According to Aziz Kristof, that which we refer to by the phrase “I AM” consists of three basic aspects. These three basic aspects are:
3. The Heart
And that which we refer to by the word “Enlightenment” is the shifting of the center of identity to one of the three basic aspects of I AM.
From the above follows that there are three forms of Enlightenment. These are:
1. Enlightenment to the State of Presence.
– This occurs when the center of identity shifts to consciousness.
2. Enlightenment to the Absolute State.
– This occurs when the center of identity shifts to Being.
3. Enlightenment to the Heart.
– This occurs when the center of identity shifts to the Heart.
Until now, no spiritual tradition has made a clear distinction between these three types of Enlightenment. And so after millennia of spiritual teachings, the spiritual path remains uncharted territory.
Let us now look at the three types of Enlightenment in more detail, beginning with Enlightenment to the State of Presence.
We start out on the spiritual path unaware of our true nature. The ‘image’ we have of ourselves is what we identify with as being ‘Me.’ This identification with the self-concept is a natural and necessary step in the evolution of consciousness. The evolution of consciousness is an evolution which is conscious of itself. The self-concept serves as a bridge between the subconscious animal state and the fully conscious state. First we need to develop self-referring intelligence, which is the ego, before we are able to take the next step. Otherwise we would not want to know, nor be able to appreciate, who we are in a deeper sense.
If an animal would suddenly get an ego, this would be an Enlightenment experience for the animal. That would be the first shift for the animal from its subconscious state to becoming aware of itself. The subconscious state is like a dream state. In a dream, there is no clear self-awareness; the subject’s awareness is completely objectified into the dream story. Humans, in their semi-conscious state, are on the one hand conscious enough to have a sense of self, while on the other hand not conscious enough to realize what is behind this sense of self. This causes us to search for our true identity.
Some spiritual traditions only teach discovering the ‘no-self,’ and therefore portray the ego as something negative. The spiritual path, however, is about self-awareness. So essentially the ego plays a positive role on the spiritual path. However, because we completely identify with this self-concept, we become imprisoned in our egocentric concepts and beliefs.
But there is a way to free ourselves from this prison of the mind. The mind has in its very essence the ability to create a self-conscious impulse. Thanks to this self-conscious impulse we are able to briefly return from being lost in the mind to being aware in the now. We use this ability as a pathway from the mind to pure consciousness.
We have to cultivate these self-conscious impulses so that they become a steady flow of attention. By adhering to our task of continuously maintaining this awareness, we begin the process of crystallizing attention. When attention is crystallized, awareness experiences itself beyond thoughts and concepts. This is why most spiritual traditions work with the cultivation of mindfulness.
In our practice we have to focus on the original point where the self-conscious impulse is not yet experienced as an object outside of ourselves, but is experienced in itself. The most direct and powerful way to practice this is through self-remembrance. We practice self-remembrance by continuously looking inward, turning our attention to the center of attention itself, in the middle of the head, as if we are looking inward with our eyes at the back of the skull. In this way we energetically anchor ourselves in the now.
Once we experience the self-conscious impulse as subject and not object, consciousness becomes awakened. At this point mindfulness experiences itself without any object. Attention which is crystallized becomes self-aware. It becomes one with itself.
Now we have a real center of awareness and we are not lost in the mind anymore. We have (partly) awakened to our true nature; we recognized the essence of consciousness. We experience that every phenomenon appears and disappears in consciousness. And we are consciousness. Everything is recognized as the self.
When the State of Presence is stabilized, it loses its crystallized character. It becomes like a space of awareness. Without holding on to it, one simply remains in this field of pure consciousness.
The State of Presence is referred to by some teachers in Advaita Vedanta by the slogan “Consciousness is all there is and I am THAT.” In Hinduism they call the State of Presence ‘Atman.’ In Zen Buddhism the ox (in the ox herding pictures) symbolizes the State of Presence.
In contemporary Tibetan Buddhism the State of Presence is referred to as ‘Rigpa,’ and they depict it as something that endures after the death of the body. The State of Presence does not endure after death, because consciousness manifests through brain activity; it needs a physical body to manifest. This is the reason why there is no consciousness in the deep sleep state, when there is almost no brain activity. The natural location of the State of Presence is in the middle of the headspace, behind the ‘third eye.’
Every type of Enlightenment normally has three phases; first the shift into the State, then the stabilization of the State and then integration of the State. The first shift is sudden, the other phases are gradual. It very seldom occurs that the first shift is accompanied by sudden stabilization.
Let’s now move on to the second type of Enlightenment: Enlightenment to the Absolute State.
As we have just seen, consciousness plays a key role in the Enlightenment process. But is consciousness truly ‘all there is?’
According to Buddhism, consciousness is one of the five skandhas. These skandhas are supposed to be five (impermanent) aggregates that constitute all individual experience. And suffering arises when one completely identifies with (one of) these skandhas, because clinging to anything impermanent is essentially suffering.
It is true that consciousness is impermanent -- it can vanish. It vanishes every night when we get into the deep sleep state. So what is Nirvana, which is beyond suffering, really about? It cannot only be about consciousness! The Nirvana that the Buddha realized must exist beyond consciousness, according to his own teachings.
When the mind awakens to its true nature, the State of Presence is realized. But when one awakens to the true nature of Presence itself, the Unmanifested is realized. The Unmanifested is also called “Being” or “the Absolute.” Being is the source from which Presence arises and is prior to Presence. In Buddhism the term “Emptiness” is used for Being.
Some teachers call ‘pure consciousness without content’ Emptiness, as if it were equivalent to what is meant by Emptiness in authentic Zen Buddhism. This is another example of the confusion caused by ignorance about the different forms of Enlightenment.
Before consciousness arises, there already is a ‘presence.’ What is present is the absence of consciousness. The term absence does not mean there is nothing present. ‘Nothing’ is just a concept. In truth ‘nothing’ does not exist, because ‘the absence of consciousness’ is always present. What is conceptualized as ‘nothing’ is uncreated energy, which is pure ‘is-ness.’ That’s why we call it ‘Being,’ because it IS beyond ‘is’ or ‘is not.’
The only way to enter the Absolute is through surrendering. Unlike the active-will practice that leads to the State of Presence, realizing the Absolute takes surrendering. One must let go of the center of Presence into the non-Presence of the Absolute, which has no center.
The practice of Shikantaza (sitting meditation), breathing into the belly where one drops Presence to the hara area (lower belly area), serves this purpose. The center of Presence is in the headspace, but the hara is the gateway to the Absolute. One can only really do Shikantaza after having attained the State of Presence, otherwise it would be difficult staying fully present when coming to the precipice of the non-Presence.
After exerting ourselves fully in trying to cast off the will (inherent in Presence), we become ready to receive Grace, which responds to our surrender. Only by way of Grace (because the will cannot transcend itself) can we shift into the Absolute State. Grace which comes in the form of transmission. This transmission can come from an Enlightened teacher who is in the Absolute State or directly from the Beyond.
In the shift to the Absolute, consciousness becomes absorbed into that which is prior to consciousness. This is the realization the Buddha experienced, which he named reaching Nirvana. This experience is like getting into a deep sleep state while staying completely awake. One is completely present and completely absent. There is no movement, only absolute stillness exists in this State. Absolute stillness, which is the presence of Being. And the presence of Being is the absence of consciousness.
Through the conscious letting go of our presence into the Absolute (which is the absence of consciousness) we become absent, in other words, absorbed in reality; One with the Universe. After this shift there is no longer any center; we experience ‘non-abidance.’ In the Absolute State all is finally embraced. Few seekers actually reach the Absolute State, for it is the Ultimate.
Because Advaita Vedanta is the tradition of Grace, some Advaita teachers don’t emphasize or even discourage spiritual practices. This is because their tradition is based on transmission, where a seeker who is ripe for it gets shifted into another State by the energy of a Master who is in that State himself, or receives Grace directly from the Beyond. In an effort after meaning for what happens in their tradition, they conclude that practice is unnecessary and all happens only through Grace.
The theoretical framework behind their extreme, non-dualistic view is formed by applying linear logic to the experience of the dimensions beyond the ego; the “no self” experience. Because they realized “no self,” they believe there is no ‘personal doer’ and so one cannot do anything oneself to reach Enlightenment. Reality itself, however, is beyond linear logic. The multi-dimensional reality of I AM holds the possibility for the reality of the personal within the heart of the universal.
Now we will look at the third form of Enlightenment; Enlightenment to the Heart.
After we have stabilized the Absolute State, the wisdom of the Unmanifested will not let us stay forever in the detached state of disidentification. The Unmanifested has to encounter the reality of its own manifestation. This encounter takes place when the heart opens. Opening the center of the Heart entails energy work into the heart area, placing your hands on your heart and deeply connecting with it. Prayer is also an important part of connecting with the Heart.
When we shift to the Heart, we reach a place beyond identification and disidentification. ‘Heart’ means ‘central point.’ The Heart is the middle point where the two polarities, the manifested (the self) and the Unmanifested (the no-self), meet and we experience true wholeness. This meeting can take place in the Heart, because the Heart rises above these polarities, for the Heart is part of the Ultimate.
The Ultimate, which is God, exists as a union of the Absolute and the Heart. The Being side of God is the Absolute and the Divine side of God is the Heart. The Divine is the heart of Emptiness. The Heart is the dimension of Love and Grace.
Now we come to the final part of our spiritual seeking. That which has been searching for its true self can now be discovered.
The spiritual traditions of the past do not depict all sides of reality accurately. The teaching of no-self is not a dogma. The idea that ‘nobody’ becomes Enlightened is true from one perspective but false from another perspective. Enlightenment is beyond the concept of ‘self’ and ‘no-self.’
What is the true answer to the question: Who am I? Is the answer: the ego? Or consciousness? Or Emptiness? Searching for our true self we come across different dimensions of what we are. But who is the one who is experiencing these dimensions, who is the one searching for its true self? Hidden within all of what we are is the essence of our unique identity. Aziz calls it the Soul. Consciousness and Emptiness are impersonal and universal, but the Soul is personal.
The Soul exists in the Heart, and can only recognize itself in a clear way after the realization of Presence and the Absolute. Some mystics have gone directly to the Heart without first realizing Presence and the Absolute, but although they experienced the Soul, their realization lacked the clarity that one who already realized Presence and the Absolute would have had. Only when water is still can it clearly mirror your true face.
Now that the Heart center is open, we experience that the most direct and personal experience of the self is in the Heart. We become aware of the Soul. Inherent in the Soul is a profound sensitivity which comes from the Heart. The Heart is universal, but extends into an individual expression which we call the Soul. Because of this we are one with I AM but also separate from I AM. The Soul is what experiences oneness and separation. Experiencing oneness is only accessible if one can also experience separation.
The Soul is not the I AM. The Soul is the I AM seeing itself as a Soul. Through this seeing, a separation between the I AM and itself arises. I AM meets itself through seeing itself as a Soul. And every Soul is a unique angle of perception of I AM.
Although each Soul has its own unique destiny in relation to its own (genetic) blueprint, some self-determining energy
is inherent in each Soul. The universe creates a human being and the human being responds to the universe;
it is a living, interactive process. Quantum physics discovered that when a particle is perceived by us, the particle is
changed by that very observation. Perception is an energy which changes the reality of that which is perceived. The
perceiver and the perceived both affect each other. In the same way the Soul co-operates with
I AM in the realization of I AM.
This summary is a description of the teachings of Aziz Kristof in my own words.
© Steven van der Hut