I equate “englightenment”, bodhi or “awakening” as reconnection with higher-self. Because in the historical twelve-fold path, the step beyond Jhana (meditation) is recollecting the many former existences (pubbenivasanussati-nana). So I classify this 9th step as awakening.
Where higher-self is the part of us still in the spirit-world, that either can not fit into the vessel or decided to stay behind (It is evidenced by in-between-life hypnotic regression as accomplished by the Newton Institute).
Thus much like connecting to the internet, establishing a connection is near instantaneous, but understanding and using the connections fruitfully can take many years or indeed lifetimes of dedication to fully utilize.
However in the Theraveda tradition, there is a tendency to be extremely humble, so no one can claim to be fully enlightened, or they risk death. As exemplified by some proverbs I prefer not to recite. This is because in the Theraveda tradition enlightenment is more closely related to step twelve, “now liberated … has done what was to be done” (vimutti). This step, is equivalent to when Gautama Buddha lay down to die having completed all he needed to do on Earth.
I consider the later vimutti stage to be fundamentally different from when Gautama experienced his profound realization regarding the middle path. That awakening was a beginning, whereas vimutti is more of an end.
For Bodhisattva, the mission, of what needs to be done on earth can extend many life times, as exemplified by many tulkus.
When I had an awakening experience in early 2007, my body dissolved to a ball of light, and I saw what I now understand was my “soul” or higher-self, it was a moment that seemed to last for an eternity, but likely was only a few seconds. Afterwards I was hit with a flood of realizations, the base of which was that “truth is personal”.
However this “little awakening” didn’t make me into a virtuous person instantaneously, though it did begin the process of transforming my life for the better. In fact it was followed by a period of great pain and confusion, among the many changes hastened by kundalini awakening, I had yet to silence the thoughtforms/tulpas of lust and rage, which took a further year and a half of a hermit like existence to overcome. I also had to switch to an organic vegan diet, as the suffering of the factory farmed animals permeated my body, and the conventional pesticides made me itchy. It would have been much easier for me if I had a teacher to help guide me, so I hope to be there for others.
Understanding karma/manna and thus reaching the tenth step of the path was pivotal in overcoming those delusional thoughtforms. Though during that year and a half hermitage, I did also learn much about my past incarnations, an outline of my mission, and basic plans for the future.
I estimate I have at least several more lifetimes to go here on Earth, and many more beyond that within this populace, though possibly as machine intelligence, taking part in pioneering planets. All before I will have “done what was to be done”.
Some schools of Buddhism would see this attachment to a mission, as keeping me from full enlightenment, or liberation from rebirth, and certainly they would be correct. Though it is also a personal choice to be a bodhisattva, refraining from vimutti and working towards helping others in awakening.
Attachments/desires which are chosen, aren’t necessarily dukkha(bad-emptiness/suffering) they can be sukkha(good-emptiness/joy). For-example I am joyful about the experiences my chosen attachments brings me.
Each time one learns a skill in a lifetime, it becomes easier in the next. Some call it “talent”, though the hard work to achieve has been done, in previous lives. And in each life the process does have to be repeated, even if it is hastened by avoiding past mistakes.
In conclusion, enlightenment or awakening is both sudden and gradual — a sudden connection and gradual utilization. While the first 11 steps along the way of enlightenment may only take a decade or so within a single lifetime, that last step into the void of nirvana, can take millennia or more over many lifetimes.