Enlightenment 101

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The chief difficulty in speaking about enlightenment is the inherent impotence of language to describe it. People have used many words, have spoken about it, have written books on it but neither words nor paragraphs or even whole books can ever describe enlightenment. This is the first quality of enlightenment which must be understood for further discussions about this topic.

So what exactly is enlightenment? Who is it for?
What is in it for me? Tell me why I should be interested in it?
If I get enlightened, how can I expect my life to change?
What should I do to get enlightened?
If it is such a good thing, why is it not taught in schools and colleges?
Why should I believe what you say about enlightenment?

All these are good questions which I expect any rational person to ask when told about the possibility of enlightenment. So here we come to the second quality. Enlightenment is a purely personal experience (1). There are no standards for measuring or confirming enlightenment (2). Neither is enlightenment a matter of belief and faith. It is the very opposite of that. To begin to understand enlightenment, it is essential to approach the topic without any preconceived conclusions and with the attitude of testing it’s implications in one’s own life. After all, enlightenment means the lighting the inner lamp with which you can see for yourself and not depend blindly on another person’s explanation.

WHAT IS ENLIGHTENMENT?

Enlightenment, Awakening or Self Realization has always been associated with saints and sages – those who left the worldly life and dedicated themselves to spiritual practices, meditation, attaining higher consciousness and to the service of people. It has always been thought that enlightenment is not for the common man. It has been considered to be at odds with living in the world. To attain enlightenment, you need to put in superhuman efforts at the cost of your family and a comfortable life. Those who express an inclination towards the spiritual are treated as different people, even thought of as abnormal people. Families will do everything to keep their sons and daughters from seeking enlightenment.

To a large extent, such attitudes are warranted. People who seek enlightenment usually behave as if they are special and many times make a show of being unattached to material things, stop supporting their families or display extreme devotion to their particular brand of philosophy. Some of them may dress weirdly or speak weirdly. So the rest of the world thinks they are not normal and want to run away from them and whatever they symbolize which is enlightenment.

So what is it about enlightenment that makes it such a scary thing to some people and such a desirable thing for some others? Why is it that some people will do everything to run away from it? Why is it that some people will give up everything to attain it?

Enlightenment is an instantaneous experience – an AHA moment – that happens. It is an experience of another dimension, not the linear dimension that we are used to in our daily lives. While those who have experienced it hesitate to describe it because of a loss of words for it, many describe it as a feeling of being one with everything, having dissolved all distinctions.

For enlightenment to happen, conditions have to be right. Conditions can be created but it does not guarantee enlightenment. In that sense, the mystery surrounding enlightenment is valid. But a lot many things have to be understood and a lot many understandings have to be thrown away before a person can be ready for experiencing enlightenment.

Enlightenment is a difficult subject to talk about. However, the difficulty lies in not realizing that it is not a concept but an experience. For human beings, I say that enlightenment is their birthright. It is an event with far greater significance and impact than graduation or marriage or parenthood. It’s significance simply cannot be compared. It is literally like dying or being born again. It is the natural evolution of human being’s psyche.

WHO IS IT FOR?

Enlightenment is the sole purpose of human birth. Anyone with a sincere wish for it can understand and experience enlightenment. Every human being must inquire into it, seek it, strive for it and experience it. Enlightenment gives the basis from which to live life. It answers all of life’s questions on happiness, sadness, struggle, love, beauty, knowledge and god.

Consider this analogy. A tree brings forth leaves, flowers and fruits. While the leaves are many, the fruits and flowers are few. We grow a tree for the fruits, not the leaves. The leaves have their function which is essential, without which the fruits and flowers will not appear at all. Yet, the fruits define the tree (3). Fruits are the highest level of evolution in the tree because they have the power to create a new tree. Similarly, enlightened people are like the fruits of humanity. Enlightenment is the sole purpose of being born a human being. We can live the life of ordinary leaves, taking in carbon dioxide and giving out oxygen, which is essential for the survival of the tree. Yet the possibility of becoming a delicious fruit or a fragrant flower is there for everyone.

Here we come across the third quality of enlightenment. It cannot be given by one to another. It is a matter of self-realization. It is right when they say that there are many ways to enlightenment. To be precise there are as many ways as there are people. Each gets enlightened in his particular way, from his or her own conditions.

Age does not matter. Enlightenment can happen in youth or old age. Gender does not matter. Enlightenment can happen to males or females. Class does not matter. The rich can be enlightened and the poor can also be enlightened. The only requirement is a sincere desire for it.

Enlightenment is not to be considered as a remedy for life’s problems. It is not an escape route or a cure. It is rather an insight which makes you live life with proper understanding. So only a genuine desire to understand life, not influenced by any ulterior motive, can bring you to it.

WHAT IS IN IT FOR ME?

The possibility of enlightenment exists for everyone but not everyone is attracted to it naturally. No one can force another to strive for enlightenment. The desire for enlightenment arises from within not from external influences. The world might attract you to tasty food, fine clothing, lavish apartments and flashy cars but seeking for enlightenment begins through a deep dissatisfaction with the worldly experience. The search for enlightenment does not begin by wanting to have the serenity or peacefulness of a sage or the apparently magical powers of a saint or even the simple everyday happiness of an enlightened person. So the answer to the question – what is in it for me? – will never create a desire in you for enlightenment.

However, there is one way of answering that question that, if you are listening and are sensitive to your own experience, can create that desire. That answer being that the world is an illusion and all the seeking after worldly objects and pleasures is in fact an invitation to suffering (4). So if you want to seek genuine happiness and live a genuinely satisfactory life, then you must seek enlightenment (5).

The only important concern that needs to be addressed is whether it is possible to get enlightened if you sincerely seek for it. And the answer is an big resounding YEAH! When and how is not guaranteed but possibility is definite. Is it worth it? Yes. You are going to die anyway. Why not discover everything about life and death before you die? One meaning of enlightenment is also going beyond life and death – the possibility of immortality (6)

Keeping aside these esoteric ramifications, in order to be more practical, let me put forward some benefits of enlightenmentPossibility of getting a direct life changing experience of your true self

  • Access to the inner compass to navigate the course of your own life
  • Intelligence to think for yourself in any situation
  • Emotional stability to weather any happening in life
  • Infinite source spring of happiness
  • Genuine power to make a difference in the lives of others

WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Although enlightenment is open to all, there are some eligibility criteria. Firstly, we must appreciate that enlightenment is not introduced to us by our parents, teachers, friends and society. We come to it through an inner urge, keen observation, study and reflection. An individual feels compelled to understand and strive for it only when he realizes the limitations of all that he knows, all that he thinks. The fact is that most people do not come across the concept of enlightenment and even those few who do get in touch with it, are not able to persevere till they reach the summit. There are many things that pull them back or distract them or they misunderstand the whole thing.

Enlightenment will not appeal to those who

  • Are happy about what they are doing in life
  • Are trying to be successful in life
  • Accept what they have been told about themselves and life
  • Have found meaning in some religion, business, social or charitable activity

Enlightenment will appeal to those who

  • Do not understand life
  • Are not happy with what they get in life, including money, pleasure, sex, comfort and entertainment
  • Want to discover the true meaning of the whole of life unconditionally
  • Do not mind going against their friends, family, society in order to find what they truly want
  • Do not find meaning in the rat race and are willing to move away from it without regrets

Enlightenment is not something you study like a chartered accountancy course. There is no certificate or degree to be earned (7). It is its own reward. It has to be done for its own sake. The only thing you need to ask yourself at every step is why you are seeking enlightenment. If there is a motive, then it won’t happen. If you find there is genuinely no motive and that you simply wish to know the truth as it is, then you have a good chance.

FOOTNOTES

  1. After enlightenment, the notion of personal experience undergoes a dramatic change in understanding.
  2. Although Zen masters do follow the practice of confirming enlightenment, it is only notional
  3. Every analogy has exceptions. There are many plants and trees which are valued for their leaves and not fruits.
  4. Worldly comfort is not negated in any way. It has its place and value. However, it does not produce genuine happiness which is born of insight and understanding.
  5. By seeking enlightenment, it means to inquire deeply into the nature of existence, to seek the absolute truth about things
  6. All this must be understood in the right sense else there is every chance of being misunderstood. An enlightened person does not get anything out of enlightenment
  7. In fact, you lose whatever you thought you had.

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