Summary: In this series, we will look to deepen our understanding of spiritual enlightenment, by studying the views from various different teachings and philosophies. In the first article of this series, we will explore the explanation of enlightenment given by the great modern day Zen Buddhist teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck.
Spiritual enlightenment is the greatest mystery and the greatest Truth available to man. Many explanations, descriptions, views etc., exist for enlightenment and each of these gives us some insight and understanding into what this great phenomenon is. In this series, I would like to provide these various definitions on enlightenment from various great teachings in order to help you understand better what it is for yourself.
We will start off this series with the Zen Buddhist definition of enlightenment and who better to quote, than one of my favorite Zen teachers Charlotte Joko Beck. Here is what this great Zen master had to say about what enlightenment is.
Enlightenment is the core of all religion. But we have quite often a strange picture of what it is. We equate the enlightened state with a state in which we have become quite perfect, quite nice and quiet, calm and accepting. And that’s not it.
I’m going to ask a series of questions about certain unpleasant states. I am not saying we should not have strong feelings or preferences about them. Nevertheless from these examples we can begin to get a clue; and when we have a clue we can see more clearly what we’re doing in practice. Here are the questions. (I have selected only a few that she asked).
- If I am told, “Joko, you have one more day to live,” is that OK with me? or if someone told you that, is that OK with you?
- If I am in a severe accident, and my legs and arm have been amputated, is that OK with me? If that were to happen to you, is it OK?
- If I must lose whatever or whomever I care for, is it OK with me?
Now I can’t answer OK to any of of those. And if you’re honest, I don’t think that any of you can either. But to answer “OK” is the enlightened state, if we understand what it means for something to be OK. (She goes on to say).
What is the enlightened state? When there is no longer any separation between myself and the circumstances of my life, whatever they may be, that is it.
Analysis of Zen Definition of Enlightenment:
Understanding and remembering well the above zen definition for what enlightenment is, will immediately change the way you look at your life. Yes, immediately. What is being explained is that you stop running away from the moment, no matter what it contains, and start instead, embracing it, observing it, being OK with it. The more you are able to do that, the more “enlightened” you are.
This does not mean you will necessarily enjoy the moment, it may be full of hardship, but that is fine. You will see hardship as an opportunity to evaluate, test and make progress in your spiritual growth. Zazen, or Zen Meditation is one of the best techniques for developing this understanding and capability.
In Zen meditation, as you sit still for long periods of time, you learn to be OK and stay with the difficulties that inevitably arise, and that then translates into you being able to be OK with the difficulties that inevitably arise is your life. The person who is evolved in this way, will have few complaints and selfish interests, and thus, will be far more capable of giving, enjoying and loving.
So, the Zen teachings are very clear as to what enlightenment is. It is the state of residing in such great understanding and depth, that no matter what life throws your way, you are at peace with it, you are able to say, “That’s OK, no problem.”