One of my first posts in this blog dealt with the problem of defining enlightenment. (See “A Little Background – Definitions“).
The more I study this subject, the more definitions I find.
After thinking for some time about exactly “what is enlightenment”, I have come up with MY OWN definition of enlightenment.
Following my definition of enlightenment I will present some other definitions that I have come across recently, so that you can compare.
This is my current definition of enlightenment, subject to change without notice…
ENLIGHTENMENT: A state of consciousness that experiences reality unfiltered through any
mental, physical, or psychological distortions.
In my view, enlightenment is an ability to experience the world WITHOUT any personal perceptual filters.
By perceptual filters I mean the following (among others):
- the false idea of a “self”
In other words, enlightenment is a DIRECT EXPERIENCE OF REALITY.
Before I break down my definition of enlightenment into its separate parts, I would like to address the question of “What is REALITY?”
* WHAT IS ”REALITY”?
When I refer to enlightenment as “the direct experience of reality”, I can imagine that some readers may have questions or objections about what I may mean by ”reality”.
It is not my purpose to define “reality” here, but I will list some of the objections that may arise in this context:
- You cannot define reality. It is not definable.
- There is no such thing as “one” reality – reality is a subjective experience, different for each consciousness.
- There is no ”one” reality - reality exists on many levels.
These are all valid points.
When you look up “REALITY” in the dictionary you will find definitions like this:
Reality: “The state of being actual or real; A real entity, event or other fact; The entirety of all that is real; An individual observer’s own subjective perception of that which is real”
In other words, most definitions say that reality is the state of being real… which really doesn’t tell you much. There are various definitions, but many of them go around in circles without really defining it.
And in a larger sense, to verify something as “real” may seem simple, but can actually be far more problematic than might first be evident. How to verify “reality” is beyond the scope of this post, but is a very interesting topic in itself.
So, in some sense the first objection, that one cannot define reality, is valid.
As to the second objection, that reality is a subjective experience - this can also be true.
Our own EXPERIENCE of reality is subjective, and each person’s is somewhat different. This is AN aspect of reality, but the subjective aspect is only one aspect of reality. Because most of us experience reality subjectively, does not mean that it cannot be experienced objectively.
And finally, the third objection, that reality exists on many levels, may also be true. There is the macro level, the micro level, the quantum level, the cosmic level, the material level, the seen, the unseen, and on ad infinitum.
When I use the word reality in this definition of enlightenment, what I mean is this:
REALITY IS ALL OF THAT.
Reality is indefinable, it is subjective, and it is multi-level. My definition of reality means that it is EVERYTHING THAT IS, including the contradictory and problematic states of indefinability, subjectivity, and multiplicity.
Enlightenment signifies the ability to see through the “subjective” aspect of our experience of reality, as much as is humanly possible.
My definition proposes that enlightenment is a “state of consciousness”, that “experiences reality” UNFILTERED “through any mental, physical, or psychological distortions”.
* UNDERLYING ASSUMPTIONS
There are several underlying assumptions here.
There is a “reality” that can be fully experienced by a state of consciousness.
That reality is normally “filtered” before it is experienced by our consciousness.
Those filters are mental, physical, and psychological.
Those filters “distort” reality, in such a manner as to change our consciousness of it.
It is possible to experience reality in an unfiltered, undistorted manner through human consciousness.
The “filters” that distort reality for most of us consist of mental, physical, and psychological filters.
I hope to write about this more in the future, but here I will give a very brief overview of these distorting filters.
* ABOUT THESE “FILTERS”
In putting forth these ideas about how these “filters” alter our perception of reality, I am not overly concerned with the quantification of these points.
That is, it doesn’t really matter exactly what filters what, or how it filters it, at this point.
What I am driving at is that our perception of reality IS FILTERED.
If you, or anyone you know, can present me with a better, more exact or verifiable model of filters and how they work, I would welcome your input and feedback. In the future all of these filters of reality could be looked at in detail, parsed, categorized, and refined.
My main point here, at this time, is that these filters exist, and that it is possible to see reality with a minimum of interference from them – in a state we call enlightenment.
+ + MENTAL FILTERS -
Your brain is flooded with information every second. Much of that information is filtered out of your conscious awareness from moment to moment.
A mental filter is, in broad terms, a filter that acts primarily through the subconscious, or pre-conscious mind.
Here is an example - If I ask you what your right foot feels like you can tell me. However, before I asked, you probably weren’t consciously aware of the feelings coming from your foot. That feeling and consciousness of your foot has been filtered out of your primary experience, by what I am calling a “mental filter”.
Another example of how this works might be in driving. Have you ever noticed someone else driving the same model of car as the one that you are driving? Your mental filter normally filters out most of the other cars around you. But when you see a car similar to, or the same as your make and model, your awareness picks it out of all of the other cars and calls your attention to it. This happens automatically, and unconsciously.
Our mental filters significantly change what we see and what we notice about our selves and our surroundings.
For more information, here is an article titled “How Thought Creates Reality“, that touches on some of these ideas.
+ + PHYSICAL FILTERS -
When using the term “physical filters” I am speaking primarily about any physical impairment, or alteration, that changes our perception of reality.
Some examples of physical filters may be:
Drugs or other chemical stimulants
Prescription drugs that alter perceptions
Other physical impairments
I am not a doctor or a scientist, so I cannot scientifically prove these points at this time.
However, it seems very likely that there ARE physical filters that could PREVENT the conditions of enlightenment.
It is an interesting question. Exactly which physical changes or impairments would prevent enlightenment, and which would not?
For example, it seems to me that one could be blind or deaf, and experience enlightenment. On the other hand, if certain parts of the brain were impaired or removed that would likely preclude the possibility of enlightenment.
In Buddhism, use of drugs or stimulants is strongly discouraged.
I believe that the brain (and body) should be as free as is possible from all unnatural conditions, in order to be prepared for enlightenment.
It is hard to imagine one becoming enlightened while on a cocaine high, or drunk on alcohol.
If you have any information about ”physical filters”, or impairments, that would impact or prevent the occurrence of enlightenment, I invite you to contact me so that we might present accurate and credible information on this website.
+ + PSYCHOLOGICAL FILTERS -
Here is an entry in Wikipedia about “Reality Tunnel“. This entry points to the type of “psychological filters” I am talking about;
Every kind of ignorance in the world all results from not realizing that our perceptions are gambles. We believe what we see and then we believe our interpretation of it, we don’t even know we are making an interpretation most of the time. We think this is reality.
– Robert Anton Wilson
“The idea does not necessarily imply that there is no objective truth; rather that our access to it is mediated through our senses, experience, conditioning, prior beliefs, and other non-objective factors. The individual world each person occupies is said to be their reality tunnel. The term can also apply to groups of people united by beliefs: we can speak of the fundamentalist Christian reality tunnel or the scientific materialist reality tunnel.”
“A parallel can be seen in the psychological concept of confirmation bias—our tendency to notice and assign significance to observations that confirm our beliefs, while filtering out or rationalizing away observations that do not fit with our prior beliefs and expectations. This helps to explain why reality tunnels are usually transparent to their inhabitants. While it seems most people take their beliefs to correspond to the ‘one true objective reality’, Robert Anton Wilson emphasizes that each person’s reality tunnel is their own artistic creation, whether they realize it or not.”
There are MANY psychological filters.
Our environment, our upbringing, our natural tendencies, our past experiences - all of these contribute to psychological factors that filter our experience of “reality”.
For the sake of understanding and insight, these psychological factors could be identified, categorized, and prioritized in more detail in the future.
For now, I would suggest that our “picture” of reality is flawed by a whole collection of factors, most of them going almost entirely unnoticed by the average person.
To peel these filters away can lead to enlightenment -
to experience reality WITHOUT them, IS enlightenment.
* ENLIGHTENMENT AS “TRUTH”
When I asked a Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka whether it was possible for someone entirely ignorant of Buddhist principles and ideas to become enlightened, he immediately, and unequivocally said; YES.
When I asked him why, he said; “BECAUSE IT IS THE TRUTH”.
This is one of the ideas that lead me to my definition of enlightenment.
I thought: “If enlightenment is TRUTH, then it is REALITY”.
Truth: ” Ideal or fundamental reality apart from and transcending perceived experience:
the basic truths of life.”
It seems to me that enlightenment is seeing “truth”, which is seeing “reality”.
The difference between enlightened experience of reality, and our “normal” experience of reality, is that enlightenment is a state of consciousness that experiences reality without our normal subjective, unconsciously created filters and distortions.
When we see reality “as it is”, we see the “truth”.
When we can see the truth, in this manner, we are said to be “enlightened”.
DEFINITIONS OF ENLIGHTENMENT / DESCRIPTIONS OF ENLIGHTENMENT
David Smith, in his book “A Record of Awakening”, says this;
“We Buddhists have decided, when reality is fully seen and known, to call that enlightenment or awakening.” (p. 122)
Nitin Trasi defines enlightenment in this way;
“Enlightenment is defined as the intuitive understanding that one is not a separate entity.”
(p.5 The Science of Enlightenment.)
In his chapter on “Enlightenment” (p. 53) he defines enlightenment in this way;
“Enlightenment can be defined as the clear and deep intuitive perception (‘apperception’) or intuitive understanding (not just belief or intellectual comprehension) of the entire situation, that is, of the unity of Consciousness and of the absence of the ‘me’ or ‘I’ as a separate, autonomous entity.”
Mr. Trasi also lists these synonyms at the top of the chapter: Realization; self-realization; awakening; satori; jnana; gyana.
Jill Bolte Taylor, in her book “My Stroke of Insight”, quotes Dr. Kat Domingo as saying;
“Enlightenment is not a process of learning, it is a process of unlearning.” (p. 169)
“It is, according to Buddha, the end of suffering. Physical pain is still experienced but it is no longer compounded by worries and fears, by mental suffering, which has ended. Enlightenment is the ability to see things as they really are, to accept that what is is, and to say ‘yes’ to all of life. This is done, not out of naivete or denial, but out of a profound realization of the selfless, interconnected, interdependent unity and oneness of all mental and physical phenomena, of all experience.”
“In Buddhism, enlightenment (Bodhi in Sanskrit) refers to a unique experience which wholly transforms the individual from their previous state in samsara.”
“(Samsara is the cycle of birth, death and rebirth (i.e. reincarnation) within Hinduism, Buddhism, Bön, Jainism, Sikhism, Vaishnavism and other Indian religions. Colloquially, “Samsara” can also refer to a general state of overt or subtle sufferings that occur in day to day life.)”
“Enlightenment is essentially realizing the non-dual nature of reality, and for those who understand Hindu philosophy, non-duality is Creation (Param Brahman).”
The Shambhala Dictionary defines enlightenment as -
“Enlightenment - The word used to translate the Sanskrit term bodhi (lit., “awakened”) and the Japanese satori or kensho. A person awakens to a nowness of emptiness, which he or she is – even as the entire universe is emptiness – and which alone enables him or her to comprehend the true nature of things. Since enlightenment is repeatedly misunderstood as an experience of light and experiences of light wrongly understood as enlightenment, the term awakening is preferable, since it more accurately conveys the experience.”
“If you look at the Hindu and Buddhist tales of enlightenment you’ll find that they aren’t quite sure what it is. Many words are used to describe it, all of the sounding equally exalted in English. Liberation, perfection, freedom, the ‘cessation of the illusion of self”, “crossing over to the other shore”, “truth – consciousness – bliss” (satchitananda), “the supreme awakening”, “great orgasm” (mahamudra).” – Kevin Murphy
Enlightenment: “A blessed state in which the individual transcends desire and suffering and attains Nirvana.”
(The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language)
Enlightenment: ”The awakening to ultimate truth by which man is freed from the endless cycle of personal reincarnations
to which all men are otherwise subject.”
(Collins English Dictionary)
Enlightenment: ”The beatitude that transcends the cycle of reincarnation; characterized by the extinction of desire and suffering
and individual consciousness.”
“Enlightenment, Buddhism : a final blessed state marked by the absence of desire or suffering”
“Enlightenment can refer to many different concepts. In a secular or non-Buddhist context, the word enlightenment often means “full comprehension of a situation”. Spiritual enlightenment means to obtain a spiritual revelation or deep insight into the meaning and purpose of all things, to communicate with or understand the mind of God, to achieve some other type of profound spiritual understanding, or to achieve a fundamentally changed level of existence whereby one’s self is experienced as a nonchanging field of pure consciousness. Some scientists believe that during meditative states leading up to the subjective experience of enlightenment there are actual physical changes in the brain.”
“Enlightenment is awakening to the experience of the world as a unity.” – Terren Suydam
A state of consciousness that experiences reality
unfiltered through any mental, physical, or psychological distortions.
The Unity Project
If you care to have YOUR definition of enlightenment added to this list, send it in to me!
Either use the form below, or go to the contact page by clicking here.