What Is Enlightenment?

How to start searching for the plateau of experience within and without

Throughout history, the quest for spiritual enlightenment has occupied thinkers from many religious traditions. Those who claim to have experienced enlightenment report feelings of awe, serenity and metaphysical oneness. But where does enlightenment come from, and what does it mean for us in today’s world?

History of enlightenment

Teachings on enlightenment can be traced through the histories of many different spiritual traditions. Buddhist enlightenment is perhaps the best-known today, but similar teachings can be found in other Eastern religions. Hinduism espouses the search for “Moksha,” a liberation from worldliness, while Sufi Islam teaches the benefits of “Muraqaba,” mindfulness of the self and its unity with creation. Even the Christian tradition has some similar elements: The anonymous medieval Christian mystic who wrote The Cloud of Unknowing describes a method for forgetting worldly considerations in order to feel a spiritual oneness with God and the world.

Buddhist enlightenment

Buddhist enlightenment is based on the principle that Siddhartha Gautama, the spiritual founder of Buddhism, achieved perfect enlightenment or “buddhahood” after six years of careful meditation and reflection. Practitioners of Buddhism cannot hope to achieve as deep an enlightenment as the original Buddha, but the quest for enlightenment remains an integral part of Buddhist teaching.

The Dalai Lama recommends the careful recitation of prayers or mantras in the search for enlightenment. For him and his adherents, seeking enlightenment and the understanding it brings is the best way to help others. Zen Buddhism suggests that we find enlightenment within ourselves through careful meditation and mindfulness of the present moment.

The science of enlightenment

Can science back up the metaphysics of spiritual development enshrined in Buddhism and other faiths? Eugene d’Aquili and Andrew Newberg, from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, explored this line of questioning in their book, The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience. Their research found that meditative practice can increase blood-flow to certain parts of the brain, and, although their results were not conclusive, they did suggest that the religious experiences associated with enlightenment could have a real and tangible effect on how we feel.

Enlightenment today

Enlightenment is a complex idea, and it’s hard to know how to apply enlightenment teachings in our daily lives. If you want to find out more about bringing enlightenment into your life, you should check out Deepak Chopra’s Secrets of Enlightenment DVD. Although many religious traditions stress the difficulty of looking for enlightenment, there is evidence to suggest that this quest brings real positive benefits to our lives.

Happiness surveys have reported that people who actively take part in a spiritual practice feel more optimistic, tranquil and content. So, although the search for enlightenment might sound like hard work, we could find that looking for spiritual oneness is the real key to feeling rewarded and fulfilled in our daily lives.

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