Spiritual enlightenment is not personal growth. True knowledge of the soul is different from trying to have a better and easier life. The path to enlightenment and the path to life improvement are not the same.

No one gets to the highest goal possible to humankind by trying to get richer, better or smarter. No, enlightenment is not reached by becoming more, but by becoming less. This basic fact is easily lost when spiritual language is used to sell just about anything.

Enlightenment is enormous grace, for which you can prepare by diligently peeling away layer after layer of disturbances, confusion and stress in mind and emotions. Of course this will give you a better life experience, one that will be solid and lasting - but it will do so in a particular way. It is the path of deep transformation.

You’ve probably heard the metaphor about ‘peeling the onion,’ removing layer after layer of what is not true in our thoughts and what is stressful in our emotions, so in the end the true Self can shine in its full brilliance. It is a process of cleansing and purifying, of letting go and inner discovery.

There is much confusion about this today. We are offered thousands of approaches for a better, more spiritual life. This of course is excellent. Everyone has the right to be happier, richer and more at ease. Use these approaches to become happier, richer and more at ease – for a time. But know that they won’t set you free.

The freedom of the enlightened state is much more than a good life. It is divine bliss, absolute freedom, complete love. It means to realize the Self that is one with the infinite and immortal consciousness we call God.

The desire for a better life or a more interesting spiritual story can’t give you that. At one point even the best life will be over. And then--unless you are truly free--you start all over again. And again and again and again. This is imprisonment, even if your jail cell is of pure gold.

The key to what I am saying lies in one thing - in our sense of self-importance, the ego. It is incredibly cunning. It is the shape-shifter par excellance, taking on any form at will to keep us unconscious so it can survive. It especially loves to co-opt a spiritual way of life. We hardly ever suspect it there, and so it is safe to survive.

I ask myself if any activity, no matter how spiritual and enlightened it may seem, adds to my sense of self-importance, gives me more ego. If so, I am building more illusion, not less. I imprison myself more by coming to believe how special and spiritual I am. This is the hidden danger.

This can be very difficult to see, because many of these pursuits are quite pleasurable and we get attached to them. "If it feels good, it’s got to be a sign that it is right for us," we think. Well, not necessarily. The question is not if it feels good, but if it feels true to your deepest yearning for freedom.

Lets’ face it: we all spend some time playing in the spiritual playground. Nothing wrong with that—until you are ready to get more serious about gaining your freedom. That is when suffering can be a blessing. It tends to focus us on what is essential.

The path to enlightenment is as radical as it is clear. It says you either dissolve your sense of self-importance--the ego--or you are strengthening it. All of us do some of both, so how can we be sure we dissolve more than we build? There are several steps you can take.
1. The most important safeguard is to deepen your genuine yearning for freedom. Everyone has it, but often that ‘small inner voice’ is drowned out by the loudness of our desires and fears.
2. Become aware of the possibility that what is offered to you as spiritual may be very interesting and alluring, but may not have much power to free you. It could in fact even strengthen your ego.
3. Strive assiduously to:
a. dissolve any stress in the mind by investigating judgmental thoughts and beliefs, and develop a sense of stillness;
b. strengthen and open the heart by dissolving stressful emotions, and open to a deep sense of devotion for life, or for your Beloved in whatever form.

4. In all the traditions, the guidance of a teacher, mentor or spiritual friend has been known to be of utmost importance. It helps you to navigate the difficult terrain of the ego and avoid its countless traps. A spiritual friend can point out the blind-spots you cannot see. And most of all this relationship, like no other, can strengthen the heart.
After many years of searching, practicing and testing I found two skills that are unique their ability to set us free. They are “The Work of Byron Katie” to clear the mind, and Presence and “Heart Awakening,” for using the amazing power of the heart for emotional harmony and self-healing.

These tools are as radical as they are enlightening. And of course they also greatly improve your life experience by dissolving the stress in the mind and the heaviness and ‘dryness’ of the heart. I know them to be the best medicine for depression, anxiety, relationship conflicts, and more.

By dissolving the stressful thoughts and emotions which are the root-cause of all pain, that pain can dissolve. This is necessary on the path to enlightenment, because all such problems are obstacles to realization.

And it is here, after you do the great work of setting yourself free from the unconscious elements in you that cause you pain, where you realize that the path to enlightenment is indeed the path to a better life. A life better by far than anything the ego could ever imagine.

Author's Bio: 

Ram Giri offers personal guidance and transformative friendship after 40 years of world-wide practice in yoga, meditation, devotion, self-inquiry, and more. He holds a Ph.D. in transpersonal psychology (treating depression, anxiety, relationship issues, addiction, and more). His greatest joy is to share the great love and inner peace he received from his teachers, from his own transformative work, and all the people he has had the honor of guiding.
He mentors people world-wide in the “Skills for Awakening™,” a direct and highly effective path to self-realization and lasting happiness.