Is awakening or spiritual realization a gradual process?
First, in my terminology and, in the experience I see in many seekers, awakening and Spiritual Realization are two different things. The former is a revelation. A surprising display of What We Are. There is only one awakening of such type. I call it Glimpse of Truth. When we discover Santa Claus does not exist it happens only once. Same here, we Know Who We Are once, and that’s it. What follows is different from what came before.
The latter, Spiritual Realization, or Removal of Ignorance is the final removal of the belief in being a separate entity, and with it the attachment to psychological suffering goes for good.
The Glimpse of Truth and Removal of Ignorance reveal that which is devoid of dimension or movement thereby revealing our Essential Nature, which is ever present and prior to duality.
Therefore that which is sought is not part of the process. It is not added little by little. There is no such thing as a little bit of what we are and then later on a lot, or the whole of, what we are.
What is sought is not a state that I have or I get at the end of the path. It is the other way around. The belief in “I” becomes absent for good. So there is neither any “getting” nor any “I” to get it. There is no “getting” what We Are.
However, the mind, or the personality, does undergo a process both before and after any of those two events take place.
Actually the mind undergoes multiple different processes.
The first process is of accumulation, growth, control and effort. That is preparatory work. After the Glimpse of Truth the process of elimination begins. When the mind is clear enough of wrong beliefs, wrong ideas and negative emotions then Ignorance can be removed completely with one blow.
So, the mind undergoes a process of preparation for both events. After self-realization it continues learning and making mistakes, and unlearning, but without any spiritual seeking or attachment to psychological suffering.
Having said that, for some people the Removal of Ignorance (spiritual realization) happens in one shot with the Glimpse of Truth (awakening) and the whole subsequent period of gradual elimination is inexistent. For them, the Glimpse is such that puts an end to ignorance once and for all.
However, from the stories I hear and the people I know the Glimpse of Truth and the Removal of Ignorance happen separated in time, and work is required and/or some process takes place in between.