The Stages of Awakening

Like a beautiful fragrance rolling in from the horizon, mass awakening suddenly seems to be upon us. Exuberant stories about phenomenal experiences and realizations rain down in abundance. Awakening has become a common theme for sure, but what exactly does it imply?

When we discuss the idea of awakening, it must obviously mean that there has to be something which we are awakening from; it can be said to be the realization of truth which dissolves illusion, the awakening from the separate-self, or the transition from duality to Oneness. I describe awakening as the triumphant dawning of realization that there is a reality beyond that which we formerly believed. It is the recognition that at the center of our being we are not our thoughts, sensations, and experiences, and instead we are the space in which these things emerge.

Some will call this Consciousness itself, others Spirit, Pure Energy, Beingness, the Tao, or God. Depending on your perspective, none, or all of these could be an accurate depiction of what we are discussing because all such things are beyond that which can be grasped or explained with words. What I find people being most confused about is the use of the words awakening and enlightenment interchangeably.

Enlightenment can be said to be self-realization. The enlightened one realizes existence to be transitory, and something akin to a dream. They realize that they are the cosmic dreamer and that what we perceive as existence is not outside of themselves, but a part of themselves. Enlightenment is abiding as this knowingly.

I differentiate between Awakening and Enlightenment because there are various levels of Oneness a being may experience. The initial glimpse of reality or breaking free of the shell of illusion, the realization that you are not what you do, and so on, can be seen as an awakening. The dawning of awakening to that which is beyond, that which you were previously experientially blind to. Yet, even when this occurs in a being, the old mental patterns may continue to emerge, as a fan continues to spin even when the electrical cord is pulled from the wall. Though you may now have awakened, the process to total liberation may continue to unfold. Whereas Enlightenment would be the full realization of truth, and Oneness.

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, world renowned yogi, mystic, and teacher stated that “A moment of Oneness that people may experience cannot be considered Enlightenment.” He goes on to explain this moment of Oneness in the form of an analogy: imagine that you are living in an enclosed area and you begin to jump on a trampoline. You jump higher and higher and higher until you jump high enough to look beyond the walls, seeing something incredible. Yet, you still fell back down onto the trampoline. He says “this glimpse changes your perception. Once you have seen that, the way you look at life changes… but this cannot be considered Enlightenment. You have to build a ladder and cross the wall.”

One could say that anyone reading this has probably experienced an awakening to one degree or another, yet, not every being reading these words can claim to be experientially one with existence itself. Some schools of thought freely use the terms interchangeably and that is perfectly acceptable. However, I hope this has given you a bit of perspective on the possible differences in use, and within your own experience.

The Stages

Enlightenment is often said to not be a process whatsoever; it happening suddenly and with no warning. Instead, it is said that our active role in the matter is simply preparing the soil and allowing the flowering of liberation to grow on its own. However upon this path, there are various stages that an aspirant may experience, and these stages vary depending on the teacher and school of thought. There are certainly many parallels one may observe. Below I will mention the stages as taught by just three teachers. These are teachers who have greatly affected my journey and I have much respect for.

Rupert Spira

Rupert Spira is a modern, London-born teacher on the direct path of Advaita Vedanta, or non-duality. He considers awakening to happen in two stages:

1. The first stage is the conscious recognition that you are not your experiences, sensations, or thoughts, but that you are the awareness that perceives all of it.

2. The second stage is that this awareness that you are has no finite limitations.

Osho

Osho is a very famous spiritual teacher from India, who in his earthly life was very knowledgeable about various schools of thought. He taught that through the cultivation of awareness, and the deep relaxation on all levels we can experience enlightenment in this very moment. Along the path Osho described three stages of awakening:

1. The first stage is the realization that what you are is not the physical body.

2. Bringing awareness to the mind, here one watches without engaging. Observing more and more subtle thoughts, one realizes that they are not the mind, and instead simply the observer of it. The dis-identification with the mind and thought is the second stage.

3. The third stage brings us to the heart. After one has sufficiently paid close attention to the movement of the mind, they sink into the heart. Here we watch our emotions on more and more subtle levels, not becoming identified with these movements, instead simply witnessing. The dis-identification with emotion completes the process and the being is now free.

Adyashanti

Adyashanti is an American-born spiritual teacher who teaches about the realization of pure spirit or being. His teachings are an open invitation to experience what is true at the core of existence. He divides awakening into three stages.

1. The first stage is considered to be awakening to the realization of love or peace within the being. The experience is of seeing an aspect of the divine within your being which is ever-present.

2. The second stage is the realization that you are that which you perceived as “inside” of you. You are this ever-present Peace, Love, and Beingness. You are not the limited personality or the physical body.

3. In this stage, this realization begins to shift out, or expand. When once your awareness was concentrated within the formlessness of your pure being, it now expands outwards and recognizes itself within all of creation. Seeing no difference between its formless nature and what appears as form. Duality disappears.

Conclusion

Spiritual growth can be tracked in many ways, and though devising road maps may be entertaining, it should not become a distraction. What I find to be the best indicator of growth is the amount of love and peace one feels within their experience. Where there was once stress and tension, there is now love and peace. As you begin to witness yourself becoming more responsive in life and less reactive, more patient and less restless, rest assured that you are certainly advancing along the path of liberation. It is my hope that all who are reached by this may experience a greater sense of joy and abundance in their life. It is our very birthright, the essence of our nature. Though we once lost our way, may the gentle inner joy and love of your being be the luminous light guiding you home.

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