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Misconceptions of Enlightenment

Take an inventory of your concepts about what an enlightened person is like.

You may find that you expect that, upon enlightenment, such a person:

gives up sex
gains superpowers
is invulnerable to disease
never gets angry any more
won’t experience physical death
never encounters any misfortune
becomes clairvoyant and omniscient
undergoes a personality transformation
is constantly in some kind of lofty trance
starts seeing angels, God, and the future
goes around blessing everyone they meet
takes on solving all of the problems of the world
senses colors as more beautiful, flavors as more tasty

It’s hard to understand where these concepts came from, or why they are so ubiquitous and automatic in our consciousness. They seem to be the archetypal features of mythical superheroes, with perhaps a few odd leftovers from a Puritanical heritage.

But the list may not necessarily be accurate.

For one thing, any concept of enlightenment that you have will be incomplete. Enlightenment is not a concept. It is something lived. It is Life, living you and living through you. That might be all that you can accurately say about it.

For another, enlightenment isn’t about how you behave or about what your circumstances are.

But the biggest problem with the list is that it reinforces the main misconception about enlightenment: that it is beyond your reach.

Answers From Silence says, “It isn’t something that comes only to legendary historical figures. Your enlightenment is inevitable, and it could even happen in this lifetime.”

And, “I thought that this would make me into something else, and I didn’t know what. But I still get to be a human being. Maybe it is for real now, for the first time, and in the best sense of being human.”

Enlightened people may simply continue to live their everyday lives in society, quietly going about their business, which is probably the same business they were going about before enlightenment. It’s just that now they know who they truly are.

So when your enlightenment comes, don’t expect to give up anything or to gain anything.

Other than everything.


Definitions of Enlightenment

A reader recently asked me some very astute questions about enlightenment. The following is based on our exchange:

Daniel Barash: I have heard a definition of enlightenment as a shift from conditioned mind to unconditioned consciousness, from seeing things through the filters of one’s mind to seeing things as they really are. How does this compare with your definition of enlightenment: a shift of identity from that which is bound by time and space to that which is eternal?

Jeffrey Chappell: Both definitions are talking about a shift, so there is that similarity. The tiny sliver of difference between the two might be the use of the word “identity” to indicate exactly what it is that makes the shift.

In the definition that you quoted, there is an important distinction that is drawn between mind and pure (“unconditioned”) consciousness.

Mind is the apparatus that is full of thoughts. Pure consciousness is nothing except consciousness.

Before the shift, you experience consciousness as being in your mind. After the shift, you experience your mind as being in consciousness.

Answers From Silence says, “I have gone outside of my mind.”

The place outside of the mind is pure consciousness. And it does have a quality of being eternal.

D: Is becoming enlightened really as simple as shifting in a single moment, or does it happen over time?

J: Preparation for the moment of shift happens over time, possibly lifetimes, and the shift takes a moment.

D: Do you think there’s a gradient to enlightenment? Could one have moments of enlightenment, or be partially enlightened?

J: A metaphor comes to mind: swimming in the ocean. The swimmers in the shallows near the shore are as much in the water as are the swimmers in the deeper parts farther out. But if you’re in, you’re in. Someone walking along the beach, or wading, or standing in the water, has not yet yielded to the water. So perhaps there are gradients of enlightenment, but someone who is in enlightenment is in, no matter what.

Answers From Silence says that a temporary experience of transcending to pure consciousness is not the same as being enlightened. So you could have moments of transcendence and perhaps even call it partial enlightenment, but enlightenment itself means that you’re in all the way and that you operate from that place all the time.

D: Spiritual awakening and functioning in this culture seem to oppose each other. When you live in a world that constantly values and reinforces experiencing things through the mind, almost as if it were set up for that purpose, does that create an impediment to enlightenment?

J: No, the entire outer world at any time is equally an impediment to enlightenment, whether you are in Times Square or on a beautiful deserted island. No matter where you look, regardless of location or circumstance, positive or negative, the environment can be a distraction that causes consciousness to forget consciousness.

Answers From Silence says, “The illusion leads to its own demise. It is just a path to awakening from the illusion.” Those who awaken will do it anywhere that they are, even under the most resistant circumstances.

Besides that, the person making the shift can bring their own impediments to it as well. Most people do; otherwise there would be a lot more enlightened persons walking around. I know from personal experience that someone can even be on the very utmost edge of making the shift and come up with reasons not to do it. “Who needs it? What good is it?” was what I said at the time (Answers From Silence, page 208).

Even a spiritual experience can be an impediment to enlightenment.

D: Could enlightened people all be having a different experience of enlightenment?

J: What you are enlightened to is the experience of the sameness that underlies infinitely changing diversity. So all enlightened beings would be experiencing this sameness. But as I have said elsewhere, enlightenment doesn’t stop you from being human. The finite person remains, and so the expression of enlightened experience into the bounds of time and space would reflect the style of the individual. That’s why one definition of enlightenment can differ from another definition of enlightenment.

D: There is a part of me that watches my mind, my thoughts, and my experience as they are, from a disidentified vantage point, as if they are simply arising, and without the extra judgment, praise, evaluation, etc. Wouldn’t that be seeing things the way they really are?

J: Yes, that is called witnessing. Witnessing occurs when the self is separate from action. The self is separate from action when it is established in being. Therefore, when you are witnessing, you are experiencing higher consciousness. One marker of enlightenment is that witnessing is happening all the time.

But since you mention “without judgement” etc., it is worth pointing out that some people artificially enforce an attitude of neutrality in order to imitate what they think is an enlightened viewpoint. In that case, it is only something that is being layered on from the outside instead of being a spontaneous and natural quality.

It would also demonstrate a misunderstanding of the enlightened experience. To function in everyday life, the enlightened person still uses the mind and its tools of judgment and evaluation. It’s just that she doesn’t identify with them. And the enlightened experience is not neutral. It is positive. Positive, in the sense of wholeness.

The way things really are is that existence is whole.

Readers, a good way to start seeing things from unconditioned consciousness instead of through the filters of the mind would be to look at your mind. That means that you look at it from outside of your mind. In order to do that, you have to relocate to pure consciousness.

I have heard of a good way to do this, which is to ask yourself, “I wonder what my next thought will be?”

Try it.

Now you are outside your mind looking at it.


How To Be “Never Better”

The other day, someone asked me, “How are you?”

As usual, I replied, “Never better.”

And she said quite seriously, like someone looking for a solution, “Tell me how.”

This was the first time that I had gotten that response. It made me want to tell her how. And it started me thinking.

I am a piano teacher. As such, I am used to providing immediate, successful solutions to people in need of them. Adjust a hand position, use a practice method, or perceive a musical pattern, and problems vanish quickly and easily.

Why not be able to do the same on this other topic? What is the quick, easy technique for how to be “never better”?

I can tell you how NOT to do it. That would be to tell yourself something, such as, “I shall remember that life is total fullness at all times,” or “I am going to keep saying ‘never better’ because then it will become true.”

This is how not to do it because that would just be your thoughts talking to your thoughts.

I am not “never better” because I tell myself to think that way or to say those words habitually. When I say, “never better,” I am giving a current report on my true state of being.

So how to be never better is to know your true state of being.

And I can tell you what your true state of being is NOT. It is not your current circumstances.

Circumstances are “what’s happening”, or “my emotional state”, or “today’s health report”, or “a series of events I feel caught in,” and so on.

Being is not those things. Being transcends all of those things.

To transcend all of those things means to be independent of all of those things.

Being doesn’t depend on circumstances. It is the ultimate generality: no matter what is, being is there.

Your true state of being is the aspect of you that is there at all times, no matter what.

So then you need to know how to know the aspect of you that is there at all times.

Answers From Silence has a chapter called, “How To Be Enlightened.” To summarize: recall different times in your life, first a few years ago, then a few years before that, then a few years before that, and so on.

Afterwards, notice that there was something there, something that did not change with circumstances, a part of yourself that was being the same all the time—which means a true state of being.

And it took no effort to be in that state.

That’s because there is no technique for being. Being is automatic. Without trying to be, you are. There is nothing to do to make it happen.

And then there is no “how”.


Why I Am “Never Better”

If someone asks, “How are you?”, I reply, “Never better.”

And sometimes they ask, “Why?”

Meaning, “What wonderful thing happened to cause you to feel so good?”

The answer might be a little surprising.

First of all, no particular wonderful thing happened that caused this.

And if there were, something wonderful could go away or else turn into something that is not wonderful. And that would invalidate “never better”.

Answers From Silence says, “Happiness always changes into something else.”

And, “Don’t ask me if I’m happy. Ask me if I’m indestructible.”

That doesn’t mean indestructible as if my body wouldn’t bleed if scratched, or indestructible as if I never catch a cold, or indestructible as if I have no emotional sensitivity.

It means that this identity has gone beyond cause and effect and has nothing to do with changing circumstances. Instead, it identifies with changelessness and is the same in all circumstances. Therefore, indestructible.

Second of all, this isn’t about feeling good.

Answers From Silence says, “I don’t have to feel happy to be happy.”

This is saying that there are two kinds of happiness: “feel happy” happiness, which is a byproduct of circumstances, and depends on cause and effect; and “be happy” happiness, which is a byproduct of the freedom from cause and effect, and depends on nothing.

Beyond cause and effect there is a beyond-happiness happiness.

And then there is no “why”.


Balancing The Material And The Spiritual

A man participating in a cooking contest was asked, “What did you do to prepare for this?” He answered, “I did Buddhist chanting for 3 hours a day.”

What he did not say was, “I practiced cooking.” And, in fact, he did not win the competition.

To be fair, that may or may not have anything to do with his method of preparation and its outcome. But for the sake of argument, let’s say that it does, because it illuminates an important issue.

The issue is the confusion about the relationship of spirituality and materiality, and what it means to find balance between the two.

The idea that many people have about balancing spirituality and materiality is to take care of one by taking care of the other.

But the ultimate of spirituality is changeless being and the ultimate of materiality is dynamic action.

Ultimately, then, you are trying to mix changelessness with dynamism. In a literal sense, that is impossible.

That is why it is somewhat misguided to try to balance these two opposing qualities by aiming to blend them or to alternate them in various proportions to one another.

The best way to balance them is to send both to their opposite extremes and leave them there.

When you render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, being and action don’t mingle. They are completely separate totalities.

Enlightenment, which is identification with changeless being, accomplishes this separation.

And it does not make you into a space case who can’t function in the material world.

Instead, enlightenment improves your functioning because it takes your identity out of the action that you are performing. The action is no longer about you.

At the one extreme, action becomes more simple, clear, pure, effective, powerful, and spontaneously appropriate to the needs of the surrounding environment at the moment.

At the other extreme, as action is performed, the enlightened experience is that you never stop praying.

Answers From Silence says, “My each breath in and each breath out are chanting the thousand names of God, all day long and all night long.”


Oneness—And Beyond

Oneness, sometimes expressed as “I am one with everything”, is often spoken of as the state of a person who is experiencing spiritual enlightenment.

There is a flaw in the mathematics of this.

Answers From Silence says, “It’s not oneness, because that’s a number and it implies a distinct unit. It’s more of a zero-ness. No, more of a -ness.”

One is a number that delineates a thing.

But the enlightened experience includes the experience of boundlessness.

When there is boundlessness, there are no boundaries.

When there are no boundaries, there is no delineation of things.

When there is no delineation of things, there is only being, in its infinite potential.

Being is the “-ness”.

Enlightenment is identification with being.

Being is the aspect that every thing in existence shares with all other things. The being that is in one place is the same as the being that is in all other places.

The real deal is that it’s not Oneness, it’s Sameness. “Being is the same everywhere” would be a better phrase than “I am one with everything”.

The sameness throughout the diversity of all that exists is the sameness of being, not the sameness of things.

You can count the things that exist.

Being can’t be counted.


(Read more about Being here.)

God, Or Whatever You Want To Call It

“God, or whatever you want to call it” is a phrase that is frequently heard in the spiritual community. The phrase has become so familiar and commonly used that nobody seems to take much notice of it.

Often you will hear an extension of the phrase, such as, “God, Spirit, Being, or whatever you want to call it.”

Or, “God, Source, Oneness, Universal Mind, or whatever you want to call it.”

Or, “God, Divine Energy, Cosmic Consciousness, The I Am, The Higher Self, The Unified Field, or whatever you want to call it.”

God. Or whatever.

Just what does this lack of precision indicate?

First of all, you never hear people say, “God, Allah, Yahweh, Brahma, or whatever you want to call it.”

There is a message in that omission. The message is, “I am not talking about comparative religion. I am talking about spirituality. You have been alerted to the context.”

Now, to give multiplicity its due, here are the possible meanings of the phrase that you do hear people say—“God, or whatever you want to call it,”—however you want to translate it:

“The word ‘God’ is very vague.”

“There are lots of words for ‘God’ ”.

“No single, particular, or unique word is fully adequate to name God.”

“The word ‘God’ is synonymous with all of these other things.”

Sometimes, the speaker delivers the phrase as if revealing something to the audience:

“I am teaching you that there are many words for ‘God’.”

“I am providing you with new concepts of what God is.”

“I am giving you permission to call God whatever you want to.”

“I am showing you words that deflect the religious connotations of the word ‘God.’ ”

The translation also depends on the tone of voice of the speaker:

(said warmly) “Let’s all be tolerant of each other’s diverse perspectives.”

(said bemusedly) “Everybody is saying the same thing but they don’t realize it.”

(said expressionlessly) “I’m reciting what’s politically correct.”

(said dismissively) “You know the drill.”

But perhaps the real translation is, “None of these words stick because what-God-is ultimately defies being named.”

Answers From Silence says, “ ‘I’ and ‘God’. In my best moments, those would just be two names for the same nameless thing.”


All Titles

God In Disguise

”Answers From Silence” Becomes An International Bestseller

Spiritual Success

The Tyranny of Thought

The Obstacles To Enlightenment

Your Spiritual Path—And Beyond

Meditation Techniques—And Beyond

Misconceptions of Enlightenment

Definitions of Enlightenment

How To Be “Never Better”

Why I Am “Never Better”

Balancing The Material And The Spiritual

Oneness—And Beyond

God, Or Whatever You Want To Call It

Having A Higher Purpose—And Beyond

Answers From Silence: An Interview

Having A Spiritual Experience—And Beyond

Success and Happiness—And Beyond

This Will Change Your Life

The Map Of Enlightenment

Your Peak Experience—And Beyond

First-Hand Enlightenment

The Law Of Attraction—And Beyond

In The Zone Of Enlightenment

Your Life Story—And Beyond

Are You Ready For Enlightenment?

The Meaning of Being

Positive Thinking—And Beyond

The Enlightened Viewpoint

The Triumph of Enlightenment

Enlightened Agreement

Enlightened Success

Tsunamis, Karma, and Divine Retribution

The “Mr. Enlightenment” Interview, Part Three

The “Mr. Enlightenment” Interview, Part Two

The “Mr. Enlightenment” Interview

Being In The Present—And Beyond

Enlightenment: Why Bother?

The Answer Is Being

You’ve Got Enlightenment All Backwards

The Mayan Calendar And The End Of The World

Ask Your Enlightened Self

Your Mistaken Identity

How To Find A Piece Of Enlightenment

“It’s The Journey That Counts.” Or Is It?

Is Jeffrey Chappell Enlightened?

“Never Better”

The Enlightenment Business

What Does Enlightenment Look Like?

Crossing the Line to a New Existence