The reality of enlightenment is a central tenet of Buddhism.
Enlightenment is not a Sanskrit or Pali word and in fact has no direct relationship with the word in the classical languages that is translated as ‘enlightenment’.
The ancient word is BUDH, a root simply meaning ‘to wake’ or ‘to regain consciousness’.
Many theories, ideas and opinions are spoken and written regarding enlightenment – what is it; how is it achieved; is it gradual or instantaneous; is it a process or an event? But at its core the teaching of what we call enlightenment conveys the concept of awakening; that is, awakening from a dream and awakening to reality. When asked who he was The Buddha replied “I am one who is awake”. And in awakening to reality one has regained consciousness and awareness; awareness of freedom from illusion and freedom from delusion; awakening not from a dream but to the dream, the dream that this life and world is what constitute reality.
It would be fair to say then that a generally acceptable practical definition is:
Enlightenment = Wakening; Freedom; Liberation.
This enlightenment, or more correctly ‘awakening’, with its freedom, its liberation, is a central tenet of Buddhism and, in some variation or other, of very many religions and philosophical systems. This presentation will focus on enlightenment from the viewpoint of Advaita Vedanta, the teaching of Nonduality, particularly as expressed through Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj, two of the best known Advaitan sages of recent history.
Can a person be enlightened?
Nisargadatta said, “Liberation is never of the person; it is always from the person. The person is but a shell imprisoning you. Break the shell”.
“…. never of the person”. If we believe a person can be enlightened, can be liberated, we must ask “Who is the person?” Who is ‘I’? Am I a body? A mind? A body/mind? Investigation will clearly show there is no individual entity called “I”. That which is seen in a mirror or seen by others is just a body exhibiting certain behaviours, expressions, and modes of conduct all of which are the result of a lifelong process of mental conditioning. Sri Ramana Maharshi said, “The wrong knowledge of ‘I am the body’ is the cause of all the mischief”.
An individual, self-existing person is an illusion. The ego is the belief that I am a separate self. It is a creation of mind, a product of thought and thinking processes. Liberation is from the false notion, “I am the person”. Enlightenment is awakening to the fact that there is no one to be enlightened.
“I DON’T EXIST” and yet, I am. (I is not; am is.)
Liberation is never of the person; it is always from the person.
So, if there is liberation from the false notion of “I”, who or what is it that can knows “I AM”?
“When the mind is quiet, we come to know ourselves as the pure witness”
No ego; no sense of a separate self; just the pure witness. But how to know this witness, this state of non-personal being? And how to quiet the mind? How do we clear away the constant chatter and distractions thrown up by the mind? The method given by Sri Ramana Maharshi was Self Inquiry, the inquiry into the source of the “I thought”. This is a method but not an empty psychological formula nor a mantra. As the ego is a thought-created illusion, Self Inquiry is an earnest inquiry into the nature of the “I thought” and its origin. We need to know what we are not in order to know what we are. Question the activities of the mind. Observe. Ask, earnestly and often, “To whom do these thoughts come? They come to me. Who is ‘me’? Who am I?” The ego-I has no existence apart from thoughts. What is real is the witness, the pure Self, the Intelligence Energy, That Nameless and Formless ONE, Being-ness itself. However we cannot seek this One for it is all that we are. We can only know it by negation, “Not this; not that.” Remove all that is not the Self. In knowing what we are not we come to understand what we are.
Like an infant, be happy to be, not trying to be this or that. Understanding that the Self alone is real brings freedom from the craving to be someone or something and that freedom brings the cessation of psychological suffering. Knowing that I am neither the body nor the mind I can live in peace, untroubled by the weakness of the body and the chattering of the mind.
Why do we search for the Self? Seeking is the problem. Was there ever a time when the socalled body-mind person was separate from the self? Why seek enlightenment? Understand what is not in order to know what is. There is no one to be enlightened, no one to seek. The Self, Being-ness, the witness….. call it what you will …… is, as the Dzogchen Buddhist scriptures say, the changeless, unmodified, undifferentiated, self-shining, everpresent Awareness, “…just this and nothing more”.
Who is enlightened? Enlightenment, liberation, is freedom from the person not of the person.
Call off the search. You are already That which you seek.