It means something specific when I use the term. Spiritual awakening, Enlightenment, Self-Realization, and several other terms are all equal and point to the same happening. They all point to a radical and permanent change of our identification. Basically, we see through the mirage called “ego” and are never fooled by the mirage again.
The ego is this person in the world who has a life, will die, has problems, has accomplishments, has suffering, and has momentary happiness. The world is separate and potentially hostile – at minimum parts of it are unfriendly – towards this personal sense of self…the ego. Many see the ego as the thinker and doer in this world.
The ego is a mirage. It is an appearance only combined with a mentally created fiction. It starts with the name we are given at birth. This becomes the container for everything else. You learn that there are boys and girls and there are differences physically and in expectations of how we each act. We learn we are good boys and girls or bad boys and girls. We learn who are family…and everyone else is not as important. We learn where we come from…our nationality. We learn patriotism and that all the rest of the countries of the world are not as important. We learn pecking orders regard all sorts of criteria and in various tribes. All of our experiences…our wins and our loses…go into this container for “who we are.” By adulthood, our identification with the content of our life is so strong that sometimes when we are asked “who are you” – some of us give the title of our day job.
The content of our lives did happen. You might even have the pictures or the t-shirt, but identifying with it is being fooled by the mirage. If we take the mirage as reality (as it appears to be), then all sorts of fear and suffering result. If you are in the desert and see a mirage, but do not know it is a mirage…then you will crave the water you think you see. You will be disappointed and suffer when you never seem to get there or find there never was any water. As long as mirages fool us, we suffer every time we encounter one.
The ego is a constant and recurring mirage and we are fooled by it. So we suffer in life. We fear death of this “me.” We worry about what has happened or might happen to this “me.” We are never really content – always looking to improve the world, others, or ourselves. We feel incomplete or something is wrong with us. We feel that until it improves, we can not be happy. We continually feel we need something.
So spiritual awakening, to me, is seeing through the mirage and recognizing it for what it is forevermore. To realize what the ego is. To realize what you are really. To understand both deeply. Not just mentally, but in your heart, in your guts, and in your bones. It is almost more of a kinesthetic realization and understanding than a mental one.
In Zen there is a saying, “once the bottom of the bucket falls out, all the water goes with it.” It should not have to be said that the bucket also never holds water again. So this happening called spiritual awakening has permanent effects in life. If some experience comes and then goes and you still suffer, fear, worry, have attachments, still are in need, etc., that might have been a glimpse or other spiritual experience, but it was not spiritual awakening (as I use the term).
If you deeply understood mirages and realized how and when they occur, you would not be fooled by a mirage when you encounter one. You would just say, look at that mirage. There would be no longing. You would not crave the water that appears to be ahead of you, nor would you suffer when no water was found there. In this way, seeing through the mirage of ego results in never being fooled by the mirage of ego again. Then too what comes with being fooled by the mirage of ego also vanishes. Worry ceases. Feeling something is needed and the seeking that goes with it ceases. Fear of death ceases. Attachment ceases. Suffering ceases.
It is not that the ego dissolves. We do not kill the ego. We simply see through it and it no longer causes us grief or confusion. The ego has value in just living in the world. Without an ego, you would not answer to any name called to you. So the ego has a function, but to identify with it and be fooled by it causes much suffering.