What is Enlightenment Anyway?

Philosophy and yogi science help define the obscure.

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Regardless which school of thought you belong to, a beginner’s approach to the idea of enlightenment is typically a teeny bit superficial, with a hat-tilt toward life without suffering, equipped with unyielding peace and virtue, ultimate knowledge, and bliss.

If only it were that easy. In practice, attaining this elusive yet historically well-documented state of being involves serious self-inquiry. For starters, every existential philosophy worth its salt has an extensive story regarding the contrast of the hardships in human life and the virtuosity of heaven.

From the ancient Hindu worldview, Samadhi is the absolute state of union with the divine essence itself, where supreme bliss, awareness, and power form an ever-present state of oneness. Through the wide-ranging practices set forth by the Sutras and personified in the Vedas, this state of enlightenment can be achieved at the pinnacle of concentration and relaxed focus before total dissolution into the oneness of Brahman.

Depending on what kind of Buddhist practitioner you ask, some will strive for Enlightenment—noted as the “wisdom of emptiness,” which describes enlightenment as the illuminated understanding that all things are interconnected and thus conditional. Others will avoid this pursuit in lieu of Nirvana—described as the “end of suffering;” attained after having resolved all bad karmic relationships across all previous lifetimes and thus ending the cycle of perpetual reincarnation.

Psychologist Carl Jung said that, “Enlightenment is making the dark conscious.” From this point of view, enlightenment is the result of bringing into consciousness the dark underbelly comprising the human sub- and unconsciousness. Overcoming greed, selfishness, and hatred, inner peace and self-acceptance arise. This perception of enlightenment does not include resolving any issues or consequences that come from the newfound knowledge, which makes it different from traditional Eastern religious thought.

In the Zen philosophy of English philosopher Alan Watts, finding enlightenment is to completely realize that life itself is meaningless until value is realized, a kind of “elevated purposelessness.” This perception is far less morose than Nietzsche’s idea that life is simply meaningless, though not quite as esteemed as the Theraveda Buddhists Nibbana: A state of living without the latches of stress and conceit.

From the yogic science as translated through Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, enlightenment is an accessible state for anyone, whether he is deeply devout or deeply oblivious. When the mind is freed from daily stresses and remains in equanimity through all states of being and emotionality, the light-bringer, or guru, arrives. From this place of internalized trust and peace, simplicity in nature and speech is found, light and pure. He describes enlightened beings as innocence, and as having a natural simplicity.

The defining feature of all these philosophies describing the “enlightenment state” is the proverbial quest for freedom. When we strip down these ideas from their anthropological suits, dilute the romance and get down to it, what we are left with is an English word that basically means, to bring light.

If we reel in heavy-hitter questions like, “What is the meaning of my life?” and “What sacrifices do I need to pursue in order to become as presumably blessed out as God herself?” and simplify the idea to its etymology we get to this: Why do I want to turn the light on? The answer is remarkably simple: To shine light into a darker space in order to see more clearly. To this end, there is no guarantee that the process of turning on the light, or of seeing what there is to see, will be enjoyable or beautiful. There is no presumption that we can understand, handle, organize or get rid of what has been illuminated.

Maybe it all really is just one seemingly endless cycle of seeking for the light switch, using it, and looking around.

Niki Saccareccia

Niki Saccareccia (E-500) is an author and Clinical Behavior Therapist. Niki’s insight into personal transformation is a unique and rare blend of methods from Western Psychology and Eastern Wisdom Traditions. Her approach is practical and concise, blending the best elements of alignment and mindfulness teachings into her classes. For more about Niki, visit www.lightinsideyoga.com.