I notice two side of enlightenment. One is a sudden flash of knowing, the Zen Satori, as the Japanese call it. I imagine everyone experiences this to one degree or another, at various time throughout life. I’d say it is almost guaranteed; one’s awareness has to fall from their fortress of belief every once in a while.
The other side of enlightenment, as I see it, is sustained knowing. Here impartiality is essential. It might even be the key to sustain knowing in the first place. In any case, without sufficient impartiality, see the “whole” would drive one insane I expect. Impartiality opens the window of awareness wider; the wider the widow the more awe full the view; the more essential impartiality becomes to maintaining sanity.
The awesome overwhelming nature of an enlightened view is described nicely in the chapter eleven of the Bhagavad Gita. This dialog is between two characters, the noble warrior Arjuna, and Krishna (a Hindu equivalent to Jesus Christ).
Arjuna asks, “If thou thinkest, O my Lord, that it can be seen by me, show me, O God of Yoga, the glory of thine own Supreme Being“.
Then Krishna says, “See now the whole universe with all things that move and move not, and whatever thy soul may yearn to see. See it all as One in me.”
After Krishna show Arjuna, Arjuna freaks out a bit and says, “In a vision I have seen what no man has seen before: I rejoice in exultation, and yet my heart trembles with fear. Have mercy upon me, Lord of gods, Refuge of the whole universe: show me again thine own human form.”
Krishna replies, “By my grace and my wondrous power I have shown to thee, Arjuna. this form supreme made of light, which is the Infinite, the All: mine own form from the beginning, never seen by man before.”
After Krishna returns Arjuna to normal vision, Arjuna says, “When I see thy gentle human face, Krishna, I return to my own nature, and my heart has peace“.
As we see, everything has its price, including “enlightenment”. Beliefs help us avoid seeing such full-on “all-powerful Time which destroys all things“, by filtering what we see—believe it or not. We only see what we are looking for; what we are looking for is largely determined by belief. Naturally, this has its price as well; the trade off is ignorance.
How do you feel about enlightenment now?
If ignorance is no longer blissful perhaps you’re still game. The many paths to enlightenment are more cultural hoodwink than not. They offer save harbors of belief that promises enlightenment (or versions of salvation) but deliver safety and sanity. Moving beyond this safety net requires seeing “outside the box”, as they say. The trick is to know the difference between believing what we see, and seeing what we believe. The former is an experience common to all life. Cognition is not required, although we humans do tend to.
For example, when I see the sun rise, I “believe” that experience. I can say I believe the sun rises in the morning because I see it happen every day. If it stopped rising in the morning, then I would “believe” the sun had stopped rising every day. The “belief” follows the experience. When experience changes, it changes. Even calling it a belief is problematic. Thinking is not a prerequisite.
What is uniquely human is the intangible mental world we inhabit along side the concrete physical one. For example, a belief that the Greek sun god, Helios, rises from the ocean at dawn each day in the east and rides in his chariot, pulled by four horses – Pyrois, Eos, Aethon and Phlegon — through the sky, to descend at night in the west is not based on experience. It originates in imagination, hearsay, tradition, “education”, peer pressure, fear, and so on. You need to think to believe it.
So, how can we know whether we are believing what we see, or simply seeing what we believe? If, at the end of pondering anything you end up with a balanced view, if perfection is all you see, then you are probably seeing it as it is, and not just what you want to see. Chapter two spells out nicely what a balanced view can look like:
Thus Something and Nothing produce each other;
The difficult and the easy complement each other;
The long and the short off-set each other;
Note and sound harmonize with each other;
Before and after follow each other.
The myriad creatures rise from it yet it claims no authority;
It gives them life yet claims no possession;
It benefits them yet exacts no gratitude;
It accomplishes its task yet lays claim to no merit.
We, like all animals, have an innate difficulty actually seeing life impartially. It’s unnatural. Like all animals, we are biologically set up to notice differences more than similarities—it’s survival 101. Indeed, sensing distinction is how the Nervous system’s neurons function. It is distinction, not similarity, that stimulates neurons. Having perception so skewed to see differences makes us innately biased, partial and, well, un-enlightened. For humans, unlike other animals, this causes us great difficulty (i.e., Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty). This is why we, unlike other animals, need enlightenment!
Mysterious sameness is useful for it helps us transcend this difficulty to a certain extent provided we keep pulling ourselves deeper. I find regarding everything I see as merely a symptom of some deeper underlying forces usually points me in that direction and gives me a better chance of tapping into the thread running through the way.
Finally, in all talk of enlightenment it is important to concede that enlightenment doesn’t make us non-human. It doesn’t change us, not our DNA, nor the emotions than flow from DNA’s instruction sets. Your core emotions, your original nature, is left untouched. Enlightenment essentially neutralizes who you think you are; in doing so, it returns you to your original nature. Chapter 16 describes it beautifully:
I do my utmost to attain emptiness;
I hold firmly to stillness.
The myriad creatures all rise together
And I watch their return.
The teaming creatures
All return to their separate roots.
Returning to one’s roots is known as stillness.
This is what is meant by returning to one’s destiny.
Returning to one’s destiny is known as the constant.
Knowledge of the constant is known as discernment.
Returning to one’s original nature doesn’t mean you arrive at a life of blissful ease. That, like Santa Clause, is a myth, helpful to those who need it. In truth, difficulty and ease are inextricably linked, The difficult and the easy complement each other as chapter 2 puts it. So obviously, even the sage treats some things as difficult.