A talk with Joe Perez on the topic of “Enlightenment” in a Question and Answer format.
Q: What’s your definition of Enlightenment?
Let me answer you literally just because I’m feeling ornery. Throw me a dictionary. Any definition will do that is in common use, in monasteries or divinity schools, among spiritual teachers or TV infomercials. All of these are ordinary and prefectly fine ways that people are talking about gaining knowledge and insight.
I’m not trying to be evasive or any more complicated than I need to be, but I don’t have personal, idiosyncratic definitions for terms that I then manipulate to manufacture the terms of a debate in my favor. When I write about a term such as “spirituality” and “enlightenment”, I consider my audience at the time, what they are likely to think of those words, and then write in a fashion that a large number of them will find meaningful. When I don’t know who my audience is, as I often don’t when writing for this blog, I imagine the ways that persons with worldviews at all Nine Stations of Life in my Integral Konstructs are mostly likely, as a whole, to construe what I write. I don’t expect everyone to “get into the groove” with me, but I can usually find some sort of a communicative meeting point for everyone, or fail trying. In this way, it’s not necessary to define words in advance.
I find that practice to be unfortunately very common these days, and I don’t see the point. It can get quite manipulative. When people get to define enlightenment as they please, they very often say reasonable things about it because they have already fixed themselves into one Station of Life and without realizing it they have just announced their Kosmic Address and all but proclaimed that they aren’t going to try to reach anyone else who comes from another location. Anyone can sound reasonable if they get to define all the terms of their argument in a special way so that they always come out on top. These folks tend to imagine human discourse as if the world is made up of 7.6 billion people each with their own private dictionary somewhere “in their heads” that makes them right all the time if only other people would ask them to define the terms that they are using. That’s nonsense. Language doesn’t work like that.
Q: Do you consider yourself “enlightened”?
You know, I wish that weren’t such a tricky question. The wisest answer is probably to just leave it alone. But there are a few things I can say in response.
I’ve had a series of partial awakenings in my life, each life-changing, each one that set my spiritual sojourn on a new path for a while at least, and they keep coming. I wrote about my early awakenings in Soulfully Gay. I’ve also written an autobiography that sketches my life story from birth to January 2018, but I don’t think I’ll publish it. I’m more inclined to use it as a reference for writing fiction, which would give me the literary satisfaction of telling the story with more dramatic flair.
Sometimes these experiences fundamentally changed my personality or self-concept, and sometimes they changed how my mind processes information or how I perceived spiritual, invisible realities, or how I wanted to show up in the world as a moral being. Self, cognition, perception, aesthetics, morality… there are so many ways that I’ve stepped up, and I’m still growing.
Maybe that’s all anyone ever really has, you know: partial awakenings. I don’t know of anyone who claims anything different these days, especially in the evolutionary or integral spiritual circles where everyone is pretty much aware of development and how tricky it is to make claims outside of particular coordinates — one’s own Kosmic Address.
Now since comparative religion and the psychology of religion are interests of mine, I’ve analyzed my experiences and compared them to the accounts of mystics who have reported “becoming more enlightened” or having “direct experience of God” and so forth, and some of them match really well and some of them don’t. Some of my experiences have been very unusual — I talk about this elsewhere and in my autobiography — and they’re just not mapped out anywhere, though I have found interesting parallels in the first-hand accounts of people who have used psychedelic drugs or who are brujos (a bit like in the Carlos Castaneda novels). And then there’s the life stories of certain Muslim prophets, where I can find even more parallels.
The movement of spirit that I think of as my “exit of para-mind for meta-mind (maturation into Third Tier)” to use some Integral Spirituality jargon, was basically a falling away of psychic narcissism and an attachment to suffering that had subtly infused my “indigo period” (2010 to 2014). When that happened, I lost contact with my sources of spiritual and angelic support that had previously nourished me … eventually, I got some of that support back a couple years down the road, as an occasional assist to lift a heavy weight in my writing of Lingua-U, but by then I had changed a lot.
Q: What do you mean by “falling away of psychic narcissism”? Is this “no-self” or “shunyataa”?
I don’t think so. Let’s start with “indigo” — the realm that Wilber calls para-mind (what I call X-Mind). I mean that at this time the organizing structure of my self-regard disintegrated because I had come to fully overcome the materialistic worldview. I saw the chain of cause and effect as involving mysterious and inexplicable phenomena that were steering my life and pursuits. Paranormal events and channeling of spirits and accurate divinations were ordinary, commonplace in my worldview — and they were common because my mental phenomena was no longer something merely “in my head”, but part of a permeable field in which other, unseen entities could (and did!) interact. This is the period when I engaged in certain occult practices to contact spirits … and formed relationships with two angels. I didn’t have “no-self”; I had an expanded self. I also lost a certain degree of healthy, normal functioning in order to grow into a larger field, but I survived the experience all right.
But “indigo” was not the start of a radically different worldview than what had come before in the previous decade or so (“teal”, “turquoise”). it was the payoff, in a manner of speaking. I had loosened the rigidity of my self-concept and worldview to the point where I was drawn, like a magnet, to a new point of synthesis. The yang of emptiness and the yin of creativity opened up into the yung of a cha (叉) opening to subtle energetic availability and so on, but it was all part of the same progression. The “psychological” turn of green opens to the “psychic” of indigo, but the latter is just a more interior and integrated form of the other. There’s still a lot of psychic narcissism.
My “indigo” period was exciting like a second adolescence, but it was also painful and dangerous, too. As I felt myself opened, I was flooded with grief and darkness. There were times when I believed myself to be communicating with a goddess, jinn, devils, demons, angels or with Allah or Jesus, but what I was feeling was a suffering and not-yet-redeemed divinity. I might even truthfully say: a tormented divinity. It was heart wrenching and it destroyed me. And so I had to let it all go. I had to give up everything I had ever done to tap into psychic or subtle energies. I just stopped and it felt like giving up God, giving up my spirituality, my evolution, everything. It all had to go away.
And then I fully expected to regress, and perhaps I did in some respects, but life went on and eventually a new life impulse came to me. It was organized around everything that wasn’t me — especially around language and symbol and philosophy. It was no longer psychological or psychic, but these ways of organizing the life force were still present as undertones. The “third tier” began for me like so, a dropping away of the me in my spiritual journey, my relationship with angels/God, my work. It was no longer my work at that point. Apparently, the Mind itself wanted to become more lively and self-aware, and it began to use my hands and my voice and my output as its instrument.
Q: How does this relate to the Buddhist view of enlightenment or the nonduality of Advaita?
I think for a spiritual person to talk with a great deal of clarity and precision about their mystical experiences as a particular flavor of enlightenment, they should probably settle their worldview into one or two frameworks of the Great Traditions, so they can use nonduality-talk, or zen-talk, or Christian contemplative-talk, and so on, in a manner that is nuanced. If they do this, then they will also have the benefit of being able to check the accuracy of their self-awareness with a community of practitioners in a lineage who are adequate for the task. It’s obviously something easy to deceive one’s self about if you’re not getting quality feedback.
That said, I’ve walked a meandering path without the benefit of a rock solid community with which to check my self-understanding against the nuanced terminology of a specific lineage. I’ve been on a path of spontaneity and worldview artistry and metalinguistic map-making and prophetic calendary and mythopoesis and even a wild sort of world shamanism at times … and while I have been influenced by Buddhist writers and have an important place for Buddhist spiritual warrior teachings in my worldview, my traditions are Abrahamic and indigenous as well as the esoteric Confucianism of Yang Hsiung and aspects of Wilberian and Jungian psychological theory; they have not usually conceptualized the human endeavor in terms of “enlightenment”, but in terms of “salvation” and “courage” and “nobility/virtue” and “hero’s journey”, as well as the sense that art and religion and philosophy are deeply intertwined and inseparable.
Since I haven’t had the benefit of a lineage teacher to tell me “yes” or “no” in my spiritual education, I’ve done a lot of work in the Integral Spirituality space where meta-maps of consciousness and formal assessments of level of ego-maturity by folks with doctorates and decades of professional experience have given me the “reality checks” that I’ve required.
So we’re having this conversation today about “enlightenment”, but it would be different if we were talking about whether my soul is saved, whether I am a hero of my own story, or if I feel myself in unity with my art. Those questions are no less poignant, though they are a bit easier perhaps because the question doesn’t presuppose a classical Buddhist or nonduality framework which can get problematic.
I meant to say, they’re problematic for me, and I’m not sure what to think about their usefulness for anybody else. I have difficulties fitting them completely into a Big Picture that fully resonates with me as truthful and a great way to talk about my life and worldview. I can’t rule out the possibility that “non-dual” refers to something outside my personal experience or to something I know by a different name — such as ternary consciousness. However, I think it may also turn out to be the case that these philosophies are flawed and will need to be evolved to continue to be relevant.
For some of the spiritual gurus who are working these days, it comes down to the fact that their teachings presuppose worldview-making maps that “spiritually bypass” huge swaths of the subtle realm. This leads them to offer various erroneous teachings, including the fallacy that language is a hindrance, or at best a pointer, to ultimate reality, which they say is empty or a void. But in truth, the Logos or Word is a constitutive element of reality and is never really banished from awareness. Not in duration, in any event. Language can become so subtle that it is no longer intelligible to the mind at ordinary or even superb functioning, but the mind can still enter into communicative union with the Sacred Words.
The more one listens to these teachers of enlightenment, the more one wonders if we aren’t in need of another Wittgenstein to untangle the ways that perhaps language has befuddled them. Some of them think there is “no self” or that they are “a nobody”, but the ones that make the most sense to me speak of enlightenment as “more than personal” or “true self + personal perspective (i.e., unique Self)”. Unfortunately, language has made it virtually impossible to speak of these post-egoic realities in a way that feels natural and is easy to understand.
That’s why I think we need a revolution in language, starting with a new spiritually-informed metalanguage that includes definitions for new parts of speech (articles, affixes, pronouns, etc.) on many different stations of life from pre-personal to personal to integral to super-integral all the way up. I’ve reserved 243 simple metawords in Lingua-U that could serve this purpose, based on my cross-cultural research into the Sacred Words of the Great Traditions as well as ordinary speech, and if we ever built them into our worldviews, many of the philosophical problems that gave rise to “no self” and “non-duality” might just disappear.
Q: How do you understand Golden Egg 27 (Shunyataa) and Golden Egg 31 (Enlightenment) in The Kalendar?
I have already commented on these symbols and don’t want to add too much. The idea of The Kalendar at this point in its development is simply to put out the artwork and let people come to grips with it in their own way. I want people to let the symbols speak to their hearts and souls and minds and see how they resonate.
An old Indigenous woman selling the artifacts of her tribe to a passerby in the marketplace.
This symbol comes from Elsie Wheeler’s Sabian Symbols. I’ve only modified it slightly and added a photo of an elderly woman in Bolivia selling goods at a marketplace. Bear in mind when you are contemplating Golden Egg 27 that it occurs as the Yang Master at the Seat of Consciousness at the Throne of Education. It’s about the activity that happens at a unifying — or consciousness — level that unites the yang of Shadow with the yin of Shouting (acting out unconsciously as a result of the operational shadow). So there’s something about the station of Shunyataa that is about lightening up the self and society and making it smarter and more functional so it can do something new.
Once the singular force of Shouting merges into the singular awareness of Shuntayaa, the self can finally begin to quiet down. Golden Egg 27 is the first emptiness in The Kalendar. The second emptiness comes at Golden Egg 28 (Empathy / Embodiment). The mind is now so quiet that it can let others in, and can begin to respond directly from the body’s up-leveled vital energy rather than the sedate, scholarly self.
Generous to those who deserve it, the noble person grasps the Big Dipper.
This symbol comes directly from Master Yang Hsiung’s Canon of Supreme Mystery. In his book, it’s the Sixth Appraisal of “Kinship”. I am reading “Kinship” more broadly than literally, as related to the concept of Emanation or Enfoldment, as in Plotinus’s philosophy of all things emanating from the One, as if the One is folded into many distinct planes or dimensions but still retains a sense of seamless (“no boundary”) wholeness.
Within the Throne of Enfoldment, the word for Enlightenment occurs at the sixth hexagram of nine. That station is associated with the Element of Ocean and it is often the one most closely associated with religion and morality. Often there’s a dangerous and dark/esoteric side to it as well. The word Enlightenment appears at that point in The Golden Egg when the evolving self is finally ready to begin integrating at an interior level (at The Seat of Interiority) both individual and social dimensions of reality. This is the point when a person might find a yung that somehow brings together the yang of, “The world is winding down. Everything is ruined by entropy, might as well sit back and enjoy watching it fall apart,” with the yin of “Everything that is real is energy. We are all energy rising up into higher vibrations and one day will evolve into pure light.” How does it do this? The metaword station of Enlightenment is also the station of Enlarging and Enriching and other interesting metawords (specific meta-mind concepts) that don’t have words for them at this point in time. There is no En-Unifying, which I would want to define as a sort of process like one which could happen in a hypothetical “perpetual motion machine“, but perhaps there ought to be.
I selected an image for Golden Egg 31 — the ladle used to pour soup for the poor at the soup kitchen — which is a play on the phrase “Big Dipper” chosen by Yang Hsiung. Hsiung was talking about the constellation of Ursa Major. He also talks about Ursa Major in the hexagram for “Full Circle”, which I call “Bearings”. It’s the Throne of Being. The important concept here is that Being and Bearings are inseparable. Being is trying to be helpful to us, you might say with a little bit of optimism. Ursa Major, the Great Bear, gives Bearings to True North. The ladle of Enlightenment is not there for its own sake. It not only holds the soup in its spoon. It distributes nourishment. If it comes for you, if enlightenment comes to you in whatever measure, take what you can get as that dipper, and then start serving up soup.