What is Enlightenment?
Suffering just means you�re having a bad dream. Happiness means you�re having a good dream. Enlightenment means getting out of the dream altogether. Jed McKenna
If you search through the books amongst the shelves of a good spiritually oriented bookstore, you will find innumerable definitions, most of them hinting at unimaginable bliss and fulfillment of all that we could wish for. The vast majority of these definitions are misleading if not totally wrong.
To begin with, enlightenment is not an experience of any kind. If you accept that the Self is non-dual, it is a contradiction in terms to talk about �experiencing the Self�. Who would experience what? Also, the Self is the only reality so it makes no sense to speak of this Self becoming enlightened. A large part of the confusion here is the failure to differentiate between �becoming enlightened� and �becoming liberated�. Many people talk about it as though, one minute we are limited, suffering individuals and the next minute we are boundless, free and blissful. It cannot be like this.
Although in reality there is no person, it is at this empirical level of reality (vyavahAra) where there appears to be a separate person. The reason for this mistaken view of things is ignorance at the level of the mind. Specifically, the nature of this ignorance is mixing up the real and unreal � adhyAsa.
Since the reality is that there is only brahman, then it follows that we are already That (as the neo-teachers keep telling us). There is no �merging� into brahman because we were never separate. Nothing we can do will liberate us because we are already free. So what is the problem then? We don�t know this fact. We know that we exist and we know that we are conscious but we don�t know that we are unlimited. Ramana advocates Atma vichAra - investigation into the Self. An element of this is asking �Who am I?� but simply repeating this like a mantra is not going to achieve anything. What is lacking is Self-knowledge and some external teaching is required to provide this. Of all the means of knowledge available to us, the only one that can provide this knowledge is shabda pramANa � scriptural knowledge, ideally imparted by a teacher. It is the ideas in the mind which bind us but the mind is also where the Self-knowledge takes place that brings enlightenment.
Of course, once this awakening has taken place, it is realized that the seeming person, mind and knowledge were all part of the mistaken view and that before, during and after, there was only the Self and no actual person to �become enlightened�.
Swami Paramarthananda tells a story about a game he used to play as a child. They would take a child into a room that was entirely empty and then would place pillows about the room and stand the child up against one wall. He was told to memorize the positions of the pillows and then they blindfolded him. He was then told that he had to cross the room to the other wall without touching any of the pillows. The other children then watched as he very carefully edged his way forward. Whenever they laughed, he would retreat and move sideways before trying again. Eventually he reached the other wall and was allowed to remove the blindfold. He then discovered that all of the pillows had been removed before he began and that he had been moving across an empty floor trying to avoid non-existent objects.
And he says that mokSha is like this. As seekers, we make our way through life trying to avoid all the pitfalls of self-ignorance and arrive at the other wall of Self-knowledge and enlightenment. But when we attain enlightenment, we realize that there never were any obstacles to begin with. In a sense, the ignorance was non-existent � tat tvam asi already.
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