5. Enlightenment and Death of Ego

Enlightenment

In my previous articles I mentioned idea of enlightenment/awakening* which I defined as breaking out from the “wheel of karma”. Wheel of karma was defined as a repetition of certain actions and habits that eventually limit our ability to learn new things in life. Reality Tunnels were defined as mental constructs, our belief systems. Karma is both the cause and the effect of our suffering in life and it is the main obstacle we need to overcome if we seek for the spiritual awakening. Overcoming/ overwriting a preexisting karma is very difficult. From the scientific point of view that’s because neural connections once created in our brains are always present and the more we repeat certain action the stronger this connection becomes. (For those of you who haven’t read my previous posts- you might need to do so if you want to understand my line of thought.)

In order to to understand why it is so difficult to break out of karma we need to first have a look at the concept of awakening and enlightenment. According to the Buddhist philosophy full enlightenment manifests in the state of nirvana -”the imperturbable stillness of mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished”. This state is not easy to describe since only people who understand it are those who have already experienced it. They always say it’s a blissful and liberating experience. I personally never met a person who achieved a full permanent state of nirvana (although having said that I don’t know if I would be able to recognise them). I definitely wouldn’t trust any such claim and every person who names themselves a “spiritual master” is suspicious to me.

Anyway even if we haven’t reached the full elightenment yet I believe that most of us have experienced what I would call a “micro- enlightenments” many times through our life time. If enlightenment could be described as an “ultimate disillusionment” I believe that it is preceded by the moment of awakening/ illumination. Illumination is a moment when illusion dissolves in front of us and we stand face to face with a new revelation of some kind. I have experienced many such illuminations during my life time and I am sure that you have as well. These micro-illuminations are the moments when we realise something very profound for the first time in our life. It can be as simple as reading about scientific discovery that changed our vision of reality. It can be also something more dramatic like for example close encounter with UFO or OBE.

Even in case of a really “mind blowing” illuminations the depth of this experience is only recognisable to ourselves. People around us are not be able to share it with us. To us every such moment feels almost as if suddenly everything around us smashed into pieces (in a good or bad way). To everyone else things are just as they used to be and they don’t understand what we make so much fuss about. Coming back to the concept of reality tunnels I would say that every such illumination is the moment when our reality tunnel expands and reveals part of reality we have never noticed before. This is a personal experience and other people are excluded from it unless they happen to experience a similar thing at the same time when we do.

Other people may seem unimpressed with our awakening for a few reasons: It is possible that they have already experienced it and that they don’t find it exiting anymore. (A bit like when teenagers who only just discovered sex don’t understand why their parents gave up on it). The other possibility is that other people have never had a chance to share a given experience (like someone who never had sex before) or it’s even possible that they did but they forgot about it somehow.**

Those of you who have experienced such an illuminated states before (and I’m guessing that’s everyone) will surely agree that it has an enormously refreshing effect on us. In case it was a positive experience (down to earth example-like learning that you have passed the exam ) it fills you with joy and fulfillment. In case it was a painful experience (eg. like learning that you have failed the exam) it fills you with anger and despair but even then it can bring sensation of catharsis- purification which has a sense of inner beauty in it. Either of the two states is preferable to the state of not knowing (like the moment when you approach the notice boards to see the results). Illumination (either as pleasant or painful experience) gives us an “knock out” effect. After initial shock when we get back to our senses we feel as though we gained some important lesson. We feel wiser. This is a micro-enlightenment. Path towards the “final” enlightenment is built out of many such micro- illuminations and micro- enlightenments. The faster you move through them the quicker you get there. Unfortunately quite often we move on very slowly and we need to repeat the same lesson many times before we remember it.

Those who follow this path in big “jumps” experience bits of both “heaven” and “hell”. They climb the highest heights and fall into the lowest lows. I can’ think of a more exiting way to live even though I admit that it can be tiring.

For me personally path towards enlightenment is what gives meaning to my life. Every moment of illumination even if it is painful is more meaningful to me that any so called “achievements”. I’d rather spend all my life getting nowhere in terms of possessions and social recognition than having to sacrifice the excitement of learning I gain from new experiences. Having said that, simply chasing the state of excitement is not going to bring you to the enlightenment. Moment of illumination can bring excitement but the enlightenment itself is the quiet grounded phase that comes afterward. In my eyes an enlightened person is like a symbolic laughing Buddha or quiet Taoist master sitting under a tree with a smile on his face. This person doesn’t need any more excitement, they can simply enjoy every moment of their life and enjoy simple things that other people consider mundane. This is also why I believe the real “masters” are difficult to spot.

I’ve spend many years wondering why most people seem completely uninterested in following this path. I could list thousands of individual reasons here; the most obvious one being that people are to busy with other goals. One thing that all these goals/reasons have in common is their connection with the world of Samsara (illusion of the mind). This applies even to such noble goals like the world peace or fight with injustice. Peace and justice make sense only in the world of dialectic and they need their opposite- war and injustice in order to exits. In the world of nirvana there is no need for them anymore.

The path towards enlightenment is an inward process. Its effect becomes visible to the outside world as your karma/ your behaviours gradually changes and you become less demanding and less aggressive towards other people. Some people fall into another extreme and they become very detached and uncaring. I remember Crowley mentioning that mystics can be extremely cold and even cruel towards other people. If that’s the case with you it means they still have a long way to go. After all enlightened person knows their connection with everything else. As explained before our perceived separation from the surrounding environment is an illusion. Your environment is an extension of your own body. An enlightened person knows that they are interconnected with their environment and by hurting others they hurt themselves really.

Death of Ego

Process of enlightenment equals gradual abandoning of Samsara. Mystical teaching of all cultures (including Christian gnosticism) describe this process as a gradual death of ego. Death of ego as a concept makes us feel uncomfortable since our culture glorifies ego. We are taught that a powerful ego is what creates a strong individual. We tend to think that death of ego equals death of a person. In fact that’s entirely untrue. Death of ego is a death of illusion. The stronger the ego the stronger illusion it creates and the stronger resistance it meets from the rest of the world. People with stronger egos often have the hardest lives, especially when it comes to relationships with others.

Ego is the very foundation of everyone’s reality tunnel. In my previous writing I partially explained that a belief is a form of attachment to a certain idea. What I haven’t explained properly is that our entire identity is based on these attachments. The moment I describe myself as eg. a woman I immediately become associated with a whole network of concepts that have been linked to the idea of a womanhood. This will affect the way I feel about myself and it will affect the way other people treat me. Depending on the circumstances I may develop a personal pride or complex built purely on my association with the idea of womanhood.

We all have many such associations built into our reality tunnels. They can relate to our nationality, class, gender, culture, religion etc. They can be also more personal, like associations with our social circle and our position in it. These associations are responsible for our norms of behaviour and in consequence they influence our actions. Each of these associations is the modern equivalent of tribalism where by associating with one thing we immediately separate ourselves from other things. Human ego is based on associations with things we feel familiar with but in order to define these associations we also need to define their “opposites”. These “opposites” may be easily turned into the “enemies”. Fight between two nations is a classical example of this process.

Humans ego is also a very territorial creature and it likes claiming ownership of the things. Statements like “my” body, “my” partner, “my” house is how human ego defines its positions within the physical world. In the ego perception things that are “mine” are not “yours” and if “you” try to take them away from “me” it will fight. That type of territorial-ism is a very basic animal instinct and it was needed there to guarantee our survival. However over time we managed to project it onto the abstract concepts like religions, opinions, habits etc. which aren’t vital for our physical bodies but instead they guarantee the survival of our egos. Without them we wouldn’t be able to define who we are and ego needs to be defined. It needs to be segregated, separated and solid. Its power over our lives can be so strong that some people allow themselves to be killed in its name. People who die in the name of their beliefs die in the name of their egos.

In order to reach enlightenment we need to lose our egos. This often means that we need to depart with things we consider very precious to us. This “departing” doesn’t need to be taken in a literal way- we don’t need to physically leave everything but we need to be ready to change ourselves and accept changes when they arrive. Most the time we don’t feel ready for this so when a sudden change arrives we are trying to stop it. We try to fight the reality***.

I believe that this tendency to fight changes makes enlightenment a painful process for most of us. Without the fight process of awakening would be mostly built out of pleasant illuminations. Liber al vel Legis claims that “ the existence is a pure joy”. Similar idea is present in zen. Zen uses parable of a lake where all our sadness is like a wave on the surface. Deep inside we’re always full of joy. I read these things years ago and I always found them more inspiring than Buddhist teaching of existence as a “constant pain”. However over the years I got more interested in Buddhism simply because my life was constantly full of suffering. I always wanted my existence to be joyful but I struggled to feel in that way. Now I know that my suffering was largely self inflicted. To stop suffering one needs to stop fighting with the flow of events. The moment you realise that is the moment you feel ready to abandon Samsara.

This is not an overnight process. In order to free from the power of the ego we need to break out of the Wheel of  Karma- the repetitive pattern of cause and effect we all create during our lives. Unfortunately this is way harder than it sounds… I will post the next chapter soon.

 
* Enlightenment in Buddhism is defined as a “pure and unqualified knowledge”. Awakening is a moment of realisation. They’re not exactly the same thing but they’re very connected and I used these terms interchangeably when I first wrote this article

**The mind’s power of denial is truly profound. I have on several occasions experienced highly ecstatic revelations which I then managed to push to the back of my head and I forgot about them for years to come…

***It’s worth pointing out that acceptance of changes is not the same thing as being passive towards them. This where I think some mystics get it wrong. If someone tries to rob you or hurt other people you’re fully in your right to oppose them. What acceptance of changes really means is an ability to let go of your anger and fear. The acceptance of changes restores your inner peace.

 

 

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