And so, the question is posed: When undertaking our spiritual pursuits, are we attaining something we don’t have, or are we unfolding something we already possess? Well, that depends …
From the perspective of one’s ego, we attain enlightenment, which we now lack, and we strive with all our might when undergoing spiritual practices to realize our goal. We put forth determined efforts, and we work to subjugate our at-times unruly ego while making strides to achieve our objective.
But from another perspective, our innermost essence—our soul, or spiritual self (or if Buddhist, our core is considered “emptiness”)—is always present, always luminous, but simply concealed, much in the same way that clouds cover a sky. In this context, spiritual progress consists of unfolding this essence by figuratively removing these clouds.
So, which perspective is correct? In reality, both are equally valid. Here’s why.
We begin our spiritual journey with our ego, and we end it without our ego. As we progress along the continuum of enlightenment, our ego wanes, as our soul—or our inner emptiness—increases. And so there is a simultaneous movement: the ego must do all it can to subdue its own existence, which is inimical to spiritual unfoldment. And, as it gets itself out of the way by virtue of one’s diligent pursuit of the spiritual path, this very act opens up the portal that facilitates the unfoldment of our spiritual essence.
There was never a time when we weren’t enlightened. But we presently aren’t aware of our inherent state of enlightenment. Through our spiritual practices we remedy this discrepancy. We remove all the layers that obscure our perception of our own enlightenment. But it is not our ego that becomes enlightened. Our ego vanishes during the course of our spiritual strivings. What’s left is the numinous experience itself, minus the ego. The light in our spiritual home is then fully illumined, although its former resident has gone on permanent vacation.