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Thread: How would you know if someone else was enlightened?

  1. #1

    How would you know if someone else was enlightened?

    Miracles and supernatural powers aside, how would you know if someone you met was enlightened?

    ...and please share some examples, if you feel that you have already met a fully enlightened human being.



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    You don't. How could you? Enlightened people aren't any different in external appearance or outward behaviour. Unfortunately people develop expectations; 'An enlightened being must be like this...' 'Enlightened beings must do this, or that...' 'Enlightened beings wouldn't do that.' and so on. Expectations which will always fall short, because that's not what enlightenment is all about. In your post you've already used language such as 'fully' and so have qualified a difference between enlightenment and full enlightenment. This is not to attack your view, but merely to point out the many pitfalls there are around to describe enlightenment and enlightened people.

    There's a famous Zen example where the enlightened Zen master works out in the fields with others. Visitors would have to take a melon to recognise the guy. "He loves melon and will be the one who grabs it."

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by philg

    In your post you've already used language such as 'fully' and so have qualified a difference between enlightenment and full enlightenment. This is not to attack your view, but merely to point out the many pitfalls there are around to describe enlightenment and enlightened people.
    Lots of people on the internet claim to have temporary enlightenment "experiences" of one kind or another, that's not what I'm talking about. I'm refering to what's described in chapter one of the book "The Island - An anthology of the Buddha's teachings on Nibbana" by Ajahn Pasanno and Ajahn Amaro as :

    When the heart is free of all obscurations, and is utterly in accord with nature, Ultimate Reality (Dhamma), it experiences perfect peace, joy and contentment. This set of qualities is what Nibbana describes.
    and:


    From the Buddhist viewpoint, the realization of Nibbana is the fulfillment of the highest human potential – a potential that exists in all of us, regardless of nationality or creed.

    https://cdn.amaravati.org/wp-content...pdate_2015.pdf

    In the past I've come across accounts of people on the internet who assert that one person or another that they'd encountered was, or appeared to be, an "enlightened being ". Also, in conversations between students about their favourite teachers, at a Buddhist centre I used to go to.

    So what I'm asking is what are the actual criteria for this in the modern world ? ....or is it just a fanciful notion about someone?



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    Right, so it's not someone who has had an enlightenment experience but someone who, for whatever reason, continues to dwell in the aftermath of the experience? Busy reading The Island and will let you know my thoughts on it when I've finished.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Aloka View Post
    So what I'm asking is what are the actual criteria for this in the modern world ? ....or is it just a fanciful notion about someone?
    I think it is just a fanciful notion. How could you really know the difference between the real thing and a really clever fake? You couldn't. Now, if you yourself were fully enlightened, you'd be able to read their mind and tell. But for us ordinary sentient beings, we just have to take our best guess, knowing that a "yes" answer is improbable.

    Om mani padme hum
    Kathy

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    It may work a bit like this...

    There was an experiment with a man who had been blind but an operation had restored sight. He was taken to the zoo and up to the Gorilla enclosure. He was asked to point out the Gorilla (who sat in the middle on a rock) but he could not. He was then taken to a Gorilla statue over which he ran his hands with closed eyes. Now when he was taken back to the enclosure he saw the Gorilla straight away.

    In other words we tend to recognise what we know.

    The main thing that I've noticed said about the fully self realised ones is their calm and how their environment is calm. Another is their ability to stay focused for a long time. Unlike the ordinary monkey mind that jumps from subject to subject, from feeling to feeling. Another is their modest simplicity. No ego. Compassionate. Another is that they don't say they are enlightened.

    Some of those qualities to some extent are realised in all of us and we can recognise them in others.

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    'The Island' was a great book on the subject, so thanks for the link Aloka. Apparently the Thai Forest tradition has a lot to say about all things enlightenment, although much of the book is about stuff around rather than about enlightenment itself. Well worth a read to the end of this free pdf book if anyone is interested. It emphasises the 'no-thingness' of enlightenment, which everyone can realise by coming to terms with non-grasping for ourselves.

    It's a good remedy for all those who think that enlightenment is for the few rather than the many, or for those who think that it is unobtainable in this lifetime. It's much more about how to go about gaining enlightenment, as it concedes that it can't be described easily and would make for a very short book. You don't come away from it with an idea of how to detect an enlightened person, but you do come away with a better understanding of what it is, or rather isn't.

    Actually, it sums up much of Buddhism itself, going into the relationship between the path and the goal, into stream entrance, crossing the stream and what you need to let go of once you have, all related to extracts from the Dhamma. It describes how ultimately questions are put aside, questions of self, no self, not self, emptiness, and so on.

    There is an interesting re-definition (at last for me) of what the 'Middle Way' actually means, about how it transcends the extremes rather than falls between them. For those into cutting edge science, there are interesting asides to bring in such things as what happens below the Planck scale of things, where questions of time and space become less relevant to investigating what lies there.

    I'd better stop there, or I'll give too many spoilers...

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