What does it mean to be enlightened? My husband and I were arguing about it the other day.
Okay – after writing that down and looking at that statement again, I laughed to myself out loud. What an absolute JOY to be arguing about enlightenment! Of all the trivial things we could be discussing, we have a heated argument about the credentials of transcendence.
Back to the subject at hand: What is enlightenment? What does it mean to have this label or state of being?
Is it the long, painstaking acquisition of some mysterious body of knowledge?
Is it the emptying of yourself to transcend this ordinary life?
Is it necessary to spend years “in the wilderness” or temples in order to achieve it?
Is it necessary to swear off your family, friends, life possessions and trivial pursuits in order to claim it?
I don’t feel that detachment from reality or the act of “acquisition” is the real answer.
As my honorary grandfather Mel (over at Melting-Pot Dharma) might perhaps say, it is recognizing the Buddha within. It is seeing the connection, rather than the detachment, of the world around you.
Some of us need the temples and wilderness to know this, and others do not. But in recognizing the divine that is already there, and working to keep it top of mind, THAT is enlightenment in my opinion.
I was discussing this with my husband, who (I think) holds in the back of his mind that “enlightened” ones of high regard will have physically worked and put time into developing this title. But do they? Where do we get this assumption? And why do we demand these qualifications to this kind of title? Is it because we have such high expectations of this level of “achievement?”
I think my husband might think this, in part, because he has spent years studying Shaolin Kung Fu. He has put in his time. Almost 13 years of time.
To him, the discipline and practice is what makes you the master, the teacher – and in a lot of ways, we see other “enlightened” ones as teachers, or expect them to be. Masters of some kind. In Kung Fu, if you put in the time, effort, and dedication you are rewarded with opportunity to teach others and to be an example to others. This comes with – and is expected of – the titles and degrees.
So it goes with our modern society. We like to see teachers, self-proclaimed “experts” and masters as having the necessary credentials in order to lay claim to the designation (i.e. licenses, graduate school, years in the wilderness, years in the temples, etc.).
But when applied to spirituality, and awakened-ness, I think this is slightly a flawed assumption.
Credentials are conditional, and the state of so-called enlightenment is not conditional. It is like an unconditional love. It exists without any presumption or prerequisite.
It exists because life exists.
Recognizing it does not take work and time in the human sense; it only takes desire and openness to see beyond the material and spiritual borders we ourselves have drawn. Whether that takes years or minutes should not affect your “enlightened-ness.”
You do not need credentials to know divinity; to know God.
But I do agree with my husband that in order to teach this “knowledge” you need to find your proper credentials, the ones that speak to you. You need time to sift this out. Find your footing. Relax into the role if that is what you are after. Build trust with the world on your viewpoint.
But to be an “enlightened” person doesn’t mean you are going to teach, and it certainly doesn’t mean you claim to be an expert or a master. You just are, and are eternally becoming.
To me, to be awakened is to realize the interconnected-ness of all. That separation is an illusion. That there is a divinity within us that we don’t have to strive for or work to achieve – only to yield. Because it’s already there in its imperfect perfectness.
After discussing this with my husband, and tearing up a bit (as I usually do when talking about interconnected-ness), we both ended the discussion with a thoughtful “Hmm.” The best way to end a discussion…a little open-ended.
Do you really need to empty yourself to transcend this fleshy existence? Enter into the void that is above and beyond humanity?
I don’t believe there is some magical transcendence of reality, or the emptying of the Self. I don’t think there is some divine void above humanity.
It is within humanity.
Love it with all your heart.
In the end, isn’t Enlightenment just another label, another set of constructs that we set upon a preconceived notion of our most ideal selves?
What is your ideal state of being? Mine is love; infinite love, and I try to always keep it at the forefront.
Husband, thank you for discussing these themes with me. I love you to the cosmos and back ❤