On Enlightenment

I hesitate to say I was enlightened, but damn, it sure felt like it.

Since that moment nearly six years ago, my worldview hasn’t changed that much – I still don’t believe in a sentient supreme being, but I now definitely understand why people would feel inclined to call ‘it’ a god.  Because now I feel I get ‘it’ – I’ve seen ‘it’, I’ve felt ‘it’.  By ‘it’ I mean whatever humanity has experienced in these several hundred thousand years that has kept us coming back to the concept of something ‘divine’ and put a different name to ‘it’ for each of our cultures.  From my worldview I still see red as red and a car as a car – it’s just that my understanding of it all has broadened, deepened, expanded considerably.  The ‘ah-hah’ moment blew my mind and left me sitting in a state of stupor in the middle of the pavement half-way between my home and the office.  Thankfully nobody thought I’d had a stroke or called an ambulance.  But in that deluge of insight, my brain scurried and raced to sort and handle all the tumbling truths and incredible ‘fitting’ of a million pieces of a universal puzzle of my mind, and it was very nearly overloaded, so ‘walking’ was relegated to a far lower priority.  But after it all slowed down enough, I got up, and continued my walk to my workplace, and the day went on as usual (but let’s not kid ourselves here – I was far from being ‘ho-hum’ about what I’d just experienced! I was still shaking by the time I sat down at my desk).

It is very frustrating to experience such world-rocking insight and not be able to communicate it.  I completely understand the drive one might have in ‘experiencing the word of god’ to tell others about it.  But sadly, and this is part of the greater insight, it is much more like Zen Buddhism where you cannot be told, you have to live it yourself.

So what is a person to do with their enlightenment?  Put it to workUse itLive it.  There is an old maxim which is very insulting: Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.  Well, it should be the other way around: those who can, teach. Those who can’t, do.  That’s how Zen is taught – the student does precisely because in doing, one learns.  The challenge of teaching is knowing the right thing to do which will be conducive to learning.  And there is no one ‘great exercise’ that will allow every student to ‘get it’ – to achieve the universal insight that we call enlightenment.  Every person thinks differently, has different worldviews, and takes different pathways of thought. In an ‘all roads lead to Rome’ way, “The Truth” will be the same for everyone – but how you get there is different for everyone.

See that’s the thing about enlightenment – once you’ve experienced it, you see the other religions and realize they’re all saying the same thing – using different words:  Buddhism’s “Nirvana” is Christianity’s “Alpha and Omega” is Taoism’s “Wu” is Anaximander’s “Apeiron” is Vedic “Moksha”.  It’s all the same Truth – a truth as old as the universe itself (enlightenment is after all a deep understanding of the nature of Reality itself).

The act of seeing the parallels as they meet at infinity is why people describe enlightenment as the experience of ‘transcending’ reality – it’s a metaphor because in our mundane experience we must ‘step back’ or ‘step outside’ or ‘rise above’ a situation in order to see both sides – i.e. compare and hold things side by side – and so when one has the experience of seeing Reality as a whole, then one can only describe it as though one had ‘gone above’ or ‘outside’ or ‘beyond’ Reality in order to have done so.  But in reality, the experience of enlightenment doesn’t ‘take you’ anywhere – you’re still right where you are when you ‘left’ – be it meditating in your living room, or sitting abruptly on the pavement on your walk to work.

Enlightenment does not make you a better person.  Or it does but doesn’t. I mean I’m no better than anyone else – I’m not going to say “I’m enlightened, and you’re not” – it doesn’t work that way. I am still the same guy I was, and I still have my days.  I can still be a pain in the ass or drive my girlfriend up the wall because no matter how hard I try I’m just not in sync with her.  And there are still days where I just don’t wanna.  Enlightenment is not a way to flee your troubles – just like seeking out ‘greener pastures’ where you get there and realize you’ve brought all your ‘baggage’ with you – it doesn’t solve problems.  Instead it gives you the capacity to solve problems.  That’s a different thing isn’t it?  The old saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” – sure, but the guy still has to get off his ass and go fish.

4 thoughts on “On Enlightenment

  1. Thank you, Thomas, for this superb account of your Satori, your moment of realisation, or however one might choose to express it, and also for your candid perspective as you reflect back upon it — perhaps better to say, reflect along with it. I particularly liked this phrase: “The act of seeing the parallels as they meet at infinity”, which, or so it seems to me, is an eloquent way of conceptually detaching from describing the experience as if it were some object of knowledge acquired by the intellect, in other words, as if it were a dichotomous subject/object relationship. I look forward to reading more on your insights.

    1. Just chanced upon your reply, Andrew, as it’s not linked to my comment and so I had no notification of it.

      My understanding is that Satori experiences (call them what we will) will necessarily appear to vary in nature once described conceptually, so it’s impossible to answer your question, really. My own way of conceptualising the experience would likely be in terms of a negation of the subject/object dichotomy, and the seeing of it (the dichotomy) as a purely mental construct. But then in doing so, in forming this conceptual image in a bid to communicate, it at once rigidly fixes (the relating of) the experience within the world of concepts, the domain of mental constructs, so it’s not terribly helpful. The other thing is the wildly varying emotional responses to such experiences. Some will simply respond emotively as if shrugging their shoulders, whilst for others there may be tears or joy, or both. It seems to me that the important thing is not so much the experience itself, but rather the changes it brings about in one’s later responses to life’s circumstances. Would you perhaps agree with that, may I ask?

      1. Hi again and lucky me that you happened to stroll past here again 😉
        I think your a negation of the subject/object dichotomy, and the seeing of it (the dichotomy) as a purely mental construct tells me you did experience that ‘satori’ moment. I would agree with your lessening the importance of the experience itself, but with the following clarification: the nature of the experience (what you felt and how you felt it) is indeed minorly significant but the fact that you had the experience is sine qua non when it comes to even having the more important changes that it effects in you. However it seems to me that whatever the changes, one commonality is the change in a deepened understanding and that it is in that that we can find common ground and recognition of and in each other. Would you agree?

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