There are many ways of tying into the all, and many teachers where those ways are concerned. In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the deceased is greeted by a retinue of deities. The first set are peaceful, beautiful deities. The danger lies in their beauty being so radiant that the dead person turns away–their state is one of over-awe for their beauty–or in some cases probably aversion. After the parade of beautiful deities, an assemblage of wrathful deities assemble. Their expressions are terrifying and severe. The danger here is that the recently dead turns away out of terror or aversion, and picks some other inferior realm that does not result in the generation of what is termed a “light body”, or enlightenment.
In the Kabalistic systems, there are two pillars on the Tree of Life which is the holographic image of God. On the left is the pillar of mercy, and on the right is the pillar of severity. There are a myriad of associated elements and planets that are associated with individual points in these pillars and elsewhere–the theory being that all things are ultimately a manifestation of some variety of energy emanated by the tree. Love, for instance, would be in the pillar of Mercy, symbolized by Netzach. Such an energy is best characterized by the planet Venus–so it is that Netzach is related astrologically to Venus. Mars, on the other hand, can be found in the pillar of severity. Mars is known as a brutal, war-like but necessary energy to get things done. It is not “harmonious” like Venus. It is aggressive.
Every person has unique talents and abilities. Some people, for instance, experience an ecstatic love. Others experience a mental connection. Some are stern. Others as gentle as doves. Because the ALL is everything, there is no one “right” way of connecting into it from the perspective of the character traits augmented. There is simply connection. Once a connection is established, there are parameters that will tend to hold true. Moral codes tend to be fairly uniform. A “knowingness” of right from wrong in a particular moment is instant. Even though one might be more merciful, in the moment, one might recognize that severity is more suited to the occasion. All actions become “teachable moments”. What makes someone spiritual or not for most folks is their judgment of whether what a person is doing matches their own definition of spiritual. As the Buddhists are fond of pointing out, it is entirely possible for a rich businessman who chooses to frequent brothels to spread Buddha nature. The question becomes more a matter of ego. Is the businessman going there to get his jollies for himself? If so, it may still be yet that he spreads Buddha nature–but one would find it difficult to define such a person as “spiritual” in the sense of “recognizing they are spirit.”
The bedrock definition of enlightenment then, or at least a cornerstone, is whether one realizes they are spirit. The degree to which they can recognize they are spirit in what ways determines how “enlightened” they are. This is likely a never-ending process, as we are constantly fooling ourselves. The most enlightened master, I dare say, has things still to learn spiritually. There is no hierarchy in infinity. There is just continual learning.
The problem I see most now concerns people attempting to impose their limitations on what the universe is or should be on the universe and becoming crest-fallen when they discover the universe is weird enough not to obey their mental models. A severe person might believe the universe ought to be entirely just at all moments. A merciful person might think it should be more merciful at all moments.
An old story concerning the creation of man involves God interrogating his angels concerning their opinion. They can’t all agree. The merciful ones suggest that creating man would be a good idea because he will do merciful works. The severe ones suggest it is a good idea because they surely won’t, and their brand of justice will be needed, but the angel of truth stands apart and says it is a bad idea because of all the harm people will bring to the world. In the end, God chose to ignore the angel of truth. The Torah elucidates some of the reason why–life as given to man is both a blessing and a curse. The Torah presents itself as a way to avoid the curse, much as Buddhism presents itself as a way to avoid suffering. In the end it seems, God valued freedom of choice over any particular angel’s point of view.
When we think of the blessing and the curse, what we are really presented with is duality. Most everything else we learn about spirituality suggests that things or either light or dark. Mankind is evidently unique in that it is a commingling of both–an area where light and dark rub elbows. There are plenty of “light people” who wind up doing “dark things” because their ego interferes. Likewise, there are plenty of “dark people” who wind up doing “light things” because they arrive in situations where their egos collapse and for reasons hard from them to articulate, they make a choice that brings about goodness as opposed to suffering. It is no wonder traditions such as most fundamentalist Christian doctrines leave people confused and thirsty. The paradigm fails because it attempts to make the world black and white with convenient answers, and anthropomorphisms of God. It fails because, basically, it attempts to put God in a box. It judges the universe by its standards of what God must or must not do. It is lost in duality.
The good news is, we don’t have to be.