Enlightenment: What It Is And How To Get It

church_hillThe purpose of this essay is to get you to understand Enlightenment – what it is and how to attain it. To attain enlightenment is sometimes referred to as Waking up, which is a shorter way of saying Awakening to Enlightenment – but what that actually means requires some further explanation.

So what does ‘awakening’ mean?

In order to understand what Awakening to enlightenment really means, we need to first understand the nature of reality – and the short version goes something like this:

You’ve seen the movie The Matrix, right? If you haven’t, please go and do that now. But assuming you have, envision the matrix but without anything outside. No machines, no big computer running things, no space, no time; nothing at all – in fact, there isn’t even an outside. Are you imagining it? That’s our reality. Put differently, there is no material universe out there beyond our experience. There are no atoms. No planets. No stars. No space. There’s only subjectivity. There’s only this ever-changing field of experiencing otherwise known as consciousness or awareness.

That’s the short version. The long version—where I actually provide the proof for all this—is detailed in my book; and this essay is somewhat targeted to those of you who already read it but are now ready to step off that cliff and turn these truths into a living reality.

Anyway, the key point is:

  • There’s no objective reality – there’s only experiencing

But to the un-enlightened, things don’t seem that way. Rather, it seems as if we’re human beings walking around on planet earth; as if we exist as physical entities in a universe of time and space. It seems as if we experience an objectively existing world – as opposed to, let’s say, a field of subjectivity that’s perpetually transforming, morphing and modulating itself – which is how the awakened experiences life: as a mere flow of ever-changing phenomenality.

But why does it seem like we’re entities in a universe that exist independently of us? Why does it feel like there’s me on the one hand, and something else that’s not-me on the other? It’s because of the way in which we divide our experience.

Undivided experience

Now, here’s the thing. Our experience isn’t actually divided. There is no separation in the way we usually think about it – that is, the triad of seer, seeing and seen that we tacitly assume is present is never actually part of our direct experience. That division simply isn’t there. But let’s go through it in detail so you can see what I mean.

First we’ll investigate whether a seer, a subject, can be found in direct experience.

Go on. Find your self.

Have you looked yet? You can look all you want, but you won’t find anything. We can’t find a subject, because if we could, we would have to admit of a further subject, to which whatever we just found is known – making what we found an object, not a subject – And so, ad infinitum.

That’s one reason as to why we can never find a subject – we’re logically precluded from doing so.

The other reason would be: there simply is no subject. Remember, there is no objective reality. The presumed seer doesn’t exist – nothing does. There’s only this field of experiencing.

So the key insight here is:

  • No subject can be found in direct experience

Okay, now let’s turn to vision and see if we can find another element of that triad – the ‘object.’ In other words, let’s find out whether we can find something that is ‘seen.’ (I’m using vision in this example, but the same exact principle applies to all sense modalities.)

First, let’s state some self-evident facts.

  • The objects of our visual experience consist solely of colors.
  • That is, nothing is given in direct visual experience except colors.
  • In other words, we don’t see objects and their colors – we only see the colors.
  • Put differently, nothing is found in vision other than patterns of color.

Now, here’s the thing: While the presence of color is what we mean by the word ‘color,’ the presence of color is also what we mean by the word ‘seeing.’ (Now, think about that until you realize that I’m actually right – or read more about that here)

Therefore, we must concede that ‘seeing’ and ‘color’ are merely different words for the exact same thing, namely ‘seeing.’

In other words, colors aren’t ‘colors’ in the way we usually think about them – glued to objects, waiting to be seen – instead, what they are is nothing other than seeing itself.

And since the ‘objects’ of our experience consists solely of colors, we must now understand that they actually don’t – what they’re really made out of is ‘seeing.’

And finally, the last step in this reduction is to simply understand that ‘seeing’ is just another word for awareness. Awareness, or consciousness, doesn’t signify a thing – these words simply refer to the presence of seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting, smelling and thinking.

To summarize:

  • There’s no subject given in experience.
  • There are no objects—or ‘colors’—given in experience.
  • There’s only ‘seeing’ or awareness.

Non-dual awareness

But although our analysis reveals that there’s only awareness—only seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting, smelling and thinking actually going on—the unenlightened still feel like there’s a me—a subject—in here, behind the eyes; a seer that perceives a multitude of objects out there, in the world.

Why?

It’s because of a specific mode of perceiving that makes it seem as if experience is divided although it’s actually not. This affliction is known as samsara, or simply bondage. It’s our ordinary way of looking. It’s what makes it seem like there’s a seer, seeing and something seen.

But there’s another mode of perceiving possible – the undivided way.

Non-dual awareness.

The phrase ‘Awakening to enlightenment’ signifies the moment where we shift into that other mode of perceiving. It’s the moment of cessation of the division that makes it seem as if there’s a me, a subject of experience, and a not-me, the object of experience – leaving only pure seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, tasting and thinking; simply non-dual beingness without any sense of being a subject that experiences objects. The sense of being an observer; a witness of experience; vanishes, and instead one’s sense of being shifts to encompass the entire field of experience. ‘Awakening’ denotes that actual shift – ‘Enlightenment’ is where we find ourselves afterwards.

But true enlightenment is more than a profound shift in perception. It’s a deep realization of the non-objective nature of reality; of the hollowness of one’s self – it’s a revelation of the fallacious nature of objectivity; which inevitably leads to a total rewrite of the way we think, act and feel.

Key insight:

  • Awakening to enlightenment means that we shift into another mode of perception wherein experiencing no longer seems divided into a me and a not-me.

Now that we know what we’re shooting for, let’s discuss how to actually get it.

The end of ignorance

If we are to cease dividing experience into me and not-me, it’s useful to understand why we perceive in this way in the first place.

Why do we perceive in terms of subject-object?

Due to our culturally imposed world view, the act of perceiving is interpreted in terms of what could best be described as something like a camera model. That is, we think of ourselves as cameras, moving around, looking at stuff. And the field of experience is our view, wherein the objects of experience briefly appear as we apprehend them with our sensory faculties. That’s the universe-model in a nutshell. Now, let’s break it down into detail.

When we encounter an object in direct experience, essentially the following happens (let’s pretend we see something – a box, for example):

  • A particular pattern of color is conceptualized as an ‘object,’ which has a wide range of connotations attached – such as, it’s a space-time entity; it has mass; it’s made of a material, etc. In other words, the concept that we have to represent this percept has attached to it a bunch of other concepts, all of which contribute to our idea of what it is – making us forget that it’s really nothing but patterns of color – which is nothing other than ‘seeing,’ or awareness itself.
  • Now, because it’s an ‘object,’ there’s another fundamental connotation involved – namely that of it being perceived by a subject. Which is us. In other words, according to our universe-model of reality, whenever an object is present in our experience, it is so because we as its subject has encountered it. That is, our field of view simply happened to slide past that object. Put differently, the very presence of an object implies us as its perceiving subject. It’s the camera model of perception. Just as the presence of images on a TV screen imply that they were apprehended by some camera, the presence of an object in experience implies that it’s being perceived by us as its subject.
  • So the very notion of an ‘object’ entails the presence of a subject that perceives it. It’s built in to the concept. We cannot help but see ourselves in this way under the universe-model, because every encounter with an object reaffirms and reminds us of our existence as its subject.

Now, if we were to abandon this model and instead adopt some other model, wherein we, let’s say, turn percepts into concepts with entirely different connotations than those that we currently have, our experience of the world would naturally start to shift.

But what if we had no model at all? Not because it would be a ‘better’ way to live life(it is), but because we have through careful inquiry realized that the very nature of models as such are based on a fundamental error of thought?

We would start to see reality as it is before any conceptual overlay. We would, in effect, be at a ‘ground zero’ state. No longer would it seem as if we’re a camera moving about in the world – instead, what we previously thought of as the world, we now abide in – finally – as the very flow of phenomenality itself. With no model laid out over experiencing there’s just pure non-dual beingness. And that’s the enlightened mode of perceiving. Ground Zero.

So, there are actually two steps to this process. The first step is to realize that the division that we think is there isn’t. The subject-object model that we have is not representative of what’s actually going on. If you look right now you’ll see that there’s never any subject nor any objects given in direct experience – which reveals that the subject-object model of experience is entirely a mental fabrication – it all hinges on our beliefs about reality.

The last step is to pick apart those beliefs. To refute objectivity. To disprove the external world – so that we can abandon the universe-model and instead shift our experiencing into non-dual awareness.

Endgame

So stop fucking around. All of this deconstructing-your-ego business that everybody’s preaching these days is just a waste of time. Nothing dismantles an ego as effectively as pulling the rug out from underneath its existence as a space-time object.

Moreover, there’s certain movements on the internet that specialize in pointing out something that goes like this:

“Although there’s a body here, there’s no self in it. There’s just a brain doing the thinking and a body doing the walking, etc.”

That’s just pure nonsense. The idea of a self is the idea that there’s a space-time entity with perceptual capabilities – it’s as simple as that; and no amount of this kind of reasoning will ever ‘liberate’ you if you still believe that there are subjects that perceive objects.

In order to awaken, you must deconstruct the universe-model of reality – you must understand exactly how and why that model is false, so that you can begin to untangle the subject-object knot of perception that’s standing between you and reality in its infinite form.

Get real. Declare it with force and finality, and you’ll soon find yourself in full appreciation of the beauty and power of that which has always been staring you right in the face.

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28 Responses to Enlightenment: What It Is And How To Get It

  1. Susitha says:

    Thanks Goran for this clarity. I have purchased your book and it has really helped me. I am glad I followed my instinct

  2. alain says:

    Goran, what do you mean by experience?

  3. pete rivers says:

    who or what then is that that does the experiencing, who or what is that that does the thinking about, the writing about and the talking about the experiencing and ABOUT the subjectivity of it all? about about about

    • Göran Backlund says:

      Dear Pete,

      experiencing need not to imply an experiencer, just as raining need not to imply a rainer. A stream doesn’t require a streamer and thunder doesn’t need a thunderer. In ancient times people did believe that thunder was caused by a thunderer, but we have since long abandoned such beliefs – perhaps it is time to do so also in the case of experiencing!

  4. Chitiz says:

    If objective reality is untrue, then how can you write all this and expect “someone out there” to read it? Isn’t this a contradiction?

    • Göran Backlund says:

      Writing, speaking and acting in the game doesn’t require a belief in an objective reality. I don’t find it pointless to talk to “someone” just because i’m aware that neither of us exist other than as phenomena. There’s a game going on and it runs by itself. I don’t control the character – there’s no one in control, no one to whom people need to objectively exist in order for there to be meaningful to speak to them. Everything is unfolding according to the principles of this game – and it seems like apparent communication between characters is a cornerstone of the progressing storyline.

      Your question boils down to “Why bother talking to people when they don’t exist,” or “why move out of the way when a speeding car approaches – neither you nor the car exist,” or “why bother putting the left foot in front of the right – nothing exists.” But the answer to all of these questions is that you don’t decide anything – whatever happens is simply freely manifesting phenomena, outside “your” control – and that is the case whether or not that phenomena manifests as “writing to other characters” or as “putting the left foot in front of the right.”

  5. Helen says:

    Enlightenment is to return to our true nature of LIGHT. That’s why it is called enlightenment. The LIGHT is indescribable with our commonly shared words. It needs to be experienced, not talked about. With LIGHT, there is also direct knowledge, LOVE, BLISS and unlimitedness.

    • EvenStar LoveAnanda says:

      You can not return to somewhere that you have never left.
      Yes you can say, your true nature is the Transparent-Light of Awareness.
      Even now you are This. (Enlightened or not)
      But this is also just a feeble concept, to describe the Indescribable-Mystery.

  6. Mira Prabhu says:

    Goran, I enjoyed your excellent article and appreciate the clarity with which you respond to comments. You know what you are talking about — which is more than I can say about a host of others on the net who are so eager to promote themselves as gurus for money or fame or whatever that I have pretty much stopped reading anything said by anyone who claims to “know” reality. I myself wrote a novel on enlightenment set in ancient India and in the process morphed myself…there is still a pretty strong notion of identity, but i know that notion will burn away as i deepen my own awareness — from finite to infinite. I do this with a daily sadhana of Atma-Vichara — and when I say daily, I try to practice this awareness at all times — sometimes it kicks in after the event — i get angry, sad, whatever — and only later see these as just experiences rising in the field. Thanks!

  7. annanimm says:

    What happens when two subjects meet? Because we’ve all had moments of talking to other people and noticing that our perceptions or experiences of the same thing – and of each other – was different. Does the other person exist outside of your experience of them? Because I think of enlightenment as learning to see how my experience of others has been conditioned by my own perceptions, thoughts, ideologies, expectations, assumptions … and how I was not truly seeing the other openly, or closer to what they “really” are. Perhaps to see the other *completely* as they really are is impossible, since it is never separate from your perception – but I think you can change your perception to be less caught up in your own mind and more genuinely attuned to the “reality” of the other person. Does such a distinction even make sense in your terms?

    • Göran Backlund says:

      Hi annanimm,

      Two subjects can never meet because there are no subjects at all. There is no objective reality in which such subjects can meet. I think you’re really asking whether there are other ‘experiences’ out there. But how can that question make sense if there’s no “out there”?

    • Kristoffer says:

      Hi annanimm:

      Another way to say what Goran just did, is like this:

      Awakening means changing the way you perceive from a divided ‘mode of experiencing’ to an undivided. What happens is that the ‘thing behind the eyes that feels like it’s the observer of the world’ literally disappears, and so does every other ‘thing’ that was hidden ‘inside’, ‘behind’ or ‘beyond’ the appearance of present reality.
      So, do you see how your question doesn’t really apply to reality? If the ‘the observer behind the eyes’ disappears, both in yourself and in everything else – there is no one ‘meeting’ or ‘experiencing’ ‘someone else’, because what you mean by that is that ‘two observers who are located behind the eyes’ are meeting, experiencing each other.
      These two entites, these two observers, they aren’t present in reality. They are just conceptual ideas with no real referent. This is what can be understood logically, and later directly experienced to be true in awakening.
      There is just this present moment without anything ‘in it’, ‘behind it’ or ‘beyond it’ to experience it. This moment is simply itself as what is present. In awakening – when the ‘divided mode of experiencing’ ends – this is what happens: you stop feeling like you an ‘observer behind the eyes’ and instead start to feel like you are this moment itself, impersonally, and when that happens, the idea of ‘meeting’ or ‘experiencing’ ‘someone else’ is forever made impossible.

  8. Rex Riley says:

    “Stop fucking around.” That may one day rank right up there with the nuggets from Ramana, Nisargadatta, etc.

  9. EvenStar LoveAnanda says:

    You say that needer the Self nor the Object exists, yet there is experiencing of them happening or existing.
    But you do not define what you mean by existing or not existing.

    Let me define None Existence.
    By definition none existence, IS NOT.
    So if something does not exist, there can not be any interaction with it or from it.
    Or if something is perceivable, you can not say it does not exist.
    Apparently it exists in some way.
    The question then becomes, How does it exist?
    That takes care of none existence.

    However existence being a positive concept is more complicated, there can be different types of existence.
    Mainly None-Composite-Beingness (The ground of Being), Composite-Existentials (Objects or Shapes if you will) and Epiphenomena (Illusory Happenings).

    Notice I am not saying in what way these things exist.
    I am only saying these are perceivable things.
    Because even if they exist only conceptually, even then that will be a type of existence.

    So the question is not that the apparent things and phenomenon exists or not, but a better question would be since they do exist somehow, (because they are perceivable)
    in what way do they exist?
    Or how do they “conjure” their existence?
    How do they achieve their apparent existence?
    This type of questioning would allow a deeper examination of the nature of Reality.

    See where I am going with this?

    I submit, that this is a totally different, unconventional way of examining the nature of Reality/Existence.
    This should bring less confusion, then just flatly denying the existence of apparently exiting things.

    Cheers!

    • Dennis says:

      Exactly! Well put.

      Reality is infinite intelligence at play. Denying other people, and moreso – other people’s thoughts, is a fallacy.

      It’s easy to assume that other people’s thoughts don’t exist because you don’t perceive them, yet they do. Their thoughts exists just as much as yours. It is all one infinite WEB of interconnectedness of which at the base, the root, everything is connected, despite *apparent* separation.

      Denying the body and the brain is also a fallacy. There are bodies all over (even though that’s just a label for that mysterious happening we call ‘a body’) with brains in them. You see (even though there’s no seeer, just for the sake of explanation) because there are eyes/brains. It’s NOT that the eye sees an object, it’s rather that the whole scene of seeing, including eye/brain and apparant object is ONE WHOLE. This means, that there are other points of view in this mystery than just the one ‘you’ experience right now.

      Fractal holographic reality, vibration(frequency) are the keywords here.

      Much love

    • Göran Backlund says:

      Hi Dennis.

      No, it’s not a fallacy. But thinking that these things do exist; believing that time and space and bodies and brains are real, that they exist independently of experience is however very much a fallacy. You can read more about that here: No Objective Reality

  10. Karsten says:

    there is one thing i wonder about, that i hoped you could address. I see in my direct experience that there is no ‘me’ and no experienced object: only experiencing. Or non-dual awarness(ing).

    but it also seems like this only happening : experiencing, is dual.
    because different people see different things. i dont se your thoughts and you dont see mine.
    how is this happening ?

    (i agrree that it is an assumtion that other people have different expereinces than me: like the assumption of me or “other people”… i dont know.. maybe this is the belife that still justifies the butchering of life into fragments :)

    thanx

    • Göran Backlund says:

      If there’s no objective reality, then how could other people who supposedly have other experiences, exist? How could the concept of “other” have any purchase unless there’s an objectively existing reality of time and space? The notion of “other” depend on space and/or time to be objectively real, because it draws its meaning from spatial or temporal concepts (think about in what way something could be “other” unless divided spatially or temporally from something else – hint: it can’t)

  11. Mimi says:

    Hi Goran

    Thanks for all you do. I have some questions that really perplexed me for the longest.
    If experiencing doesn’t need an experiencer or rain doesn’t need a rainier, are you saying it just happen cause it’s life? If so, why life wants that while it can live without it? Since there is no ME or WE exist and if I am an alcoholic or a murderer or a child abuser and on and on, is it life happening without the doer so I or WE not responsible?

    Thanks,
    Mimi

    • Göran Backlund says:

      Your first question boils down to an old famous one: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
      The answer is that there isn’t – there’s only nothingness, or no-thingness, and every bit of somethingness is entirely fabricated in thought.

      The answer to your second question is: yes, nobody’s responsible for anything. That is, assigning blame to someone for doing bad stuff is based on faulty thinking; namely that there’s free will. However, that’s not all what the word ‘responsibility’ means. ‘Reponsibility’ need not to be coupled with the concept of blame. Look up responsibility vs. blame on google perhaps.

  12. Vitor says:

    Hi, if all people perceive the same object doesnt that mean that there really is an objective object or reality? That question puzzles me

    • Göran Backlund says:

      Hi! Well, if there is no objective reality, then there aren’t really different ‘people’ to whom objects appear, are there? Where would these people exist? ‘People’ don’t perceive – they are _perceived_.

      This ‘evidence’, these different accounts from different people is only evidence if one has already presupposed an objective reality wherein these people exist – otherwise it isn’t evidence at all, but simply appearances on the screen of consciousness.

  13. Vitor says:

    Thanks for the prompt answer! How does your thinking differ from solipsism?

    • Göran Backlund says:

      I have a yet to be published post about this. Here’s a snippet from it:

      “But, in order for the question of solipsism to arise, one have to first superimpose the physical structure of ‘perspective’ onto awareness. That is, one has to imagine a camera model of perception and then ask the question “Is there anything outside of this view?” or “Are there other views?”

      But there cannot even be an outside—there can be no place in where “others” do or don’t exist—unless we first superimpose this physical perspective model onto awareness.

      The imagining of ‘this perspective’ invokes the very same spatio-temporal context that we pointed out as nonsensical when we first invalidated the ‘other’ perspectives. That is, we can’t claim that this is a ‘perspective’ unless we believe that it exists objectively – and that there could be others, but aren’t.

      The model we conjure up, the ‘perspective model’ basically looks like this:

      http://www.chadvernon.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/07/frustum.jpg

      It’s a physical, or geometrical structure with tha shape of a clipped pyramid. The question of solipsism, or “Are there other points of sentience”, or “Are there other arisings in awareness” all depend on this geometrical structure for its context. Without this structure being taken as truly existing, these questions stop making sense.

      Not only the notion of “others,” but also the notion of me depend on this structure. It’s easy after one has had some realization to believe that everything within the “view”—that is, everything within this imagined structure—is myself; I; consciousness or whatever. But that leaves something outside of myself, something ‘other’ that may or may not exist. In other words, the notion that this is a ‘view’ depend on there being something outside of it – even if that something is just nothingness – and that is what makes it possible for this question of solipsism to arise in the first place.”

  14. Hami says:

    What are your thoughts on enlightened action? It is possible, I think, to have an enlightened awareness, but to feel very strongly that your actions are unenlightened, that there is a problem with how you act according to your nature. Any thoughts on that?

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