Three Steps to Spiritual Enlightenment: Earnestness, Concepts, Beingness
There are three big steps towards spiritual enlightenment. Anyone of us can take these steps but they are crucial aspects in moving in the direction of living an awakened life.
The first step we have to take is what I call ‘earnestness.’ What I mean by this is that in order for us to move in the direction towards enlightenment, you really have to want it. It can’t just be one of your many endeavors. You can’t say “I’ll work during the day, sleep at night and during Saturday and Sunday evenings I’ll study and work towards enlightenment.” This is not going to cut it. In many ways we have to eat, drink and sleep our paths towards enlightenment. It’s very crucial that it consumes our lives. Many people have gone down the path towards enlightenment and most have failed. It’s really a lot like business. If you want to be successful at business and really succeed, such as by becoming a Fortune 500 company or one of the largest international companies in the world, you really have to work at it. You can’t casually work at being and building a successful Fortune 500 company. I’ve known many CEOs over the years because of my work as a clinical psychologist in Newport Beach, and they all have one thing in common: they work very hard at building their companies into international empires.
The same applies to enlightenment. The difference is that we’re not competing against anyone in the world. We’re only going against ourselves, our egoic selves. But our egoic selves are very entrenched inside of us and they’re constantly working against us awakening. They don’t want us to wake up because that means they’re going to disappear. In reality, that isn’t quite true. What is going to happen, however, is that instead of being the master, our egoic mind will become the servant. That’s what it is intended to be. But it has become the master to almost everyone on the planet and this is what causes us to struggle.
Our minds can’t wake up. They’re part of the egoic illusion. When we wake up, everything that we think we are and everything our egos have identified with (all that is impermanent) is going to go away. These things aren’t part of enlightenment; they are an illusion because whatever is real and permanent has to be around now and forever. It always has been and always will be. Nothing that our thoughts and our egos identify with clearly fits this. Nothing.
So, a part of the waking up is saying goodbye to every fear and desire, as well as all the attachments that our minds have created throughout our lives. They all have to be given up. If we hold onto them, we’re not going to have an awakened life.
Earnestness in and of itself is not enough. There are very earnest professional athletes, business owners and mothers out there who clearly wouldn’t identify themselves as being awakened. So what else is needed? Are there concepts or pointers that can get us there, such as pointers that help us understand who we are?
Yes. This leads us to step two of achieving enlightenment. One of the concepts that can help us is impermanence. What is impermanent? That’s a concept but it helps us to identify who we are and in a sense helps us to get rid of our other concepts. It’s a lot like having a thorn in your foot. What you could do is find another thorn to pluck out that first thorn and then throw both thorns away. Our concepts are similar because they help us identify who we are and they point us to the truth.
Another concept and pointer is this: everything that is, everything that has ever been, is created out of who we are – our non-dual permanent self. It’s like the ocean that is able to take different shapes, such as ice cubes, but it’s still the ocean. It has always been the ocean and it always will be. Even when it is an ice cube floating on the water, it’s still the ocean.
Since we are permanent and the only thing that can be permanent is that which has always been and will always be, everything comes out of this permanence. Or, using the same metaphor, it is the ocean that can literally take an infinite number of shapes and forms. It has and will continue to create many universes. Who we are is the ocean; we are that out of which all the universes originate. Each of these universes is a manifestation of who we are.
But this second step is still a concept. Although it is pointing towards the truth, be mindful of concepts because they can’t ultimately be the truth.
The third and final step towards enlightenment is to try “being.” One evening when you have the chance and you are in a place where there are not many city lights, go outside late at night when there isn’t a full moon and look up at the stars. As you look up, imagine for a moment that instead of it being you standing there, you’re everything that you can see. Then imagine that everything you see is merely a little drop in an infinite number of universes that have been, will be and are. Imagine that for a minute and then quiet the mind. Be still and see what happens.
If you are able to do this, you will have gained a little taste of what living an awakened, enlightened, spiritual life is like. There are no words for it. Ultimately it is silence because it is just being. Pure beingness, that’s what it is.
To recap: the first step is earnestness, the second step involves concepts to get you there, and the third step is to quiet the mind and just be. See what it feels like to just be. Realize that everything you see and experience, every memory you’ve ever had or ever will have, comes out of the silence, the pure empty silence, of who we are.
Dr. Robert Puff, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, author, international speaker, and meditation expert who has been counseling individuals, families, nonprofits, and businesses for over twenty years. A contributing writer to Psychology Today, he has authored numerous books, including Spiritual Enlightenment: Awakening to the Supreme Reality and creates a weekly podcasts and articles on enlightenment, spiritual enlightenment, nonduality, Advaita Vedanta at: http://www.EnlightenmentPodcast.com