Age of Enlightenment
by Gavin Hoole
(Cape Town, South Africa)
The Age of Enlightenment - also called the Age of Reason - generally refers to a period in Western history beginning around the early 17th century and ending around the end of the 18th century, give or take a few decades.
Wikipedia describes this as an era "in which reason was advocated as the primary source and legitimacy for authority." There are many websites that go into this in quite some detail, and that is not my purpose here.
A new vision of 'enlightenment'
In this 21st century, I believe that Western society has shifted its interest towards a different understanding of the word enlightenment. It is an understanding that embraces a more 'spiritual' look at life, where enlightenment is understood more in terms of some state of consciousness that extends beyond our normal waking state and beyond things material.
Different states of consciousness
Some teachers describe such states in terms of a hierarchy of different 'levels' of consciousness. One such philosophy talks about the seven states of consciousness, starting with the three customary states of deep sleep, dreaming and the awake state. These states can be transcended (gone beyond) to four 'higher' or more refined states: transcendental consciousness, which transcends thinking; and cosmic consciousness which incorporates transcendental consciousness along with the first three states. Then there is God consciousness which is followed by Unity consciousness.
All these higher states of consciousness are said to be attainable through various forms or methods of yoga and meditation. (Perhaps on a Web page, or in a later blog article, I will try to clarify what all these terms try to describe, though this would really only be meaningful to those who have already experienced a glimpse of the fourth state, transcendental consciousness.)
The 21st Century Age of Enlightenment
I mention these states of consciousness only as a platform for sharing my views on the difference between the historical Age of Enlightenment which was intellectual in nature, and the modern interest in enlightenment, which is more a thirst for the experiential side of the concept.
A growing number of people these days want to become 'enlightened', or at the least they want to have some experiential glimpse of what the gurus and spiritual teachers talk about in their books, public lectures or You Tube videos.
Consciousness is 'bigger than' mind and intellect
Now here's the rub. An enlightened state of consciousness is just that - a state of being. Enlightenment is not an intellectual understanding of what enlightenment and bliss are. It is an experience, a reality that someone naturally and spontaneously has in his or her day-to-day life. It is how they are, not how we imagine them to be.
The modern-day spiritual teachers, gurus and masters are doing a good job of bringing about a renewal of the 17th/18th century's Age of Enlightenment, of that there is no doubt. More and more people are talking about things at a more conscious level. In Facebook, Twitter and all over the Internet we see a proliferation of 'wisdom quotes' and feel-good or feel-motivated sayings.
This is great. However, unless this intellectual understanding and motivational aspiration is backed up by some solid, practical means that actually takes one towards such a state, to really experience and live it, this all amounts to words of understanding, promise, hope and inspiration - much like the get-rich gurus sow seeds of desire and hope, perhaps belief, that you too can be as rich as they are, on auto-pilot without doing much about making it happen.
Understanding is one half of the tree of knowledge. The other half is experience. The two together give a person true knowledge. The fullness of both understanding and experience together give us wisdom, enlightenment, bliss.
What prompted this article was a comment made to me recently by an Internet friend when we were exchanging text messages in Skype. She used the term 'intellectual enlightenment' to refer to that state of knowing about enlightenment with
only the understanding half of the coin. I thought that was pretty good term. It described exactly how I see things in this arena of enlightenment, bliss and happiness.
The pursuit of happiness1 is like chasing rainbows. Likewise, unless one turns one's attention inwards and taps into the reservoir of bliss within, the pursuit of enlightenment and the thirst for it will never be fulfilled. It too will be like chasing rainbows if the energy one expends stays at the level of reason, intellectual understanding, mental affirmations, quoting what others have said, and so on. We need to get real if we really want to move towards such lofty ideals.
In some ways the gurus are performing an injustice by telling us all about enlightenment without showing us how to be it. The teacher talks about what is is like to be in that state. And the student tries to be that way. This is like a wannabe rock star trying to behave and dress and look like a real rock star, and then believing he is one or going to be one soon. It doesn't work that way.
Enlightenment is a progressive process of unfolding
The human nervous system is capable of experiencing and sustaining such higher states of consciousness as described by the gurus and spiritual teachers. Scientists and philosophers have been telling us for ages that we use only a very small percentage of our full mental potential. But talking about it, understanding it, being very well read about it, and quoting the sayings of others - these things of the mind and reason will not bring us to that state.
What is needed is to get rid of what is holding us back from simply being enlightened. We need to allow the creative consciousness - that in essence we already are - to seep into every aspect of our consciousness, our state of being. And we can do that in a step-by-daily-step way, by allowing our mind-body system to get the deep rest it needs as we disengage ourselves from the incessant activity of the mind and allow it to settle down towards the simplest state of awareness, just being.
This is a process of culturing the system, like a pearl is cultured in an oyster. It is allowing the stresses and blockages to dissolve. It takes time. It happens slowly. We change progressively. But the change is real, not just in the mind.
The method I myself use for this is what I call Conscious Mental Rest2 (CMR). If you already know a different and an effective method, and are not using it daily, then perhaps it is time to pick up the routine again. If not, feel free to check out CMR and decide whether you want to try it out. (It's free, and you can learn the process from this website.)
So ... when next engaged in talking about the age of enlightenment, or becoming happier and more joyful, or saying, 'we are all one', it may be worthwhile to stop and think: Is this intellectual enlightenment I am engaged in and hoping for? Or is it the real thing - the experience of living it as my own reality? And will talking about it, and pontificating and quoting the pronouncements of others, actually bring me closer to that living reality; or is there something more effective I can do to enhance my life-experience?
1. The pursuit of happiness
2. Conscious Mental Rest (CMR)
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This site is about happiness and how to be happy
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