For many enlightenment is pictured as an unattainable ideal – the removal of all human issues, becoming perfectly wonderfully happy at all times – completely unaffected by the physical world or even by the mental and emotional worlds. While this is not completely unachievable it does have one quite serious implication that must be considered.
When one is entirely unaffected by something one becomes entirely uninterested in it. When someone becomes unaffected by the physical world, by the needs of the body and the needs of society – they cease to eat or communicate or pay attention to their surroundings. While this can be quite pleasant it leads fairly quickly to what is known as spiritual death where the consciousness and the body become so disconnected that they cease to live as one and the body ceases to function. The vital energies that are collected in the body during this process can become so strong that it leads to strange effects such as bodies that do not decay after death. It seems like a really pleasant way to go, but it does not lead to functional behaviour or the ability to guide others, and it makes the concept of enlightened teachers rather meaningless as those who reached enlightenment would not be among the living.’
But let me paint a different picture – we are all seeking the expansion of our sense of identity (whether we know it or not) and as we grow in consciousness we eventually expand to identify ourselves with the whole cosmos. this is not to say that one forgets who they are or loses their identity on the human level, but that we no longer have any clear boundary where myself ends and yourself begins – I see myself as a node in an infinite connected web – where all are parts of me but this particular node is like the centre of me.
When one experiences this infinite oneness one can no longer be small or selfish, or limiting in ones purposes, but this is not to say that one becomes perfect in any way. There is a great joy in that infinite connectedness as well as great weight of responsibility and even pain in empathic relation to all the pains of so called others, as well as your own small self’s pains. There is still confusion, lack of experience, excitements, personal needs and desires – the ordinary human experience goes on in all its fallible imperfect mess, but against a backdrop of the beauty and perfection and joy of that infinite connection – perfectly imperfect, joyous and yet compassionate and even passionate.
While the first vision of enlightenment leads us with no living enlightened beings, this second view provides us with whole communities of enlightened beings – in every indigenous society that I have ever come across this experience of oneness is expected and normal, and even some developed societies and many spiritualists also achieve this out of their own efforts. To those who have not experienced this profound oneness in their own lives these “enlightened” people would be largely invisible – they seem normal. But to those who live in this infinite connected experience the others who also do shine with an inner light and exude peace and joy.
This concept of what enlightenment is has a greater impact than one might think. It guides our choice of actions, practices and the type of master we seek in our spiritual journeys. If you seek unattainable perfection then you will be forever striving and never attaining, but if you seek the connectedness that is the natural way human societies have lived and expressed themselves for millenia then it will be a small journey home to that infinite joy of existence.