselves.., the journey is there and every single one of us has got to go through it, and everything— you can’t dodge it… the purpose of everything and the whole of existence is, er, to equip you to take another step, and another step, and another step, and so on.
As Jesse says at the end, “I was suddenly confronted with something so much greater than oneself, with so many more experiences, with so much awareness, so much that you couldn’t take it.” As I pointed out in another part of this series, those who think they have reached enlightenment in one experience need to think again.
For full account see http://dreamhawk.com/inner-life/jesse-watkins-experience-of-enlightenment/. If you want to experience enlightenment try Enlightenment Intensives in the USA or UK it really works.
Link Back to Chapter Headings for the enlightenment series.