Enlightenment and Self-Realization II

Using the distinction between what Ken Wilber calls horizontal and vertical Enlightenment, or Enlightenment and Self-Realization, it is interesting to see where different approaches and teachings fall.


Horizontal Enlightenment, or just old-fashioned Enlightenment, is realized selflessness, Big Mind waking up to its own nature. It is independent of the particulars of the content: whatever arises is recognized as Spirit, as emptiness dancing, absent of any I.

This awakening is the final release from the suffering of the story of I, it is the final coming home, the Ground of the seeing and the seen awakening to itself.


Vertical Enlightenment, or Self-Realization, has everything to do with the particulars of the content, specifically where the universe is in its evolution, and where this individual soul and human self are in their development.

It especially has to do with the healing, maturing and development of this soul and human self, this individual Being which in this particular case is the vehicle for Big Mind awakening to its own nature.

This being which arises as everything else, and as everything else is inherently absent of any I, yet also functions as a vehicle for Big Mind in the world of form, and is an aspect of the evolution of the world of form.

Self-Realization is never complete. It is a work in progress. It evolves with and as the world of form.

What we miss out of if there is one, and not the other

If there is only, or even mainly, a focus on Enlightenment, the healing, maturing and development of our human self may freeze to some extent, or at least not unfold as much as it is invited to within this new context of realized selflessness.

And although working on Self-Realization alone can certainly be rewarding, it never gives the same sense of completeness and finality as horizontal Enlightenment. There will always be a sense of something missing, which is true: realized selflessness.

Some examples

So where do some of the many approaches fit in this framework?

Of the ones that work mainly on Enlightenment, we find traditional Advaita and Zen, and the Center for Sacred Sciences.

Of the ones working mainly on Self-Realization, we find western psychology (at its best), self-help approaches, shadow work, energy work, body-centered practices, various forms of yoga, and so on.

And of the ones including both, we find the Big Mind process, The Work, Adyashanti, Ken Wilber, and most of the folks associated with the integral institute (they are at least interested in or moving towards addressing both).

The Big Mind process helps with integration, healing, maturing and development at our human level, and also with Big Mind awakening to its own nature.

The Work allows beliefs to unravel, allowing our human self to heal, mature and flower, and also, eventually, and if we take it that far, revealing Big Mind and the Ground.

Adyashanti, while mainly focusing on realized selflessness, certainly also addresses and encourages the flowering of Spirit in our human life.

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