The Secrets and Pitfalls of Awakening

Spiritual literature is filled with countless and often contradictory descriptions relating to the notion of awakening. Reading such literature can give one the illusion of understanding, but does one really have the slightest clue what is hiding behind this concept? Spirituality on this plane is an extremely unclear science. In fact it is more science fiction, a domain of imagination, poetry and fantasy, a fairy tale of liberation and bliss. This is not to imply that awakening does not exist, but rather that there is so much rubbish attached to this concept that it points more to a delusion than to reality. In our critical age – one which is flooded with information that serves only to cover our basic ignorance – it is truly a matter of urgency to arrive at clarity.

What is the true meaning of awakening? What is the truth of enlightenment? Anybody can say anything, repeat the concepts that we have heard a million times, but who can bring real clarity into this area so that a true seeker can directly grasp the essence of the path to his or her own salvation? The problem is that those who live in self-denial, attached to their traditions as an old woman to her church-going, will never admit to being lost. They have become so integrated with their inner doubt that they have lost any ability to question the path that they chose to follow, seeing any criticism as a threat to their misguided sense of security.

So, what is awakening really? Is it to be intoxicated with god? Is it to experience a sudden opening of the mind through intense Zen practices? Is it an energetic eruption of kundalini energy? Is it to enquire into the nature of thought and intuit that one is not the mind? Is it to sit at the feet of a guru and have all kinds of energy experiences while getting increasingly spaced-out and ungrounded?

It is interesting to explore this issue through the story of Buddha. Under the guidance of his gurus, Buddha went through all the stages of absorption known at that time, and yet he did not find peace. He realized that he was still not free, that he was still suffering. Why? Because whatever he had reached internally had not changed the fact that his human nature had not been transformed. His relative consciousness was still bound to the earth and he was still in pain. He was honest enough to recognize that the moment he came out of absorption nothing had actually changed. So what was his solution? Actually, he did not find a solution; it was more like the solution gradually found him. For his part, burning with impatience and divine passion, he kept analyzing the causes of suffering in his mind, and this, according to urban legend, was supposedly what led to his liberation. But did it? In truth, all the manifestations of Mara (a personification of internal or external ‘evil’ intended to disturb him with various temptations, in a similar way that Jesus was tempted) that he experienced upon the event of awakening were nothing other than a confrontation with his own subconscious tendencies, his inner shadow. It seems that, having passed through this, what he translated as liberation was arriving at a very particular state which was a combination of internal samadhi and a mental disidentification from his psychological reality and human nature.

Some of this disidentification was based on cultivating inner discipline and some of it may have been a form of repression. In time, as he became internally more integrated on the human level, there was no longer a need for such artificial mental disidentification and he became whole. One thing is certain: the process of analyzing the causes of suffering and ignorance could not produce, in a sudden way, purification and liberation. It simply does not work that way; it takes years for the human construct to become fully transformed.

So did Buddha reach awakening? After he discovered that his ability to enter samadhi, other than creating the state of suspension, did not eradicate the root of his ego, he resolved to sit under the Bodhi tree until he had either reached freedom or died. During this time, in response to his intense enquiry and desperation, he received the grace of awakening and shifted into higher consciousness. This was not the end but the true beginning of his evolution. It took many years and the alignment of many different elements in his existence for him to finally become whole.

That which is nowadays called Buddhism is no more than a relative interpretation of certain deep processes that remain too intangible for human consciousness to grasp. These blank pages of understanding still need to be filled with words which emerge from the place of clarity. As to Buddha himself, it does not really matter whether or not he was fully awakened under the Bodhi tree. He was a pioneer, a creator of a new path. What matters is how much that path, which once was new and now is old, resonates with the evolutionary needs of our present consciousness and intelligence. The spiritual truth is something which is alive. It is meant to be evolving and if it is not, it becomes outdated and dead. The moment one becomes a Buddhist, one might benefit in this way or another, but sooner or later one inevitably becomes stagnated. We live in the river of the now, flowing into the mystery of our future. The unknown is constantly revealing itself; the past cannot take us there. The past should be seen as a stepping stone within the unfoldment of the intelligence of time, or it quickly becomes the coffin of truth.

This is just one story, but there are many stories, many possibilities, many over-simplifications, many pitfalls, many false awakenings and many illusory states of oneness or freedom. Unlike Buddha, we live in times in which a higher level of clarity and understanding must be brought into the nature of the spiritual path. We cannot carry the burden of being so hopelessly confused any longer.

Before we can better understand what the term awakening really means, we need to dispel some of the most common myths surrounding this concept. Some of these myths are more than innocent misunderstandings – they are traps for the mind which block our evolution into reality. Propagating these false views is one of the many ways maya conspires to keep us imprisoned in the dimension of forgetfulness.

One common misconception, prevalent in pseudo-Advaita schools, is that our true nature is always there, and that the reason it is not realized is simply that we are not paying attention to it. This is a fallacy. Awakening is not our nature, but our potential. If this potential is not activated, our nature remains only mental and emotional. When the old Zen master Chao-chou answered ‘No!’ to the question whether or not a dog has a Buddha nature, many thought that he was just playing with some Zen paradoxes. In reality, he simply meant it. A dog does not have Buddha nature because the very essence of having Buddha nature is the capacity to consciously recognize it. Our Buddha nature requires recognition in order to come into existence, and this recognition cannot manifest without awakening. Therefore, an average person can pay as much attention as he can muster to his Buddha nature, but he will still not be a Buddha. He won’t be able to recognize anything there due to the simple fact that he has not awakened. This is extremely important to understand: awakening is the very link, the very bridge, between recognition and our Buddha nature.

So who is recognizing what? Recognition of our pure nature is a result of the conscious relationship between our me and the light of I am. Recognition does not produce awakening, nor does awakening produce recognition. One can awaken and yet not recognize it, and one cannot recognize what has not been awakened.  Of course, people can imagine all kinds of things, but this is simply delusory.

There are several dimensions of awakening, but within each dimension there are more or less four awakenings. The first awakening is the entry of the light of I am into our existence. The second awakening is the recognition of that state, which is the function of me and its intelligence. The third awakening – which we would call the proper awakening – is the unification between me and I am, which is the result of our existential and energetic surrender into the awakened state. The byproduct of the third is the fourth awakening, which is the stabilization of the awakened state. When the state is stabilized, it means that we have embodied it and integrated it fully with our existence – only now can it never be lost.

Most experiences of awakening are impermanent. Some of them come and go, never to return; some of them can be re-activated in a special environment like meditation; some of them constantly fluctuate energetically; some of them cannot be maintained while one is interacting with the world, and some of them are strong in meditation but weak in activity. Many seekers do not have the concept of stabilization and hence possess no tools to render their state permanent. Some seekers are conditioned by the foolish concept that there is ‘no one’ to awaken and that to try to awaken or to stabilize any state would therefore imply that the ego is again recreated.

Additionally, one needs to know where to focus in order to reach stabilization, which is impossible without a map of awakening which points to the different dimensions of the soul – consciousness, being and heart. Sometimes one can have a very holistic realization, but because the experience is too wide, one is unable to maintain it. The secret of evolution into the state of wholeness is not to seek the complete experience from the beginning, but to focus on each dimension of awakening separately, one by one, so that they can become fully mature and established. Only then can all the states of awakening be integrated with one another and merged into one self. It simply does not work otherwise.

Awakening is not a single event; it is never complete from the start. First there is a shift into the new state, then it must mature energetically, then it must be stabilized and integrated with our existence. Those who do not respect these laws will simply lose the state and their opportunity for transformation will go to waste. Moreover, our knowledge of the inner world should include our ability to recognize which step is next on our path. For instance, after awakening of pure consciousness, we need to recognize what is still missing in our existence for it to become more whole and complete. Some seekers, due to being lazy or insincere, get stagnated in one of the awakened states by convincing themselves that they are complete, sometimes even beginning to assume the role of a teacher. This is a big problem on the spiritual scene. To pursue the inner path, one has to be honest, never ceasing to evolve, to question one’s reality and to constantly re-awaken the passion to decode the next steps in the evolutionary unfoldment of our soul’s purpose.


For a definition of the terminology used, please visit the Glossary page.