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What is Enlightenment?


Although I personally don't often use the word enlightenment, it is a term commonly found in spiritual writings, not only those with a strong Buddhist connection but many other teachers reference it as well. The word enlighten comes from the Latin prefix en meaning "in, into" and the word lux meaning "light." Dictionaries, however, to have difficulty agreeing upon a simple definition and often state that enlightenment is the "state of being enlightened" thereby avoiding a more specific interpretation. 

Starting in 1991 and continuing until 2011 a magazine was published titled "What is Enlightenment?" (later the name changed to EnlightenmentNext) It's pages were devoted to the many, varied perspectives concerning the question implicit in the magazine's title. Over the years it became obvious that there was no consensus of the word's meaning or significance among the many spiritual communities. So, let's take a peek for ourselves. 

Although some teachers avoid using the word "enlightenment" we'll look at a few quotes that incorporate the term. I particularly appreciate the cautionary remarks by A.H. Almaas as we approach this subject: 

"Actually, there is no universal or agreed upon definition, or even understanding, of the concept of enlightenment. Different traditions use the word differently. Different teachers refer to different realities when they use it. And most people have not the vaguest idea what they are talking about when referring to enlightenment. Sometimes enlightenment means the attainment of a certain stage of Being. Sometimes it refers to a certain insight, perception or understanding. Sometimes it refers to a certain stage of inner development, usually the final stage, which becomes problematic since different traditions take different conditions to be the final stage. Sometimes it signifies the transcendence of ego, other times the death of ego, still other times the transformation of ego... we cannot use the concept assuming it means the same thing in all teachings or traditions." 

Jac O'Keeffe's perspective, with which I resonate best, is that enlightenment is merely a concept of the dualistic mind that thinks in terms of opposites, suggesting that an individual is either enlightened or unenlightened. When it is seen that there can be no separate person to be either enlightened or unenlightened, but just the oneness, the question of enlightenment falls away.




True enlightenment is nothing but the nature of one's own self being fully realized.

~ Dalai Lama


The idea of enlightenment is of utmost importance. Just to know that there is such possibility changes one's entire outlook. It acts like a burning match in a heap of saw dust. A spark of truth can burn up a mountain of lies. The very hearing of it is a promise of enlightenment. 

~ Nisargadatta Maharaj 


Enlightenment is a destructive process. It has nothing to do with becoming better or being happier. Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth. It's seeing through the facade of pretense. It's the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true. 

~ Adyashanti 


Self-Realization or Enlightenment is nothing more than the deepest possible understanding that there is no individual doer of any action - neither you nor anyone else. Also you are not the thinker of any thoughts, nor the experiencer of any experiences - they happen. When IT happens, no bright lights are likely to flash in your head!

~ Ramesh Balsekar


Therefore, the very impermanency of grass and tree, thicket and forest is the Buddha nature. The very impermanency of men and things, body and mind, is the Buddha nature. Nature and lands, mountains and rivers, are impermanent because they are the Buddha nature. Supreme and complete enlightenment, because it is impermanent, is the Buddha nature.

~ Dogen


The word 'enlightenment' conjures up the idea of some superhuman accomplishment ... it is really just your natural state of felt oneness with Being.

~ Eckhart Tolle


Enlightenment is not about becoming divine, instead it s about becoming more full human. 

~ Lama Surya Das 


Your natural state is enlightenment. Enlightenment isn’t a wild, out there experience that only a few people will ever achieve and ever get to - everybody is enlightened. Enlightenment is just a word for talking about your true nature.

~ Adyashanti


Knowing others is Wisdom, knowing yourself is Enlightenment. ~ Lao Tzu When I talk about Enlightenment, I talk about it very, very specifically, and it s extremely simple. In humans, at around the age of two-and-a-half, a profound shift occurs in which we change from spontaneous, free-flowing beings, to creatures in which everything is about Me! and Mine! and how to get what want and think I need. It is the moment that the false sense of personal authorship starts. It happens to virtually every human being. It is the false sense that  I, as this body-mind organism, am the source that makes things happen. (false sense of being the doer of actions) It is this false sense of authorship that creates suffering, because the new perception is that I am in control of things. Yet there is continuous evidence to the contrary that I am not in control. So a powerful tension is established. Later, for some people, for whatever reason, that sense of personal authorship permanently dissolves. We can say it dies. That event is called Enlightenment. Over the millennia, people have mystified the hell out of it. Basically, it s an event that happens in the history of some human organisms. 

~ Wayne Liquorman 


Enlightenement or awakening is not the creation of a new state of affairs but the recognition of what already is. 

~ Alan Watts 


Suffering just means you’re having a bad dream. Happiness means you’re having a good dream. Enlightenment means getting out of the dream altogether.

~ Jed McKenna


To be without a reference point is the ultimate loneliness. It is also called enlightenment.

~ Pema Chodron


Enlightenment must come little by little - otherwise it would overwhelm.

~ Idries Shah


Enlightenment is real; and each of us, whoever we are, can in the right circumstances and with the right training realize the nature of mind and so know in us what is deathless and eternally pure. This is the promise of all the great mystical traditions of the world, and it has been fulfilled and is being fulfilled in countless thousands of human lives. The wonder of this promise is that it is something not exotic, not fantastic, not for an elite, but for all of humanity; and when we realize it, the masters tell us, it is unexpectedly ordinary. Spiritual truth is not something elaborate and esoteric, it is in fact profound common sense. When you realize the nature of mind, layers of confusion peel away. You don t actually become a buddha, you simply cease, slowly, to be deluded. And being a buddha is not being some omnipotent spiritual superman, but becoming at last a true human being. 

~ Sogyal Rinpoche 


To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment. 

~ Eckhart Tolle 


The soul informed by the ego is asleep. This is why enlightenment is called awakening -- your soul wakes up to what is really here. . . The most evident manifestation of the soul being asleep is one's unshakable conviction in conventional or consensus reality, and in the content of one's overall social conditioning. 

~ A.H. Almaas 


Vedanta contends that duality is merely a belief brought on by ignorance of the nature of reality, not a fact. In fact, reality is non-dual. . . . The subject is not different from the objects. Both the subject and the objects are apparent manifestations of the non-dual self or consciousness. Enlightenment is the freedom from suffering that arises when the non-dual nature of the self is fully appreciated. When you no longer take yourself to be separate from the world of objects& yes, people too are objects in duality& conflict dies and the subject is free of the desire to obtain and maintain objects. 

~ James Swartz 


To study the way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things. 

~ Dogen 


Enlightenment is not a certified event. God has not certified any event as enlightenment. Therefore, what is enlightenment? No one can give you an answer and therefore my answer is ⎯ enlightenment is a concept and according to my concept you are enlightened if you are happy. If you have got the happiness you are seeking, you are enlightened.

~ Ramesh S. Balsekar


Enlightenment is understanding that there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, and nobody you have to be except exactly who you’re being right now.

~ Neale Donald Walsch


Enlightenment is not something that you have to invent. It is something that you have to discover. It is already there. It is not something that you have to manufacture. If you have to manufacture it, of course, it will take time; but it is already there. Close your eyes and see it there. Be silent and have a taste of it. Your very nature is what I call enlightenment. Enlightenment is not something alien, outside you. It is not somewhere else in time and space. It is you, your very core.

~ Osho


You may have expected that enlightenment would come Zap! instantaneous and permanent. This is unlikely. After the first  ah ha experience, it can be thought of as the thinning of a layer of clouds. 

~ Ram Dass


Awakening is the process of deprogramming - enlightenment is the unprogrammed state.

~ Jed McKenna


According to this teaching, the definition of enlightenment is as follows: Enlightenment is the end of suffering, or in other words, unwavering peace of mind in daily living regardless of the circumstance we find ourself in, and this peace of mind comes with the stabilized recognition of our unbroken connection to Source.

~ Roger Castillo

The very desire to seek spiritual enlightenment is in fact nothing but the grasping tendency of the ego itself, and thus the very search for enlightenment prevents it. The "perfect practice" is therefore not to search for enlightenment, but to inquire into the motive for seeking itself. You obviously seek in order to avoid the present, and yet the present alone holds the answer: to seek forever is to miss the point forever. You always already are enlightened Spirit, and therefore to seek Spirit is simply to deny Spirit. You can no more attain Spirit than you can attain your feet or acquire your lungs.

~ Ken Wilber


Enlightenment is permanent because we have not produced it; we have merely discovered it.” 

~ Chögyam Trungpa


Enlightenment is one more concept to add to your collection, yet another idea regarding improving yourself, discovering yourself, or obtaining peace and happiness.

~ Wu Hsin


We need enlightenment, not just individually but collectively, to save the planet. We need to awaken ourselves. We need to practice mindfulness if we want to have a future, if we want to save ourselves and the planet. 

~ Thich Nhat Hanh


Enlightenment is nothing more than the complete absence of resistance to what is. End of story.

~ Adyashanti



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