“What possible motivation would we have for seeking enlightenment? Is it to have eternal life or simply a better one? Are we looking for magical powers or better relationships? Are we looking to alleviate suffering, relieve depression or ameliorate anxiety? Are we looking to abreact negative karma or to create none new.
Can we, as human beings, find some 'thing', some concept, some experience that is bigger, grander, purer, happier, and more contented than our everyday life of ups and downs? Are we missing a depth of experience that is our God-given right, or are we expected to suck up and be contented to what we have? Is there more?”
~ Ken Wilber, contemporary philosopher
Modern Views of Enlightenment: Growing Up to Being Here Now
Many folks think that human consciousness has been the same throughout time, but, just as an individual human consciousness can change by re-adapting and re-molding, so has greater humanity adapted and evolved as a species. The world today does not look the same as it did to the ancient horticultural and early agrarian societies. Our collective vision evolved with the advancements achieved by the Industrial revolutions and the overthrow of monarchies and the creation of representative democracies.
We live now in a multiculturally-rich worldview, where all prior worldviews are within our capacity to understand. It is the informational age! Could enlightenment be different for every individual self today, because everyone’s experiences and interpretation of enlightenment are seen through their unique view of the world? And is there a fuller, wider, deeper and more complex understanding of what enlightenment actually is now, today?
We might say that evolution has made consciousness aware of itself. The Darwinian theories of looking at an evolving outside world gave rise to a new way of looking on the inside. The early 20th century saw the beginnings of psychological evolution and the emergence of depth psychology. The pioneers in those fields noticed that humans evolved in directional stages, from a selfish stage (concerned only with their own needs and survival), to a caring stage (for family and those like them), to caring for all of humanity (no matter what ethnicity), and then, a caring for all sentient beings and the ecosystem in which they abide.
But this last stage of development is virtually independent of any mind-state training as taught by ancient contemplative arts. Mind-state training techniques are not guaranteed to bring about any quick or obvious developmental stage changes. One can still be selfish, narrow minded, ego-centric, ethnocentric, and species-centric while still attaining the highest of state-training accomplishments. Mind-blowing states of awareness are available to everyone, whatever your belief systems are. Indeed, in some cases, such levels of awareness don't even require a belief system, arising as they can from mind-bending drugs, natural proclivities, and even from conditions of mind we would traditionally place under the label of “mad” or "mentally ill".
This modern perception of our psyche today has revealed the individual self as a complex and interwoven set of intelligences, feelings, priorities, attributes and abilities. We have unique capacities for cognitive intelligence, emotional intelligence, moral intelligence, mathematical intelligence, musical intelligence, spiritual intelligence and more. These multiple intelligences develop at various stages, sometimes independently of one another.
Someone who has mastered advanced levels of mind-training, even to the point of being able to transmit these powerful states to others, would not necessarily have developed moral or emotional maturity. Shockingly, even as these experiences might reveal who you truly are (beyond the narrow, egoic self), the capacity to empathize with another's point of view is not guaranteed. And the mental powers that may accompany an experience in samādhi could, sadly, potentially be used to manipulate or harm others.
We do live in a time like no other, and we have an opportunity and a necessity to adapt our view of enlightenment to encompass new paradigms with the full range of available perspectives and objectives. We are a tool-making species, and why not take full advantage of the tools at our disposal now to reach an integrated enlightenment perspective. One great Darwinian insight was that species' change and adapt to local and new conditions, using all the tools available at the time.
Ken Wilber believes that as well as waking up to who we are via mind-state training, we also need to grow up, when it comes to our complete development. He calls this full-spectrum enlightenment. We accomplish this by not only transcending limitations of the body-mind-memory complex via state-training practice but also furthering our evolutionary growth via a more complete psychological training. Blissful states of consciousness need to be translated into wholesome traits of behavior.
In other words, a full-spectrum enlightenment needs to incorporate care and fierce concern for one’s own health and that of the planet. It must include psychological shadow work that can expand emotional, moral and other intelligences, as well as a desire to discover and advance our natural talents in order to give back to the world. In other words, enlightenment should not only be transcendent but also transformative. We need to wake up, grow up, clean up and show up fully in our lives, reaching our full spectrum of potential.
What would this new paradigm for reaching enlightenment look like?
Wilber posits a two-pronged affair: waking up to higher dimensions and planes of consciousness beyond the body-mind-memory state complex, plus a progressive stage development. The stage models show us how we can grow ethically, physically, socially, personally and psychologically and have been pioneered in areas like depth psychology, the modern Jungian chakra system, and any field that develops kinesthetic, emotional, interpersonal, intrapersonal, cognitive, musical and other intelligences. Enlightenment can then be said to not only transcend but include all the rich and full qualities of our creative world.
Lasting freedom comes as we work to train the mind to readily and at will absorb into deeper states of consciousness, revealing a depth of experience, insight, inspiration, flow and meaning to one’s own existence.
This freedom becomes ever joyful as we strive to improve our relationships with others and to see things from another’s point of view, unclouded by our own psychological shadow selves. And we investigate our character by shifting blissful, personal state experiences into virtuous and ethical behavioral traits, treating others as we expect to be treated ourselves.
Ken Wilber has recommended we take the word “enlightenment” more like we take the word “education”. No one can be “fully educated” and perhaps, being a human being in a limited, individual form, no one can really be fully enlightened. Just as a Doctorate from Oxford in Philology would not necessarily mean you know how to change your car’s carburetor, access to higher dimensions of consciousness would not guarantee that you would be accomplished in all arenas of human endeavor. That’s just one of the reasons we need and should appreciate each other.
Wilber, Ken. "The Future of Spirituality: Why It Must Be Integral" (Audiobook).