Question: What are we to make of the myriad of teachers out there today who claim or imply that they are self-realized. Are there levels of realization? If not, are they short of the mark and deluded somehow? Can teachers of a lesser attainment (if there is such a thing) guide their students only so far, and then they would have to meet a more evolved teacher or Master to finish the journey? Surely not all of the Advaita teachers today are fully awakened.
Leonard's Answer: Let me begin with your question, are there different levels of realization?
To be fully awake is to be so deeply present that you enter into a timeless and eternal state. You experience Oneness with all things. You experience Is-ness itself. You experience the source from which everything arises. You experience the nothingness at the very heart of everything. Your mind is silent and you are awake in the truth of life.
You have seen through the veils of illusion and you are fundamentally established in the present moment, which is the truth of life. You are no longer identified with the story unfolding within the world of time. You are no longer identified with experiences as they arise and pass. You know yourself as the one experiencing. You have awakened to Oneness, and you have transcended duality.
But one can have the most profound experiences of Oneness and still not be fully awake.
These experiences are life transforming. They open you up to a very deep level of consciousness. However all experiences, including peak experiences, pass. The real question is who is experiencing? That question cannot be answered or known with the mind, but it is revealed at the deepest level of Presence. If you do not become identified with the enlightenment experience, but rather focus on the question, "Who is experiencing?" then you will be released into the fully awakened state. It is a state of pure consciousness, beyond all experience.
On the spiritual path, there are many who have become lost by identifying with an enlightenment or peak experience, and they try to hold onto it. They will need to release themselves from that identification in order to fully awaken. We must continually release the past if we are to remain fully present, and that includes releasing those peak experiences. Then we can relax into the moment of Now, knowing that this moment reveals all that is, and that this moment is enough!
In those moments that you are truly present and awake in Oneness, there is no distinction between you and any awakened Master you care to name. In those moments of perfect Presence, there is only one consciousness and we are all expressions of the one consciousness.
As for the myriad of teachers out there who claim or imply that they are awake, they are all of value to those still seeking liberation, and of course there are differences between them. The differences can be understood in the context of depth of Presence, and the degree to which an individual is established in Presence.
The present moment is the doorway through which we enter the essential nature of existence. There are levels of Presence in the sense that you can be more or less present. The deeper the level of Presence, the more you will experience Oneness and the eternal.
There are also varying degrees to which you can be established in the awakened state of Presence, in the sense that it has integrated within you. If you are well established in the awakened state, you will remain fundamentally present, even as you participate in the world of time.
Some teachers have penetrated into the deepest levels of this awakened state and they are fundamentally established there. They exist in an ongoing realization of Oneness and a Way of awakening has been revealed to them, which they can share with others. Some are not as fully realized, and some are deluded and do not realize that the ego has in fact become spiritualized and believes that it is enlightened.
However, we have to be careful when we speak of categories of consciousness. This is only possible with the thinking and dividing mind. It is only with the mind that you can compare one person's consciousness with the consciousness of another. When you are fully present, your mind is silent and all these divisions and categories dissolve. Even the concept of enlightenment dissolves.