Is enlightenment permanent or is enlightenment a transcendent state which one loses? If we define enlightenment as the direct realization that you are consciousness, then insight into enlightenment is the same as insight into anything else. There was never un-enlightenment, there are no permanent states, and this realization is final. The further realization that there is no one here to experience enlightenment is also permanent. This is not to say one cannot temporarily feel contracted during the course of life after realization, but ongoing confusion comes only if one still has doubt about their true nature beyond the mind. Once this is seen, realized and discerned clearly through practice, there is no way to make the mistake again. It would be like all of a sudden thinking you were your hand.
Part of the problem with our way of “knowing” is that we are always looking outside of ourselves. We look at other people, we judge their actions, we judge their words and we judge concepts against other concepts. We feel that we are “doing our homework” in this way, but this is completely backwards. It is like trying to “know” that we are only watching a movie, but waiting for the characters in the movie to confirm that we are only sitting in a theatre watching a movie. This is absurd. Who would need approval from actors on screen to realize that they are watching a movie? The actors go according to script, and even if they pointed out we were only watching a movie we would not see it unless we realized it for ourselves. If we want to realize we are only watching a movie we need only to watch ourselves and realize first hand that we are sitting in a seat watching a movie.
Only by going deep within ourselves do we come to finally see that we were only ever actors. Accompanying this realization is the fact that others are also actors. We come to see and feel this in a very plain and ordinary way, either through a direct experience of emptiness which is difficult to explain but unmistakable or as a result of steady, gradual practice. We cannot, then, un-realize it, unless we have not really realized it in the first place. Part of the problem with this question of whether enlightenment is permanent or not is that this question is still being asked by “the frog in a pot.” No, the frog in the pot is never free, never enlightened. No matter what “transcendent” experience the frog in the pot has had, the frog is still a frog in the pot. Only when the frog’s consciousness recognizes itself as the same consciousness that knows all things does it realize he is not a frog. He then becomes, permanently, not a frog. Similarly, you are not now, nor have you ever been, nor will you ever be, nor could it ever come to pass that you could ever be a body or a mind or a name or a story or anything that you are conscious of in any world, realm or universe that may arise at any time.
Real Ego Death
The initial stages of enlightenment are marked by an obvious “breaking off” or freeing of awareness from the physical prison of the body and mind. This is what is felt as “suchness” or “thusness” or thundering silence. It is the first real freedom we have ever experienced in this life and it is dramatic and irreversible. It is not an experience but an opening. Once it is open, the real work begins. This free awareness becomes like a fire which, when applied to the inner work, recognizes and burns away all that hides the truth from us at a much faster rate. What hides the truth from us are the special stories we tell ourselves and believe. The truth is this moment as it really is and what hides this moment from us is ego.
In the final analysis, an enlightened person is a dead person and the dead do not come back to life. The translation of Nirvana is “blown out,” or extinguished. This is not about just about some kind of experience or some kind of exalted state. It is about practicing until you realize that what you thought was a person is not, what you thought was a world was not, what you thought was agency was not and what you thought was a life was not. What you are enlightened from is the notion of a separate self. Permanently. Not just giving up self love or selfishness, but giving up the whole notion that you were ever a person. Just like when you found out Santa Claus wasn’t real. You do not become a resigned man or a surrendered man. You become a headless man, a dead man, yet somehow free to be more alive than you were previously.
When the last of your delusional, personal story has burned up and you “die before you die,” you become just as you were before the story. You become the natural, conscious self. If you “lose your state,” then it was just another state. How can you “lose” what you are? Maybe you failed to recognize what you are but once the recognition is made it is not easily forgotten. Enlightenment is not necessarily about “transcending” or becoming a God or perfect or divine or holy. It is not necessarily about being kind to animals or acting “spiritual” or fantasizing about what might happen after death. It’s about the end of fantasizing. It’s about understanding once and for all that you are not and never have been a separate entity except in your own false recognition. Then you are free to become everything. And nothing. But not before that. Then it is permanent.