I wrote a short book in 2009 called, “52 EnlightenMyths.” It was a list of common myths and misconceptions about Enlightenment. A couple of them point to what this question might be getting at.
One that I listed was, “you won’t even know you’ve found it.” As I said then, I wonder who comes up with this stuff. The idea is that when it happens, there is no “you” left to know it happened. Pure myth.
Let me start by saying the ego is not destroyed or disappears upon Awakening. That too is a myth. There is simply a seeing through the ego and deep understanding so that the ego no longer causes confusion and suffering. There is still a specific character in the world that you are aware of.
If the body-mind becomes sick, there is an awareness that this body-mind does not feel well. There is not an awareness of all body-minds on the planet…and knowing which ones are sick and which ones are well. This specific awareness and consciousness of this specific body-mind is also the ego. It is needed to continue the existence of the body-mind and functioning in the world.
I know some teachers have claimed the ego is destroyed; and yet if you called their name, they would answer. This alone proves there is some form of ego remaining, otherwise there would be no answer nor could one function in the world. (A more full explanation is given in the last blog post – Who is engaged?)
There is still a sense of a character in the world. There is a body-mind/ego named Eric. The appearance may be an illusion or mirage, but that does not mean seeing through the mirage and understanding it will make the appearance of the mirage cease to occur.
As such, this body-mind/ego does notice things as well. It noticed that suffering ended. It noticed fear of death ended. It noticed attachment ended. It noticed needing and seeking ended. Because there is something still left to recognize this occurrence, there can be a recognition that something happened.
The pitfall of course is if the ego tries to claim it as an accomplishment….something it gained. Awakening means seeing through that ploy of the ego as well. Awakening means realizing nothing was gained or found. Awakening is more like looking for your lost ring…only to realize you had been wearing it the whole time. Nothing was gained, because it was always there. Nothing was found, because it was never really lost or absent.
So that brings us to another EnlightenMyth that I listed, “to say ‘I am Enlightened’ is egotistic.” I will take what I wrote in 2009 as a base to further elaborate:
“Not necessarily. Even the Buddha said he is Enlightened…and buddha is a word that means ‘the awakened one.’ He was not egotistical, egocentric, or unenlightened. For him, as for all awakened, it is a simple statement of fact – not ego.”
As the body-mind/ego noticed a change occurred in how life is unfolding, why could not a simple statement of fact be made without involving an inflation or even connection to the ego? I notice that there is no more suffering, fear, or seeking. This occurrence is known by definition as Liberation, Enlightenment, Awakening, etc., etc. Therefore, to say the occurrence happened is to say I am Enlightened. It is just noticing the occurrence and giving a typical label for that kind of occurrence.
A lot of people have a lot of baggage regarding the label, and have issue with anyone claiming to be Enlightened. That is their problem. The term is quite innocent, but it is the meaning that they apply and how it relates to themselves that causes them issues.
Some think that Enlightenment is this grand thing and therefore to say, ‘I am Enlightened’ is to claim to be above so many others. Of course, upon Awakening you realize there is no one better or worse than anyone else. Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are equal (no better or worse) than Hitler and Osama Bin Ladin. Likewise, someone who is Enlightened is equal (no better or worse) to someone who just sits around drinking beer and watching TV or a bum on the street. Better and worse cease to have any meaning to one who is Awake. There is only the Self…and nothing other than the Self.
In Zen, Bodhidharma once was asked by the Emperor, “what is the highest meaning of the holy truths?” Bodhidharma responded, “vast emptiness, nothing holy.” In this vast emptiness where nothing is holy or unholy…how could saying ‘I am Enlightened’ be egotistical or considered very holy?
Instead, it is a simple statement about an occurrence due to direct insight.