(And Five Ways to See That You Already Are!)

Five Reasons You're Not Enlightened

Ken Wilber
October 5th, 2012
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If nothing is separate from Spirit, if everything is one with God, then why is it so hard to see it? In this exclusive new teaching by Ken Wilber, we explore five simple shifts of perspective to help you recognize your own already-enlightened condition, right here and right now—five different interpretations of nondual consciousness at the heart of some of history's greatest spiritual traditions.

Total running time: 56 minutes

Image by Jonah Cacioppe [+view gallery]
Written by Colin Bigelow

Now making its first public appearance in any form, “Five Reasons You’re Not Enlightened” is Ken Wilber’s latest Integral Spirituality teaching, and it has created quite a buzz among his closest students and colleagues. Like the rest of the Integral model, this teaching helps make sure one is “touching on all the bases” that reality has to offer in a particular area—in this case, waking up to Absolute Reality and your own True Self.

In this teaching, Ken reminds us that “the esoteric traditions uniformly maintain that there literally is nothing but Spirit.” These traditions maintain the existence of an ultimate reality—Spirit, by whatever name—which is timeless, infinite, empty, and unqualifiable, and that the entire manifest Kosmos is not two, not separate, or nondual with Spirit. The Buddhist Heart Sutra summarizes the nondual view quite simply: “Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form,” and this is meant in the most literal possible sense.

However, most people who encounter nondual teachings have a similar kind of response: “Well that sounds great, but I don’t really know what ‘infinite unqualifiable Emptiness’ means in my own experience, let alone its ‘divine union with Form.’” For this reason, each nondual tradition has had to come up with a theory of why, if Spirit is literally the only thing that exists, most people don’t know it. In other words, each tradition has had to come up with a theory of ignorance, illusion, delusion, and unenlightenment to explain how, if only Enlightened Mind exists, it’s possible to be unaware of it.

In every tradition, the reason you’re not Enlightened is because you are engaged in some activity that prevents the recognition of ever-present Spirit. Based on a lifetime of study, Ken has identified five of the most common activities that, according to the traditions themselves, are the root cause of suffering and ignorance of Reality. However, each tradition usually only emphasizes one major activity of unenlightenment, and may only tangentially reference one or two others. By using an Integral Approach, spiritual practitioners can now consciously be on the lookout for all five major activities of unenlightenment.

As Ken is careful to mention, there are dozens of other activities that also prevent awakening, but these are five of the most powerful and common, from five of the most influential nondual traditions (each of which has specialized in overcoming the particular dualistic activity mentioned below).

In summary, the activities and traditions are:

Conceptualization – Madhyamika Buddhism

Objectification – Yogacara Buddhism

Seeking – Dzogchen (e.g. as found within Tibetan Buddhism)

Differentiation – Vedanta Hinduism

Lovelessness – Esoteric Christianity

Happily, Ken goes on to suggest a specific practice for each activity that helps one cease that particular cause of samsaric experience.

You may find that one of these practices deeply speaks to you, and leads you the most clearly and potently to a recognition of nondual Spirit. As with any kind of integral endeavor, it’s entirely fine to have a favorite aspect of the model you like to work with, so long as you do in fact remember to check in with the other dimensions. Alternatively, you can engage all of these practices in an organized fashion, and this can be done in a variety of ways.

One recommendation is to turn each activity into a self-inquiry, and to stay with each for five minutes before moving on to the next. This means that you would inquire into your own awareness, gently but clearly, “Am I conceptualizing?” or simply “Conceptualizing?” Then, every five minutes, move onto another: “Objectifying?” “Seeking?” “Differentiating?” “Loveless?” If you discover that the answer to any of these is “yes,” then simply notice this activity within awareness without judgment or condemnation.

The important principle here is the basis of what Ken calls the “Perfect Practice”—that which is aware of these activities is free of all of them, because awareness and Spirit are not-two. Don’t try and change these activities, simply rest as that which notices them, is aware of them, for that which is aware is Divine.

We hope you enjoy this exciting and liberating addition to your Integral Life Practice toolkit, and stay tuned for future materials expanding on this brilliant new Integral Spirituality teaching….

Want to explore these perspectives in more detail? Be sure to check these out:


Conceptualization / Dualism

Half of It: A Union of Opposites
Ken Wilber

In this chapter from No Boundary, Ken Wilber explores the intrinsic dualism of the mind, offering a simple but cogent way to "transcend the pairs" and discover the nondual heart of the Always Already....


Objectification / Separation

Therefore, Be Consciousness
Ken Wilber

People typically feel trapped by life, trapped by the universe, because they imagine that they are actually in the universe, and therefore the universe can squish them like a bug. This is not true. You are not in the universe; the universe is in you....


Seeking / TRAPPED IN Time

Buddha Standard Time
Lama Surya Das and Ken Wilber

Buddhist wisdom teaches that the minutes and hours of our days do not merely march from future to present to past—rather, each moment is intersected by a realm of infinite spaciousness and timelessness, and it is available to us every instant....


Differentiation / Mistaken Identity

Always Already: The Brilliant Clarity of Ever-Present Awareness
Ken Wilber

Where are we to locate Spirit? What are we actually allowed to acknowledge as Sacred? Where exactly is the Ground of Being? Where is this ultimate Divine? In this excerpt from The Eye of Spirit, Ken offers one of the most powerful—and beautiful—pieces of spiritual writing he has ever produced....


Lovelessness / fear

Love and Evolution
Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber looks all the way back to the Big Bang, retracing love's role throughout the history of evolution. Rather than just a mere human emotion, love is cast as a central driving force in the Kosmos—the force of Eros itself, pushing all of us along our inevitable return to Spirit....


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Practice Questions. Ken Wilber’s talk on enlightenment invites some useful practice questions. Can I be content with my way of being, my state, and my circumstances exactly as they are right here and now without trying to change them? Even without judging them? Just being with them?  

Another Two Practice Questions. Can I feel that the state of all present, all-pervading love/Ananda is now and forever the fundamental texture of all reality; including my apparent reality right here and now?  

Can I love all of reality? If not, can I learn to surrender and let God love through me? 

This has been Eye Opening


Layman:   Zen and Tantra and Dzogchen have, for example, always asserted that they can be found within Siddhartha's teachings.


How often do you think this is true? Can they really be found there, or: 1) Could they at times say this to avoid being accused of some kind of heresy? 2) Could there be projection in some cases? 3) Could it be a power play on occasion?

Don't people sometimes want to say that, "This is what the Buddha really meant" to give their own view more weight? I get this feeling in the little I've read of Stephen Batchelor, for example, who seems to offer something quite different than most schools of Buddhism but at the same time has seemed to hold it out as the "real Buddhism" (not his words), as in his interview with Andrew Cohen.

I have wondered whether the development of the entire school of thought could have been slowed at times as a result of people not wanting to stray from what the Buddha said or getting criticism when trying to put things in something other than emptiness language, etc.

Couldn't it be a problem when the greatest realizer of a tradition is held to be the first or the founder rather than the latest and the greatest?



These are indeed thorny uncertainties.  Part of my response above touches this area -- where we simply do not know what the ancient people meant by their existing words.  We also do not know how big an issue this might or might not be.  

It is obvious that those who deepen can few new depth in parts of whatever has gone before.  And the best religious literature is often that which has the virtue of balanced ambiguity such that it might be taken into the possession of many interpreters in many places & epochs.  

On top of this we must absolutely expect to find a mixture of politics/diplomacy, private egotism, path egotism, true ancient profundity we can recognize, true ancient profundity we cannot even recognize, new profundity read into what was ancient, etc.  No surviving tradition should be expected to be free of these mixtures and all new traditions should count themselves lucky if they find such mixtures beginning...

The use of historical textual dharma must always be somewhat pragmatic, plural & scalable from conversation to conversation.  Wilber is "political/diplomatic" in this sense and I have no problem with that.  We must assume that all these energies and systems of interpretation are in play and, on the basis of that assumption, not worry too much about it most of the time.  It is my personal estimate, for example, that Jesus is a competely fictional character but I must weigh that against my need to retrieve truth from the Gospels, my need to have effective sacred conversations with Christians and quasi-Christians, my need to work with the historical narrative of my culture, et al.  We are implicated ourselves in the provisional and narrative usage of texts.  There is a story to tell to about the Roots and a story to tell about the spreading branches, a story about the health of the tree and about its weaknesses.  So today we are inclined, wisely, to require self-awareness about our own participation in this inventive process.  But to what degree should that chasten us?

Certainly we must be alert to the possibilities of "originalism" as a form of nihilism.  It is -- generally speaking -- a bad sign to anticipate the "best" as the beginning.  There's no where to go but down  or into obedience after that.  So there are times and places for that criticism.  It's important.  But at the same time the Original Realizer is also, in most cases, only a partly historical figure.  It has symbolic and archetypal value as "the humanoid mediator-source".  It has teleological value as the Divine Human who is constantly waiting for us, in the future, to "join him".  

These are all pragmatisms of various kinds.

Everyone from Whitesnake to Hakuin to Dogen to Padmasambhava has said "This is what Buddha really meant..." so we are in good company with these claims.  I am not  bothered by them particularly even though my own allegiance is toward that glorious "maybe" which is the  treasure of the contemporary world.  Adjacency, etc.  

Yet I don't think development is too much slowed down either way.  "Wet path" and "dry path" are like two hands that need each other in order to wash up.  The regenerative-adaptive dharma and the purist dharma are allies.  Our job is to think what they have in common and how best their allegiance can be played out for the benefit of the overall human and cosmic system. 


I have a question about something Ken says in this audio.  He says Nagarjuna was the first in Buddhism to push beyond Turiya (Witnessing Awareness) into Turiyatita (Nondual Awareness).  He says the school of Buddhism that is founded on Nagarjuna taught that it is conceptualization -- perceiving reality through pairs of opposites -- that prevents us from seeing that there is only Spirit.  Then he says that this is also how the Upanishads define enlightement, as freedom from the pairs.  Nagarjuna lived around 200 AD.  The Upanishads were written centuries before Nagarjuna.  So how could Nagarjuna be the first to experience Turiyatita if the Upanishads described enlightenment the same way as he did, but centuries before he lived?

Can someone enlighten me?



My sense is that Ken does not mean Nagarjuna was the first to experience or comment upon nondual awareness but rather that his cultural contribution -- the body of explicit writings, teachings, etc. attributed to Whitesnake (Nagarjuna) -- represent the first major philosophical attempt to clearly define and promote this particular quality.  And that a basically unbroken tradition arises after Whitesnake which carries forward the extensions of the essence of this insight -- the mahayana, zen, tantra schools.  It was "seen" and "mentioned" earlier but it didn't "take" in Ken's sense until the work of Whitesnake.


Hello Pascal,

Thank you so much for taking the time to reply.  I really appreciate it.  I listen to most everything posted on the Integral site, and have for years since back when it was Integral Naked.  I've listened to other audio clips from Ken in which he states that the first descriptions of Nondual Awarenesss that we have in the literature of the traditions appear around 200 AD in the writings of Nagarjuna in the East and Plotinus in the West.  I haven't heard anything from him that seemed to contradict this view until this current statement about the Upanishads.  So I guess I'm just wishing that he would clarify this -- or that anybody out there who has direct contact with him could ask him to clarify it and share his reply.

Thanks again!


Sure, Teresa, my pleasure.  It would be nice to hear him clarify himself on this point.  

In the 5 Reasons... clip he phrases it in an open-ended manner.  I believe he says, "Nagarjuna was one of the very first to point out that [that formless samadhi] was itself a kind of dualistic state which could not be Ultimate."   Later he says of Whitesnake's Middle-Way Buddhism that it was "one of the first schools that pushed into turiyatita".  

This "one of" leaves room for a variety of antecedents.  And this "pushed into" conjures an ongoing set of attempts of varying success... of which Whitesnake's school was notably successful.  And "point out" is perhaps more intensive that the mention in the Upanishads that Brahman-illumination is "free from pairs".  

It stands out to me that he refers to post-Whitesnake schools of Buddhism as having prajna-consciousness as a "fundamental practice".  So he's subtly implying a distinction between this approach and others in which prajna might be a factor but not a general guiding emphasis.

Be well,


I am wondering.

Thinking about the 5 activities, Conceptualization, Objectification, Seeking, Differentiation, and Lovelessness how do these topics relate to a being who becomes.  I often read the explanation of the creation of the universe as being an expression of the One in time and place. It looks for me as if expression is always related to the 5 activities mentioned above.  So being can’t become or express itself without objectification, differentiation and so on. The One spirit descending in to matter, so manifesting itself looks like a process of objectification, isn’t it?

So I would like to say that these 5 activities do not exclude you being enlightened. An enlightened holistic being must include these activities to be able to become..


How old are you now Jim? 

I'm not sure what all those words even mean. I supose when I go through each of the five offerings, it will make more sense, though  for quite a while I've been aware that what probably holds me back the most is my limited openness to love. Maybe I should start with that perspective first.

I do like this presentation. I met Ken once. With some trepidation, I asked him to pose for a photo with me and a friend. He graciously agreed, encircled us with his inhumanly long arms, and I felt completely encircled by love. It was not what I was expecting. From that moment on, I knew all the accusations of arrogance directed at him were just the projections of others (and his Yellow phase writing).

I'd post the picture, but I can't figure out how.


When I first read Ken's work many years ago I was exhilarated to find a perspective on reality that felt so consistent with my own experience, yet expanded, enriched and clearer.  These many years have brought me into an intimacy with my own mind and the wholeness in which it is embedded and once again Ken's clarity enriches and reinforces this expanded experience of reality.  This piece mirrors the kind of shifts in perspective I've experienced but would never have been able to articulate so clearly.  The clear elucidation strengthens the perspectives, affirms the shifts and I hope leads to an ever clearer manifestation of love in my life.  Thank you.

Hoping to be blown away again. I guess that "hoping" fits the seeking/grasp category<chuckle>

It's been a quite a number of years since I read entirety of Ken's published work when I was 18. 

I am still waiting for Kosmos vol 2. I pray for Ken's best health! To be frank, when I received the email titled "Honoring the Life of Ken Wilber" I was literally struck with pang of pain. I literally thought you-know-what. I am glad the Zeitgeist has decided not to let Ken go as we accelerate toward technological singularity. The cyborg mind and the AR can surely even further aid the individual journey toward horizontal enlightenment. 

I was a Therevada monk for 15 years - in the Thai forest tradition - I have since left the order and really would not let any loyalty obstruct my quest for truth - but I have to say – much as I respectfully bow to Kens outstanding contribution to the contemplative life - I don't think he has an appreciation of what the Theravada tradition is really about - there is nothing in this talk that would rock the world of a mature Theravada practioner - the idea that the goal of the tradition is to dissociate from the world and split off into a singular absorption is just plain wrong - while there are many who appropriate this teaching to dissociate from the world – that's not intrinsic to the teaching – and you find this escapist agenda at play with individuals in all traditions – Many of the Theravada practitioners I know can read Dogchen texts and Tantric texts and reference them to their own living experience - without confusion.

I quickly grabbed a couple of passages out of the Pali canon – that clearly point to to the inseparable nature of form and emptiness and to unity of movement and unconditional stillness (awareness) - reality is only to be realised in the now and is not state specific -

Rooted in desire (or inter­est) friends, are all things; born of atten­tion are all things; aris­ing from con­tact are all things; con­verg­ing on feel­ings are all things; headed by con­cen­tra­tion are all things; dom­i­nated by mind­ful­ness are all things; sur­mount­able by wis­dom are all things; yield­ing deliv­er­ance as essence are all things; merg­ing in the Death­less are all things; ter­mi­nat­ing in Nib­bana are all things.


Mahāhatthipadopama Sutta


"Bāhiya, you should train yourself thus: in the seen will be merely what is seen; in the heard will be merely what is heard; in the sensed [2] will be merely what is sensed; in the cognized will be merely what is cognized. Practising in this way, Bāhiya, you will not be 'because of that'. When you are not 'because of that' you will not be 'in that'. And when you are not 'in that' then you will be neither here not beyond nor in between the two. Just this is the end of suffering." Udāna


I am convinced that we are by tendency inclined to overlook the power in simplicity in preference for complexity – in persuit of yet another false centre of aliveness - at the end of the day there is only so much you can hold in mind on your way to the store – the Therevada - properly understood - has very relevant tools that can help give us the traction to step into awakened mind – its a shame ken has bought into the whole “hiniyana” view – because its a tradition that could really enrich this whole forum and the journey into contemporary autonomous appropriation of our birthright that so called for these days -


Only half seriously I might say that it is a shame you have bought into the view that people misunderstand the simplicity of Theravada and "buy into the whole hinayana view".  This is perhaps far too simple a view of Wilber's complexity on this topic (!).  He is of course only presenting a part of his understanding which is applicable to the story being told in the circumstance.  We can only mention so many things on our way to the store. 

It is not the case that by enabling a narrative of emergent general themes in the history of Buddhism that we thereby diminish early phases.  Zen and Tantra and Dzogchen have, for example, always asserted that they can be found within Siddhartha's teachings.  But the fleshing out changes.  The emphasis changes.  The cultural mood shifts. 

Not only can many Theravada practitioners read Tantric teachings and relate them very obviously to their own experience and studies but so can many Christians and Neo-Pagans.  But we do not on that account call them all Buddhists.  And yet we must assume that the levels and types of human spiritual experience available today are not limited by the label of the school or the categorization of the teachings.  And yet who knows if previous generations of people in one's own school had the same understanding that we are now capable of?  When truth is found -- was it there all along or did it come with the discoverer?  These questions do not all belong to the same realm.

There is a human psychological obsession with over-complicating simplicity.  There is another obsession with championing simplicity in the face of complexity.  Ultimately hybrid notions such as simplexity are necessary (and save space).  The entire Buddhist canon may be contained in his first remarks about interdependent co-arising and the noble truths.  Yet Buddha went on to speak on many themes in great detail over many years.  Was this keeping it simple?  Or making it more complex?

Anyway, thank you for invoking the expansive dimensions of the Old School.




Ah. Categories break down in their blurriness of bounday-making, again. Generalizing and reducing may be of limited heuristic value.

Thanks for commenting on this, eyecatching.

Thanks again, Ken. That was so beautiful. I am swept away once more. I am going to go digest this for a while and let it sink in. Peace and love.