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How What is Enlightenment? was Born

Introduction to this issue
by Andrew Cohen

I became a spiritual seeker when I was twenty-two years old. Ever since that time, I've never stopped asking questions. I've never stopped wanting to know WHY? Why was it that my first spiritual mentor, an American karate practitioner, went to great lengths to keep his deep spiritual passion hidden from others and, in strange and confounding ways, would deliberately undermine his students' progress? How was it that my first real guru, an Indian yogi of the highest attainment, could manifest a divine love from beyond this world that would bring me to my knees and yet, in this world, was like a human magnet for perpetual chaos and confusion? Why was it that my Western Buddhist meditation instructors, who were steeped in the theory and practice of enlightenment, seemed to be completely oblivious to the fact that they had given up on the possibility of their own liberation a long time ago? And finally, how was it possible that my last teacher could be a great spiritual master and a powerfully enlightened man on one hand, and on the other, be a schizophrenic narcissist who could flip in one minute from electrifying and intoxicating God-consciousness to small-minded and painfully petty anger and jealousy?

And that was just the beginning! When I eventually started teaching, I soon began to find out the hard way what a delicate and ultimately challenging ordeal it is—this business of spiritual awakening and radical human transformation. For example, why was it, in those early days over fifteen years ago, that so many of my students could be so profoundly touched by a spiritual depth that revealed a love and goodness beyond their wildest imagination and yet still find it so frightening to let go completely?

From the very beginning, it has always seemed obvious to me that if the spiritual experience is to mean anything truly significant, then a radical transformation must be its inevitable result. So why was it that my own passion for transformation, for profound sanity and simplicity, seemed to draw such extreme responses of outrage and condemnation from others in the spiritual world at large? At first, because of naïveté, I simply didn't understand. But then, over time, the answer became obvious. We human beings simply DON'T WANT TO KNOW! More often than not, our spiritual interests translate into nothing more than a desire for affirmation and security. "Leave me alone and tell me that I'm okay as I am" is the plea of the spiritual inquirer when push comes to shove. "I want to be enlightened, as long as I don't have to change too much" is the postmodern posture of the seeker today.

Why was it that the presence of enlightened consciousness always ignited in me a fire of fearless love that wouldn't hesitate to speak up when necessary? Was I crazy? Was I just another deluded narcissist who believed he had found the Truth? Some definitely thought so. And as a result, the road ahead of me was often barricaded with "stop" and "keep out" signs. I had to find a way to express my own passion for spiritual transformation in this world without having to compromise my instincts; I had to find a way to slip through the defenses of the collective mind of the spiritual status quo. That's how What Is Enlightenment? was born. And slowly but surely, I found out that I was not alone—that beyond my body of students around the world were many, many seekers and inquirers who shared my own hunger to understand what the human experience means in the context of the spiritual experience.
Ever since I consciously began to walk the spiritual path twenty-four years ago, this question—What does it mean to be a human being in this world in the context of enlightened understanding?—has not left me alone and has become the driving force of my own life and of this magazine. What is the relationship between the One and the Many? Between nothing and something? Between that which can never be known and that which can be known? Simply put, what is enlightenment? And what does that experience or understanding have to do with the expression, manifestation, and evolution of our humanity? Since the magazine began, this one open question has been the ongoing theme of our inquiry, and now, ten years later, it feels like we're just getting started!

The path and practice of spiritual and philosophical inquiry, when genuine, is the catalyst for an incredible human experience. What is that experience? It is the intoxicating joy and endless thrill of living on the very edge of the known. Living on that edge, one encounters directly from the source of life itself the glory and majesty of our unmanifest potential literally becoming manifest here and now in this world.


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This article is from
Our Anniversary Issue