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A Revolution in Consciousness and Culture

by Andrew Cohen

When we started What Is Enlightenment?, back in 1991, I had no idea that it would become such an important vehicle for the promulgation of new thought. Originally, it began as a small journal focused primarily upon the evolution of my own teaching and distributed mainly to friends and supporters. After about three years, though, I decided, along with a handful of my students, to take the plunge and put out a real magazine. The thrust and development of WIE has for the most part been based on my own ongoing inquiry into the meaning and significance of the spiritual experience.

Early on in my career as a spiritual teacher, I found out the hard way that while the mystical truth of existence discovered in the experience of revelation is ultimately simple, living that simplicity amid the complexity and hard-core reality of human life is truly the ultimate challenge. Indeed, it was through endeavoring to make deep sense out of my own life and the lives of my students in light of that simplicity that the ongoing inquiry behind WIE was born.

I had always believed, as I had been taught, that the revelation of that simplicity itself was the answer to every question. But I found out that that wasn’t necessarily true. I had been born a baby boomer, in the middle of the twentieth century, a time of great upheaval and change. And like so many others of my generation, I grew up in a secular household, had no traditional religious training whatsoever, and was left to my own devices morally, philosophically, and ethically. A lost soul in my early twenties, I turned to Eastern mysticism and the promise of enlightenment for salvation. Inspired by a brief, powerful experience of higher consciousness a few years earlier, I knew that an answer actually existed. When I finally found it at the age of thirty, I thought it was all over.

Actually, it was just the beginning. Enlightenment is simple. It is the mind-shattering revelation that all is One and One is all, that everything is ultimately none other than that mystical and mysterious ground of Being—the Nothingness that is Everything. The direct experience of this ultimate of mysteries liberates the mind from time and frees the soul from fear. It sets the stage for human life to manifest its incredible creative potential in a way that is authentic and free. But what is the moral, philosophical, and ethical context in which that creative potential and authentic freedom will arise? Because we live in a time when so many of us have left the past and all its traditions behind, where are we to look for answers to life’s most basic and important questions? The revelation of nonduality—that all is One and One is all—in and of itself does not answer the question of how to live, how to make sense out of the human experience in the midst of a rapidly changing world—a world in which so many of us have left all guidelines behind.

As a young Jewish American teaching Eastern enlightenment in a postmodern Western context, I found myself in a challenging yet incredibly exciting position. I had found the ultimate answer—nonduality—but like so many of my generation, I had no solid ethical, philosophical, or moral ground in which it could root itself. And because we were nearing the latter portion of the twentieth century, when the world I was living in was changing at a faster and faster rate, I knew I could no longer look to the past in order to find out how to live a human life. I had to find the answers for myself. And it was this very inquiry that led to the birth of What Is Enlightenment?

So for the last fifteen years, I have spent many, many, many hours with a small group of students/coconspirators—sitting around a table in a crowded office, sweating bullets in a sauna, jammed in a van on the way to the airport, grooving in a rented villa in the south of France, huddled together in a café in Bangalore, Paris, or New York—in the incredibly precious, deeply focused, one-pointed practice of spiritual inquiry. And this inquiry always, sooner or later, brings those elusive gems of wisdom and understanding that, in this crazy time in which we find ourselves, reveal how to live a human life in a way that makes the deepest sense.

What many people are astonished to discover is the simple fact that the evolution of the magazine has literally been the expression of the evolution of my, and my students’, understanding in real time. In other words, What Is Enlightenment?’s inquiry is a living inquiry. The questions that we have explored and will continue to explore are, for the most part, ones to which we don’t already know the answers. The questions we have asked are the big ones. Why? Because we want to know! We want to know how to make sense of the human experience in the context of authentic spiritual enlightenment in the twenty-first century. Grounded in the revelation of nonduality, we want to know how to live in this unique time in history, informed by a passion for evolution and transformation. The results of a truly open-minded, passionate, and inspired inquiry are potentially revolutionary. And that revolution—a radical transformation of consciousness and culture—is what this endeavor is dedicated to.

A cultural revolution is a revolution in thinking. Profound change in the world only happens when thinking changes, and in What Is Enlightenment? magazine, we’re endeavoring to communicate with our growing body of readers in ways that are going to compel all of us to think more deeply. We seek out those individuals who challenge us to stretch beyond familiar mindsets in order to meet the overwhelming demands of our time. And as we learn from this ever-expanding network of leading thinkers, we simultaneously try to create an enlightened context in which their voices and visions will be amplified. It is my firm conviction that through the practice of sincere inquiry, of honest dialogue together, we can discover new perspectives that will enable all of us to make much greater sense of our shared human experience.

It’s urgent that we begin to define a new moral, philosophical, and spiritual context that will, in its depth and breadth of vision, be able to embrace the multidimensional nature of the human predicament in all its complexity at the beginning of the twenty-first century. And the most important part of this project, I feel, is actually being willing to transform ourselves, as individuals coming together for a higher purpose, so that more and more of us will be able to directly intuit the contours of this new context from the evolving edge of consciousness itself.


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This article is from
Our 15th Anniversary Issue


September–December 2006