What is New Age Enlightenment?

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2012
In the New Age Movement, “enlightenment” is one of those words that everyone respects. It suggests something very good. For anyone to say that it is something negative would seem harsh, for such a polite-sounding word should speak of something noble and sublime.

What is New Age Enlightenment?

Introduction and Influence

Enlightenment is realization of the truth of Being. Our native condition, our true self is Being, traditionally called God,… the Supreme Being….[1]

The value of mystical and transformative states is not in producing some new experience, but in getting rid of the experience.[2]

In the New Age Movement, “enlightenment” is one of those words that everyone respects. It suggests something very good. For anyone to say that it is something negative would seem harsh, for such a polite-sounding word should speak of something noble and sublime.

But just what is “enlightenment,” this concept that allegedly describes a higher order of existence, a grander state of being, which for many New Agers represents the emerging prototype of a new species of humanity? This is the fundamental question, a question which in some ways answers other important questions about New Age metaphysics, occultism, and Eastern mystical religion in general. It is also an important question because the final goal of almost all serious New Age practice, as well as of many within occultism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, Sikhism, and other forms of mysticism is “enlightenment,” however it is conceptualized. And whatever occurs along these spiritual paths is designed to nourish the process of enlightenment; whatever is endured or achieved is inescapably linked in some fashion to that final goal. And if we can determine the nature of the goal, we can also learn something about the nature of the path.

Because it is in harmony with Hindu, Buddhist, and most mystical metaphysics, New Age “enlightenment” teaches the internal recognition by the individual that he or she is one essence with God or ultimate reality, with all that this implies. All mysticism is not the same, of course, nor are all categories of religious enlightenment, but sufficient commonalities exist to warrant extrapolation for the focus of our study here. For example, the development of monistic consciousness, the acceptance of spiritism and other forms of occultism, and a pragmatic amoralism typify the general process of mystical enlightenment. Our own research on many occult traditions and on some 25 Eastern mystical sects bears this out. Not all are equally potent or radical, but all set up shop in the same spiritual house, so to speak. Different rooms may be occupied, but the fundamental environment is consistent.

What enlightenment means in the New Age Movement can be gauged through editor John White’s text What Is Enlightenment?: Exploring the Goal of the Spiritual Path. White is an authority on consciousness exploration and related areas, having authored or edited numerous books, such as What Is Meditation?, Frontiers of Consciousness, The Highest State of Consciousness, Psychic Exploration, Other Worlds, Other Universes, and Kundalini, Evolution and Enlightenment. White holds degrees from Dartmouth College and Yale University, is on the boards of several academic and New Age organizations, and is an editorial contributor to a variety of national publications.

He writes, “So widespread is the urge to know about enlightenment that, for the first time in history, people and organizations claiming to understand it have developed into a thriving field of commerce. The enlightenment industry is big business…. Today, enlightenment is for everyone.”[3] But the kind of enlightenment White discusses is not new; it is the age-old enlightenment of Eastern religion and occultism: that people are, in their true nature, one essence with God. As noted in the introductory quote: “Enlightenment is the realization of the truth of Being. Our native condition, our true self is Being, traditionally called God….”[4]

According to this view, the fundamental problem is that most people do not know that they are God. The common way of viewing things (that we are limited egos, personal selves) must thus be transcended until people recognize that they are “enlightened” as to their true nature. White emphasizes, “But the critical point to be understood is this: the value of mystical and transformative states is not in producing some new experience but in getting rid of the experiencer. Getting rid, that is, of the egocentric consciousness which experiences life from a contracted, self-centered point of view rather than the free, unfettered perspective of a sage who knows he or she is infinity operating through a finite form.”[5]

The false perception of one’s limitations and isolation must be replaced with a new, direct experience of pantheism: “The limitation is in you—your consciousness—and when that limitation is transcended, you perceive existence differently and therefore relate to it in a new way. Your sense of identity changes. You experience the cosmos as unified and intimately one with your own essential being, rather than experiencing yourself as a separate, isolated physical form apart from all the rest of existence.”[6]

But through what means is individual perception so radically altered that the person now views his true nature, and the nature of the universe, as deity? This change in perception occurs by means of various occult practices found in both Eastern and Western spirituality. These practices lead the seeker of enlightenment into contact with the spirit world—what the Bible identifies as the realm of deceiving spirits or demons. As we will see, these practices permit the interfacing of the human and the demonic such that individual consciousness becomes manipulated toward delusions of personal god-hood. For example, as we have shown in our discussion on Eastern Gurus (“The Problem of Personhood”) elsewhere on this site, the goal of enlightenment is not only to alter one’s perspective but to destroy one’s basic identity so that it may be replaced with a new, alien consciousness.

Before we move into our analysis, it might be helpful to consider the individuals in White’s anthology who write about enlightenment. Many of these names will be familiar to readers of our other eBooks on New Age topics. Their backgrounds and interests here reveal the typical Eastern or occult orientation of New Age enlightenment:

Sri Aurobindo was the Hindu occultist who attempted a synthesis of Eastern and Western thinking. He said that the central spiritual experience was “the descent of the Supermind”—an experience that parallels spirit influence or possession. He is perhaps best known for his two-volume text, The Life Divine.

Meher Baba was an Eastern guru who underwent periods of insanity and possession on his personal route to enlightenment, as indicated in the biography by Purdom, The God-Man.

Richard Maurice Bucke MD authored the occult classic Cosmic Consciousness. It was written in 1901, and has significantly influenced consciousness research and the field of transpersonal psychology. It was Bucke’s own brief mystical encounter that impelled him to write on mystical consciousness.

Allan Y. Cohen has his doctorate in clinical psychology from Harvard and has worked with radical LSD explorer Timothy Leary. He has had teaching and clinical positions at Harvard, the University of California, and the John F. Kennedy University. He co-founded and directed the Pacific Institute for Research & Evaluation for 20 years, (a nonprofit institution specializing in substance abuse prevention). He is currently the Vice-Chair, Board of Directors at the Foundation for Autism Support and Training; the Director, Center for Advanced Planning, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation and a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at the Moki Wellness Center. He is also a committed disciple of Sufi guru Meher Baba and has written widely in the field of mysticism.

Da Free John, aka Adi Da Samraj, was another controversial guru who was previously a disciple of radical Hindu gurus Swami Muktananda, Rudrananda, and Nityananda. Free John’s anarchistic spirituality centers upon such themes as “God-possession,” which is indistinguishable from classical demonization (for examples, see our eBook, A Christian Worldview of Meditation).

Lex Hixon was a devotee of meditation, which he practiced under the guidance of Swami Nikhilananda and Swami Prabhavananda of the Ramakrishna Order. He also practiced under Zen, Tibetan Buddhist, and Islamic meditation masters.

Aldous Huxley was the popular mystic who, in some ways, was one of the principal fathers of the consciousness research movement. His widely read books include The Doors of Perception, The Perennial Philosophy, Heaven and Hell, and Brave New World.

Gopi Krishna was a well-known yogi who sought to advance the cause of kundalini enlightenment around the world as an experience with divine energy (see our eBook, A Christian Worldview of Yoga). He is author of the spiritual autobiography Kundalini, the Evolutionary Energy in Man, in which he recounts his experiences with insanity and spirit possession as typical results of his kundalini experience. He has also written The Secret of Yoga, Higher Consciousness, and The Dawn of a New Science.[7]

Jiddhu Krishnamurti was the internationally known teacher whom Annie Besant of the Theosophical Society attempted to introduce to the world as the new Christ and World Teacher. Repudiating this role, he pursued his own path of occultism and wrote The Awakening of Intelligence, The First and Last Freedom, and Freedom from the Known. Mary Lutyen’s two-volume biography, Krishnamurti, indicates that Krishnamurti also became demonized on the path of enlightenment.

Dane Rudhyar was a prominent humanistic and transpersonal astrologer and occult psychologist who has been awarded several honorary degrees for his work. Among his best-known works are The Planetarization of Consciousness, Rhythm of Wholeness, The Astrology of Transformation, and the 1936 classic The Astrology of Personality.

Satprem was the disciple of Sri Aurobindo and author of a 13-volume set on the personal conversations he had with Aurobindo’s spiritual partner, “The Mother.”

Houston Smith was a professor of religion and philosophy at Syracuse University for 15 years. He is author of the well-known text, The World’s Religions (originally titled The Religions of Man), which has sold over two million copies. He has produced documentary films on Sufism, Hinduism, and Tibetan Buddhism that have won international film festival awards. He has also written Forgotten Truth: The Primordial Tradition, and Beyond the Post-Modern Mind.

Evelyn Underhill was a well-known authority on mysticism and author of such books as The Mystic Way, Practical Mysticism, Man and the Supernatural, The House of the Soul, Essentials of Mysticism and Other Essays, and her classic text Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness.

Roger Walsh trained in medicine, psychiatry, and neuroscience, and he is a practitioner of Buddhist vipassana meditation. He has attempted to integrate modern forms of transpersonal psychology into therapy. He is the author of Essential Spirituality, coauthor of Beyond Ego: Transpersonal Dimensions in Psychology, and of the authoritative text Meditation: Ancient and Contemporary Perspectives.[8]

Alan Watts was the famous mystic and Western popularizer of Zen Buddhism and a promoter of psychedelic drug use. Among his books on mysticism are Psychotherapy East and West, The Supreme Identity, Behold the Spirit, The Way of Zen, Beyond Theology, and The Book.

Ken Wilber is regarded as among the foremost theorists in transpersonal psychology and has been a practitioner of Zen Buddhism for over 20 years, studying under several Zen masters. Although he completed his course requirements for the PhD in biochemistry, his interest in mystical states caused him to leave the academic world and devote his time to personal exploration in consciousness research. He is author of The Spectrum of Consciousness, No Boundary, The Atman Project, Up From Eden, and System, Self and Structure—An Outline of Transpersonal Psychology. He was also editor-in-chief of Revision: A Journal of Consciousness and Change.

The above describes the typical spiritual orientation of leaders of the search for spiritual enlightenment. Obviously, this “modern search” is nothing new; it is fundamentally a throwback to ancient pagan practices, usually reconstituted for contemporary Western consumption. Nevertheless, the essence and consequence of paganism remains. Indeed, modern enlightenment is an extended experimentation with occult states of consciousness. Thus, the severe consequences found in this modern search for supposedly higher states of being are not unexpected.[9]


  1. John White, ed., What Is Enlightenment?: Exploring the Goal of the Spiritual Path (Los Angeles, CA: J. P. Tarcher, 1984), p. xv.
  2. Ibid., p. xiv.
  3. Ibid., p. XIII.
  4. Ibid., p. XV.
  5. Ibid., p. XIV.
  6. Ibid., p. XVIII.
  7. For more information see http://gopikrishna.us/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandit_Gopi_Krishna.
  8. For more information see http://www.drrogerwalsh.com/.
  9. cf. John Ankerberg, John Weldon, The Coming Darkness: Confronting Occult Deception (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1993).

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