An old article I wrote in 1996.
José Le Roy
We talk a lot these days about awakening and enlightenment. In the Western world, more and more men and women are curious about their true nature. So it is more important than ever to be clear about what we mean by enlightenment.
Enlightenment or awakening is the movement from total identification with an individual to a life centred in Emptiness. This movement is revealed through the discovery of a totally new way of seeing oneself and the world, a discovery that is called in the Eastern tradition 'the opening of the third eye'.
This awakening is often described as the egoless state. But what does the word 'ego' really mean? Words such as 'individual', 'person', 'ego' are concepts to which everyone gives their own meaning depending on their cultural and religious background. For Christians theses words have a meaning which they would not have for Buddhists. The only possibility of really clarifying the meaning of awakening is to return to the pure and simple description of the experience.
From the individual to the Void
After enlightenment, what is most remarkable is that the subject, the me is no longer visible. My first impression is to have completely disappeared from the world. When enlightenment happened, I was in my bedroom. I opened the window and what I saw threw me into a state of total astonishment. There was, as usual, the wall of the building in front, the roofs, the court, the patio-stones, but bathed in a light that was incomprehensible and sublime. This vision of the world I beheld as if for the first time. Most of all, I had vanished from the scene. No one was looking at the world ! Douglas Harding describes very precisely his own astonishment at this experience:
It was all, quite literally, breathtaking. I seemed to have stop breathing altogether, absorbed in the Given. Here it was, this superb scene, brightly shining in the clear air, alone and unsupported, mysteriously suspended in the void, and (and this was the real miracle, the wonder and delight) utterly free of "me", unstained by any observer. Its total presence was my total absence, body and soul, lighter than air, clearer than glass, altogether released from myself, I was nowhere around.
The 'me', such I had known it before, had quite literally vanished and in its place was suddenly a seeing that came from nowhere, belonged to nobody and gazed upon the Unknown. From that time, a mystery is alive in the heart of our being: the Void. It becomes impossible to perceive the 'me', to see oneself. Enlightenment is the end of a journey, the end of a quest because the searcher no longer exists. It's exactly the same as waking up from a nightmare. Let us imagine that in a nightmare we are being pursued by a ferocious dog. The fear is so strong that we wake up suddenly in a sweat. All of a sudden, the dream is over: the dog, the chase and the dreamer, every thing has vanished without trace. We discover to our great relief that we are comfortably tucked up in the warmth of our bed. Such is enlightenment : the end of an hallucination.
This seeing, this enlightenment cannot possibly be imagined or conceived of. It can only be lived. This awareness is completely different from our everyday awareness. In the everyday awareness the individual takes as his reference point the body-mind. After awakening, this reference point has disappeared. This disappearance is totally extraordinary because, as from then, life is going to be lived on a new level and in an unknown dimension.
In reality, it is the old 'me' which disappears; the old way of living as a separate individual and located in time and space. A new 'me' , the real 'me' is unveiled. Enlightenment doesn't remove the personal sense, the feeling of existing, but this feeling of being, this 'I AM' is pure; it is no longer identified with an individual who is confronting other individuals. The 'I AM' is not relative, it is absolute; it is an unlimited presence and conscious of itself. This feeling of being alive becomes even more intense. When awakening happened, it was as if I had just been born into the world for the first time. Life before awakening is a dream, a deep coma, a death. The newly discovered 'I AM' has divine attributes. This 'I AM' is beyond time, beyond space, without limits, without size, conscious, empty, full, silent, still and bliss. God the most high is within me and I am in HIM.
So, there we have a paradox. On the one side, I see absolutely no 'me', no observer, nothing and, on the other side, I feel myself to be alive as I never felt before. So we have here a mystery. Whilst diving into the pure Void, I remain, nevertheless, myself; by grace of the pure Void, I am finally myself and this 'me' is nobody!
Free from thoughts and desires
So with enlightenment, life does not stop. What disappears is the mistake of taking oneself to be somebody, of taking oneself for ones' appearance in the mirror. My true nature (what I am) is the total opposite of what I appear to be. In this Emptiness, thoughts and desires do not cease to be. My mind continues to function and life goes on.
But I no longer see thoughts arising from a solid thing that we call a head, but arising from the empty space. The wonderful sense of freedom as a result of enlightenment comes from the free Presence that appeared and which makes me independent from thoughts. Before enlightenment, what I took to be my 'me' was the continual stream of thoughts which produces stress and suffering. Now I see that thoughts arrive from the Void. I no longer identify myself with them, I have the possibility of being behind them. They no longer define me. If it happens that I identify with thoughts and consequently suffer, I now know how to extricate myself from them to find again the place of freedom which is without thoughts and silent. In the deepest centre of the 'me', there is complete and total silence. Of this silence, one can say nothing because it is not an experience; it is non-duality. But it is the background, unknown and transcendent which makes possible all the experiences and within which thoughts arrive. When thoughts are completely absent, silence reigns.
However, all this is not about destroying this marvelous tool; thought in the right place is very useful. Pure thought, that is to say without stress, is a reflection of the wisdom of the Source. This is why the mind is often symbolized by the moon and the wisdom of God by the sun. When it is spontaneous, thought is quite simply a correct response to the situation as it presents itself without the harmful intervention of the ego.
But it is important to leave thought in its right place. Thought is limited and the mind cannot comprehend everything. Thought is created and belongs to the world. The truth is beyond; it is the Source and can only be perceived by a direct intuition and not by the mind. The 'philosopher' who searches for truth through the use of reason is like a man who tries to reach the stars by pulling up his trousers to the sky. It is stupid and dangerous. Stupid because the 'philosophers' are lead to write, in general, vain things. And dangerous because they end up denying that it is possible to know the truth or even that truth exists at all.
On the other hand, it is useless to look to control thoughts. We have in fact a lot of difficulties in letting go (and I have my own difficulties); the ego, the little guy in the mirror has the tendency to come back again and block up the Void to take control of the show. But thoughts are spontaneous and arrive from the Void. Their ultimate Source is the supreme intelligence. So it's useless to get upset about it: the world takes care of itself. My life will run much smoother if nobody is thinking. In fact, where do thoughts come from ? From a mind-box? From a head-shaped thing ? Of course not: they come from the absence of mind.
Just as Emptiness welcomes thoughts, it also welcomes desires. These do not entirely disappear with Seeing, but what is removed is the dissatisfaction. Identification with the ego generates suffering and dissatisfaction. To fill up this gap, this lack of being, the ego rushes into an unbridled run to obtain possessions. Desires follow desires, frustrations follow frustrations in an endless chain. When we are aware of our true nature, a huge feeling of fullness fills us up and all kind of needs vanish. There is no more thirst. Enlightenment pacifies us beyond all limits. In the Gospel of John, Jesus met a woman near a well. She came to look for water and Jesus said to her:
The one who drinks these water will have thirst again, but who will drink the water that I give, never will be thirsty again; the water I give will become in him a fountain of eternal life.
The awakening to our true nature generates an immense relaxation in our being and an openness to the present moment. Thus thirst has disappeared but desires remain. My humanity still exists. This life, however centred on the supernatural, is a natural life. Nevertheless, compared to my life before awakening (I should say my no-life !) what I know today could be called a desireless state. I can stay very long moments without any desire because the 'I AM' is filled with a perfect joy.
As regards the nature of desires that sometimes appear, they are very simple and ordinary and there is nothing specific to say about them. For example, I like to drink a glass of French white wine from the Loire in a small cafe in Montmartre, and I desire to make love to the young and pretty woman I live with. Seen from outside, I look like an ordinary person but lacking in social ambition. But seen from inside, it's different; you have to believe me, it is the Kingdom of Heaven.
A Way Into Non-duality
The enlightenment is like being born again, being born from above as Christ puts It. The entire life is now transformed in an infinite proportion. Before this passage, I had lived myself corruptible and physical; now I am incorruptible and the Light. Of course for this transformation to be achieved, I need not only to have some glimpses of the reality, but I have to settle in it. But anyone who perceives this reality even for one second sees it perfectly for it is always the Absolute that sees itself. Truth does not depend upon time. There is no possible improvement in the Seeing. Each moment is the moment of awakening, and each awakening is the awakening to the Absolute.
This birth is the death of the identification with the body-mind, with the appearance in the mirror. So we could say that it is an egoless life if we call 'ego' the total identification with our human appearance. It is then no longer possible to live as before. Everything has changed. An upsetting has taken place. The spiritual quest has stopped because the seeker has vanished and truth has been revealed.
However with this birth, a new life begins. The new child, the child of light, the heavenly being can keep on growing up. In concrete terms, it means that I still see that egoistic reactions can appear in this space in relation to events. The perfection which is in the Centre, the perfection of my true nature illuminates all the imperfections I had not paid attention to before. The habits have to disappear and I do not forget that for more than 20 years I have been totally identified with a body-mind called José. So there is at the same time consciousness of the Void and consciousness of some egoistic desires and thoughts. But when these egoistic reactions linked with the little José, emerge, they are seen through the light of my true nature and they lose their power and vanish soon. This new light is very important because it transforms the whole of my being and embraces little by little each part of me in its clarity.
So after the illumination, a process of disidentification and of gradual unification is going to take place. But if the identification with the body easily disappears (indeed, it is actually ridiculous to identify with a piece of meat), the belief to be a thinker is more deeply rooted. It will take more time to stop living as a thinker. As Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj puts it:
Thanks to this revelation (enlightenment), your identification with what is corporeal is going to know a vast spread and to extend to the dimensions of the manifested universe. Then you will discover that you contain and penetrate the whole cosmos and that you know it simply as your own body. This is named by the words 'pure superior knowledge' , Shud-Vijnan. Nevertheless, even in this state of sublime Shud-Vijnan, the intellect denies to be recognised as non-entity. However, in giving up yourself to the pure consciousness, the evidence of the fallibility and of the lack of consistence of the intellectual process is going gradually to become stronger and you will be able then to put the intellect to its true place, the second one.
Living in the timeless, the past and the future become unreal; thoughts relating to memory, regrets, remorse or anticipation about the future diminish in number and in power. The only thing that matters is the present moment. The mind is no longer the master of the house, it becomes the servant. Thoughts come and go; they belong to the world and are like clouds crossing the sky leaving no trace.
This is why the incessant chatter of the mind becomes quiet. Thoughts and desires continue to arrive in the Vacuity, but a little bit like a fire that one no longer feeds with wood, or like a wheel that the engine no longer turns and yet nevertheless continues to turn. Disidentification with the body-mind, with my appearance in the mirror breaks the mind's own ability to create more and more thoughts and desires in an infernal circle generating stress.
Indeed, there is here a paradox because in fact nothing changes. The seeing of my true nature always remains. There is no progress in this seeing because there is no time. This process of disidentification and unification simply happens in a spontaneous way. Naturally, the awakening brings its fruits and the heart opens itself. As St. Paul said: 'our external man falls into pieces, our interior man is renewed every day.' This way of realisation and accomplishment is a way of total surrender to my true nature which is the all Being. Nothing can be taken or added to this Being. It is what it is and contains everything. The present moment is in itself an absolute perfection, each situation is full in itself and opens on the infinite. My true nature is perfect. It has no problems and no needs. From thereon thoughts and desires are no longer essential to life; they belong to the world and are one of the expressions of Life. The most important thing in life now is to live each moment consciously from the Void. What I have to do is to rest in the wholeness, in the peace of my original state. It doesn't require any effort. I have to be passive and let the uncreated light of Awakening achieve its great work. It is a way towards unity, bliss, peace and the Unknown.
The vacuity is independent of phenomena (thoughts, desires, as well as forms, colours, sounds...) that occur in itself. Fortunately, reality is always available. Reality is the only guide in our often peaceful but sometimes troubled journey. But peace at the centre is never affected. The secret lies in asymmetry. All the changing phenomena appear in the foreground of my non-changing nature. The Seeing of the Vacuity is like a sword which cuts off the illusion as soon as it shows its head. At every instant, the Infinite is here and now, and all the limitations due to experience collapse. The personal is plunged into the Impersonal (or suprapersonal). It could be compared to a carafe of water immersed in the sea: then there is no more interior or exterior.
There is only the ONE.
José Le Roy
Translated from French by Collin Fox