So the first way we talk about enlightenment is from a mystical perspective – the shift in consciousness from small self to True Self – but the second way enlightenment is used in language, in the English language particularly, is to refer to what we call the Western enlightenment, and every westerner who’s affected by western ideas at all, who’s listening in this moment, is familiar with this Western enlightenment.
The word “enlightenment” above is the same word that’s used by Eastern or other mystical traditions to refer to an emergent consciousness where one attains a new state of Being, a state in which one actually accesses the very Ground of Being and locates oneself within that Ground of Being. This the same word is used to refer to Western enlightenment.
Western Enlightenment is very different than classical Eastern or mystical enlightenment. In classical Eastern or mystical enlightenment, what is the goal? It’s to move beyond the Separate Self. The Separate Self is seen to be, is held to be, the source of suffering; i.e. as long as I experience myself as a Separate Self, I’ve got to compete with you — and the competition is egoic and brutal. I have to grasp to try and prove to myself that I exist, because I have a sense of my own impending demise and death and doom, and there’s always the skull grinning at the banquet. So what I need to do as a Separate Self is to reify my Ego, to engage in activities that will make me forget that I’m going to die, and that is the source of grasping, it’s the source of hoarding, it’s the source of egoic brutal competition, it’s the source of violence. I’m going to hurt you to show myself that I have power. It’s the source of all war, of all that is brutal and senseless and depraved between human beings. And so the Eastern or mystical enlightenment traditions point to the need to transcend Separate Self, to end the trance of Separate Self, to know that Separate Self doesn’t exhaust my identity, and that I’m not a Separate Self. So, for the East, enlightenment means to move beyond Separate Self to True Self.
But for the West, and for Western enlightenment – and virtually everyone listening in this moment was raised in the implicit tradition of Western enlightenment –the source of all dignity is the Separate Self. Now, stay with me. What’s the purpose of Western enlightenment? The same as Eastern or mystical enlightenment, to move people beyond suffering, to heal suffering. And how does Western enlightenment propose to heal suffering? By affirming the dignity of the Separate Self; by saying you’re not part of a larger context that can define you and dominate you. You actually have independent value in and of yourself as a discrete unit, as a valuable and worthy Separate Self. The Western enlightenment says the way to move beyond suffering is to affirm the Separate Self, and actually, that all the goods of relationship, of love, of virtue, of accountability and responsibility are based on a relationship between two Separate Selves in which each one honors the worth, the value and the dignity of the other. Wow!
That’s the problem, and that is what causes enlightenment teaching to be rejected in the world, and prevents us from receiving this enormous good which we so desperately need to create the next stage in our survival, the next stage in our evolution, the next stage in the evolution of consciousness and the evolution of love. We have these two competing values: the dignity of the Separate Self on the one hand, as the core source of relationship, accountability, love and virtue; and the need to evolve beyond Separate Self to avoid the suffering, which is implicit in every experience of separateness and the desperation that that experience yields in the face of certain death, in the face of scarce resources, in the face of the profound alienation of the Separate Self who lives merely as a skin-encapsulated Ego.
So what do we do? Where do we go? What breaks this deadlock? What can actually evolve consciousness and allow us to take the next evolutionary leap? That’s the question.