Why enlightenment?

Sakyamuni Buddha initially felt no one would comprehend what he had realized under the Bodhi tree. According to legend, he did not want to teach until the god Brahma convinced him that there are beings whose eyes had little dust and who would understand.

Enlightenment is not hard to get because it is foreign or complex. It is hard to understand only because it is so simple yet profound. It is like convincing a fish that it is in the water and it is mostly made of water. It is hard to see because it is so close and so present.

Because of its subtlety, some might even ask, what good is enlightenment anyway? Why should one try to realize enlightenment at all?

I think that Buddha’s teaching of the Four Noble Truths is an elegant, simple, and profound solution to this question. Buddha taught that there is suffering; there is a cause of suffering; there is an end to suffering; and there is a path. If you are dissatisfied, do not seek to end your dissatisfaction with a temporary patch. Liberate yourself from its inner root. Seek enlightenment.

Buddha identified a problem—dissatisfaction or suffering—and offered a solution. In that way, out of his great compassion, he made the purpose of liberation and the path to liberation accessible.

But—dare I say this?!—liberation has another meaning, beyond the end of dissatisfaction alone. Or perhaps I should say, calling it the end of dissatisfaction does not seem to do it complete justice, does not by itself give a sense of liberation’s fullness, and might even mislead one into thinking it is a state that is placid or numb.

Beyond the end of suffering, there is an ecstatic quality to liberation. It gives fullness, meaning and joy. It brings gratitude and love. It reveals the beauty and magic of the ordinary. It grants overwhelming wonder that there is anything rather than nothing at all. It shows the whole universe to be an amazing magic trick. In its wake comes immense satisfaction and well-being. It is like putting down a burden one has carried for a million years. Attaining it might even make one want to sing, shout and dance like a madman or a fool.

In the realm of liberation, the evocation of bliss found in the secret Tantra, or the love and ecstasy found in the poetry and song of a Hafiz or Rumi, might be closest to the truth.

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One thought on “Why enlightenment?

  1. I have a lot more exposure to pointers that minimize the supposed ecstatic nature of awakening. These teachings seem helpful in the sense that they remove the concept many seekers have that “if I get this, I’ll feel good all the time.” Also, my understand is that life continues EXACTLY as it always has, in almost every case – that enlightenment changes nothing.

    So, I am more familiar with teachings that say that awakening is useless and you won’t get anything out of it – least of all what you think you might get out of it. And since most people associate awakening with a state of ongoing bliss and ecstacy and feeling great all the time, I’m surprised to see this description here.

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