Enlightenment Intensives were devised by an American spiritual teacher named Charles Berner (1929-2007), also known as Yogeshwar Muni. A former teacher of scientology, Berner had been developing the use of interpersonal communication processes for personal growth during the 1960s. As he himself has explained it (see Noyes, 1989), Berner observed that those who tended not to make much progress in their personal growth would be those who did not actually know who they were - that is, they were "identified" with their false self-images or egos or personalities, unaware of their true inner being. Traditional techniques for experiencing self-realization, such as the ancient yogic method of self-enquiry using the question "Who am I?" (as taught in the Twentieth Century by Ramana Maharshi), were too long term for the average Westerner seeking personal growth.
The inspiration for Enlightenment Intensives came to Berner one sunny Spring afternoon 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 ... 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 [intensive meditation retreat], 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.
The first, experimental Enlightenment Intensive was held in the Californian desert soon afterwards. Berner went on to run dozens of Intensives over the next few years, gradually refining the format, the rules, the technique and so on. Having optimized the retreat for the "weekend truth-seeker", he also trained others to lead Enlightenment Intensives in the same manner. His 99th and last Enlightenment Intensive was held in Berkeley in 1975.
Enlightenment Intensives are now held in many countries around the world. They tend to be offered as a "stand-alone" process, outside of any tradition or movement or organization.
The format of an Enlightenment Intensive resembles a cross between a meditation retreat and a co-counselling workshop (see Chapman, 1989, for a first-person view of taking an Intensive). As with a Zen retreat, the Intensive is led by a person who is traditionally called the master, though some prefer the term facilitator. The master's role is to set up the retreat, ensure it runs smoothly, and provide the participants with appropriate information, support, and encouragement, both to the group as a whole and to individuals where needed. The master is supported by monitors who take care of both the participants and the retreat environment.
The Enlightenment Intensive also has a set of monastic-style rules, such as no reading, no TV, no makeup. These are designed to ensure that a singleminded focus on the purpose of the retreat is maintained and, as far as possible, participants do not get into discussions, issues, conflicts or collusions with each other. In particular, participants are required not to express judgements of other participants when communicating (Noyes, 1998).
The technique used to seek truth centres on contemplating a question such as "Who am I?" throughout the retreat. (Other questions typically used are "What am I?", "What is life?" and "What is another?") This is combined with one-to-one communication exercises (see Dyad (spiritual workshops)) during which all participants sit in pairs and take turns to communicate to their current dyad partners whatever occurs as a result of their contemplations. Within every dyad, while one partner contemplates and communicates, the other partner listens attentively but is required to make no response. The benefit of communicating one’s inner experiences to another within a safe setting is that it dramatically accelerates the internal shifts needed to deepen one's contemplation towards ultimate truth (Noyes, 1998).
The contemplation/communication technique is built into a daily schedule from early morning to late evening in which 40-minute dyads alternate with periods of silent contemplation (including all eating, resting, walking and break periods). Where the Enlightenment Intensive differs from a traditional meditation retreat and resembles a co-counselling workshop is in the fact that the participants, rather than facing a wall to meditate, spend much of the day sitting face-to-face in dyads, taking turns to communicate.