I’m going to quote Wikipedia here:
Enlightenment refers to the “full comprehension of a situation”.[web 1] It is commonly used to denote the Age of Enlightenment,[note 1] but is also used in Western cultures in a religious context. It translates several Buddhist terms and concepts, most notably bodhi,[note 2] kensho and satori. Related terms from Asian religions are moksha (liberation) in Hinduism, Kevala Jnana in Jainism ushta in Zoroastrianism
Every good researcher knows that you should never quote Wikipedia because its collaborative editorial policy means that any page can be incomplete, or simply wrong until it’s corrected. However, in this instance I think it’s apt, because just as Wikipedia’s publications state:
“Perfection is not required: Wikipedia is a work in progress. “
So enlightenment is also a work in progress, a hodgepodge, woolly concept – and that’s OK, because the sort of enlightenment that I want to talk about embraces imperfection.
Speaking of which, when I was a teenager I was convinced that I would be enlightened by the time I was thirty – and for the life of me I couldn’t work out what else was left after that. Hah!
Now firmly established in my mature years I can happily say that I have no direct experience of enlightenment…well, that’s not quite true, I do have some experience. I have experienced moments of completeness: the true peace of deep meditation, the total love of relationship, the utter bliss of self delusion. Yes, even in my deluded moments (that ironically flooded my world around the time that I turned thirty) I experienced a loving intervention that dragged me back to solid ground….a rescue effort for which I am grateful and will talk about at length at some point no doubt.
What insights does that give?
Trance messages channeled by myself and others describe enlightenment as the marriage of spirit and ego. This is a true marriage born of love, not simply mastery.
You may have heard of efforts to tame the ego. They’re popular with spiritual seekers who might have previously imagined themselves the center of the universe, the master of others, or even the master of spirit. The ego, after all, can drive many regrets such as the tendency to abuse power, indulge in privilege, believe one kind of person more, or less valuable than others, etc. Learning to tame the ego can be a useful task. If you believe in reincarnation you might seek solace in the fact that lifetimes of abuse can also teach compassion – or you might simply appreciate the value of gaining a deep sense of connection and compassion in the first place.
I have no doubt that the ego can be tamed, but like a wild horse I imagine it is best if the ego is tamed with love, as much as discipline. The ego is a strength as much as a weakness. It drives invention, effort and healing. It intensifies experience. It creates a sense of identity. It nurtures personal strength. Don’t most teenagers party hard, obsess about image and chase worldly ambitions? I still appreciate the odd immature indulgence to this day. How can we hope to know the limits of a path if we never walk upon it? This is not to say that people should willfully indulge their own arrogance and ignore the world around them. It is just to say that mistakes may not be all that they seem – and when we come to realise that we can experience more internal peace.
All is healing I’ve heard it said. All is insight.
I’ve been told that Rajneesh Osho experienced enlightenment after the split with his off-sider Sheela. An outspoken woman who rose in the ranks of that religious movement, Sheela eventually fled under a cloud, accused of all sorts of shady dealings. Apparently evidence was brought forward to say that Osho was just as corrupt, so who knows what led to that moment of insight…I was not there to judge, but I do remember being struck by a televised press conference when he and his disciples were in hysterics as he laughed and laughed and said something like “I did it to show that religion doesn’t work, will never work.” I don’t expect that he was referring to a conscious plan.
What does that mean – all is healing, all is insight?
This is a challenging concept and I’ll talk about it more again because I’ve heard it interpreted to mean that trauma is a lesson we need – but is it appropriate, for example, to tell a parent who’s lost a child that this is a lesson for them? One spirit (which an accomplished medium channeled) begged us to never do that. Trauma is real, tragic. We can make the best of it in terms of our response – but let us not belittle the pain.
Aversion to death and destruction is a natural survival mechanism – pro life. I firmly believe that enlightenment must be pro life too (and no, I’m not talking about abortion). I’m talking about the big picture perspective, which I suspect is only part of the pro-life story. The big picture paints life as a kind of film, so that the more dramatic the life, the richer the wisdom that results. This seems logical. Yet I have been told that enlightenment is connected with two aspects at once: detachment from the personal AND yet also love, the heart. Here again is the dualism that riddles our lives – yet it is in just this sort of riddle that I believe the more complete version of enlightenment can be found. Enlightenment is both intensely humanist and yet at the same time reaches way beyond the human. Surely enlightened beings see beyond surface appearances to love and respect all unconditionally, regardless of their behaviour (or the understandable inclination to discipline those behaviours)? Surely they see them for who they really are?
All is healing. All is insight they say.
In Siddharta, a novel by Herman Hesse a ferryman meets Buddha on the road, but decides to go his own way and live like a hermit in the country side, ferrying people to and fro across the river. Over time he grows to appreciate all of these people, his face reflects all their stories, his wisdom grows to accommodate all of their insights. No longer at war with the world he grows calm. He finds peace.
All is healing. All is insight.
I applaud spiritual seekers and understand that for some, the time is right to commit to a spiritual discipline. For me, for now, my enlightenment means knowing that I don’t need to strive for spiritual development. My enlightenment is trusting that over time I too am drifting towards peace. For now, for me, that is enough…a work in progress.