What is Enlightenment?
by Marcus Antebi
Article at a Glance:
Sometimes people resist acceptance of the term “enlightenment” when it’s spoken by teachers and others. I’d like to offer my definition of enlightenment. It’s my opinion, and of course others might have different opinions about what enlightenment consists of.
To me enlightenment is really just a moment during which an individual experiences high awareness and a sense of joy. It is the moment during which we have more clarity than we had in the moment before it.
One experiences freedom from fear and anxiety in a moment of enlightenment. I attain moments of enlightenment at times when I close my eyes, concentrate and meditate, and begin to feel the energy of my consciousness along with awareness of my surroundings. I’m in the present moment and I can focus my thoughts solely on the joy of existence.
I’d like to stay in that state of mind for the rest of my life. But I get distracted and I have to go do things. So what I try to do is bring a piece of that awareness with me into all of the things I am doing in my life. If I do that, it has the effect of requiring less work to get to that state of mind when I return to a meditation practice.
It’s hard to explain that state of mind to others, and I understand that. And I know that that’s the case because there are periods in our lives during which we all struggle and suffer.
Suffering is a relative term. If you’re suffering, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re experiencing extreme depression or other terrible circumstances in your life. Suffering can consist of being too absorbed by the routines of everyday life, getting to the point of taking life for granted and being obsessed with the passage of time.
Enlightenment may begin with our being able to experience just a few moments during which we are completely outside of our fear. During those short moments we are awake and conscious. Successive stages of enlightenment throughout our lives take place when we can stay in those moments for longer and longer periods of time. The longer we can stay in such a frame of mind, the more that we can take the lessons learned while in that state of mind back into our ordinary lives.
We don’t really have the right words to describe the various stages of enlightenment. I believe that when a baby is born that the baby is completely enlightened. But their awareness about the nature of the reality that they’re in is extremely limited. So even though they’re enlightened, they’re enlightened by a newborn baby’s standards.
But a baby’s mind is too simple and too empty for its enlightenment to be comparable to that of an adult. As adults, we thrive on consciousness in such a way that we want to have words and descriptions for everything. But a high level of knowledge about something doesn’t always work in our favor. Too much knowledge about something can make it so that we make judgments and call entities by incorrect names. In some instances, too much knowledge can block us from understanding aspects of truth.
That is why a person who becomes awake, even if only for a moment, should just learn to stop judging, sit within a stream of consciousness, and observe the energy flowing from everything. A practical person might not see the value of just sitting quietly and observing the different fields of energy that live and vibrate throughout this universe. But doing so is of great value. Being able to sit and watch energy waves and seeing the rise and fall of matter in this universe is as profound as sitting and watching the sunset and watching the ocean move. It’s a rhythmic pattern that is soothing to the mind and beautiful to behold.
But imagine if you could move much, much further beyond just looking at something as small as the ocean. Imagine if you could look out into the cosmos without ever having to open your eyes.
The universe and its patterns are mirrored in the universe in your mind. You can understand the way of the universe by searching within yourself and sitting and watching the energy patterns flow. It takes lots of practice to observe this, because it’s subtle and we’re constantly distracted.
We may be distracted by something that’s happening in the outside world. Or we may be distracted by our cravings and our desires and the fleeting passage of our physical sensations. We may get hungry, feel pain, get cold, or smell something distracting. Or we might hear the beautiful call of music inspiring us to get up and create.
There’s nothing wrong with participating in this life as long as you’re able to bring with you to at least some degree the calmness and serenity that you find in your meditation. The mistake that many people make is believing that every person has to meditate for many hours to achieve a calm mind. How long it takes varies from one person to the next. Some people only have to participate for minutes. And it takes other people years for them to find any value in a moment of meditation.
A person with an open consciousness will be a master of all of their affairs in their everyday, regular world. A person with an open consciousness who becomes awake in the beginning stage of enlightenment will be a master at everything they do. That doesn’t mean that they don’t continue to learn. A master is not defined by their level of skill in a practice. A master can be defined as one who can do an action with all of their awareness, be in the bliss of the present moment, and recognize that whatever they’re doing is a meditation. If a person achieves this state of mind then they are a master in whatever they do. This is the case whether or not people in the world see them in that way.
Self-mastery is another form of enlightenment. If a person is able to control themselves and their impulses, they become able to see what they say and do in the mirrors in their mind. And they can then change the way that they think: That is enlightenment. Any living creature that can change the way they think, then change the way they behave, and then change their nature has all the power of the universe to create. This is an enlightened state.
A person capable of such change will have compassion. But understand that there is a difference between empathy and compassion, as empathy can have a selfish component in it. When we feel empathy towards another creature, we are relating our experiences to that creature. We are saying to ourselves, “I would feel pain and suffering if I was experiencing what that creature is experiencing.” There is still attachment in empathy. So empathy is a limited state of mind
Compassion is a higher intellectual state. In the state of compassion, an individual is not thinking of him or herself. They’re looking at the suffering of another creature, recognizing the suffering, and desiring to help ease that suffering.
We must have compassion for all of the creatures that suffer, whatever the causes of that suffering might be. A creature might be worth billions of dollars and be terribly unhappy. They may be suffering although they have amenities that should bring them comfort. We must have compassion for that creature. A creature might be stuck inside of a metal trap and be cold and frightened. We must have compassion for that creature.
We must have compassion for people with mental illness. We must have compassion for all the prisoners and inmates within our correctional facilities throughout the world. We must have compassion for all the victims of crimes. We must have compassion for all the creatures of the sea. If a person can achieve compassion for all these things, they are enlightened.
In this state of mind a person may at first feel a sense of sadness. That will be because the compassion runs very deep. In compassion there should not be any attachment to the suffering of others.
Suffering is a component of the way of nature. Although death may be terrifying and fearful to contemplate and experience, as well as difficult to comprehend, some might just think of it as the end of suffering. But please understand one thing: You should not do anything that would accelerate your death.
There are still a great many great lessons to learn in this realm. There are many things to see, taste, hear, and experience in other ways. There are many emotions to feel. There are many impressions to be formed. There are many decisions to be made, mistakes to be corrected, problems to solve, and creatures to serve. There is grief that needs to be gone through, and there is joy and pleasure even if there is suffering for a time.
The creature that is able to live the maximum life span and experience the most will accumulate the greatest amount of consciousness. The consciousness may just be in pure energy form, and at the moment of death that consciousness may change and shift into another form. I believe that all of the consciousness accumulated in a terminating lifetime will be carried into the next. But I don’t think of this in terms of reincarnation.
I don’t believe that we reincarnate. I believe that we just incarnate, moving to a different realm and different reality. I don’t recommend paying attention to where you’re going next, as I don’t believe it’s the problem to be solved in this lifetime. The problem is being where we are now and being the best that we can be while we’re here.
Doing that is the ultimate liberation. It’s experiencing a moment in time of being liberated from the misconceptions and the confusion that we’ve been building up for a lifetime. It’s unraveling the mistakes in your thinking, feeling compassion, and being in the present moment all at the same time. If you are free from fear at that moment then you are on the highest plane of existence in this realm. There are many ways to get there, and meditation is the express train to that destination.
Enlightenment entails understanding love. When we love another human being we know how nice it feels inside. So then why is it that we hold back our love from that person? Why is it sometimes that we can’t live freely? Is it because of fear, or do we just forget how to love? If we’re not holding back anything from the person that we love or the people that we love, and we know how good it feels, then why do we limit ourselves? Why don’t we love all things and all creatures? Why are we blocked from loving all of humanity?
Why is it that we hold ourselves back from feeling love for the earth and everything that’s in it? Is it because we weren’t given permission to do so? Is it because we didn’t have role models who loved in that way? Or is it because of the things that happened to us throughout our lives?
Did we lose the connection with our deepest, deepest ability to love? If you have to ask yourself that question, the answer is likely “Yes.”
How do we improve our ability to love? How do we know what we’re missing if we haven’t felt that thing yet? We don’t. What we can do is look back at our experiences. We can see that there was a time in our lives when we were children that we loved our toys. We might have actually had the purest and highest sense of love for a plastic toy made in a foreign country. We loved that toy with total freedom.
As we got older we might have lost interest in that toy, so we switched our love to a new toy. There was something about the toy that we were able to love, and each successive love was progress from the previous love. As we got older, we started to love bigger and bigger and more profound objects.
And then we got to the point at which it was our duty to love other people and other creatures in the same way. We might have been fortunate enough to have received love from our parents and love them in return. At each growth stage of our youth our ability to love was going deeper.
But something could have arrested that growth in us. When trauma occurs in our lives, our development becomes frozen in many ways. If there has been a lack of love in our lives, we might not learn how to continue to grow in our love for others.
Love is not something that you can teach somebody on an academic level. Love is something that a person learns by receiving love that comes to them in love’s many forms.
One way that we were loved when we were children was through kissing, hugging, and being cared for. We were loved by people who told us positive things about ourselves and praised our accomplishments. We can tell that we are loved when we bring joy to the people who love us. They enjoy us, and that brings a sense of being loved.
When a person is very impoverished in terms of having given or received love, they can become quite dark and can perpetrate a lot of evil. If they don’t perpetrate evil on others, they might do very self-destructive things to themselves. They have no sense of self-love, and they find it difficult to tap into pure love as a force that will drive their life.
Many of us have a limited ability to feel love but our love is extremely conditional. Many people relate to just being able to love our children and our mate.
A person without a mate or children may love someone or more than one person because of beauty and feelings of pleasure. The love may keep them from being lonely for a time. There might be 1,000 reasons why we feel love for an individual person, but the reasons might be based on self-interest.
There are limitations to love in such situations. It is our duty to teach ourselves to love at a deeper level. We can begin by making a list of all the things that we love. We can then look to embrace those things and bring those things closer and closer to ourselves. Perhaps you love the sunset. If so, it’s important that you feed your eyes many, many sunsets in this lifetime. This will not only enable you to experience moments of love and understand love better, but you will experience much pleasure.
There’s nothing wrong with seeking enjoyment and pleasure. I believe that it’s important to do so as long as it doesn’t detract from the duties and lessons of life. And of course we need to take care that seeking pleasure doesn’t lead us to self-destruction, decadence, and addiction.
We must create balance in our lives. Having good role models helps in that process, and hopefully those individuals are people who practice temperance. Our ability to temper cravings for pleasure is influenced to some degree by our inherent personality as well. Some people may have stronger desires for physical pleasures than others.
I believe that the ultimate purpose of life is to find compassion and then both experience it and exhibit it in your behavior towards others. And doing so entails not allowing yourself to succumb to the many distractions that can detract from making you able to do so. Such distractions can be in the form of obsessions, faulty thinking patterns, material possessions, and other things.
Do you have too much of anything? One way to determine that is to ask yourself if you are truly happy and if you feel a sense of self-love. If you don’t, then it’s likely that you have too much attachment to a thing or a behavior. You may likely need to let go of something.
If it’s a behavior pattern you need to let go of, examine yourself and determine what it is. Is it fearful thinking? Is it negative thinking? Is it laziness? Keep in mind that we are all programmed by circumstances and memories of our life.
But please understand one thing, my brothers and sisters: We can change the programming within us that keeps us from reaching the levels of enlightenment that we seek. It may not be easy to do so, but it can be done and it will be well worth the difficulty that doing so might entail.
The human mind is extremely complicated. For that reason, measures that we take to change or improve the programming that led us to where we are now will take time. A session or two at a therapist’s office will not be enough. Thinking routines and activity patterns are such that it may take decades to make needed changes happen.
But while we’re working on changing faulty thinking we can change behavior. In fact we must: We cannot wait until our thinking is perfect to change behavior, because we are imperfect people in both our minds and our bodies. Since our thinking will never be perfect, we will never change our behavior if we wait for such nonexistent perfection. Our poor behavior could even kill us in the meantime.
I’m fully convinced that changing behavior changes energy patterns that orbit around in our internal and external worlds. If you’re able to stop doing something that doesn’t serve you, it’s a matter of time before consciousness and I thought patterns will change to match the behavior that you’ve changed for the better. And you will move closer and closer toward that state of enlightenment that you seek.