What is the actual definition of enlightenment? The short answer is, there isn't one. The long answer says that trying to define enlightenment is a conundrum that can only be hinted at. It’s an attempt to describe something beyond the mind, using the mind. Spiritual teacher Osho puts it this way:
“At the very center of your being, there is nothing but silence. Now, how to translate silence into sound? The moment you translate silence into sound you have destroyed it.”
Maybe this is why Zen sayings can be so cryptic and mysterious; it’s the only way to hint at something that cannot be worded. Maybe this is why so few people in the world seem to be interested in this path. You would think that if it were known that there was a way to attain ultimate peace within yourself, there would be a frenzied rush towards it like a Black Friday mob at an electronics store. One small reason could be that it involves the total destruction of everything you think you know, or as Adyashanti puts it:
"Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It's the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true."
AN ATTEMPT TO DEFINE ENLIGHTENMENT
After reading many books from many spiritual masters, the distilled message seems to be this: our truest nature is that of silence and peace. It is timeless, formless, nameless, shapeless, body-less, and it’s similar to a feeling of pure love and peace. That is WHAT we ARE. At some point, the “I” thought arose from this silence. This “I”-“me”-“mine” assumes that the body and the personality are it's identity. And that is how we live our everyday lives, wrapped up in our bodies and minds, our desires and fears, trying to keep this “I” safe, or make it successful, or happy, or lovable.
As an individual entity, we naturally assume everyone else
is an individual too, which strengthens our belief that we are SEPARATE. The
belief in our primal separation is the cut from which all of our fears and desires bleed.
We always feel incomplete, we always feel some deep, pervading sense of lack
inside of us no matter how many yoga poses we do, or wheatgrass shots we take,
or self-help books we read. These are all beneficial things that can help us along our path, but we spend much our lives trying to fix the "person" when that is
not what we are. It's like your car has a flat tire so you decide to patch the roof. Patching the roof is important, you should do it, but it doesn't fix your car.
We may go through infinite lives trying to fill this void, until we hear of enlightenment and decide that peace is worth anything, at all costs. Indian sage Nisargadatta Maharaj puts it beautifully:
“When you know beyond all doubting that the same life flows through all that is and you are that life, you will love all naturally and spontaneously. When you realize the depth and fullness of yourself, you know that every living being in the entire universe are included in your affection. But when you look at anything as separate from you, you cannot love it because you are afraid of it. Alienation causes fear and fear deepens alienation. It is a vicious circle. Only self-realization can break it. Go for it resolutely.”
So enlightenment, essentially, is when we stop identifying as a separate “I” and merge permanently back into unified consciousness. In this state, there is no separation, there is no duality, there is no fear because there is no person to experience fear. It is the realization that our truest, deepest nature is not human, but something more like pure awareness.
WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT THIS?!
Some people have simply reached a point where they're ready find the truth at all costs. The Buddhist concept of samsara says that we all cycle through countless lives and endless sufferings, until one lifetime we decide that we're ready to wake up. This may take countless more lives to fulfill, but just knowing about the option is great gift. The Buddha said that it’s rare to be born, even more rare to be born in human form, and rarer still to hear of enlightenment. If you’re reading this now, that means you’re a very lucky human.
If this all feels daunting and unattractive, it's ok. We all have our own karma to work through, which might require us to remain identified with our bodies for while. When the fruit is ripe, it will fall. Until then, let the seeds of enlightenment sprout in your being and next time you feel like your suffering is becoming too much, just remember, enlightenment is always there waiting for you.
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