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Three Meanings Of Enlightenment

September 25, 2013

The term “enlightenment” actually refers to three different types of experiences. All of them are somewhat nifty, but not really worth going to any trouble to attain. An entirely separate experience is that of human adulthood, or self actualization, and that is something worth striving for.

The first meaning of enlightenment is captured by the term “satori”, which refers to an instantaneous awakening. It is akin to seeing a landscape illuminated by a flash of lightning, or more accurately the moment when a necker cube suddenly transitions between going into the page and out of the page.


The second meaning of enlightenment refers to the temporary peak state that is experienced after the instantaneous flash of awakening. For a period of time, the doors of perception remain wide open, and the subconscious remains directly accessible. This state is much like the effects of the little pills in the movie Limitless. It can last anywhere from hours to months.

The third meaning of enlightenment is the state of abiding nondual awareness that results from the instantaneous awakening and persists after the peak state has faded. Once truth has been realized, it can’t be unrealized. This is like seeing a sports team mascot take off its big fuzzy head. You will always know there is a person inside there, even after it puts the head back on. Or like seeing an animal in this picture; the instant you perceive it, your brain physically changes so that you can never go back to just seeing random dots:


Which is all great if it happens, but there are two things to realize:

  1. Trying to attain enlightenment will prevent it from happening, and
  2. it provides no benefits whatsoever.

Therefore, as a goal, enlightenment is a complete waste of time and energy, because you can’t work towards it, and it won’t solve any problems for you. At best it is a harmless diversion. Before enlightenment, you are a human being living your life, dealing with your problems, after enlightenment you are still a human being, you are still living your life, and you still have to deal with all of your problems.

A video game analogy suits this situation well. If life is a video game, enlightenment is like the the secret hidden level you can get to where all of the bad guys wear Santa outfits, or where you get super powers but all of the game’s challenges get proportionally harder as well, so overall the fundamental dynamics of the game don’t change. Or it’s like an action RPG where you go on improving your character in the game, improving your stats and abilities, but as you do all of the bad guys get tougher as well, so the gameplay remains the same, and it gets neither easier nor harder to progress.

The state of human adulthood is something fundamentally different. This is where you become more responsible, more aware, more capable, and more wise, in a worldly sense. It is where you actually get better at handling your problems, eventually so good that they aren’t problems any more, and can set your sights higher. Your circle of influence expands, as does your circle of compassion. It is a state that can be worked towards and built up to little by little, and does come with definite benefits. It is not fleeting, it doesn’t happen in an instantaneous flash, and the only way to know you have made it is by looking back and realizing in retrospect that you have arrived. It is also not an on/off experience, but really a matter of degree.

In the video game analogy, enlightenment is like getting better in the game, getting a more flashy character with better graphics. Human adulthood is like getting better at the game. You don’t get a better character or any special abilities, you just get better at using what you have.

Human adulthood is where the true fulfillment of our potential lies. Expanding our circle of influence and compassion is what each of us should be working on day in and day out, whether we think we have already arrived or not. If your personal growth has plateaued, it doesn’t mean you have reached the end, it means you are stalling.

The next level is waiting.

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