Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. This seems to suggest that enlightenment is not a big deal, and life carries on just like before. Others claim that enlightenment is the pinnacle of the spiritual path, and that there’s nothing to do or to reach afterwards. So which is it? What really happens after enlightenment?
From one point of view, nothing happens after enlightenment, because you also realize that nothing ever happened. If something happened in your dream, did it really happen? When you wake up from the dream, you will certainly agree that the dream was just in your head. But when you wake up from the illusion of reality to the real reality, you will also see that nothing ever happened, nothing ever happens and nothing will ever happen anywhere or anytime.
However, this is just the perspective beyond the dream. Inside it, things will still happen, or at least seem to happen just like before. You won’t just disappear into nothingness, you’ll still be in the dream, but you’ll know that it’s a dream, and that makes all the difference.
There’s no need to renounce the world, when you’ve already gone beyond it. Instead, you tend to embrace the world with all your heart, because you recognize that it’s not different from you. You will probably continue your lifestyle, you will still need to go to the toilet, you will still have a job, you will still chop wood and carry water.
Enlightenment is not a lifestyle change. It’s not about becoming more spiritual. It’s not about becoming a better person. It has nothing to do with how you live, what you do or how you behave. Enlightenment is a total inner transformation, that completely redefines how you see the world and yourself. It’s a radical shift in perception, nothing more and nothing less.
With that said, this change in perception may bring with it outer changes too. You won’t bear to stay in an unfulfilling job. You won’t be able to stand to do things you don’t want to do. You won’t remain in an unsatisfying relationship, because you won’t be afraid of being alone anymore. After a while, you may start teaching or integrating your wisdom and insights into your work somehow.
When you do, you have to be extra careful not to let your ego use your enlightenment for its self-gratification. Because although the ego gets emptied out, its empty shell is still there, waiting for you to give it energy. It’s very sneaky and can easily slide in through the backdoor just when you think you defeated it.
You can compare life to traveling in a self-driving car. Imagine a fully autonomous vehicle with the latest navigation system and the perfect software. It is programmed so perfectly, that you can feel totally safe because it will never crash, never make a mistake and never brake down. This car is the omniscient consciousness, the pure intuition that knows which way to turn in every moment.
But you are also there in the driving seat with your hands on the wheel. You were living your whole life trying to steer it, but any time you touched it, you just made it worse. Your small ego was trying to control the infinitely wise consciousness, the experiences in life, the circumstances. Even when you made a wrong move, you suffered for it, and consciousness – either gently or fiercely – guided you back to the right path.
But when you become enlightened you realize that you were never really in control. You can just relax and lean back, surrender your desires and fears to a greater, wiser, more intelligent power, that by the way is not different from you. This is who you truly are, and not the driver. There’s no need to fear, because the ABS will prevent any harm. There’s no need to desire, because the GPS will bring you to your destination.
Now this doesn’t mean that you can actually physically sit back and do nothing. But there is no sense of doership, you simply let things happen through you. However, as time goes on, you may feel the urge to grasp the wheel once again, especially if a challenging situation comes up. After all, you are blazing through the highway of life at full speed, so who can blame you?
At times like these, it’s easy to forget that your consciousness is still a much better driver than your ego. Even if things don’t happen the way you imagined, even if life takes you to unknown or undesirable territories, just remember that it can’t make a mistake, and it’s always taking you to your desired destination on the shortest possible route.
The key is to give up resistance, and surrender to its wisdom totally. Not only before enlightenment, but even afterwards. If you notice yourself falling back into unconscious patterns, that is because you resist the moment, either out of fear or desire. When you can completely let go again, you can return to the state of enlightenment almost immediately.
Enlightenment is not the end, it’s a new beginning. It’s not just death, it’s also a rebirth. The fruit has riped and fallen off the tree. But it doesn’t have to go to waste, now is the time to enjoy it, to share it with others, and to plant its seeds into the minds and hearts of a new generation. The fact that you don’t need to do anything doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do anything.
So what’s the point of doing anything after enlightenment? That’s the beauty of it: there’s no point and there never was. If there was, it was to realize this. Now you’re free to do anything without any guilt, compulsion or duty, just for its own sake, just for pleasure, just because.
What’s the destination after enlightenment? There is no destination, and if there ever was one, it was to realize that the journey of life is not about reaching a goal, but traveling itself. The goal is always here and now, the goal is presence itself. Before enlightenment, you focus on the goal, but afterwards your only task is to enjoy the ride.
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