What is enlightenment?

Enlightenment: possibly one of the most misunderstood words of all time. (It’s not a term I particlularly care for as I think it tends to confuse rather than clarify the issue.) I must admit I thought I was reasonably well informed about it – but when I had my experience of realising no-self I found out I really didn’t understand it. I thought I did, but a lot of what you hear about enlightenment, although it’s true from one point of view, doesn’t really tell you the whole story. So here’s another point of view.

The basic problem lies at the root of what enlightenment means. The very most fundamental thing you have to grasp and keep in the front of your mind is that it essentially means there is no personal self. It’s extinguished, evaporated, shed, gone, does not exist. And looking back it’s clear it was only ever a ‘sense of self’ or mode of consciousness rather than a real thing.

But this condition of there not being any personal self makes it almost impossible to decsribe further for in attempting to do so one is forced to use personal and possessive pronouns and a whole range of verbs related to personal feelings and opinions. This has a tendency to muddy the waters immediately if the premise of ‘no personal self’ is not held firmly in mind, and all use of subsequent language regarded as a convention of communication.

So one can’t ever say: ‘I am enlightened.’

There is no ‘I’ and being no ‘I’ there is no-one for enlightenment to happen to, get it? Well, I confess, I didn’t, which is why I’m writing this. Basically it’s a letter to my former self, and anyone who, like me, was seeking the Truth, so to speak.

My basic mistake was this: I assumed that enlightenment was some sort of personal achievement. I thought it would be great to be free from suffering, free from desires and able to view the world equanimously. I couldn’t imagine a state where I wasn’t. Where my personality had gone as surely and completely as if it had died. And yet I can think. I still have a rational mind that can plan and work things out, so I can still do my job. This makes the state of being enlightened almost undetectable from the outside. So in one sense, nothing changes but in another, everything has changed.

I don’t daydream anymore. There’s no-one to aspire to anything, to wish for anything or imagine any possible future. There is only the eternal now. Nothing can upset me – there’s no-one to upset. But rather than list all of the things there is not let me just say there is no observer.

And this is going to confuse you, I know it is but neither would be it be true to say there is even consciousness or awareness. There is, at the most fundamental level, only one thing. The ultimate realisation that is the waking moment by moment existence of ‘one’ who is enlightened is non-separation from anything else in the manifest universe.

So like others who are ‘enlightened’ I don’t like such terms or labels. I never had much time for labels before but now they seem utterly pointless. The truth you can’t fully experience but that I live is so ridiculously simple and ever-present it’s like a fish in the sea looking for water.

Okay, imagine this. This example is perhaps best suited for the PC generation. Picture yourself as a non-player character (NPC) in a massive multi-player online role playing game (MMORPG). Another character walks up to you and starts a conversation that goes like this:

Other character: ‘Dude, I’ve just realised it’s all one, it’s all really one!’

You: ‘What do you mean all one, it clearly isn’t all one, I can see with my eyes everything is separate from everything else and different.’

Other character: ‘No, it only appears to be different, it’s really all one thing.’

You: ‘That’s nuts, I can see this blade of grass is different from that tree. Are you telling me that building over there is the same as the river over here?’

Other character: ‘They only look different, actually they’re all part of this one thing called The Programme. The Programme gives rise to everything, the birds, the weather, the earth, the trees, the rivers, even you and me!’

You: ‘Well, how come no-one can see this programme? If it’s everywhere why can’t I see it, why can’t I feel it?’

Other character: ‘Because you see the world as you and you believe you’re a separate self. Once you realise as I have you are The Programme and so is everything else it’ll all make sense. I can’t prove it but it’s true, you just have to let go of everything you think you are to realise what you truly are, which is all.’

You: ‘Okay, right, well I’ve got work to do so if you don’t mind I’ll get back on with it now…’ <ends>

So it’s a bit frustrating isn’t it? It’s the way it is but it’s not really detectable until it happens. The question is how can you make it happen? Well although there is no Direct path that can lead to enlightenment, let me give you one piece of advice. No-ne has the right to either say: ‘There is no path’ or ‘Mine is the only path’. There are paths. They won’t lead directly to enlightenment but they can lead ‘close’. They can’t make it happen but they can make it more likely to happen or perhaps it’s more accurate to say, make you more susceptible to it happening.

So breath in, breath out, the sun sets, the sun rises, the ‘sense of self’ has arisen and as with all things, it too will therefore have to pass away.

2 thoughts on “What is enlightenment?

  1. Love your words on how osmosis transfers gases from one cell to another. One day scientists will find that the false concept of I is also the result of thoughts instigated by some chemical reaction, the fact that you already know. Thanks.

    • Thanks Sunil. Yes, and perhaps they will invent a pill that will help take away the fear that comes with clinging to the false sense of ‘I’ to help people let go, that would be really useful.

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