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Pointers to Presence
Enlightenment: Spiritual Enlightenment
What is Enlightenment?
A Brief Discussion byJames Swartz
Enlightenment is liberation from the vagaries of existence.
There are two basic theories of enlightenment: the experiential theory and the knowledge theory. The experiential theory is the most common. It says that our conditioning stands in the way of our experience of freedom and proposes various methods to remove and/or transcend conditioning. Conditioning is the welter of habitual beliefs, opinions and actions that keep our attention solely on the body/mind and the world and not on the self, which is of the nature of ever-free consciousness. It is a dualistic doctrine based on the apparent reality of subject and object. I, the subject, feel limited by any number of things: time, money, health, power, education, the color or my skin, etc. Because the feeling of limitation is not acceptable to me, I would like to free myself of it. Therefore I take up certain practices, which could roughly be called meditations, to accomplish my goal. At some point during my practice I transcend or destroy my conditioning and gain the experience of limitless freedom. Buddha’s Eightfold Path and Ashtanga Yoga are the traditional methods for gaining experiential freedom.
Enlightenment as self realization or self knowledge is the second theory. It is based on the fact that reality is non-dual, unlike the experiential theory. It is the settled conviction based on direct observation there is only one self, the nature of which is ever-free consciousness, or awareness, and that I am it, not the body/mind/ego that I believe myself to be. It is the understanding that I am everything that is. It is the rock solid conviction that no matter what happens, good or bad, I am completely OK. This knowledge frees the self from the belief that it is an individual, limited being and destroys its attachment to objects. Gross and subtle objects include everything experienced. The proof of this kind of enlightenment, which is not merely an intellectual appreciation of freedom, is the cessation of the pursuit of objects: love, power, fame, wealth, virtue, pleasure and so forth.
It is unassailable understanding that because I am eternal, I am completely secure. Wealth cannot make me more secure. It is the bedrock knowledge that the pleasures available in the world of appearances are but dim reflections of the pleasure that I am. I need not strive to be virtuous because I am goodness itself. This knowledge does not convert the mind to an endless bliss machine; it infuses the mind with a sense of authenticity, wholeness and confidence that it can weather any existential storm.
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