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.

How my Beliefs Changed

My Non-Belief

I had lived my life from a worldview which was handed to me – through education and authority (parental education/influence) – and which I had never properly questioned.  It was a world filled with the amazing discoveries of science, and a lack of a deity simply because there was no room for one.  As I grew older, I became so content with my atheism and so disgusted by theism that I began to physically manifest that disgust (actual shudders, or rolling my eyes, or an audible expression) whenever I came across the slightest mention of “God” or “Jesus” or any of the Christian words/names/concepts (merely because I lived in a Christian-majority area – my aversion would have been the same had it been Muslim or Jewish or any other theistic religion).  Understand that I never once suspected that ‘believers’ were in any way on to something that somehow the non-believers had missed.  Instead it was an instinctive rejection in reaction to the condescending attitude most ‘believers’ had towards non-believers – they pitied us, which I found reprehensible; they acted so smug and self-assured because they felt ‘wrapped in the love of God’ or whatever turn of phrase the person would use.  But that love somehow wasn’t unconditional – they were quick to reject anyone whose beliefs didn’t align with theirs, which smacked of hipocrisy which I wouldn’t accept (nevermind that I was oblivious of the hypocrisy in my own rejection of religions!).  Today, I call that period my ‘atheist adolescence’.

The change of belief

But about five years ago I experienced a very banal event that still managed to spur me into actually taking the time to stop and question my worldview.  My fiancée and I were watching one of those American sensationalist ‘documentaries’ (riddled with pre-commercial-break cliff-hangers as the American formula goes) on the topic of past lives.  It was pretty-well constructed and seemed fairly… if not convincing, at least intriguing.  And what got me thinking was this line of thought: “Suppose it was true… I don’t think my worldview can handle it.  It has answers for everything but past lives.  I don’t think I’d know how to fit it into my system of beliefs.” It then dawned on me that I didn’t actually know what my own worldview was – and so that set me off on a quest of discovery that has absolutely shattered my worldview and brought me such enriching insight that my life has been forever changed.  Now I’m far more laid-back about other people’s beliefs.  Now I respect the human being who expresses their enthusiasm for their god’s love.  I see why they might think that there is a god and especially, I see that their ‘god’ is my whatever-I-call-it.

So how about you: Do you know what your worldview is?  Do you understand how you understand?  I dare you to find out!