The term “awakening” has long been used to denote the experience of spiritual realisation — of self, reality, God, emptiness. It has been described as a point of transition, where a limited way of seeing and being is altered because of an immense opening up that happens in one’s consciousness.
Conditioning, barriers, perceptions — filters and masks through which one normally responds to the world — are knocked off and consequently whatever one experiences feels raw, direct, deep and true. Distinctions between self and the other and self and the world cease to exist, leading to a profound experience of interconnectedness. There are no thoughts in the conventional sense. Whatever arises naturally subsides without causing the mind to ripple after it. There is peace and stillness, and often, bliss.
The analogy of death is often used to describe an awakening. For the “old” way of being dies forever, one is no longer who one used to be in the moment before the awakening. Something dies so that something new can arise. In the case of awakening, it is the blinkered, afflicted self that dies, even as one is born anew into a radically changed way of experiencing oneself and the world. In some cases, this “death” seems to become mirrored in the individual’s body through physical pain and a loss of control. The mind, shorn of the crutches it used to manoeuvre its way through the world, appears to have collapsed. Mystics have at times been mistaken for madmen simply because they are liberated of the conditioning and social graces with which we “sleepers” operate.
Herein lies a dilemma for the awakened one. How to integrate their awakening with their worldly lives? For, the transformation of awakening appears to be so total that there is no going back to what one was prior to it. It is as if one’s eyes have been blown open and one can never go to sleep, to unknowing, again. Some find the balance in taking on the responsibility of sharing their journeys with others, becoming gurus and teachers. Others might continue to live everyday lives, their awakening informing every aspect of their being and conduct.
What about awakening itself? Is it like a thunderbolt, direct and immediate, or is it gradual? On close examination, one finds that it is really a process, a river that unfolds and undulates through the individual’s experiences. The actual realisation might occur in a flash, but often it is part of a process that includes questioning, perhaps working with a teacher, or self-study, and chipping away at emotional and mental blocks.
Even if an initial awakening happens through a thump on the heart or the activation of the point between the brows by a master, it often needs to be backed up with inner work. At times, the awakening might happen in stages, spread over a period of time, assisted by circumstances and teachers. And while the ultimate realisation might be similar, the paths through which people have arrived to it are myriad and many-hued, as varied as humankind itself.
[This article appeared under the title ‘Be the Awakened One’ in The Asian Age, October 20, 2011.]