Progress and Realisation
In a certain, provisional sense, spiritual progress can be viewed as a progressive unveiling of our true being. If a lamp is covered with layers of cloth, its light is hidden. But remove the cloths one by one, and the light will gradually shine through, although there is a world of difference between the last covering and no covering at all, when the light shines in unobstructed splendour.
This image of unveiling or gradual revelation is not to suggest that in spiritual enlightenment there really are degrees or stages. Degrees or stages apply to the mind on the spiritual path. Walking the spiritual path, the mind may be blessed with ever deepening insight and expanding understanding. But it remains a mind with which we are identified. Its owner may have become increasingly shrewd about what is going on in the mind. He may know through study and indirect knowledge that in his true nature he is different and superior to this wonderful instrument, the mind. But in actual experience, he still feels a sense of identity with it, and he feels this sense of identity as an ongoing limitation. For it means we are subject to fluctuations and inner eclipses and have to make serious efforts to secure or to recover internal peace and mastery.
The radical difference on enlightenment is that this identification with the mind comes to an end. Not only does it come to an end, but the knower of Truth realizes that there never was, there never could be, any bondage imposed on the Self whatsoever. The realization is that there is the Self only and I am That. It brings perfect peace — shanti — ultimate fulfilment, a full emptiness and an empty fullness: empty, because free from all disturbance and limitation, weightless and illumined; full, because it is a realization of the Absolute as one’s own Self. The sage in the Avadhut Gita sings:
I alone am, ever free from all taint. The world exists within me like a mirage. To whom shall I bow?
From this standpoint of higher knowledge, the manifest world is known to lack ultimate reality. The play of appearances may continue. These appearances are within the world of prakriti or matter and they will go on manifesting according to its inherent laws, scientific and moral. But the enlightened sage knows the overall unreality of this play, and that anything that happens within it cannot touch or taint the Self which, as the witness and support, pervades all phenomena and lends them seeming reality.
This is why there is a world of difference between enlightenment and the degrees or stages of growth of insight on the spiritual path that lead to it. Only in this enlightenment will man finally realize the true freedom that everyone is seeking, knowingly or unknowingly.
This extract is from the article:
Published in Spring 2006 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.