Note: A few readers have written in with their opinion that the idea presented here – that enlightenment can only be attained by a ‘chosen few’ – presents a distorted, limited view of spirituality.
I’ll admit that the beliefs (and the material) presented here are old fashioned, and with the rising consciousness we’re now experiencing, the number of people who can become enlightened could very well skyrocket.
Read this series (and anything else you find on the internet) with discernment, and know that just because a spiritual teacher says it, doesn’t mean it’s true. We don’t want to limit ourselves in any way, and we’re as capable of finding enlightenment as we let ourselves be – no matter what any apparent statistics say.
Written by Wes Annac, The Culture of Awareness
Enlightenment is a beautiful, sacred and revolutionary process of spiritual growth, and it isn’t widely available to everyone.
Only those who are willing to take a serious, discerning look at themselves and determine what needs shifted and transformed before they can open the doorway to enlightenment will do so, and as we’ll learn here, most people don’t ultimately attain it.
Most people don’t even know about it yet, but I think more will become aware as the planetary vibration continues to rise. Beyond its beauty and sacredness, enlightenment seems to be a difficult and sometimes uncomfortable process of total ego death, and most people aren’t yet ready to embark on such a journey.
Those who are will find that they’ve embarked on one of, if not the most difficult paths they could ever hope to traverse, but the result will eventually be the attainment of unhindered spiritual bliss. The difficulty that comes with attaining enlightenment is well worth it in the end, but this doesn’t make the journey any less difficult.
Anyone who embraces the enlightenment path with the expectation that it’ll be easy might be in for some disappointment, because it requires the ability to express undistorted mastery in the face of all odds; in the face of the greatest temptation-based adversity we’ll ever experience.
There are a lot of things about this world as it currently stands that don’t match the enlightened, masterful state of mind so many seekers are ready to embrace, and in order to attain enlightenment, we’ll have to be willing to shed and transcend everything about ourselves that isn’t in alignment with the higher realms we seek to grow back into.
We aren’t meant to be perfect here on earth – we’re going to make mistakes, and it’s to be expected. However, when the time comes for us to willingly and continually embrace the higher realms and the path that’ll lead us back into them, we’ll want to embrace the idea of mastery; of flawlessness.
We’ll want to embrace the idea of becoming gods in our own right, and anything less will cause us to fall short of our ultimate goal of enlightenment. Here, I’d like to look at what some of our spiritual teachers have said about the difficulty of this journey and the fact that few will successfully embark on it.
As we’ll learn, few seekers receive the call to embrace enlightenment and hardly any are able to act on its requirements. I know I’ve had my fair share of difficulty. It can be a rough journey, and we can’t expect to perfect it overnight, but some seekers won’t answer the call at all because of the inherent difficulty involved.
Personally, I can’t say I blame them!
According to the Upanishads, “To many it is not given to hear of the Self. Many, though they hear of it, do not understand it. Wonderful is he who speaks of it. Intelligent is he who learns of it. Blessed is he who, taught by a good teacher, is able to understand it.” (1)
Lao Tzu tells us that few can remain mentally still enough to achieve enlightenment.
“In all the world but few can know Accomplishment apart from work, Instruction when no words are used.” (2)
Sri Krishna poses the question of how many seekers will act on his teachings.
“Then tell me how many Of those who seek freedom Shall know the total Truth of my being? Perhaps one only.” (3)
He also tells us that “Fools pass blindly by the place of my dwelling Here in the human form, and of my majesty They know nothing at all, Who am the Lord, their soul.” (4)
We have a constant opportunity to attain enlightenment, and even though it’s a gradual process that requires a lot of inner training, we’re never left without the ability to embrace it. We’re given plenty of advice and guidance from various spiritual teachers who encourage us to seek Source within, but ultimately, we’re the only ones who can embrace this path.
Everyone’s given an opportunity, but only some will take the opportunity and transform it into awareness and enlightenment. Awareness seems to be a catalyst that eventually allows us to experience full-on enlightenment, but awareness by itself isn’t enough.
We have to be willing to embrace this path in the face of any and every temptation to feed former ways of being that no longer serve us, and even though it can be difficult, the reward will be far worth our diligent efforts.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells us that “Many are called, but few are chosen.” (5)
He also tells us “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (6)
By ‘life’, he refers to eternal life, which we’ll find in the spiritual realms, and you’ll notice that he seems to reference the difficulty of the path with the phrase ‘narrow is the way’. Learning about enlightenment is very easy, but attaining it requires us to embrace this narrow path instead of embracing the wide-open pasture of misaligned, lower-vibrational life.
He also tells us that roughly one in a thousand people will actually become enlightened.
“I shall choose you, one from a thousand, and two from ten thousand.” (7)
This number could very well increase since consciousness and awareness are growing in this day and age, and even though awakening was more difficult in the past, it seems a little easier in our current society, where people are awakening and embracing various spiritual paths every day.
No matter what path we embrace – enlightenment; ascension; some other religious or spiritual path; they’ll all lead us back home as long as they’re genuine. Any genuine belief system that isn’t founded on distortion and suppression will help us find our way back home, but the enlightenment path seems to be one of the most potent ways to get there.
Richard Rolle tells us that the purer the state of enlightenment, the fewer who’ll ultimately attain it.
“For this mystery is hidden from the many, and is revealed to the few, and those the most special. So the more sublime such a level is, the fewer – in this world – are those who find it.” (8)
By the ‘most special’, I assume he refers to those who are the most willing to stick to their guns in the face of the aforementioned lower-vibrational temptation. No seeker is more ‘special’ than another, and sometimes, these aggrandizing labels are used not to feed the ego, but to refer to the master as opposed to the beginner.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with being a beginner, and it really only means one’s just begun to traverse the spiritual path. We’re all ‘masters’ in our own right, even the beginners, and however difficult it is now, we’ll eventually traverse the enlightenment path with grace and ease, uplifting others in the process.
Instead of enlightenment being attainable to ‘one in one thousand’ as Jesus told us, Paramahansa Ramakrishna gives a less hopeful outlook.
“The Divine Mother … gives freedom to one out of a hundred thousand.” (9)
He also affirms that only a few seekers are ever able to enlighten themselves.
“Innumerable are the living beings. Only one or two among them attain liberation.” (10)
He continues this rhetoric.
“Out of a hundred thousand kites, at best but one or two break free; and Thou dost laugh and clap Thy hands, O Mother, watching them!” (11)
Spiritual practices are essential to living in the world as an enlightened (or awakening) being, he tells us. Otherwise, we’d be lost in the illusory luster this world provides.
“A few [householders] succeed in [spiritual life] through the grace of God and as a result of their spiritual practice.
“But most people fail. Entering the world, they become more and more involved in it; they drown in worldliness and suffer the agonies of death. A few only … have succeeded, through the power of their austerity. … Therefore spiritual practice is extremely necessary; otherwise one cannot live rightly in the world.” (12)
By ‘spiritual practice’, Ramakrishna refers to prayer, meditation, music, and a few other things that fill us with the spirit instead of filling us with the materiality that holds us back from attaining enlightenment or even receiving a glimpse of spirit.
I can say from experience that these practices – especially music – are very important to our continual attainment of a higher state of consciousness. Even if what I’m about to say sounds dualistic, I think we should constantly immerse ourselves in the vibrations of spirit.
In every moment we can get away with it, I think we should do something spiritual; holy; uplifting. I think we should constantly embrace the greater spiritual practices that fill us with a good vibration, and we’re left with the finite physical reality around us when we don’t, which no longer impassions or inspires most of us.
We have a choice between spirit and materiality, and personally, I strive to choose spirit every time.
Nisargadatta Maharaj’s perspective on the number of people who attain enlightenment is even less hopeful than Ramakrishna’s.
“One in a million understands all this play of consciousness [and] transcends it.” (13)
That’s a pretty low number, and it seems like ol’ Jesus is the most optimistic in his forecast of the eventual number of enlightened seekers. Again, I envision a time when everyone’s able to re-find the higher realms in their own way, and even if they don’t get there directly through enlightenment, we’ll all find our way back to that sacred inner space when we’re ready.
It’ll take hundreds of thousands of years for most of us, but as we’re learning, ‘time’ as we see it is an illusion and it’s quickly coming to an end. Therefore, we can look at our individual enlightenment process not in terms of how long it’ll take, but the effort it’ll take to reach our destination.
As we’ve also learned, time is energy in its own way, and we can use our ‘time’ (energy) here on earth for as many positive and spiritual practices as we can embrace. I think this is the best way to go in terms of finding enlightenment, and it helps to remember that it’s a journey – not a destination.
As Paramahansa Yogananda tells us, the only thing that really stops us from attaining enlightenment is our unwillingness to be spiritually adventurous.
“Master found no insuperable obstacle in the mergence of human and Divine. No such barrier exists, I came to understand, save in man’s spiritual unadventurousness.” (14)
We’re the only ones who can stop ourselves from becoming enlightened, and even though it can be a difficult journey, by no means is it impossible. If we’re willing to embark on the adventure that comes with continuously exploring our consciousness, we’ll see that there’s no real barrier between us and the higher realms.
There is a necessary ‘veil of forgetfulness’ that keeps us from knowing certain things that we’re better off not knowing while we’re in the lower realms, but even it can be transcended with a lot of focused inner searching and the practice of the aforementioned spiritual activities.
Ultimately, if we’re willing to do the work that’s required to attain enlightenment, we will. If we’re willing to explore ourselves and our divine abilities every day while keeping in mind that we aren’t meant to get there overnight, we’ll enjoy our lives far more than we would’ve ever expected and our journey will fill us with a constant good vibration.
We have to be willing to fill our perception with spirit every day if we want to enjoy our journey back into the higher realms, and the more we fill ourselves with the vain and materialistic distractions of this physical reality, the less we’ll perceive spirit and the harder enlightenment will be to find.
Despite the low number of seekers who ultimately attain it, I’m confident that we’ll all find enlightenment in our own ways and in our own time. Willingness and enthusiasm are essential to doing anything successfully, and as long as we keep these important qualities in our minds and hearts, attaining enlightenment will be the most fun and inspired thing we ever did.
- Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester, trans., The Upanishads. Breath of the Eternal. New York and Scarborough: New American Library, 1957; c1948, 17.
- Lao Tzu, The Way of Life. The Tao Te Ching. trans. R.B. Blakney. New York, etc.: Avon, 1975, 96.
- Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, trans., Bhagavad-Gita. The Song of God. New York and Scarborough: New American Library, 1972; c1944, 70.
- Ibid., 81.
- Jesus in Matthew 22:14.
- Matthew 7:14.
- Marvin W. Meyer, The Secret Teachings of Jesus. New York; Random House, 1986, 24.
- Richard Rolle, The Fire of Love. Trans. Clifton Wolters. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981; c1972, 51.
- Swami Nikhilananda, trans., The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1978; c1942, 136.
- Ibid., 818.
- Loc. cit.
- Ibid., 154.
- Consciousness and the Absolute: The Final Talks of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. The Acorn Press, 2006 (originally published in 1994), 70.
- Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi. Bombay: Jaico, 1975, 115.
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