Spiritual Enlightenment


In the Hindu-Buddhist framework there is more to religion than prayer and worship, ethical behavior and festivals. Religion involves leading a spiritual life. Spiritual life implies thoughts, attitudes,  and actions that are based on the idea that undergirding the physical world of matter and energy there is a spiritual Reality that is transcendent, all pervading and  eternal. One may give the crude analogy of a slate of a black board and the scribbles on them. Many things are written and drawn on them. They are but transient features. While many things are written and erased, the slate or the black board remains unaffected. It is the undergirding persistent Reality behind it all.  So it is with perceived reality which corresponds to the writings on the board.

Spiritual life refers to a mode of living in which one never forgets that underlying deeper Reality. What this means is that no matter what we think, say, or do we not only remember that larger canvas on which everything occurs, but also dedicate our thoughts, words, and deeds to that transcendent Reality. The dedication means adopting a posture of humility and reverence, gentleness and love towards all beings great and small.

One  learns to live such a life through regular and rigorous practice. The practice itself involves various yogas which involve meditation in a devotional frame of mind.

Often this practice lasts for many months, even years. After a sufficient stretch of time  one begins to realize in an intensely personal way the existence of that transcendental reality that mystics speak of. This recognition can occur in a slow manner, or suddenly with a eureka exclamation. When that occurs one is said to have a spiritual awakening. That awakening is referred a (spiritual) Enlightenment. It is actually the discovery of the link between one’s individual and cosmic consciousness. It is known by various in various Asian languages: bodhi or moksha in Sanskrit, satori in Japanese, pin-tin in Chinese, wú in Korean, and so on.

The Buddha is said to have reminded us that just as a candle cannot burn burn without fire, we cannot live without recognizing the spiritual dimension of the world.

Enlightenment: Introduction


Like many important words in the language the word Enlightenment has acquires a variety of connotations.  Two important meanings of the term refer to states of awareness and actions based on that awareness in two entirely different contexts: in the spiritual-religious realm and in worldly practical  life. The first is important in one’s spiritual life; the second in one’s status as member of a society and of the world. Enlightenment of the first kind is of interest and significance for the individual. That of the second kind is of enormous import for societies, nations, and the world community at large. But both play central roles in the world today.
In the midst of the myriad problems facing the world today, some of which have the potential for catastrophic upheavals in the political, moral, and physical status of humanity, there are very few hopes that light up the pervasive gloom in the human condition. Different people and different groups entertain a variety of hopes, and many offer solutions to the problems we are facing. One of those hopes is that the vision of the Enlightenment will come within reach and inspire large numbers of people.
In order for this to happen people should have some idea as to what constitutes Enlightenment. That is what we shall try to do briefly in this in this chapter. The related questions of  of the history of the Enlightenment, how to achieve it,  how to propagate it, and how to establish it in the world at large will be taken up in other chapters.
But first it is important to distinguish between two important and quite unrelated meanings of the word. One refers to the new awakening in knowledge, worldviews, and methodologies that emerged in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This is the meaning in which we shall be using the world in this book. The term is used in the  second meaning in the context of certain spiritual disciplines in the Hindu-Buddhist framework. This is a powerful and widely adopted goal in life for many people, but we will not be concerned with it in this book. Given that we live in a  multicultural world, it should be of some interest for modern readers beyond the Indic cultural framework to have some idea of this other significance of the term. The Sanskrit word for Enlightenment is bodhi. From this is derived the word for one who is enlightened, or more exactly one who has attained true Enlightenment: namely Buddha. In other words, the founder of the religion was Buddha, the Enlightened One, and the goal of the religion is to enable its adherents to the enlightened state. Thus a Buddhist is one who has either already achieved Enlightenment or is striving for that goal.