A short look at Enlightenment in advance of our event about the Indian sage Ramana Maharshi Saturday. We’ll be asking some of the following questions:
The practise of Buddhism is for Enlightenment – spiritual release from suffering.
Quite what that is, of course, you won’t know until you experience it directly. But saints and sages have assured us that it is there, and that it is the summation of life, the summum bonum of existence. A good that has no good beyond it.
It is also ineffable; which means that it cannot be put into words.
The Tao Te Ching thus begins:
The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao.
The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.
(full text here)
According to Buddhism, the chief characteristic of full enlightenment, is a total absence of suffering.
This enlightenment is your own nature. It is not something that you can ‘attain’ as such,because anything that arises, will also cease. This is why the Buddha described it as ‘awakening’, which is the meaning of the word ‘Buddho’. It is permanent and unchanging, and is the ‘supreme security from bondage’.
So Enlightenment must already be there. The trouble is, the mind is obscured with habits (Karma), defliements (Kilesa) and it flows outwards (asava). So the real nature of yourself is hidden and forgotten.
If this is true, then one would expect many people to have discovered it over the ages right? How many people? One in a hundred? In a thousand? In a million?
For those who have not hit upon the target, how can we tell if someone is enlightened or not? What kind of characteristics and teachings do such beings have?
According to Buddhism at least, there are many such enlightened people. They are called Paccekha Buddhas – or ‘solitary’ Buddhas. Their main characteristic is that they cannot teach. A ‘Sammasambuddha‘ on the other hand, one who is fully perfected in character before attaining to Enlightenment, is about to teach multitudes. This is who Siddhartha Gotoma, or Shakyamuni Buddha was 2500 years ago.
In fact Enlightenment might be more common than you expect. You assume that you would hear about these great and noble beings if they lived nearby, but that might not really the case. It could be your neighbour, and you might never know.
Remember one of the biggest gaffs in the history of science – when Scientific American magazine wrote January 13, 1906 if anyone had flown a machine heavier than air, then we would have heard about it. This was their erroneous refutation of the Wright brothers flight of the world’s first real plane.
In fact we do get to hear about many enlightened beings; one of whom is Ramana Maharshi, from South India. His main teaching was silence – a silence which seems to transform many lives.
When I first got involved with meditation via the Thai Ajahn Chah monasteries there was something of an exodus happening amongst the ranks. Many supporters and residents were leaving the monastery to head to Lucknow, in North India, to be with a many known as Papaji. He too was an Enlightened being (so far as it is possible to ascertain).
The idea was that our teacher is not enlightened, so better to go see one who knows what they are talking about.
I wasn’t so excited myself. I was happy just staying in the temple, doing chores. But on my way to Thailand to ordain as a monk, I did go to call in on Papaji.
I found him to be a charming and warmly humorous man. I loved the fact that he did not come out when the cricket was playing!
But Papaji had no real teaching. You could go sit with him, and he would read from a book. Towards the end of the morning he would answer questions that were written down and had passed his ‘handlers’.
[how I love Youtube!]
There are many others you might look up – from the strange to the wacky, Indian to American, and from Christian to Buddhist. Try out Gangaji, or the fabulous Mooji. Or look through some of the texts on Nonduality.com
For my own perspective, I sat in front of Papaji, and did not get enlightened. For me the path is a longer one. When I got to Thailand I found many inspiring beings, not the least of which is still the man I admire most in the world, my Upajjaya (preceptor) who gave me ordination.
Buddhism offers a path and a method. Other enlightened beings get caught by the ‘ineffable’ nature of non-duality. It can’t be talked about (Papaji agrees here). Talking naturally divides and splits things up – it is dual by nature. It takes a Sammasambuddha to really understand the path, and show it to other people.
This is what the practises are in Buddhism. No, a practise cannot make you enlightened, but it can take you in the right direction. As one commentator put it – Enlightenment is an accident, but meditation makes you more accident prone.