Many people ask – what is enlightenment? Oh for an easily explained answer. The Buddha, when choosing his successor, simply held up a flower and one of his disciples was enlightened and smiled – he then became the successor. There are many stories in Zen philosophy and spirituality about enlightenment, but none of these stories actually tell you just what it is. And nor should they – it is something to be experienced, not read or talked about.
Outiside of Japan, most Zen practioners experience enlightenment gradually, as opposed to the full smack upside the head that satori can create. It is through meditaiton, and being completely aware that you gradually gain enlightenment. As the ego starts to fall away, the so-called “real” self emerges.
To allow the ego to fall away, one technique is to use the “Don’t Know” mind.
“Everybody says, “I” — “I want this, I am like that…” But nobody understands this “I.” Before you were born, where did your I come from? When you die, where will your I go? If you sincerely ask, “What am I?” sooner or later you will run into a wall where all thinking is cut off. We call this “Don’t know.” Zen is keeping this “Don’t know” mind always and everywhere. When walking, standing, sitting, lying down, speaking, being silent, moving, being still. At all times, in all places, without interruption – what is this?” – taken from http://zen.buddhism.org/about-zen.html
It’s a hard thing to admit that we don’t really know anything. And yet, any true scientiest will tell you that it is impossible to know 100% about anything – there is always margin for error. When we embrace the fact that we don’t really know anything, whole worlds open up for us. We can examine ourselves more deeply, and then ponder even on the notion of self if we were to take it one step further. Enlightenment is said to strike when we realise that there is no self – that we are all part of everything else. In Zen, the term “oneness” is often used, but I don’t like the monopoly that this word invokes – instead I think of it as a “wholeness”.
When we are completely in the moment, when our chattering minds are stilled, when our sense of self falls away and there is only the now, we become enlightened. In this state, many great things can happen – the perfect haiku is written, the archer and the target become one and the bullseye is hit without thought, the music simply flows, the painting emerges.
This reminds me of a similar term in Druidry, which is awen. Many people now believe the Welsh word’s translation to be something akin to “flowing spirit” or “flowing inspiration”. Is this any different to the Eastern version of enlightenment? As Druids, we gain awen from the world around us, which inspires us to create or to be still, to act or to remain passive, to be in complete and total relationship with the world around us. Not so different to satori, is it? Again, to be in a perfect relationship with the world around us, we must learn not to separate the I from the It – instead viewing the world as a whole rather than as separate. In this way, the inspiration or flowing spirit can flow freely down all channels directly into our soul and out into the wider web of the universe.
So, am I enlightened?