What is this enlightenment? We are told the experience cannot be described in words. It is like trying to describe the color blue or the taste of sweetness. It has been dubbed ineffable bliss, indescribable and beyond words. We know we contain the Atmic spirit within us yet our consciousness is normally centered in the lower realms of mind, emotions, and sensations. In our normal waking state we are aware that our bodies are feeling hungry, tired, hot or cold. Emotionally we may be angry, sad, envious, depressed, or happy. Mentally we are thinking, analyzing, remembering, comparing. Even if body, mind and emotions are relatively quiet, we still have the limiting blinders of the egoic awareness of name and form, "I am so and so, I am X years old, I live in this city, I like these things, I dislike these other things".
The experience of enlightenment occurs when the awareness is raised far above the lower sheaths, beyond the normal self centric awareness into the pure realm of the Atma which has its home in the vast Ocean of Existence, Knowledge, Bliss from which it was projected. The consciousness then shifts from the individual droplet to the vast oceanic awareness that has no center, no limits, no boundaries. We can get some idea of Enlightenment from the accounts of the sages who have experienced the Ultimate Reality before us.
Master spoke caressingly, comfortingly. His calm gaze was unfathomable. "Your heart's desire shall be fulfilled". I was bewildered. He struck gently on my chest above the heart.
My body became immovably rooted. breath was drawn out of my lungs. Soul and mind instantly lost their physical bondage and streamed out like a fluid light from my every pore. The flesh was as though dead; yet in my intense awareness I knew that never before had I been fully alive. My sense of identity was no longer narrowly confined to a body but embraced the circumambient atoms. People on distant streets seemed to be moving gently over my own remote periphery. The roots of plants and trees appeared through a dim transparency of the soil; I discerned the inward flow of their sap.
The whole vicinity lay bare before me. My ordinary frontal vision was now changed to a vast spherical sight, simultaneously all-perceptive. Through the back of my head I saw men strolling far down Rai Ghat Lane, and noticed also a white cow that was leisurely approaching. When she reached the open ashram gate, I observed her as though with my two physical eyes. After she had passed through the brick wall of the courtyard, I saw her clearly still.
All objects within my panoramic gaze trembled and vibrated like quick motion pictures. My body, Master's, the pillared courtyard, the furniture and floor, the trees and sunshine, occasionally became violently agitated, until all melted into a luminescent sea; even as sugar crystals, thrown into a glass of water, dissolve after being shaken. The unifying light alternated with materializations of forms, the metamorphoses revealing the law of cause and effect in creation. An oceanic joy broke upon calm endless shores of my soul. The Spirit of God, I realized is exhaustless bliss; His body is countless tissues of light. A swelling glory within me began to envelop towns, continents, the earth, solar and stellar systems, tenuous nebulae, and the floating universes. The entire cosmos, gently luminous, like a city seen afar at night, glimmered within the infinitude of my being.
The divine dispersion of rays poured from an Eternal Source, blazing into galaxies, transfigured with ineffable auras. Again and again I saw the creative beams condense into constellations, then resolve into sheets of transparent flame. By rhythmic reversion, sextillion worlds passed into diaphanous luster, then fire became firmament. Blissful amrita, nectar of immortality, pulsated through me with a quicksilver like fluidity. The creative voice of God I heard resounding as Aum, the vibration of the Cosmic Motor.
Suddenly the breath returned to my lungs. With a disappointment almost unbearable, I realized that my infinite immensity was lost. Once more I was limited to the humiliating cage of a body, not easily accommodative to the Spirit. Like a prodigal child I had run away from my macrocosmic home and had imprisoned myself in a narrow microcosm.
Later master explained "It is the Spirit of God that actively sustains every form and force in the universe; yet He is transcendental and aloof in the blissful uncreated void beyond the world of vibratory phenomena. Those who have attained Self-realization on earth live a similar twofold existence. Conscientiously performing their work in the world, they are yet immersed in an inward beautitude"
The above description was recorded by the young Paramahansa Yogananda as he was given his first taste of Samadhi, or as he called it, Cosmic Consciousness, by his Guru, Sri Yukteswar. It should be noted that there are various types and levels of Samadhi ranging from bliss and images of revelation up to the highest mergence in the Absolute.
Another example of this state of Self Realization is from the life of Vivekananda (Narendra) who was the direct disciple of that most famous Indian holy man and prototypical devotee, Sri Ramakrishna.
Sri Ramakrishna wanted to initiate his new pupil, Narendra, into Advaitha Vedanta (the teaching that all this is only the One) and so gave him several Advaitha treatises to read. But the earlier religious background of Narendra would not allow him to accept such teachings. He would rebel saying "It is blasphemy, there is no difference from such philosophy and Atheism. There is no greater sin in the world than to think of oneself as identical with the Creator. I am God, you are God, these created things are God - what can be more absurd than this. The sages who wrote such things must have been insane." Sri Ramakrishna was amused at his pupil's bluntness but told him to go on praying to the God of truth and to believe in whatever aspect of Him that was revealed to him. Narendra however, considered the teachings false and continued to resist and ridicule them.
But Sri Ramakrishna knew that Narendra was on the path of Jnana (the higher knowledge) and therefore continued to espouse the Advaithic point of view to him. One day he tried to convince Narendra that he was identical with Brahmam. Narendra left the room and began to discuss the situation with his friend Hazra. He said: "How can that be? This jug is God, this cup is God, whatever we see is God, and we, too are God! Nothing can be more preposterous!" Hazra joined in this criticism and both laughed. Sri Ramakrishna was in his room in a state partly in the Samadhi consciousness and partly in this world. Hearing Narendra's laughter he came out to talk to them. "Hello! What are you talking about?" he said smiling and touched Narendra, who immediately plunged into full Samadhi. Narendra described the effect of the touch:
"That magic touch of the Master immediately brought a change over my mind. I was stupefied to find that really there was nothing in the universe but God! I saw it quite clearly but kept silent, to see if the idea would last. But that influence did not abate in the course of the day. I returned home, but there, too, everything I saw appeared to be Brahmam. I sat down to take my meal, but found that everything - the food, the plate, the person who served, and even myself - was nothing but That. I ate a morsel or two and sat still. I was startled by my mother's words, 'Why do you sit still? Finish your meal.', and began to eat again. But all the while whether eating or lying down or going to college, I had the same experience and felt myself always in a sort of comatose state. While walking in the streets, I noticed cabs plying, but I did not feel inclined to move out of the way, for I felt that the cabs and myself were of one stuff. There was no sensation in my limbs, which I thought were becoming paralyzed. I had no satisfaction from eating and felt as though someone else were eating.
Sometimes I lay down during a meal and after a few minutes got up and began to eat again. The result would be that on some days I would take too much, but it seemed to do no harm. My mother became alarmed and said that there must be something wrong with me. She was afraid that I would not live long. When this state altered a little, the world began to appear to me as a dream. While walking in Cornwallis Square, I would strike my head against the iron railings to see if they were real or only a dream. This state of things continued for some days. When I became normal again, I realized that I must have had a glimpse of the Advaitha state. Then it struck me that the words of the scriptures were not false. Thenceforth I could not deny the conclusions of the Advaitha philosophy.
When we raise our consciousness to the level of the Atma, we at least temporarily abandon that identity we previously related to. That same Atma resides in all beings as the witness and so at the level of the Atmic consciousness is the sum total of the consciousness of all the individualized beings. Traditionally, Brahmam is described as having thousands of mouths, eyes, hands, and heads because in the Samadhi state the awareness takes in the perceptions of the higher Atmic being that is behind all of the individual forms. Stories of the lives of Sages and Saints are full of descriptions of their awareness of the thoughts and feelings of the disciples who come to them. From the height of the Atma they peer into the mind of disciples to ascertain their spiritual path and assist them on their way. They see the patterns of cause and effect at work in an individuals life and so know the forces and events leading up to the present moment, the impediments to continued evolution and how they may best be overcome.
We view human history as a series of nations, civilizations, movements of thought, and periods of high culture. But from a cosmic viewpoint the worth of our planet is as an environment in which the incarnating souls can be trained, tested, and graduate into the wider realms of universal life. The lower forces of greed, lust, anger, hatred and jealousy are pitted against aspiration, truthfulness, compassion, forbearance. When the lower forces predominate the individual is demonic in nature, the consciousness saturated in hypocrisy, arrogance, conceit, anger, cruelty and ignorance. Says Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita speaking as Avatar of Brahmam "I cast them back, again and again, into the wombs of degraded parents, subjecting them to the wheel of birth and death. and so they are constantly reborn in degradation and delusion". The man who has divine tendencies is disciplined, charitable, gentle, modest, truthful, and even tempered. He has faith in the strength of his higher nature. The nature of such a one leads to eventual liberation.
The human consciousness naturally goes out towards the senses and the objects of the senses generate desire. The energy of the individual is focused on gaining the objects of desire and when desire is blocked, anger ensues. When one thing is attained the next becomes the new object of desire. The desire for things and experiences thus contributes to a loss of peace. The being on the spiritual path replaces desire for objects with desire for God, the desire to serve others and to advance towards the goal.
"I am immanent in every being. People forget Me, who is within and without them; I am the inner core of every being, but, they are not aware of this. So, they are tempted to believe the objective world to be real and true, and they pursue objective pleasures and fall into grief and pain. On the other hand, if they concentrate all attention on Me alone, believing that the Lord has willed everything and everyone, I bless them and reveal to them the Truth that they are I and I am they. Thousands have been blessed thus. They are the seekers, the aspirants, the Mahatmas, the Sages, the Divinely Inspired, the Manifestations of the Divine, the Guides who show the path. They have acquired the experience that Truth is Dharma (sacred duty)."
Ultimate Nature of Reality
To put our human reality into perspective we can compare the immense universe with our speck of dust rotating around an average sun among billions of other suns in our Milky Way galaxy, itself an average galaxy among billions of other galaxies. A human lifetime is as a nanosecond in the life span of a typical cosmic object such as a sun or galaxy. From a cosmic context, our civilizations are less than the building of an anthill. We search the universe for life but fail to recognize it even though the images of the colossal living forms fill our photographic negatives. Because of our microcosmic time reference we fail to recognize the harmonic vibrations, the swirling rotations, the ever-changing spectral emanations, of the great lives around us.
From science we know that the colors we see don't have an objective existence but are created by the mind (really, the Atma) as light of different frequencies strikes the eye. The objects around us that we think of as solid are really mostly empty space with a minuscule atom occupying a comparatively immense area like a speck of dust on a football field. Our human consciousness is organized in time units of the current day of the week, the current month, the hour of the day etc. But in reality there is only the present moment in which we can act and make a difference. Time is like an illusion cast by an undulating universe. The past has no objective existence except in our human memory, the smooth passage of time is just an illusion, and the future is merely a figment of our mental anticipation. The seeming multiplicity of the universe itself is merely a maya, an illusion cast by the one great identity behind it, the source of all light, life and intelligence, projecting through the eternal now an array of forms that hypnotically delude us into believing in the utter reality of things in themselves that we perceive within our human frame of reference.
An Avatar once described the manifested universe as a mere fleck of froth on the immense ocean of Atmic awareness (ie the manifested universe as compared to the unmanifested formless Eternal Being). Similarly in the Bhagavad Gita, after elaborating on His countless manifestations into form, Krishna says, speaking again as an Avataric projection of Brahman (the Supreme Being) on the Earth:
"But what need have you to know this huge variety of forms. Know only
that I exist, and that one atom of myself sustains the universe."
Imprisoned in our human forms with only our senses as input devices, we can never know what objective reality is. The "out there" that we think we see is really a projection of our own inner Atmic consciousness and we can never know the final appearance or reality of it. We see it through binary eyes that project a three dimensional appearance. Does space exist in three dimensions or is this merely an illusion? Is our idea of three dimensional space merely a projected concept of our inner consciousness? Sounds and sights, are merely vibrations impinging on the consciousness through the senses. The images, feelings, thoughts, sensations are like a movie projector throwing its image onto the screen of awareness that is our inner spirit, the Atma. The Atma itself remains unchanged like the projector screen.
A spiritual master once said that the entire universe was made of Light. This is the Light of the Atma - or pure Spirit, which pervades all and apprehends all objects "below" it (ie thoughts, sensations, feelings, space, light and sound, and the seeming objects which apparently surround us). In Genesis we read "And God said, let there be Light". Light and Spirit are synonymous from this perspective because light arises only as spirit comprehends it.
The flickering images we call reality constantly change and have only a relative reality. The ancients called it Maya or illusion. The Illumined souls who have attained to enlightenment tell us that what we consider reality is no more real than the dreams we experience while sleeping. We dream and it seems real; we are involved, fearful, anxious under the spell of the dream. But when we wake it soon fades and we realize it was only a dream. So, to one who becomes enlightened, the dream of earth life fades away and they wake up to the brilliant illumination of realization. The multiplicity of forms is seen to be but projected aspects of the one formless absolute. What once appeared to be many, now appears to be one only. After achieving this state, the intrigues and ambitions of human concerns appear to be as dust. The illumined soul then realizes a new purpose; to serve all and awaken the remainder of sleeping humanity from it's dream state.
From Autobiography of a Yogi:
"The whole cosmos is a projected thought of the Creator. The heavy clod of the earth, floating in space, is a dream of God's. He made all things out of his mind, even as man in his dream consciousness reproduces and vivifies a creation with its creatures."
From Secrets of Creation Revealed:
"After arriving at the Nirvikalpa state, man realises for the first time that his whole existence as a physical body as well as an individualized consciousness is unreal, evanescent, and ephemeral. He then knows for certain that the individualised body aspect and the individualised consciousness aspect are composed of mere dream stuff of the Primary Consciousness, the only Absolute Reality behind all the worlds of phenomena.
When He (Primary Consciousness) imagines or daydreams, He creates a dream stuff composed cosmos, which to us is the waking cosmos and of which we all are a part. Thus we all are His day dream. The cosmos is not composed of a so called real physical matter. On the contrary it is composed of Primary Consciousness alone albeit Primary Consciousness in His formful mode."
From Bhagavad Gita:
"I am the birth of this cosmos, its dissolution also.
I am He who causes, no other beside me.
Upon me these worlds are held
Like pearls strung on a string.
These my wandering creatures are always within me.
These, when the round of ages is accomplished,
I gather back to the seed of their becoming:
These I send forth again at the hour of creation.
Helpless all, for Maya (delusion) is their master
And I, their Lord, the master of Maya:
Ever and again, I send these multitudes forth from my being."
From Swetasvatara Upanishad:
"Thou art the Primal Being.
Thou appearest as this universe
Of illusion and dream.
Thou art beyond time.
Indivisible, infinite, the Adorable One.
Let a man meditate on thee
Within his heart.
Let him consecrate himself to thee,
And thou, infinite Lord,
Wilt make thyself known to him."
After Paramahansa Yogananda had achieved a measure of God consciousness he tells the story of entering the theatre and watching a newsreel which showed vividly and dramatically the immense carnage taking place on the battlefields of France during World War I:
After leaving the theater he shook his head sadly and posed a question to God, the inner ruler of all: "Lord, why do you permit such suffering?". To his amazement, he was given an instant answer to his question. He was shown an inner vision of the actual battlefields filled with dead and dying soldiers. The scene that he saw in vision far surpassed in horrific intensity that of the newsreel he had just witnessed.
"Look intently!" A gentle Voice spoke to my inner consciousness. "You will see that these scenes now being enacted in France are nothing but an illusory play of light and dark. They are the cosmic motion picture, as real and as unreal as the theater newsreel you have just seen - a play within a play.
Creation is light and shadow both, else no picture is possible. The good and evil of maya must ever alternate in supremacy. If joy were ceaseless in this world, would man ever desire another? Without suffering, he scarcely cares to recall that he has forsaken his eternal home. Pain is a prod to remembrance. The way of escape is through Wisdom. The tragedy of death is unreal. My sons are children of light. They will not sleep forever in delusion."
A cinema audience may look up and see that all screen images are appearing through the instrumentality of one imageless beam of light. The colorful universal drama is similarly issuing from the single white light of a Cosmic Source. With inconceivable ingenuity God is staging "super-colossal" entertainment for His Children, making them actors as well as audience in His planetary theatre