If you’re a spiritual seeker you’ve probably heard the terms “awakening” and “enlightenment” before. When I first started my spiritual journey I wondered what the difference was between these 2 terms and they often confused me.
Are awakening and enlightenment interchangeable words? Are they different spiritual processes?
What is the difference between “awakening” and “enlightenment”?
Awakening refers to the process of attaining higher consciousness and greater insight, whereas enlightenment can be thought of as a spectrum of how conscious and aware of universal truth you are.
Enlightenment is the scale that you gauge your consciousness from. Are you fully enlightened? Partially enlightened?
Awakening is more like a verb however. It’s the process of “waking up” to divine truth.
The historical context of awakening and enlightenment
The English word enlightenment comes from the word Bodhi in Buddhism which means “the knowledge or wisdom of a Buddha”.
However, where things get interesting is that Buddhism also has another separate word for awakening. The word they use is Budh which is a verb and means “awakening” or “to awaken”.
So Buddhism has 2 separate words that are equivalent to the English version of awakening and enlightenment.
|Buddhist word:||English translation:||Part of speech:|
|Bodhi||Enlightenment; the knowledge of a Buddha||noun|
|Budh||Awakening; to awaken||verb|
The Buddhists knew the difference between these two terms and their significance.
What is awakening?
The term awakening originates from the image of waking up in the morning. We awaken from a dream into what we know to be a truer reality.
In spiritual awakening we once again awaken to an even greater reality than we thought we were in.
Notice how awakening is used like a verb here.
Spiritual awakening is the process of realizing greater spiritual truth and insight. Those individual moments of spiritual breakthrough are what we would call a spiritual awakening.
> see my article “What Is A Spiritual Awakening?”
Awakening is a moment and a process of insight and greater clarity.
What is enlightenment?
Enlightenment on the other hand is more about our greater continual state of consciousness.
If enlightenment is the scale on which we measure our level consciousness, awakenings are the things that can move us up into greater enlightenment. Awakenings will lead to greater enlightenment.
Buddha for example can be known as a fully enlightened individual, meaning he topped out his awareness and understanding of the universe. He awakened fully.
Whereas if you had your first awakening yesterday, you may have woken up so to speak but you are by no means fully enlightened.
This also means that we are able to have multiple spiritual awakenings on our path towards greater enlightenment.
> see my article “Can You Have Multiple Spiritual Awakenings?”
You see, enlightenment is the spectrum of how awake we are.
How other spiritual seekers define them
At the end of the day, these words mean different things to different people. Because of this subjectivity involved I asked a community of spiritual seekers what they thought about the differences between awakening and enlightenment.
Anonymous reddit user spirit_is_fire said:
Whereas this seeker seemed to say that it doesn’t really matter and that there isn’t much of a difference:
I think this spiritual seeker said it the best:
These words are subjective and will mean different things to different people. Whatever definitions you find most helpful for “awakening” and “enlightenment” is fine as long as it makes sense to you and your journey.
I hope my take on the difference between enlightenment and awakening can give you some clarity on the topic, especially since there appears to be many different ways of interpreting them.
Though there may be subjective differences when it comes to the words “awakening” and “enlightenment” I have found in my personal experience and in Buddhist literature that they have distinctly different meanings.
Awakening tends to point to the process of raising your consciousness and is defined by moments of spiritual insight.
Whereas enlightenment is the spectrum on which we measure how much we’ve woken up.
In my personal opinion, awakening is how we become more enlightened.
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