AC: Enlightenment is simply the realization that you are not the ego; that the separate self-sense is not who you are. It means that you've realized without any doubt that who you are is that One Without A Second.
MA: In terms of our individual life experiences, how can we possibly not be this ego who we have always experienced ourselves to be?
AC: The point is that there are two different perspectives on the human experience. The perspective we have on our own human experience depends upon who it is that we actually determine ourselves to be. If we determine ourselves to be the personality, or what I call the "historical" self, the way we see and interpret our own experience will be seen only in light of our sense of ourself throughout our historical experience. No doubt you've experienced certain traumas and certain disappointments. No doubt you've experienced fear and find it difficult to trust in life itself. The historical personality, because it's been hurt and traumatized in various and different ways is, for very good reasons, unwilling to trust, unwilling to embrace the life experience wholeheartedly and unselfconsciously because it has been convinced from its historical experience that this is not a safe thing to do.
In a spiritual experience however, we become aware of a much deeper part of our self that we discover, if we pay attention to it, has never been touched by anything that has happened in time. It has never been wounded or traumatized by anything the historical self has experienced. That self is already free from fear and it already trusts deeply in the life experience. It just needs to be developed. So in terms of the teaching of enlightenment, the idea is if we're able to have an experience of that deeper more authentic part of our self, we are afforded the opportunity to directly experience the inherent freedom from our personal history. We consciously experience a freedom from the wounds of the past because we experience that part of our self that has never been hurt by anything, and we realize in that deeper, higher state of consciousness, a much deeper connection with life.
MA: If our true nature, our very deepest, highest self, is already enlightened, why would this enlightened self ever choose to view life through the experiences of the historical self or the unenlightened separate ego?
AC: The ego can be very strong because it is the deeper self-sense that actually energizes the ego in the first place. The deeper self-sense, experiencing life through the ego, is similar to you watching a movie and being fully engrossed in the drama. You can be so engrossed in the movie that you can forget that it's just a movie. You've totally forgotten that you're just sitting in a movie theater watching the action take place. After the movie you say, "Whew! It wasn't real. It was just a movie!"
The thing is that you were never part of the movie, you were just watching it, but you became so fascinated with the characters in the movie that you temporarily completely forgot who you really are. Your attention was focused on the drama in front you when actually you were sitting in the theater the whole time. In a similar fashion, the deeper self-sense can become mesmerized by the compelling dramas of the ego.
MA: You describe your teachings as "evolutionary" enlightenment. What do you mean by "evolutionary"?
AC: Evolutionary enlightenment is understanding the spiritual experience in the context of evolution. What evolutionary enlightenment says is that out of the unmanifest, the manifest exploded, it Became. And who and what each and every one of us are is that manifestation in a state of Becoming.
We notice physically, emotionally and psychologically that who and what we are is part and parcel of that which is evolving and that which is Becoming in time. The unmanifest is manifesting itself as this whole universe, which is in a constant state of Becoming. And one becomes aware that there is a driving conscious force, or energy, that is behind this whole movement of manifestation, and we become more and more aware of it the more we evolve consciously. So the more consciousness evolves, the more aware we become of the process behind creation, or manifestation itself.
The evolutionary part of enlightenment becomes clear to us when we begin to realize that our purpose here is to consciously become aware of, and ultimately align ourselves with, the mind of God, or with the conscious creative energy that's creating the whole universe. There's a sense of tremendous purpose when one realizes that the very deepest experience of I AM is not separate from life itself.
But the position of the ego is "This is MY life, baby, and I'm in this for myself and I want to overcome my problems from the past and I want to get this and that and the other thing for myself. This is MINE."
From the spiritual experience, the enlightened experience, we realize that this is actually not true. This is not MY life--we're part of life. This is not for us--we're part of a very big event here that's in the process of unfolding. And so the idea is to cease to live for oneself, because that's the life of the ego, and to devote one's life to the larger infinite event that we're actually already a part of, but don't even know it. We're all participating in the evolutionary process but most of us don't realize it. We're unconscious participants.
So with evolutionary enlightenment, the idea is to wake up to who you really are and to consciously participate in the life process, the evolutionary process which radically transforms the life experience. So the idea then is not to remain detached and removed from the life process, or be free from it but, conversely, to engage wholehearted and unselfconsciously and passionately in the life process for the greatest cause there ever is, which is evolution itself.
From the November 2002 issue of Wisdom magazine.