Going theoretically as per the precepts of spirituality detailed in Hinduism scriptures like Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads (independent spiritual treatises), reaching stage of enlightenment requires a soul atman passing through maze of 1.1 million manifestations in human form. As we do not know at what stage we existed on cosmic platform, we could gain enlightenment in present life time or many manifestations henceforth. But one thing was for sure. Journey of spirituality to reach stage of enlightenment has to be started early in life.
Lord Krishna practically started this journey when only two years of age. Even at that young age he understood the nuances of spirituality quite distinctly. Everything in life of Lord Krishna flowed from previous manifestation. He had already reached a high level of spirituality in previous manifestation, the previous body manifested by his soul atman. A new form and the journey completed. When only very young his kundalini awakened fully and Lord Krishna became an enlightened one. As the awakening of kundalini is irreversible, whatever gains one accomplishes on spiritual path were always permanent.
Mahavira Gautama Buddha even Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed started their journey of spirituality early in age. So was the case with Adi Shankaracharya, Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Maharshi Ramana. Swami Vivekananda also started his indulgence in spirituality very young. Living alone Swami Vivekananda, all above seekers gained enlightenment in their lifetime.
Journey of spirituality was never conditional. We could never say I would not start the journey unless God assured me enlightenment in present life time. Spiritual journey was always totally unconditional. It is like travelling razors edge, a path of unknown! As ordained by God we could indulge in spirituality in present life or keep it pending for future manifestation. And this is exactly what is happening with most human beings world over. Bogged by glare of materialistic riches most human beings dominated by a bloated ego preferred travelling path of religion not spirituality.
The onus of completing the spiritual journey is purely our prerogative. We can do it now in present manifestation or keep it pending for future manifestations.
The foremost of all requirements to become enlightened in present life time was becoming a Swami Vivekananda in real life. That was the minimum one had to achieve. Only then one can expect to complete the spiritual journey in toto.
What differentiates Swami Vivekananda from ordinary mortals
The primary difference lay in his approach of life. Swami Vivekananda always had one-sided approach. Whatever he laid his hands on, he successfully reached the end. It is a totally different matter that in his pursuit of spirituality Swami Vivekananda went to West to barter spirituality with material wealth. The famous speech of Swami Vivekananda in the Parliament of World Religions in 1893 was exemplary yet did not yield any result desired by Swami Vivekananda. Returning brokenhearted he died a few years later.
Now follows the most valid observation! Had Swami Vivekananda desired he could have easily reached state of enlightenment under the able preceptorship of his spiritual master Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa but he did not! When Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa admonished Swami Vivekananda why he had come to him if the goal of his life was not gaining enlightenment, Swami Vivekananda politely replied, he only wanted to affirm presence of God, nothing more.
The goal of life for Swami Vivekananda always was serving the community to its level best. He left gaining of enlightenment to next life. And here is the biggest puzzle for mankind! Where is Swami Vivekananda now for he is to gain enlightenment in present life time! The body taken by soul atman of Swami Vivekananda would be different than the body recognized by humanity. And there is no guarantee that Swami Vivekananda existed in present times.
Reason being, the manifestation of a body by soul atman is squarely dependent upon the residual balance of karma at the time of death. Furthermore it is the child that chooses its parents and not vice versa. If the soul atman of erstwhile Swami Vivekananda got matching parents in present times then there is a distinct possibility that Swami Vivekananda exists within us but unrecognizable. Sooner or later mankind would recognize this Swami Vivekananda of earlier times. The first person to gain enlightenment after Maharshi Ramana would be Swami Vivekananda.
Coming back to the topic how long does it take to get enlightened was purely dependent upon the residual balance of one’s karma. More the baggage of karma, longer the spiritual journey! If we can cut across shackles of karma and succeed negating karma to zero in present life, then we would reach stage of enlightenment immediately without any fail. But overpowering five senses and mind takes a very long time. Demolishing our ego, desires and wishes in stages we can slowly but effectively overpower five senses and mind forever.
We also must possess the capability of practicing absolute celibacy for a minimum period of 12 years in continuation without a single break. One single lapse, the whole process of celibacy needs to be repeated again. Sage Vishwamitra, a highly accomplished sage of his era on sighting a maiden woman taking bath in forlorn circumstances in deep dense jungles fell from grace. He had to repeat the practice of celibacy all over again. Other than establishing control over five senses and mind and practice of absolute celibacy, there were many other factors over which human beings needed control.
The foremost of it was 100% faith and belief in existence of god, belief in the existence of souls’ atmans. Our willingness to indulge in spirituality practicing truthfulness all the way! Similar to celibacy we had to be truthful all along the spiritual journey.
One very special thing I would like to mention here. Practice of truthfulness was indulged at its level best in the whole western world but none knew how to practice absolute celibacy. Prime reason why the faces of people in the west all the time glowed! They were truthful not only externally but from inside. On the contrary many people in India knew how to practice absolute celibacy but were untruthful from inside. This laxity finally ends in a misadventure. One all the time keeps wondering why the spiritual journey was not progressing as desired?
Early decisions in life help one making faster Spiritual progress
I started in pursuit of God around six years of age. Before reaching nine years of age I finally decided to go in search of God wholehearted and that too totally unconditional. I distinctly knew I could not keep conditions for they may not be accepted by god. I was 100% right in my surmise. All scriptures of Hinduism bluntly confirmed that journey of spirituality always had to be unconditional including teachings of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Maharshi Ramana.
To continue my journey in search of god I was prepared to undergo any sacrifice God wanted of me. I was even prepared to forego my family, leave the confines of my home practically abandoning my parents’ sisters and brothers to go to deep dense jungles (forests) for contemplation (chintan) on god. But my destiny bid otherwise. My mother point-blank refused and said over my dead body. Since that day I never questioned my mother or God ever.
I prayed to God to let me continue my journey of spirituality in the confines of home even while indulging in day-to-day affairs of life. At this time my age was around 15 years.
Making an unconditional approach to life when spiritual was not new. All seekers of earlier times had done this. I only duplicated their approach, efforts. Indulging in contemplation I could practically understand the abstract meaning of their teachings.
Until now I was not sure when I would see and meet God. And came the time to indulge in absolute celibacy! By grace of God I could indulge in absolute celibacy in continuation for a period of 14 years. This resulted in full awakening of kundalini shakti absolutely unknown to me. By 37 years of age in the wee hours of third of August 1993 I finally realized self, realized god.
Here I would sum it up, on the karmic scale at whatever level I may had been, I just lifted myself to the top. This became possible by practice of absolute celibacy. If we were to climb 1.1 million steps which would take a very long time, I took the fastest elevator up via path of practice of absolute celibacy and succeeded in reaching the top in no time. It is practice of absolute celibacy that cuts short the spiritual journey.
12 years practice of absolute celibacy in isolation results in full awakening of kundalini shakti and the moment that happens, Sahasra Pushpa (thousand petalled Lotus) existing in our brain behind forehead opens fully. One immediately realizes self, realizes god… becomes a Jina forever.
Summing it all up, it could confidently be said that timeframe to become enlightened would vary from person to person. As our spiritual efforts proportional our rewards! Grace of God Almighty comes to those unconditionally who worked for welfare of mankind all the time.