The ultimate spiritual attainment in Eastern traditions is described as Samadhi, Nirvana, and Self-Realization, and in Western traditions as Divine Union or God Consciousness. Whatever that exalted state might be called, it is a state of total absorption in the source of being. The path that leads to this depth of surrender progresses as we gradually liberate ourselves from exclusive identification with our familiar Earthbound sense of self.
We all have an identity that is associated with our current physical incarnation, and this incarnation is beautiful and should be cherished and honored. That said, it is also not the limit of who and what we are. The goal of the spiritual quest is to realize the totality of our being and to do that we must experience ourselves beyond the limits of this one lifetime.
The path of spiritual liberation moves our awareness from the gross material realm of our Earthbound life, through a series of transitions that carry us through the subtle layers of nonmaterial existence and finally to the realization of being beyond time and space. In my upcoming retreats and events we will explore the transitions of this path in detail, but for now I just want to outline some of the most significant ones.
- Earthbound Self: We start embedded in an identity that is wedded to a physical body in the material reality of Earth, with our normal waking consciousness.
- Dreaming: We experience the first transition at night when we find ourselves in dream worlds of the subtle nonmaterial realm, living in a dream body with dream consciousness.
- Lucid Dreaming: The second transition occurs when we become lucid in dreams and experience the dream worlds of the subtle nonmaterial realm through a dream body, but with our waking consciousness.
- Astral Travel: The third transition allows us to project our waking consciousness out of our physical body, through an astral body that exists in higher dimensions of reality beyond the limits of time and space.
- Witness/Turiya: The fourth transition occurs as we relax into cosmic consciousness and fall into an ever-present awareness that is awake through all states of waking, dreaming, and deep sleep.
- Luminous Absorption: The fifth and final transition occurs after resting in Turiya for extended lengths of time while releasing any sense of our own existence which brings us into the blissful ease of nondual pure awareness.
In addition to these five transitions, it is important to understand that what unleashes the awakening process within us is knowledge of our True Self, and what impedes it is ignorance of our True Self.
At some point on our spiritual quest we realize our True Self. In this sacred moment it becomes clear that we are not anything that can be seen, because we are always the awareness that sees. We are the awareness that is aware. Awareness is our True Self. Once this liberating insight reveals itself, we begin to see into the depths of how our small sense of self is formed and how it came to dominate our experience.
Before this moment, every experience we have reinforces our limited sense of self because they are all experienced from that limited point of view. To the extent that we are identified with the small self, every experience we have generates impressions that strengthen it. We even relate to our spiritual experiences as experiences the small self has, and so they too reinforce the existence of the small self. In the East they say that every experience creates samskaras (impressions) that reinforces our ignorance.
Once the True Self has been realized and we see clearly who we are, our experiences tend to reinforce the reality of the True Self. We keep seeing more deeply and our growing wisdom creates space for even deeper seeing. Now every experience we have generates ignorance-blocking wisdom samskaras that propel us faster and faster into the truth.
This is when we leave all doctrines, teachings and authorities behind because we have become the source of our own inspiration. The more deeply we venture into the truth, the more we see, and the more we see, the more deeply inspired we are to go further. We experience a dramatic sense of acceleration that inevitably leads to the total release into luminous absorption.