How can you tell when you're enlightened?
I recently received a letter from one of my students who was informing me that we were no longer going to be studying together, which is fine. In my estimation, a healthy spiritual community is one in which there are constantly new students coming in and other students going out. Some of the students who go out will go out for a while and come back, some won't.
A spiritual community is not a place that you are to come to and stay. It's a place like a college or university that you come to for a while. There should be absolutely no shock value in anyone leaving at any time because from a Zen point of view, they were never here to begin with, so how could they leave? Or from a mystical point of view, they were always here, long before they arrived in the physical, and simply because their body goes elsewhere, how could they go?
So when I receive a letter from someone telling me that they're moving forward, I always feel very positive about it. Whether I've known them for a short time or worked with them for years and years, I think it's a very healthy sign. It's a sign that we're doing something right. If everyone was staying, there would be a problem, there would be an imbalance.
Enlightenment has to do with the erasure of the samskaras, the past life tendencies, after you've gone into samadhi for hundreds and thousands of hours, many, many times over a period of years, as is described, let's say, in the biography of Ramakrishna.
The letter I received from one of my students was informing me that she had attained enlightenment, and I had received two other letters over the last several months from two other women who had also informed me that they had attained enlightenment. They all live in San Diego, and they're good friends.
Now, since they've attained enlightenment, they of course no longer feel the need to study with me, and I agree, once you've attained enlightenment, I wouldn't be much fun. Although, actually, if you actually attain enlightenment, or let us say when you do, I think we could have a good time together. At that point, then we might be able to sit down and talk for the first time in a new way.
But I've noticed the pattern with these individuals is that when they attain enlightenment, rather than at that point coming and sitting down and for once we can communicate on many levels or go beyond communication, they tend to always leave and write me, usually, a very nice letter, thanking me very much, but telling me now that they've attained enlightenment they have to go off and teach and do whatever they're going to do. And of course that, naturally, from my point of view, prevents me from discussing the matter with them. In other words, it's kind of interesting, I get this very nice letter and someone says, "Thanks, Rama. I've attained liberation now, and I'm self-realized and I'm on my way, and you've been such a help and I experienced so many good things with you at Lakshmi, it just made all the difference. But now that I'm enlightened, I have to go on my own way." Which I understand. However, I think that if their enlightenment was solid, they might come in and chat for a little bit, and we might have some fun, go out to the desert together or something like that, and they could show me what they know, and I could show them some new things, maybe. So it makes it difficult from my point of view, and very easy from their point of view, to feel that they're enlightened, since there's no one who can possibly criticize you or ask you any questions since you remove yourself from that possibility.
Now, the question this brings up, and I'm not making fun of them at all, but these are serious questions, is - how can you tell?.