Tag Archives: Enlightenment

The Five Questions of a Sincere Seeker

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A sincere seeker of truth is someone who is actively seeking for the truth. A sincere seeker is someone for whom discovering the truth is a very important and central goal of his life. So a sincere seeker will search for the truth in books, in gurus, in meditation and in conversation with others. A sincere seeker is serious about his search because he knows that the truth will give him the meaning of his life. This is not to say that a sincere seeker’s life has problems and therefore he is seeking the truth. That may be the case. But what I am saying is that a sincere seeker realizes that life must have something more to offer than the routine struggle for survival and he is seeking for that something beyond the ordinary.

Many people have written about this subject and a sincere seeker would do well to read all such literature. However, reading must be done with an open mind and not with a biased mind. This is an important point because any sort of bias – religious or personal – distorts the truth.

Many gurus speak on the subject of truth and today an unlimited amount of videos and audios are available on the Internet that the sincere seeker can access. But the very fact that so much material is available makes the task even more difficult because now the seeker has to literally search for the proverbial needle in the haystack. This cannot be a practical approach since it would take many lifetimes to read, hear and watch all the material on the Internet.

The benefits of reading and hearing from others cannot be discounted in any way. However, a sincere seeker must realize that the real work is inner work. In ancient times when there was not so much reading to be done, the seekers would only approach the task through the means of direct practice. And direct practice is even now the only way to self-realization. Mere reading and listening to Gyan will not help in any way.

I am recommending the following five questions that a sincere seeker of truth must ask of himself during his search.

WHO AM I?

This is a central question that appears again and again in most spiritual advices given by teachers across time and space. And no doubt it is the most important question to answer. However, note that the answer is not going to be in words because the answer is an experience or a direct realization of who you are. Later you might put it into words to convey it to another but those words will not transfer the realization to another. This has been the chief hurdle in the relationship between teacher and student.

So how do you ask this question? Who am I? What answer do you get? Probably you will say you are your name. And that is a good place to begin to discover who you are not. You could have any name but your parents gave you that specific name and now you think you are that. Then you might say you are your body and your mind. But please realize that the body is made of what you eat and the mind is made of what you sense (see, hear, smell, feel) and remember. Both body and mind will return to dust when you die. So is that it? If death really ended everything then there is no requirement for the spiritual search and no point in asking the question who am I. But if you simply think you are the immortal soul that keeps changing clothes in every birth, then you are no closer to answering the question than saying I am my name. Saying something and experiencing something are two different things. Saying something does not change your life. Anybody can say – I am the soul. But does it change his life? No. So remember that the experience of who you really are is important because that has the ability to change your life, your viewpoint and your experience. Remember also that going in search of the soul is another futile effort because you do not know what it is. How can you search for something you know nothing about. So there are very many complications in this question and a sincere seeker must be aware of them and not fall into their trap.

So a good way to answer this question is not to answer it but keep the question in mind as you go about your daily life. Do not answer but strengthen the question. Translate the question into the activities you are doing. Who am I? Who is walking? Who is speaking? Who is reading? Who is thinking? If you do like this for a long time, the answer might dawn on you suddenly. You will know for yourself.

Who am I is a very powerful and effective question. Teachers such as Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj have taught their students using only this question as the instrument.

Who am I is the key question but it can also be approached in a gentle manner by asking four other questions – where am I, what do I really want, why do I want it and how do I get it.

WHERE AM I?

This question is a good starting point for all those sincere seekers who find the who am I question a little daunting. Where am I does not literally ask which city or which house you are in, but refers to the context in which you find yourself. Where am I is about observing the world around you, observing what people around you are doing and what they are busy in. Where am I is a question about what age and time you are living in – what is the economic, political, social and religious environment, what is the prevalent psychology of people in the world.

If you are here, it means you are a part of that environment. You have been brought up in that environment with those beliefs and thoughts. Where am I in a sense is the reflection of the question who am I in the outer world. The whole world is reflected in you and you reflect the whole world. You may not be able to understand this at the moment but by understanding the world, you can get some understanding of yourself. Know as much as possible about the world – the way people live, the way people relate, the way people fight with each other, the way people express love, and the way people try to search for truth. Learn everything you can. Knowing where you are gives you a big picture perspective on everything and also your search for the truth.

J Krishnamurti in his talks usually pointed out to the things happening in the world. He was trying to tell his audience where they were and how the world reflected their inner mental turbulence. 

WHAT DO I REALLY WANT?

The next question is what do you want. And I want to break it into two questions – what do you want and what do you REALLY want? There is a big difference between the two questions. For the first question you could answer that you want money, a good job, a good spouse, a good life in general. Most people do not go deeper into this question because in order to get what they want, they have to spend all their energy. But as a sincere seeker of truth you must ask the question what do I REALLY want. Behind all the wants and needs and desires, what is it that I want ultimately? Is it happiness? Is it peace of mind? Is it supreme bliss? Is it self-realization? Is it truth?

Whatever it is that you really want, you must be able to explore that and make sure that it is something you truly want. When this is reasonably clear in your mind, then your actions will start reflecting your choice. You will start moving away from what you want superficially to what you want deep down. Allow this process to happen.

The Buddha talked about how our desire – what we want – is the root cause of our suffering. 

WHY DO I WANT IT?

This question is to be used in conjunction with the question what do I really want. The why do I want question helps to sort out the genuine want from the superficial want. For every answer you give to the question what do I want, you must ask why do you want it. This will take you to deeper levels of your psyche. However, beware of fooling yourself. If you are not honest with the answers to why you want it, you will not be able to go deeper. The why question is like a pickaxe which helps you to dig into the what question. The why question can hurt if you have created layers and layers of pretense about who you are and where you are and what you want. Do not underestimate the why question. It is a very powerful tool and you must develop your skill in using it.

The 5 Why technique was popularized by Toyota Motor Corporation as a means of getting at the root cause of any problem.

HOW DO I GET IT?

When you get the answer to the question of what do I want and why I want it then you can decide on how you can get it. The how is a conscious effort not dependent on vague expectations from the others in your life and God or destiny. A sincere seeker must realize that if one wants something, then one must consciously work on it without any complaints and blame. He should not expect anyone else in the world to support him in his task. He is truly alone in his search. Whatever path he chooses, he must take complete responsibility for choosing it and have no regrets on choosing that. He must accept whatever is the outcome of the path he has chosen without trying to manipulate the results.

From an awakened perspective, the how really does not make sense because the journey is really from the here to the here. How does one get from here to here or from the present to the present? There really is no way because you are already here. The problem is you do not know it and the journey is from ignorance to enlightenment. And it happens in an instant after a long period of effort. Sounds a little contradictory but that’s the way it is.

So the above five questions are powerful instruments in the toolkit of a sincere seeker of truth.

May you realize your true self.

 

 

 

 

The Five Requirements for Enlightenment

Five Requirements

For a human being to attain enlightenment, there are five requirements that must be fulfilled. If any one of these requirements is not met, then the conditions are not met for insight to happen. What are these five key requirements?

SUITABLE INCLINATION

Every person has some natural inclination. Some people equate this with karma from past life. Whatever that might be, some people are more inclined towards self-inquiry than others. In some cases, certain experiences in life provide such a big shock to a person that he has no choice but to turn inward to find out the meaning of life.

This inclination when nurtured builds momentum as the person reads, listens and gets in touch with others on the path of self-inquiry. The condition of suitable inclination is fulfilled when the inclination is pure and not tainted with some ulterior motive. The desire must be to discover the truth for what it is, not to achieve a worldly end. The individual must be willing to walk the extra mile for achieving enlightenment.

If suitable inclination is not there then the person will be distracted by the world around him and will not be able to proceed in a focused manner towards enlightenment.

SUITABLE HEALTH

Enlightenment requires the full energy available to a human being. If energy is divided into multiple things, then enlightenment is not possible. Therefore, a person must be in his peak physical and mental health to go deep into self-inquiry. This is especially important for meditation.

Most people think they can keep spirituality for their old age after they have completed their life’s work. But by that time, most people develop a number of physical ailments which create hindrances. Even the mind through years of conditioning, is not ready to unlearn what has been learnt and learn something new. Every new idea is filtered through biases built over the years. In such a state, the human body does not have the requisite energy to attempt enlightenment.

A man is in his prime during his late twenties and early thirties. The body is at its physical peak and can provide the maximum throughput of energy when called for. The mind is alert, in a learning mode and even though conditioned by the influences of the world, it has the possibility of breaking through that conditioning.

SUITABLE ATTITUDE

A person desiring enlightenment must depend on his own attitude and approach. Even if there exists an enlightened master to guide him, the person cannot let go of critical evaluation of whatever advice he is given. The right attitude is to experiment, test, try, experience and learn. There must be sincerity in the effort, seriousness in the intention and silence in action.

Enlightenment is something to be experienced individually. It cannot be given by a guru to a disciple. Therefore, the individual must depend on his own understanding at all times.

Many people have the time, have the inclination, and are in their prime, and yet because they depend on another for guidance, they do not reach enlightenment.

SUITABLE ENVIRONMENT

A person is born into an environment which comprises of his family, the family’s economic condition, the societal influence, the country and education. The environment is supposed to provide for the basic necessities of life – food, clothing, security. Once these necessities are provided for, a person can give some time and space for the exploration into oneself, which is the starting point for enlightenment.

If a person is born in a country embroiled in a civil war, or if a person is born into utter poverty, then he does not get the time and space which is needed for inquiry because is he too busy running for safety or food.

But if a person is born into reasonable environment where the basic necessities are available, then there is a possibility of devoting some time and space to the inquiry into oneself. However, just having this space and time is not enough. A lot of people have this space and time, but they are busy filling it with more work or more entertainment.

SUITABLE DISENCHANTMENT

Most people are enticed by the show of the world – the money, the things which money can buy, the women, fame, status in life and so on. Such people’s attention is distracted by everything around them. They will follow their whims and fancies without any reflection or consideration of consequences or learning anything from their past experiences.

Disenchantment is not renunciation. It is simply the realization that more money or more worldly things do not equate to genuine happiness. And this realization has to be based on personal experience not merely a theoretical idea. This does not mean that a person shuns money or gives up material comforts. The individual simply realizes that there is a limit to the effectiveness of such comforts and that there is no end to them.

So these five conditions are key for the attainment of enlightenment. When these five conditions are met, then the possibility of enlightenment arises. There is no guarantee. Just the possibility.

The Blindness Metaphor

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Enlightenment is a sometimes equated to a blind man being able to see. Let us understand what this means.

We see many things with our eyes. We can see the tree across the road, we can see the bird flying in the sky and we can see people around us. What is it that we cannot see? Does enlightenment seeing something more than what normal people are able to see?

There are two perspectives from which we can understand blindness. First is inability to see the big picture. We usually consider everything we see as separate from us. We do not perceive the unity of everything. We – plants, trees, animals, humans – are all immersed in the earth’s atmosphere. We all breathe the same air and it is one whole single system. If all the trees disappeared one day, we will not have oxygen to breathe. If one species disappears, it leads to the disappearance of other connected species. Because we do not see this interconnectedness, we are blind to that extent. We do not understand the consequences of our actions and continue to take actions which harm us, even if that is not our intention.

The second perspective is inability to see the small picture. We think all the things around us are static. They do change but only gradually over a long time. But that is not the case in reality. Everything is changing very very rapidly all the time. We simply cannot perceive it. The growth of a flower, the decay of our brain, the movement of clouds, everything is happening, changing at every moment. We think we meet the same person everyday but that is not the case. So when the person behaves differently, we get a shock. We are not prepared for the change because we do not see that change happening in front of us.

Both these limitations of our perspectives makes us blind even if we are able to see everything. When our mind accepts that things are changing all the time and everything is connected to everything else, it is alert in every situation. It begins to see what it could not see earlier.

The Waking Up Metaphor

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The experience of enlightenment is many times compared to waking up from sleep. There are some similarities but it is not wholly so. But the metaphor is very good for understanding.

When we are sleeping, we see dreams and in the dreams what we see is experienced as quite real. Sometimes, we are running from some danger, sometimes we see snakes, sometimes we are riding a horse, sometimes we see our friends, sometimes have sex, sometimes eat food and it is experienced as real. We can wake up perspiring from a dream. We can even have conversations with people in our dreams. It all seems so real at the moment and we are immersed in it.

But the moment we wake up, the dream is gone. We cannot deny our experience. The dream was definitely real. It really happened whether it was because of the jiggling of our brain cells or some nerves doing a dance, whatever it was, it did happen. Yet, from the perspective of our waking life, it did not happen. You fell down from a cliff in your dream but you woke up in your bed. So you did not fall down and hurt yourself.

This is a similar to what happens in enlightenment but not entirely. When enlightenment strikes you, you feel like you have woken up from a dream. Whatever is your story in life – where you were born, where you studied, whom you married, and what jobs you did all seem like a dream. They did happen for sure. You can still see your wife or the window and the cars on the road. Yet there is a definite sense in which they are not wife, window, road and cars. They are definitely not that.

The whole story of your life suddenly seems like a dream. Were you really born, did you study, did you get married, did you just come back from office? You can see the evidence surely but question the story, the interpretation.

From the perspective of enlightenment, you can see colors, hear sounds, feel objects but you are not bothered whether people call it a green color or say it is the sound of a plane or say the cushion is soft. It is as it is. It could not be otherwise.

Therefore enlightenment is called waking up. To this extent it is fine. But the difference is in the fact that you are still talking to people, walking around your home, driving your car, drinking coffee and watching TV. People speak to you and you speak to them. So the dream is still on, you are in it yet you realize it is as it is. You don’t get caught in the dream and take it seriously. You see other people sleep walking, sleep talking, living in their dreams and therefore a natural compassion develops towards them.

How to wake up? Watch yourself and see how you are going about in your life – the way you talk, the way you do things, the way your work, your habits, your internal justifications, your thoughts, your reactions to people and things, your likes and dislikes. These are all in your dream. If you are able to see yourself dream-living like this, you will surely wake up.

Enlightenment – What, Why, How?

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Enlightenment is the birthright of all human beings. It can be understood, attained or experienced by all those with a sincere wish for it. Every human being must seek it, strive for it and experience it. It gives the basis from which to live life. Enlightenment cannot be given by one to another. It is not to be found in words, phrases, or mantras. It is not to be found in rituals or specific practices like meditation. It does not have a preference for age, gender, designation or wealth of the seeker. Enlightenment has no recipe.

Enlightenment cannot be understood in isolation. Setting the context is important. In our busy lives, we do not get the time, neither do we wish to devote ourselves to knowing more about ourselves and the phenomenon of life and death. There are various influences we are subjected to in our daily lives – family, company, society, media, neighborhood, international affairs, environment, human behavior of all kinds, spirituality, science, religion, books, music and also our own thoughts. In this kichdi, how do you separate the spice from the rice and dal?

If one is naturally inclined towards deeply understanding life and one’s place in the universe then one must create the space and time for the inquiry. The objective is not to adopt any specific line of thinking. It is not about letting go of somethings and forcibly pushing any beliefs down one’s throat. The objective is more to understand the field in which we are playing the game of life.

Hearing and reading about enlightenment is just the starting point. To make any progress, one must be able to grapple with it, turn it over in one’s mind, evaluate one’s own understanding of life, and see the motivations behind one’s actions. When one gives a serious look at his life, at the human condition or at the feasibility of enlightenment, many questions arise in the mind.

How to attain enlightenment, which guru is best, which path is easiest, is it really worth spending the time and effort and so on.

Luckily there are ready answers available from a variety of sources, ancient to modern. But these answers do not help much. It is like eating a full dinner yet feeling hungry at the end. But that is not what is happening. The answers are at best the description of the food items like what nutrients are contained in it. Reading these answers is not going to fill your stomach. You will have to eat the food.

HOW TO INQUIRE?

Inquiry takes place when you raise a serious question but not seek an instant answer. It takes place when you hear answers but do not accept any particular one and close your inquiry. You know that all the answers are not going to satisfy you. So you watch, observe and listen. Watching, observing and listening is the process of eating food. Once food goes in the stomach, it does its work automatically. Similarly once you start observing and listening, understanding will happen.

Some important themes that can be taken up for inquiry are the following. These themes are found to be more conducive in bringing about an insight.

  • Self
  • Time
  • Things
  • Concepts
  • Fear
  • Love
  • Death
  • Purpose

Everything that is needed for enlightenment is available within you. Clues, hints, and explanations have been left by those who have been enlightened in all ages. Read, refer, observe, listen, think, contemplate, chew on it with your mind, evaluate it in your daily life.

Life is short and busy. Death is certain sooner or later. Why die without discovering the great mystery of who you really are? Don’t wait for tomorrow.

MAY YOU GET ENLIGHTENED!

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.