There really isn’t a good word for the happening.
I still sometimes say it is an understanding, but the two issues that I see arising from this are people considering it a mental understanding (grasped mentally) and/or an understanding that takes time to get (like accumulating knowledge does).
I still say it is a realization, but the main issue I see arising from this is people saying they had “realized” when it was just mental knowledge or belief derived from a passing spiritual experience. They thought it was some sort of mental realization (again grasped mentally).
I used to say it was an experience, but the main issue I saw arising from this was people thought it was then some kind of experience that was constant. Like an experience of Oneness, but it never goes away. Or others would have a passing experience of Oneness (that went away), and call that awakening even though they still are fooled by the illusions of the mind (suffer, have problems, fear, etc.)
I considered calling it a transformation. This would more strongly convey the difference between before and after…like a caterpillar and a butterfly – and how they experience the world. But the main issue with this is it hints too much at taking time. I need time to transform and it hints at a process of transformation.
Understanding, realization, experience, and transformation all miss the mark to various degrees and so I more recently adopted the term insight. Although, I still like the term realization as well…and will call it an understanding as well.
A couple of the reasons I like the term insight are as follows:
- An insight removes time and progress. You either have had the insight or you have not. Insights sound more sudden and complete than an understanding or experience.
- An insight hints at an aha moment (ah haaa!). In this way, not under your control…it happens to you.
The term insight has its flaws too. The problem is an insight too can then be imagined as something mentally grasped or a passing experience. Regardless of the term, awakening is not something the mind grasps or even gains. It is more kinesthetic than mental. You feel it in your heart/body/being – so to speak.
Understanding happens on two primary levels:
- Mental understanding, which is fickle and changes fairly easily with superficial changes of understanding.
- Heart/body understanding that is stronger than mental understanding and less prone to change without a profound change of understanding.
In this way, people can say they know or believe something…and yet act totally contrary to this knowledge or belief. Mentally know something, but their heart just isn’t in it.
For example, many people say they are a soul and that when they die they go to heaven where there is no suffering and it is perfect. Something to the effect of, “I will go straight to heaven and experience everlasting bliss.” They may say they know this to be true or they may say they believe it to be true. Either way, most of them fear death. Why? If you really didn’t think you ended at the end of this body, and better yet you go to the right hand of God…why would you not be looking forward to death (in due course). If you go to God, what is there to fear?
Among nondual spiritual seekers I see the same thing. Some will describe an experience or realization that “shattered” their belief in being the body-mind. They and others who say they have realized the Self and they are not this body-mind still fear death (i.e. the end of this body-mind)…why? They say they believe they are the Self or even know they are the Self, but this understanding is really in their heads (i.e. mentally). But what they really believe (in their hearts) is that they are this body-mind and so fear its demise.
There are two major centers of understanding…the head and the heart. When the two are in conflict, the heart always wins. It is even a common saying…the heart is stronger than the head. Or even, listen to your heart instead of your head. You may have experienced situations in which you knew that you should have tried harder, but your heart just wasn’t in it.
Back to terminology for a moment. The term insight also has the additional flaw that it sounds like it is something gained. Realization is closer to the truth in this respect. What is the insight or realization in awakening (a.k.a. liberation)?
To a large extent, it is realizing you were never in bondage in the first place. Upon awakening, you clearly realize that all of that time you spent in the process of freeing yourself from bondage was the delusion of bondage itself.
It is like thinking that you have lost your ring, so you go looking around the house, in your car, around the house, etc. After much time and effort, you look down at your hand and realize you are wearing the ring you have been looking for. You realize you always had it. What was gained? What was found? Nothing…because it was never really missing or lost. What was lost, however, was the delusion that your ring was missing.
Awakening and enlightenment is the realization we are doing it to ourselves. We mentally created the bondage, a wall, being stuck…and we struggle against it trying to figure out how am I going to get out of and/or around of this. Of course, the more you struggle to get free the more it feels like you are stuck or blocked or trapped. It is that very struggle which sustains and strengthens the delusion of bondage, a wall, or being stuck.
In Blazing Saddles there is a scene in which a posse is in pursuit…and the ones being chased have the idea to throw up a toll booth. Now this is in the middle of wide open country side. The posse, while following their tracks and gaining on the two, come up to the toll both. They easily could have ridden right past. There was plenty of room. Instead the leader of the posse says, “Le Petomane Thruway?! Now, what’ll that asshole think of next? Does anybody got a dime? Somebody’s gotta go back and get a shitload of dimes!” They were stopped dead in their tracks by this fictitious toll booth.
This is a great analogy for awakening and enlightenment. The difference is you put up the toll booth and don’t know it. You have stopped yourself at a fictitious barrier and won’t let yourself recognize all the space (and lack of real barrier). You are fixated on the barrier and trying to figure out how to get around or through it or maybe even paying your dues (getting dimes)…when you simply could ignore it because it is all empty space with a fictitious stand in the center that can be easily ignored.
So the insight or realization would be there is no gate blocking you, there is no wall, and you are not stuck. Trying to figure out how to get around it or through it is beside the point…there is nothing really stopping you in the first place. It is only your own mind stopping you from crossing a mentally-created barrier. The insight would be you are doing it to yourself and there is nothing stopping you.