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Thread: What is Buddhist enlightenment?

  1. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aloka View Post
    Dear friends,

    What is Buddhist enlightenment exactly? (nibbana/nirvana).... and do you think it's achievable in the modern world?


    Wow, it's a big ponderance for a seemingly innocuous line.

    Let me keep the first part fairly simple and say enlightenment is synonymous with liberation from samsara, which basically takes the path of the cessation of the production of kamma. Initially this leads to a state of nibbana (in life), and ultimately paranibbana - upon the dissolution of the aggregates (death).

    The second part of your question is more interesting for me, and my simple answer is no, nibbana is not really compatible with the Western lifestyle.

    Imo to get to grips with this we first need to consider the nature of loka, in terms of 'over-lapping realms (of manifest experience)'. Within which, beings arise and fall, living out their lives in the meantime. I remember reading something a while back (possibly by Jeffrey Hopkins) where, to paraphrase, it was stated that some consider the Western lifestyle as being analogous to the demi-god realm - because of the associated level of comfort. On the surface of it this may seem a bit odd because it effectively means that in the paradigm lots of the folks here aren't actually classified as human!, and by extension the best we can strive for in this lifetime is technically a less favourable rebirth (i.e to be 'reborn' in the 'human realm') where liberation is achievable. Fwiw it was a notion I found I could relate to, and I'll take the opportunity to talk a little about that.

    Recently I talked about the prevalence of allegory in historical scripture, intimating my contention that there's a certain propensity toward over-literalism which can hold us back from seeing clearly the messages and underlying themes in ancient scripture. A propensity that prevents us from being able to accurately associate to them in conventional terms and ways of thinking.

    In relation to loka I tend to consider taxonomy, and how we classify species, largely on a functional basis. Obviously everyone can easily distinguish between an elephant and a fish, but the truth is that the perceived differences between many classified species become increasingly subtle, and it's not uncommon for shifting and reclassification to take place when previously unnoticed factors become apparent, or our understanding and methodology changes. If we consider the situation holistically, and in terms of evolution we see that as well as intransience being applicable, all lifeforms, even seemingly disparate lifeforms are actually interrelated, and as I say, are merely categorised functionally, in keeping with their characteristics. The purpose here is really just to draw parallels between the paradigm and the conception of loka. Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting various human groups are actually different species.

    With regard to my contention of the Western lifestyle not being conducive to nibbana, I tend to agree with Eli when he/she talked about how it's difficult to be present living in the 'rat-race', and how the very lifestyle lends itself to the dominance of mind. Simply put, our modern civilizations are disposed toward the generation of product - in its various forms, and 'product' is basically synonymous with 'fruit'. So the lifestyle is incompatible with nibbana because nibbana is essentially the cessation of production. When we do that in our society we often quickly fall by the wayside, and this is one reason why the sangha (refuge) is indispensable to the path.

    With that in mind, it's again perhaps worth considering the nature of rebirth, and specifically whether or not one or more 'rebirth's' can take place over the course of a lifetime. For example, allegorically speaking, could a situation where a Western person takes the precepts and becomes ordained, qualify as 'rebirth' from the 'demi-god' realm into the 'human' realm?

    I say quite possibly.

  2. #12
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    The second part of your question is more interesting for me, and my simple answer is no, Nibbana is not really compatible with the Western lifestyle

    While not arguing with your point which is valid, I would make the point that Nibbana is the most needed deliverance for the human species, without this inner reflection and way of seeing, we continue to pursue our cravings which cause greed and delusion and inner turmoil.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thinker View Post
    While not arguing with your point which is valid, I would make the point that Nibbana is the most needed deliverance for the human species, without this inner reflection and way of seeing, we continue to pursue our cravings which cause greed and delusion and inner turmoil.
    Yes, we shouldn't preclude the potential for substantial societal change. They talk about critical mass and such like, and folks seem to become more conscious over time. Perhaps globalisation will accelerate that. And it starts with ourselves, I'm reminded of Mooji's "be the change you want to see in the world".

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    Just to clarify, when I said Moojis "be the change you want to see in the world" I was referring (somewhat cryptically in hindsight) to one of his satsang vids where a young mother is exasperatedly imploring for world leaders to effect substantial societal change. I'm not sure he even specifically uses the phrase, rather it turns out it's more likely just the title I filed it under, as that was the gist of the message he gave her in response. My bad. I won't link the vid as it's not strictly categorised as Buddhist material, but if anyone's particularly interested just google 'Mooji save the planet'.

  5. #15
    Thanks uguay.

    Returning to the meaning of "enlightenment"again, this is an excerpt from Ajahn Sumedho's introduction to "The Island" by Ajahn Pasanno & Ajahn Amaro:


    A difficulty with the word ‘nibbāna’ is that its meaning is beyond the power of words to describe. It is, essentially, undefinable.

    Another difficulty is that many Buddhists see Nibbāna as something unobtainable – as so high and so remote that we’re not worthy enough to try for it. Or we see Nibbāna as a goal, as an unknown, undefined something that we should somehow try to attain.

    Most of us are conditioned in this way. We want to achieve or attain something that we don’t have now. So Nibbāna is looked at as something that, if you work hard, keep the sīla, meditate diligently, become a monastic, devote your life to practice, then your reward might be that eventually you attain Nibbāna – even though we’re not sure what it is.

    Ajahn Chah would use the words ‘the reality of non-grasping’ as the definition for Nibbāna: realizing the reality of non-grasping. That helps to put it in a context because the emphasis is on awakening to how we grasp and hold on even to words like ‘Nibbāna’ or ‘Buddhism’ or ‘practice’ or ‘sīla’ or whatever ”

    https://www.amaravati.org/dhamma-books/the-island/

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    Quote Originally Posted by Aloka View Post
    Dear friends,

    What is Buddhist enlightenment exactly? (nibbana/nirvana).... and do you think it's achievable in the modern world?


    I once heard a chap say that it's useful to interpret enlightenment as en-lightenment, i.e., the creating of lightness, a lightness that eases one's mental load. That's a practical definition that I like.

    Is it achievable in the modern world? In sufficient quantities, perhaps, provided you work on it. Is it achievable in some absolute, quasi-mystical sense? I strongly doubt it.
    Last edited by dharma bum; 07 Sep 18 at 10:01. Reason: minor change to wording

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    Enlightenment is an essentially human condition which we lost as we, as humans, began to live in ever larger communities. These demand a shared understanding of the world, a shared world view. Consequently we are required to accept the prevailing way of looking at things, and this restricts the development of the brain and mind within those narrow limitations. Meditation can change that, and does so every time you sit. Different meditations bring about different changes, although they can all lead to that change we call enlightenment.

    This is attainable by anyone just sitting, but becomes Buddhist enlightenment when you meditate and follow the path. It is an instance of timelessness which the brain, now changed, can experience, as our far ancestors once experienced as part of the human condition. That one instance is life changing, and, although brief in itself, has a deep affect on the rest of your life, which is now in two parts, before and after the experience.

    Such an experience is inexpressible in words, and is so unlike anything which has gone before, that you struggle to come to terms with it, grasping at possible explanations and interpretations. Left to yourself, however, you will come up with something eventually, unique to that person you are. And this is what happened to human beings before religious interpretation arose. Something that perhaps everyone went through in those simpler times, maybe even seen as a rite of passage to adulthood. Who knows?

    In this interpretation enlightenment is part of a normal human activity which we would all go through if not for the conditioning we receive as one of the consequences of growing up in an organised society.

  8. #18
    Here's an article by journalist and Zen practitioner Barbara O'Brien which can be added to the topic:


    What Do Buddhists Mean by 'Enlightenment'?


    The concept means different things even to Buddhists

    https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-enlightenment-449966



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    Good article Aloka. There is such a lot to tease out that it would take a number of books rather than just an article, but it gives lots of starting points for further study. The idea that poor translations of a number of words has contributed to our confusion about 'enlightenment' is useful. If Buddhism has a number of definitions that can appear to be contradictory, then what hope do we have?

    The transformative aspect in the article is interesting. We can have any number of insight experiences, but are they transformative? Do they extend to the rest of your life, changing everything you ever understood reality to be, or do they merely reinforce your commitment to your practice? Glimpses along the way can be the motivation that keeps us going, but, as the article says, can be misunderstood.

    Of course, each definition of enlightenment, described in the article, is valid within the Buddhist community in which it arose. If you take the famous elephant analogy further, each school of Buddhism sees the whole elephant, but describes it in a different way, from a slightly different point of view. The differences are in the language used, none of which is 'wrong', just valid to those using it. They are all 'truth', but fail to see that they are all truth.

    And then there is that wonderful 'Catch 22' aspect. If you have to ask whether you are enlightened or not, then you aren't, but nobody will believe you unless you ask. For example, the article finishes with, "The only way to test one's insight is to present it to a dharma teacher." Unless, of course, the dharma teacher is not personally enlightened and is merely following internalised and accepted rules about how to recognise an enlightened person.

    Well worth a read though.

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    Blowing out all attachments to defilement

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