The following is a summary of The Science of Enlightenment Session #13, by Shinzen Young.  We are currently reviewing this series as a group on the Individuals Anonymous Facebook group, and you are encouraged to join if you have not done so already.  You may also purchase The Science of Enlightenment audiobook on Amazon, here

One metaphor for spirituality is that it is a kind of path. A journey to enlightenment.

The realms of power refer to the what tends to happen as people pass through these layers along the way.

The benchmarks on that path, the way that one describes the starting and ending point of that path, and the strategies used to navigate that path, may differ in their descriptions. Many people don’t realize that different descriptions of the path, although seemingly different, are actually referring to the same thing.

The problem is, if we describe spirituality as a path, there are craving, aversion, confusion, etc… which come about as a result of the need to look at enlightenment as a place to get to other than here and now.

Teaching the ‘Path’ of Enlightenment

To teach is actually to mislead. As soon as a teacher opens their mouth, they are misleading.  However, in choosing not to teach, you are misleading even worse.

If enlightenment is not referred to as a path, then it becomes very difficult to recognize the benchmarks and micro-processes which need to be paid attention to.

You are damned if you do.  You’re damned if you don’t.

Visualizing the Journey to Spiritual Awakening

One possible model for the path of enlightenment is a journey from the surface of consciousness down to the source of consciousness.   A lot of times people look at the process as a 180-degree turn (completely around). Mr. Young looks at it as a 90-degree turn.

Similar to the way the Earth’s crust is made of layers, a 90-degree turn would take one from the surface down to the center, or the source.

When we start to meditate, we turn 90 degrees.  Instead of moving across the surface of consciousness, we move into consciousness, passing through the various layers.

The Realms of Power - Path to Spiritual Awakening

Navigating The Journey

The six senses are the six doors of consciousness through which we experience these layers.
In doing so – applying mindfulness and equanimity, we pass through layers of consciousness and encounter different kinds of phenomena.  Mr. Young likes to refer to 3 layers (with many more intermediary layers they are made of):

  1. Ordinary consciousness
  2. What the west refers to as subconscious or unconscious
  3. The core/source of consciousness.  If you want to call this God, you can.
    If you want to call it nature, you can.
    If you want to call it the Dao, you can.
    If you want to call it the true self, you can.
    The words/labels don’t matter.  The idea is to come into direct contact with the source.
    Direct contact is where we go to the source of consciousness.  Indirect contact is where we think about/feel the source.

Where the confusion lies is in the intermediate realms of consciousness.  In these various layers, one may experience ‘unusual phenomena.’

Freud’s Perspective on the Unconscious Mind

If you look at the early analysis of psychotherapy, Freud referred to the unconsciousness as an unresolved pool of pain and darkness.  There is some truth to this.  This is where the impurities reside, and these impurities are what prevents direct contact with the source.

From this sense, the path isn’t so much a journey as it is a ‘cleaning out’ of these impurities.

If you have a bowling ball between your hands, the bowling ball is impeding on your hands coming into contact with each other.  These intermediary realms contain the impurities that impede on our direct contact with the source, in a very similar way
Another way to look at the journey is as a clarification process, into which, pouring mindfulness and equanimity removes the impurities.  This removal of impurities allows one the opportunity to come into direct contact with the source.

Jung’s Perspective on the Unconscious Mind

Jung referred to the subconscious as a realm of archetypes, spirits, entities, etc.. in a way that suggested that they actually exist, for real.  And this is quite true.  Some people experience very unusual entities, spirits, and/or the impression that they have psychic powers along this spiritual journey. He refuses to comment with his opinion but I know the psychic powers to be true from personal experience with a Mindscape seminar I attended a few years ago.  Everybody is capable of remote viewing, with a little practice.

One may have experience of very unusual sensations, odd energy, leaving the body, encountering entities, knowing what people are thinking, etc….

Some Journies Are Unusual. Others Appear ‘Normal’,

It is of the utmost importance to realize that by no means does everybody encounters special powers as they move through the intermediate realm.  Not everybody encounters the monsters of the intermediate realm.  Many people just experience their senses, with nothing unusual, and they are still able to go to the source.

Many people tell Mr. Young that they have been meditating for years and they never have to deal with the weird stuff.  Other people have the negative entities coming up, creepy crawling sensations, they shake, become hot and cold for no apparent reason.

These are all phenomenon from these intermediate realms coming to the surface, becoming real.

Some people have unusually entertaining or even empowering experiences.  Sometimes the experiences are unusually hellish.  Both may even be involved but just because one has not experienced any of this, does not mean that one is not making progress.

Different people have very different experiences.

However, the phenomena themselves are of no actual importance.  The actual importance is in the way that one relates to these experiences.

The litmus test for spiritual maturity, in Mr. Young’s book, is measured by how one treats the experiences of that intermediate realm.

When In Doubt – Apply Mindfulness and Equanimity

The mature will treat all experiences of the intermediate realm exactly the same.  The immature will create craving and aversion as a means of dealing with the phenomenon of the intermediate realm.

There is a story of a monk who got so deep into meditation that even the Gods started to admire him (these Gods are the equivalent of angels and saints in the West) and bring him flowers, gifts, etc…  And one day he smacked the Gods and told them to ‘get out of here!’

Is this the key to dealing with these intermediate realms?  It’s mostly the answer but not entirely, in Mr. Young’s opinion.

Mr. Youngs Spooky Enlightenment Journey, And Big Bugs

In Mr. Young’s personal experience, the intermediate realms produced the phenomenon of very large insects, that could be touched, felt, smelled, etc…  He would see them on his way to school, and elsewhere.  He said everything was alright, although it did go on for about a year. But its important to note that this is not schizophrenia, this is just a possible experience of moving through the intermediate realms.

To deal with his experience of the very large insects, the idea was to apply mindfulness and equanimity to the visual sensations of these insect experiences.  The odd thing was that the more mindfulness and equanimity that was applied to these things, the more life-like qualities they took on, until they become 100% lifelike.

They eventually go away.  This is nothing to fear, and it’s actually very rare.

The Nature of Impermanence

Eventually, it becomes clear that impermanence is the very form of nature that brings phenomena into experience moment by moment.

The moment in which he surrered and allowed the impermanence to flow freely, the flow of impermanence brought about the images the same way it does for aspects of nature.  And the more freely you let this flow, the more real the phenomenon tend to become.

It’s not that these hallucinations have become real, its that this actually provides some insight on the nature of reality and its creative process, and how it is that mind creates.

The reason the Zen talk about smacking these deities is because they don’t want students to miss out on using these experiences to understand how the source creates all things.

In some parts of the world, the intermediary realms to be crossed are referred to as Machio, or realm of the devil.  You can get so caught up in the realm of the spirits, that you can fail to recognize how close these spirits are to the great spirit, the source of all.

The barometer of spiritual maturity is in how well one deals with these intermediary laters.

Three Potentially Extreme Outcomes

There are three extreme cases noteworthy of mention as a result of making the choice to traverse this path.

Some people will start their journey at the surface, take the 90-degree turn, and will at some point have an experience in which a phenomenon arise which leaves the person frightened.  Generally, these people will scramble back to the surface, leaving the path behind them.

Another extreme case is that for whatever reason you are moving toward the source and something happens.  And you like it.  And you say that this is for you.  And you start to explore.  But the way that you explore is by taking another 90-degree turn, going horizontal to the source.   The problem here is that as people start to use their apparent psychic abilities, magic skills, etc.. and they feel that they are making progress but in reality, they are now on a parallel path, that can go on forever with distractions.  The problem is that usually when one stops here, they will develop an unhealthy relationship with the phenomena, as these powers can make it easier to make money, achieve fame, power, etc…

The third extreme is that one goes directly, straight down to the source.  If something odd happens, it is viewed with mindfulness and equanimity.  If nothing odd happens, that is viewed the same way.  This is the direct path, and it is encouraged that one take this path in the Buddhism practice.

Journey to Enlightenment

What Happens After I Complete the Enlightenment Journey?

According to the Buddhism tradition, it is OK to return to the realms of powers once enlightenment has been attained.  One the source is contacted,  the realms of power can then be pursued in a way that really helps humanity.

A good historical example from a Western perspective, of this third extreme, is St. John of the Cross.  He described the journey as a vertical ascent, vs Mr. Young’s descent.  But its the same thing.  He referred to ascending Mt. Caramel.    He said that in each stage going up the mountain, he wrote nada… nada… nada… and at the peak, the nada that is todo is ultimately encountered.

He said ‘If you want to climb this mountain, you cannot allow yourself to get frightened by the beasts.  You also cannot allow yourself to stop and pick the flowers.’