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Thread: What do we actually mean by "Enlightenment" ?

  1. #1

    What do we actually mean by "Enlightenment" ?

    Rather than tacking this article onto another thread, here's yet another topic about enlightenment!

    "What is Enlightenment" by journalist and Zen student Barbara O'Brien, in which she talks about the concept of enlightement in the different Buddhist traditions.


    Excerpt:


    Most people have heard that the Buddha was enlightened and that Buddhists seek enlightenment. But what does that mean, exactly?

    To begin, it's important to understand that "enlightenment" is an English word that can mean several things. For example, in the West, the Age of Enlightenment was a philosophical movement of the 17th and 18th centuries that promoted science and reason over myth and superstition.

    In western culture, then, the word "enlightenment" is often associated with intellect and knowledge. But Buddhist enlightenment is something else.

    To add to the confusion, the word "enlightenment" has been used as the translation for several Asian words that don't mean precisely the same thing.

    Continues at the link:

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

    Any comments in connection with what was said by Barbara in the article?



  2. #2
    Forums Member ScottPen's Avatar
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    I'm not seeking enlightenment. I'm trying to follow a detailed set of instructions and perspectives that can help me to simultaneously live an ethical life and be able to be free from dukka. If this is a state of being that requires a name, I don't see why. I'll still be chopping wood and carrying water either way.

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    Interesting. My current thinking is that insight is an inherently human experience that comes when we just sit and do nothing for long periods. We can all go through such experiences, but they are fleeting; gone as conscious reasoning returns. As we recover from them we are left with a memory of something, but what? The most powerful of them can be traumatic and bewildering so the brain tries to come to terms with them using what resources it has.

    Prevailing culture can provide the context for resolving any lasting issues arising from the trauma, dismissing it as a mental aberration, or incorporating it into a religious understanding, or even condemning the individual as mad or blasphemous. Most probably keep quiet about it and carry on as before, with a lucky few perhaps articulating through art or poetry.

    Which is where the Buddha comes in. An individual who decided not to attribute the experience he had to some god or set of magical creatures, but to a set of transformative practices that anyone can follow. More importantly he provided a resolution to the unfathomable nature of the experience by incorporating it as part of guided personal change, something that an individual can experience for themselves, not just believe in as a member of a faith group.

    There are, of course, many different types of experience you can go through as you practice meditation and as you follow the path. Many are transformative without being of the insight kind. And if you are following a guided path then seeking advice is always a good thing, especially if the person doing the guiding has been through them themselves. However, as the article explains, there are experiences so deeply moving and traumatic that they are at a whole different level.

    If you do not know whether you have gone through such an experience, then, as it says, you haven't. Zen people have an expression 'died on the mat' which means the person who sat down is no more. The person who gets up is different, in that the experience means that they can never get back to being the person they were before they sat down. Anyone who has been moved by something they have seen or heard or been through will understand. The experience can be labelled 'good', perhaps with some work of art, or 'bad', perhaps being caught up in a war zone, or a tragic accident. You can come to terms with it but never unexperience it. (Although they are developing drugs which can wipe traumatic memories from your brain, in cases of dire need)

    It is in this labelling that the article can be understood. 'Enlightenment' becomes not the experience, but the resolution of the experience afterwards via the dharma and the path, and of course the people of the sangha who help through the next stages as you move on from the experience. This becomes the label which is attached to the word 'enlightenment' when used in a Buddhist context. In other contexts it would mean different things.

  4. #4
    I thought this part of the article was important...

    Quote Originally Posted by Barbara O'Brien

    If you wonder if you have become enlightened, it is almost certain you have not. The only way to test one's insight is to present it to a dharma teacher.

    Personally I think "Experiences" can become obstacles on the path if we don't let go of them and recognise that there is this constant activity of our own minds in one way or another.

    Tilopa said :


    For instance, consider space: what depends on what?
    Likewise, mahamudra: it doesn’t depend on anything.
    Don’t control. Let go and rest naturally.
    Let what binds you let go, and freedom is not in doubt.


    When you look into space, seeing stops.
    Likewise, when mind looks at mind,
    The flow of thinking stops and you come to the deepest awakening.


    Mists rise from the earth and vanish into space.
    They go nowhere, nor do they stay.
    Likewise, though thoughts arise,
    Whenever you see your mind, the clouds of thinking clear.

    http://www.naturalawareness.net/ganges.html


  5. #5
    Forums Member Olderon's Avatar
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    Aloka: "Any comments ....?"
    Enlightenment from a purely Buddhist perspective, that of the experience of The Buddha in my understanding has to do more with unbinding and release from all manner of hindrances, taints, kankers, but especially The Khandas, a.k.a. The Aggregates:

    The five khandhas are bundles or piles of form, feeling, perception, fabrications, and consciousness. None of the texts explain why the Buddha used the word khandha to describe these things. The meaning of "tree trunk" may be relevant to the pervasive fire imagery in the canon — nibbāna being extinguishing of the fires of passion, aversion, and delusion — but none of the texts explicitly make this connection. The common and explicit image is of the khandhas as burdensome (§22). We can think of them as piles of bricks we carry on our shoulders. However, these piles are best understood, not as objects, but as activities, for an important passage (§7) defines them in terms of their functions. Form — which covers physical phenomena of all sorts, both within and without the body — wears down or "de-forms." Feeling feels pleasure, pain, and neither pleasure nor pain. Perception labels or identifies objects. Consciousness cognizes the six senses (counting the intellect as the sixth) along with their objects. Of the five khandhas, fabrication is the most complex. Passages in the canon define it as intention, but it includes a wide variety of activities, such as attention, evaluation (§14), and all the active processes of the mind. It is also the most fundamental khandha, for its intentional activity underlies the experience of form, feeling, etc., in the present moment.

    Thus intention is an integral part of our experience of all the khandhas — an important point, for this means that there is an element of intention in all suffering. This opens the possibility that suffering can be ended by changing our intentions — or abandoning them entirely — which is precisely the point of the Buddha's teachings. source: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/study/khandha.html

  6. #6
    I thought I'd add a couple of extra things to this topic:

    Here's an essay by Bhikkhu Thanissaro: "The Meaning of the Buddha's Awakening":

    https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/Re...ction0008.html


    and from Doug Smith of the Secular Buddhist Association: "What is Buddhist Awakening" (12 minutes)



  7. #7
    Any comments about the essay and/or video ?



  8. #8
    Forums Member ancientbuddhism's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aloka View Post
    Rather than tacking this article onto another thread, here's yet another topic about enlightenment!

    "What is Enlightenment" by journalist and Zen student Barbara O'Brien, in which she talks about the concept of enlightement in the different Buddhist traditions.
    The article is a bit of a gloss. The Theravāda section helpfully gives the Atthinukhopariyāya S. to show awakening as empirical over inferential. Not mentioned is the most significant and tangible quality of the awakened experience “knowing and seeing things as they actually are” – yathābhūtaṃ jānāti passati.

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    I think maybe we shouldn’t worry about enlightenment too much, the big “Awakening” which would put all to rights forever. It is an intellectually interesting topic but like re-incarnation not necessary to gain benefit from practice.

    I learnt early on that my day to day well being depended on the condition of my mind of the moment, and that practice guided along the ethical lines of Buddhism and meditation which gradually diminished self obsession was the most sure way to ride the storms with joy and equanimity.

    The danger is that a misdirected desire for “the goal” will continually push it further out of reach. Pure practice with no goal as such, offers freedom and a great release of energy.

    I’ve lost the source but a Zen master said: “Even if you sit in zazen for fifty years you will never become anything special.” I liked that.

    What is enlightenment? There are lots of descriptions of other peoples ideas and experiences but reading them won’t make them my own.

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    Doug Smith's comments are interesting. They are about Buddhist awakening, which I see as somewhat different from the actual enlightenment experience itself. From this perspective the aim of Buddhism is to not only allow you to get to a point where you can have insight or enlightenment experiences, but to place them in a context so that you can reinterpret them afterwards along Buddhist lines.

    You understand that you can reinterpret what you see around you in terms of the three negative hindrances, which provides a focus for the rest of your life. You don't need to spend the next few years trying to bring your own understanding to the situation but can work on how the Buddhist interpretation impinges on your own life and those of others. With the memory of the overwhelming experience behind this understanding, the changes become permanent and you move ever closer to the ideals set out by the Buddha.

    Whether you accept such things as rebirth, or getting off the cycle of rebirth, or following the Bodhisattva ideal, or whatever, depends on the particular type of Buddhism you buy into. They are all useful in terms of what to follow up after enlightenment, but I don't think there is any particularly superior or definitive variation that attracted me, over and above that of tackling greed, hatred and delusion, which can be as 'secular' as you like.

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