Why Enlightenment Is Not What You Think
Updated: Apr 6
If you have had the good fortune of listening to a talk by Jiddu Krishnamurti, who remains one of the greatest and most passionate spiritual leaders to have walked this earth, you will know that the topic of becoming drove him into a state of sacred rage. His prophetically invisible presence shook the world, and his ability to speak about the human experience from a non-sectarian point of view was truly staggering. Whenever I talk about Krishnamurti, one of the first things I like to mention about him is that he stood nowhere. When he broke ties with the Theosophical society and famously said, “Truth is a pathless land,” he embodied those words right till the time of his death. This man did not follow a path to the Godhead; he just annihilated himself and the many ego-driven ambitions that got in the way of his embodying it.
I mention all of this because it is relevant to the topic at hand. You see, in the spiritual world we sometimes obsess over being a “seeker” and imagine that enlightenment will come at a certain time, after following a particular path. But as long as you think there is a time for enlightenment to occur, you will ignore the reality of the now. And as long as you think there is a place where enlightenment exists, you will decorate your ego in such a way in order to reach that place. But it’s all still part of the dream, you see? Because the only place is here and the only time is now. That is why a spiritual ego is just as delusional as any other type of ego. Being a seeker is a great mask to wear; its groovy. But its still a mask. And Krishnamurti dedicated his entire life to illuminating this extremely important point, which I’d like to emphasize in my own words:
You cannot become who you already are. Do you see that? The easiest way to distract yourself from who you really are is to come up with a plan to reach who you really are. Its like, go ahead, achieve yourself. Good luck with that one.
If you are a little lost at this point, or if you are unsure about what I am rambling on about, please allow me to clarify: When I say, “becoming” I am referring to the urge of consciousness to stiffen the illusion of separateness by attempting to center itself on an “I” that is not there. This is a natural part of our development as children, but as we get older this identification with the “I” needs to be let go of by awareness.
One of the most obvious examples of becoming is the desire for fame. By wanting other people to know us, we have given into the idea that there is a somebody to be known, an “I” who needs to be seen or witnessed. This “I,” often described as the finite mind by Rupert Spira, believes that acknowledgment from others will make it happy. But this is a silly idea, based on the false principal that happiness is something we can obtain through a moment of recognition.
Here is something for you to remember: true happiness is your natural birthright; it is not something we get by obtaining objects, relationships or acknowledgment. It is a state of unconditioned being that tends to arise when we have realized the transitory nature of objective experience. In most cases, it arises spontaneously, coming from nowhere.
If you have been keeping up with Jim Carrey’s antics the last few years, you might have a better understanding of what I am trying to depict here. Jim had the unfortunate blessing of waking up to the non-existence of his own “I” after playing the role of his favorite comedian. When Jim was asked to further elaborate on what he meant in one of his “bizarre” interviews that occurred after his awakening, he responded in the following way:
“As an actor you play characters, and if you go deep enough into those characters, you realize your own character is pretty thin to begin with. You suddenly have this separation and go, “Who’s Jim Carrey? Oh, he doesn’t exist actually.”
This is the real identity crisis. Maturity is not about understanding who you are; its about understanding who you’re not. Most of us are completely oblivious to the purity of our natural state, because we are so wrapped up in our “somedbodyness.” The fact of the matter is, there is nobody home. All thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions occur within a space that is totally devoid of identity. This space—or field—of knowingness plays a game of hide and seek with itself by losing itself in its own activity. It creates a center from thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions until it is ready to return back into itself. The way it returns back into itself is by letting go of this center, this “I.”
So, the moment consciousness identifies with its different expressions—thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions—it dreams. And the moment consciousness falls back upon itself and remembers itself as the knowing element behind all experience, it awakens.
Knowing ourselves as the knowing element in all experience is enlightenment.
In the process of becoming we also give in to the trap of psychological time, which is the greatest obstacle to enlightenment. Meister Eckhart once said, “Time is what keeps the light from reaching us.” Becoming implies time; time implies process; process implies becoming. It is a never ending cycle that acts as both the generator and result of suffering. In an attempt to become someone—like a seeker, for example—you run away from your natural state of being and contract into a false center. That false center is the identity we carry around with us, our “somedbodyness.”
Inevitably, then, one of the great problems involved in the process of becoming is an addiction to this false identity. The ego is a trickster who loves to put on new masks. It is devilishly sneaky. If we are not the owner of a fortune 500 company, we are experts in Tantra. As long as we are aware of who we really are, there is nothing wrong with either of these. But too many people in the spiritual world are addicted to their masks, and run away from the nothingness, even after an authentic revelation has occurred.
A blatant disregard for this nothingness is a blatant disregard for ourselves because it is who we are. Respect for nothingness isn’t a world negating form of nihilism. And it doesn’t mean you cannot live in this world with passion, love, joy, humor, and desire. All it means—and how I’ve come to understand it—is that you cannot dance in form authentically until you’ve been swallowed up by the formless. After all, we are all going to end up in the dirt. If you do not honor that first, before anything else, you end up a fraud.
This is the point Krishnamurti was really getting at in most of his talks: do not mistranslate the deeper meaning of it all. In fact, do not let your ego translate it at all. Just let it all play out; and do not get caught up in what a spiritual awakening gives you, even if it is the power to walk on water. Instead, just be like water: fluid, unperturbed, and choiceless.
Because the goal is not to arrive at a place, or to obtain certain powers, or to wear a spiritual mask, or to be this or that. The goal is to understand that you are nothing at all, and to abide right there because it is where all the magic takes place. It is the silence behind which—and through which—phenomenal existence is allowed to dance.
Reducing yourself to that point, the point of life is found. This is perhaps the greatest paradox of spirituality: the less you glorify yourself, the more treasure you are given. “For whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be glorified.” This wasn’t the voice of a personal God, who watches over you and all your actions in the sky, judging to no end. It is the voice of consciousness, whose aim is to remember itself by sacrificing its dream of personhood.
You are that, or, as they say in Sanskrit, Tat Tvam Asi.
“Wisdom is knowing I am nothing, love is knowing I am everything, and between the two my life flows.” - Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj