Let us start off by saying that awakening is clearly seeing through the illusion of “me”…no longer identifying with the body/mind, ego, or “I”. The personal “I” is simply a thought and never really existed. There is a knowing…in the here and now…that identification is no longer happening (and there is a memory of having had such identification). So there is a knowing or awareness that the illusion of “me” is not believed…that awakening occurred. Awakening is simply a happening in a point in time…prior – the illusory “me” was believed; and after – the illusory “me” is not believed. In this way there is a recognition of awakening.
There are other effects in life that show this has occurred. For example, suffering ceases. Interestingly, in Buddhism, Enlightenment includes the cessation of suffering and the Four Noble Truths are all about suffering and the end to suffering.
Why does suffering end? Because suffering, by and large, is founded upon a fictitious “me”. Of course there are related aspects to the fictitious “me”:
- the idea of “others” that are created by a fictitious/personal “me”
- the idea of “possessions” are owned by “me” and become “mine” and “my”
All suffering is related to the “me”. Take worry. The basic idea is “what could happen to me and mine?” To add perspective let me ask, do you worry about the local Wells Fargo or other bank being robbed? Of course not. That money is not yours. Do you worry about your boss’s car? Of course not…that car is not yours and of no concern to you. I had mentioned previously that I work as a corporate recruiter…do you worry about my job’s future and continued employment? Of course not. My point is that you only worry when it concerns “you”…a personal “me”. Therefore, if there is a realization that the “me” is an illusion and does not really exist…then worry vanishes. There is no “me” and “mine” to refer to and so there is nothing to hold a worry. Worry is fundamentally a belief in duality…a belief in a “me”. However, duality is a figment of our imaginations and so too the fictitious “me”.
Suffering are chains of our own creation that we have tied around ourselves. Now some try to remove each chain…one at a time, but all of the chains are held in place with a single master linchpin…the “me”. Pull that one pin and everything falls away. Therefore, with the occurrence of awakening (seeing through the illusory “me”…that is, realizing that there is no “me”), there may also be a recognition that suffering ceased as well. So this might be another way to know that awakening happened.
Seeking and becoming also cease with awakening. Like suffering, seeking and becoming are founded upon the illusory “me”. When the “me” that could become or seek something vanishes, what is there to become or seek?
There is only nonduality, and so what we see every day is nonduality. Change is something that does happen and so nonduality also has change. I point this out because I am not saying the body/mind and experience can not change. This body will grow older, it will experience sickness, it will die, etc. Change is what is experienced constantly. So I am not saying you won’t change…I am saying you won’t become. Becoming is future seeking. Becoming also implies a lack or something missing in the present. Feeling a lack in the present implies a fictitious “me”.
I am explaining in pretty fine detail and subtleties because one can chose to delve deeper to see more subtle forms of suffering and seeking vanish. The bulk of suffering vanishes upon awakening, but some conditioning may remain that does not relate to a “me” (for example). After awakening, one can delve more deeply and see these go as well…or not…one is free to do whatever. If one does, it is not to become a better person or seek some higher status in some way. It is an expression of who/what one really is. There is no lack, weakness, or something wrong that needs to or must be corrected.
I should say again that the more subtle forms of suffering and seeking are simply delved into by seeing…just looking at it. There is no “doing” going on. We are not working at it and trying to be different. We simply look at what is…and be with it. This being aware of what is continues, as it continues – understanding deepens, and often it just falls away. Just looking at it, which brings understanding, is enough. Suffering and seeking are fictions of the mind. And so if you look at it and clearly see…it ceases to exist.
Just looking…deeply, clearly…at the “I” is what I often recommend to those seeking awakening. The fictitious “me” is the root of the delusion and so just look at the “I/me”.
In summary, to answer the question “how can we know that we are awakened”…there is a recognition that the fictitious “me” is no longer believed and a noticing of the cessation of suffering and seeking, which is founded upon a “me”. This may very not be an amazing or memorable happening, so don’t expect fireworks.