The Enlightenment Intensive was developed in 1968. Its originator, Charles Berner was experimenting with ways to harness and focus the energies that are released when individuals come into contact. Could these energies be awakened and brought to bear on the quest for self-discovery?
Charles had the idea of combining the Zen practice of pondering an eternal question, or "Koan", with face to face contact and communication between partners. He tried it out in a three day retreat that he called an Enlightenment Intensive. The results were remarkable. Within a few days participants were having direct experiences identical in kind to those described by people who had practiced meditation for years.
The experiment was repeated and the results were duplicated time after time. Intensives worked! Over the years thousands of Intensives have been given and thousands of participants have had enlightenment (or direct) experiences. Because of its effectiveness, the Enlightenment Intensive has not faded away. It has been supported all around the world by a steadily growing number of adherents who have found it to be a pure and authentic method for going beyond the mind and realizing truth.
The following is taken from talks given by Charles on the History and Value of the Enlightenment Intensive:
In 1968, I had four or five hours one afternoon with nothing to do. I was in the Santa Cruz mountains in California, staring at the trees in a nice quiet area. I had been pondering a problem related to my teaching experience. I had noticed people who didn't know who they were had a hard time making progress and people who made rapid progress knew who they were. I was just musing, "How is it that we could help people to accelerate this process of self discovery?"
I was familiar with zazen, and the yogic reflective approaches. But I knew how long they took and I was somewhat discouraged by the prospect of having people spending years to get to the place where they woke up to who they are.
Suddenly the whole idea of the Enlightenment Exercise occurred to me and moments later it occurred to me to use the format of a Zen sesshin, but to call it an intensive. So essentially the basic outline of both the Enlightenment Technique and the Enlightenment Intensive came to me at that time. And what source it came from I know not but it wasn't a process of sitting down and figuring it out. It occurred to me in one moment. I was just reflecting on this problem on this beautiful spring afternoon and suddenly it came to me: why don't we take the age-old question of 'Who am I?" which is at least 7,000 years old, and combine it with the communication techniques that I had learned? And thus was born the Enlightenment Intensive.
Soon after, I told some of my students that we were going to have an intensive. I didn't tell them much about what was going to happen, I just said we were going to work on finding out who we are and that it was going to be intense. I had just acquired a piece of property with no improvements on it out in the Southern California high desert, and I had about thirty dollars in my pocket. I bought some four-by-fours, set them right into the ground, nailed plywood sheets on top, and bought one day's food; that was all the food we could afford until the people started to show up and made some payments for the intensive. And sure enough, they came; twenty-six of them. I put some mosquito netting around the outside and rolled out some rugs on the bare ground and said, "Well, here we are." And still all I had in my head was this flash of an idea of what an Enlightenment Intensive would be.
We got up in the morning and went at it. They paid their money and my wife Ava rushed downtown during the lunch break, bought some more food and brought it back up. And, son of a gun, if on the second day people didn't start having some direct experiences of Truth.
I had expected it would take five, ten Enlightenment Intensives for some enlightenments to start showing up. But to my amazement, people were having these experiences and it blew me out as much as it did them. In fact, about forty percent of the people who attended had a direct experience by the end of the intensive.
The enthusiasm was riding high, so we scheduled another intensive about three months later. I gave more and more of them and year after year I was doing an average of ten Enlightenment Intensives a year. Two of them were two weeks long and one of them was three weeks long and most of them were either three or five days long. I've been there in spades; I've tried this. I've tried that, I've varied it this way, I've varied it that way. I've found out what worked and what didn't work with thousands of people - brilliant ones, sane ones, talkative ones, silent ones, crazy ones, all kinds, and for the last twenty to twenty-five intensives I made almost no changes. Now I'm satisfied that I know what I'm doing.
So I want to give you my view on what the value of the Enlightenment Intensive is. It may well be true that I am biased in my evaluation, since the method was originated and developed through me, but I will give you my views and evaluation nevertheless.
As far as growth techniques are concerned, I've personally done just about everything there is to do. I've also applied many of them as a facilitator. For years and years I tried every method I could find which seemed to hold some promise for personal and spiritua1 growth. Among these were mind clearing, gesta1t, rolfing, psychosynthesis, bioenergetics, numerous meditation and concentration techniques, breathing techniques of all sorts, ability exercises, trainings and seminars of all kinds, extensive past life work, hatha yoga, dream work, emotional trauma release work, and on and on. This work was coupled with intensive research into religious philosophies and practices of both East and West, along with personal contact with many holy men and leaders in the growth movement. I have been at it for over thirty years, solid; and my conclusion is that in the realm of self-discovery there is nothing that tops the Enlightenment Intensive. Techniques which have a purpose other than self-discovery may be more effective at achieving their particular purpose, but for the purpose of self-discovery I've not run into anything which comes close to the effectiveness of the Enlightenment Intensive.
The key to real spiritual development is self-discovery; the direct experience of who you actually are. You can get by all right living from personality, beingnesses and mis-identifications. It won't be satisfying, but you can get by.
But with the discovery of who you actually are, you can achieve a level of satisfaction and effectiveness unavailable to one unconscious of who he is. You can fully enjoy the fruits of living. You can make real progress toward real goals, and actually be happy, because it is now you living your life rather than a personality or something with which you have become identified. Also, you can take any growth technique or religious practice and make real and on-going progress with it because you can bring to bear your own personal power of choice to be open and grow. Because of this consciousness of self you no longer just grope around going through the motions, doing things simply to pay the bills and get by. Eventually, living from this direct experience of self, you inevitably find yourself moving into a deeper phase of growth in which the fulfillment of life is possible.
But for most of the world's people today, just gaining the capacity to live their life from who they actually are is the most valuable thing.
They begin to experience that life doesn't have shallow and dull. They have the experience of waking-up in life, and on an Enlightenment Intensive it is a genuine experience of self and not the result of brainwashing or someone telling you who you are. After people's defenses come down and their minds are open as a result of the long hours, the concentration and the contact, there is an opportunity avaiable where a person can either be brainwashed by being told who he is or he can be supported in having his own experience. When the experience of who one is occurs spontaneously and directly, it is a fact for all time and not just another mental shift in beingness.
The Enlightenment Intensive is also a valuable tool for those relatively few individuals who just want the Truth. An Enlightenment Intensive points you at the Truth itself and for someone who just wants the opportunity to go for the Truth and experience it directly, this is the best short-term technique available today. Such a person can make great progress on Enlightenment Intensives and achieve many levels of enlightenment in a very short period of time compared to traditional methods. For such people Enlightenment Intensives are like a rocket tied along side whatever daily method they practice.
An Enlightenment Intensive can be tremendously inspiring. It can turn a person on to Truth and the actuality of that Truth in day-to-day life. A person can discover that there is more to life than just gratifying the senses; that this whole business of life is not just some random occurrence with no direction or purpose. One can make these discoveries not as ideas but as living facts. Such discoveries fundamentally alter one's life.
There is a lot of value to be gained in just taking an Enlightenment Intensive regardless of whether or not you have a direct experience. An Enlightenment Intensive builds contact and openness between people. It builds a person's capacity to engage in that contact and openness. People become very open on intensives. This openness is essential for a person's capacity to be satisfied in life and evolve his relationship with others. Also, as a side effect people gain communication skills almost without realizing it, especially with regard to receiving another's communications without evaluating or interrupting.
Real communication is one of people's greatest stumbling blocks in life and on an Enlightenment Intensive they can make significant gains in this ability just by participating in the intensive.
In the end, however, an Enlightenment Intensive has only one purpose: enlightenment. The primary value of enlightenment itself as opposed to how one might apply it in life, is its own self. Enlightenment is its own value because it is the fulfillment of life. That union with Truth, no matter how brief, is our purpose, and fulfilling that purpose is the highest and most benefit gained from an enlightenment experience. The Enlightenment Intensive is primarily a technique for awakening, but the direct experience itself fulfills.
In short, the Enlightenment Intensive is a powerful method which produces remarkably consistent results. About 30% of the participants on any Enlightenment Intensive will have a direct experience in a period of three days, assuming that the master is competent and the intensive is well conducted. The other participants will make significant, permanent progress toward that goal. The method has been developed thoroughly, tested all over the world, and participated in by thousands and thousands of people. It is the most effective method for self-discovery which I have ever seen, and it is one which can be used by almost anyone.
Finally there is nothing I have found in years of natural yoga meditation including the depths of samadhi, that in any way contradicts anything that has come up in the Enlightenment Intensive. In fact, it has done nothing but validate and reinforce it.