How to “Find” Enlightenment (Rupert Spira)

Nonduality teacher Rupert Spira offers pointing-out instructions in response to a student’s inquiry about her frustration after 40 years of seeking, and not achieving, enlightenment–something that majority of us can probably relate to.


STUDENT: It’s just a frustration I have doing this sort of thing for 40 years now, and not being awake. A lot of times it’s okay, but some of the times, like the last couple of days, it’s not ok.

RUPERT: You’re not awake?

STUDENT: You know what I mean. This shift you talked about this morning. “Ah, this is the way it is!” I would settle for that. It doesn’t have to be dramatic. I’ve read a lot of books about the dramatic, that’s really what I want. But I’ll settle for the. “Ah.” Now I have those in small increments. I’m not saying I don’t have any. I’m just explaining to you what’s happening with me. I just feel the need to say it, okay? That I just want to hit my head on the wall and just say, “Wake up! Wake up!” I’m just so sick of this illusory separate one. And as you just said, serving your, I mean, I’m exhausted. You know, I’m getting old, I’m getting tired. This has been my main focus for 40 years. And you did say once to me, the desire for liberation is important. But I know that hitting my head against the wall is not very productive, so… I find it placed somewhere….

RUPERT: You’re still expecting something to happen.

Student: Unfortunately, yes.

RUPERT: That’s the problem. You still conceive of enlightenment as a marvelous event. Okay, you’ve agreed to settle for not-so-marvelous event. But, nevertheless, you still want quite a nice event. Yes, just something. You still want something. That’s it. That’s the problem.

Enlightenment is not an event. It’s not a marvelous event. It’s not a mundane event. It’s not any kind of an event. It’s not something that happens.

STUDENT: A shift. I’ve heard it explained as a shift.

RUPERT: Even that is to say too much. No, it’s not even an event. It’s a concession to the inadequacies of language to call it a shift or an event. Let’s say you’re watching TV. You’re watching a movie. And you’re looking at a favorite view, the landscape. Someone comes in and says to you, “Look at the screen.” What do you do?

STUDENT: Well, if there’s  something on the screen, I can’t really see the screen, unless there is no image there, or I can see through it, or…

RUPERT: No, when you’re looking at a TV, the TV’s off. Yes? You just look at the blank TV, you’re seeing the screen. Yes? You turn the movie on, the screen doesn’t disappear. You’re still looking at the screen, but the screen now appears as a landscape. You get involved in the movie, it’s a wonderful film. You get totally involved in it. You forget that you’re seeing a screen. You think that you’re seeing a landscape.  So your friend comes in and says, “What are you looking at? What are you seeing?” and you say, “I’m seeing this marvelous landscape.” And your friend says to you, “Look at the screen.”

Are you not already seeing the screen? Are you not already looking at it?

STUDENT: In the form of a landscape.

RUPERT: Yes, but it’s the same screen. It’s exactly the same screen that was there before you turned the movie on. It appears now it’s taken the shape of a landscape, but it’s still the same screen. The screen hasn’t disappeared. Yeah? So, would you say that to see the screen was a new event? Is it a marvelous experience in the movie?

STUDENT: Not in that metaphor, no.

RUPERT: Does the screen even show up in the movie?


RUPERT: What you’re looking for is an event in the movie. You’re still subtly imagining that enlightenment is a wonderful, even a not-so-wonderful event, in the movie. And as long as you’re looking for it in the movie, you’re going to seem not seeing the screen, because your attention is focused on objects. So what do you have to do, when you’re looking at the landscape, what do you have to do to see the screen?

STUDENT: In that metaphor, nothing.

RUPERT: Yes, the screen is not something new that comes in. Enlightenment is not something that is new. It’s not something that was lost and now has to be found. At best, and even this is not quite true, at best we could say it was overlooked, due to our fascination with the drama in the movie. That is, the drama of body, mind and world. Due to our fascination, our exclusive fascination with these appearances, we seem to have  lost sight of that reality, the screen. And as a result of that we think, “Oh, I must go looking for it.” And off we go around the world visiting teachers and ashrams and everything. We go on this terrific journey around the world, which is like the character in the movie searching for the screen.

So now you are searching, the equivalent in your life, you are looking, character in the movie traveling around the world looking for the screen. In other words, you are looking–in the mind and the body in your case, not in the world–in the mind and body for some special experience which is, “Ah, that’s it. That’s the shift, that’s the event. Now I’m on the other side of the fence.” There isn’t a fence that you finally cross to get to enlightenment. Enlightenment is like the moment you recognize the screen in the movie. The moment you recognize it, simultaneous with that recognition, you recognize, “Oh, I was always seeing the screen. I never really ceased seeing the screen. But only because of my fascination with the drama in the movie that it seemed to be absent—the screen—and as a result of that apparent absence, I went off into the world searching for it.”

STUDENT: I was always the screen, right? That’s the next step.

RUPERT: Yes, you have never, for a fraction of a second, ceased being the presence of awareness—unlimited, ever-present awareness. You have never ceased to be that.

STUDENT: I feel that more and more but this illusory separate self, sometimes she’s  kind of melting away, becoming more vague, you know. And I go, wow, great, it’s starting to disappear.

RUPERT: Why do you want it to disappear? What you’re saying, the equivalent in our metaphor of what you’re saying is–you’re watching this period drama, there are lots of characters, and this one woman in the movie, what you’re saying is that “until that woman gets out of the movie, I can’t see the screen. Only when she leaves the movie, only then will I notice the screen.” That’s what you’re saying.

STUDENT: Well, as you said earlier, all the energy that is spent on her, to no avail…

RUPERT: But whose problem is she? For the screen, is this troublesome woman in the movie a problem? She might be a problem for one of the other characters, but she’s not a problem for the screen. Awareness doesn’t have problems, doesn’t know problems. Why? Because in order for there to be a problem, there needs to be resistance.  There needs to be the, “I don’t like this.” That’s what makes a situation a problem.

But awareness is like empty space, it’s never saying to the current experience, “I don’t like you.” And therefore it doesn’t have problems. So it’s not saying, “Oh, my horrible separate self needs to be got rid of. I’m fed up with her.” The “I” that is fed up with her is another form of her self. In other words, the separate self is perpetuating itself by trying to get rid of itself. And so you’re caught in this bind from which you’re understandably tired—of trying to get rid of your self. I, the separate self, want to get rid of my self so that I the separate self can experience enlightenment.  And you’re going round and round and round, and you’re rightly frustrated and disheartened, because you’re engaged in a never-ending endeavor, which is perpetuating a separate self by trying to get rid of it.

Just see the situation clearly. You cannot get rid of an illusion. To really see it would bring that endeavor to an end, because what you have to do to get rid of the landscape when you’re watching, you can’t do anything because the landscape is not really there. What can you do to an illusion, what do you need to do to an illusion just to see that it’s an illusion. Don’t spend your life trying to get rid of an illusion. It’s a waste of a lifetime.

STUDENT: What I mean by trying to get rid of it is to see it as an illusion.

RUPERT: Okay, now to see that what you are is not a separate limited self, is it not clear to you now that you are the one that is aware of your experience? Okay, now, if you were to turn your attention towards that One, where do you go?

STUDENT: Nowhere.

RUPERT: No. can you even turn towards it, which direction. So how can it be separate or limited if you can’t find it as any kind of an object. You answered both those questions from your experience. That was obviously true, so if you cannot find the awareness that you know your self to be, if you don’t know where to look for it, how do you know that it has a limit or that it is separate. Only an object could be limited or separate. Exactly, you don’t know that. Right there, right there, in that understanding–and I can see you’re answering these questions from understanding, not because you’ve read books–right there is the knowledge that what you are has no limits. Just live what you understand.  Take your stand there. That one, that awareness, is always wide awake.

Enlightenment is not for awareness. Awareness is already the light that illumines all experience, that makes all experience knowable. It can’t be enlightened. What would enlighten it? It is already the Light that makes experience knowable.

STUDENT: One definition of awakening I’ve heard is awareness recognizes itself.

RUPERT: Are you aware right now? Yeah? How do you know that you are aware? How come you answered yes to that question?

STUDENT: Self-evident.

RUPERT: It’s self-evident. To whom is it self-evident that you are aware?

STUDENT: To itself.

RUPERT: Right there is the experience of awareness being aware of itself. That’s it. It never gets better than that. You were the one, and quite rightly, who defined enlightenment as awareness being aware of itself. And then I asked you the question, “Are you aware?” and from your own intimate experience, you answered “Yes.” In other words, I, awareness, am aware that I am aware. Nothing else can be aware that I’m aware. In other words, enlightenment is a fancy name for the most simple, most ordinary, the most well-known experience that is. All seven billion of us know it.

However, because it cannot be found by the mind, in most cases it is deemed missing. And as a result of that, the peace and the happiness that are inherent in it are also considered missing. And hence the imaginary self goes off into the world in search of the missing peace and happiness. And as we all know, it doesn’t live there. Where does it live? In the simple knowing of our own being. It’s knowing of itself, that is, awareness’s awareness of awareness. And it is your innermost experience at all times. It’s not a new experience. It’s not something that has been lost and has to be found. At worst, we could say it has been overlooked, apparently. The screen has been overlooked due to our exclusive fascination with the body, the mind, and the world.

All that’s necessary is just relax the focus of your attention from the body, mind and the world. You don’t have to get rid of them, just cease being exclusively focused on anything. It’s like withdrawing your attention, it’s like putting the camera slightly out of focus. Your attention flows back to its source which is your self. You just stand as this space of awareness. You just let the body, the mind and the world do whatever they’ve been conditioned to do. Just let them flow by.

STUDENT: So I was gonna ask you what you meant more by “stand.”

RUPERT: To stand as awareness.

STUDENT: But you just gave another way of experiencing it.

RUPERT: I’ll just say something about that. The suggestion to stand as awareness would seem to be given to someone who is not presently standing as awareness and who might do so in the future. So to say that is a concession to the belief that we are a separate self. It doesn’t really make sense, but it’s sometimes used in the context of the conversation. What would be more accurate would be to say: Be, knowingly, the presence of awareness. The reason I say “knowingly” is, just to say “Be the presence of awareness,” you already are that. You’ve never been anything other than eternal, infinite awareness. So hence, “Be knowingly that.” Know that you are that. That’s what I mean by, “Take your stand as that.”

STUDENT: Yeah, I can feel that. I know what you mean ‘cause I…

RUPERT: You can’t actually be anything other than that. Another way of saying would be, just notice that you are that. Instead of mistaking yourself for a cluster of thoughts and feelings, just notice, “Oh, no, I’m the one that is aware of those. I’m not a cluster of thoughts and feelings. All these flow by. But I’m not flowing by. I’m just always here.” I would recommend really forgetting about enlightenment.

STUDENT: I don’t think that’s gonna happen.

RUPERT: No, what I mean is that–forgetting about enlightenment because of this tendency you have to conceive of it as an event. You don’t have to read any more books. Another question to ask yourself is just to look for that which is ever-present in your experience, and just stay with that. Just look in all experience for that which is always there. It’s looking for the screen in the movie. You don’t have to look for it. It’s actually staring itself in the face. What is always present in experience, just the knowing of it. This knowing runs through all experience. That’s it. Just be with that. Just allow that to come from the background into the foreground.

About Rupert Spira

Rupert SpiraRupert Spira a teacher оf Advaita аnd a renowned ceramic artist whо examines thе relationship bеtwееn consciousness аnd form.  Rupert’s great gift iѕ thе gentleness аnd precision оf hiѕ pointing whilе escorting thе student  оn a leisurely walk thrоugh thе maze оf оur sense perceptions, bodily senations аnd thoughts. Thе exploration iѕ designed tо demonstrate thе fallacy оf оur inherited beliefs аbоut reality аnd tо replace thеm with thе facts оf оur direct experience, оur True Nature.

It iѕ thе simplicity аnd accuracy оf Rupert’s direct experiential pointing in live satsang аnd in book, thаt make hiѕ work ѕuсh a joy. Hiѕ clarity iѕ a gift, gently allowing a sudden аnd complete ѕееing tо occur. Hе asks: Dо thеѕе perceptions wе аrе nоw experiencing, rеаllу occur in diffеrеnt spaces, оr dо thеу аll arise frоm еxасtlу thе ѕаmе ‘space”?

Rupert’s historical influences: Atmananda Krishna Menon, thе great Indian Sage, taught Jean Klein bеfоrе hе returned tо thе West tо teach tо a western audience thе Truth. Jean Klein subsequently wrote mоrе thаn 7 books, еасh mоrе complete thаn thе last, аll аvаilаblе thrоugh Rupert wаѕ heavily influenced bу Jean Klein, in thе lаtе 90’s. Rupert аlѕо studied undеr Francis Lucille, a renowned nonduality teacher, whо began tо fоrm retreats, intensives аnd stasangs, mоѕt recently аt hiѕ residence in Temecula, California.

Rupert hаѕ recently published a book entitled.”The Transparemcy оf Things”, whiсh iѕ considered bу ѕоmе a masterpiece in 20th century contemporary advaitic literature. (source:


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John Maynard says:

It seems, from the scriptures and descriptions, that there is an event called enlightenment. The Buddha under the bodhi tree, Sri Ramana in the upper room in Madurai and so many more.
They did not state this neo-advaita stuff…oh it’s nothing special…just awareness being aware of itself…
So the questioner is right, from our historical and studied point of view. There is an event, a complete death of the mind.

Richard Cook says:

It’s an event in a story. The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon. The event in the story is not Enlightenment, it is a finger pointing to Enlightenment. If you seek meaning in a story about a dead Buddha and chase a dream of infinite Heaven called “Enlightenment,” then you immediately forget that you have never been born.

John Maynard says:

What your saying here is certainly useful but it won’t kill the mind. The mind will remain submerged, like the bucket under the water in the well but can and will re-emerge at any time. We are then as we were before. Still searching. So the questioner is asking for her death and you’re giving her a band-aid. Like all useful tools or catch-phrases: Be Here Now; I Am That; Be as you are; great up to a point…but the ‘ I ‘ has not gone, just sucking a different thumb to be quiet. So there is still a located self, a feeling of I.
So she is asking, I am asking, about the final event of death of this self, not a modification of awareness but a complete ending.

Ash says:

You haven’t got the point. Enlightenment isn’t an event.
There is this proverb- Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
So when you are expecting an ending, it is an expectation of the mind again.
The point is to live in illusion, yet being untouched by it. So, its about being untouched by that false sense of self.
I believe that once we let go of that illusion of control, of wanting to dissolve the Ego, we don’t really have to bother about that Ego in us. We create space for transformation to happen.

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