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Enlightenment

“Enlightenment” has many meanings and has been defined in many ways through the centuries. It is a goal, a process, and an outcome. That its pursuit has been a major part of most human religions reflects its universal attraction and that we understand at some deeper level that we have the potential and need for enlightenment. While enlightenment may be gnostic[1] or even scientific, where the goal is based upon “wisdom” or knowledge, more commonly it is a search for a more spiritual or divine state of being.

For most, the goal of enlightenment would be something transformational - it should change the very nature of the enlightened person in a way that exceeds mere feelings and state of mind. It should produce a state of being beyond what is commonly experienced (a “transcendental experience”) and that state of being should prove more positive and worthwhile than the person’s original state (the more positive and worthwhile the change, the greater the enlightenment). Because the resultant state of being should be so different than normal, it is often thought of as mystical, spiritual, or even divine.

There are many possible processes or paths to enlightenment and many such processes have been taught over the ages. The most important element of all paths is that of “seeking”. Those who vigorously and willfully seek enlightenment almost always find a workable means to achieve it although few who begin the process actually follow its course to completion. That discussion is at the core of Part Two; here, the focus is on the outcome.

Transcendental experiences are rare and are poorly understood. Enlightenment is a rare transcendental experience that is mostly misunderstood. Few people can or would say that they know of someone who is enlightened – and if they did it would be someone who claims to be “enlightened” by their own definition. Ask someone to name the most enlightened person and most would offer a religious figure: Jesus, Mohammed or Buddha. Thus, and unfortunately, “enlightenment” is often aligned with religion. In reality, it may be impossible to separate the two if we take the broader view of “religion”.

Personal religion (as opposed to social, cultural, or “organized” religion) focuses upon one’s fundamental worldview and how that worldview influences one's thoughts and actions. Personal religion focuses upon awareness of basic causes and principles leading to personal devotion to the ethics or morality derived from those causes and principles. For those who find an Ultimate Cause or Divinity to be part of their worldview, personal religion includes a process of aligning one’s spirit with that of “God”. It is difficult to imagine enlightenment without involving personal religion – whether or not one’s religion includes the divine.

Enlightenment changes one’s worldview and how that worldview influences thought and action. An enlightened worldview is based upon truth and morality: those who are enlightened have greater and deeper awareness of true causes and moral principles and are enabled in creating and directing will towards higher purpose consistent with truth and morality.

I must repeat: enlightenment results in greater and deeper awareness of true causes and moral principles and enables one in creating and directing will towards higher purpose consistent with truth and morality. The words “truth” and “morality” are abstract and have diverse interpretations. It may be difficult to objectify what comprises a “higher purpose”. And “will” remains one of the great mysteries, although we all know exactly what it is – or at least think we do. Nevertheless, with this description of enlightenment we have a clearer target to shoot for.

A “true cause” is that which produces observable effects, is based upon reality, and has significance. True causes are scalable – the truest cause would be the one that produces the most significant real effects. “God” (presuming existence) as the Creator of the Universe would thus be the truest cause. The truest cause that is most evident within the Universe is “evolution” (in its broad sense[2]). Thus, the pursuit of true causes either ends with evolution itself or with God as the true cause of evolution. Enlightenment will become manifest in deep and broad awareness of God or evolution (or both) and is objectifiable, as below.

A “moral principle” is a basic rule or law concerning real phenomena that leads to proper reasoning or conduct. Developed and applied moral rules are called “ethics”, a good example being the “Golden Rule”. Moral principles are also scalable – the most moral principles lead to the best reasoning and conduct. The quality of reasoning and conduct may be objectified so that we may better scale the moral principles we work from.  

The need to objectify our awareness and understanding of true causes along with the quality of our reasoning and conduct should be obvious: without some form of objectification, anyone could claim enlightenment without basis (“subjective enlightenment”). Furthermore, through objectification we may measure the success of the processes and outcomes chosen for enlightenment. One workable approach is to assess one’s ability to predict and control their total environment as a function of personal creativity - enlightenment always yields objectifiable increases in creativity. We will look at this in detail in Part Three.

There is an inherent esoteric linkage between true causes and moral principles that is best termed “beauty”. Enlightenment yields awareness of this linkage and thereby a greater awareness of and appreciation for beauty (largely manifested as “awe”). While difficult to objectify, this change may be among the more profound experiential transformations of enlightenment and can serve as a personal measure for success.

From these basics, we might derive a better understanding of “enlightenment” and create better goals, processes, and measures for its attainment. We may also distinguish the feeling of enlightenment from the state of enlightenment. Next, we will look at some specific examples and get a better idea how enlightenment is manifest in reality.

Enlightenment is as personal and private an experience as any we have. Because of this, it is natural to keep it personal and private. Conversely, it is a profound and purposeful experience that people will want to share. It is also an experience that varies greatly, although a common result in all transformational experiences is confusion. Substantial changes in our worldview happen rarely and slowly through reasoning giving us an opportunity to adjust and adapt. Enlightenment brings sudden significant change that would normally be difficult to integrate or accept. At the very least, it will set one apart from others in a way that is difficult to explain.

Additionally, the vast majority of people are separated from reality and have personally chosen to avoid enlightenment. They have no desire to be confronted with a worldview that challenges their fundamental beliefs or with those who have made the choice to seek enlightenment. It is wise for the enlightened to share their experience selectively and carefully. With this in mind, we can look at what enlightenment brings…

One last time: “enlightenment results in greater and deeper awareness of true causes and moral principles and enables one in creating and directing will towards higher purpose consistent with truth and morality.” The first and most compelling result of enlightenment is the awareness of and appreciation for the “beauty” of Creation. This beauty entails a deep sense of awe coupled with understanding of the process and purpose of the Universe. While this new awareness does not inherently lead to recognition of the Divine, it has inherent “divinity”[3].  

It is nearly impossible to rationally and systematically study the Creation without wondering and asking “What caused it?” This truth may well evade us as the answer lies outside of the physical realm of the Universe. While many may hope that enlightenment will answer this question, it can only do so subjectively. However, a greater and deeper awareness of true causes can only lead one to the intuitive, inspired, and rational belief that something as wonderful, magnificent, complex, and ordered as the Universe must have a wonderful, magnificent, complex, and ordered cause.

Because we are “beings”, we presume that this cause was some being. Our arrogance has led some to presume that the being would be like us. While even enlightened people may not be able to fully grasp such a wonderful, magnificent, complex, and ordered cause as the Creating Entity (aka:”God”), they can say with certainty that it is NOT a being like us. They can also affirm that the Creation was not some random event.

In short, enlightenment leads one to a certainty that the Creation was caused and that the entity causing it is beyond our grasp. Meanwhile, the enlightened are deeply moved by the Creation and know that within the Universe there is beauty and deep meaning. For the enlightened, religion is the seeking of greater appreciation for that beauty and fuller understanding of the meaning of Creation.

Enlightenment, then, has three basic results: understanding, appreciation, and focused seeking. Since each of these results may be achieved through other means, it is important to distinguish enlightenment from other processes. We will focus on three key elements:

·         Enlightenment changes the way one knows and provides better means to validate understanding.

·         Enlightenment reveals new beauty and offers a more direct path to appreciation of that beauty.

·         Enlightenment illuminates deeper meaning in reality and gives focus and desire to explore and accomplish that meaning.

Knowing is based upon recognition of the truth. Understanding is placing truth in its proper perspective and being able to use the truth to achieve some outcome. We “know” truth by observation, experience, application, and reasoning. We commonly think that we know things that we don’t, but through observation, experience, application, and reasoning we find sufficient basis to think “I know this is true.” On one level we might know that it is risky to be “certain” while on another we know that certainty is useful. Generally, we our certainty is based upon the extent to which all of our thought modes agree: we have sufficient reason to be certain (logic), it feels right to be certain (intuition), and it makes “sense” to be certain (context & experience). While enlightenment may enhance all thought modes, it most substantially effects what is termed “intuition”.

Intuition is a wonderful thing, but has one major flaw - it is often wrong. Learning when to ignore and when to follow our intuition is one of our greatest skills. Unfortunately, it is easier and more common to learn that intuition is too difficult to validate and for most their intuition is usually ignored (unless it conveniently supports what they want to believe). We become desensitized to intuitive thought. Enlightenment puts us back “in tune” with our intuition and provides enhanced ability to derive intuitive ideas and test them against logic[4] and experience. Enlightenment is thereby less dependent upon “intelligence” and education although they remain very useful.

Enlightenment reveals new beauty and offers a more direct path to appreciation of that beauty. It is said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. However, beauty exists independently of any beholder and some beholders are less beholding to beauty than others. Our recognition of beauty is based upon receptiveness and perceptiveness: we must be both open to beauty and discerning of it. Enlightenment yields both.

Beauty has depth and the more enlightened we are, the deeper we find and understand beauty. Our understanding of beauty is properly termed “appreciation”[5] and this appreciation is directly reflected in awe and inspiration. One might recognize beauty and admire it without truly appreciating it. If you’re not awed and inspired, you’re missing the essence of it. I have no explanation for how or why this transformational experience happens in enlightenment.

Enlightenment illuminates deeper meaning in reality while giving focus and desire to explore and accomplish that meaning. Enlightenment is a transformation change in the state of one’s being. Although the change is fully internalized, its effects cannot be. An enlightened person simply cannot continue their lives unchanged. On the other hand, much of the change may not be what some would expect.

Our notion that enlightened people should walk around with some type of “glow” while continuously spouting profound wisdom and changing the world is misguided. For many (if not all), the change in worldview that comes with enlightenment is difficult to absorb. Initially, one must reframe their notions of life, death, and purpose. Merely confronting the reality of mortality is problematic when we have comforted ourselves with unsupportable beliefs about an afterlife and “grace in God’s judgment”. The truth is more complex and discomforting. The enlightened may find new beauty in it such truth, but it takes some adjusting.

The bigger truths are humbling and challenging. It should not surprise us that some who achieve initial enlightenment would choose to reject it. Enlightenment requires acceptance of anticipatable and unexpected burdens - “the follow through”. First, enlightened people are inherently separated from non-enlightened people by what is likely the most meaningful and profound experience in their lives. This transcendental experience cannot be explained to those who have not experienced it. A rough analogy might be the experience of a loving marriage: those who have had one are hard pressed to explain its most significant meaning to those who have not.

Next, enlightened people think differently than others and that makes it difficult to relate and communicate. When someone asks “how do you know that,” it’s tempting to just say “because I do” rather than try to explain. When knowing is built from reasoning and direct experience, one can talk or lead another through the process of knowing. But, when knowing is based upon intuition, insight, or inspiration it can be difficult to explain. The “frame of reference” for enlightened people is generally not sharable with non-enlightened people and the sharing of knowledge begins with a common frame of reference.

Among the other differences that create separation is the focus on purpose. One key result of enlightenment is the awareness of and focusing upon meaning. Shared meaning is the single greatest attractor for humans and when enlightened people find that their new meaning is greatly different from that of their family, friends, and other associates, their choices are limited. They can reject enlightenment, accept separation, or find the means to balance their focus between what seems trivial and what seems critical. The later may be the preferred choice, but is more difficult that it first appears.

So, enlightenment has three basic results: increased understanding, greater appreciation, and improved focus of will. While these are all desirable things in themselves, most people are looking for something more concrete and “practical” (immediately applicable): what will we understand better, how will appreciating beauty change our lives, and what use will we have for focused will? For many, discussion about true causes, moral principles, and focused will sounds too abstract and idealistic. In this final part, we will deal with the real and practical aspects of enlightenment.

At its core, the search for enlightenment is a search for the truth: the truth about who we are, where we came from, and where we’re going. It includes the necessary component of accepting the truth when it becomes known, even when the truth is humbling, uncomfortable, and challenging. As one becomes increasingly adept at using their intuitive faculties they must also better utilize their intellectual abilities to make sense of perceived truth and adjust to its meaning. Substantial changes in one’s worldview are usually awkward and not at all like a “light coming on”.

The largest truth is the least avoidable: there is something “out there” much greater than us. No matter how much effort we put into avoiding this truth, it surrounds us and demands recognition. Once we begin to honestly and openly explore this truth, it becomes apparent that the meaning of our existence originates with this greater thing. That also means that our destiny is tied to “it”. This recognition may not seem all that “enlightened” to some, but it is profound and compelling. A rational person who is confronted with such truth and who accepts its meaning has no choice but to pursue it further. It is a turning point.

Humankind has devoted a large portion of its collective will and effort in pursuit of this “greater thing” and it has been given many names – in part because it is not singular or simple. When we use an overburdened and restrictive word like “God” to name it, we diminish it while distracting ourselves with the baggage of unenlightened ideas. Conversely, there is no better word in the English language for describing the “greater thing that gives us meaning” and thus “God” becomes a convenient pseudo name. It would be easy to say that the vigorous pursuit of “God” is the result of enlightenment, but that is erroneous in both directions: some very unenlightened people vigorously pursue “God” and enlightenment results in much more.

The turning point that comes from enlightenment is focused upon truth, and the truth is not limited to some narrow minded god-view or the study of such (“theology”). It is certainly not focused upon religion or religious doctrines. One key result of enlightenment is a larger and more complete view of the “greater thing” that is “God”. This is rationally coupled with the realization that no existing human religion is derived from enlightenment.

Enlightenment yields another profound result – an awareness of connectedness. Since this is inherently connected to the truth about “God”, it is not an entirely separate notion. Nor is it limited to the “greater thing that gives us meaning”. “Connectedness” becomes a short description for the new vision of reality that emerges from insightful enlightenment. It refers to the many deep ways in which all things in reality are linked, related, and interdependent. Our connectedness is a realization that is simultaneously humbling and exciting. Instead of being important individually, we find importance in being part of something much greater. Instead of measuring our worth based upon ourselves and what we have, we start to see our worth as how well we contribute to the “greater thing that gives us meaning”.

Since a significant part of our connectedness is “non-physical”, enlightenment tends to turn us toward the non-physical. Here again, we have a problem with terminology. The best (English) word for this non-physical focus might be “spiritual”, but this word also carries heavy baggage and is too restrictive. “Love” is also a significant non-physical connection that may be separate from spirituality. And, of course, we cannot ignore the fact that physical and non-physical things are connected and we don’t really have a good word for that. So, suffice it to say that enlightenment yields a greater sense of connectedness and how that connectedness enables us to grasp and honor the “greater thing that gives us meaning”.

Before concluding, we should note another remarkable result of enlightenment: the creating and focusing of will. This is partly a recursive “side-effect” in that the enhanced ability to create and focus will also comes from the decision to seek truth, appreciation of beauty, desire to connect, and grasping God. Since the process of enlightenment stems from the creation and focusing of will, enlightenment is an autopoietic[6] process. “Will” remains one of the great non-physical mysteries of nature and humans may be best described as willful beings[7].

We have no way to measure will other than its results. Our primary manifestation of will is thought and although thought yields tangible results, it is mostly intangible. The tangible result of thought may be measured through “creativity” and creativity may be measured objectively. In this regard, we might suggest that enlightenment could be measured objectively. However, it would take an enlightened view of creativity to accomplish this.

We are just beginning to appreciate the power and application of “intention” in affecting reality. Will is the driving force of intention and enlightenment results in enhancement of will. Enlightened people have enhanced ability to intend and therefore greater ability to affect reality. They also have a greater understanding of the limitations on doing so.

Conclusion:

Enlightenment is mostly misunderstood. We look to “gurus” and religious figures for models of enlightenment and simultaneously realize they are probably lacking it. We expect enlightened people to have halos or to seek positions of influence, but know that they don’t. Enlightenment, as it turns out, is a dangerous thing: human history reveals our strong tendency to destroy the most enlightened amongst us. It also reveals other risks of enlightenment.

Enlightened people are misunderstood and feared by the unenlightened. And, enlightenment is inherently stressful – a change in worldview that forces significant change in life can be difficult to accept and adjust to.

For these reasons (and others), I am not encouraging anyone to seek enlightenment. I hope that people will, but at this point in our evolution and within the context of our reality, enlightenment must be sought for itself and not because someone else encourages it, expects it, or demands it. In time, I hope that our species will awaken to its potential and create social systems that will foster the enlightened.

 

17 Nov. 2009

RVW

 

 



[1] Used here as it was originally by Plato to mean higher intelligence and ability directed towards the seeking of knowledge that allows one to direct and control.

[2] Evolution is largely misunderstood and improperly represented. In its broad sense evolution is that force or process that counters entropy yielding order in otherwise chaotic systems. “Natural selection” as proposed by Darwin is merely one of its many methods.

[3] I remove the connotation of a “being” from a common definition of “divinity” and intend that divinity be interpreted as both a supernatural entity that created or controlled the creation of the universe and the rational and systematic study of that entity.

[4] The cycle of “logic” is a critical part of our creativity. We use intuition to create logic and use logic to test our intuition.

[5] Contrasted with “art appreciation”, a learned skill that is based upon intelligent recognition of method and meaning.

[6] Autopoiesis literally means auto-creation and refers to autonomous and operationally closed systems that contain internally sufficient processes and information to initiate and maintain the whole. While the term is credited to biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela who used it in regard to the autopoietic systems observed in life-forms, it has gained acceptance in broader use as intended here.

[7] Out “thinking” ability is often seen as our primary distinction, but we overlook the precursor to thought – will. It is the manner in which we create and focus will that makes us “special”.

 

 

 

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