I find it fascinating that insights and inspirations are almost universally referred to as “enlightenment.” I have no idea what the origin of that expression is; however, as widespread as the usage is, it is unlikely that it comes from a single source. Perhaps it is merely an extension of the natural observation that light makes it easier to see the details of material objects. What I find so interesting about the expression is that, when conducting brain scans, doctors and researchers look for the portion of the brain that is “lighting up.” So, I guess the term, enlightened, is completely appropriate.
What does it mean to be spiritually enlightened For the Christian, it might refer to the “new birth” experience or the infilling of the Holy Spirit. For Hindus and Buddhists, it has a very specific meaning and pertains to an awareness of being one with the universe and free from all desires.
There is a funny story about an exchange between an ancient Buddhist master and one of his students. In general, Buddhists believe that “true” enlightenment frees one from the various winds of life that can blow us about emotionally. This particular student had studied for many years under his master’s guidance. He had moved about 300 miles away, which in those days was quite a journey. At one point, the student composed a poem and sent it to his master to demonstrate his profound enlightenment. The master read the poem and wrote on the margin of the parchment, “fart, fart, fart” and returned it.
When the student saw what his master had written, he made the 300 mile arduous journey to obtain an explanation for the apparent insult. When they met, the master asked if the student felt that he was truly free from the winds of life. The student insisted that he was. “Yet,” the master responded “three little farts have blown you all this great way.”
This certainly illustrates the pitfall of setting enlightenment as a badge of accomplishment. This, I’m sure, is what is referred to in the Tai Te Ching when we read;
He who stands on tiptoe
Doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
Doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine
Dims his own light.
He who defines himself
Doesn’t know who he really is……….
Personally, I don’t think that enlightenment is a single event or a particular spiritual level to attain. On the contrary, whatever enlightenment I have experienced has been like a cosmic road map progressively being unfolded along the way.
For me it has required an honest and open consideration of reality. It has involved reading, thinking, contemplation, a willingness to acknowledge my mistakes, a recognition that truth may come from a variety of sources other than myself, a willingness to carefully listen to the opinions of others, and an abandonment of my desire to be the “source of wisdom.” One thing is certain; seeking a deeper understanding of spiritual/cosmic truths is not a path for those who are spiritually or intellectually complacent. Socrates put it this way, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”
At this point, I have come to the conclusion that the truth I have been seeking has been within me all the time. It is a matter of clearing out the debris that has accumulated in order for the light of truth to shine. This is by no means a new understanding, as seen in the following quotes. From a natural standpoint, I think this knowledge is infused in the ground of being that is the underlying substance of the entire universe. It is as much a part of us as our DNA.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood. – John 1:1-5
“A person’s soul may be compared to a transparent ball which is lit from the inside with its own light. This flame is not only the source of all light and truth, but it eluminates everything around you. In this state, the soul is free and happy. Only if it becomes addicted to anything outside you will it become troubled, darkened and impenetrable. Distractions obstruct the light which shows you the way.” -- Marcus Aurelius (2nd century AD Roman emperor)
“If a passion embraces you, you should remember that this passionate desire is not a part of your soul, but a dark covering that shuts out the true qualities of your soul. You should be a lantern for yourself. Draw close to the light within you and seek no other shelter.” – Buddhist wisdom
“God is not a distant remote being but a living presence to be discovered in the deep
centre of every human being.” -- George Gorman
“Do not believe that in religion you cannot trust your intellect. The force of our intellect must support the foundations of every real faith.” -- William Emery Channing
“Personality is the mask that obscures the divine being which dwells in every person.” -- Leo Tolstoy