What is Enlightenment?

General discussion, particularly exploring the Dharma in the modern world.
[N.B. This is the forum that was called ‘Exploring Buddhism’. The new name simply describes it better.]
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catlady2112
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What is Enlightenment?

Postby catlady2112 » Mon Mar 31, 2014 4:06 am

This may sound like an provocative (or stupid) question to ask, but after 30 years of study and practice, this question comes up more and more with me.

I must admit I first got into Buddhism for self-centered reasons (not because of Enlightenment), but because I was tired of dealing with my mind run amok. I believe Buddhism saved my life at some level. I have complete confidence in the practices.

Now, what keeps me going is that I have a heartfelt compassion for people who suffer and live in mental turmoil. My heart goes out to them spontaneously. But Enlightenment still seems like a far off conceptual and unachievable goal.

It's hard for me to believe the Buddha expects us to feel this way or that we should struggle to attain it. And then again, what does "attaining" mean? If it is not a thing, how can it be attained? Isn't having a "goal" defeating the whole purpose? But then if we don't have a goal, why are we doing the practice? Lots to ponder...

dude
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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby dude » Mon Mar 31, 2014 4:27 am

Yeah, I don't agree about not having a goal.
The goal is to make progress.
If you have benefitted from practice up to now, that's progress.
Enlightenment is the ultimate goal, but there are many stages of practice.
There are lots small "enlightenments" along the way.
Enlightenment is the elimination of all suffering, but reducing suffering even a little bit is progress.

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Wayfarer
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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby Wayfarer » Mon Mar 31, 2014 4:32 am

The Buddhist term that was first translated as 'enlightenment' was bodhi. This was by the esteemed translator T. W. Rhys Davids, who founded the Pali Text society. Part of his motivation for using the word 'enlightenment' was because of his conviction that Buddhism had many of the characteristics that were idealised by the 'European enlightenment' such as rationality, self-reliance and the rejection of dogma.

On one hand there is 'supreme enlightenment' as 'the be-all and end-all', the end of all suffering, that is realized by the 'world-conquering hero's' such as the Buddha, which is remote from the common lot of mankind.

On the other hand, there is also the approach like that of Soto Zen, which emphasises the here-and-now, and practicing with great commitment but no idea of personal gain.

Perhaps the middle path is to realize that whilst enlightenment seems impossible, it is also present. I think that is the important point.

And then again, what does "attaining" mean? If it is not a thing, how can it be attained? Isn't having a "goal" defeating the whole purpose? But then if we don't have a goal, why are we doing the practice?


Well stated!
Learn to do good, refrain from evil, purify the mind ~ this is the teaching of the Buddhas

Vajraprajnakhadga
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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby Vajraprajnakhadga » Mon Mar 31, 2014 7:10 am

In an ultimate sense there is no enlightenment as that is a dualistic concept.

In a relative sense it is the sustained realization of the non-dual state of emptiness and form as laid out in the Heart Sutra.

At least that's the Dzogchen take on the matter.

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Kaccāni
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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby Kaccāni » Mon Mar 31, 2014 8:58 am

Being light. A massless mass. Infinitely.
Shush! I'm doing nose-picking practice!

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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby lobster » Mon Mar 31, 2014 9:18 am

Perhaps the middle path is to realize that whilst enlightenment seems impossible, it is also present. I think that is the important point.


Indeed. It may never occur as the 'awareness of the the presence'. No matter . . . and yet we wish to engage with the enlightened mind stream . . . quite normal. Is there anything you can do that would align you more with practice and dharma?

:hug: It is amost as if we have to relax into the nonchalant acceptance of Being. :meditate:

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LastLegend
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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby LastLegend » Mon Mar 31, 2014 10:17 am

catlady2112 wrote:

It's hard for me to believe the Buddha expects us to feel this way or that we should struggle to attain it. And then again, what does "attaining" mean? If it is not a thing, how can it be attained? Isn't having a "goal" defeating the whole purpose? But then if we don't have a goal, why are we doing the practice? Lots to ponder...


It is tricky. Initially, there is a goal. Then after awhile, the goal becomes less important and subtle (I think). The purpose is to totally abandon attachment to all. But depending your path, for example Pure Land's goal is to take rebirth in Pure Land.

It takes bravery to abandon attachment to all. Speculating what life would be without a goal/purpose only brings fear because we already think we know about it. The purpose of life is live. The purpose of practice is to practice. Why must it be this and that? Who impose that upon us?
NAMO AMITABHA
NAM MO A DI DA PHAT (VIETNAMESE)
NAMO AMITUOFO (CHINESE)

Bodhidharma [my translation]
―I come to the East to transmit this clear knowing mind without constructing any dharma―

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oushi
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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby oushi » Mon Mar 31, 2014 10:22 am

What is Enlightenment?

A concept, as you stated.
Say what you think about me here.

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daverupa
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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby daverupa » Mon Mar 31, 2014 10:50 am

Enlightenment is a poor translation of nibbana, else a mistaken idea about nibbana.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby Astus » Mon Mar 31, 2014 12:01 pm

What kind of enlightenment do you want? There are many to choose from in Buddhism. Of course, most - but not all - of them are temporary achievements on the path. If you want buddhahood, learn the paramitas. Know how to give without grasping at the giver, the receiver and the gift.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby odysseus » Mon Mar 31, 2014 12:54 pm

Sure there´s a goal! Enlightenment sounds very powerful, but the simplicity of living an "enlightened life" means to train yourself 24/7 365 - knowing you have the option of Nirvana as a carrot while yet wallowing in mundane existence. The thought of enlightenment (bodhicitta), makes us even happier with only a minor action motivated by it. The goal appears every day, you make it every day.
Last edited by odysseus on Mon Mar 31, 2014 12:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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garudha
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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby garudha » Mon Mar 31, 2014 4:35 pm

catlady2112 wrote:This may sound like an provocative (or stupid) question to ask, but after 30 years of study and practice, this question comes up more and more with me.


According to most of the people on this forum, Enlightenment is the state of a Buddha.

As there's already been so many who felt qualified to reply to your question Buddhahood would appear to be common than one would first think.

Personally speaking I don't know what a Buddha is exactly so cannot give you an answer.

odysseus
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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby odysseus » Mon Mar 31, 2014 6:03 pm

garudha wrote:
As there's already been so many who felt qualified to reply to your question Buddhahood would appear to be common than one would first think.



Complete enlightenment like the historical Buddha is not commonplace, but we can achieve realisation all the time - that´s part of the deal to begin with.

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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby Andrew108 » Mon Mar 31, 2014 6:15 pm

catlady2112 wrote:I would prefer people respond to my original question, and not get sidetracked by other people's comments. I believe these types of statements (like the example in this post) directed at other people's heartfelt answers discourages people from responding at all. This is a serious subject, so I would appreciate well-thought-out answers.


I tend to feel that enlightenment is mythologised. Also the idea of enlightenment seems to promote a kind of hierarchical mind set that perhaps denigrates so-called simple achievements; such as being without pride or any of the other worldly concerns. It seems to me that an appreciation of natural equality and the reduction of affliction is all the enlightenment the world needs right now. We are so stuffed full of leaders,teachers, warriors and heroes and wannabe leaders, teachers, warriors and heroes that the kind of enlightenment that is often eulogised would be problematic. We need satisfaction and appreciation of natural equality.
The Blessed One said:

"What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range." Sabba Sutta.

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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby bob » Mon Mar 31, 2014 6:35 pm

catlady2112 wrote:This may sound like an provocative (or stupid) question to ask, but after 30 years of study and practice, this question comes up more and more with me.


Hi Catlady! After 50 years, I find that don't give a flying fish about it. I am no longer in conflict with my stupidity, and I find that not knowing or caring to know is much less stressful than bothering myself over other people's concepts.

"If you can learn to be as if stupid, then no matter what Dharma door you cultivate you will attain samadhi and gain some realization. It's just because you are unable to be stupid that you cannot properly enter into samadhi and don't get any response from your cultivation."
~The Shurangama Mantra--The Efficacious Language of Heaven and Earth
Lectures by the Venerable Master Hsuan Hua


I must admit I first got into Buddhism for self-centered reasons (not because of Enlightenment), but because I was tired of dealing with my mind run amok. I believe Buddhism saved my life at some level. I have complete confidence in the practices.


All human motives are self-centered -- it's pre-loaded software.


Now, what keeps me going is that I have a heartfelt compassion for people who suffer and live in mental turmoil. My heart goes out to them spontaneously.


Thank you for your generous spirit, kindness is a truly rare and precious quality!


But Enlightenment still seems like a far off conceptual and unachievable goal.


Then maybe better to set the whole matter aside for now and just live the best life you can. Sometimes letting go is the most liberating thing we can do, including letting go of enlightenment enigmas.


It's hard for me to believe the Buddha expects us to feel this way or that we should struggle to attain it.


A Buddha has no expectations.


And then again, what does "attaining" mean? If it is not a thing, how can it be attained? Isn't having a "goal" defeating the whole purpose? But then if we don't have a goal, why are we doing the practice? Lots to ponder...
[/quote]

Liberation includes freedom from the burden of trying to figure out the mind by using the mind. Imagine what it would feel like if those questions of yours could be experienced as mere passing breezes. Really, that's all they are anyway. Why postpone your own peace?

:anjali:

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Seishin
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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby Seishin » Mon Mar 31, 2014 8:31 pm

*Moderator Note* - Please keep on topic. Thank you :smile:

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kirtu
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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby kirtu » Mon Mar 31, 2014 9:08 pm

catlady2112 wrote:It's hard for me to believe the Buddha expects us to feel this way or that we should struggle to attain it. And then again, what does "attaining" mean? If it is not a thing, how can it be attained? Isn't having a "goal" defeating the whole purpose? But then if we don't have a goal, why are we doing the practice? Lots to ponder...


It is impossible to attain enlightenment in the short term - a few thousands of lives. That's why it is difficult.

What do I mean by impossible? To attain the full enlightenment of Shakyamuni Buddha takes 3 uncountable eons because our minds are so habituated to negative thoughts, feelings, emotions and actions both gross and subtle.

However there are different levels of "lesser enlightenment" both from a sutric perspective and from a practice, experiential perspective.

After all, we are living in such a negative environment that to just protect life once in our life is itself a kind of enlightenment.

So what do I mean by several different levels of enlightenment? Shakyamuni Buddha taught these in the suttas and sutras but they are basically the same system of stream-enterer, once-returner, never-returner and Arhat both in the Sravaka and Mahayana systems (in the Mahayana system the Arhat attainment is modified to be a Bodhisattva on the bhumis where the bhumis are enumerated from 1-10). Later the Mahayana system favored the five path system which is somewhat different with talk of Mahayana stream-enterer, etc. disappearing. So now we talk about the Stream Enterer -> Arhat attainments as being Sravaka systems and the Five Path attainments as being Mahayana.

However these are all real attainments with real signs of attainment.

Full enlightenment is the total purification of all negativities and their propensities and the full development (the infinite development) of all positive qualities. This is the meaning of sang-gye or Buddha in Tibetan.

There is also realization in Zen and other schools where one realizes variously that oneself or one's mind is the Buddha or that one is firmly, consciously and confidently a child of the Buddha, being held in the palm of Amitabha Buddha for example. These realizations can totally change one's world and they don't take 3 uncountable eons to awaken to.

Then in the Vajrayana systems on can realize ones non-dual nature with the completely enlightened Buddhas, one can transform one's life totally or one can realize that one is a Buddha from the start but simply failed to recognize that fact.

Kirt
Kirt's Tibetan Translation Notes

"Even if you practice only for an hour a day with faith and inspiration, good qualities will steadily increase. Regular practice makes it easy to transform your mind. From seeing only relative truth, you will eventually reach a profound certainty in the meaning of absolute truth."
Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

"Only you can make your mind beautiful."
HH Chetsang Rinpoche

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Kaccāni
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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby Kaccāni » Mon Mar 31, 2014 9:10 pm

Is there a belt color system for enlightenment then?

Best wishes
Gwenn
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dzogchungpa
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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby dzogchungpa » Mon Mar 31, 2014 9:14 pm

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/nibbana.html

The Buddha insists that this level is indescribable, even in terms of existence or nonexistence, because words work only for things that have limits. All he really says about it — apart from images and metaphors — is that one can have foretastes of the experience in this lifetime, and that it's the ultimate happiness, something truly worth knowing.
The truly undisturbed mind is not a private experience; it is more "public". - Dza Kilung Rinpoche

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kirtu
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Re: What is Enlightenment?

Postby kirtu » Mon Mar 31, 2014 9:36 pm

Gwenn Dana wrote:Is there a belt color system for enlightenment then?


Well, in a way, but of course nothing that is formal beyond the Stream-Enterer-Arhat or Five Paths systems.

phpBB [video]


00:11-00:16, 1:42-1:47, 1:42-2:00

Kirt
Kirt's Tibetan Translation Notes

"Even if you practice only for an hour a day with faith and inspiration, good qualities will steadily increase. Regular practice makes it easy to transform your mind. From seeing only relative truth, you will eventually reach a profound certainty in the meaning of absolute truth."
Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche.

"Only you can make your mind beautiful."
HH Chetsang Rinpoche


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