Once one becomes enlightened, does one keep this state or have to work to achieve it over and over again?

Lama Ole’s answer:

Once liberation or enlightenment is reached, there is no falling back. Liberation is the first step, where one no longer experiences oneself as the body that gets old, sick, and dies, nor as the thoughts and feelings that continuously come and go. On that level, we know that we are not this or that, and so we stop experiencing ourselves as a target. We can’t fall back from there because there is no more concept of a self or ego. Subject, object, and action melt together into a unity; and the experiencer, that which is experienced, and the experience itself complement each other perfectly. Already from that level on, there is no falling back.

From that level of security, one goes on to full enlightenment. While liberation means that one is completely rid of disturbing feelings, on the level of enlightenment even the most subtle veils of fixed concepts and ideas drop away. Here, we experience what is real: the nature of mind, timeless and everywhere. We are the ocean itself, and we see the coming and going of the waves as the free play of the ocean and not as distinct from it. In this state beyond any extremes or ideas of materialism, nihilism, existentialism, and so on—where nothing can disturb us anymore and where there is no suffering—we are like a cup of coffee that has stopped shaking and become completely still, reflecting everything.

In that state, all abilities, qualities, and powers come together and show themselves spontaneously. Here, we experience our mind as clear light. We are like a man on a mountaintop with a panoramic view. At the same time, we are aware of the path we walked up the mountain and can help those we have a connection with.

The states of liberation and enlightenment should not be compared with other states of mind, like the realms of gods or demi-gods. In the god realms, one has pleasant experiences for unimaginably long periods of time, but one falls out of these realms again as soon as the good impressions that led to that incarnation are exhausted. On these levels, there is still a concept of a self, ego, or person—a soul or atman. Enlightenment is really a big thing, an everlasting state.