What is “Enlightenment?”

What does it mean to be enlightened? My husband and I were arguing about it the other day.

Okay – after writing that down and looking at that statement again, I laughed to myself out loud. What an absolute JOY to be arguing about enlightenment! Of all the trivial things we could be discussing, we have a heated argument about the credentials of transcendence.

Back to the subject at hand: What is enlightenment? What does it mean to have this label or state of being?

Is it the long, painstaking acquisition of some mysterious body of knowledge?

Is it the emptying of yourself to transcend this ordinary life?

Is it necessary to spend years “in the wilderness” or temples in order to achieve it?

Is it necessary to swear off your family, friends, life possessions and trivial pursuits in order to claim it?

I don’t feel that detachment from reality or the act of “acquisition” is the real answer.

As my honorary grandfather Mel (over at Melting-Pot Dharma) might perhaps say, it is recognizing the Buddha within. It is seeing the connection, rather than the detachment, of the world around you.

Some of us need the temples and wilderness to know this, and others do not. But in recognizing the divine that is already there, and working to keep it top of mind, THAT is enlightenment in my opinion.

I was discussing this with my husband, who (I think) holds in the back of his mind that “enlightened” ones of high regard will have physically worked and put time into developing this title. But do they? Where do we get this assumption? And why do we demand these qualifications to this kind of title? Is it because we have such high expectations of this level of “achievement?”

I think my husband might think this, in part, because he has spent years studying Shaolin Kung Fu. He has put in his time. Almost 13 years of time.

To him, the discipline and practice is what makes you the master, the teacher – and in a lot of ways, we see other “enlightened” ones as teachers, or expect them to be. Masters of some kind. In Kung Fu, if you put in the time, effort, and dedication you are rewarded with opportunity to teach others and to be an example to others. This comes with – and is expected of – the titles and degrees.

So it goes with our modern society. We like to see teachers, self-proclaimed “experts” and masters as having the necessary credentials in order to lay claim to the designation (i.e. licenses, graduate school, years in the wilderness, years in the temples, etc.).

But when applied to spirituality, and awakened-ness, I think this is slightly a flawed assumption.

Credentials are conditional, and the state of so-called enlightenment is not conditional. It is like an unconditional love. It exists without any presumption or prerequisite.

It exists because life exists.

Recognizing it does not take work and time in the human sense; it only takes desire and openness to see beyond the material and spiritual borders we ourselves have drawn. Whether that takes years or minutes should not affect your “enlightened-ness.”

You do not need credentials to know divinity; to know God.

But I do agree with my husband that in order to teach this “knowledge” you need to find your proper credentials, the ones that speak to you. You need time to sift this out. Find your footing. Relax into the role if that is what you are after. Build trust with the world on your viewpoint.

But to be an “enlightened” person doesn’t mean you are going to teach, and it certainly doesn’t mean you claim to be an expert or a master. You just are, and are eternally becoming.

To me, to be awakened is to realize the interconnected-ness of all. That separation is an illusion. That there is a divinity within us that we don’t have to strive for or work to achieve – only to yield. Because it’s already there in its imperfect perfectness.

After discussing this with my husband, and tearing up a bit (as I usually do when talking about interconnected-ness), we both ended the discussion with a thoughtful “Hmm.” The best way to end a discussion…a little open-ended.

Do you really need to empty yourself to transcend this fleshy existence? Enter into the void that is above and beyond humanity?

I don’t believe there is some magical transcendence of reality, or the emptying of the Self. I don’t think there is some divine void above humanity.

It is within humanity.

Love it with all your heart.


In the end, isn’t Enlightenment just another label, another set of constructs that we set upon a preconceived notion of our most ideal selves?

What is your ideal state of being? Mine is love;  infinite love, and I try to always keep it at the forefront.

Husband, thank you for discussing these themes with me. I love you to the cosmos and back ❤

6 thoughts on “What is “Enlightenment?”

  1. Well done, my granddaughter, or should I call you (or your husband) Grasshopper, for those who have long TV memories. The confounding answer is that you are both right, and you are both perfect. There are many paths to enlightenment, or what I sometimes call spiritual wholeness. For me, when I am living in the moment, with compassion, recognizing the oneness of all but at the same time knowing that my happiness does not depend on anyone or anything else, then I am a Buddha. And the more I practice being in that state, the more my Buddha-hood becomes my normal state.

    As for teaching, I feel called to do what I can even though I have no externally conferred credentials. I think that’s OK as long as those who read what I write or hear what I say understand that I have no credentials, and it is up to them anyway what to accept. The Buddha had no credentials, and neither did Jesus or Moses or Abraham or Mohammad, etc. However, credentials greatly help one spread the message, and I have asked my teacher, Lama Surya Das, to consider eventually conferring on me the transmission necessary for me to be a teacher, or Lama, in his lineage, which is a series of teachers that can be traced back to at least the 8th Century (and maybe back to the Siddhartha). That will happen when he and I feel the time is right. After that, you can call me Lama Granddad.

    — Mel, a.k.a. Fearless Lotus

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Spiritual Wholeness… yes, I like this term better than “enlightened.” 🙂
      And I understand your calling to teach, even though you haven’t the credentials yet… I also feel some kind of need to teach, but I think the answer for me will come in time, for where I need to direct that energy urge.
      I love that you point out the non-credentials of Jesus, Moses, and others. I think what really matters is your message from the heart. If that is powerful enough, it will speak for itself 🙂

      I am looking forward to calling you Lama Grandad!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Peace Paul

    I really like the idea put forward by my Zen teacher that there is sudden enlightenment but gradual realization. Experiential insight into sunyata (emptiness), cannot be self arisen, since it is our self clinging that is the source of our ignorance. So Awakening or enlightenment is spontaneous. However, integrating that experience into our normal dualistic way of perceiving the world takes time and effort.

    Jack Kornfield has a wonderful book entitled, “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.” It deals with a lot of the themes that you bring up in your post.

    Peace, Paul

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for sharing. I love the phrase “sudden enlightenment but gradual realization.” I have had spiritual “ah-ha!” moments for going on 10 years, and I am still trying to integrate them with my life and figure out exactly what they mean. As you say – taking the time and effort to make sense of them in our dualistic lens.
      I will definitely have to look up that book – thank you so much for the recommendation!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. grevilleacorner

    “Seeing things as they really are” are the words often used in the early teachings of the Buddha – I find these words more meaningful to me. Cheers, Steph

    Liked by 1 person

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