This article is graciously provided for republication by the author, Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati (Dr. Christa-Maria Herrmann), German by birth, naturalized British, originally studying Theology, her university studies soon expanded to Education, Psychology, Philosophy and Art and Design (Ceramics). Different teaching jobs (in colleges and universities) in various countries followed. At the center of her studies (as well as her teaching) was always the subject of 'Self-awareness'.
You might ask why one would put these two words together, because to me, they are very similar. Let's start with en-lightenment, meaning: to put light up, to throw light on that which is without light; darkness. Then what is darkness - it is an absence of light - is it? Or is that just our perception? According to science as well as the ancient teachings, the origin of existence as we know it is from a bindu, a point of extreme contraction which exploded (Big Bang) expanded into the universe (as we know it). In the ancient teachings of Yoga, this point, the bindu - is light as well as conscious. Hence we understand that all that comes from it must be light and consciousness .
However, that is not our experience, because our experience (in an everyday manner) is limited by the instruments of perception; i.e. our senses - and the capacity of our mental mechanism to interpret their input. This limitation causes us to interpret some of the higher frequencies of these "cosmic rays" as light, the other darkness.
Similarly (in terms of con- science = with knowing), we talk of the light of knowing and the darkness of ignorance. Both depend on the limitations of our human conditioning. So to bring light into our awareness, to become conscious of our light; to become conscious of being light and consciousness - we need to lose the limitations of our conditioned mind. Let's leave it there for a moment and look at freedom.
What is freedom? Being free from what? We have to understand what freedom is; freedom not of the "I" as we tend to think (to do what we want is merely licentiousness; or we could say slavery to our primitive fountains (re: Swami Rama); but freedom "from the "I" (from that which limits the divine Being that we are; into the corset of the conditioned "I"). This is essential to comprehend: as long as we are limited to the conditioned "I" - life is bound by limitations arising from this very conditioning of our mind (be it through past karma; present life's experience; society; education etc. etc. - expressing as, mental patterns, habits, behaviour or personality).
So, to become truly free, first we have to recognize these limitations in us and dis-identify with their influences and thus prevent their manifestations. Swami Rama says: "Those who can burn these samskaras in the fire of non-attachment or knowledge, are free from the bondage created by them. It is like a burnt rope that has lost its binding power, though it still looks like a rope."
By gradually discovering these samskaras in ourselves, the factors that bind us, limitus (our thinking patterns, habits, etc.) we discover that that's not who we are, but underneath these are greater connections - laws, that govern life... not just our life! It's abit like discovering the laws of physics, the speed of light; the subjectivity of quantum theory; the laws of gravity and anti-matter. When we see a wider picture, beyond our ego-world we discover wider laws and contexts within which life plays out its existence. That means we gain a wider vision of who we are in this "play of life", we start to see the interconnectedness of all existence; eventually there is no more separate "I" but the ocean of consciousness in which this "being" IS .
Shirdi Sri Baba described the state of perfect freedom: "I am formless and everywhere. I am in everything, and beyond... all is my form: ant, fly, prince and pauper. I am in the water,in the dry places, in woods, amidst crowds and in solitary wilderness. I am in the fire and in ether. I am not limited to any place." A sea without a shore.... No limitations, that is freedom.
So the less we are attached to our own little selfs (the ego and its limitations) the greater becomes the field in which we live and act. Beyond our personal likes and dislikes we live in/with a wider vision; emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Living from such wider perspectiveis what the great masters have taught us: is freedom.
As our vision and understanding expands beyond our conditioned self- we become gradually more free. A baby for example, is tied to its base needs of food, sleep and safety/shelter. Its freedom is naturally curtailed. A toddler is allowed to play in the play-pen, but not in the garden; an older child is allowed to play in the garden but not on the road etc. Freedom grows proportional to our ability to see our connectedness with everything else; and thus act with the ability to respond-to whatever happens.
The adult that still thinks of him/herself as separate thus is limited by what the "friends"and neighbours say; what the fashion-guru's say; what the peer-pressure says, what the society expects etc. etc.
The adult that sees its interconnectedness with all there is, moves freely i.e in total "re-sponds-ability" to all situation he/she meets. He sees others as part of his own web of existence. Such a person is able to throw light on the situations and people they meet and deal with whatever comes up - appropriate. A person that is free - then is a person that is "enlightened". Swami Muktananda explains: There are two states, the state of the soul in bondage and the divine state, that is the state of freedom. These two states correspond to two different levels of knowledge and understanding. In the state of bondage the individual passes from waking to dream, from dream to deep sleep from deep sleep back to waking... and this cycle goes on endlessly. In the cycle one experiences pleasure and pain... he is alimited being... having a certain status, race... country... power... wealth... vision etc. He remains in the limits of his identification..."
With increasing awareness we grow into freedom; just as a toddler does not have the same degree of freedom then the latter wise person - the "en-lightenment" of a bound person is of a different nature than that of a "wise person". That means, just as there are different degrees of being free; there are different ways/degrees of being en-lightened.
In fact the Lotus Sutra says that there are many, many levels of enlightenment, they are like ladders we climb as we "grow up"- into mature of human beings (evolving into "truehuman beings" fulfilling our potential). However, as we feel we have reached a certain level, we recognize, that we merely change the ladder and are again on the bottom step - albeit of the next ladder... This is the root of humility; one of the signs to recognize a truly advanced Being.
The same we can say for being free.
Have you heard the saying: like cures like; or only like can truly understanding like? None of us, who talk so glibly, is on the equal level than those highly evolved Beings we call Enlightened. Hence how do we think we can understand who or what they are?
But let's pretend we could talk on a high level - about the higher ladders, with a fair amount of spiritual knowledge and acumen. First thing we realize from that is: that it depends on who is talking? (What are the limitations, the conditionings of the one who talks about freedom and enlightenment.) Or worse who says: I am enlightened?
What does "Enlightenment" and or "Freedom" mean to them?
In the 18th Century, the age of enlightenment it was quiet clear that the word related to someone who had the ability to bring clarity of understanding to others; bringing new knowledge; and as there were many who imparted loads of "new knowledge" one talked of the age of Enlightenment. However that is not the level we are talking about here. When we talk about a highly evolved Being, that has wisdom that illuminates to him - the cosmos and beyond - one could say - that Being has merged into consciousness. Such wide and deep insight, is a state of being which fundamentally changed that Being, changed his individual consciousness, into a state of total consciousness where all conditions and limitations disappear; that means there is no ore "I" (no more person/persona/mask); such complete awareness of simply being consciousness/transforms the being completely. Ancient and modern science even indicates, that this would change the brain (the ordinary human's instrument of perception). Such fundamental change could indeed be the next step in evolution of what we call human-beings.
Swami Rama writes: "Through self-analysis you come to know that you are not only a physical being, you are not only a breathing being, you are not only a sensing being, and you are not only a thinking being. You have a body, breath, senses, and mind, but you are something more than this.
...the day you have attained the knowledge that the Lord lives within you, you will be insamadhi. All questions will be answered, all problems will be resolve".
To reach the state of enlightenment thus, we have to leave behind all limitations of physical, mental and psychological existence, including all pleasure and pain and realize that we are simply light/consciousness. This means: walking the path of self-inquiry! It means seriously facing the question: Who am I; what am I? The goal is to discover the Self, the core, the essence of existence; hence Self-Realization is yet another word, which seems to cover the same ground as Mokṣa (freedom) and enlightenment. "Mokṣa
The Maitri Upanisad (IV:30) refers to a person who has the marks of (adhyavasãya- mental preconception, apprehension /conditioning) and the will (samkhalpa - intentions formed by the mind) and self-love (abhimãna, meaning self-conceit and pride), is bound. He who is the opposite is liberated. Mokṣa is the opposite, the absence of the above notions formed by the mind.
Plato describes Socrates being instructed by the priestess Diotima in the art of freedom, as an awareness of a very special sense of beauty, which is not limited, its "neither words,nor knowledge, nor something that exists in something else... or anything that is - but its subsisting of itself, by itself in an eternal oneness... when this universal beauty dawns... the wise is almost in the reach of final revelation... man's life is ever worth living, when he has attained this vision... he will want to live in this beauty, cultivate this virtue... and when he has brought forth this perfect virtue, he shall be called the friend of God; immortal and free!" Then freedom and en-lightenment and living as an enlightened Being are all one. This is living as love, from love.
In Dante's Divine Comedy, the hero describes the experience of realizing as there being: "more than the tongue can say, our human speech is dark before this vision; memory (conditioning) swoons and falls away...
All things are in a single volume bound by Love, of which the universe is the scattered leaves... O light eternal fixed in itself alone, by itself alone understood, which from Itself loves, and glows, self-knowing and self known..."
There is a Chinese Poem that describes freedom or enlightenment in a simple down to earthway, that is typical of Chinese poetic insight: "Traceless, no more need to hide; now the old mirror reflects everything - autumn light moistened by faint mist" (Suian).
It says in the Tripura Rahasya: "While acting in the world, the eternal being of an enlightened one remains undisturbed in all conditions... those in the highest state are like the citizens of two countries. They live in the world, yet simultaneously remain absorbed in the SELF." We can see that once conditioning is shed, the purity that remains - expresses across cultures and tradition in a similar way. It seems that with leaving behind all conditioning, what remains is what Swami Rama described as the trilogy of "Love, Life and Light"... The enlightened being lives a permanent citizen in the state of Turya, the fourth State of consciousness, that we ordinary being aim to touch, when in Yoga Nidra or when we meditate.
Swami Rama describes the process that leads to such complete detachment and widening of our perspective beyond the limitations of conditioned mind to pure knowing, pure intellect; where "knowing has no more language", where consciousness has no object: "As you progress in the practice of meditation, the mind becomes one-pointed and calm. Such a tranquil mind begins working in accordance with the intellect. No contradiction remains between the functions of mind and intellect. The impurities of mind, such as doubt and conflict that usually pollute the intellect, are removed from the mind. Intellect is no longer disturbed by the activities of the mind, and you experience an extraordinary inner peace... According to the Upanishads, one should remove all the impurities from the mind, and make the mind free from all doubts and conflicts, so the intellect can be as pure as crystal... Through such an intellect, the meditator knows that the goal of life is not far away."
The Chandogya Upanishad says: Free from evil, free from old age and death; free from sorrow, free from hunger and thirst, desiring nothing but what it ought to desire; resolving nothing then what it ought to resolve... this is the SELF (the Atman).
Swami Rama continues: An intellect free from the disturbances of the lower mind attains the illumination of the Atman from above. Darkness belonging to the realms of mind and senses cannot exist in the light of an illumined intellect. In the absence of all thought constructs, the lower mind merges into the intellect. When intellect is absorbed in the Divine Light, that is the state of samadhi, the state of fearlessness and immortality... At the dawn of spiritual enlightenment, the mind and the intellect find their place in the kingdom of Atman, and one thereby attains freedom from the pairs of opposites such aspain and pleasure. This is the highest state of freedom.
When an individual learns to expand his consciousness or unites with the universal consciousness, then he no longer remains within the bounds of his karma. He is totally free."
I propose with all humility and from my limited understanding, that that total freedom is Enlightenment!