We are living in an age when spiritual wisdom has been demystified enough, though “spiritual enlightenment” or ‘self-realization’ still remains a mystery for people who are seeking it. This is also an age when the general public seem to have no idea about the true authentic spirituality, the science which explores the mechanics of human suffering and the way out of it. This is also an age when many so-called gurus use the weaknesses of the spiritual seekers to their own advantage, become spiritual entrepreneurs and earn millions in their spiritual business. Also, this is the age when seemingly contradicting and confusing theories in spiritual science confuse the clueless seeker and leave him in despair.
My book “The Truth About Spiritual Enlightenment: Bridging Science, Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta” has been helping seekers around the world to reduce the confusion and get more clarity on the path. It has received many positive reviews, mainly highlighting the honesty and clarity they found in the book. I wrote this book when I was beginning to understand what was happening to me, two years after spiritual enlightenment. About four years has passed since then; if I look back at the last six years, I feel compelled to share a few things which may be helpful for sincere seekers.
My Life as a seeker
I was pushed into spiritual seeking because of my own emotional problems in my life which were the results of a traumatic childhood. I felt like I didn’t belong to this world and its people, and this huge lack of a sense of belonging was very depressing. When my peers were spending their time in understanding people and the world and learning the survival skills that are necessary to survive in this cruel, competitive world, I was spending all my energy to find out how to cope up with my emotional issues and be happy. There were only two choices: 1) Suicide 2) Survive, seek and find the way out. The second option led me into spiritual seeking; I somehow got the trust that I can find the way out by getting the help of the saints of the past and the wisdom that they have left for the world.
Sometime during the end of 2002, I went through an experience which changed my worldview and my life completely. I was in Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu for my semester holidays and I saw that there is a part of ‘self’ in me which is just pure conscious witness and it was unchanging. Identifying with this observer self or Sakshi (witness) was a great relief. It made me realize that I am a part of an infinite wholeness and can’t be separated from it. It gave me enormous strength to face the world and its challenges. I felt like a secret door to inner exploration had opened. I can classify this experience as a kind of ‘conversion experience” that psychologist William James discusses in his classic, “The Varieties of Religious Experience”. The joy that this experience gave me never left me for the next six months. Many people, especially in the West, mistake this transformation for spiritual enlightenment but it is not.
It is only after this I came to know that the spiritual enlightenment which was accessible to Buddha, Mahavira, Shankara, Jesus and Muhammad was not a sole possession of such special people but it is a potential of every human being. But contrary to the path of renunciation and abstinence which was commonly discussed in popular spiritual books of the past, my way was of surrendering control and accepting life. This doesn’t require running away from life, controlling or going against one’s natural desires or torturing oneself. I practised a meditation called Sakshi bhavana (witnessing meditation), which is just being a witness or sakshi to what happens in the mind and the body, instead of identifying with the contents of consciousness. Sakshi bhavana basically creates a gap between an experience and the conscious observer self that witnesses this experience; this gap lessens the severity of pain or suffering that the experience brings.
Spiritual Enlightenment – The reward of the spiritual seeking
12 years of practicing Sakshi Bhavana, reading spiritual literature and hunting spiritual gurus came to an end on July 12, 2014, on the day of Guru Purnima. I felt like I have dissolved myself in the infinity and the wholeness of this existence. My perception of ‘self’ was no longer limited to this finite body and mind. I felt to be everything: I was the sky, the earth, the trees and everything around me. I stopped feeling like I was locked inside a body. I felt like I, as a person, stopped existing, as If I have simply melted in a soup of conscious experience and become everything. In fact, I was surprised to see that I could still function and carry on with my regular tasks without actually feeling that a personal limited self was doing them. There was no doubt that this is the advaita or oneness that all scriptures were talking about and this way of experiencing life still continues after these six years. The reward that this transformation brought was a great freedom and strength which cannot be put in words.
Challenges after self-realization – The untold downsides of Spiritual enlightenment
This is the part that I haven’t clearly discussed so far because I didn’t want to scare people. But now I have proceeded to throw some light on it, so that people can be prepared. This can also help people who are actually struggling to get some help after self-realization.
Spiritual enlightenment gives a different dimension to your mundane existence. We can call this as spiritual existence, which is totally different from the ‘human existence’ that everyone is familiar with. This spiritual existence makes ordinary experiences of life so rewarding; in fact, simply being alive has its own beauty, freshness and bliss in spiritual existence. Since it is so rewarding, it is very easy to actually neglect, ignore, deny or suppress the human existence which you still possess or still important. In fact, it may be very hard to see the truth that this spiritual existence is not a replacement for human existence, but only an addition to it.
It is not very uncommon for many self-realized people to neglect their body, health, relationships, careers etc because their importance fades before the majesty of self-realization. But when the situation demands your fullest attention, you may face an extremely challenging situation and no one would understand you. You have to go through some pain in correcting the situation.
For months after my own realization, I continued my job; but I didn’t think about anything at all. My mindset was similar to a small kid trying to explore the surroundings. I totally forgot about the responsibilities of my job and what I was supposed to do to keep my job. I was working in a call center and making sales was my responsibility. But I was so excited to meet every new person on the phone and I totally forgot that I had to convince the guy for a purchase. My mind was not thinking about an end or a goal. It is only after a few months I realized that I have to have a goal or end in my mind in order to survive in society. I couldn’t think of anything in the long term but I have to accept ‘making sales’ as a purpose to my existence.
I also kind of forgot that I was a human being with an independent existence and I was being watched by the world around me for all reasons. In fact, I kind of even forgot to realize that my today’s existence was a continuation of my yesterday’s existence. I didn’t realize that people were behaving with me in a certain way as a result of my own recent past behaviour. Past and future simply didn’t exist for me. I stopped keeping a track of what I did everyday or what happened to me everyday. I didn’t give a damn about what others thought about me to the extent of ignoring the fact that I was behaving like a lunatic at times. For example, I used to scare the hell out of people by keeping prolonged eye contact with them; I used to totally forget to think how weird it could be for another person. It was the idea of being a ‘person’ that carried the continuation from one moment to another moment; but since I lacked the idea of being a person in my conscious experience, I must have appeared as a totally funny guy to people.
This kind of compromised my career and relationships. It is only when they got compromised and when I felt answerable, I paid attention to what was happening to me. There was a time when I had to go for a job interview for a new job; that’s when I realized that I really didn’t have a version of myself in my mind. In fact, I absolutely had no immediate answer to the usual and common interview question, which is, “Could you tell me a bit about yourself?”. I felt like that was the most difficult question to answer.
There was also another confusion, which requires some explanation to understand. The world around you treats you in a certain way because you are a certain kind of person, projecting a certain image. In fact, the society simply reacts to how you are as a person, the patterns of your reactions, speech, behaviour etc. In turn, you learn your own behaviours and reactions depending on how the world treats you. All of our behaviours are simply learnt unconsciously using the three methods of learning: Classical conditioning, operant conditioning and observational learning.
But after self-realization, many things change in you. Even the simple things like the way you gaze, the way you speak etc undergo changes. Your face reactions are now a lot different. Since you are different, the way the world treats you is also different. This will literally shock your system even though this appears as an ordinary issue. Personally, I noticed that people started to talk to me with respect, strangers very easily started a conversation with me and people would even forgive me so easily when I messed up; people also took me for granted because I was less judgemental, less argumentative, less problematic and less complaining. This was all totally new to me. You may think that it is cool but it does bring its own challenges. The behaviours you already learnt will be totally out of place and will not fit with your changed persona. Because of this you may misunderstand people and reality. In fact, it is normal to go through a period of mild schizophrenia; it is a disorder which makes you misinterpret reality.
Also, you won’t sound much complaining and you won’t worry much. This is a good thing right? Not always… Your lack of worry will irritate your partner. You will be seen as irresponsible by your boss. People may start to think that you have become careless. They may bother you with a long monologue of useless advice; if you don’t pay attention to that they may feel extremely hurt because of all the good intentions they had.
Your lack of fear can be easily misinterpreted as lack of humility. Your boss at work may feel like you lack respect. You will keep offending people who have strong egos, which can actually become a threat to you. Some people may even try to hurt you because your simple presence may be offensive to them.
There is more to it. There is a reward center in your brain which controls your behaviour, by rewarding certain behaviours like eating, sex etc. You repeat behaviours which are rewarding and you refrain from behaviours which cause pain. One of the things which is very rewarding to a normal human mind is the feeling of personal accomplishment. It is this which motivates us humans to do a lot of self-preserving actions. It is this which kind of rules the world. People compete in elections, try hard to win a race or a competition, try to show off and even like to achieve goals because the sense of personal achievement they get out of it is extremely rewarding. After spiritual enlightenment, the reward you get in the feeling of personal achievement fades in comparison with the rewards and gifts your spiritual transformation brings. But this can result in compromising your human existence a lot. People who are close to you can actually start hating you for this.
Also, the people who were close to you in the past, like an old friend or your school classmate, can mess up your ‘spiritual existence’ by simply coming in touch with you. Meeting a human being from the past means a lot to your brain. All the neurons and pathways associated with this old human gets activated and a lot of old thought patterns can also get activated along with it (look up ‘classical conditioning). Your emotional state after such an acquaintance may surprise you. Please remember, your brain doesn’t know that you are enlightened! In general, people who know you before your spiritual enlightenment are hard to deal with, because the impression that they have about you was from the older ‘self’, while you are no longer the same person. These people can misunderstand you quite easily and the transactions or interactions are not always smooth.
‘ If you were addicted to any substance or drug like nicotine, alcohol etc, and if you didn’t work on your addiction before spiritual enlightenment, then you can’t quit that easily after enlightenment. First of all, addiction is a serious brain disease, not just a habit. It hacks the reward center of your brain and messes up the system. So getting over it is a huge work. A person quits using a drug because of the incentive he gets out of quitting: a feeling of personal accomplishment, restored health, more social acceptance etc. He has to convince himself that such rewards are greater than simply continuing to use the drugs, which is challenging for normal people. It gets more challenging after spiritual enlightenment because such rewards are nothing before the new ‘spiritual existence’ which rewards you for simply being you. In general, bringing any kind of behavioral change is more difficult, especially for the first few years after spiritual enlightenment.
Also, after spiritual enlightenment, all spiritual seeking disappears because the person who was seeking is no longer there. But growth or evolution is still possible. There is much more potential to a human being and spiritual enlightenment is just a beginning of the new dimension. Since seeking anything in the future is completely absent now, it is only the challenges and pain you face help you with any further evolution. So, your psychological wellbeing can still be affected after spiritual enlightenment but you can be assured that the end results are always good. So the ‘end of seeking’ is actually a problem here because you no longer seek a next stage in your evolution; it won’t even make sense to you. It is true that there is no higher stage or a ‘more enlightened’ state; but there is a richness in realizing the full potential, which is possible by facing the challenges of a normal life. There is a beauty in the maturity of spiritual enlightenment when you learn to live an ordinary life with this new ‘spiritual existence’. You accomplish this evolution when you continue to “chop wood and fetch water” after spiritual enlightenment.
To conclude, spiritual enlightenment is pretty much like a rebirth. You have to explore this new dimension and learn how to live with it all by yourself. It takes a few years to kind of stabilize things after spiritual enlightenment. There is much more to the spiritual enlightenment than what you find in spiritual literature and from the gurus. The rest, you have to find out by entering this realm yourself.