What Is Zen Enlightenment?

zen enlightenment,buddhist enlightenment,enlightenment buddhism,buddhism enlightenment,

There are a lot of popular misconceptions about "zen enlightenment", and enhanced states of awareness also known as "buddhist enlightenment", good old fashioned "enlightenment" or similar expressions.

In my experience there is at least as much a lack of understanding about this within Buddhist circles as there in the non-Buddhist world and also in the wider secular world.

Put simply "zen enlightenment" (and all other forms of enlightenment) means to be free of the effects of the mind, to be aware, to be present-moment-aware, and unencumbered with thoughts about the past or the future – just totally present. That’s all.

There is something in human nature - a desire to glamorise, sanctify, objectify and idolise – that elevates people who have offered deep insights to the human race and thus put distance between them and the rest of us.

But these great ones have exactly the same psychological, emotional, and physiological equipment as the rest of us. To put it bluntly – we all share the same basic equipment.

If one can do it so can we all - potentially.

Although enlightenment may seem like an unreachable goal, we’re actually having glimpses of it all the time.

Zen Enlightenment Can Only Be Now

We also get very hung up on the idea that "zen enlightenment" - or any form of expression of "spiritual progress" is ahead of us - something to be attained - something to be aspired to - something that we may experience one day in the next life or subsequent lives (for those who subscribe to a belief in reincarnation).

We see it as always in the future - yet never the only place it can be - NOW!

Lost In Our Delusions About Zen Enlightenment

Former American Zen Master Dennis Merzel aka Genpo Roshi (creator of the "Big Mind" process) expresses all this rather well in his article "Never Ending Clarification"

    "It just gets clearer and clearer to me how much I, and we, are deluded by our zen enlightenment.

    We have a saying by Dogen Zenji: 'We’re enlightened in our delusion. We’re deluded in our enlightenment. And then there’s delusion beyond delusion'.

    It’s all delusion, and zen enlightenment is just another delusion.

    There’s dualistic delusion, of self and others, and that’s where most of us are at.

    And then there’s the delusion of being enlightened. That’s the stink of Zen. Then we think we’re beyond both enlightenment and delusion.

    It’s all delusion, including whatever comes next; "deluded beyond delusion"...

    It’s just words and concepts.

    It’s our life, and life is ongoing and never ending. It’s all eternal life, eternal transmigrating, eternal clarifying, eternal refinement, it never stops as long as we don’t come to a stop with it.

    And that’s the problem, we want to come to a stop and say "I’m there, I’ve arrived".

The Buddha And Jesus

The Buddha and some of his monks were out wandering one day and a man approached him and observed (I am paraphrasing slightly!): "What is it that’s different about you guys– you walk, talk, chop wood, eat, sleep, use the bathroom – you seem just like the rest of us?"

The Buddha replied: "Yes, that is true – but when we walk, talk, chop wood, eat, sleep, use the bathroom we KNOW we do."

Jesus said (and again I paraphrase): "I can guarantee this truth with certainty, that unless you change and become like little children - who are unencumbered by thoughts of past or future and just live and enjoy the present moment - you will never enter the kingdom of mindfulness".

[Quick biblical footnote – the "I AM" statements of God in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament are statements of absolute present moment consciousness.]

The only difference between highly developed spiritual people and the rest of us is one of degree.

They have acquired or developed or been blessed with (however you choose to express it) the capacity to enter and maintain a mindful or present moment awareness state whenever they want to or need to and can do so at will for as long as they choose to or need to – and then engage with what we conventionally refer to as the "normal thinking mind".

The key to this is having the capability to move freely between these states at will and NOT to become stuck in either state.

The State Of Enlightenment

States become stages become sages

The initial state of "zen enlightenment" - more accurately expressed as "waking up or awakening or transformation or basic realisation that things are not what we thought and that there is more" - is a state that may only last briefly – but once we have experienced it, we can’t unlearn it.

And with practise, dedication and discipline that state become a more frequent part of our experience until eventually we enter it as a stage – where we can stop thinking at will – and access transcendent states of awareness at will.

True wisdom occurs when we draw daily guidance and inspiration from this source rather than the output of our thinking minds.

This is sometimes referred to as "growing in grace" or "spiritual maturity".

What is Nirvana?

Thich Nhat Hanh gives us a lucid and profound explanation that defines nirvana as the cessation of all suffering, and our suffering comes from our wrong perceptions...

Return to How To Practise Mindfulness"

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