For centuries, the Indian subcontinent has been a cradle for journeys into the inner worlds of the human mind and spirit. Though never a mass pursuit, spiritual adventurism has existed for several millennia, emerging in the form of individual seeking, texts and manuscripts, as well as the birth of religions and wisdom traditions.
What is the enlightenment that these seekers sought? It has been called by different names in different eras and by different teachers – moksha, nirvana, kaivalya, self-realisation, liberation, and so on. Essentially it is a state of transcendence, characterized by stepping beyond the boundaries of the human condition. Interpretations might vary, but enlightenment is undoubtedly the Holy Grail of all spiritual paths, the point where seeking ceases, and something happens to transmute the human into the possibly divine.
Whether it is an actual tipping point or a cumulative process, resulting in a cataclysmic inner event or a gradual realization, seems to be subjective and determined by each individual’s experience and journey. The end result, however, seems to be similar – an opening up, a falling away, a boundlessness, a liberation. Just like one who has never tasted honey can neither describe its taste nor understand it wholly, those of us who have not experienced the bliss of enlightenment cannot hope to understand it in its entirety.
To give credence to this search, there exist enough examples in spiritual literature of the enlightened ones, some universally acknowledged and others lesser known and understood. Just the fact that there have been actual human beings who have attained enlightenment and have spoken about it, like the Buddha among many others, holds out hope for the rest of humanity that indeed, this is not only the stuff of myth. It is a real and reachable state of existence.
As India hurtles towards ‘Project Development’, and a materially affluent lifestyle is what everybody seems to be intent on, what is the state of the enlightenment quest in India today? Gurus of various persuasions seem to abound, but what are they offering, and what are their followers interested in imbibing from them? Is Indian spirituality about enlightenment any longer, or has it become a purveyor of quick fixes to relieve urban stress and angst?
Dharma, artha, kama, moksha – roughly translated respectively as righteousness, prosperity, pleasure and enlightenment – were traditionally placed as the four goals of human life in India. A well-managed pursuit of all four was the measure of success. If we were to evaluate our lives today according to this yardstick, I think most of us would find that we focus inordinate amounts of time and energy on one or two of these, while neglecting the others. How do we find a path that includes a consideration of moksha, alongside achieving appropriate amounts of artha, kama, and of dharma as well? This is the creative challenge of the modern spiritual seeker, and one that each of us must grapple with in the battleground of our individual lives.