Enlightenment is a loaded subject. Different people interpret it differently. The general idea people have about enlightenment is of liberation or moksha or nirvana from samsara (the world of names and forms), which according to them, liberates the individual from the misery of life, death, and rebirth.
The individual consciousness perfectly aligned with the universal consciousness resides in its perfect bliss or unconditional love. But according to the ancient Mahayana Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna, nothing of samsara is different from nirvana, and nothing of nirvana is different from samsara.
What that essentially means is that the peace or bliss of nirvana is in samara only. It is not apart from it. For the individual, enlightenment is an idea that promises some future reward. Something like living in a permanent state of bliss. Some people even equate attaining wealth and fame with enlightenment.
The individual is powerless against the flow of life. A river begins flowing from the mountains, but no how much it meanders or changes its course, its final destination is in another water body like a lake or an ocean. Only if the river knew itself as the water this whole idea of death or ending would disappear.
The mind behaves like a river characterized by flowing thoughts. It does not have any other reality besides thinking. However, every thought has an end – it goes back to the same source from where it originated.
Non-dual awareness is the annihilation of the thinking mind, and it is an impersonal aspect of consciousness. Therefore, non-dual awareness can never be objectified or conceptualized in any way. It is the substratum that underlies every phenomenon.
Enlightenment, on the other hand, is a concept that offers a promise of permanency within the illusion. The ego-mind’s greatest fear is the fear of death. Therefore, it consciously or unconsciously contemplates and works toward its survival and expansion. Not knowing that the very entity desiring freedom from the bondage of life is a part of the illusion itself.
In that endeavor, the individual, identified with his or her mind as the only reality, becomes a spiritual seeker seeking enlightenment, not knowing that the very act of seeking is perpetuating the illusion instead of destroying it.
For non-dual awareness to be experienced, there must be a subject (an individual or person). And the subject cannot happen independently of the object. In duality, every appearance is a subject-object split.
Therefore, non-dual awareness can never be experienced objectively by the individual. It is the absence of the observing entity, or in other words, it is an impersonal realization where the subject having an experience is also “seen” as an object, but there is no individual “seer” of anything.
The individual fantasizing about enlightenment will likely create it (or even non-dual awareness) an object of its fascination. The ego-mind of the individual loves the idea of attaining something through personal effort. It is a part of our conditioning. We like this idea because it creates a story the person or “me” likes to boast about.
“I did the hard sadhana for decades, went from one ashram to another, followed my Guru’s instructions religiously without doubting or questioning anything, and then I achieved enlightenment. And hence, I am now the authority and qualified to be your Guru.”
The non-dual awareness is the awareness that there’s no one here to be aware of anything. Things simply happen, but there is no individual doer of any action. Man and his environment are one and the same.
This entity that we call “me” is a phantom and what’s operating here is a uniquely programmed biological machine will no personal volition. Whatever we think or “do” comes from acquired knowledge or conditioning.
Therefore, the desire to achieve personal enlightenment through effort is also a part of the conditioning and hence an illusion.
Non-dual awareness is your natural state or “being.” You cannot “do” anything to attain it because IT IS THE REAL YOU. In this awareness, there is nothing to attain and nowhere to reach; there is no movement as the desire to attain any sort of permanency.
It does not have any quality or attributes, and neither does it make the individual productive, blissful, or better in any way. It is simply the realization that nirvana and samsara are one.