Commitment Four: We Are All One & Stages of Awakening

Photo credit: Darius Bashar

Audio Recording

This audio recording was created at our April 16 group meditation.

Video Part 1

We had technical difficulties that caused our live-stream to stop. Thus, the video version is in two parts.

We Are All One: The Stages of Awakening PART I

Enjoy a 30-minute bare awareness meditation and talk. This talk investigates the idea that saints and sages from all wisdom traditions have shared with us for thousands of years: "we are all one." We also discuss the four stages of awakening, and ways the ego will attempt to use our mindfulness progress for its own unskillful ends. This class is part of our Creating the Beloved Community free training series. Due to technical difficulties the live-stream stopped and so this class is in two parts. Some of the talk may have been missed, and you can read the transcript of it or listen to the audio recording at: https://www.boundlessloveproject.org. Part II of the video is here: https://www.facebook.com/BoundlessLoveProject/videos/2094329007350614/ Read these tips to get the most out of this video: https://www.boundlessloveproject.org/news/2019/3/14/tips-for-watching-a-live-stream-or-recorded-video Check out other classes in this series here: https://www.boundlessloveproject.org/creating-the-beloved-community Read and print your own copy of the Beloved Community Pledge here: https://www.boundlessloveproject.org/news/2019/2/26/the-beloved-community-pledge This video was recorded April 16, 2019 at the Boundless Love Project's Group Meditation.

Posted by Boundless Love Project on Tuesday, April 16, 2019

VIDEO OPTION: The content of this article was shared and video-recorded at a recent group meditation. The video starts with a guided meditation, but if you wish to only hear the talk, scroll to minute 35:17. Please click the icon to turn on the sound and push play. Then sit or lie down in a comfortable, energizing position; close your eyes; and listen with an open heart and mind. Enjoy!

Video Part 2

We Are All One: The Stages of Awakening PART II

The first part of this group meditation is in this post: https://www.facebook.com/BoundlessLoveProject/videos/377255219545165/ We had technical difficulties and the live-stream recording stopped for unknown reasons. Some of the talk may have been missed, and you can read the transcript of the talk, or listen to the full audio recording of it, at: https://www.boundlessloveproject.org. This talk investigates the idea that saints and sages from all wisdom traditions have shared with us for thousands of years: "we are all one." We also discuss the four stages of awakening, and ways the ego will attempts to hijack our mindfulness progress for its own unskillful ends. This class is part of our Creating the Beloved Community free training series. Read these tips to get the most out of this video: https://www.boundlessloveproject.org/news/2019/3/14/tips-for-watching-a-live-stream-or-recorded-video Check out other classes in this series here: https://www.boundlessloveproject.org/creating-the-beloved-community Read and print your own copy of the Beloved Community Pledge here: https://www.boundlessloveproject.org/news/2019/2/26/the-beloved-community-pledge This video was recorded April 16, 2019 at the Boundless Love Project's Group Meditation.

Posted by Boundless Love Project on Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The following is a transcript of the talk.

We Are All One and the Stages of Awakening Article

The forth training of our Beloved Community Pledge encourages us to recognize the inherent value and worth of all life and treat both friend and foe with courtesy, dignity, and respect.

Last week we shared an example of how viewing the world non-conceptually, allows us to view the world through unconditionally loving, mindful eyes. In this fictional example, my bike was stolen. When I viewed the situation non-conceptually, I had kindness towards myself, patience towards the situation, compassion for the thief, and joy towards those who helped me.

In this talk, we approach unconditional love from another direction. Rather than seeing the world non-conceptually, what if we listen to the saints and sages who tell us that "we are all one"? What if we lived as if all life was us? We will explore this viewpoint during this talk and several upcoming talks.

As part of this exploration of the idea that "we are all one," we will also talk about awakening experiences, which is when people have seen this truth directly and clearly. What is an awakening experience? What are they like? How can you tell if you've had one or not? We will discuss all of this and more.

Use What Helps

Now, I realize that for many of us, awakening experiences may sound ridiculous, far-fetched, or unbelievable. Therefore I want to make it clear: please do not believe anything that I tell you in this talk. Only when you know the truth of what is said from your own direct experience should you accept anything that I say as your own truth.

For now, please listen with an open heart and an open mind. Listen for anything that resonates, inspires, and uplifts you, and apply that information to your life.

Of course, all teachings have a shadow side, or an egoic way to interpret them. Thus, if anything I say harms you, or does not serve you, then please ignore that information.

I sincerely want the best for you. My intention is to help you live a more loving, skillful, and joyful life. If anything I say harms or upsets you, please set that information to the side and forget it.

Change My Language to Fit Your Own

Furthermore, I want you to translate the words I use into a language that is more familiar and comfortable with you around a certain reality. This reality is the invisible force that gives life to everything, and is the source of all love, creativity, and energy for all people, all beings, and all life forms.

This force has an intelligence which directs all forms to behave the way they do. Thus we get natural laws that dictate electrons circle the protons and neutrons of an atom, water flowing downhill, and so forth.

This force is the essential nature of all forms. It connects and binds all forms to one another.

We can know this force when we experience love, kindness, compassion, peace, appreciative or sympathetic joy, and other beautiful qualities. We can know this force when we touch a truth that goes beyond words.

Various wisdom traditions call this force by various names. Religious wisdom traditions call it: God, Allah, Yaweh, Great Spirit, Atman, the Tao, Nirvana, and many other names. Secular wisdom traditions refer to this reality as life, source, being, love, energy, the universe, the field, and many other names.

All of these words point to a particular reality that we can know directly. The word we use to describe this reality is unimportant, so when I speak of "God" or "life," please substitute whatever word you prefer that makes what I say more understandable and relevant to you and the wisdom tradition you most prefer.

Don't Get Greedy for Enlightenment

Today, I am going to share information about awakening experiences. Many wisdom teachers don't teach about the stages of awakening that lead to full enlightenment. Their legitimate concern is that when we teach about these stages of enlightenment it gives your ego something to want, desire, and become greedy about.

Let me share a story from the Zen tradition about this. A meditator asks her teacher, "How long it will it take for me to become enlightened?" The teacher responds, "Well, if you meditate regularly, practice mindfulness, and train in the five precepts of skillful living, it could happen in as few as 10 years."

The student then says, "But I want to become enlightened faster than that. What if I meditated ten or more hours a day, and work very hard to be mindful and skillful at all times? How long would it take then?"

The teacher calmly reflects on the question. Then she responds, "20 years."

The take away message from this story is that the mental state we call greed, wanting, craving, or clinging impedes our awakening. Greed, even when focused on good and wholesome things, such as awakening, will always prevent us, and lead us away from, awakening.

Cultivating patience will help you awaken faster than striving will. The truth is, that we can't force awakening to happen. Thus, be sure you hold any desire to awaken lightly, with patience, kindness, and perseverance, rather than with greed or clinging.

Benefits of Knowing the Stages

There are several reasons for why I have decided to talk to you about these stages. First, I think knowing that there is a path you are walking with clear progress makers can skillfully motivate you to have a kind determination and resolve to practice.

Secondly, awakening experiences can be quite confusing and disorienting, and I want to help you through them. Thus, if you have one of these experiences, I want you to privately reach out to me so I can help you with what can be a tumultuous ride.

Thirdly, there are several common pitfalls that can happen when you experience them. If you know what these pitfalls are, you can be better prepared to handle them skillfully. We will address some of these challenges of awakening today, but before we do, let's explain what we mean by an "awakening experience."

Awakening Experiences Explained

You can think of awakening experiences as times in your life where you see something so clearly that your mind and heart makes a permanent shift and you can no longer see the world in the same way as you did before. What defines an awakening experience is the permanent and effortless shift in view that it creates.

Buddhism has created a very specific map of this terrain of awakening and says there are four distinct stages we must go through to become fully enlightened. At each stage of enlightenment you become more effortlessly calm, peaceful, compassionate, loving, and skillful.

It is helpful to keep in mind that there are these four stages to awaken. Otherwise, you might experience one stage and mistakenly believe that you are "done."

At the forth stage of awakening, you have completely shed all ego and delusion, and thus all suffering. Until then, however, you can still stuffer and you can still be deluded. However, those who have fully awakened still continue to grow and progress. Being awakened is not a fixed, rigid, or steady state.

Supernormal Experiences

At each stage of awakening, you may experience a paranormal or supernormal experience: a glorious vision, a booming voice, the deepest sense of love you ever felt, and so on.

Such supernormal experiences may also not happen at the different stages of awakening. That is fine, because, although unusual and interesting, the supernormal experiences are not important. What is important is the permanent shift in mind, heart, and understanding that comes from the awakening experience.

But because these supernormal experiences are so common, and can lead us into egoic traps, let's talk about them here for a bit.

The Universe Speaks Your Language

One interesting thing about these supernormal experiences, is that they conform to the wisdom tradition that you believe. If you are Hindu, you may see Vishnu, Parvati, Lakshmi, or another Hindu diety. If Muslim, you may interact with Mohammad, Allah, or angels. If you are a free-thinking atheist, your experience will be devoid of religious iconry, and you may simply experience being filled with light, love, or the most exquisite joy you have ever felt.

The universe is happy to speak to you using the language and symbols most familiar and understandable to you. This is done for your benefit, to help you really get the message. Unfortunately, the ego will misinterpret this in an effort to regain control. Thankfully we can prepare for this.

Pitfall One: My Wisdom Tradition is the One True Way

Because fully shedding our ego requires going through four awakening stages, the ego still exists in us and will try to incorporate the awakening experience into its delusional story. One way it does this is by using your supernormal experience to mistakenly believe that "my wisdom tradition is the only right and true way."

For example, if a Christian had a vision of Jesus and a choir of angels, her ego might think, "Jesus spoke to me, thus Christianity is the one true religion!" Be careful to not fall into that trap which contains fixed-view, judgement, and greed. The universe spoke to her through Jesus and angels because she was familiar with them, not because they are all that exist.

There is Only One Reality

There is only one truth and one reality. All wisdom traditions, whether religious or secular, are right, true, and holy whenever they accurately point us towards truth, love, skillfulness, and unity. At the same time, all wisdom traditions, because they are passed down through language, have a shadow side -- a way for the ego to misinterpret these communications for its own unskillful agenda. When a wisdom tradition point towards falsehood, cruelty, unskillfulness, and separation, we must notice that and reject it, as it will not serve us.

Thus, regardless of our own wisdom tradition, we must be critical thinkers towards all that we are taught. We must trust and obey our own inner wisdom, or conscience, to sort out from our own wisdom tradition what is true, skillful, and loving, from what is not.

Moreover, we must avoid using supernormal experiences as "proof" that our wisdom tradition is the "one true way." Such thinking has led many otherwise mindful people to cause great harm to themselves and others.

Pitfall Two: Mistaking a Paranormal Experiencing for an Awakening Experience

Furthermore, just because you have a supernormal experience, it does not mean you have had an awakening experience. Supernormal experiences can also arise with a-ha moments of insights, when influenced by drugs, or when experiencing other extreme, near-death conditions.

Thus, not all supernormal experiences are awakening experiences. The true test of an awakening experience is: have you had a permanent and lasting shift in your view and understanding of reality?

A bit later in the talk we will address what changes happen at the first stage of awakening so you can better evaluate for yourself if any supernormal experience you have had was an awakening experience or not.

Peace Pilgrim's Enlightenment Story

I would like to now share with you an example of an awakening experience. When Peace Pilgrim was out walking in nature one morning, she had an awakening experience. She described it like this:

All of a sudden I felt very uplifted, more uplifted than I had ever been. I remember I knew timelessness and spacelessness and lightness. I did not seem to be walking on the earth. There were no people or even animals around, but every flower, every bush, every tree seemed to wear a halo. There was a light emanation around everything and flecks of gold fell like slanted rain through the air....

The most important part of it is was not the phenomena: the important part of it was the realization of the oneness of all creation. Not only human beings -- I knew before that all human beings are one. But now I knew also a oneness with the rest of creation. The creatures that walk the earth and the growing things of the earth. The air, the water, the earth itself. And, most wonderful of all, a oneness with that which permeates all and binds all together and gives life to all. A oneness with that which many would call God.

I have never felt separate since.

This experience she describes would have been her fourth and final awakening experience. We can tell this because it allowed her to not only see, but also never forget her oneness with all life. This means she completely shed her own individual ego, her story of self, and now knew from first-hand experience that she was one with all life.

From this day forwards, she knew only the four kinds of love: kindness, peace, compassion, and joy. She was free of delusion and the mental states of fear and greed. This is what gave her the courage to spend decades walking over 25,000 miles penniless and alone throughout the United States sharing her message of peace with all who would listen.

Breaking the 10 Fetters

The Buddhist wisdom teacher Dipa Ma explains the process of awakening this way:

The purpose of insight meditation is to eliminate the Ten Fetters, which are the knots or obstructions in your mind. Very slowly, by observing every moment with awareness, you come to open these knots. The Ten Fetters are self-illusion, doubt, attachment to rites and rituals, lust, ill-will, craving, craving for fine material existence, conceit, restlessness, and ignorance.

At each stage of enlightenment, slowly, one by one, some of the fetters are extinguished, until the fourth stage, or arahantship, when all the fetters are gone.

Changes at the First Stage Awakening

In the first stage of awakening, the first three fetters are broken.

First, we clearly see through self-illusion. This can happen when we have a period of time where the mind is free of thoughts, and we directly relate to the world non-conceptually using our senses.

Alternately, this can arise when we have a period of time where all of our experiences are related to free us of greed and aversion. Thus, any thoughts that arise are peacefully seen as impersonal, impermanent thoughts, without mistaking them to be truthful or real.

While we view the world in one of these ways, we don't suffer, and we are effortlessly skillful. Life feels simple, easy, and wonderful. Relating to the world in this way makes perfect sense, and there is no reason to live any other way. Even though this experience is simple and enjoyable, there may be a slight ripple of confusion as to what is happening. Your life has never been the effortlessly wonderful before, and that can be slightly disorienting.

Having seen through self-illusion clearly, you also break through the fetters of doubt and attachment to rites and rituals.

When you break the fetter of doubt, it means you now have confidence that mindfulness has gotten you this far, and that it still has more to teach you. You will find that the scales that once covered your eyes have fallen away: wisdom teachings that you once found confusing and impenetrable now make sense.

When the fetter of attachments to rites and rituals breaks, it means you realize that rites and rituals in themselves do not matter. You can't do them to buy your way into "heaven" or Nirvana. They benefit you in their ability to help you be more mindful and see the truth of reality as it is, and you will continue to appreciate them and do them. But ultimately, you know that none of them are necessary for you to awaken or find favor with life.

Pitfall Three: Turning Increased Sensitivity Into a Story

Although you will see through self-illusion clearly during the first stage of awakening, it doesn't mean you will see through this illusion forever and permanently. Your ego and its delusions will most likely return.

You will fall out of this state of grace, and back into the turmoil of living from your ego. The ego is your story of self, with all of its futuring, pasting, fixed-views, greed, and aversion.

When your ego reappears, it may feel as if you are being cast from heaven into hell. The temporary clarity you had, may even make you more sensitive to everything. Now that you know how good life can be, living in ego feels even more oppressive that it previously was.

This sensitivity is to help you use your body as a compass to mindfully learn and understand what is of the ego and what is not. With this newfound sensitivity, and your continued mindful investigations of your inner experiences, you can continue the process of identifying and letting go of egoic thoughts and habit patterns that no longer serve you.

However, the ego in you will try to turn this experience into a story. It may be a judgmental story: Why did life show me this beautiful reality, only to cast me back into the darkness? It may be a story of self: I had it and now I don't. What did I do wrong?

The skillful way to move forward involves continuing to mindfully see these stroies for what they are: impermanent, impersonal, and frequently false thoughts in the mind. This will help you get back to seeing the illusion of self and keep you walking the mindfulness path to full awakening.

Pitfall Four: I am Superior Because of My Experience

Another dangerous story the ego will try to convince you of is that "you" awakened. Your ego will use your awakening experience to deceive you into thinking that you are now better and superior to others. Ironically, your awakening experience happened because you saw beyond the illusion of self. But now that the false egoic self has returned as an imagined story of self that you believe, you incorporate this awakening experience into that false story, and become lost in the delusion of arrogance.

When you were free of the illusion of self, it was clear that all life is equally valuable and worthy of our love and care. No one and no being is better or more worthy than anyone else. But now that the ego has returned, comparison has also returned to classify some life forms as better and more deserving than others. Again, the wise response is to mindfully see this story as merely another false and unskillful story of the ego that you do not believe.

The Permanent Shift Around Self Illusion

Although you can still fall back into the delusion of ego, during your awakening experience, you clearly saw through the illusion of self. As a result, even when lost in ego, you maintain an intuition sense that all of these impersonal, changing, unsatisfactory, and temporary things are no longer you.

You cannot be found in your thoughts, emotions, sensations, body, accomplishments, past, future, intentions, the roles you play, and so on. At times, these things still hook you in, confuse you, and cause you to suffer, but when mindful, you maintain an awareness that they are not you.

Thus, the fetters of doubt and attachment to rites and rituals, seem to almost completely drop away. These fetters may rear their heads at times, but rarely remain for long.

In contrast, the fetter of self illusion is all about seeing through this falsehood clearly in a way that impacts you deeply. However, you will most likely then oscillate between living from mindfulness and living from ego. It will not feel as if the illusion of self has permanently dropped away, because it hasn't. The permanent change that results from breaking this fetter is that now when you are trapped in the delusions of ego, you will intuitively know that you are trapped in ego. It’s a big step forward, but not so big that you won’t still suffer greatly once you have attained the first stage of awakening.

The Map is Not the Terrain

Of course, life loves diversity of all kinds. As a result, this awakening map may manifest in a variety of different ways. Thus, as always, don't hold what I've told you about this too tightly. Allow your awakening experience to be just as it is. Don't try to fit it into a mold.

If at any point you think you have had an awakening experience, please contact me privately and let me know. There are many other potential pitfalls that can happen at this stage and some one-on-one guidance can be of use to address whatever issues may be arising for you.

Of course, the beautiful qualities that helped you get to the first stage of awakening, will continue to help you address these difficulties. These qualities include: a kind resolve to stay mindful, patience with the unfolding of the awakening process, and a sincere desire to know the truth.

We Are All One

Having introduced you to the stages of awakening, I want to circle back to an important part of Peace Pilgrim's awakening story. During her awakening, she said she realized her oneness with all of life. This understanding is a common theme that comes from people who have awakened such as Peace Pilgrim, Eckhart Tolle, Dipa Ma, Guatama Buddha, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Jesus, and others. They all tell us we are all one.

Peace Pilgrim said, "I now know myself to be a part of the infinite cosmos, not separate from other souls or God."

Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves, because from his understanding, we are our neighbors. To him, loving our neighbors as ourselves is not a simile, it is an actuality.

Thirteenth century Christian mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg who authored The Flowing Light of Divinity wrote, "The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw and knew I saw all things in God and God in all things."

When we love ourselves and see ourselves in all things, we effortlessly recognize the inherent value and worth of all life, and we treat both friend and foe with courtesy, dignity, and respect.

This leads us to our mindfulness mission for the coming week.

Your Mindfulness Mission

1. See Like a Smart Phone Camera

First, continue to see like a smart phone. Allow the reality that you see, feel, touch, smell, and taste to be what it is -- free of concepts and stories. Those sense-based experiences are true and "what is." Separate these sense-based experiences from the mind's story of what is happening -- as that is where the falsehoods of "what isn't" reside.

Remember: The suffering masses reject what they see and believe what they think, while the wise reject what they think and believe what they see.

2. See Yourself in Everything

Secondly, play with the idea that everything you see is you. Your family, your friends, your spouse, your animal companions, your bike, your plants, the air you breathe, the sun that warms you; all of this and everything else is you!

You have spent your whole life believing the story of "me and my problems" and it has brought you endless stress and suffering. What can it hurt to actually listen to what all of the wisdom teachers have been telling us when they say "we are all one," and experiment with what it is like to see ourselves in everything?

Play with seeing yourself in everyone and everything. Then mindfully notice what that is like. What if any difficulties arise? When you are able to do it, how does it affect the mind's interest, awe, and levels of patience, compassion, and understanding? Try it out and see!

Be sure to come back next week when I will share with you a fable that will help you better understand this bewildering idea that you are everything and everything is you.

3. Report Back Next Week

Have fun experimenting with these ways of viewing things: both non-conceptually and with an understanding that everything you see is you. Next week, I will want to hear how this experiment has gone for you. So try it out, pay attention, and be prepared to report back. Thank you!

Concluding Blessing

I end by paraphrasing a closing blessing from Peace Pilgrim.

Benevolent love surrounds and protects us. Know your true nature to be love. You are love's beautiful child, always in love's hands. Accept love's protection and there really is nothing to fear.

Know that you are not the clay garment of your body. Know that you are not the self-centered egoic nature which needlessly governs your life. Know that you are the life-centered, loving nature. You are unconditional love. You are awareness. You are spacious nothingness. Eternal and indestructible. Identify with the real you.

  • Now, with the knowledge that we are love's perfect children, eternal and indestructible, let us go our separate ways in love, but always remain together in spirit.