The question of whether awakening is sudden or gradual is one that is bothersome to the self that seeks liberation. It's also a question that stirs the pot of confusion, as it can only be truly answered from the level of consciousness of the one who is attempting to answer this question. And the truth of it can only be received at the level of consciousness of the one who is asking.
Let me "try" to clarify ... as I am often asked this question, and I am always interacting with seekers of freedom at many stages of the awakening journey. One of the problems with attempting to bring clarity to this cloudy issue of "gradualness or suddenness" on the path, is that the very term or concept or understanding of awakening is clouded over by many layers of perspective.
Awakening can mean many things ... it can mean seeing things you had not seen before, deeper insights, seeing through social and cultural beliefs, seeing beyond your personal hurts and grievances, waking up to the interconnected of things, waking up to the invisible thread of reality beyond the material, and so on and so on. Awakening can mean you gradually stop giving your allegiance to the narratives of the mind, that you are more present in the stillness within, that you come to a deeper peace with yourself and with life. Awakening can mean you've experienced a moment of profound silence or awe or benevolence, that you've been touched by something unspeakable and you know that you are the space within which you appear. Awakening can mean you have been filled with uncontainable light or expanded energy or unconditional love.
And yes, all of this is a part of the awakening journey. And yes, it is gradual. It is like tilling the soil, preparing the way. The ongoing journey of discovering what is more true than inherited beliefs, of surrendering the tightness of ego to the tenderness of the heart, the turning towards the deepest presence and openness that is always here in the midst of everything, the relaxation into being-ness ... all this and more, is a necessary part of the process of undoing the conditioned "asleep" self. It's a purification of the encrusted scaffolding of personhood and a forging of the inner navigation system of authentic self. This purification and this inner navigation is what I "teach" ... it's what I offer as a pointer and as an investigation and as a living practice. It's the bridge to freedom.
And then, there is the true meaning of awakening (which is perhaps better called "enlightenment") ... and that is when all the prison walls of self are seen to have been illusory. You literally "awaken out of the dream". And you can never again return to the prison. You are never the same as you were. It's as if the person you were has totally died, no longer exists. It's not that you are replaced with a new "spiritual" or "enlightened" person ... the whole identity of personhood is gone. This is an irrevocable experience, it cannot be denied when it happens.
Let's refine this conversation a little ... yes, there may still be a few knots of old karma that plays itself out. But it kind of untangles itself without the same getting lost in it as before. Yes, there is an ongoing purification in the fire of truth that takes a linearity of time to complete itself. But this fire is given to unconditionally.
In true awakening, you cannot deny that the gradual has become sudden. The end of the "me" you mistook yourself for, happens in an instant. The surrender to the void of nothingness takes place in no-time. The re-emergence of you as the totality of being-ness takes place in the infinity of now. And this experience called "my life" can never be the same again. It takes off on a radically different trajectory. It's as if the cord that kept you tied to the prison of "me", the prison of history and biography, the prison of mind's incessant activity, has been cut once and for all. And this cutting of the cord is sudden, not gradual. Freedom is radical.
And yet it becomes ordinary. It is not seen as something special to hold onto, it has gone beyond "an experience of awakening". It is simply the natural state of clear-seeing without the veils of illusory self. And then the one who is free of karmic overlays can either point to the absolute freedom ... or be a bridge by illuminating the way and supporting the gradual erosion of the self that stands in the way of true seeing and true being.
Absolute freedom cannot be given to you, not by anyone however enlightened they are. Absolute freedom is a gift of grace, when you are ripe. It is given by the mystery of love. The one who is free can only serve as a bridge, to sweep the cobwebs, to shed light on the shadows, to reflect the innermost truth until you can see it for yourself.
What I have discovered, is that holding up the absolute without providing a bridge is not of much usefulness. It simply perpetuates the myth of enlightenment as a special destination that is bestowed on you "out of the blue". The true teacher comes down off the pedestal of the absolute and lays themselves down to be a bridge for others.
THANKS FOR READING.