Awakening vs. Enlightenment: Understanding the Difference

In Buddhist texts, the terms “awakening” and “enlightenment” mean the same thing. In other words, to say that the Buddha was awakened means the same as saying he was enlightened. They are both referring to the same concept. Some people prefer the term awakened over enlightened because they feel that the term most accurately describes the experience. But it should be understood that both words are simply labels used to describe an experience (or perhaps more accurately, a state of consciousness).

In current society, the term awakened has taken on another meaning. People in spiritual circles will often comment that they have had a “spiritual awakening” or simply an “awakening”. In this context, they are talking about something that relates to enlightenment, but is not the same thing. In short, the spiritual awakening most people talk about is a temporary experience of awakening, while the term enlightenment refers to a permanent state of awakening.

What is awakening?

Some people will claim that it is impossible to describe the awakening experience. In a sense, this may be true, as the actual experience is simply “beyond words”. But it can still be helpful to describe the experience, even though words cannot do it justice.

First, however, let’s describe how the awakening state is achieved. Normally, we experience life while identifying with a limited self that is often called the “ego”. The ego includes our thoughts, our emotions, and even our physical bodies. In other words, we believe that a certain body is our body, and all other bodies belong to other people.

In the awakened state, the identification with the ego disappears. Instead of identifying with a limited self, we experience a part of everything. Or perhaps more accurately: we experience being everything. In the awakened state, there is nothing that we are not. However, we do recognize in this state that there are parts of us that don’t yet realize who they are, because they are still identified with the ego.

Terms for Awakening

In spirituality, there are other terms that are used to describe the awakening experience. Some of the more common ones are: “expansion of consciousness”, “unity consciousness”, and “Christ consciousness”.

Types of Awakening

As previously mentioned, there are two types of awakening: temporary and permanent.

Terms for temporary awakening include spiritual awakening and non-abiding awakening (the latter is a term used by spiritual teacher Adyashanti). When people say that they’ve had a spiritual awakening, they are referring to the temporary experience.

Terms for a permanent awakening include enlightenment and abiding awakening. People who are in a state of a permanent awakening will never say “I had a spiritual awakening” because they don’t identify with their egos anymore.

People can have more than one temporary awakening. The first temporary awakening typically begins at the start of the 3rd initiation on the path of ascension. In practical terms, this means that one’s emotional and mental bodies have been developed enough to the point that it is now possible to consciously choose the spiritual path which leads to permanent awakening, if so desired. Everyone will eventually attain the goal of permanent awakening (i.e. enlightenment). However, by choosing the spiritual path, that goal can be achieved in 1-2 lifetimes vs. thousands of lifetimes.

Not everyone has a temporary awakening to start their journey. For some people, it begins via a personal tragedy and/or major life crisis. In any case, think of the initial spiritual awakening as an invitation to begin one’s spiritual journey. Although the journey is “solo”, there is plenty of help along the way. For example, you can request via intention/meditation/prayer that everything that you need will come to you at the appropriate time.


Some people like to point out that there is nothing to attain, and that includes enlightenment. Technically this is correct, if we are using the perspective of the non-ego self in the awakened state. In other words, it is not the ego that is attaining or doing something. Instead, it is the “undoing of something” (in this case, the undoing of identification with the limited ego self).

The Spiritual Path AKA Path of Ascension

Once a person has committed themselves to the spiritual path, there is a lot of work to do. Don’t let anyone tell you there is only one way or a certain set of rules to follow: that is religion, not spirituality. Each person has their own life lessons to work through, and thus their unique path. As such, walking the spiritual path involves using one’s own inner guidance (and also implies refraining from telling others what they must do).

If you are unsure where to begin, I would suggest focusing on learning to accept, love and appreciate life and others as they are, without judging anyone or anything. The more that you can love with non-judgement, the higher you will raise your vibrations. And this will eventually lead to a permanent state of unity consciousness.

Being Woke

For clarity’s sake, I will also comment on the phrase “to be woke”. Although “to be woke” and “to be awakened” are both about “waking up”, the phrase “to be woke” does not have anything to do with spirituality. Instead, being woke is a commentary on one’s social and political awareness. However, it is often implied that woke people have only recently become aware of issues that they previously did not see or willfully ignored. Therefore, this term can be mildly insulting, depending on its use.

People who are labelled as “woke” are often trying to implement ideas that will bring about beneficial changes in society. However, the “woke agenda” is often hijacked in order to implement changes that are just as unbalanced as the current system, but in a different direction.

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