Here are some phases and aspects of the process of awakening, listed in the most typical order – when it happens through a relatively gradual process.
Awakening to Small Self
First, we (as the ground) awaken to the small self. We identify exclusively with this body/psyche, and view existence in a dualistic way. We are identified with and caught up in the habitual processes of the small self – the habitual patterns of emotions/thoughts/behaviors. This blind identification causes suffering in its many variations.
Awakening to One’s Nature
Here, we recognize ourselves as the ground – the formless unborn, space & awareness, that which is empty of any characteristics, that which is distinct from the world of phenomena. That which is experiencing, and in which all experiences arise. We realize that we are not the small self but have a small self. The small self arise in space and awareness.
And this space & awareness is that which is here/now, reading this. There is nothing mystical or esoteric about it. There is nothing that needs to be created. The main hindrance in realizing space & awareness as our nature, is that it is so ordinary to us, so close, so always present.
When we become more familiar with our nature, and bring awareness of it into more and more daily situation, we gradually release exclusive identification with the small self, with more and more aspects of the small self. Eventually, we see it all arising within space & awareness – sensations, emotions, thoughts, and habitual patterns of emotions/thoughts – and can choose to engage in it or not. This is liberation from suffering.
Of the different processes leading into liberation that I am familiar with, Byron Katie’s inquiry process seems the most effective (at least for many westerners).
As we clarify this formless unborn, this space & awareness empty of characteristics, we begin to perceive the world in a more transdual way.
From this ground outside the world of phenomena, we first perceive all phenomena as a fluid whole. We see the small self as a temporary pattern of energy and matter within the world of phenomena, a vortex in the stream – empty of independent and fixed existence (this is also another phase and aspect of liberation).
And we see the ground and phenomena, the absolute and relative, as aspects of a seamless whole. There is no longer any absolute boundary between subject and object. It is Existence seeing itself, Existence experiencing itself.
Eventually, we awaken to ourselves as Big Mind – that which is embracing the absolute and relative. The ground and manifestations of all Existence.
Everything is revealed as Big Mind, God, Buddha Mind, Spirit, Existence manifesting and exploring itself.
Another aspect of Big Mind is cosmic consciousness. We see the universe as consciousness, and I am that consciousness.
The process is obviously not as clean-cut as it may appear here.
It is possible to awaken to Big Mind and Cosmic Consciousness without having found liberation. And it is definitely possible to find liberation without Big Mind and Cosmic Consciousness.
There is also another phase and aspect of this whole process, which is rehumanization. To become more fully human, to live from Big Mind as a human being. To allow the ground to function freely as Big Mind and as this particular small self.
This – as all of the other phases and aspects – is a continual process of clarification, deepening and exploration. For each awakening, there is a process of integration.
Even when we awaken to Big Mind, the process of liberation is not likely to be complete. There may still be identifications with aspects of the small self not yet unravelled. And there may be healthy awareness and acknowledgment of this or unhealthy denial.
The rehumanization process can go alongside any of the phases described above, not only at the end. For each phase and awakening, there is a need for rehumanization – for integration into our daily lives.