Image by John Hain from Pixabay 

The fundamental problem is that there ISN’T a good word — language cannot address what we are pointing-to. The word ‘enlightenment’ in English as a shorthand for what is regarded as the highest ‘spiritual’ state is a fairly recent coining: 1865 it seems. And it apparently was derived by analogy from the use of the term the Enlightenment to describe the 17th and 18thC. period of change towards what we proudly regard as logical, scientific bases for principles. Hmm.

‘Enlightenment’ is often used as a name for the aim-point of those attempting to emulate the various objectives of Buddhist and Hindu practice, although it is not a translation of any of the native language terms used for this.

Possibly the closest approximation to that which the name ‘Buddha’ means is ‘awakened’ — but that’s also inexact as it would seem the original terms have other associated implications.

Moreover with ‘awakening’ the question is left open as to what is the awakening from, and what is the awakening to? More on this later.

‘Enlightenment’ does at least imply the presence of light, or illumination, or seeing.

What about ‘liberation’, another word often invoked?

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains


What sort of liberation are we talking of?

Of course, I have given some answers to these questions, but these are hardly definitive…

All the words suck

Awakening, liberation, enlightenment: none of these words are any real use at containing what we are talking about. Maybe that’s why we end up with so many words, so little clarity. Or perhaps its because the Uncontained can not be contained in any word?

‘Enlightenment’ is clearly a bit of a hit-and-miss word, a terminological mess.

So why use this word? It’s really just a flag: that’s what some of those who are seeking are using as a word or sign for what they are seeking.

It doesn’t really matter that the word is largely useless, because that seeker is never going to get what it seeks anyway, and this is just how it is: as you will find out, one fine day. And it will turn out that this is perfectly OK.

So the word’s just used here as a sort of signpost, a word as a sort of merchant’s mark. It is not important.

Merchant’s mark of Thomas Horton, wool merchant: Wikipedia

There is in fact a sort of ‘enlightened’ merchant’s mark for what is sought available in Zen: the Circle. It’s sounded as ‘Enso’ in English.

That’s this sign, with added English words:

Or in its purer form:

Originally from by Kanjuro Shibata XX “Enso”.

This is promising in some ways. First, note that there is no centre: it is empty. Next, note it has no beginning or end. It’s quite similar to another symbol shown here. Unfortunately, it is dualistic: there’s an inherent division, there’s an inside and an outside.

We can’t win it seems, with words, signs or symbols: they are all limited.

But in any case we’d better not use it here as a merchant’s mark, that would be potentially a trading offence 😉

First, because Zen teachings — indeed, any teachings — are not on offer here, you’ll have to go elsewhere for those; and second, because ‘Enlightenment’ is not on offer here either: I can’t offer it. It’s not in my power to do so. It will happen in its own time.