Q: Is there anything we can actually do to bring about enlightenment, or is it a state of grace that is bestowed on us, like winning the spiritual lottery?
ET: Let’s briefly look at what we mean by enlightenment. When you continuously know and sense yourself as the space of consciousness rather than what appears in consciousness – sense perceptions, thoughts, emotions – then it can be said that you are enlightened… except that you wouldn’t think or speak of yourself as ‘enlightened’, because that would instantly create another mind-based conceptual identity and so it would be the end of ‘your’ enlightenment. So, strictly speaking, “you” cannot become enlightened, because who you take yourself to be is like a ripple in the ocean of consciousness – or a little wave if you’re a VIP – and the ripple doesn’t become enlightened until it realizes that its ripple-identity is ultimately a misperception, that it is the ocean taking on a fleeting ripple-form. So, to know its true identity, the ripple first needs to recognize its nothingness. And when that happens, then, paradoxically, it is not the ripple, but the ocean that is awakening!
Now for most people, awakening is a gradual process of disidentification from mental positions, opinions, viewpoints, reactive patterns and so on. What disidentification means is that those things are no longer endowed with a sense of self. This makes life much easier, as you no longer need to defend a mental fiction! The first glimpse of non-identification with the mind and the recognition of yourself as formless presence comes when one is ready. Often suffering is the trigger, or a spiritual teaching, or both. Call it readiness, or grace. This is the beginning of the awakening process. Now, increasingly, an element of choice comes in, and you learn that it is possible to choose to be present rather than being identified with the mind. This is the most helpful way of looking at it, but not the ultimate truth, of course. In ultimate terms, all we can say is: consciousness is awakening, and even that is not absolutely true, in the same way that saying “the sun is rising” is not absolutely true, but implies that the observer’s perspective is limited. So words can only serve as pointers.