Let’s just start out by saying what ‘enlightenment’ is NOT:

  • Sainthood
  • Bliss
  • An end to events arriving in your life
  • All bills paid by some form of ‘cosmic direct debit’ 1
  • A floating detachment from life
  • Freedom ‘to’

Some things it might be like:

  • Lightness
  • Warmth
  • Presence
  • Balance
  • Ceasing to construe events as ‘problems’
  • In the moment
  • Freedom ‘from’
  • and most succinctly, ‘waking from the dream’

There’s a very well-known Zen saying:

“Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water. After enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water.”

often attributed to  Xinxin Ming

It points to the simple fact that there is no change in the conditions of being alive through ‘enlightenment’: afterwards, just as before, it is necessary to eat, sleep, excrete, pay bills… nothing is changed; and yet everything is changed, a paradox. And we will get a lot of this — that is, paradox.

If we were to look up synonyms for the word ‘enlightenment’ in a dictionary we will find clear evidence that the word is not much use as pointing to anything specific, which is why I tend to surround it with quotes.

A consideration of what those who have undergone this ‘enlightenment’ refer to it as, gives a more useful set of starting points:

  • freedom
  • awareness
  • liberation
  • awakeness

So let’s look at these a little.

  • Freedom, but not freedom to, freedom from. From what? Freedom from delusion. 
  • Awareness, fine; but of what? Awareness of being aware.
  • Liberation, OK: but liberation from what? From believing that one is what one is not.
  • Awakeness, great; but awake to what? To life as it is.

Great claims. Perhaps you’d like to test them for your self?

If you are coming with more of a traditional ‘spiritual’ search, if you are looking for a ‘spiritual path’ or a ‘path with heart’ — then there’s something you need to know:

 There is no spiritual path! There is nothing outside of you!

UG Krishnamurti.
  1. The phrase originates with Roger Linden. It’s so pithy I trust he does not mind me quoting him here