Is Enlightenment A Myth?
This is an important question, and one that should be asked; we can’t say enlightenment is a certainty as that would be blind faith, but as you are reading this, you must feel – like me – that there is a possibility. Much will depend on what we think enlightenment is. If we see it as clarity of mind and heart, we will have one understanding. If we see it as being omniscient, able to fly, walk on water, leave imprints on rocks and create a hundred thousand emanations, then that is another view.
Clarity of mind and heart: clarity of “heart” is the clear nature of mind, and clarity of “mind” is the exhaustion of all conceptual attitudes. To speak of supernatural phenomena is hearsay. I was once at a monastery in Boudhanath in Nepal just after a Tulku had died, and students spoke about “ringsels” (small whitish pills) lying around as being a spiritual sign of the Tulku’s purity. My first thought was that someone had dropped their “tic-tac” mints, but this belief worked for them. I just have to lay it on the table of potentials for a future understanding.
It is still right to ask, “Is it possible? Do we know of anyone who is enlightened, and could we recognise them if they were?”
Our understanding is individual, and will depend to an extent on our culture. In our modern culture, there is a tendency not to trust anything. This is a misunderstanding of the ancient teaching of the illusory nature of everything combined with people not trusting governments and the media any more. We have muddled cultures.
To start to understand the potential of enlightenment, we first have to be open minded enough to use logical reasoning – not contaminated intelligence. Merely saying, “I don’t understand!” reveals much about our attitude, and our capacity to understand.
It will depend on what we can actually prove for ourselves, what can be inferred and what can be trusted. Maybe it’s 75% provable, 20% inference and 5% trust. That 5% is to do with devotion, but first, we need to warm up a little and have a good heart. It’s what makes us human – the ability to empathise and show compassion. This is more than a philosophical debate.
Many acquaintances laugh when I use the word ‘enlightenment’, but that is because of their view. I follow the Tibetan Buddhist path, so in everyday prayers, there are lines such as “May I become enlightened for the benefit of all.” I take this to heart – it’s my ‘way’. Others have a different ‘way’.
If, through practice and understanding, we feel better, more confident, clearer and above all more able to love and be compassionate, then that is a good sign. From where I started in life, it’s remarkable! Remember that clarity of mind and heart can always be refined.
Is enlightenment still a myth?
Well, life is pretty short, so we have to make our decision, or die confused, and not knowing. We, as sentient beings, have great imaginations which have a powerful effect on us. If we want to be a footballer, we can; the same goes for anything else. How successful we are will depend on the effort we put in, together with our actual capacity, and background.
Let’s say we just want to be wise beyond normal intelligence, to know the difference between what is real and what seems to be real. Well, Buddhism explains that all phenomena in the universe is impermanent, and that all thoughts are also impermanent. And that there is a reality that is constantly clear and aware of all appearances.
I guess it comes down to ‘Enlightenment is clarity’.
It’s just a guess.