What is Awakening or Enlightenment?
. . . To begin with, the three great states of consciousness (waking, dreaming, deep dreamless sleep) are said to correspond with the three great realms of being (gross, subtle, causal) . . .This simply means that, each time you are in a different state of consciousness, you can “see” a different world or realm (because consciousness and being, or epistemology and ontology, are inseparable). For example, when you are in a dream state, you see a dream world, a subtle world of images and visions and archetypes; in the waking state, you see the sensorimotor world of rocks and rivers and houses. Each of the three great states shows us a different "world" or "realm."
. . . When you are awake, you are, at the very least, aware of the physical world, or the material level of reality. Of course, you might be aware of other things, too; but the thing that everybody shares is an awareness of the gross realm with its physical level of reality. When you are awake, you can see mountains, trees, airplanes, houses, lakes, your physical body, and empirical objects of all sorts – the whole sensorimotor world that is the gross realm.
But when you go to sleep at night, and you begin to dream, you do not see the material world. In the dream state, there is no matter, no nature, no Gaia, no physical body, no sensorimotor rocks and rivers. Rather, you see images, you feel emotions, you can even have thoughts and perhaps luminous visions. In other words, you do have access to the levels of emotion, mind, and higher mind. So you have access to the overall subtle realm, but you do not have a direct awareness of the gross realm.
Finally, when you pass into the deep, dreamless sleep state – the causal or formless realm – then not only does the gross realm fall away, the subtle realm also falls away: there are no emotions, no thoughts, no images, no dreams, no visions, no nuttin' – except vast emptiness or formlessness, a blissful release from all forms, high or low or in between. And thus in the causal realm there is only . . . blissful formlessness.
. . . you can learn to enter all these higher realms while awake or fully conscious. And when you can enter all of them while awake, then you are Awakened or Enlightened, because you have access to the full spectrum of consciousness and its realms, and thus you are Free from the binding power of being limited to only a few of them, a limitation that cuts into your soul with its fragmented partiality.
. . . This model has the . . . advantage of being based on direct experiences, many of which (waking, dreaming, dreamless sleeping) you yourselves have had. For these reasons, it is probably one of the simplest yet most profound psychospiritual systems available, and certainly one of the oldest. Of course, that simple model doesn't answer all the questions or cover all the bases (it needs to be set in an integral or AQAL – all-quadrants, all-levels, all-lines, all-states, all-types – context). [AQAL is an acronym that was used to represent a version of the integral model that included All Quadrants, All Levels (or stages), and All Lines. The integral model has since been expanded to include all states of consciousness and all personality types. These five components: 1) quadrants, 2) levels or stages of development, 3) lines of development, 4) states of consciousness, and 5) personality types are the five basic components of the integral model, which is also often referred to as AQAL.] . . .
. . . most people directly experience the subtle and causal realms only when they fall asleep, only when they are unconscious. That is, they experience the dream and deep-sleep states mostly when they are NOT AWAKE. And so, for the average person, the waking state of the gross realm seems to be the MOST REAL state. The subtle and causal seem “less real.”
But a funny thing happens when consciousness continues its growth and development (especially when helped by spiritual practice such as meditation or centering prayer). As consciousness grows stronger and stronger, first the dream realm, and then the causal realm, can be entered while awake. An ever-wakeful Presence, a brilliant clarity of Now-ness, begins to permeate the waking, dreaming, and deep sleep state, until all states are suffused with a radiant Wakefulness, and you are . . . Awakened, never again to be fooled by the dreams of life . . .
Accordingly, as this Awakening process begins and starts to mature, this Wakefulness increasingly pervades all aspects of the waking state and begins to spill over into the dream state, rescuing them both from a half-asleep fog. As one then enters the dream state, one begins to lucid dream – to remain conscious where the average person passes out or goes blank. What happens is that the dream state is being converted from unconscious to conscious, and thus it begins to yield all of its visionary, archetypal, subtle revelations. Moreover – and just as important – because you have made the dream state conscious to some degree, you have started to transcend it – it has ceased to enslave you; it is now object, not subject; you now embrace your dreams, they don't embrace you.
Likewise, if consciousness continues to gain strength, then a very tacit awareness will persist even into the deep dreamless sleep state, and you will awaken as vast, formless, empty, infinite Consciousness without an object – a direct experience, it is said, of Nirvana, of . . . the groundless Ground of all that is.
. . . One progresses from a Wakefulness of the waking state, through a Wakefulness of the dream state, to a Wakefulness of the deep sleep state: one's consciousness fluidly unfolds from gross to subtle to causal . . . with each expansion of consciousness including and enveloping more and more realities . . . One thus increasingly gains a liberation from the binding torment of being identified with lesser, smaller, shallower states; one gains an increasing liberation from their binding spell, until one can transcend and include all states in pure empty Consciousness as such – an ultimate realization or enlightenment that is known by many names, but the Great Liberation will do.
. . . We add one more item: you can have a subtle-state experience at virtually any time, but you will experience that subtle realm using whatever levels [stages] you have developed: in other words, states are always interpreted by stages . . . it is the same basic subtle realm with the same subtle energy pervading it, even though it is interpreted according to the mental stage structures that you have . . . a person at any stage can have a peak experience of the three great states, but those state experiences will be interpreted differently according to four-quadrant factors, including not only the sociocultural background, but also the stages that are present in the person having the altered state or peak experience. Thus: states are interpreted by stages.
. . . if you are having a shamanic experience of enhanced sensorimotor perception – colors are brighter, sounds are sharper, the world is brilliantly alive with vivid impressions – you are having a variation on waking-state consciousness, because you are still primarily oriented to the gross realm, even if enhanced. But if the shamanic experience deepens and you are ushered into visions of the upper realms . . . you are having a subtle-state and subtle-realm experience (because you are no longer oriented to gross objects; you are instead perceiving subtle objects, bodies, beings, energies, forms, visions). Likewise, if you are doing holotropic breathwork, and you suddenly find yourself existing as vast formless awareness, you are having a causal-state experience.
. . . waking, dreaming, and deep sleep are universal. Of course, none of those exist apart from their AQAL setting, which includes cultural and social backgrounds. But reducing the general features of these states to nothing but cultural relativism is an agenda backed by ideology, not evidence. So let us put it this way: when a Jew in Tel Aviv goes to sleep at night, and enters the deep dreamless state, and when an Palestinian in Jerusalem goes to sleep at night, and enters the deep dreamless state – do you think those states have anything in common at all? If you believe they have anything in common, then those are what we mean by the universal features of these states; they are deep Kosmic habits available to humans anywhere on the planet.
More specifically, this is what we seem to find. In the Upper-Right quadrant, waking, dreaming, and deep sleep are defined, among other things, by specific brain states (or specific objective states in the human organism), such as theta waves in REM sleep and delta waves in deep sleep. Those universal, biologically given patterns or brain states . . . have interior correlates in states of consciousness in the Upper-Left quadrant . . . all humans wake, dream, and sleep, and those general states are similar enough wherever we find them.
. . . Of course, as we have often seen, when a person – Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, or agnostic – comes out of the causal formless state – or if any of them has a waking-state experience of formlessness – then they most definitely interpret that experience according to all four quadrants in their own case: that is, they interpret these spiritual experiences based on their cultural background, on their social system, and on their own particular stages of development . . . the actual forms of those will often vary from culture to culture, as determined by the AQAL matrix in which they arise.
. . . In discovering formless Emptiness, you become FREE. Free, because you realize that what you are in reality is not in any way limited to the finite manifest realm. When you discover the Original Face that you had before the Big Bang, you are infinitely, radically, wildly free from all possible limitation, boundaries, manifestation, constriction. This is why nirvana, or formless release, is always said to be the Great Liberation.
But that is not the entire story, is it? Because once you discover nirvana or the formless, and once you actually push through it, then you further discover that nirvana and samsara are “not two.” That is, the formless Self is actually one with the entire world of Form in ever-present One Taste. At that point, you are not merely Free, you are FULL. You are saturated by the entire Kosmos which is your own Body of Form. Having found nirvana or FREEDOM, you now find that nirvana and samsara are together eternally in a FULLNESS that is none other than the love that moves the sun and other stars.
Both Freedom and Fullness, or Emptiness and Form, are integral aspects of the ever-present Nondual. But if you have one without the other, a lopsided moment greets you each day. If you have only Emptiness, only Freedom, you are divorced from the body and its earth and its radiant vitality (you are a mere Ascender). If you have only Fullness, you are not merely one with the body and earth, you are fused with them, attached to them, bound to a series of finite objects that you confuse with infinite spirit (you are a mere Descender). Obviously, if you are identified with body and earth, you cannot find the Original Face that existed before the Big Bang. In other words, becoming “one” with the Earth before finding Emptiness is merely a type of immersion in phenomenal experience, which is very prevalent now in the many spiritual movements that equate oneness with the gross realm with nonduality.
. . . as for the great formless Emptiness itself, it does not evolve, develop, or even exist in time. It has no moving parts, so it can't break down, nor can it be improved: there's nothing, literally, to improve. So if you discover pure Emptiness right now – and the great traditions can most certainly show you how to do that – then it will be the same Emptiness that . . . future folks will be discovering as well.
In other words, in the two components of Enlightenment . . any of the great wisdom traditions can definitely show you how to find infinite FREEDOM. And having found that Freedom now, one is Free eternally. Find the Great Liberation right now – by discovering that you are Empty consciousness-without-an-object – and you are Free for all time.
But when that Freedom becomes one with the world of Form, we must then ask: what is the nature of the world of Form at that moment? If I have my Great Liberation at the time of, say, Gautama Buddha, then the world of Form does not include computers, the internet, a man on the moon, an understanding of neurophysiology, the discovery of intersubjective stages, and so on. In other words, although my formless Freedom is perfect, the world of Form as it existed two-thousand years ago lacks many things that are in today's world of Form.
Put bluntly, while the Formless is timeless, the world of Form evolves. The world of Form grows, changes, develops, evolves. As Whitehead often pointed out, the world of evolution, the world of Form, is marked by novel emergence – new things come into being with the unfolding of time. In healthy development, in fact, there is an increasing complexification – an increasing differentiation-and-integration – and thus the world of Form becomes fuller and fuller and fuller. Atoms to molecules to cells to organisms: the world of Form becomes Fuller, as evolution unfolds and embraces more and more realities.
(Of course, the world of Form can also become sicker, precisely because there are more and more realities to screw up. But here, of course, we are focusing on the positive sides of evolving Form.)
Therefore, compared with the Enlightenment that I might achieve two-thousand years ago, the Enlightenment that I might achieve today can be Fuller – even though it will never be Freer. The formless Freedom of the Great Liberation is the same, but there are simply more and more things in the world of Form to be one with.
This is where a more integral spirituality enters the picture. In an integral or AQAL approach, we cannot really improve on the Emptiness or the Freedom; we are simply trying to be more adequate to the world of Form at this time – we are working to insure a Fuller expression and celebration of the Emptiness that you are in any event, and we do so by trying to offer more comprehensive and more integral maps of the world of evolving Form, so that, being more aware of all of these manifest potentials, you can embrace them with the love and compassion borne of fierce Emptiness . . .
Thus, find formless Enlightenment now, you have found it for all time, because the Formless is radically prior to time itself. And you can certainly do that right now with . . . any of the great causal traditions). But how will you express that Enlightenment? What Forms will it be one with? What vehicles will it embrace? Will it be an integral embrace or a fragmented one?
I had a spiritual teacher, with much enlightened wisdom (i.e., alive to the Formless), who nevertheless believed, based on his tradition, that smoking one cigarette was equal to killing a hundred people. Which, due to a misspent youth, puts me somewhere alongside Pol Pot as a mass murderer. You see, even if you are Enlightened in that sense (numerous experiences of causal satori and Freedom), you still have a relative body with a relative mind existing in the relative world. Will your mind be adequate, or lost in ancient myths and prejudices? Will it be comprehensive to the times? Will it be as compassionate, as all-inclusive, as integral and as Full as it can be? Or will it be partial, prejudiced . . .
So we try to use an integral model in order to express Enlightenment (Freedom) through the most comprehensive vehicles that we can (Fullness), which includes an embrace of body, feeling, earth, the feminine, the lunar . . . in addition to, not instead of, logic, thinking, the masculine, the solar . . . All of those more comprehensive identities help to make our realization, not Freer, but Fuller.
Our particular version of that Fuller approach we call AQAL. But please notice: “all quadrants, all levels, all lines, all states, all types” refers to the manifest realm or the world of Form. In other words, for us, the Nondual – which is defined as “Emptiness plus all Form” – means “Emptiness plus AQAL.” But in and by itself, the world of Form, the world of AQAL, is merely the world of illusion.
IF the world of Form is realized to be one with Spirit, then that Form . . . is indeed seen as the radiant manifestation of the pure Emptiness of the Great Perfection, and as such, the entire world of Form is simply the radiant Body of your own Consciousness. But if one is merely immersed in the world of Form, identified with the body and the earth and the manifest realm, one is indeed lost in the Cave of Shadows, hugging finite objects in the hope of finding Freedom. One confuses kissing the shadows with finding the Light.
In other words, on the other side of nirvana (or on the other side of the realization of Emptiness), the manifest realm is indeed (and always has been) the radiant Body of Buddha, of Christ. But on this side of nirvana, the manifest realm is merely the prison of samsara. You might find a type of Fullness here, but you will never be Free. And thus what fullness you find will torture you to death, here in the passing shadows and searing pain of samsara.
So why do we spend so much time mapping out all these quadrants, all these levels, all these lines, all these states, all these types, if, in themselves, they are nothing but the illusions that are our prison? Well, if you were in prison and you wanted to get out, wouldn't it help to have a floor plan of the prison?
That's what an AQAL map is: it is the most accurate, most complete floor plan of samsara that we can find, the most comprehensive map of the prison, useful precisely because studying it will better help you to plan your escape from this mess altogether. (And yes, it is an escape from the shadows that paradoxically resides in embracing the shadows with such passionate equanimity that they yield the light that was hiding not beyond them, but within and beyond them: the causal gives way to the nondual as Emptiness and Form unite in the Heart, and Heaven and Earth become One Taste. The problem with a mere Earth embrace is that it can find no beyond of any sort, and thus indeed is stuck only with shadows.)
. . . And that is the final reason, the real reason, to adopt a more integral approach – not so that you can become Freer, but so that you can become Fuller. An AQAL map reminds us of places in ourselves that we might not yet have touched; potentials we might not yet have tapped; areas to which love and compassion can yet be brought – so that my eternal Freedom can become Fuller and Fuller the more that I can love, the more that I can embrace, the more that I can honor in the Kosmic Consciousness that is ever-present yet ever-unfolding.
In that ever-present Light, samsara isn't a prison, it is the direct manifestation of a radiant Spirit overflowing with a Love that not even infinity can contain, a wildly reckless Passion that manifests entire galaxies so that it will have someone to love . . .
– See http://www.kenwilber.com/Writings/PDF/G-states%20and%20stages.pdf
Reflections: A Personal Journal